Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A Wonderful Day (and why I'll be in no hurry to return to Israel)

By almost all accounts, my first day in Tel Aviv--after arriving last night--was extremely enjoyable. After all the history and gravitas of Jerusalem, and even the tour bus adventures to Masada and Petra, the coastal city of Tel Aviv--which next week will celebrate just its 100th anniversary--was like a breath of fresh air.

My hotel--in which I have a very nice suite--overlooks the Mediterranean Sea (for those paying attention, over the last 5 days, I've been to the Dead, Red and Med. seas). I began my day walking along the boardwalk, meandered comfortably around town--albeit to multiple tour book recommended places that no longer exist, were closed or are in disrepair--, saw a bunch of TA's famed Bauhaus architecture, learned about & listened to Israeli rock bands from a friendly record store clerk (I wound up buying 3 CDs), picked up a great chocolate-almond croissant from a local bakery for a Euro-style breakfast on the go, and went to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.

The collection there was great--within the 1870-1970 range--and included several Picassos of different eras, a couple Van Goghs, a really strange Klimt, a great Chagall and multiple works by de Chirico, Kees van Dongen, Pollack, Pissarro, Kandinsky, Magritte, Jawlensky, Renoir and others, including several by the Russian sculptor Archipenko. I really enjoyed it.

In the late afternoon, I took a train to Rehovot, where I was to visit with the only family I have in Israel--Faye, my first cousin once removed (I think) and her family. Faye, her husband Phil and 3 of their 6 daughters picked me up from the train station and took me to the home of another daughter, her husband and their young daughter. Another of Faye & Phil's daughters was already there. For those keeping track, that's 5 of 6 daughters + 1 granddaughter. (For those who know who these people are, you can guess which daughter I didn't see, privately.) We had a nice dinner together and everyone in the room enjoyed vying for the attention of the 18-month-old granddaughter. I had a really nice time, and if any of the family is reading this, thank you again for your kindness and hospitality.

So as I started with, it was a really nice day. And though the couple episodes I'm about to explain didn't really ruin the day, they did add to my dissension with certain aspects of Israel, predominently the attitudes of service and security personnel. To wit, today's fun encounters included:

1) The Stupid Cab Driver - Please believe that whenever I'm in a country where English is not the primary language, I am respectful of that fact. And yet, there is nothing I can really do about it. So no matter how loudly someone speaks to me in a language I don't know, well, I still don't understand. Anyway, I got in a cab and asked the driver, in English, to take me to the "Art Museum." He had no idea what I was talking about, so I showed him on a map and in my tour book. Still nothing. So he started driving, pulled up, and asked someone else to help translate. The "translator" had no idea what an Art Museum was either. They both yelled at me--this English they could speak--that I was asking for something erroneously. From my map, the driver seemed to grasp where I wanted to go, but brusquely told me that "next time, I should ask for the Israel Museum," and that there wasn't anything called the Art Museum. Now, there's another museum called the Eretz Israel Museum, which I didn't want to go to, and which is nowhere near the art museum. No, the driver didn't take me there; I did get dropped where I wanted to be, in front of a building clearly labeled Tel Aviv Museum of Art. Of course, I can't clearly convey the guy's attitude, but let's just say it was a miserable experience. But it must have been my fault, getting in a cab as a tourist, asking to go to the art museum and paying whatever it cost. I'm sorry, my bad; I did deserve to be treated like garbage. Because I didn't say Israel Museum when I meant Art Museum.

2) The Overintense Security Folks - Again, believe me, I get it. Hardcore security is vital in Israel. And I know that traveling alone, carrying a big camera bag and snapping pictures of everything, I'm an easy target for the terrorist detection handbook. So thus far, I've been through several (at the airports, at the borders) inquisitions about what I'm doing in Israel. And how do I readily explain that I simply enjoy seeing, learning about and photographing (extensively) places that are famous, attractive and/or interesting, and that this year I chose to do so in Israel. And that yes, I am traveling alone. (Actually, this is where mentioning that I have family in Rehovot has been quite helpful). Anyway, back to today. So I'm walking to the train station to go to Rehovot--where I needed to catch the 4:04 train to be met at the preset time of 4:30--and I'm crossing a bridge and see a really architecturally unique building. So of course I snap a picture. I was not in the building nor the train station; I did not use a telephoto lens. It was simply a full building exterior shot. After shuttering, a guy comes up to me and asked me why I took the picture. I said I thought it was a nice building. He told me I had to delete the photo, so I did. He then asked for my passport (he was wearing some sort of security-guy looking jacket, but was not a policeman or soldier). I gave him my passport, which he looks through and asks me why I went to Jordan. I explain the Petra tour. He also asks to see the other photos I've taken, so I show him, which are primarily many more architecturally interesting buildings. He tells me the building I photographed is a government building. He then calls another guy, who we wait about 10 minutes for. The other guy asks basically the same questions, as well as about the Egyptian visa in my passport (I thought Israel was at peace with Egypt & Jordan; heck, I'm flying El Al to Cairo). I'm worried about being detained for some nonsense, but also concerned about missing my train, as I have no easy way to call Faye from outside my hotel.

I'm pretty certain they called in my passport, and hopefully learned that I've never even gotten a speeding ticket, because they let me go on my way. And I made the 4:04 train and met the family at the other end. But this is the kind of shit that makes me think that perhaps I'm in the wrong country. Despite all the great parts of it. And days like today. Mostly.

Tomorrow might be another adventure, as I intend to go to Safed via a train + public bus combination. We'll see how that goes.

1 comment:

Cecilia said...

Wow, that sounds nerve wracking Seth!Does make one truly appreciate our relative lack of violence and anxiety here in the states. I Do admire you for your strength of character and courage. I'm not sure I would travel to Israel by myself.
Love your blog.

Take care,