escaping the ivory tower

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This week, in honor of the last day of the holiday, Chana and I took a trip. Not to the sea shore, nor to some ski resort up in the mountains… nor to some exotic foreign city… I didn’t choose to commune with nature in the desert, or among the tall trees of a forest. My heart’s desire was to go south to a small town in the northern Negev… where the sun always shines, and people live their lives more or less as they did fifty or a hundred years ago. You can buy a lunch there for less than the price of a pack of cigarettes, and you can talk to a stranger, and he’ll answer you. It was a thrilling trip; heart warming, and a pleasure to the senses.

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The getting there was a great delight too. Not only did we leave the rain behind in Jerusalem, as we rolled out into the country, but the traffic too, is so much easier as you move from the big city to ‘out in the sticks’, far from the crush of people going two blocks in their cars to pick up some groceries, or ferrying their children around… people rolling back and forth to visit friends and family members, tied up in traffic jams that have you crawling at snail’s pace in long lines of metal boxes… whose inhabitants are all engaged in conversation with one another, with one foot on the brake, gingerly releasing its hold every now and then to let the automatic transmission pull you another few centimeters to avoid an excess of space between cars…

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I buy roses every Friday to exalt the Sabbath, but I’d almost forgotten the smell of natural flowers grown in the fields… of hay stacked alongside the barn… of cow shit… ah, I love that smell; it brings back the finest memories… that, and the sight of prickly pears growing out the edge of cactus leaves. The old trees standing along the soft shoulders of the old fashioned highway, where you can cruise at a moderate speed… even at the pace of a country walk, the better to see the trees and smell the fields… unlike the super highways and the freeway, where you have to use an official exit in order to take a leak, and while driving along with the rest of the herd, are unable to get even a hint of the world outside the rapid transit system.

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When we got to Kiryat Gat, we easily found a parking spot not far from the roundabout near the commercial center, and I got a chance to take a long look at the sculpture in the middle of that roundabout. The sculpture depicts a man in a winter coat, politely tipping his hat, carrying a violin case in his right hand. The man has no head. The moment I saw the sculpture, I knew exactly who the subject was, of this work of art. I won’t mention his name, because I have to keep living in this country. But I will say that he plays the violin with magnificent expression. It’s just when he opens his mouth, that you realize he has no head at all. I love art.

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It was Wednesday, and that’s the day when the shuk is set up in tents and stalls across the wide plaza alongside the commercial center, and all the produce from the local farms in the area were on display as well as an exquisite collection of olives, and a wide variety of pickled vegetables, and endless products that might attract the interest of the locals, such as a couple of thousand bras in the colors of the rainbow, and handy tools from far away China, with the names of prestigious American factories printed on the front of the plastic packaging. I bought a vice grip pliers to give to a friend. I didn’t need anything I could think of at the time, but I didn’t want to pass up such a unique occasion to buy. I wanted that total experience of a visit to the shuk.

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We were on our way to buy lunch when I bumped into Benzion with his arm in a cast. I had never met him before in my life, but the moment our eyes met, we realized that we had been friends all our lives, and just hadn’t had the opportunity to meet till this moment. He asked me to take his picture. I could have died of happiness right then. But not before I’d snapped his photo. I asked him for his email address, so I could send the photo to him. He said, he didn’t have a connection to hi tech, but his children knew all about computers, and I could send the photo to them. I pulled a business card out of my pocket, and gave it to him, showing him where my email was engraved. Told him to tell his kids to send me their address and I would send the picture. And he promised to do so.

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Lunch was fantastic, and so was everything that followed. The people were as sweet as candy, and the cats were well fed, but willing to accept a few tributes, just to make us feel good. On the way back, we watched the sheep munching on some exceptionally green grass to the beat of fine country music, and some of the most beautiful clouds making their way across the heavens to Jerusalem. Ya lalai, ay yay yai. Ya lalai, ay yay yai.

