My uncle and his family live in Zichron Ya’akov, so I spent a lot of time there. It’s a gem of a place. The city’s main street feels and looks like Tuscany, and is spotted with many cafes, restaurants and artisan shops, including one of my favourite jewellery shops in Israel: King Solomon Stones. But more than anything, this city is about family for me: catching up with my cousins, playing with my uncle’s cat (she’s pictured above with the brilliant green eyes), long conversations with my aunt, Friday night meals where my uncle cooks up a storm of many, many dishes (they do this every single Friday night). It’s when I’m there that I have thoughts of moving back to Israel, because I’m surrounded by people who just get me instinctively. It was hard to say goodbye.
Caesarea was packed with French tourists when I visited, it was quite funny hearing a constant stream of French while gazing at antiquities. The first thought that comes to my mind about this place is basically, light. The light there was intense, and the blue of the sky deep and stunning. I don’t know if the photos convey this, but it felt quite surreal at times. It is also historically a very significant place and I do recommend using one of the many free volunteer tour guides who are there, as you won’t understand much of what you’re looking at without their knowledge.
Ralli Museum in Caesarea
I don’t know if many people know about the Ralli Museum, but it’s one of the most beautiful museums in Israel. It holds extensive collections of Latin American and Spanish art, including many pieces by Salvador Dali. There is also an antiquities wing and the building of the museum is itself an architectural beauty. And yep, that’s me above (with the green top), posing awkwardly as ever in front of the museum.
Mount of Beatitudes and Sea of Galilee
Now, I got scolded at by a nun at the Mount of Beatitudes, but I won’t hold that against the place. I seem to have a knack for these things. Anyway, I was quite sick when I visited, so my memories are filtered through painkillers and tissues. But I do remember it being like a garden of paradise. It’s also another place that is filled with tourists at all times, since it’s considered a holy place. But if you can handle the crowds, it’s more than worthy of a visit. You can catch some glimpses of the Sea of Galilee, or the Kinneret in Hebrew, in these photos.
: : General Impressions : :
* I often feel like food is a barometer for a culture or a country. I would summarise Israel’s food culture with one word: generous. Everything about it is based on an unmeasured generosity. You order a meal, you also get a table filled with several salads, pita, bread, hummus, drinks, etc., beforehand. And the salads aren’t skimpy: they are large, colourful and intensely flavoured productions. You order a falafel in the simplest, most basic street restaurant, you get home-made chips and a selection of a million salads and dips too. I guess this food culture reflects the way many Israelis approach life: you don’t hold back, you don’t measure things constantly. Sometimes, this approach is overwhelming and too intimate; other times, I love it so much.
* But the way people drive in a country also speaks volumes! Saying that Israelis are aggressive drivers is stating the obvious. This is also indicative: the aggressiveness, the need to push in and take (sometimes to the detriment of others), is a part of Israeli culture that my mother often tells me was one of the reasons why she felt she couldn’t live there anymore. And I understand that, I really do. It’s just so strange to encounter this aggressiveness alongside the generosity of people.
* Back to the theme of literature and books: I fell in love with Etgar Keret during this trip. Quite simply, he’s a genius. I also became interested in another author: my father’s favourite poet, Ronny Someck, who was born in Baghdad and came to Israel as a young boy. I listened to an interview with him on the radio when I was in Israel, and he read out some of his poems. I remember feeling startled, and moved. Here is one from his website:
From this Distance the Tombstones look like a Flight of Storks
in the memory of N.
From this distance the tombstones look like a flight
of storks, or a flurry of doves
that a certain Yemenite trained for the opening
ceremony of the Fifth or Sixth Maccabiah.
At night, when the pigeons scattered home, N. flung
stones at them and brought down two or three.
The sky was clear of stars, who were called
Lennon or Joplin or Hendrix,
who at the time were playing, all along the watch tower.
in the south of Tel-Aviv. N.’s friend,
the Jazz pianist, was dying.
On the record player, Billie Holiday had shortened
her skirt by five centimeters. She stood photogenically
in one of the street near Levinsky. By the way,
how do you translate the word “junk” into Hebrew?
Why have I knotted this question to somebody dead?
I could have asked it about someone alive,
but no: Death swirls in a failing memory through the streets
in an ambulance. Stretchers and sirens.
If this were a genuine alert
rising and falling sirens would be sounded.
Here’s N.’s sister for the eighth time in the same dress-
black satin cut so that her lovely
clavicle and throat ambush our eyes.
If a silver tray is needed after all,
let them serve vodka on it as well as soldiers,
and thus we could drink in memory
of the furtive scrap of paper he kept at fourteen,
listing the names of the girls who’d begun to wear bras.
I was the only one who knew about that,
and now I’m the only one who can remember it.
Translation: William Matthews
There will be a part three soon ...