Tel Aviv Diary September 16, 2005 - Karen Alkalay-Gut

Tel Aviv Diary - September 16 - 20 , 2005 - Karen Alkalay-Gut

September 16, 2005

(You can read the reviews So Far, So Good here, ) and feedback is appreciated, even if i don't say anything about how appreciative i am.

Let me see, what should I talk about - Arik Sharon's talk at the UN? (startling - talking about compromise but in a language no one there understood) Rony Sommek's evening? No - I'm into my own immediate experiences right now so I'll admit, I couldn't get myself together to get to Rony's celebration, and I'm regretting it. Instead I went to the evening about Agnon. I figured that whatever happens, the fabulous voice of Rona Kenan will make up for it all. But after 2 hours of speeches, interrupted only by a brief appearance by Tamar Agnon, we were frozen out by an over-aggressive airconditioner, and ran to the closest hot chocolate we could find. I spent the night trying to warm up.

The talks, by the way, were good, and Agnon deserves the pop attention he's suddenly getting. For those who don't know Hebrew lit, it would be something like performing Henry James at Madison Square Garden.

September 17, 2005

But other theatrics have been occupying my mind of late, especially the recent manipulations of this government culminating with Sharon playing peace at the UN. I know theatrics can be real, and can become real, and that we should not deny their significance and influence, but we have to maintain a dual vision, have to see the difference between what is being orchestrated for us and what is true now and in the past. So the article in Ha'aretz this weekend about Mosques that belies some of the myths I thought were true about how Israel has been incredibly humanistic towards our Islamic population has to be explored, digested, and incorporated into our self-image. Cemeteries too.

And yet it is also important to remember to forget all of this. That this land can suck you in to an eternal swamp with its memories.

Found myself wandering around the old bus station market on Har Zion and Derech Haifa yesterday, as the markets everywhere else had closd down for the Sabbath. This one was still going, filled with foreign workers coming home from their weekday jobs. It's always been one of the grungier markets, with the cheaper vegetables and the dirtier streets, but the fact that there is a wide road next to the booths, and traffic, and no neighbors, gives no sense of intimacy and joy. It's like a strip mall. And yet, the potential of the place is great - i can imagine the road moved to the side, a little cobblestone street between the rows of booths, and more of the exotic wares the foreign workers have brought to the country, Oriental and African wares you can also find scattered in various shops in the Carmel Market.

An organization called Sikkui has a petition to ensure that victims of terrorism in Shfaram will get the same compensation as other victims in this country. Sign here.

September 18, 2005

On the way home from a particularly enthusiastic and alcohol-rich UN bash in Herzlia, i stopped at the paz gas station where Ahmed and Salim's restaurant is. "Aren't you a professor?" the attendant asks me. "How did you know that?" I answer with the usual jewish question. I am sometimes recognized as a poet, and sometimes as "Thin Lips," but never as a professor, and certainly never in a gas station. The attendant, "Moaz," tells me he worked at the university, but studies civil engineering at rubin college in hedera. "You know the big silos as you turn into Hedera?" I ask him. "My husband built those." I'm not sure he's ever noticed them, even though he pretends to remember. We talk about building and creating public places for a while, and he doesn't lose concentration, doesn't change channels. But as I drive away, i realize we were talking about different public places, different spaces.

Public spaces in this country are very strange places - because we haven't decided what are our relationships to each other, we haven't always created public spaces where all can meet.

September 19, 2005

It is a simple question of who's space is it and how can it be used and for whom. When a neighbor in my building retired, he decided we needed a bench in front of the door so that people could rest before going up into their apartments. He was a pusher, so he just used his power as apartment board chair and bought a bench and rivetted it into the sidewalk by our door.

Then he died.

Since then, the neighbors have come to know each other. Since then it has become possible to have conversations about further alterations, complaints, or even about whether the rainfall yesterday could be considered a "yoreh" or not. (Yoreh is the first official rainfall of the year - it has to cover sufficient sections of the country to be official.)

I actually predict that we will be recreating the whole communal space around the house shortly, not only because we're putting in new plumbing outside, and a new garden, but because we will be more aware of 'people spaces.' Despite the fact that we are not old buddies, not intimate friends, we are beginning to 'work together.'

So I have always been interested in public spaces. But it takes a certain amount of awareness and culture to exist. In the old days in Tel Aviv, Ezi says, they couldn't even plant a flower in their garden without hiring a guard to prevent it from being stolen. Spaces accessible to the public had to be left barren. Now, baruch hashem, we have parks and walkways and exhibits ... and places where different races can enjoy themselves side by side. but we have to work on the coming together of people, spaces that bring different kinds of people together. i have to go back to the gas station to talk to noaz about this.

The strip mall of Ramat Aviv Gimmel could be a great place if it weren't for the people. I wound up spending a few hours there today and there were elements that were perfect - the cafes, the clothes, the shops. But the people, the people. Not the shopkeepers. But the customers. I don't know why but it always reminds me of my father - When he came to Israel for the third time, after two VIP trips where he met Golda and Moshe and all the big people, he found himself in the supermarket with my mother, a crippled old man pushed out of the way. Suddenly he said, "What a Levantine Country!"

What would my father have said if he had heard that 13 people were killed four years ago, and no one was accused of the murder?

September 20, 2005

If only my mouth had not been swollen (don't ask), I might have enjoyed the elegant reception for Helen Motro's book, Maneuvering Between the Headlines: An American Lives Through the Intifada much more. After all, this is the subject Lisa and Rochelle and me wrote the most about. But I was shot and left in the middle of the speeches about the perspective of the Israeli-American. And I'll have to come back to this subject tomorrow.

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