Sometimes a journey can last a lifetime. Our journey to Jerusalem did. And it also lasted a year. And also six weeks. And also ten days. And also 24 hours.
We had been talking for years about moving here. On and off, we kept wondering why most of our friends are here, and we aren’t. Why we insist on inflicting the harsh Eastern European climate on ourselves. Why we live in a city where A. has nothing to entice and challenge him. Why we keep visiting here, but never stay.
A year ago exactly, at the end of January 2011, as we were riding the bus from Eilat to Jerusalem having just crossed the Egyptian border, with the intention of grabbing our things from a friend’s house and running to the airport to go home, we suddenly made a pact we would put an end to this. A year from now, we vowed, we would move here for good. We started telling everyone we knew, to make it impossible to go back on the decision. We started our preparations… no, that we didn’t do. This we put off. Instead, we traveled. Just talking about the move was enough, just prefacing most of our future tense sentences with “when we move,” or “while we’re still here”. We had a chance to secure visas here in August, then in November, but neither worked out.
Six weeks ago A. had to go to Russia. Things had become critical there, and his presence was needed. There were also the visa troubles to attend to, and that, too, pushed him to the country he was trying, almost, to denounce. It transpired that he had to stay there for an entire month. I went out there for the latter half of it to share this time, and together amid the snow, we said our thorough goodbyes to our friends, which did not bring as much pain as it could have. Soon, thought we, we would never have to see snow again. And soon enough our loved ones would come visit.
Ten days ago we were finally in Vilnius again. There was a daunting task ahead of us: we hadn’t begun our packing, and nothing was to be left in the apartment we were leasing out. Not to mention that we still had no visa. The anticipated frantic scramble led me to escalating hysteria before even the first carton was opened to pile books inside. The house I had accustomed myself to seeing as my refuge, my shelter, was now at a late stage of a decaying disease which was robbing it of its personality, its ourness. Our pictures were removed, and empty frames gaped at me from the walls with embarrassing woodenness. Every meeting with every friend or relative reeked of finality. I had my goodbye roda at capoeira class and did not tear up, though I had fully expected to. This was it. It was snowing non-stop, and I felt as if my heart’s city was cleansing itself of me, covering itself up after our prolonged amorous encounter. We took a train to freezing Minsk and after a measured amount of humiliation returned the same day with passports bearing Israeli visas.
On Wednesday, our physical journey began. We loaded all of our possessions into a minivan. The cat was trembling in his plastic confinement, driven into shock by the tribulations he sensed were ahead. A good eight hours later, we were in a dingy room on the outskirts of Minsk. I dealt with the unreal reality by immersing myself in work. After four hours of sleep we continued on the next leg of the trip, which was the scariest flight I’d ever experienced because it was obviously the scariest thing the cat had ever experienced. On the plane, I read John Green’s new novel, The Fault In Our Stars. By landing-time, the cat was screaming and foaming at the mouth, he had soiled himself and left a deep gash in my hand in his attempt to flee, and I was suddenly crying, either because of the book, his suffering, or the realization that only then began to dawn, that we had left home for good.
Ironically, Welcome Home was the motto of the afternoon. Having cleaned up the poor beast, we were carted to an old and homemade-looking absorption center, where we were cooed over, given coffee, and handed our first papers and some cash. Then followed a cab ride with fellow new Jerusalemites, one of them a slightly jaded-sounding American poet, another – a red-cheeked turtle. Finally, the journey was over. All of them were. It was suddenly clear that the journey, for me, was an end in itself. All of the emotional, physical, and financial investment had led to this point in time, and nothing else. It came as a surprise that after moving here, we also had to live here.
I am sipping hot water now, wrapped in someone’s warm poncho, wearing untied shoes, in a red armchair in the corner of a friend’s house. I spent the morning working on stylist interviews and Turkish Jewish music, while A. was out and people were playing vaguely French tunes on an accordion and the battered organ downstairs. There is work to do and our own apartment to find. There are places to go and people to meet. The cat is fine. Winter’s bleak sunshine is filling the yard. It is exceptionally cold. It is shabbat.
