Friday, November 16, 2007

Home and Non-Home

"Where, rhyming amongst shadows of fantastic things
Like a lyre I plucked the laces, the strings
Of my wounded shoes, my foot near my heart."

-Rimbaud, "Ma Boheme".

My shoes are wounded too - from walking all day around the town of Umm Al-Fahm, another great place not served by Israeli public transportation because its 60,000 residents speak Arabic.

Never mind. I'm at home now, at the back of the Little Prince cafe, having a pint with Lior Kodner, my sweet and down to earth friend who is an editor with Haaretz. Into the yard walks Dana Guidetti, a high tech professional and the muse of much poetry written in Tel-Aviv these days. "You're so right on / Dana Guidetti," wrote Chicky Arad, "You are the breeze at the upper floors of the El Al Building /... You are the scarlet of a terminated revolution's blood". Her grey training suit doesn't quite evoke that metaphor, but Dana lives across the street and doesn't mind looking homey around her friends.

The circle of these friends widens. Vizan is here with Osnat Skoblinsky the poet. Nathan Zach dropped by recently and Vizan bought him a glass of Scotch. Shlomo Kraus, the publisher, will soon arrive, inspiring us all to be both more serious and more fun as literati. We may move on to his house, right down the alley, with the lion's statue in front. We may fish through his fridge for food, we may hum an old Israeli tune as we do so:

המדבר כיסה אותך
באבק לבן ורך
עץ ירוק בארץ חרבה
איך נשכח את בית הערבה?

The desert shrouded you
In soft, white dust,
A green tree in an arid land,
How will we ever forget our Arava home?

My life is at the junction of such different wonders. Umm Al-Fahm's streets are steeper than San Fransisco's and more labyrinthine then Venice's. They smell strongly of roasting coffee and car fumes. I can barely read the signs over the shops there and I don't understand the aesthetic of the monument for the dead of October 2000. At the municipal art gallery I was shown a punishing piece of video-art concerning roadblocks, then taken to the roof by Hadil, the owner's daughter, to look at the mess of structures climbing up the hills. Beyond them is the countryside, barbed wire fences and olive groves, roasting lamb and byzantine mosaics.

Then there's the city, every night. The chai, the beer, the rock band playing the late show at Levontin, Shlomo throwing two eggs in a pan for hungry Vizan, Lior letting me look over yesterday's foreign news pages, to locate an error, Dana talking about her love for Mario Vargas llosa.

And there's the final walk to Jaffa and to bed along the waterfront, and thinking of Rimbaud. To live a balanced life you need a home - a place from which to escape and to which to return. You also need somewhere to escape to and return from. I have both at this point. I make the escape each day and return each night. Rimbaud had only the latter. Once he escaped he never returned. maybe this made him into the great poet I'll never be, but I pass on the honor. My foot is nicely close to my heart as it is.

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