The Beaches, The Land, The City

Self trying her best to push all negativity out of her mind. She’s in the kitchen, sipping tea, listening to her brother talk in his slow, sonorous way to a hapless secretary who is in some sort of muddle about his return ticket to Manila. In the usual complicated way of self’s family (where nothing is straightforward, and everyone goes flapping around like chickens without heads), self’s brother and nephew are returning to Manila the same day as self, though a few hours later (So we cannot share a taxi: this self discovered after timidly asking — after all, it would save them both 130 shekels, but brother gave her such a look of open-mouthed amazement that the utterance died away in her mouth almost as soon as she had uttered it). In the meantime, self’s Dearest Mum, Ying’s baby daughter, and the baby’s yaya are arriving on April 2 and will stay the rest of the month of April.

In addition, on April 1, we are losing this apartment. So brother has been running all over Tel Aviv the last few days, hunting for a place that is “nice” and “suitable” to house Dearest Mum. This morning, self suggested she move out, to ease the congestion (brother had been hinting, none too subtly, that she do so, the last few days), and brother acquiesced with alacrity. So self went on the internet and found a very cheap hotel in Old Jaffa. When she showed the hotel website to her brother, and asked if he thought it would be safe (The website said the hotel was perfect for the budget traveler who was not bothered by noise and who didn’t mind being next to the flea market), brother said impatiently that the hotel looked fine. He, however, had found a nice apartment for Dearest Mum, a place where she would “feel good” about staying, and not be frightened (Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! And would the elimination of one person — self — make so much difference to the “crowding” he is so afraid of subjecting Dearest Mum to ???)

This morning, the minute Dear Bro left the apartment (leaving nephew behind, for the fourth day in a row, so that the poor kid became cranky and cried), self cracked her brains how to entertain the poor child and decided on a walk on the beach. This fabled beachfront had been invisible to self since her arrival, last Sunday, though brother was simply amazed that self had not picked herself up and walked there, scoffing, “It’s only two blocks away!” Forgetting, of course, that self visits Ying everyday, walks to the hospital and back (five miles each way) to save on taxi fare, plays games with his son, keeps the child company when he is afraid/ bored/ cranky/ tired and what-have-you. And the child is so weepy! As is understandable, when his mother is so sick. But being with her nephew round-the-clock makes self long exceedingly for son, who is such an angel of intuition that he knows when she is thinking/ writing and holds his tongue, and only opens his mouth when he senses his mother has returned to earth. (Son, self promises, I’ll take you here one day. I will)

So here’s what happened on self’s walk with nephew: We looked for a landmark called the Opera Tower, and headed toward it. And the day was gray and blustery, and along the beachfront directly in front of us, a young woman turned her head and we saw she was Filipina. And this comely lass was walking hand in hand with a rather stooped, aged gent in a gray suit. And self counted two McDonald’s on the stretch between the Sheraton Moriah and another Sheraton, and in between these somewhat tawdry-looking hotels (putting self in mind of Torremolinos, Spain, circa 1996) was the U. S. Embassy, an edifice of light-colored stone, with very well-muscled guards in dark blue uniforms standing with rifles at the ready, in case anyone should be planning an attack landing on the beach. Nephew asked if self would like to “drop by,” after all it was her embassy. Self said she wasn’t feeling inclined to do so at the moment.

Nephew got tired very quickly, and insisted that they return to the apartment. And self was going brain-dead with his non-stop prattling, so she agreed. And as soon as they were back, self sought relief by again picking up the Barbara Mann book, A Place in History, and on p. 177 she found this poem commemmorating a woman’s arrival in Palestine:

“Tel Aviv, 1935”

    by Leah Goldberg

The masts on the housetop then, were
like the masts of Columbus’ ships, and
every raven that perched on their tips
announced a different shore.

And the kit-bags of the travelers
walked down the streets, and the
language of an alien land was plunged
into the hamsin-days like the blade of
a cold knife.

How could the air of a small city
support so many childhood memories,
loves that were shed, that were stripped

Like pictures turning black inside a
camera, they all turned inside out: pure
winter nights, rainy summer nights of
overseas, and shadowy mornings of
great cities.

And the sound of steps behind your
back drummed marching songs of
foreign troops; and — so it seemed — if
you but turn your head, there’s your
town’s church floating in the sea.

Iain Kelly

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