Israel Stories

Thursday, September 01, 2005

George and the Dragon

Israel is a place that never ceases to amaze me. Everyone who has ever visited Israel has an amusing or surreal story. Living in this tiny Mediterranean strip is like stepping into the twilight zone or a page from the X Files.

After many months absence I recently returned to one of my favorite cities in Israel, Jaffa, and in particular the Old City. I love exploring the antique shops that line the labyrinth or roads leading up to the cities walls. Once in the city, which has been redeveloped to rival the Jerusalem's Jewish quarter, there is an overwhelming sense of calm as you leave the hustle of the city behind you and wander the narrow streets and artists galleries on one side, the sea on the other.

On this particular occasion I had an hour to kill between meetings so I headed to Jaffa for lunch. I found a nice restaurant, chose a table outside and ordered my food.

This is when my particular X File experience occurred. I saw it creeping toward my table, sheepishly at first, wrapping itself around table legs, edging ever closer, the occasional meow announcing its presents, a Jaffa cat. You've heard of Jaffa oranges, well this was a Jaffa cat, ironically orange in colour, but I am assured not as tasty. Jaffa cats, rivaled only by Netanya cats, are the boldest, most chutzpadik cats in the country (I 'm assured) and this cat was trying to prove it to me.

My first plan of action was to make a sudden movement, so I pushed my chair back a few inches. It had the desired affect and the cat backed off, well it stopped for a second and then continued to stalk me and my plate.

This cat wasn’t a fool. It had 4000 years of experience, passed down from kitten to cat. His family had probably seen Jonah run away, stolen food from the Crusaders and slept in Napoleons cannons. I was on his turf and he wanted my steak.

My next move was to try and build a barrier so he couldn’t get to me, and, to the amusement of the Arab cleaner, I started moving chairs around so the cat couldn’t get to me. The waiter and I both new a barrier wasn’t a total solution. Now if I was Ariel Sharon, I'd leave the restaurant and give my steak to the cat. No way, I thought. I can't negotiate, it doesn't speak my language, and even if it could it only once one thing, my lunch.

The owner of the restaurant came out to see what was happening. He saw me, saw my lunch, saw the security barrier and saw the cat. George, he shouted to the waiter, get rid of the cat. George? Funny name for an Arab. George stood up and shouted at the cat in Arabic, nothing happened. Then he shouted in Hebrew, the cat just stood there trying to understand what the man was shouting. Then in very heavily accented English the Arab shouted, Go Dragon. As I sat unable to comprehend what was going on the cat turned around and walked off. The Arab smiled at me, I just stared at him.

As I paid for lunch I asked the owner why George calls the cat "the dragon". It turns out that one of the traditional burial places of the original dragon slayer is near Jaffa, where the cat has made his home. Everyday he makes his way into the old city and everyday George sees him off. How did he get a name like George, then realized rather stupidly what I'd just asked.. Even George laughed at the question, as he lifted his broom for another joust with the dragon.


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