Israel Stories

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Hill of the French

In the beginning their was the word, fooled you, you thought I was going to quote the old one not the new one. But actually its not even the new one, is my testament. The word was Ahkla, which loosely translated means great, fantastic, nice, etc, etc, etc. Of course the word Akhla, written here in its full phonetic glory is not a Hebrew word, its Arabic and has crept into the Hebrew vocabulary along with many other alien words. When I say alien I mean foreign and when I mean foreign I mean none Ivrit, the sort of words that Ben Yehuda didn’t get around to adding to his fast draft of the modern Hebrew language.

There are of course loads of English words that have crept into the dictionary (which are also alien and foreign before I get bashed) like individuali, or the great phrase ‘ze lo fair!’. Oh and one word which I hear all the time on the TV especially Arutz Hayeladim (kids channel), written phonetically as sh*t! or in its longer version as bullsh*t, as quoted by a former Prime minister.

The bus wound round the streets of Jerusalem getting closer to HaGivah Haztorfatit (French Hill). I rarely take the bus but as my car was being repaired I had no choice.

The guy sitting next me seemed like a seasoned Israeli, in fact I found out he was fifth generation Jerusalemite. We got talking and I managed to understand every other word he was saying under his very heavy Eastern accent and the fact he talked a million miles an hour and oh yes the fact that my Ivrit still leaves a lot to be desired.

During our conversation I joked that HaGivah Hatzorfatit literally means The Hill of the French, but its is named after a general whose name was French so it should have been called Givat French. He looked at me like I was mad.

“What is French in Ivrit?”, he asked.

“Tzorfat,” I replied

“So whats the problem?”

“The problem is that they have translated his name, If it’s named after him they should have kept his name as French.”

He looked at me confused.

King George street is called Hamelkh George, are you saying we should have called it King George street?”

“No,” I replied slightly frustrated, not sure whether he was joking or winding me up.

“Look,” I continued, “Hemelkh is his title, so you can translate it, but you cant translate his name.”

“How do you translate George into Ivrit”, he quizzed.

“You cant, that’s his name.”

“No, no, George in Ivrit is George (with Israeli intonation), French in Ivrit is Tzorfat.” He sat back in silence.

“I think, with respect you are missing the point.”

“No,” he said between his treeth, “I think you are missing the point! My family have lived here for five generations and as far as I can remember it has always been HaGivah HaTzorfatit and not French Hill!!!”

“Ok,” if it was a fight he wanted its fight he’ll get. “French, was a British officer, nothing to do with the country, so calling him French is really ridiculous.”

“Are you mad,” he nearly shouted, “Were not going to call a hill after a British soldier, after what they did, that’s crazy”.

I looked at him. “Look I agree, but that’s what has happened all over Israel. King George Street, Allenby, French, all of them British, very British.”.

He was now sitting with his chin against his chest. “So we should change all the other street names too.”

“I agree, maybe we should, my only point was a matter of translation, but you’re right, although it is an important part of the States history which is immortalized in the street and even place names. I mean look at Caesarea, should we rename that too?”

“Hey driver!” he shouted, where does this bus stop.”

“Givat Shapira,” he called back.

I looked at the old man and we said simultaneously’ “Givat Shapira it is then.”

“Givat Shapirah is what the residents call this area, not HaGivah Hatzorfatit”, the driver explained, obviously to me.

I looked at the old man, smiling.

“Anyhow,” he smiled back, “at the end of the day it’s all bullsh**t!”

Thursday, October 25, 2007

My Child Overfloweth

I’m not anal (I think I can print that word) I am not obsessive and I am certainly not picky, pernickety, fussy or overly particular about most things. Things are as they are and rarely worth the bother of changing unless they begin to smell or they’re a baby.

I have no problem changing my own 2 year old as I did her siblings, its what you do. Most fathers like to be involved and its one way of escaping for half an hour and having some quality time alone with the baby, who very often is feeling attention starved. Now don’t get me wrong, I really don’t like changing nappies (diapers). I feel the whole experience lacks a certain je nes se quai, maybe it’s the total sensory overload that really detracts from the whole helping / bonding experience.

