«Let’s come back here later on in the evening,» suggested Shanty, «I know a nightclub where a friend of mine is the DJ. The music there is just bashing! It’s the coolest place in town.»
«Wait, wait, not so fast!» said Miki, «before that, I want to take you to two other places in the Old City: first to Wadi Nisnas, with the Market Mall and the Jewish-Arabic Center, you absolutely have to see; the other is the famous house of Mustafa El-Halil Pasha. Then too, if we have time, we’ll visit a Druze village.»
«The Druze religion is an offshoot of Islam,» explained Mahmood, when my uncle, the carbuncle – he won’t shut up and let me breathe in peace, the nosy parker! -, asked who the Druze were. «Most Muslims don’t recognize them as belonging to their faith,» he went on, «they believe that, once we depart this world, our souls get reborn as humans, good or bad, and that men should avoid meeting calves, since they represent the devil – poor lil beasts, they’re so tame, and I looove their tender meat, specially veal chops with roast potatoes -, and also, they’re more individualistic than the rest of us.»
«Unlike our Arab population, who are not allowed to be part of the Israeli army,» added Miki, «the Druze have fought by our side during the previous wars. Actually, they helped us as early as the forties against the Nazis who were in the region.»
«Yeah and you know what,» Shanty tuned in, winking at Mahmood with an obscene gesture, like she was giving him the finger, «The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem was a great admirer of Herr fucking Hitler, he even offered him extra soldiers to eliminate the Jews who lived in the area.»
«This has nothing to do with me,» remonstrated Mahmood, all shook up, do I have to remind you of the massacre of Sabra and Shatilah in Lebanon, in which our former Prime Minister, Mr. Sharon, gave the Christian Phalangists free rein to kill all those poor innocent people? And I won’t cry over him lying in a coma, either.»
«Hey,» shot his ‘girlfriend’, «you’re forgetting that Sharon had all the Jewish settlers removed from Gaza manu militari, by the Israeli army: Jews against Jews, to appease the Palestinians. But the Hamas Islamists who control the area in return launched hundreds of rockets over the south of Israel, terrorizing the people of Sderot and of Ashkelon. And it still goes on. Concessions are useless with you people. Still, you keep complaining about Jews settling in East Jerusalem, Jerusalem which when the Jordanians occupied it was totally forbidden to Jews, they even used the Western Wall as latrines. Do we desecrate your Dome of the Rock or Al Aqsa? No, we respect your religion. And for God’s sake, look at the size of Israel, a tiny sliver of land, compared to all the huge Arab states around, except for Lebanon; none of them existed before World War I, talk of artificially created nations. To make peace with Egypt, we gave back the whole of Sinai. Where else do nations who’ve been attacked and then won the war, return land? Just go to Europe and see what happened to the Austro-Hungarian empire, at the turn of the twentieth century, what’s left of it? Little Austria! The same applies to the former Ottoman empire: Turkey is what remains»
«Does all that excuse Operation Cast Lead, with the Israeli army killing fifteen hundred peope in Gaza, including innocent women and children? That’s called murder.» retorted Mahmood.
«Who is guilty of that retaliation? Israel or Hamas who continues to send rockets to the south of Israel from populated areas and sometimes from schools, hospitals and even from mosques?»
«Fascist!» shouted our Arab companion.
«Jew hater!» growled Shanty.
«Wo wo wo!» intervened Miki, «we’ll stop it right here, ok. It’s no use harking back on the past, and counting all the bad points of both sides, we have to work for peace in the region, or else we’ll never get out of the current mess.»
My uncle and I didn’t know where to turn after hearing this exchange of insults and accusations. And let’s face it, the more I learn about the Arab-Israeli conflict, the less I see how it will ever be resolved. It must be a thousand times more complicated than studying Chinese, and Mandarin ain’t no bed of roses for us white lilies.
