Tel Aviv Diary - February 7, 2010 - Karen Alkalay-Gut

Tel Aviv Diary - February 7-11, 2010 Karen Alkalay-Gut

February 9, 2009 at

February 7, 2010

The magic of returning to this country is never ending, but this time the green overwhelmed me. What wonderful rains have fallen. And now the air is cold but clear, and the sun is shining.

On the other hand the Israelites are squabbling among themselves more than ever. Left - right - how absolutely silly! And by the way, as someone who was an absolute television freak during the Cast Lead Operation, I am convinced that all the evidence (both real and mistaken) was available then - Knesset members were spouting absolute nonsense just to get on television - and their opinions are now cast in lead as 'truth' in the Goldstone Report. The same kind of exaggeration and silliness can be seen today. Let us be a little more careful and understanding of each other. Let us try to become worthy of this amazing land.

February 8, 2010

Yesterday and today we spent our mornings in the hospital doing the usual Ezi-scan. I don't have much to do but wait around in the cafeterias and give advice to the lost souls who happen to look sad around me. Today, as I was having coffee in my favorite place - the tenth floor outside the outpatient cancer ward - with a view of the entire city, and admiring the fish that used to comfort me two years ago:

a woman asked me if I speak English. She needed help in buying coffee for her mother who was taking care of her father who had been stricken while they were on a tour. Not knowing even what kind of currency was being used in the country, she was at a total loss. How strange, I thought, not only feeling her terrible pain and shock but also wondering at the contrast: here I am totally at home tucked away in a place of critical danger.

The point is, as long as we are not in personal danger, the place is great, but as soon as it hits us, even the most warm and considerate scene is a nightmare.

February 9, 2010

Dear Chiara,

Yesterday I received a notice from the central post office to come and pay customs for the package of books you sent me. Since you are the publisher, Kolibris, and I am the author of Danza del Ventra a Tel Aviv, I was irritated that the books weren't just delivered, but expected only that an hour would be wasted.

I had forgotten the last time I was there years ago when I ordered 5 packages of vitamins from abroad. That was the first time I had been suspected to be an importer.

So this morning I trot across town to the central post office, an imposing structure filled with Russian men of all ages waiting in various lines. Now that I think of it, it must have been workers sent to get the companys' delivery. But at the moment I was sure only Russians are in the import-export business.

In any case, I began in one fifteen minute line in order to have my summons examined. There I was told that the package would have to be opened to determine my payment and that I should go to another hall to request this. That led to a five minute line where I was told by a nice young man that my package would be opened and I would be called when my turn had come. About twenty minutes later a woman called out a version of my name, and I rushed to the window and laughingly corrected her. "It's written wrong!" she defended herself, and I whispered, "It's okay, I'm not insulted." In any case, the package had been opened, and the five plastic-wrapped packages of five little books, the two free books had been leafed through, and everything had been piled up next to the package so that the shredded paper used for lining could be burrowed through. The woman, who was now my friend, chased away the people who had crowded around me, and sent me on my way, back to the first clerk, for an evaluation.

But the first clerk couldn't figure out how much to charge me. Even though she really wanted to help, she had no precedent. So she sent me to the manager. I went down the long hall to the manager's office, and saw two men standing outside. "Are you in line?" I asked, and when I received some incomprehensible answer and a guffaw from one of them, I stepped into the secretary's office ahead of them. That was when one of them walked past me into the head office and invited me in. I explained, for the fifth time, what my package contained, and he shook his head. "I don't care for belly dancing," he said. "But this is POETRY about belly dancing, and especially about Tel Aviv!" "That president of Italy is a strange one," he answered, "But he's a friend of ours." And so on and on went our discussion of my fine, until, at last, he wrote down, "VAT" on my form, and charged me 50-odd shekel. Apparently he could have charged 500 if he'd wanted.

That wasn't the end. There was the line to pay the VAT and then the line to pick up the package. Finally I was allowed to take my resealed package and go home. So in the car I went through the beautiful little book carefully, both the Italian and the English, and enjoyed it thoroughly. Was it worth an entire morning and fifty shekel? Yes.

The late comic writer, Ephraim Kishon, once invented a board game that became very popular in the sixties called "A Package Has Arrived" in which you have to go through endless bureaucracy to get your parcel from the post office. It's outdated now.

February 10, 2010

Last night, half asleep, while driving home from a reading, i thought i was dreaming when I saw a big sign that said Naomi Chazan Goldstone. I didn't get to read the rest because by the time I opened my eyes we'd past the sign, but the demonization of Naomi Chazan seems to be everywhere. I actually don't know the exact facts - but even if Chazan's donees did give information to the Goldstone Report, I doubt very much whether it was something that hadn't been around in the papers before. As Bob Dylan said, "You don't have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows." What kills me is that Goldstone didn't get other facts right, like the ones that were available to anyone who reads the newspapers. My in-laws say, you have to have a single person to demonize when your frustrations can't find an outlet.

February 11, 2010

Here's a nice picture of me and Liz at the Bowery Poetry Club. Robin Hoffman made me look very pure as a poet, and has our gestures down pat in her sketch. (Ezi has promised to prepare the video of the program too, but we need to have patience)

Oren brought us Knafeh from Nazareth the other day, but I was in no condition to taste them, being restricted to toast and tea. As soon as my stomach could take it, tonight, I gobbled one down. Oh my goodness, I gobbled down three. This knafeh is the most amazing food I've ever eaten. Worth every sharp pain I am having now. You may say that the best knafeh is really from Nablus, knafeh nabulsia. But I don't even remember the taste of knafe from Nablus - it was so long ago.

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