Tel Aviv Diary April 7-11, 2008 - Karen Alkalay-Gut

Tel Aviv Diary - April 7, 2008

As these pages degenerate rapidly from Tel Aviv Diary to Ichilov Diary, I feel impelled to expand my previous criticism of the smell of the washrags at Cherry's Restaurant at the entrance of the hospital to the smell of Tel Aviv in general.

When I first came to Tel Aviv, in the sixties for which we are so nostalgic, I would travel by bus. This meant I went through the old central bus station almost every day. When I came back in the seventies, I was teaching at the University of the Negev and also spent a great deal of time in that venerable institution. There is even a song - the first hit song of Teapacks - which longs for the cultural multiplicity of those few blocks. Me, I got to know it so well I could literally walk through it blindfolded. From the smell I'd know what street I was on, and which area of the station. This was no small feat considering the fact that the overpowering odor was that of the filthy exhausts of the busses. So I was finding my way by the undersmell, the back beat of aromas.

Why did I attempt this, smelling my way from the pirated tape district to the imitation leather shoe row and down to the plastic lead-painted toys? Because of a story my cousin Nachum had once told me about Vilna. He had once derided a guest who claimed to know pre-war Vilna well. "If you are so well acquainted with Vilna," he said, "then where is the courtyard with the flower?" The guest was silent, but a few of the others in the group sitting around Nachum's coffee table nodded wisely. I cannot recreate exactly the description, but it went something like this. If you lived in the poor neighborhood of Vilna, you had no street lights, so to navigate after dark you needed a good nose. You'd give directions to get to your house by saying something like, "Go down the main street, and when you get to the Kvass factory turn left, and then right at the sausage shop, then right again at the bakery, and after you pass the courtyard with the flower, go into the next doorway." The courtyard with the flower was, as I understood it, a kind of apartment complex built around a square of land where the local garbage was collected and removed once a week. A real native would know what day of the week it was by the ripeness of the smell.

Anyway this was not far from the smells of the central bus station. you could know how far you were from the public toilets without straining your nose. Once I actually went in and there was a heap of newspapers on the floor at the entrance. When I asked a lady where the toilet paper was, she guffawed and pointed to the newspapers. I couldn't be sure if the papers were used or 'fresh'

So I know something about Tel Aviv and smells. The way the city always smelled of urine in the summer, and still does sometimes. But nothing like way back then.

April 8,2008

Trouble Reading

It is not only the problem of letters:
That when you look at them, you canít go beyond.
It is the whole throng of words
Bunched together in uneven fragments
With no seeming leader, or even limitations.
The logic of them escapes me
And the idea of sequence itself
Seems so dependent on faith.

In the hospital the believers read the Psalms
Blindly, rocking back and forth
And sheltering their shamed faces
In the tiny white wings of their books.
Perhaps some day, they pray,
I will be free enough from fear
And be led through the shadow of death.

I'm sure the sirens today were more gentle than they would be if it had not been a drill. I'm sure many people didn't take it all that seriously. But I'm sure just as many people heard that noise and thought to themselves: "any day now and it will happen for real." Still, when we went out later every thing seemed normal. No one was more nervous than usual, even though we were taking the car in to be tested which is at best a nerve-racking experience. Why? It's always chaotic there - and there are all kinds of rules I forget about. Fortunately Ezi remembers them all: for example, you have to have an ashtray in the back seat. Even though no one has ever smoked in my car, nor ever will.

Because we've been following hospital procedure - tests first in the morning, then evaluation, then treatment - the automotive licensing process was extremely familiar. And the same complaints from the people waiting.

Only one is about immediate life and death.

April 9, 2008

What is rape anyway? For some men it is only a matter of the degree of concession. She didn't scream loudly enough, she was being nice to me in order to get the job and knew what that entailed, she secretly wanted me and didn't dare let herself know... I am not surprised that Katzav made that self-destructive decision to break the 'deal' he made with the justice department. He really believes he's innocent, and all these girls are just jealous and revengeful because they really wanted his sexy power.

But it isn't the sex trial I'm interested in. It's the narcissistic attitude that seems to reign in our contemporary politics around here. This world outlook is what has prevented us from establishing some conversation with the Syrians (as well as Bush's caveat), what is behind all the stupid threats we've been making (taking our little weapons out and shaking them), and not offering sufficient help to Abu Mazen.

April 10, 2008

I got my Dell XPS back today - the third repair since I bought it in November. Now I've got to figure out where everything was when it broke down. So hang on a bit.

April 11, 2008

Because it is warming up, and because we're still into night sweats, we opened all our windows last night. It was like sleeping on the street - even though we live in a quiet neighborhood, and at least 20% of the buildings around us are empty (except for the watchmen) while they are being rebuilt, There was laughter, there were conversations, heavy objects being moved around, a few automobiles, I suddenly remembered that when I first came to live in this apartment, i would be awakened by a rooster who never waited until dawn, a donkey who always waited until the middle of the night to complain, and sometimes a herd of sheep going down the street.

By popular demand, here's the Pappa's take out menu

And you might want to check out these poems and photos of the Galapagos that Ezi and I did.

The Syrian Bride -Hiam Abbass has long been one of favorite actresses because of her rule in Satin Rouge (2002) -but I hadn't seen They Syrian Bride (2004)until this evening. She does steal every show - and as soon as we start going out again I will run to see "Lemon Tree" that came out a few months ago. She always plays women who develop in their independence and the journey is profound. Look for her.

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