E-Travels With E.Trules.....tel aviv take two – synchronicity, violence, & facades, Middle Est,Scandinavia, Malaysia,SE Asia Travelogues

« tel aviv take two – synchronicity, violence, & facades »

june 28 - july 4, 1999

tel aviv

wow. i'm chillin’ in my own apartment in neve tzedek, the formerly old world, yemenite, now trendy, tel aviv neighborhood between the bright lights of downtown and jaffa, just about three blocks from the glistening mediterranean beach. well, maybe not quite my own. you see, i lucked out. on the way to the russian compound from the moravs in jerusalem, i made a few calls from a phone booth in rehavia and i hooked up with roni myers from south africa. i had met her at the shantipi world music festival, and she had enthusiastically arranged a screening of my film (sight unseen) one night in jerusalem at her parents home in yemin moshe. it had been a very cool and cultural evening with a wildly provocative question and answer session afterwards, and now roni was on her way back to tel aviv from her parents - did i want to come along? synchronicity. traveler's luck. “did i want to come along” (in her cool british/south african accent)? and stay at her place in neve tzedek? and meet her at the bus station in jerusalem in an hour? "right," (in my quasi-british imitation accent), "don't mind if i do. see you there. thanks!"

and so now roni is off at work, and i'm here alone straightening up her place which is still full of boxes because she never really moved in properly and she doesn't know if she should really stay or move back in with her brother, or get a bigger place on her own, or...

anyway, you get the picture. and besides, i like to straighten - and make order out of chaos - and i really don't care one way or the other if she goes or stays - because i'm here now, and why not make a home out of a shambles and clean up the bathroom and consolidate the boxes and wipe off the counters and move the sofa and make the beds...? it's fun. and i'm a homebody again. and i'm chillin' in tel aviv, getting ready for my ambivalent re-entry to LA, city of fallen angels.

i discover that there's a daily market about a block away from the apartment. it has everything. fruits, vegetables, yogurt, fresh eggs, flowers, flat bread, paper towels, light bulbs, a stopper for the kitchen sink. i stock up and bring my load back to the apartment, climbing the two flights of stairs like a human camel. i dig out a few pots and pans from the maze of boxes, find a vase for the flowers, and cook up a little asparagus, fennel, and cheese omelet. not bad. i decide to go out for an early afternoon walk and dip in the mediterranean. i take the key roni's left me, go off to make her a copy, climb back up the stairs to leave it for her under the mat, and i'm off. not bad at all. how 'bout that israeli trust and hospitality?

the day is fine. a little hot and humid compared to jerusalem, but there's a cool sea breeze down by the water. and the local beers over at the banana beach, and the girls in their bikinis, and the bathtub temperature of the sea - it's all a perfect mix of new scenery and welcome relaxation. hell, i've been on the go for seven weeks straight; i deserve a little r&r. well, okay, it hasn't been all that tough, but hey, here i am in tel aviv, why not enjoy? so i do. i walk home from the beach just before sunset, stopping off at the local beachfront, white-marbled mosque (another surprise), and i climb the stairs. the key's still in place, no roni in sight. i dig out a towel from the "bathroom" box, scrub the shower, and then get in it. nice. clean. vacation. it's now late afternoon, and after struggling through a few more pages of agnon, i scour roni's bookshelves for a less challenging, more relaxing book to read. however, before i can settle on anything in particular, my cell phone sings out its crazy computerized musical imitation of beethoven.

alright, i admit it. i've had a cell phone for seven weeks - the entire time i've been in israel. mea culpa - encore. what can i say: when in israel, do as the israelis do. so what if i truly hate these instruments of technological destruction and dependency? so what if i absolutely refuse to have one in LA, no matter how practical they can be in times of emergency - or lateness - or lostness? i mean, how many more trendy, teeny-bop high fashion poseurs do i have to see walking down the street next to their trendy, teeny-bop friend - simultaneously chatting to some invisible, no-doubt trendy, teeny- bop friend walking down another street next to their no-doubt trendy, teeny-bop friend - none of them actually talking to the human being next to them! or what about all those chic mercedes and BMW drivers cruising down the avenue or the highway or the unfrequented country road - glued to their cell phones? or the motor scooter daredevils zipping around the corner, one hand on the accelerator, the other on - their cell phones. or the countless teenage girls and boys barricaded up in their rooms, sprawled out on their beds, wasting their adolescent time in oh-so-important conversations - on their cell phones?

