Tel Aviv Diary March 10-14,2007- - Karen Alkalay-Gut

Tel Aviv Diary - March 10, 2007 - Karen Alkalay-Gut

March 10, 2007

Since the only wonderful surprise in my hotel is wireless (and we're moving on in 2 days) I'll make a deal with myself - if i have access, and have something relevant to say about the subject of this diary - i'll share it with you.

Just don't expect me to be immediately relevant. I've got family coming out of the woodwork here in NYC.

One immediately relevant item is the total lack of logic of the NY plumbing arrangements. I mean even the crumbiest shower in Israel has a 'telephone,' a hand-held shower that allows you to get to those places not reached by a vertical fall of water. The slivers of Israeli soap they leave you in the hotels may not be effective, but the fact of the water is. I know the original reason is the conservation of water, and I was trained here to rinse, turn the water off, soap, turn the water on, and turn it on the relevant places only. But there are hygienic benefits as well. There is something to be learned from the middle east.

I also recall well landing in the king's private airport in Amman and feeling very royal until I went to the bathroom there where there was no toilet paper. There was, however, a hose, and that turned out to be far more hygienic.

Back to NY.

March 11, 2007

One of the feelings that prevent my full enjoyment of NY is the urgings of others to disguise my Israeli identity. Even when people are being extremely polite and warm and professional, some part of me is wondering if they are passing on this information to their boyfriend the munitions expert and somewhere soon i will be paying for war crimes. But when you're with little children you can hide nothing from anyone without 'lying' so i tell the clerk at the container store that i am from israel. Oh, she says, obviously trying to remember where it is and what he reaction is supposed to me. We have many customers from Israel = and England too.

That evening in the San Martin Restaurant, the bored Sevillian guitarist was looking around for a table to chat up, and maybe invite him for a glass of wine. Of course we wound up singing "Malaguena" and "Hava Nagilla." And maybe I won't be afraid to speak Hebrew in the street.

March 12,2007

Don't ask how I found myself on a circle cruise around manhattan. I don't want to be reminded. But I did learn one thing. The poem in the statue has disappeared from the public eye - not only physically (because you can only go up to the pedestal by previous appointment - and it's not cheap) but in the minds of the guides. When I was growing up the Statue of Liberty was always identified with "Give me your tired, your poor...." and much later I learned that Lazarus had written the poem about the pogroms in Russia. But now Liberty isn't a warm welcoming mother - in fact it's a little embarassing. And the guide talked about all the other elements of the statue, but not the poem. I've written about this before, but hadn't imagined that even the tour guide would forget her.

March 14, 2007

So I'm undergoing a typical (I think) Israeli culture shock to life in the U.S. in general and in the Jewish community in particular. Once you leave NYC it's a different world you know. "Its a great place to live," Anne tells me, "but a horrible place to visit." More soon.

March 15, 2007

Give me an example you say. I am at the drugstore at midnight. The clerk says, have you got all you want? I answer, no - but that's all i'm going to get! The clerk begins to smile, catches herself, remembers orders about keeping distance, and turns away. A similar crack in Israel would make the clerk laugh and sing something like, "You can't always get what you want..."

Another example: In the MOMA today I was noticing as usual that there is a tendency to block out people. We look at the art, but not those around us. Today the Germans sitting next to us at the MOMA cafe, but didn't look out the enormous window with its variegated buildings and heights. An installation.

And then I wandered out and saw all these people not making eye contact, involved in their tour. Suddenly a pair of eyes met mine. An Israeli, I knew, not by the clothes or the hair, but the gaze. It was not that he was trying to pick me up or that he recognized me, but that he was as interested in what everyone else was doing as what he was doing. Later I saw him looking over someone's shoulder to see what she was reading.

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