You’re still wondering why a young lassie like me is bothered by all the political shenanigans! It’s terrorism, stupid, and the battle for water, and the environment going down the drain, and the bears stealing food from humans in the north of Canada, on account that they can’t find any more good fat tuna and salmon to sink their fangs in, yeah, and I want to be able to lick my next Hog’n Douche mit chocolate chips without getting blown to bits like them poor travelers in Madrid’s railway station, in London’s subway, in Mumbai’s Taj Mahal Hotel, or in Moscow’s airport. What doggone savages those islamists are, and coward washmore, killing and maiming people at random. Fed up of watching those goony Talibans on TV, women haters that they are, and who are always so friggin proud of all the massacres their brainwashed ‘martyrs’ commit around the world, like they want to compete with the stars of Holly- and Bollywood, bullshitters that they are. To show that kind of evening news to innocent lil girls like me is just as outrageous as becoming obese at a tender age. Maybe that’s why so many kids nowadays gobble down heaps of junk food in front of their plasma screen, uncushily scared that one day they might have nothing to eat like them poor refugees in Darfur.
After making faces at each other for about fifteen minutes, Shanty the Jewish punkette and Mahmood the circus conjuror burst out laughing then hugged each other, what nuts! Better that way though, coz in the meantime they were getting on our bloomin nerves on account that neither of them wanted to budge and that we consequently were stuck with our plans.
Before it closed down for the day, Miki absolutely wanted us to visit the National Museum of Science – shucks, I hate science! -, on account that this historical building was Israel’s first university, called the Technion, which enrolled its first students in 1924 in what was still British-occupied Palestine. From outside, the building was quite impressive, I must admit, it looked like the palace of a sheik. One of the reasons Miki insisted that we go there was because Albert Einstein hisself inaugurated it a year earlier. We saw a few pictures of him, I love the one where he is pulling his tongue. Einstein had more the face of a clown than that of a relative genius, which shows you that not all geniuses look like eggheads, some resemble potatoes sprouts whereas others appear to have red squirrels for ancestors, then if you remember, there’s Frankenstein and Dracula. What, you don’t consider them to be geniuses, just because they both turned raving mad? Ok, ok, I don’t want to discuss this.
Of course, at the end of the day, we were all so whacked, except for Miki the Israeli hunk and Shanty – where did they get such energy? – that neither my uncle, nor Mahmood, nor I wanted to even think of going to a nightclub after dinner.
You must have seen Bonka at the restaurant, he could hardly open his eyes, so much so that at a certain point I thought he was going to dive head first into his minestrone soup. I had to squeeze his arm to keep him at least half awake. The first time he squealed, people looked around thinking that a cat or some kind of animal had sneaked into the place and hid under a table.
A lady screamed, saying: «My goodness, what was that?» then she got up and called the waiter: «I won’t stay in this joint unless you get rid of whatever introduced itself here. I’m sure it was a rat.»
I had to restrain myself from chuckling and pinched Bonka a second time, so hard, that all heads turned towards us, and the lady who threatened to leave went back to her seat, but instead of finding it funny she grumbled:
«Meshugah! Crazies! To frighten people like that!»
Miki asked us if we wanted to stay another day in Haifa, and we had to take a vote.
Three out of five said they preferred to go back to Tel Aviv that same night, the other two, my uncle and I, were so pooped that we didn’t fancy another two hours on the road, not that I felt like visiting more stuff the following day, even though I did find Haifa to be a prettier city than Tel Aviv.
We had two full beach days in Tel Aviv, so that I could rest a bit from all the sightseeing. Ferchrissakes, if I don’t put my foot down once in a while, Bonka is capable of turning me into a traveling robot. With him by my side, I’ve already earned my degree as a tourist agent, whether I like it or not.
On the third day we both shlepped by bus to the Galilee on account that Berky became jittery, it was getting too hot for him coz, unlike me, he doesn’t appreciate sea bathing, so he sweats like a friggin polar bear under the sunshade. Actually he does like to swim, but he daren’t walk in front of people, with just his trunks on, he feels naked. It’s true that he’s as white as a bedsheet and that his thin body – he’s a little too skinny and his muscles are somewhat marshmellowed – is covered with freckles, which makes him look like a carrot-hued albino rabbit, sans the red pupils though. But between you and me, and I told him so, one day that he was more or less kosher lovable, he’s kinda sexy in his own way, with his protruding Adam’s apple, his day beard veering to fluo orange, his watery green eyes which you would think are always on the verge of crying, they’re so shiny, and his tall frame – the rare times he wears a suit and a tie, you could take him for a fashion model, sort of, like them punk guys striding up and down the catwalk for John Galliano-the-drunk-Jew-basher -, coz for one thing, and in spite of being a little bald, my uncle doesn’t look his age. When he pouts and blushes after I’ve shouted at him, which, as I’ve already mentioned, happens at least thrice a day, he has the face of a fifteen-year old, with his earlobes, starting to jerk like a humming bird, so much so that you’d fear they might fly away any minute. His skin reacts as fast as the fingered screen of an i-pad, then all of a sudden, dim little lights, spread on his cheeks and his forehead and even on his bare hands, start blinking mushywise as if he’d just caught smallpox, but he also makes me think of a bleached Christmas tree, at the end of its tether, that’s about to lose its twigs because of all the presents they had to bear.
