Tel Aviv Diary July 31 - August 4, 2004 - Karen Alkalay-Gut

Tel Aviv Diary - July 31 - August 4, 2004 Karen Alkalay-Gut

July 31, 2004

A little distracted, I found myself daydreaming in south Tel Aviv today, where all the workshops are. It kept reminding me of Gaza city with its low buildings but there were no people around. And I was concentrating on something else so i wasn't really paying attention to the little groups of men I did see. But afterward I realized there were small bunches of illegal workers all over the place, mostly Palestinian. And it hadn't struck me as so unusual I should wake up from my daydreaming.

Afterwards I had a perfect tel aviv day - in Barbunya - a fish restaurant on Ben Yehuda - with local beer and crowds coming back from the beach.

And now I'm off to a typical tel aviv evening - in dizengoff center.

August 1, 2004

It doesn't happen often - we never get to the movies on Saturday nights any more - especially not on Dizengoff, which is a unique cultural experience.

Tonight, for example, we saw this Japanese film called Zatoichi, which is one of those ahistorical legendary tales - good wise guy overcomes bad guys who have taken over the town and rights historical wrongs. Lots of spurting blood, limbs lopped off, etc. It's probably got a very good audience around the world. But here there were at least two culturally-specific elements in the reception of the film. First, when the robbers enter the family home and kill everyone in their beds, the guy sitting behind me gasped - i turned around afterward and saw he was in his mid-sixties, and heard his Polish accent as he explained to his wife he was leaving. Now how can someone who may have lived through a pogrom or the Holocaust or a terrorist explosion see this cartoon-like film in the mythic-comic spirit it was created? Twenty, thirty bad guys skewered did not desensitize the guy behind me. After all, he may well have known of much greater numbers in a bus last year and that just increased the horror.

But there was a second contradictory reaction that I felt as well. After the film we had some watermelon on the beach and talked about politics. The people we were with were very much in the know, and intimate with numerous politicians, and the stories they told - perhaps for the first time to each other - were cumulatively horrifying. To me the different political parties felt like the gangs in the film that the good blind samurai-masseur destroys one by one. I wanted to be able to get to the point at the end of the film when all the good guys collectively do an enthusiastic stomp - a kind of 'ding-dong the witch is dead.'

To right all wrongs and then go dancing.

Even the final scene in which the once-blind hero leans into the camera and says, 'even with my vision i see nothing' sounded like a line I wanted to speak. Since after all there is no way to get at the total truth around here - no way as far as i can see to totally know everything. it's a good start though to know that.

August 2, 2004

I was just about to write when the dog got sick. My vet says she probably swallowed a sharp bone. So I'm doing some nursing now.

What I wanted to write about was a magical evening at the opera seminar in yaffo. Anna Boleyna, arias (something I've never been mad about before out of context), students full of enthusiasm and talent, etc. etc. all in the environment of what sometimes looks like a cultural wasteland. The hall is bordered on one side by Bloomfield Stadium - for soccer - and the remains of the "Beit Mercazim" - the multiple home for alternative performance arts which burned down last year. And opposite its entrance is "Nishikat Tzarfatit" an all-night bakery which was flooded with opera lovers but seemed unnecessary hot to me and sold me stale pitot with zaatar.

The mix seemed typical to me.

Shusha is still very very sick - maybe only a terrible infection or maybe something more terrible. She said to thank you for your cards and letters.

The Vet's system of examining, eliminating alternatives and testing through treatment, by the way, is my method of choice. Stay close, finger on the pulse, and play it cool.

And while I write this, I listen to the attempts of our politicians to form a new coalition - and i think why isn't my vet in politics?

August 3, 2004

The dog, thank you, is better, and i am slowly recovering as well. But the lesson of the slow logic and the concept of simple, proper procedure of the vet has remained with me all day. As the country becomes more and more anarchic, less and less logical, I sometimes forget that when the disease isn't necessarily fatal, everything can be turned around with the proper medicine.

Here's a draft of something on this subject i wrote a few months ago - maybe i posted it - but it isn't finished because i would prefer a better solution:


"Sometimes it helps to see familiar things
from the opposite direction
so you can get a new perspective,"
one of us says as we approach Tel Aviv,
miss the turn for Ibn Gvirol and keep talking.
At first I think we're on Dizengoff
because I see a closed cafe with a 'for rent' sign
'immediately for any purpose.'
But it gets less and less familiar
and I think how just sitting high in a "Smart" car
changes my view. We're almost at Frishman
before I realize we've been in a bus lane
the whole way, riding south on Ben Yehuda
which for noncommercial vehicles
has been one-way going north
for as long as I can remember
and there's almost no point to scream
"we've got to get off this road" because it is clear
no one really cares we're going the wrong way.

No one really cares we're going the wrong way
and I don't remember anymore as we go up Allenby
what's legal and what isn't, although I do whisper
a tiny protest when we miss the turnoff to Bialik.
"No problem," you say, "and spin around mid-traffic
back to that tiny street where our national author
lived his modest little life,
sitting by his ceramic fireplace and dreaming

of a new and better world.

August 4, 2004

I was about to go off to Jaffo, the city that Arabs call "the bride of the mediterranean." My reason was banal, to look at microphones in the shop opposite the Turkish clock tower, because I'm doing another warm-up for the Traktor at Barbi on the 12th. But checking the news before i leave I read "Human skeleton dating back to the Crusader Era discovered during excavations in Jaffa in southern Tel Aviv." It isn't that big a deal, it's common around here, but it's startling nevertheless, that conflation of historical and eternal with the contemporary and banal.

Turned out there were many more skeletons and remains there. I remember when Bandi, Ezi's father, told me about how when he was digging sewers in Jaffa, they kept coming up with antiquities. There was no way to dig around them - they were every where.

Speaking of antiquities - i spent part of the evening at the Yiddish Writers House, which is looking better than last year, but very much in need of renewal. What a wonderful place! How sad it is so neglected for lack of funds! I started thinking about the yiddish phobia that exists in israel, not only because ben gurion did everything possible to get rid of it, but also because we still associate it with the victims, with the holocaust, with losers. And we think it is demeaning. but it is an amazing language of the outsider, of perspective, and it often helps me to see life in proportion.

After we wound up in my favorite place, Cafe Nona, and I pigged out as usual on lasagna. The lasagna took a while to get to the table, and by then i had downed most of my Goldstar beer, and i started staring at the back of the security guard. He was wearing a black t-shirt plastered with 'security' in white letters. And it suddenly seemed to me that the letters had simulated bullet holes in them. And I started to think about the old days when i sat next to the security guard, comforted by his macho manner and his ease. You know how that story turned out - if you've been with me during the worst of the daily bombings. The macho Israel security guard turned out to be a Palestinian from Nablus (who made the mistake of stealing a motorcycle from a customer) and disappeared from view! Had he been sent back to Nablus he would have been killed as a collaborator, and he certainly could not continue as a security guard in the present atmosphere.

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