Tel Aviv Diary August 29, 2005 - Karen Alkalay-Gut

Tel Aviv Diary - August 29 - September 2 , 2005 - Karen Alkalay-Gut

August 29, 2005

Tomorrow evening - reading for ARC 17 - Haifa

I'm way behind in my life so only now did I get to the weekend paper and to Sayed Kashua. For some reason i don't like to go through the week without his domestic openness and smoldering anger.

But I couldn't get in. I'm not sure what's up with Haaretz, but lucky that I have a subscription to the printed text.

And the hurricane in New Orleans is far more immediate at the moment.

Then there is that ninth grader that got caught with four kilos of explosives - obviously having come to visit in this country through the hole in the wall. Who sends a kid three days before school starts to explode at worst or at best get arrested? This kid was shuddering with fear before the newscamera, and I was imagining that he could have been one of my students at some point. I think we have to make sure there are no holes in that wall. And that the wall gets put in the right places.

August 30, 2005

I've been trying to stay home and concentrate on working, but the world invades. One example, someone called and reminded me of a poem I once loved but never published in a book. It was written in the early eighties when Israel had only one channel, and the concept of conventionality was dominant. When I first came to Israel, people used to tell me, "We do things THIS way here," and they would go over the floor I just washed, or put a hat on my baby, or add salt to my soup without asking. Friday, which is still a bit similar, was called: SEX day. SEX for Siddurim Kniyot Sponga. Or Arrangements, shopping, washing floors. Everybody hung their laundry out on Monday and/or Wednesday, and thee was no laundry hung out on the Sabbath. And everyone I knew was self-parodic about this behavior too. So this poem about Tel Aviv was about that


You can see the whole town from a single roof
when the air is clear, and your mind makes

"Drop a plumb line
from the twelfth floor
at the right point
you'll hit a coffee table
at each flight."

We sit on David's penthouse balcony
with a telescope.
There is light in every living room.
"Now. The news is over," he says,
"Watch." Tiny bathroom windows brighten
as others go dark.

"Simultaneous flushing lowers the water level
when national television signs off.
A man going home at night
to the wrong flat
may discover his mistake
only at Sabbath dinner
when the fish has less sugar
than he is accustomed."

We are intellectuals,
out of the game
sitting on the balcony
taking measure of the others. We
feel ourselves alive, wring
from this flat world
a separate peace. . .

From a balcony beyond
we catch the flash
of another telescope.

August 31, 2005

All night I dream of New Orleans, of the terrible disaster, fueled by my memories from Faulkner's "Old Man," which is about a convict sent out to help save the levee from the storm. Here's a piece:

"Sometime about midnight, accompanied by a rolling cannonade of thunder and lightning like a battery going into action, as though some forty hoursí constipation of the elements, the firmament itself, were discharging in clapping and glaring salute to the ultimate acquiescence to desperate and furious motion, and still leading its charging welter of dead cows and mules and outhouse and cabins and hencoops, the skiff passed Vicksburg. The convict didnít know it. He wasnít looking high enough above the water, who still squatted, clutching the gunwales and glaring at the yellow turmoil about him out of which entire trees, the sharp gable of house, the long mournful heads of mules which he fended off with a splintered length of plank snatched from he knew not where in passing (and which seemed to glare reproachfully back at him with sightless eyes, in limber-lipped and incredulous amazement) rolled up and then down again, the skiff now travelling forward now sideways now sternward, sometimes in the water, sometimes riding for yards upon the roof of houses and trees and even upon the back of the mules as though even in death they were not to escape that burden-bearing doom with which their eunuch race was cursed. But he didnít see Vicksburg; the skiff, travelling at express speed, was in a seething gut between soaring and dizzy banks with a glare of light above them but he did not see it, he saw the flotsam ahead of him divide violently and begin to climb upon itself, mounting, and he was sucked through the resulting gap too fast to recognise it as the trestling of a railroad bridge; for a horrible moment the skiff seemed to hang in static indecision before the looming flank of a steamboat as though undecided whether to climb over it or dive under it, then a hard icy wind filled with the smell and taste and sense of wet and boundless desolation blew upon him; the skiff made one long bounding lunge as the convicts' native state, in a final paroxysm, regurgitated him onto the wild bosom of the Father of Waters."

Don't take my word for it, read it. It's part of the book Wild Palms. The sense of the tiny individual, his life totally determined by enormous, overwhelming, authoritative and arbitrary forces, is certainly not only the overwhelming truth of Mississippi, but to a less dramatic degree, the feeling of many people in the world today.

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