anyway, my rented one rings. it's leora of the desert, the tough, trendy trance dj from tel aviv who i met in the sinai bedouin camp. i've called her just before going out and taking my walk. and now she's called me back - on my cell phone. embarrassingly - cool. it turns out she lives right here in neve tzedek; do i want to meet her at the white mosque on the beach in five minutes? of course, why not? i grab an apple and start walking. in about two minutes, i see leora of the desert walking up ahead of me in her pink baggy shorts, tight spandex top, and desert flip flops. "hey, leora," i call out. she turns. "hey." amazing. it turns out she lives not only here in neve tzedek, but literally, around the alley way from roni. she invites me over. tells me to relax, take a shower, make myself comfortable. i do. her place is just as immaculate and aesthetically arranged as roni's is not. it's spare and very -zen-like: shoji screens, tall fern-like plants. i feel like we're back in the desert - psychically speaking - only things are citified -and less sandy. she spins some music for me. i love it. blue room. groove armada. paul oakenfield. i've never heard of any of them, but they are fantastic. she makes dinner, we have some wine, some local herb. the night unfolds languidly and deliciously. she invites me to stay over -- she can walk over to her brother's on sheinkin, he's out of town for the week. i say thanks but decline for tonight; i figure i better get back to roni's and be a responsible and grateful guest. we say good night, leora - and el arik - of the neve tzedek desert.

the next day(s) are more of the same. roni and leora work all day, and i roam the beaches, swim, shop, cook, eat, read, and generally continue to chill. i've moved over from roni's to leora's because i can have complete privacy there. i'm enjoying my leisurely days and balmy nights, and i'm thinking, hey, i could get used to this.

one morning i'm doing my now-daily street market shopping. i have about eight different plastic and paper bags dangling from my arms - a different bag from each different vendor - a bag for tomatoes, a bag for nectarines, one for asparagus, onions, bread, eggs, flowers etc. i decide to consolidate and put one bag inside the other. the street is crowded; there are no check out stands, just tons of people, vendor stands, and merchandise. so i decide to put my bags on top of a stand of hard candies. i'm not thinking much about it, and i'm in the middle of my consolidation, when the candy stand vendor starts screaming at me - in arabic. oh no. deju vu. kings’ highway, jordan. it doesn't take me long to figure out that he's angry that my things are on top of his things. i apologize and start picking up my bags as quickly as i can. apparently, i'm not quick enough. he continues ranting, fueling his own rage, and adds the two words of heavily accented english i do recognize, "fuck you". what! what did he say? i can't believe it. in a split second, i completely and instantaneously - lose it. bing! i pick up one of his nearby apples and i start to hurl it at him. but as i follow through, something instinctively stops me - and i break the violence of the throw and toss the apple gently up in the air so he can easily catch it - which he does. however, this sends him further into an irate fury. he bends down furiously, and grabbing a baseball bat-size club from the ground, he runs out from behind the stand with it - straight at me.

thirty seconds before i was just casually shopping in the daily market in neve tzedek for fresh fruits and vegetables; now suddenly i have an out-of-control, arab maniac wielding a club over his head trying to smash my brains out. i throw up my hands to protect myself, dropping my bags around me. there's instantly a huge crowd parting around us like the red sea, and i'm suddenly the target in a sudden swirl of chaos. i feel like in the next mili-second, i'm going to get smashed in the face - or on my skull - with a baseball bat. i cower for the blow. my head whips around and my glasses go flying to the ground. i don't know exactly what happens next. maybe the flying glasses make him pause, maybe he catches himself in mid-violent frenzy, maybe he somehow impulsively realizes that it's not a good idea for an arab vendor to bludgeon an american tourist in the middle of down-town tel aviv; but somehow, he holds the moving club back before delivering the blow - barely - and still trembling with fury, he violently and decisively - spits in my face.

my god! i'm not struck. i grab my spit-on face and whip around to the ground to grab my glasses. i have no instinct to strike back, only to flee for my life. i bump into people, the crowd separates, then closes back around me. i go hurtling off in one direction, back towards leora's; the lunatic street vendor is thrown in the opposite direction, swallowed up into the crowd. it's over. just as suddenly as it began.

holy shit! what was that? i'm trembling. walking down the street and trembling. i have my glasses back on my face. i have all my bags of groceries. there are swarms of people around me again - shopping, talking, smiling. everything is back to normal - like it was three minutes ago. as if nothing happened at all. wait, what did i say? "normal"? this was normal. violence erupting in the middle of a bright sunny day. in a common market place. in the middle of tel aviv. not in explosive jerusalem. not in the contested west bank. but in “secular”, “modern” - tel aviv. violence - an inch under the skin. a casual beat under the surface. i put my things on his things. property. ownership. antagonism. hatred. an inch under the skin. sure, i was stupid. i shouldn't have reacted to his cursing me. i should have known better. but i didn't. i put my fruits on his candies. that's all it took - a casual error in judgment - an unprovoked, ordinary, every day act -and bam! i could have been dead - or lying there in a pool of blood -a headline, a casualty - or - nothing at all. just a blip, a blink, a spit in the eye of intolerance, brutality... history.

