Tel Aviv Diary Jan 23, 2004 - Karen Alkalay-Gut

Tel Aviv Diary - from January 23, 2004 Karen Alkalay-Gut

January 23, 2004

Trying to plan a trip for Shabbat - but with this weather it is impossible. In the south there are dangers of flash floods and in the north trees falling.

Maybe we can go visit the fence and see if it moved. (Sharon promises to move it if there are negotiations). How far is the fence from my house? about 10 miles.

The Negev - it has to be the Negev. It has been far too long since I've smelled the salt of Sodom.

The best program on Israeli TV is without a doubt "Eretz Nehederet," the satiric program that seamlessly follows the extremely serious Friday Night news. Seamlessly - to the point that the news anchor man (this week Nahum Barnea) greets the host of the satire before he signs off. Tonight we went out to dinner and so taped it all. On fast forward there is almost no difference between the two programs - satire and news are the same.

The prospective bride of Yigal Amir gets interviewed, Arik Sharon ice skates his way through the overwhelming questions, the Swedish ambassador discusses the ... And we laugh and cry over both programs just about equally.

January 24, 2004

It was perfect. The Desert reorganizes values, the sun shining over everything equally - the sand and the salt and the flowers and the rocks.

In this kind of world everything seems clear - you can see where the road leads, what is on the other side of the water. No wonder the desert breeds monotheists.

In the real world, meanwhile, it was better than that. The weather being so bad up north, with storms and snows, everyone seemed to have stayed home. So the roads were clear and clean, the way down to Dimona gradually clearing as the sun shown stronger and stronger. It was 12 degrees as we hit the desert and 18 when we drove down to the Dead Sea. We only had that afternoon so we tasted the rocks, dipped our feet into the water (at least Jamaica did - I was still healing from an ingrown toenail), bought all the creams we could carry, and headed home.

By the time we got significant reception on the radio it was evening, and the world began to return slowly. Ezi told about the sign "Welcome to Arkansas, Home of President Clinton," that was subtitled: "According to state law, a known sex offender." And Jamaica said, "What's worse, doing it or lying about it?" and then, "What's worse, lying about sex or lying about war?" And we were plunged again into the overwhelming sense of helplessness that pervades us all who have been manipulated into helping destroy all our values.

And my sore throat and cough returned.

Then I remembered that even before I had existential political anxieties, the desert was my place for reorganizing values. An old poem came to mind:



It doesn't work in this town

my love for you, my loneliness -

drinking beer in a sidewalk cafe

watching the wrong people fill the street.

So I go to deserted Memphis,

city of extinct people,

nomads who accommodated the Romans

with gold mosaics in the wilderness.

Here the pure lines of empty buildings

show the social directives. Here,

every drop of water is caught

by channels leading to cisterns,

every child born destined to a place

in the walled town. Though the air is clear

I have not breathed for centuries.

Once out of the rigid streets

I can conjure all kinds of love:

the river bed with its layers,

quartz marble shining among the sand

and donkey turds, flowering bushes

jutting from stone cliffs,

earless rabbits listening quietly

to our footsteps, our chatter.

Only the fear of flash flood keeps me

from setting up camp here for the cold Negev night

This one I realize is simply about the restraints of living in civilizations, present or past. But countered by Hobbs' fear of abandoning civilization altogether. That's probably why even today all I wanted to do in the Negev is to pick up smooth stones, admire the colors of the miraculously painted sand, wander the craters, and contemplate the fate of Lot's wife.

January 25, 2004

Think of Lot's Wife, tying one child to her back and carrying the other, hanging a bag of her clothes to a strap from her forehead, and rushing out past the walls of Sodom as if they meant nothing to her - the people who'd shaped her life, as if she could abandon the women who'd helped her give birth. Suddenly Cavafy comes to mind:

There's no new land, my friend, no

New sea; for the city will follow you,

In the same streets you'll wander endlessly,

The same mental suburbs slip from youth to age,

In the same house go white at last...