We arrived in Tiberias, a resort town named after the Roman Emperor Tiberius, and which is famous for its hot springs. The place looked cool and there was a nice breeze blowing in from the lake. I tried to picture Jesus walking on the waves and remembered a drawing in my childhood Bible, but because of all the pleasure boats sailing hither and thither, that memory got washed away and seemed totally phony. There was an image that came to my mind: if ole Jesus decided to return now, and splish splash on the surface of the lake, he would have to be careful not to be harpooned by some zealous fisherman, thinking that the ladder might be catching some merman – who told you there were only mermaids? Did you know that Singapore’s emblem was a merlion?
Before I could dip my toes in the lake, on the shores of our little hotel – there are dozens of them around, with pretty boutiques and art galleries, and nifty restaurants, wafting a perfume of grilled fish or of spring chicken … mmm -, I had to listen to – what else? – my uncle’s historical shenanigans. Now, instead of jotting down notes, I use a recorder to get all them factoids which I will have to present to my class. It’s faster and Bonka doesn’t have to bug me for making grammatical errors.
The ancient walls of the city and the round towers date from the Crusader period. You really have to make an effort to imagine what those ruins represented, coz what you see now are stones piled up, with maybe a shrub on top like the tuft of hair of some baldy, or a stray flower that found its abode inside a crack.
In the 1700s a Mameluke, called Ibrahim Pasha, built a fortress around it. You know what a Mameluke is? No, it ain’t Luke’s aunt Mame, ninny, but a Turkish slave who rose on the social ladder to, first, become a respected member of the military caste, and then to occupy the Egyptian throne from the Middle Ages on, to the nineteenth century. Not bad for former slaves, hey! But in 1837 an earthquake badly damaged the city.
We then walked into a pretty garden where a synagogue was built in the fourth century AD, with just a few remaining mosaics. Not far from there, we visited the tomb of Maimonides who was born in Spain in 1135 and studied medicine in Cairo. He had such a high reputation as a doctor that Richard-the Lion-Heart begged him to join him in England, but he had better things to do than to cure the king’s hemorroids. He was also known as Moses ben-Maimon (now if you remember, I said he came from Spain, and ‘maimon’ in Spanish means monkey – did the Spaniards take him for an intellectual ape?) as well as the Rambam – that’s wham bam for philosopher, sage and chief rabbi, coz he wrote the Mishne Torah – no, I didn’t say Kishke, you silly goose! that’s roasted fowl intestines with a spicy filling of matzo and suet. yuk! – so that the ordinary folk could understand the precepts of Judaism. Before conking out, he asked to be buried here in Tiberias. If that wasn’t enough, there are tombs here of other well-known dudes, like Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Meir Ba’al Haness. You want to know who they were? Go to Willywonkapedia.
We then hopped to the Great El Omri mosque and the Jami Al Bahr mosque, both now converted into a museum and a shopping center with pretty cafés. I never thought that this Bibleland could be such a vacation resort. The next morning Bonka forced me to visit the main Christian sites: the Greek orthodox Monastery, the Scottish Center, the Franciscan Church of St. Peter, which commemorates Jesus‘ miraculous catch of fishes. Nearby, thank Goddess we stopped at Moriah Plaza opposite Ceasar’s Hotel, to have an ice-creeeaaaam, for crying out loud, on account that when I hear too many factoids, both my ears and my mouth get dry, like they’re connected through an invisible tube! You don’t get it? Shucks, let Lawrence of Arabia explain that to you. He’s dead! Too bad. Communicate with his ghost.