So what happens when you have to change somebody else’s baby. Not a chance mate, no way, absolutely not a hope in Arsenal (thought Id throw that in) of doing it. Cant do it and wont do it. A child should be changed by their own parents. Each parent has an in build tolerance which only works on their own child, sort of genetic link, match the smell to the parent.

And women seem to be able to change other kids. My wife changes other kids if they need it. How? How on earth can she stomach it, even the idea makes me shudder.

The nearest supermarket to me stocks everything. I mean everything including LCD TVs and fish shaped croutons. Everything that you could ever want (we like the fish shaped croutons) is available on its large broad shelves. My youngest and I were busy stocking up for the winter, actually it was a weekly shop that we’ll be paying for well into the winter, when I hear those immortal words, the words that every father dreads to hear more than ten meters from the house, ‘abba poo’.

“Are you sure” I asked, a nod, “are you really sure”, another nod. So I did the pick up and smell movement, a small but graceful maneuver that I have perfected for lifting babies, passing them under my nose and returning them to the ground while my brain makes the fine calculations and assesses the situation.

She was right, and I was standing in the chalavi (milk) section. We should really be in the meat section, I mused.

What to do?

Well clearly other people had noticed and I could sense their overall shopping experience was being affected as the smell started penetrating the 1% yogurts section, wafting into the fresh pasta and 9% cheese slices reaching as far as the pre-grated mozzarella. Soon it would reach the Soya products and over to the bakery, we had to take action.

“OK, little girl, you need changing but I don’t have nappies, wipes or a nappy sack.” Now I was being tested, all my resourcefulness and my survival techniques were being called into play. My survival techniques, up till then, had been the four words that every man uses while ducking i.e. its not my fault. That wasn’t going to help me now.

Brainwave, look for mothers with pushers a kids similar ages who obviously would be well stocked. Genius, except there were none. New plan, buy some nappies and wipes. Wipes was easy and after five minutes they were safely under my arm, but nappies.

I looked at my daughter, “how big are you, how heavy are you, what size are you?”.

“Abba, poo.”

The smell was becoming overpowering, even standing in the vegetable section.

“Are you having trouble,” a voice asked from over my shoulder.

Oh no, I thought, another interfering Israeli who wants to tell me my daughter is packing a full load, or is too hot or too cold or just wants to tell me that her hair is out of place, but I smiled.

“Erm, as it happens yes, but I doubt you could help me”.

She smiled the smile of an experienced mother looking at an idiot father who was stuck miles from home with a child, a full nappy and no equipment.

“Come with me,” she ordered.

So we followed through the supermarket, out through the storage area, to a small table.

She motioned me to pass her my daughter, who she placed on the table. Thoughts of Abraham whizzed through my head, but I doubt if she was about to commit child sacrifice she would do it in a supermarket warehouse.

She flipped open a previously unseen bag and produced a nappy, wipes, all the equipment. I went to take them, but she brushed me aside.

“You think if I have all these things I cant change a child’s nappy?”

“Just thought you wouldn’t want to, I mean she’s not your child”.

“Typical man, just because you are unable to change another child don’t think that a seasoned my mother like me can’t do it. Who do you think changes your child at gan?”

Actually I had never thought about that.

That day I learned two things, number one, always be prepared and have the right equipment and number two to have maximum respect for all those gannanot who change our kids when we’re not there.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Digger and the Sifter

The sea lapped gently at the crag, to paraphrase Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, and the sun gently settled on the horizon of Caesarea beach. Channa Senesh would have been proud of the way that her beloved Caesarea had been lovingly restored. I stood with my kids looking out to sea, it was quite idyllic. But we had a mission. To collect as many useless bits of broken pottery and if we were lucky to find a handle to add to our mounting collection of antiquities. As we turned to go we saw sticking out of a rubbish pile a small but perfectly formed handle from an ancient jug (it didn’t say Aroma and wasn’t plastic so I reckoned it must be old). We all fell to ground like a team of Indian Joneses, digging at the rubble, wiping away the sand and exposing our treasure. And then it was free, our prize. We held it up and admired its form, its curves and its fine workmanship. Soon this piece of ancient history would be assigned a place in a shoebox, protected for all time, forever a tiny piece of the Holy Lands history.

