It was October of 1991 and I found myself staring dumbfounded at a large wooden shipping crate through a chain link fence in Jaffa. The crate had my name on it. It contained 144 boxes of books that I had shipped from the States months earlier, and in different circumstances I would have been happy to see it, but today I wasn’t. I had been told that very morning that it was still ninety miles away in the Port of Haifa, waiting for custom clearance. Now it was in Jaffa, and ominous rain-clouds were sweeping in from the nearby sea, but I was as powerless to get my stuff out of there as to stop the imminent downpour. I imagined rainwater soaking the thin paper of thousands of used books I had collected for the past nine months, the ink of the print bleeding into shapeless blots.— “How I Became a Bookseller”, Essay # 2 in the collection The Bibliomaniacs: Tale from a Tel Aviv Bookseller, by J. C. Halper
Category: Tel Aviv
Yes, self is still reading The Art of Leaving because, dammit, self is concerned about this woman narrator, who puts herself in the path of danger whenever she can, seems completely heedless of her physical safety, and loves so many people. Sometimes Tsabari leaves them, and sometimes they leave her, but she is never, ever less than FULLY ENGAGED. So, points to her. MAJOR POINTS.
And self is fascinated by her descriptions of Tel Aviv.
It’s like I’m always waiting for something to happen, ready for a fight, wanting to wage war with the day, the world, or a person; as though a part of me longs for the risk, that shard of glass in the sand that catches your eye, a promise, an assurance that I am alive.— “Tough Chick,” Essay # 11 in The Art of Leaving
Yes, self did finally make it out of the thicket of Classic Fantasy and into a new book, a memoir in essays by Ayelet Tsabari. It’s not part of any book list: she just happened to hear a friend praise it to high heaven, so she added it to her reading list a couple of months ago. She was a little underwhelmed by the first essay (grief over losing a dad, when very young). Self wondered if this was going to be the anchor of the entire book. But there were flashes of Tel Aviv in there, and frankly self has always been fascinated by Tel Aviv, a city she’s been to only once, ages ago. Dearest Mum had a friend who was a pianist and he let us stay in his flat while dearest Ying was in the hospital there, dying of Stage IV leukemia.
The people self saw around her (on Ruppin Street) were the biggest Jews she had ever seen. Self says this facetiously. She has Jewish friends but they are not big. In Tel Aviv, not only were the people big, they were completely bronzed, like the models in ads for Italian fashion. And the beach was walkable, and it was white sand, and if she didn’t always pass the American Embassy looking like a fortress, with two implacable marines standing at attention outside, facing the sea, she would have thought she was on the Cote d’Azur.
Essay # 1 ended with a memory of the author being mean. Which raised self’s hopes, because that was a surprise, and that meant there would be other surprises in store.
Self liked Essay # 2, and now she is in Essay # 3, which is about the military service every Israeli citizen is required to perform, right after high school. She’s always been intensely curious about this experience. She forgot it was TWO YEARS. Wow, if someone had told self when she was growing up that she would have to lose two years of her youth to being at one with a rifle, she might have tried to run away or something.
Tsabari begins Essay # 3 when she’s served seven months. That means 17 more months of this routine:
- We tumbled out of our beds at four o’clock every morning to days filled with repetitive drills and grueling duties: we scrubbed bathrooms, scoured the base’s grounds, washed mountains of dishes, and guarded the base at night. During the day, we ran.
Stay cool, dear blog readers. Stay cool.
Self blasted through the post-Alexander Grin stories in The Big Book of Classic Fantasy and skipped the final story, by J. R. R. Tolkien.
Now she’s reading a memoir about growing up Yemeni in Tel Aviv (a city self visited years ago), The Art of Leaving. Someone whose reading taste is impeccable recommended this book to self.
- On our west, down the eternally jammed Jabotinsky Road, is Tel Aviv, the big city with its narrow streets and white sand beaches and the promise of the world beyond its shores. Airplanes circle above us like hungry seagulls before landing, and sometimes warplanes zoom by on their way north of the border. The war is far away, but we can see it written on the grown-ups’ faces: the tension in their cheeks, the groove between the eyebrows. We can hear it in the music played on the radio, beautiful songs in minor keys about death and the land that fill us with sweet sadness.
Stay cool, dear blog readers. Stay cool.
Reading (in addition to the Daniel Mason novel The Piano Tuner) the anthology 50 Stories From Israel, edited by Zisi Stavi.
Self is very much taken by the tone of the story by Hanoch Bartov. Here’s how it begins:
- A few days earlier, I had returned from landscapes and climates that were the opposite of this headlong pacing in the dazzle of a Tel Aviv summer. Perhaps that is why I did not remember that I had never been to Yarmous’ office, which is where I was going in connection with the arbitration — postponed until my return — concerning the spiritual and financial insult suffered by my friend, the writer. It was only when I reached the corner of Ibn Gabirol and the street I was walking towards with such dizzy energy that I realized that the number of the building — 29, 17, or 37 — had been wiped from my memory, and that I had left my diary in the car.
Love it, just love it.