Jeezzzuuus, we stayed a third day to see Capernaum, the fishing village where the apostles Peter, Andrew and James lived. Then off to Kursi, where Christ made another miracle, known as the miracle of the Gaderne Swine – strange, coz Jews don’t eat pig. From there, to Magdala, where that poor sinner Mary Magdalene lived. My hat to Jesus, who pardoned prostitutes, setchual perverts and such. If he lived nowadays, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him among the bib-bazoomed dragqueens, the bare-assed jocks and the transvestits during our Gay Pride marches, coz he was so open-minded. Actually, did he have a girlfriend or a boyfriend? I mean lover, you ninny, coz his motto was to looove looove looove your neighbors as well as your enemies – thanks but no thanks, I will never let any nincanpoop slap me on the right cheek after he hit me a first time – what kinda morals is that?
Between a delicious mutton shawarma with pita and a large coke, we climbed to the Mount of Beatitudes, where Jesus preached his Sermon. And if that wasn’t enough, we shlepped to Tabgha, where he multiplied the loaves and the fishes for the hungry. Finally, Bonka dragged me to the River Jordan to show me where Jesus was baptised by John. Now what need did he have to be baptised, he who was smarter than all of his apostles? Berky tells me that he wanted to show how humble he was. Look at today’s and yesteryear’s popes, they don’t look very humble to me, with all of their expensive clothes, diamond rings and golden rigmaroles. A fat lot they inherited Jesus’ humility. That’s called … humble bumble bee for the birds.
I forgot to tell you, but hey, as I said before, I ain’t your walking encyclopedia, there was a very cute chapel at the Mount of Beatitudes. It has a dome and arcades all around the building. There’s also a monastery nearby, with a beautiful garden, you almost want to kiss the place, even if you’re a non-believer, like me. I’m sure if someone drugged me and I was brought here, half dazed, I could easily be converted, it’s all so heavenly looking, with the sweet scents of roses and carnations and the chirrup of birdies – ain’t that a potty word, they really chear us up with their gay twitter.
That same evening Bonka opened his Bible – he never travels without it, especially in this here holiest of lands – and forced me to listen to what the apostles wrote about Yeshua – who’s that, you ask, open your dictionary.
And they that were vexed with unclean spirits: and they were healed.
And the whole multitude sought to touch him: for there went virtue out of him, and healed them all.
And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said, Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God.
I can dig that alright, but when dude Matthew repeats the following, I have to intervene, coz I don’t accept every word of Lord Jesus at face value, specially since I’m supposed to rack my brains, learning all this stuff :
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Poor things, they don’t even know whether they’re coming or going, let alone being blessed!
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Ok, but when you cry your eyes out, there’s little comfort.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Now, you have to have some balls to inherit the earth.
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. Yeah, right, though most of them get dry before they can see justice.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. There should be more people like that in this nasty world.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. I have never seen him, though I’m sure I’m as pure as maple syrup, which I looove on a pancake.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. Where are they hiding, with all them wars going on around the world?
Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Enough already, when you’re beaten shitless and losing so much blood that you can’t see a thing, how blessed can you be?
It’s all very well that my uncle wants me to learn this, know that and get immersed in the fat lot, yet I have the inkling ding-a-ling that by having me absorb all that biblical and historical stuff, he’s slowly but surely catching the Jerusalem syndrome. Yeah, he starts performing in the middle of the night, and I don’t believe I told you that, but Berky babbles and makes gestures in his sleep, like he’s addressing an audience, he just sits in his bed, so I guess you can’t call him a nightwalker.
Around two a.m. this morning he woke me up – I heard somewhere that if you try to push a somnambulist out of his dreams, he may have a heart attack, so I let him do all his shenanigans keeping mum, which is something difficult for me to do, on account that in ‘normal’ circumstances, I have to react, otherwise I quickly lose patience and maybe a couple of screws along the way. The strange thing is, that when he talks in his sleep he has that low croaky voice of a witch that is utterly exasperating.
«Follow me y’all!» he commands, «move your fingers like so. Abracadabra, Jesus has no bra. Close your eyes. What do you feel now? Your feet are wet, so wet, that you believe you’re also peeing in your pants. Miracle oh miracle! That’s it, you’re now walking on the sea of Kugel-lee. Jeeezzus God lovin‘ Christ! Thank the Lord, all of you, thank me, ferchrissakes, I AM JESUS!»
