Tel Aviv Diary Dec 29, 2003 - Karen Alkalay-Gut

Tel Aviv Diary - from Dec 29, 2003 Karen Alkalay-Gut

December 29, 2003

Got a few tough hours - will get back to you later

turns out i have the flu. It's less impossible than the kind Ezi and some of my friends had, but it's no fun. I wanted to figure out with you the whole problem of the shooting of the 'gate-crashers' - there are so many versions of the story - And let's see - the first problem is that the injured protestor is being charged with property damage and endangering the security of the country. i would have thought he would sue the army first. and in the mean time no one's apologizing - at best the government seems to be rationalizing its behavior. Uzi Landau, one the few people who can make me feel violent, explained that the demonstrator had injured property (i.e. the fence) and had endangered the country (by making a hole in the wall). Puhleeze.

What bothers me is the soldier who was given specific orders to fire. whether the commander had been informed that hte demonstrator was not a danger, not a terrorist, or not - that was the only means that had been given to the soldiers to keep the peace. Who the hell gives soldiers those kinds of means to treat demonstrations? Have demonstrations become illegal?

December 30, 2003

Who do you trust to get the truth? Not me. I write to the moment and therefore am likely to scribble down inaccuracies. Take what I wrote about Salman Masalcha last week, for example. There are at least errors: 1) He is an Arab poet, 2) al-Hayat, the paper he writes for, is not an internet paper but one of the leading international papers in Arabic, with an internet site, which also appears in part in translation in English 3)The village I called Mrar is really al-Maghar. My mistake is one of pronunciation in Hebrew, in which we have no GH sound.

Since I don't even reread these pages (it embarasses me - and would probably make me less direct and honest to become so self-conscious), when you see mistakes, let me know. Or at least try not to pass it on without checking with me.

Thanks for all of your good wishes: I'm not sure I had the flu yesterday - after all I was okay today. But I spent Sunday evening at the Carmel Mizrachi Wineries - and although it was a great party, i think i ate something that my body violently rejected - eggplant.

Today I spent the day in south Tel Aviv - one of my favorite places. Florentine. I came early for the tv program we were recording so I walked around in the automobile repair shop area. What is pretty amazing is the combination of haphazard shacks, nightclubs, and an assortment of stuff -a school, a mental health institute, a scout troop.. I sat on the metal steps outside Jah-pan, the club we were using, watching the bright blue sky over the corrugated asbestoes roofs, all of different heights, but all under two stories, and i thought of how so much of tel aviv looked like this neighborhood - ramshackle garages in the daytime, parties at night. And I loved it. Even though the dust was everywhere.

A few years ago they started renovating the neighborhood, but they stopped in the middle - the combination is enchanting and I'd love to live there. The tv program was fun too. Tal Gordon does a weekly show about the local music scene, and I have always found it on such a high level it would be really great in english. Up close it was not disappointing - the program we did was about poetry and music - poets reading to music - and the questions raised on the set were more interesting than any i've read about in books about poetry.

But that has nothing to do with the politics around here - after all there were a strike today in all the schools because the government is cutting the budget to the municipalities. Fortunately the cuts have been frozen for a while.

and a kilo of explosives was found in a milk carton in a package on the Jerusalem road. not terribly unusual. but it gives you the context in which i discuss poetry.

And - for Rena who recommends ginger ale for my stomach. Not only is there ginger ale in Israel but Oren makes his own house ginger ale in mishmish.

For those who don't go to mishmish (obviously because they go to bed before it opens at 9 p.m.) we also have schwepps. i think we can get canada dry too.

everything can be obtained for the right price here.

As for the Red Cross. Magen David Adom is the Israeli counterpart of the red cross, but the red cross doesn't recognize it, although they do recognize the red crescent. "If we're going to have the Shield of David, why would we not have to accept the swastika?" quotes the Free Middle East site.Check there for some of the shocking facts. And let me know what you think.

Because Ezi used the word, "Karakhanghi," while we were talking about Jews in Frankfurt, I went back to my favorite dictionary in the world, the Ben Amotz-Ben Yehuda dictionary of hebrew slang (2 vols) to see what the origins of that wonderful word is. I was wondering whether it is Arabic (it is) and whether it is close to the word Caravan in any way (still don't know). But is it a beautiful word that isn't used much around here lately. it means, by the way, the owner of a house of prostitution.

And looking through the dictionary i began to miss Dahn Ben Amotz very much - i was away when he was dying, but i saw him a year before. I think i have an amazing picture with him from that period and will try to dig it up. And I translated a story or two of his - with great glee.

The thing about Ben Amotz was that was quite an amazing writer, a chronicler of how things really were, and an ironist of major stature. But he made the same mistake as Edgar Allen Poe - picked the wrong biographer - and was villified after his death (perhaps justifiably, who knows) - and vanished from the literary and popular canon. The other day I was driving and heard his comic skit, "diary of a school boy," from the fifties. I had to pull over for laughing. The story I translated was called "Bonjourno Valentina," and it was about when he was helping Jews get to Israel after WWII. In Italy. But the concentration is not on the political story. It focuses on a girl he picks up on night who turns out in the morning to be a man. I loved it, and i'm sure if someone somewhere rediscovered him they'd realize what a postmodernist postzionist genius he was. But that particular story was published only in some journal called Libido and then disappeared. The same thing happened to other works of his. A great loss to world literature! but some of his movies are still around - lo sam zain, matzor...

