A week before I left Israel I paddled in the sea for the first time in months. For most of the summer the water had been too warm to be refreshing, the beach too crowded for pleasure. But now, far from high season, the water was pleasant and there were only a handful of people sunbathing. The language I heard was Russian, the bodies were that pale, pinky-grey of the recently arrived, and I was struck by only an occasional whiff of sun tan lotion.
Further south, on Banana Beach, all the structures, the cafés and beach gyms and boardwalk, had been torn up, just so they can be rebuilt. The sand had been bulldozed into a four meter tall bank, and the beach was the quietest I’d ever seen it. No one was playing the bat and ball game, the noise of which is incompatible with peace.
I don’t think any of the high-rise structures being built, expensive, sea-view apartment blocks, had advanced an inch in the last year: scaffolding was still in place, there were holes where there will be windows. Building seems to be constant in Tel Aviv, but nothing ever seems to get finished.
I showered the sand from my feet and walked to Diezengoff, to catch a bus to Basel, to cancel my health insurance. The renovation of the square got off to a good start last December, the overpass was taken down over three very noisy days and nights. But since then progress had been slow. I’m sorry I won’t see the colourful, musical, fire and water fountain restored. I love that fountain, even if Tel Avivians are slightly embarrassed by it, and think it’s gauche. It’s due to be finished early next year, but I don’t believe it. I never saw more than three or four men on site, and work was advancing at a glacial pace. Still, tarmac had been laid in a few days, just for the Night Run the following week, so, maybe.
The day before I’d gone to City Hall, on Rabin Square, to tell them I wouldn’t need to pay local tax after October. I had to make an appointment, then go away for 90 minutes, return, wait another 20, then it took 4 minutes, at most. The lovely young woman helped me fill in the form, including writing my name and ID number twice on the same side of paper, which she then copied onto her computer, before printing out and asking me to sign. You can only make one of these transactions a day, I find, more would lead to violence.
I approached the kerb, and a man, not young, walking his bike, ran into my leg. Excuse me, I said, in that mild, English way that means Watch it, Sunshine.
You ran into me, he said.
No, you ran into me. He was obviously a lunatic, but I didn’t want to back down. There was a black tyre mark on the back of my calf for evidence.
You’re in the land of Zion, now, he shouted, you’re in the land of the Jews! He pointed his finger towards heaven, maybe to the 747 flying above, as a witness or evidence or something.
I took the bus to the medical centre, where, of course, I found the usual Israeli balagun, people pushing in, talking over me, before I was directed to another floor.
The business, after a thirty minute wait, took less than two minutes in the end, including the woman asking if I was returning to London.
I said I was, and she said, Lots of Arabs in London.
I said, Not really.
She said, Pakistanis, Japanese, Arabs…
I smiled, signed something, and got out of there. I won’t miss this, I won’t miss this at all.
Today’s word: balagun – mess – בלגן