I wonder whether he would recognize himself raving like a madman, if I recorded him uddering all that crap, coz let’s face it, if he did that in public and during daytime, I would run as fast as I could and leave him for good. Such nannities can turn your stomach inside out and upside down, till all you’re left with is that disgusting Scottish dish called haggis. It’s a kind of greasy sausage stuffed with sheep’s intestine, mixed with stinking rotten herbs, yuk. I’m lucky, though, that my uncle doesn’t join them crazies in Jerusalem who rub their kneels on the cobblestones of the Via Dolorosa, chanting, then screaming and burping the name of Lord, all the while they’re bleeding like hell, believing they’re offering themselves to Him in sacrifice. If religion isn’t the opium of the people as the commies claim, it certainly drives some mobs round the bend. Look at the millions of Muslims circling the black Kaaba in Mecca, and they must do it 7 times anti-clockwise to prove their faith in Allah. That massive cube is supposed to have been built by Abraham and his second son Ishmael when the ladder decided to settle in Arabia.
If you want to be religious, be quiet about it is what I says, why do you need to show off in front of all and sundry, specially on Sundays in the case of Christians? As for the Jews, they line up against that huge Wailing Wall, which stands just behind the Dome of the Rock, praying ans stuffing little paper wishes inside its nooks and crannies.
I would prefer to own a little voodoo doll so that I could stick needles in it and punish those nasty brats that bug me at school, all of it in the privacy of my room.
Thank Goddess the following morning, Berky woke up full of pep and I pretended not to have witnessed anything funny. This I call lying by omission and I have to grit my teeth, coz it’s damn hard not to tell your uncle what beserkness he can come out with.
Religion and all them godforsaken do’s and dont’s aside, that last morning spent in the Galilee was just lover-ly, on account that we took a little boat and sailed with the wind, taking in the sun. We came back, I, with a nice tan, and Berky, beetroot red, but he did it to please me, coz he hates to expose himself. He can really be cute, specially when he’s frying for my sake, the poor thing.
We took a lil plane with two propellers at the wee wee hours of dawn, bound for Eilat, on the Red Sea. The view from my porthole was as fantabulous as was the racket of them props, that, washmore, made your whole body vibrate like you had someone massaging every bit of your insides. At times I wanted to laugh it was so tickly, a few bubbles even came out of my mouth, giving me goose skin.
It was all desert underneath, until we flew over Beer Sheva, the capital city of the Negev. It means ‘the Well of Swearing’, so sprach Zara-Bonkstra, on account that Good ole Abraham made a covenant there with Abimelech, the king of the Philistines; why those two swore to each other, I didn’t ask and don’t want to know.
The city has apparently an important university and is the place where Ben Gurion, the man who declared the independence of Israel and became the country’s first Prime Miniter, retired. Actually, he lived in a nearby kibbutz named Sde Boker, where he tilled the arid soil, grew a kitchen garden and planted trees. I saw pictures of him, swimming like a little whale, doing yoga and even standing on his bald head. He was the Jewish Buddha of modern times – I’m the one who says that, coz he really looked like one, round-faced, paunchy and full of smiles.
Then again, the desert, which stretched to the horizon, and was now interspersed, here and there, with impressive canyons. The flight took just about fifty minutes, and before I could finish my Coke, there we stood, in a tiny airport built right in the middle of town, waiting for the baggage carousel to belch out our two suitcases.
What a nifty and scorching place Eilat is, with its 42 degrees in the shade, its limpid turquoise sea and its neatly-designed buildings, all surrounded by palm trees and gardens. Thank Goddess every place here was air-conditioned, and most important of all, our bedroom, which partly faced the sea and partly the mountain range. Actually, if you wanted to concentrate on the one or on the other, you got a very stiff neck, «never mind,» Berky said – stingy dude that he is, he got us the cheapest room available in the resort’s only one-star hotel – «the air is so clear and transparent, and we do have a lovely balcony. Then too, we didn’t come here to get stuck indoors, we’ll spend most of the time at the beach and taking nice strolls»
«You can walk alone and melt under the sun if you want,» I retorted, «as for me, I’ll stay inside the cool shopping malls, coz I saw that there were quite a few of them around.»