The new road and junction construction works by Eshtaol, just outside Bet Shemesh came to halt while the department of antiquities sifted through the rubble in a vain and last ditch attempt to find something of historical significance before the tarmac covered the site sealing its secrets forever. Now from my limited knowledge of the history of the area I know that Bet Shemesh and Eshtaol has millennia of history associated with Samuel, Samson, Saul and David, the Ark of the Covenant, the Philistines (no relation) in fact it’s a pretty important place, historically. So when a road is laid or a house is being built the department of antiquities are first on the scene.

The workers were digging a sifting under their sun protective canopies. The area had been divided up into small sections each manned by two men, one digging and one sifting. I wanted a closer look as I have a small penchant for archeology and history. I asked one of the worker if they had found anything. They looked at each other and towards the foreman.

“Nothing,” they told me, “Nothing”.

“Not even a hard of pottery, a handle, nothing. They must have suspected something was here in the first place, what did they originally find”?

“Nothing,” they told me, “Nothing”.

“Very strange”, I said but left it, after all who am I to interfere with their important work. I knew the score. If they found anything significant it would delay the road project. If they found anything really significant it could jeopardize it altogether.

Then I saw one of them pick up a large piece of pottery and cast it aside.

“What was that,” I asked, hoping that of they didn’t want it I could take it.

“Nothing,” they told me, “Nothing”.

“Then can I have it?”

“Its just a piece of roof tile”.

“No its not its got a handle.”

“It’s a milk jug then”. He looked up at me nervously.

“It must be very old.”

Then the foreman walked over.

“This area is not open to the public, please leave it could be dangerous”.

So I had no choice. As I left I gave the digger a long hard stare, he looked down and as I turned to leave I heard a whistle.

Flying through the air for me to catch was an ancient jug handle.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Divine Comedy

Every stone in Jerusalem is holy. “So what’s that?” asked one of the teenage group, sarcastically, as he pointed to a sign saying WC, “is that holy to, well it’s got a hole in it anyway”. The other teenagers fell about laughing; their leader had just managed to embarrass their poor tour guide, probably not for the first time today. “Well”, continued the tour guide with full and impressive composure, “why don’t you check it out”. “Oooohhhh,” squealed the teenagers, feigning mock insult and hurt feelings.

The guide was fighting a losing battle. I almost felt sorry for her, almost but not quite. Then one of the group shouted something deeply personal and embarrassing about the guide and all hell broke loose. The girls started shouting at the boys, who knew they had overstepped the mark but were clearly in denial and who shouted back at the girls who they figured were over sensitive. Then out of nowhere a man carrying a huge tray of bread tripped and fell sending his tray (and bread) straight into the face of the offending teenager. In the commotion that followed and as the boy sat crying holding his bloody face in his hands, I couldn’t help notice a smile of contentment on the tour guides face as the offending criminal received his punishment immediately and some would say divinely.

I have never managed to get to the bottom of whether we are punished instantly for our sins or if there is a long term payout. Is it a case of attributing everything that goes wrong to something bad you did a few minutes ago. I mean, for example, when you bump the car is that a punishment for something you said about your wifes driving a few weeks ago.

I’d also like to know if when you ignore a person hitching and they shout something after you, are they cursing you, do you have to worry or care, should you attribute another ‘small’ car accident to the fact you ignored your brother who hitched and low ye ignored him?

Well how about this. I had a running battle with cats in my last house and did some questionable things to them in order to rid myself of them. Now in my new house there are no cats but a dogs either side of me and across the road from me. When one starts barking they all start. I’m scarred to do anything about it in case I move to a new house and find myself face to face with a lion.

And here’s another. I once moved some rubbish from outside my house closer to the neighbors so that it would look like it was theirs. The next thing I find is the rubbish collectors turning up at 2am in the morning three weeks in a row making so much noise that it more than ruined my day, and I need my sleep, believe me.