December 31, 2003

That was another great thing about him. Dahn Ben Amotz was infuriated by the way ideology was getting in the way of progress. Alan Mumford reminded me today of the way he was angered by the sentiment about the wailing wall that rose up after the six day war - And all this made me want to ask mutual friends for verification of my memories of him, but i can't find any.

So here's a anecdote. One night Ezi and I took the kiddies to an opening of one of his art exhibits. they averaged around 10 years old then. and when we walked in, he poured us all champagne because we were his first visitors. After we were all suitably in the mood we looked around, and the exhibit has pieces like a glass box filled with spectacles. the exhibit was about the holocaust, but without sentiment - only shards and leftovers of human beings. I thought it was stunning, but it disturbed many and many more chose to ignore it - he's just a little bad boy, they used to say. But I was always thrilled by the way he preferred life to memories and ideologies - even if the way he conceived of life was a bit perverted to me.

He, on the other hand, thought i was a terrible and probably unredeemable prude.

Tel Aviv today was like a dream - I took an incredible break and had lunch with Rochi at Totzeret Haaretz, one of my old favorite places, with one of my favorite people. (I have written many poems about Rochi, and a poem about Totzeret Haaretz that went into "In My Skin" because it is the quintessential 'artists' cafe - mostly local recording stars). The food is basic and good, the decor nonexistent, the owner - Michel - very human. It is one of the place in which Tel Aviv is at its best.

For a different point of view of my travels today, let me imagine what Shusha must have experienced in the few hours I left my desk. First of all she was thrilled to see Rochi, and called out in her usual high pitched scream. She was also excited about Michel, but then went to hide in the corner of the cafe where the sirens and busses couldn't get to her. (I always know what the safest place to hide is when I have shusha with me). Then she walked back to the car through Masaryk Park, finding it very inconvenient to dogs who have overeaten at a cafe. Then she went to the bank in Neve Avivim with me, the security man suggesting she stay with him for a few weeks for guard dog training, and then motioning her into the bank. Then she went with me to buy bread, where she was welcomed until the cat of the little square, Victor, recommended she leave. She ran back to the security guard at the bank and complained.

There are many dangers in Tel Aviv.

January 1, 2004

Since I fell asleep and missed the big party last night, I spent the day asking people how they celebrated new years. It wasn't until I came home from work and found Odded, who cleans the stairs, that I got a positive answer. He was out, he siad, but then again he goes out most nights and celebrates. "After all, Neshama, I had a complete cardiac arrest 15 years ago (I remember it) so if i don't celebrate that I'm alive, who will?" (Odded also was careful to note that he wasn't celebrating the holiday in particular) Nona, Mishmish and Shesek were all full, according to reports, but I can't find anyone who was out (except of course Oren).

Enid Dame died last week. I had just been quoting her "Lilith" poem in her nasal lilt to a colleague, and now I heard from Daniella Gioseffi via Stanley Barken that she died of pneumonia complications. Here's a link to some of her poems - they need to be read in her voice. Oh, New York will mean less to me that she's not there.

January 2,2004

At last the siddur of my brother, Joe Rosenstein, is out. Check it out here. I have not seen it out yet, but I read a draft, and as someone who rebels against blind confining patterns, I was thrilled with the 'alternatives' and explanations. For example: An alternative blessing for those in need of healing includes the phrase. "Your faithfulness and You love are eternal. Your blessings, Your compassion, Your energy flow to us unceasingly. /May we draw on / all of the resources that You provide us: Energy from Your energy/ Love from Your love./ Wisdom from Your wisdom. Strength from Your strength. Compassion from Your compassion/ Healing from Your healing

This kind of prayer, that attempts to give the one who prays a way to channel strength and healing, is particularly appealing to me.

Now I better check out with Joe if i'm allowed to quote...

While we're on quotes, my new years wishes come from John Dryden's first play, "A Secular Masque," written for the last night of the 17th century:


All, all of a piece throughout;

Thy chase had a beast in view;

Thy wars brought nothing about;

Thy lovers were all untrue.

'Tis well an old age is out,

And time to begin a new.

why don't i write about the fence any more? it breaks my heart.

i can write about tel aviv on a friday afternoon with much more joy and relief. even the street cats seem happier about the coming sabbath. i know i've written of them often, but not as often as they deserve. they have become so human in the past few years - so vocal and responsive. and why? just because people are feeding them. and why are they feeding them? because the municipality closed up the garbage cans so they wouldn't be able to scavenge on the streets. At the time i thought it was terrible, but now i am not so sure.

shows you how much i know.

but the fence, the fence is a tragedy. and it should have been a salvation.

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