The balcony he was praising so much was for baby dolls, on account that it could only hold a plastic chair and a stool – now guess who that was for! Wrong: he would sit on it, not me. There were also two rusty wires, whose plastic coating was mostly eaten up, running the length of the French window, so we could hang our wet bathing suits and beach towels. They were placed very oddly at eye level (his, not mine, thank goodness), which meant that my uncle would have to lower his head every time he came out, in order not to bang his nose against the wires.
The room’s air-conditioning device worked all right, but it probably dated from Mathusalem or was it Old Jerusalem – they must rhyme for some reason, I don’t know why and don’t care -, so that it vroomed like a belching hippo stranded somewhere in the Arctic. The first thing I would have to buy was a pair of ear-stoppers.
I ran to the bathroom to see if everything was in order over there. Whenever you opened the faucets or let the shower piss off skewed jets of tepid water, which would wet only half of your hair and just an arm and a leg – you needed to contort yourself like a swivelling snake if you wanted to get cleaned on all sides – you heard screechy mousy noises, then, before it stopped, the plumbing would suddenly whoosh like it was giving its last breath. Ok, in this hot and stifling climate I didn’t mind not having boiling water.
Even if the walls were peeling a little and some of the floor tiles looked like the broken teeth of an alligator, everything looked neat and clean, specially the bedsheets and the towels, which gave off a slight perfume of dry flowers. The room itself smelled as if they had doused it with Dettol just before we got in. I had to sneeze a few times, while my uncle atishooed with such gusto that he sprayed his suitcase and the top of his shoes with a light drizzle, which thank Goddess didn’t reach me. That small inconvenience – stingy brat of an uncle that he still is; after all, for a few extra bucks, we could have had a renovated room with a full-view balcony in the same hotel! – was still better than meeting a horde of cockroaches or even scorpions, deadly bugs that they are, sharing the place with us during our vacation.
By the way, not far from here, plonk in the middle of the hilly desert, the road is so full of hairpin bends, they call it Scorpions’ Ascent! Thanks but no thanks, I prefer to hobnob with them pretty rainbow-colored fishes I saw advertised in the Underwater Observatory, which my uncle promised we would visit, with turtles, sea anemones and other such toe-lickin’ cutie pies.
Brrr … double brrr … No one warned us that with 40 degrees (that’s celsius – since I can’t remember that word, I call it alka-seltzer -, not fair’n heart) in the shade, the sea was a friggin’ freeezzzing affair. I almost choked, on account that I ran into it like them newly-hatched tortoises that hurl themselves into the waves, unaware that before they can blow ‘woof’, they may be swallowed by hungry preys, sharks and the like. As for Unky Berky, well, they had to call a coast guard on the loudspeaker, coz he was braying so loudly, flailing his hands so spastically, that people believed there was a submarine terrorist attack. You must have seen and heard the hullabaloo. The sirens were wailing like mad and a bunch of military guys with uzi machineguns launched a raid on the beach, ordering everybody to stay put, whether they were in the sea, on the beach or showering. I couldn’t feel my fingers I was so cold, but daren’t get out of the water. Even though I must have looked like an electrocuted polar beara transformed into a stalagtite. Frozen as I was, I wanted to drown Bonka for all the friggin commotion that he’d raised and which led to a quasi state of war. Through the loudspeakers you could hear warnings and commands booming in three languages: Hebrew, English and … Russian. In Po po Ruski, for crying out loud, on account that two-thirds of the crowd that was deep frying on the beach came from the former Soviet Union, and I don’t only mean them that belonged to the one million plus Ruskies who now live in Israel, but a new crowd of tourists who fly directly from Moscow or Saint Petersburg to Eilat. Probably their former compatriots (now Israeli citizens) spread the word whenever they returned to Russia for a visit. But between you and me, those Ruskies who monopolized the beaches were loud and acted as if they owned the place. Not only did they speak only Russian – in the hotels and the restaurants, they expected people to address them in their native tongue -, but they didn’t greet anyone, even though they might have seen you half a dozen times, lying just across from them on the sand (like Berky and me). And my uncle, the softie that he is, kept saying hello to them, but they pretended we didn’t exist. Friggin rude insensitive nouveau-riche! That’s what they were!
