Monday, May 26, 2008


A 1947 film, "A portrait of Palestine", commissioned by the British Ministry of Information, ends with pictures of Tel Aviv beach; girls in swimsuits, playing "matkot" (beach paddleball). The narrator's tone is sober and ambivalent, the text is grand politics and history (...Jews claim Palestine as their ancient home... The Arabs have lived there for a thousand years... Palestine’s problem is whether these two kindred races can be reconciled to live and work together in peace...). Yet the images are optimism and sunshine: it's the beach, man. Surely something can be worked out. Now just sit back and watch the girls.

Much has changed since 1947 but Palestine's problem perhaps remained the same; and so, in some respects, did Tel Aviv's beach. It's still a good place to find some light-hearted optimism and to play matkot (u-tube). The shrill flight of the paddleball between racquets, the dull sound of the ball hitting the wood, this music is monotonous and hypnotic; the song of a leisured evening of a weekday, for those who have the time and are not in a hurry. Never a matkot player myself and always slightly worried about the direction of the ball, I distance myself from the players, watch their virtusity from afar, and then continue strolling southwards, as Jaffa turns pink.

The beach is long and sandy, usually clean and, except for weekends and holidays, never too crowded. There are some obvious drawbacks, like the ugly line of hotels guarding the seafront, or the hippies playing drums on Friday evenings. But it is such a great beach. Jaffa, towering above it and marking its southern end, provides the necessary contrasts; there are many of them.

My embrace of Tel Aviv's beach is never full and unreserved. I am a Jerusalemite, born on a mountain, unsure about long stretches that never end; too much skies, too much water. But leave aside pathos and identities. My real problem is different: it's the sand. I hate sand. In wrong moments for myself and the universe, dipping my toes deep into the sand can feel like scratching a wall with long nails. Just the thought of the yellow granular substance can make me close my fists, squint, and want to be elsewhere. But sand is soon everywhere, in my food, in my hair, in my clothes. When I let myself to be carried away with my sand-o-phobia I find the powdered soil blocking my thought process, my sentences end mid-air. It gives me the creeps. But then I relax, resume, and reconcile myself to the particles beneath my feet. It used to be much worse. I'm gradually learning to live with the stuff. There is a price to pay for sunsets.


Post a Comment

<< Home