Some people would laugh this off, tell me I am being paranoid and tell me that you shouldn’t waist your time worrying about but I do and only because recently these instant forms of retribution seem to be more frequent.

So walking through the Old City in Jerusalem and seeing this teenagers face get mashed under a tray full of bread really drove home to me that sometimes we are punished instantly. Laughing to myself that I am not the only one and that he really deserved I didn’t notice the hoarding of a nearby shop had come loose and before I could say, I’m sorry I’m not perfect, I walked straight into it, bruising my cheek and shoulder, much to the amusement of the teenagers, and their guide.

Monday, October 08, 2007

I am a rock I am an Island

My policy in life has always been to make the world a better place through laughter and song. My family will tell you how I leap out of my bed in the mornings and dance from room to room waking my children with song and laughter. My colleagues will tell you how their working day only really starts after I have skipped from office to office offering morning salutations with a smile and a joke. And as I dance home throwing open the front door, my family all light at up the site of me, and with laughter and song we end the day with homework, supper and baths. Well sort of anyway.

Years ago I was known from time to time to consume a couple of pints of Guinness and stand before the masses at the well known NW London pub Load of Hay (now a housing development) karaoke night, singing my favorite 80’s classics to an uncompromising and cruel audience. But what did I care, I was standing or rather leaning, filled with Dutch courage belting out some Frankie Goes to Hollywood number completely oblivious to the world around me. So when the chance to shine again presented itself I grabbed it with both hands.

The closest I ever got to Romania was on old cold war films, tails of poison tipped umbrellas and John Le Carre thrillers. But my real encounter with Romania, where I learned to appreciate Romania a little more, occurred last week in the unlikely setting of Jaffa Port. I got to see Romanian fashion; taste Romanian food and most importantly listen and join in with a Romanian band.

And so, as the sun set over the Mediterranean Sea and Jaffa was enveloped in the light of hundreds of bulbs, I took my seat to listen to the best of Romanian music in Israel. I was quite enjoying the tunes and enjoying even more making up lyrics to accompany the melodies, much to the annoyance of those around me and the embarrassment of my wife. So I left my imaginary love stories of shepherds and farmers (Freud would have had a field day) to the dulcet tones of guitars and panpipes.

Then the lead singer in a very broken Hebrew or as my wife pointed out to me ‘better than yours’ Hebrew, asked for a volunteer to play second pan pipe accompanying their band to a well known Israeli classic, Od lo ahavti di. Well here was my chance at stardom, my five minutes of fame and my entry into the world of rock and roll. I raised my hand, my eldest pulled it down, I raised it again, and my other children collectively pulled it down. I raised it again and my wife glared at me, so I pulled it down. But too late, I had been spotted and one of the singers dressed in a poncho, looking more like an extra from the Good the Bad and the Ugly, than a Romanian rock star, grabbed my arm and pulled me on to the stage.

A quick pep talk and a ten second lesson on how to play panpipes and then I was on. The crowd hushed, the spotlights focused on the musicians, my family shielded their faces and braced themselves, and then I suddenly realized that the courage and bravado that I had once displayed in my youth had disappeared.

Someone shoved a glass of some foul smelling alcoholic drink into my hand which I drank down, coughed, retched and then smiled; and like a formula 1 racing car with a full tank I was revving and ready.

The music played, the crowd clapped and sang, then suddenly all went quiet as the spotlight shone on me, I blew the panpipes which sounded (to me) like they had been blown by Pan himself, the crowd roared (with laughter I was later informed) and the band played on. This went on for what felt like hours although it was only five minutes.

Of course the whole thing was a set up to make second panpipes look as stupid as possible. And there was I thinking I had done that myself.

Five minutes of humiliating myself and my family but providing Romanian TV with a deep insight into Israeli culture. Some sacrifices have to be made and as I explained to my family, now all Romanians know with absolute certainty that I cant play panpipes and the world is a better place through laughter and song.