You do know, don’t you that Unky Berky sometimes writes poetwy before he goes to sleep when he’s in a foreign country. It’s mostly for donkeys’ ears, but I let him think it’s great, on account that if I don’t, he starts asking the mushiest questions, makes me yawn for an unconscious stretch of time and gets an inferiority complex. So, here’s something concerning Eilat. Either copy it and frame it on your wall, or make a paper ball with it, but keep quiet about it, ok.
EILAT OF CORAL
Dakota standing guard
at the tip of the runway
shining jet takes off
White and blue DC3
a pioneer of Israel
desert now abloom
Sun sets on Eilat
pink and violet brocade
Red Sea switches off
Regal palm trees
congregate on the boardwalk
bowing to the sky
Among the handsome youth
old bones creak under the weight
of past tragedies
Faces of all hues
they hail from Ethiopia
to the Russian pole
from Melbourne to Montevideo
They laugh and walk in droves
or follow shadows
carrying their solitude
Mirror of the world
Now, when you’re in Eilat, walking in the street, soaking up the sun on the beach or swimming in the sea, you’re surrounded by the Sinai in Egypt to the West and by Jordan to the East; you can actually see a village on the one side and the resort town of Aqaba on the other side. Thank Goddess these two countries are at peace with Israel, otherwise, as was the case before, you could get shot at from both sides.
The first time Bonka suggested that we spend a day in Petra, on the Jordanian side, warning me that we would have to get up at 5.30 a.m. I said «nooo waaay!» But when he told me that the best scenes of Indiana Jones, featuring the hunk Harrison Ford and ex-hunk Sean Connery, were shot there, I ahemmed.
«What do you say?» my uncle insisted.
«Yo!» I retorted, that’s between a no and a yes. Hey, you have to give me time to reverse my decision, otherwise my dear old uncle might think he can order me around at the drop of a hat – what a stupid expreshun! How about ‘at the drop of a lollipop’?
So, there we were traveling in a bus, along with a majority of Israeli tourists. The kibbitzing that was going on in Hebrew echoed in my poor ears as if a dozen pots and pans were banging against each other – remember that when I get up I’m in a furious mood and no one has to talk to me, so who gets it all? Guess.
Before I could holler, we were already at the border and everybody had to get off and give his or her passport to the Jordanian authorities to get an instant visa. There were large posters welcoming us to the country in both English and Hebrew, with a huge portrait of King Abdallah wearing a kaffyeh, which has nothing to do with ground coffee, but is the headdress that traditional Arabs wear. He looked cute and puffy, but his wife, queen Rania, is just gorgeous – you haven’t seen her yet? Of course you have, just flick through the People’s rags! Someone told us that the royal couple sometimes visit Eilat incognito. How incognito can a king and a queen be in such a small place, unless they come totally veiled like the dozens of rich Jordanian couples who cross the border everyday to shop in Israel. I was amazed to see all these people, accompanied with children, buying all kinds of expensive stuff, like clothes with brand names, electronic equipment or jewels. It would be so much cooler if up north and to the west, the Palestinians could act in the same way, only that a few of them would enter the country with bombs hidden in their bags or in their satchels, and the Israelis had to build walls to stop the terror.
After passing Aqaba, which I found not half as nice as Eilat, we rode through the desert for about an hour, then plonk, there stood Petra, an incredible assembly of canyons that looked like a mirage in a rainbow of reds, oranges and browns. A mirage, yeah, on account that it was so damn hot that there was a bloomin dew on my eyelashes as well as on my mustache – hey you didn’t know that we all have one, even lil girls like me, ok it’s more like a down, but when you sweat, you feel it and it sucks, the taste being quiet salty.
We walked with our guide and the other tourists for about an hour, I trying to stick to the shade, which only covered one third of my body, so that my head kept bobbing towards the canyon walls and gave me a very stiff neck. Unlike Bonka who looked like a Vietnamese peasant with his huge straw cone, I refused to bring a hat – damn damn damn, sometimes I should listen to that uncle of mine, but he’s always so insistant, and at times, almost hysterical, that you don’t want to appear like you’re a submissive nitwit.
