Reading, this hot Tel Aviv afternoon, Chapter Two of Barbara E. Mann’s A Place in History: Modernism, Tel Aviv, and the Creation of Jewish Urban Space, a publication of the Stanford Series in Jewish History and Culture.
Chapter Two is entitled, “The Zionist Uncanny: Reading the Old Cemetery on Trumpeldor” and begins with a series of epigraphs, one of which is:
The city is constructed by its gaps. — Stephen Barber, Fragments of the European City, 1995
A little further on there is discussion of Freud’s essay “The Uncanny,” which Mann says “is devoted to a discussion of literary works, for it is within the realm of the imagination that the uncanny achieves its greatest disturbances.”
Quoting Freud: “An uncanny effect is often easily produced when the distinction between imagination and reality is effaced, as when something that we have hitherto regarded as imaginary appears before us in reality, or when a symbol takes over the full functions of the thing it symbolizes.”
And here are self’s own experiences of this “uncanny,” since arriving here at Ruppin St. in Tel Aviv, early Sunday morning:
Self’s brother is becoming remarkably like self’s Dear Departed Dad. And self didn’t get on particularly well with Dear Departed Dad, it suddenly occurs to self now, of all places, when she is staying in an apartment with brother. Last night, self, wanting to make herself useful, asked what Ying would like to eat. Self offered to fry some ground beef with garlic and mushrooms for Ying. Brother came into the kitchen and said no, he had already decided we would have pasta carbonara for dinner. Ying’s voice came floating in from the living room: “I think ground beef with mushrooms sounds good.”
Self and 10-year-old nephew had lunch in a mall adjacent to the hospital. Ying developed fevers in the night and had to be rushed back in this morning. She was fine when we first checked her in, but as the day progressed she seemed to get weaker and weaker. Finally, self offered to take nephew out for lunch. So nephew led self through a glass walkway from the hospital to the mall (which surprisingly reminded self so much of malls in Manila — the busyness, the somewhat garish decorations, the vendors hawking wares on tables in the corridor). And then nephew led self to a fast-food court (Thank goodness for this plucky little boy, who only arrived in Tel Aviv a few days before self), and there self had an array of choices, ranging from Chinese and Japanese to shish kebab. Nephew chose lamb shish kebab, and self would have had that, too, except that the dish consisted of two humongous sticks, a huge mound of yellow rice, fried potatoes, and salad, and self knew she wouldn’t be able to finish it. “Why not shawarma?” nephew suggested (Truly, the kid is a godsend). And when self had the said shawarma, it tasted — odd. Well, at least it didn’t give her a bad stomach. And suddenly nephew raised his head and said, “There’s yaya. What is she doing here?” And, indeed, there was the Filipina maid self’s brother had engaged to take care of Ying, and she was in an electronics shop, chatting with a salesman. This yaya is pretty hip: She wears tight red T-shirts with sequins, and there is a very elaborate tattoo of a tiger and a rose at the base of her neck, between her shoulder blades. Also, true to that indefinable radar that tells a servant when a visitor has no status, she has ignored self ever since self’s arrival in the household. Nephew and self watched silently as the yaya finishing chatting up the salesman and then proceeded to the Chinese food stall where she bought two big boxes of food. Then she wandered off again. Uncanny, indeed.
The final uncanny: the apartment itself, in a quiet residential street parallel to Ben Yehuda Ave. On the narrow walk up to the apartment entrance, self recognizes a passion flower vine: she bought one just a few weeks before leaving California. This one curls its intricate tendrils around an iron railing; it hasn’t bloomed yet. There are also Mexican orange trees. The landing itself is floored with worn and broken tiles, and everything in the apartment smells of age and wear, from the rugs, to the kitchen (tiny sink, tiny stove, chipped mugs) and the old photographs, some of them seemingly pre-war. Self’s brother tells her that he has to vacate the apartment next month, unfortunately, and has begun to look for other apartments in the area.
What final uncanniness will self experience tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, and the remaining 11 days of her stay? Perhaps the most uncanny is waiting, waiting for the arrival of Dearest Mum who, self just discovered, is coming after all: April 2.
Stay tuned, dear blog readers, stay tuned.