-- C.P. Cavafy

January 26, 2004

I thought I would mine the grocery store for information about Tennenbaum. But my usual source of inside information has dried up - the stunned grocers merely repeat that he will be returned by the end of the week, unless, once again, Nassralla changes his mind. But no one holds much hope for the condition he will be in. Can you get yourself together when your teeth have been extracted and your health has been degenerating for years and the Israeli government is anticipating long and hard questioning? And what about the others - the three soldiers? There is no evidence they are alive - yet still we trust....

what an inhuman torture to keep the parents in the dark about whether their sons are alive or not.

But the story of Ron Arad has been always accompanied by this kind of inhumanity. "Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction" says Pascal. Sometimes those French are right.

But the results of this prisoner exchange are even more frightening. The thought of terrorists, who have been hardened by our treatment in prisons returning home with the conviction that they have conquered and will now continue in their mission, is truly terrifying.

This may be the moment to remind my close friends of the recurring Hitler nightmare with which I grew up. It goes like this: My family is at the Seder in the dining room of our first home in the U.S., a small comfortable room that opened to the front porch to Clifford Street in Rochester. There are the usual guests, displaced people, refugees. And the door bursts open and storm troopers murder everyone. I am small and hide under the table, but am found out.

Terrorism has a special history for me.

Every november the poverty report comes out. And then at the end of January the report on salaries is published. So not only do we have the january weather to contend with but we have the annual frustration of knowing that while there are people starving in this country there are also people earning incredible salaries.

January 27, 2004

Two items of interest today: Sheikh Mustafa Dirani claims he was sodomized in prison, and parliament member Inbal Gavrieli claims she has been sexually intimidated in the knesset.

Are they both telling the truth? Is either of them telling the truth? What a country!

After a tough day of negotiating about the book coming out from kibbutz hameuchad -- and hearing over and over how poetry is impossible to sell -- i watch Tal Gordon's program on Israeli music and i wish she could do for poetry what she does for music. She's creating a tradition on a par with Yoav Kutner's tv series, "Sof Onat Hatapuzim" that explored the musical history here. Gordon also interviews and presents the singers in an inteligent, knowledgable and and intimate way. This week for example she interviewed people who knew Benny Amdursky (at his peak in the sixties I think) and then went to Tzvika Pik's daughters (second generation singers). And I only saw the tail end of the program.

(Anyway there is nothing like her for poetry -- not in Israel, not anywhere else I know).

But I wasn't there for the beginning because we went out to Stefan Braun's for dinner. Now I usually avoid places like Stefan Braun's, simply because everyone who's everyone is there. But we didn't pick this place - so we went along. And it was a real experience. It was true - everyone who was anyone was there. And they were there because the food was perfect. And the atmosphere: old Tel Aviv -- that small seething old town full of charm and intrigue and intimacy.

The restaurant is across the street from the great synagogue - so much a fixture of this city that we barely pay attention. And yet Ezi's grandfather built the dome of that synagogue - and this too is part of old Tel Aviv.

But despite the fact that I have much more to say (and apparently erased some of what I said by mistake) I have the standard dilemma of the diarist - either i live or i write. no time for both.

But I have to add a few words of explanation before I turn the page forever.

(1) I was not being flip about Dirani or Gavrieli. Both accusations are illustrations of the strengths and the weaknesses of Israeli society. First off the fact that Dirani - an enemy captive - can sue the Israeli government - is a sign of the democracy here as well as the potential for complications and even corruption. I have no idea how this trial will come out but the fact that it exists at all is amazing.

As for Inbal Gavrieli - it is the opposite. The fact that a young, beautiful, uneducated woman can reach Parliament is a potential sign of health. But the fact that Gavrielli is obviously not there because of her own merits, but because of party corruption, is not a good thing. And her accusation - without naming names or pointing fingers - is simply irresponsible.

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