He was oohing and ahhing so much, in cue with a bunch of other dazzled visitors, that I wanted to punch him in the nose, but all I could do was try to keep two-thirds of my head out of the sun, with an eye pointing at the top of the canyon walls, coz they were really impressive. Not only was my neck getting very sore, but I was almost squinting, with all them contorsions.
After huffing and puffing like a bloomin camel at the end of its tether – camels can also be exhausted -, I suddenly faced the most incredible sight I have ever seen: the entrance of the royal Khaznah, which means Treasury in Arabic, sculpted and caved out of the sandstone. I could almost hear the trumpets blaring, it looked so grand. A lady started to cry when she saw it. I was sniffling, not because I was imitating her, but because of the perspiration, I ain’t that crazy. I don’t think I would drop a tear even if my father, the family defector and the MCP of a womanizer, who eloped eons ago with the naked concubines of a headshrinker in the heart of the Amazon, would suddenly reappear and claim me back. I would reject him straight off, who does he think I am? I have uncle Berky, which is more than enough for me.
After having admired Petra’s royal treasury for an umpteenth time – I had to pretend that I too was flabbyghosted by that masterpizza of architecture, staring at it for fifteen goddamed minutes from different angles -, I followed the others, trailing behind like a tramp that hadn’t had a drink in two weeks, I thought my tongue was going to fall off any minute, like them lizards losing their tails.
We passed other constructions built in the rock, which were not much to look at, though you could see rooms inside. Apparently people lived in those caves, they were called troglodytes. Maybe they descended from dinosaurs, like we’re supposed to descend from apes and before them from fishes.
On our way back, I forced my uncle to take a donkey-drawn carriage. At first he didn’t want to rent one, on account that he’d heard the drivers were all thieves, charging sweating tourists double the price because of the heat. After ten minutes of haggling with three different drivers, I threw such a tantrum that a fourth driver came along and offered to carry us for a fee that was just 10 percent less than the competition. This time, Bonka didn’t dare say boo, even though I knew we were still paying much too much. But then, all of a sudden, two very elegant policemen, wearing bobby-type helmets, came near us on their shiny horses, and asked if there was anything wrong. I don’t know why, but instead of pointing at my uncle, I pointed at the carriage driver. And low and bee hold, he became all sugar and pussy mousey and immediately lowered his fee by half. The two policemen then saluted us, bringing their right hand to their helmets and off we rode. Oh so very posh and so British! I later learned that the Brits had occupied Jordan before WWII.
Whew, what a day! It was so goood to be back in our hotel room just as the sun was setting and to indulge under the shower – I didn’t heed the recommendation posted on top of the towel rack, to save water. First I had to save myself, for crying out loud! I also pretended not to hear my uncle, asking if he could take my place.
I was already lying between my bedsheets when he said:
«Do you want me to read you what I’ve just written?»
«Waayya» I mumbled, closing both eyes, adding a very tired «azzz you please.»
I didn’t really listen, but went on liththping, like I was half interested.
For you ignoramuses who want to learn something about that unbelievable place,
here is my uncle’s masterpizza.
THE ROSE CITY OF PETRA
Behind the mount of Hor
where Aaron is buried
in the Valley of Moses
built palaces of splendor
carved in the rock
lofty canyons scraping
the sky of a limpid
Surrounded by the desert
a thousand walls
sprout in phantasmal hues
from sand pink to coal brown
through all the shades of coral
defying the laws of gravity
Walking in the narrow corridors
that separate them
you feel at once dwarfed and exhilirated
imagining you are
the emissary of a foreign court
awaited by the King of Petra
And the towering walls
stand guard, protecting you
all the way to the palace
Then all of a sudden
as if emerging from a dream
between the cracks of a gorge
a doric column appears
holding parts of a monumental crown
An ethereal silence sets in
and you slow your pace
lest the miracle fades into a mirage
the air is brimming with sand particles
yet you fear that if you remain still
you will be turned into a pillar of salt
like Lot’s wife in the Bible
your feet shuffle on the pebbly ground
and the crunching sound fills you with terror
then in a surge of courage
you slip out of the crack
and face the majestic facade
of the golden Khaznah
We spent another three nifty days in Eilat before we took a direct flight back to Paris. From now on you may call me Saint Zapinette of Eilat. Whatever!