it takes me a few hours to settle down. i bring my groceries back to leora's and run down to the beach. i shake my hands at my sides and try to fling off all the pent up and absorbed violence inside my head and chest. soon the sun, the surf, and the familiarity of my routine has me back in the swing of things. a little breakfast, some more exercise, a distracting and refreshing dip in the sea, and i'm back to “normal”. of course, what i soberly realize is that normal in the mideast is not normal in america. and that as smart and sophisticated as i try to be, that i am only a babe in the woods in the world of international relations and cultural differences. and that if i truly value my life, i'd better watch my p's and q's a bit more carefully while i'm cavalierly dashing about on my ethno-centric trips around the globe. otherwise, in a split second, i may very well no longer have that life.

that afternoon, with a clearer head and a calmer heart, i take a walk over to the suzanne dallale art & cultural center. nestled gracefully in the corner of crumbling, but gradually gentrifying neve tzedek, the busy center is a well-groomed, multi-building, former religious complex that has now become a high powered, government-subsidized art institution. it is the busy home of hard-working dance companies, avant garde theater ensembles, art galleries, rehearsal halls, administrative offices, and even a coffee shop and restaurant. just what we don't have in america. subsidized art.

it suddenly strikes me. the whole time i've been in israel and the region, i have done everything but investigate or develop any professional opportunities. well, a couple of times, upon invitation, i did screen my documentary film. and that was stimulating and exciting. but i was not here for work; i was here for travel, history, perspective, and adventure. but now, unexpectedly discovering myself in this slow-paced corner of un-touristy tel aviv, suddenly immersed into the working reality of an entire arts scene i didn't even know existed, i am starting to think. hey, what if i stayed on for the rest of the summer? changed my plane ticket, got a substitute teacher for my LA summer classes, rented a little place here in neve tzedek, borrowed or rented a lap top computer, and tried to meet some local artists? i could get involved, write a story about my trip, maybe even teach some classes. here in tel aviv. wow, what a novel idea.

as i'm contemplating all this and my new career in tel aviv, i see a dark-haired woman sitting by herself over in the grass against the white plastered wall. i walk over to say hello. she greets me enthusiastically - as if she knows me. it's very nice, but i don't recognize her. i figure it's just the standard israeli warmth and gregariousness. however, it turns out that she does know me. i've apparently bought something from her just yesterday in the craft market - a five fingered arabic totem hand - and she remembers me because i was her last customer of the day. she had decided to stay later than her fellow vendors, and then i came along. i was good luck. her name is orlee, and she's a sephardic moroccan jew who turns out to be a veritable philosopher-poet-outsider with a unique perspective on all things israeli - and otherwise.

we fall into a comfortable conversation. she takes me on a tour of suzanne dallale, and then of all of neve tzedek. it's one of her favorite places. she points out the historical buildings, the all-night bagel shop, the beautiful homes and gardens, and... we talk. "everyone in this area looks so hip, so fashionable," i say. "and comfortable with themselves at the same time." "oh really," she says, smiling enigmatically at me. "yeah, they all look like middle eastern modern hippies to me. or artists. i feel like i could be friends with them all." "looks can be deceiving," she says, as she continues walking. "look at that fuscia bougainvillea climbing so cleverly up that wall. it's beautiful." i look. it is. "what do you mean 'deceiving'?", i say. "oh," she sort of sing songs her reply, "israelis are not as free as they like to make themselves appear. fashionable yes, artists no." "what do you mean?" i protest again, my perception being called to question. "these people are not very free in their minds. look more carefully. beyond the facade. they are very provincial, conformist; they all just dress this way because they think it's cool." i tell her about shantipi. i tell her about the rave on the dead sea. "that's it," she says, smiling again, "it's the same thing here in tel aviv, but worse. people are full of ego, full of themselves. they know very little about individuality. they're just showing off, imitating the east, imitating each other. it's sad."

she's so eloquent. and unsparing. her language has the ring of truth about it. could i be so off? could i simply be projecting everything i'd like these beautiful people to be onto them? maybe... i recall very clearly how unconnected and alone i felt at those trendy raves and music festivals. how unfriendly those baggy-panted, loose-shirted people were. but i assumed that it was me. i was the outsider; i didn't speak the language. but now orlee's saying that no, maybe it was them. certainly partially them. they were not interested in me; they were interested in themselves. and the same thing here in tel aviv; people are not open or friendly. when i introduce myself, they're polite - but disinterested. oh c'mon now, pal, everyone is interested in themselves. not everyone wants to know the story of your life. but wait. this woman is interested. she's friendly and curious. smart, open, and articulate. we're talking about things. cultural differences. world travel. And it's not sexual or romantic. it's just - human. we're two world citizens, we're vital and alive, and we're talking.

