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Wednesday, August 8, 2001
By Paul Ford
Zoom, zing, zip.
Since arriving at Ben Gurion airport and coming to Savion, I've begun 6 or 7 different essays. After a few hundred words, emotional smoke pools up in my mouth, and I stop writing, distracted by Web sites or books.
This emerges from being tired, from lingering jet lag, married to a sense of caution and vulnerability. Loneliness: there it is, sure; I'm hovering in space, 6000 miles from a tiny brown apartment with dirty walls, looking for a warm hand to hold. I am still trying to tune in sleepy frequencies of my American friends over psychic shortwave. The feeling passes, then comes again. I will go in the other room and wash my face.
Last night I entered a drugstore in Tel Aviv in search of a needle and tan thread. I have a rip in my new pants which can be fixed, but I lack the tools. The drugstore was crowded with people who were smaller than I. I was worried to bump into anyone because I can't say “excuse me” in Hebrew. I can say “beautiful,” which is “yafi.” I can say goiter, which is “zekeret,”, or “zereket.” Anglit is English and ivrit is Hebrew. Savion is where I live. Schmi Paul Ford. Ani medaber....toda. I really wanted the needle and thread, because I want to wear these my nice khaki pants with my gray T-shirt and a light-green short-sleeved shirt. Finally I gave up without spending a single shekel and went outside to flag a cab. The driver spoke no English, but kept trying to make me understand Hebrew. He recognized the name of the town. He kept grunting: mmm? mmm? I flashed 6, then 5, then said “shekalim.” About $15. He nodded, and drove an unfamiliar route, but we arrived in time. I tipped him 10 shekels and a holy half-shekel.
I'm here through October, and I would like to go to Istanbul in September, take two off days from this job and have a long weekend. I looked at ferries from Haifa - too long - and El Al flights - too expensive. I'm still paying NYC rent on my depressing shitbox apartment, on an Israel salary - a weak trade, although I pay no rent here. But why not travel? The money will just vanish anyway, no matter what I do to save; that, I guess, is being middle-class. Better a trip to Istanbul than socking another $1000 in a failing mutual fund.
And one day we will die
and our ashes will fly
from the aeroplane over the sea.
But for now we are young
let us lay in the sun
and count every beautiful thing
we can see.
- Neutral Milk Hotel, “In The Aeroplane Over the Sea”
I am thinking - have been thinking - hard and often about giving up on New York for a year, of forever, leaving the mass-transit womb. Time used to fold into itself and I stayed where I was, in my apartment working; the days blended. Intervals now feel unblended and discrete, each day marked rather than blurred, but my sense of place is fragmented, as if all places are the same, as if I could cross the Brooklyn Bridge and step off in Tel Aviv instead of Manhattan, as if there was no space left in the world, as if the Brooklyn Bridge was spinning and could let me off anywhere, and the world too small.
The plane from London to Tel Aviv flew the length of Italy, and I looked out the window, crammed into my seat on the 777, and saw clusters of orange curves, lamplights intersecting, thinning; Rome was a collection of spirals, 6 miles above 2000 years ago, 3 am in 2001, 6 miles up.
Then we went over Greece - all clouds - and I thought of young women I know.
Today, 4 days later, writing about it, I have become less lonely, and am ready to work.