Missing Europe

Another summer’s day in Tel Aviv. That much too hot, too little breeze, too many dogs, too much dogshit. After seven months here I don't have enough friends. I was feeling frustrated with this loud, difficult city, and lonely.

I don't like shopping malls, but I thought I'd go into the Diezengoff Centre, just for the air con. Like every public space, your bag is checked before you enter, you are asked if you're carrying weapons, you pass through a metal detector. Hardly ElAl levels of security, but still. Mostly it weaves into my day, I barely notice it anymore. Except today the guard was on his phone and wouldn't even look in my bag. I stood, like a lemon, for a minute or two, then closed my bag and turned. Simon! I heard a familiar voice. It was Alberto, from the ulpan.

He is 24, from Rome, and slightly lost, I think. But almost every immigrant I've met has been slightly lost, including me. I've never seen Alberto wearing glasses before, I think they suit him well. I hate them, he says when I tell him. Even though we're a mile or more from his apartment, he is carrying two brooms that he's bought. I ask why he came all this way to buy brooms and why does he need two but he doesn't answer.

We decide to go for a coffee, and he laments the standard of espresso here compared with home. Aha! I say, let me take you to the Nahat. Dan is a real coffee maven. This is true. Dan, the owner of the Nahat, and, I hope, my friend, worked in the coffee industry for some years. Dan has a coffee bean for every taste.

Alberto's espresso arrives. He pulls a face. The crema, it has no crema.

The waitress asks how it was and I'm honest about it. She goes to get another. Alberto is mortified that I didn't just say everything is fine.

We chat about this and that; I haven't seen much of this group of friends since I left the ulpan. Every time I contact them they say they're busy. Maybe they are. Nathan, who is the centre of it, was my best friend here just two months ago, but since I told him I won't stay in Israel we have been less close. He sent me a text the other day that ended Best, where once there would have been Love. This is a real demotion and saddens me. Best is the worst.

Alberto and I both say how much we miss Europe. He looks around, at the café, at Diezengoff Square, which is a circus, which has so far taken nine months to alter and is a long way from being finished. I wonder if the renovations will be completed before I leave.

He says, sadly, This isn't Europe. And he's right. We ignore how long it takes to build anything in Rome. Every few feet another Etruscan village will be discovered, and building will stop until it's examined.

Today's word: cheshbon – bill – חשבון

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