we end up back on sheinkin street. she takes me to her favorite coffee shop, a storefront backyard with picnic tables, and we order two lattes. i tell her about my work. i tell her about my idea to maybe stay here in tel aviv for the summer. "i think your work could be very valuable here," she says. "you say you teach creativity and self expression. film, theater, writing. well that's just what israelis need. and originality. and individuality. they need to learn how to get in touch with themselves. how to look inside. how to break away from the pack." really? i'm starting to get excited all over again. could i really afford to give up my LA summer job and rent a place here? what about a computer to write with? could i maybe get work here and make some money too? what about a work permit? oh man, so many ideas swirling around in my head. too many unknowns. maybe i should just take the leap and trust that the universe will catch me with her big, beautiful net.

"do you think i should really do it," i ask her -- orlee -- my new philosophical, psychic prognosticator. "well," she says with another enigmatic smile, "there's a right time for everything." "what does that mean?" i say truculently. "well, just that. that there's a time and a season for everything under heaven." oh great, now she's quoting bob dylan. wait, no, that's the bible. whatever. "what should i do? my plane leaves tomorrow night." "oh, really," she croons, "that's interesting." right. interesting. my classes started last week back in LA, tomorrow is july 4th, and i've actually invited twenty people over to my home in elysian park by e-mail for a barbecue and the fireworks from nearby dodger stadium. what the hell should i do?

i walk orlee to a bus stop, say goodnight and thank her for a full and thought-provoking day, and i invite her over tomorrow to my last night's film screening at dan katzir's back on sheinkin. and i walk home to leora's. well, i don't literally make it to leora's. i head down to the water and walk south towards jaffa. i walk and think. it's another balmy night and there are many arab/muslim families out on the cool grass along the stretch of beach between neve tzedek and jaffa. the water reflects the orange fluorescent light from the in-vogue globes lining the pedestrian boardwalk. it's another perfectly soft and seductive night. what should i do? get on my plane - or stay? come home to my all-too-familiar routine - or leap into the unknown? superficial, loveless LA - or stimulating, tempting tel aviv? i can't decide. one second it's one, the next it's the other. practical or adventurous? the left side of my brain says, "go home, you've had your vacation and adventure, don't push your luck." the right side says, "you know there's something here for you; you don't know exactly what it is, but you can feel it. take a chance. go for it." left or right? right or left? i walk all the way to jaffa. i stop at the abulafia bakery and scarf down a couple of chocolate glazed donuts. mmmm, good. i walk all the way back to neve tzedek. at four o'clock in the morning, still wide awake but also extremely tired, i open leora's door.

that morning i have a strange dream. a nightmare. i'm back in benny's mercedes. we're driving somewhere -- up the northern israeli coast to haifa -- i don't know. there's rocket fire. "katushyas," i say to benny. "we need to find a bomb shelter." "no worries," says benny, sounding more like crocodile dundee than moshe tzipper. we start speeding north and end up in a jeep. it's a jeep from jimmy's jeep tours, and we're up on the golan. the rocket fire is getting worse. benny's disappeared, and now tzipper is driving the jeep. we're hurtling along off-road, and i'm holding on for dear life, almost being bounced from the jeep. "slow down," i scream at tzipper. but when i look over it's not tzipper anymore, it's my mother. she's totally frantic and she screams, "he's getting closer, he's getting closer!" "who is, Mom?" i scream back. she turns around and points hysterically. i whip my head around to look. it's adolf hitler. he's standing straight up in his jeep, and he has his right arm rigidly extended in the frighteningly recognizable nazi "heil hitler" gesture. a baseball bat-size club ominously appears in his tightened fist. oh crap. we're going to be beaten, killed, wiped out, annihilated. and then my mother's gone, and it's just – me. and i’m hurtling along - faster and faster - it feels like towards the death camps or the gas chambers - and i can't stop -- and hitler's getting closer - and closer - and -- and -- i wake up.

it’s noon. i drag myself out of bed, feeling disoriented and exhausted. i force myself to do my daily stretches and crunches, take a shower, fire up an omelet, and decide. i'm going home. i'm disappointed in myself. but i don't have the stamina. the nightmare has taken it out of me. i guess the self conscious, beautiful israelis will just have to survive without me. besides, i miss my dog....