The airport smells of palm trees. A Filipino cleaning lady is sitting in the empty corridor, rocking back and forth with a note and a cellphone in her hand. Are you beseder, okay?, I ask in Hebrew. She looks up uncertainly. Hebrew no, sorry, she says. English? Russian?, I ask. Ruski, she lights up. Is everything horosho, okay? Do you need help? She sighs and gets up to point at something for me. No no, I protest, I help you, yes? You need? She rocks her head slowly, turns to her supplies cart, hangs about for a while then pushes it off down a passage.
Jerusalem smells of spicy meat, hot asphalt, something sweet. At night it smells of flowers fluttering in the light wind from the hills. It does not smell of figs, though when I come out into the courtyard they are sticky under my bare feet. Sadeh?, asks the postman. No, I reply. Water bill in their name, he says. I shrug – okay. Sign here, he says, giving me the bill in an envelope, smaller than the one already on the mirror, in someone else’s name, placed there by somebody other than me.
I like the way time works here (night is just day with the lights switched off, it comes so early and everything takes so little notice of it), the smells and the tastes. Israel tastes to me like breakfast dairy, like freshly baked pita bread of which I eat entirely too much, like the salt of the sea in which I bathe entirely too little, like the curried meats I don’t eat anymore, but their taste lingers, like bottled water, like fresh fruit of so many names and colours.
This trip turned out to be a learning trip. It was so rich with revelations there was practically no room left for much else.
I learned once again about real friendship, which doesn’t always need to involve personal presence, but is all the more exciting when it does. A friendship I value is a lucky, tricky, strange, full, and happy convergence of two people who couldn’t be more different or more alike. I am lucky to have several of these.
I learned about being the object of the emotions other people usually evoke in myself: concern, kindness, incomprehension, puzzlement, impatience, endless patience, affection, and a desire to share. I haven’t thought much about the way I react to these, and it is probably time to give it more consideration.
I learned a very important lesson about coping with loneliness. I was by myself a lot on the trip, however this was not the self-sufficient solitude of choice, but rather the desolate loneliness of choicelessness. The hours I spent this way left me despairing, with nothing to apply myself to, scared. I want to avoid these.
Finally, I learned something about writing. Someone gave me ‘Lost in Translation’ by Eva Hoffman to read, and the slow, soft, reflective style of someone who went through assimilating a whole new language as their main means of self-expression is an epiphany for me. There is much food for thought in this.
Israel has always been my personal myth. Ever since I was a child, it was always talked about, learned about, sung and danced about in the family and beyond. When we finally visited, my brother, aged four, and I, aged six, did the most reasonable thing first – tried to climb a palm-tree. We didn’t get very far up.
After we got back, having lived a year in Jerusalem, I went to second grade and gained almost immediate respect. I spoke no Lithuanian, but I had a perfect command of Hebrew. For the following 11 years, not a day passed without someone copying my homework – after all, I’d been there, I had enough to spare.
Of course, with time, other kids went to see the Promised Land as well, and my knowledge of it was no longer exclusive. It was still special, though: I hadn’t been just a tourist, I’d finished first grade there, it belonged to me, and the new visitors were only admitted to the country with my graceful royal permission.
I went there another time, and then another. Then, last year, we went once again to live up there for a year. This time with my new family, A. We made some harsh decisions and burned a considerable amount of bridges. When we got back, we were different. The myth had transformed into the ultimate Oddisey.
We are going back. Today, next year, in five years’ time, until comes the day our ticket will be one-way. It is so definite that we don’t need to create it anymore, or invent anything. It is happening to us, not by us. It is always a homecoming, never repeating, but always the same, our homeland in more ways than one.
By tomorrow we will be in Tel Aviv. Come Monday – in Jerusalem, our own. It’s been a year, almost, and I am apprehensive. They say the bus routes have all been switched, and some stores have been closed. But all I need to remember is it’s still home, even if they’ve changed the carpeting.
This is what I miss. The sunshine and the simplicity. I’m very tired today, nothing is going the way I’d like it to, and all I really want is to take a long lazy walk in the sunny streets of Jerusalem. Barring that – to curl up in a nice cosy bed in a neat and pretty room and watch happy musicals until I calm down.
