Tel Aviv Diary October 20 - 24, 2006- - Karen Alkalay-Gut

Tel Aviv Diary - October 20, 2006 - Karen Alkalay-Gut


October 20, 2006

When I was in NY in August some of my dearest friends asked me about cluster bombs. It was the last days of the war, and we were getting news that Israel was dropping cluster bombs wholesale on Lebanon. "Hizballah used them too, and exclusively on civilian populations. We were aiming for military sites." My friends bowed their heads, as if wanting to leave me that last scrap of dignity - but they didn't believe me. "How do you know?" one friend said. "I saw it," I answered, "I saw the results. It's a small country. And they were aiming at me." "It didn't say anything about it in the papers." Today, it does. Here.

Ah, the joy of it. This afternoon I was planning to go out, but due to circumstances beyond my control had to stay home, and found myself in the midst of my absolutely favorite activity - the friday afternoon Arabic movie. Today was "Leila," an Egyptian fifties version of "La Dame aux Camillias." Here's a poem from So Far, So Good about it

The Friday Afternoon Arabic Movie



For almost thirty years I watch them,

the old Egyptian films with Hebrew subtitles.

Friday afternoon when Tel Aviv winds down

Cairo comes alive: the long-robed servants

cooking their master’s goose in the back yard kitchen,

the sly taxi drivers meandering the narrow streets

promising the visitor all manner of delights

in this mysterious city… the squint-eyed mothers

wringing their hands over what will happen

when Father

finds out.


Even if I miss them for years,

nothing changes.

They still keep the tradition for me.

Shukri Sachran still wins my heart

as he bends over the balcony longing

for the girl who disappeared

for no

apparent reason.


                                    (We know

her misguided father has locked her up.)


Omar Shariff is still seducing

the sophisticated daughters

of the fifties.


                        (We know

he’ll marry them, in the end.)


Tahiya Carioka still circles


closely around

the still body

of Farid Al Atrash


as he sings

of eternal love

in the lush Cairo night clubs.


I love the way all the emotions blend –



there was a poor orphan,

renounced by her ward, and sent

far away to an orphanage,

where she learned

from the cold nuns

to be a teacher.


But she longed

for more

and found employment

some where

in the outskirts of Alexandria,

at the lonely home

of a strange widower.


Only after she woke to find

his room burning

and pulled him out of the fire

did I recognize


our little Jane Eyre.



was easier to spot –

roaming the Arabian night streets

and quoting Dostoyevsky


Do not tell me there are better things to do

with a Friday afternoon.

For me it is like shul:

even if I do not go,

what would Shabbas be

without it?


What can I say? I take a perfect delight in all of the old Egyptian films. Not only the ones whose plots I recognize, but every single film. But only on Friday. It reminds me of when there was only one tv station and I thought that showing these films was a gesture of respect to the Arab people. (I was young and naive what can i say)

October 21, 2006

The blood tests I took on thursday apeared on the screen on Friday night, and the reason I have no energy is that i'm anemic! Saturday morning I slip over to superpharm, pick up the medication, and run back to make dinner for the kids (half of whom show up). This is shabbas? Thank goodness it isn't because I'm already beginning to feel better. Today I get the other stuff i need for my other illness and I canstart the semester. Complain as you will about Israeli medicine. I'm repeatedly impressed.

October 22, 2006

The Labor party should get out of the government - right now. If we're going to have an atom bomb dropped on it, at least we should have our principles in the right place.

October 23,2006

Because I was right near the health clinic yesterday I thought I might stop in and get a flu shot. I had to talk to the doctor anyway. And while I was with her she was interrupted by a brief call to which she replied - "no I don't know what the situation is with the shots. I've been away for a month. I'll get updated soon." Then I remembered that last year I had a week of reactions to the shot and I have to teach and have to run a conference the day after and anyway I am uncomfortable about getting shots without any flyer that explains what's inside, or what the reactions could be. So I went to my office instead, feeling a bit guilty. The news in the afternoon that four people had died of flu shots struck me just a bit more than it would have normally.

October 23, 2006

Sorry. The government says its all right to get a flu shot, and all those people who died simultaneously in the same place just after they got innoculated were circumstance. So if i don't get the flu shot I'm at risk and if I do, I'm okay. Either way I'm terrified. The same government has put me in another double bind position. If Labor quits because Liberman goes into the government Liberman will become minister of defense.

Happy and blessed Eid el-Fitr to all of us. I think we should all celebrate every holiday we can lay our hands on.

October 24, 2006

Don't forget tomorrow is the conference on American Aliyah inLiterature and Research. The invitation is at the top of the page, and here is a piece on it from Haaretz. It isn't about me. It's about everyone else who writes in english in this country.

What a mess. People think Lieberman is going to become Minister of Defense. But I suddenly understood - he's going to be prime minister.

So for the moment we have a minister of strategic affairs, but we remain without a minister of welfare. In this context I would be very interested in offering an Arab member of parliament as welfare minister. Maybe even Bishara. Despite everything.

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