You get a different crowd on non El-Al flights, and it’s most noticable on the new cheapo-cheapo service. I kept telling myself that not everyone was a self-hating liberal protester about to prostrate themselves against the security fence and self-flagellate whilst begging for forgiveness for the evil crimes of the Western world. Ironically it’s easy to forget that this place is the ultimate melting-pot.
Talking of which, I met a chap called P (ooh the mystery), who would be touring the country for a couple of weeks. Always curious to see what brings non-religious Gentiles to the Holy Land, we chatted for a while. I think it’s cool that there are people out there who aren’t intimidated by spin and propaganda, who rise above difference and fear, and who want to see and experience things for themselves, not through media or literature. I’ve always thought that anyone could get something out of a visit to Israel, no matter what their background, but still every time I meet someone like P, I’m touched (not literally, but you can do that here too if you want).
I’d always been proud of speaking reasonable Ivrit for a tourist. About two minutes after landing, it hit me that my Ivrit is basically crap for any meainingful conversation and massive improvement would be needed quickly. I hadn’t had time to plan before coming out, and a big decision would be whether to do ulpan full-time or in the evenings after work. It turned out not to be a decision at all - I made the choice to do it full-time before they’d even stamped my passport.
It’s one thing being able to get by, but I’m partly trying to get out of a bubble. Without being fluent I don’t see any alternative to being in a new bubble. Sure it’s amazing that there are Anglos here and English is widely spoken, and without that it would be much harder, but I want to read the paper, listen to the news, and be able to talk to tzabars without making them drop into English. I want to go to a football match and swear at the ref and know that the people around me can appreciate my humorous, yet subtle insight after the years I have invested watching the beautiful game.
Being Saturday night, the next train to Tel Aviv was ages, so I thought it would be worth taking a bus instead. I was wrong. The second-largest bus company in the world can’t manage to run a service from the main airport to the second-most-important city. No meaningful buses go into the airport, you have to change just outside there to get to Tel Aviv. After waiting at the second bus stop for around fifteen minutes, P and I used our brains to work out that a shared cab wouldn’t break the bank.
I called Y and eventually found myself waiting for him in Ramat HaSharon, outside a Super Pharm. That was when the feeling of being in a film kicked in, as, exhausted, I finally had nothing to do but survey this alternate reality. Like Boots, but… not… It’s always the small differences that are most unsettling in life, a bit like how the most frightening horror films are not about weird demons and creatures, but about things that we know and expect to be a certain way - ordinary people and ordinary situations, just slightly twisted. Rosemary’s Baby…
I’ve been to this country so many times before and always felt so at home, but for the first time ever I felt somewhat alone. Some might accuse me of being naive, but this came as a bit of a surprise. Y turned up grinning and chilled enough for both of us. Even though his flat is not the biggest, he was willing to let me and my stuff take over his lounge for “as long as I wanted”. A great gesture to somebody he didn’t even know, and a taste of what it means, just to be here. R must have made quite an impression on him, I reckon there’s some unrequited lurve going on there, come back here R and make him happy!
I didn’t intend to stay for more than a couple of days, but with full-time ulpan in the picture, I needed to explore the options. It was tempting to do the obvious thing i.e. settle in Tel Aviv and go to Ulpan Gordon, but a few months ago, good Israeli friend R2 had pointed out that perhaps it would be worth doing something a bit off the beaten track for a while. Spending time on a kibbutz would be a good way to settle in, meet other olim, improve my Ivrit, and er, enjoy socializing. The down side is that it’s relatively isolated and a bit of a gamble if you don’t get on with the lifestyle or the people. I couldn’t commit to a flat until I knew what option I would take.
Having spent around a week on Y’s sofa, after a night of poker, and (one) beer with my cousin E, I was virtually dragged round to my cousins in Ra’anana. It was time to move on as even though Y couldn’t have been more accomodating, being British I don’t like to take the piss. So onwards and upwards I progressed, from a couch to a whole room. L was so happy as I rearranged her room to make it less girly. Her special products for taming big fluffy hair went in the bin and were replaced with useful things like guitars and football boots. I happily surveyed the room as I nodded off from my real-life dream.
(Header image: Information desk in baggage hall, Ben Gurion Airport.)