I hope tomorrow will be a better day. Meanwhile, if you are reading this, can you share some of your go-to websites for when you are sad? Some feel-good blogs, or fun online games, or things to do, read, and watch around the net that help you get yourself back on track? Any suggestions will be greatly appreciated.
Today is Cutting of the Goose Day in Sursee, Switzerland. The original name for that holiday is Gansabhauet. Here’s how the website explains it:
The tradition is related to the fact that interests and taxes were due on Martini day in the middle ages and farmers had to deliver 10% of their crops in town.
What they do is have young men cut a goose from a rope. Blindfolded. That’s it. Delightfully simple. Imagine having a whole big celebration for that.
…Children tugging at their mothers’ sleeves weeks before, whining how they want Gansabhauet already, when o when is it coming? And husbands, sipping their beers, murmuring, ‘About time to start looking at geese, Hans is finally of age. Don’t want Georg telling me our goose is skinny.’ And mothers, lovingly stroking their oldest sons’ hair (mooooom!), thinking about the outfit they’re going to sew them for the occasion.
Ach, small town romance. I’d like to visit Sursee one day. After all, it is the winner of the Wakker Prize 2003! But I’m pretty sure I won’t be going on Dead Upside-down Geese Day.
As I’ve said, I did enough point’n’shooting in Krakow to fill more than one little blog. So on to ‘a little less conversation, and a little more action’.
What I loved most about Krakow is how it balances perfectly between feeling just like home and giving off that new and different feel every great city has. The architecture is really quite similar to that my hometown (after all, most of Vilnius was indeed built by the Poles), but there is that sudden dash of colour:
…that unexpected buttress:
…that old-looking lantern or other:
..that makes it that one deciding bit new and breathtaking. Kind of like a picture you’ve been seeing a framed copy of on the wall above your bed every single day for decades, and then you suddenly encounter it at a gallery or museum. It’s not that it looks better or grander or anything – it’s just that in a different environment the essentially unchanged image strikes you anew.
Our vacation was incredible. I brought lots of photos and notes.
However, the trip home was thirteen hours on a bus, and here’s a curious tidbit: when you board a bus in the middle of its route, your journey is bound to be hellishly uncomfortable, the air – cold as ice, and your fellow travelers – horrid and inconsiderate. All in all – not much of a good night’s sleep.
So, I have been half asleep all day, but we still went on a long shopping trip (another bit of travel trivia: when you come back home, your fridge will most likely be empty, and you might be in need of a new couch), and then I had to catch up on my blogroll, and then there were photos to edit…
And then I uploaded the photos to Flickr, which promptly notified me that as a free user I only get 200 pictures on view, so it is going to hide the rest until I delete some or pay up. Needless to say, my money (Visa card) is no good there, even though I am willing to purchase a Pro account here and now.
Then, after some fuming, I opened my notebook in the hopes of at least doing some comfort blogging, and discovered enough notes for something like fifteen blog posts on existential subjects, and close to none – about the trip. There is a mention of kangaroos in there, though, but it’s going to need some work.
In short, it is now 1.48 a.m., and I am still not ready for bed. I am drowsy, crabby, and whiny – what, does it show? You must agree that it will be better for all of us if I get some sleep now and post more tomorrow.
I took this picture on my first visit to Krakow. It was four years ago, which means I was ’16 going on 17′, and it was one of the best trips I’ve ever had. I was surrounded with people who meant the world to me, and we were in a city that was surely the better part of that world. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the joy we shared on that trip.
Krakow is everything I love in a city – it’s old, very European, it has a Market square (see picture), yet civilization is nowhere far gone. There are plenty of bookshops, coffeehouses, souvenir stalls – I don’t normally buy souvenirs, but I like looking at them – and other things I need to maintain my livelihood. Luckily, my family seems to share those priorities.
Tomorrow at 5 p.m. I will be setting off for Krakow in a (hopefully) comfortable bus, together with A. and my parents. We will spend three (hopefully) lovely days there, taking lots of pictures and drinking gallons of coffee. Our hostel is smack in the middle of the Old Town, the weather is supposed to be nice, Dad got food, so nothing should keep us from having fun.
We will be back on Saturday, with photos to post, gifts to distribute, and thoughts to share. And now if you’ll excuse me, I think I need to get packing.