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65 responses to “escaping the ivory tower

  1. Lovely, Shimon. I’m smiling as I type this.

  2. It’s obvious that you had a wonderful day! 🙂 … and cheers to the goodness from people like Benzion.

  3. What a sweet post…your escape from the city…how absolutely wonderful! And yes, I, too, love the smell of cow shit and the memories of wandering through old country towns as a child that it evokes. Very nice, Shimon. 🙂

  4. So you pretty much visited the place where I live, including the smell of cow pies (but minus the cactus). 🙂 I love how you encountered a friend you’ve always known but hadn’t yet met, and the art you also recognized and loved…what a joyful day you had! The market looks so merry and colorful. Thank you so much for sharing these lovely memories and photographs, Shimon! I feel like I had a break from routine, too. Blessings.

    • How wonderful that you live in such a place, Kitty. Though I’ve lived almost all my life in the city, I’ve always had a longing for the country. It’s where we find the intensity of life; the natural processes… and can live with animals and plants in harmony. I think I needed to get out, just to put things back into perspective. Thanks for your blessing and comment.

  5. Sitting by my desk in LA and sensing the fragrance of the olives in the shuq, and basking in the aroma of Israel. It fills my heart. Thanks.

    • Very good to hear from you Rachel. And I can imagine that this post brought back some memories. It’s really uplifting, to get out in the country… and it was warm too.

  6. Thanks for sharing your escape, Shimon. What a delightful adventure. My sister often warns me: “Don’t piss off the artists; they will immortalize you in the worst possible way and in a way you can’t dispute.” Fiction writers do the same thing. 🙂 I’ve a few friends like your friend Benzion. I’m grateful they use the internet. The neighbors down the street have a prickly pear, but it won’t bloom and produce fruit for a few months yet. I wouldn’t be able to resist buying something from the market, either. I enjoyed the get-away, today. May you and yours be blessed.

    • Yes, that is one of the wonderful advantages of art, Judy. The artist can say things that others wouldn’t dare… sometimes just in a hint, or in an allegory. And though it might not always be justified, or appreciated… If it’s done well, it can last for quite a while. Glad you were able to share in the pleasure of my trip. Best wishes to you.

  7. What a wonderful day, I could think of none better, especially finally being able to meet a friend who has been waiting to meet you after all these years.

    • It was a very good day, Angeline. And I think I came home a bit stronger, with my head a bit clearer… after stepping out of my usual environment.

      • It’s a welcome thing to realize that you’ve managed to gather up some strength, in whatever way needed, to help you keep moving through life. Glad to hear this trip helped refresh your spirit.

        Funny (but true) story: Yesterday I went to the grocery store. I mostly only go once a month, but with very chilly weather in the forecast, decided to get it done now rather than wait until the weather hits. I’m a careful shopper, and tend to stick to my list to avoid spending too much. Sure, I do plenty of window-shopping and enjoy the sights and smells, but am pretty careful about what I actually put in my basket to bring home. Which was why I was caught by surprise that I found a small jar of olives in my basket. This is something I rarely buy. Hardly ever. But I just needed to have some deliciously plump and briny green olives, so I allowed myself this small indulgence. It was only after coming back to your blog that I realized it was probably that wonderful photo you shared of the olives at the market that had me craving their deliciousness! So, I suppose I should thank you for giving me the inspiration to treat myself to something different for a change. I had some dried sausage and cheese and crackers with the olives for lunch today, and it was wonderful. 🙂

        • Oh, I’m very glad if the post inspired you to enjoy some olives. Here in our country, they’re a staple food. And many eat them every day. I use olive oil as my favorite oil for salads and other uses. And I’m told they are healthy too. I enjoy all olives, but my favorites are those wrinkled black olives, especially good with bread and cheese. Enjoy!

  8. Such a joyful experience! And that moment which seems to come so rarely, the instant recognition of a fellow spirit.

  9. I was reading how a neurosis is a failed solution to a problem in living.And a psychosis no doubt is too.I admire the way you imagine this stranger is a friend …. so you have a kind of positive paranoia.You believe the world is there to help you and make you happy and the value of that is that expectations influence what we do or how people treat us.Of course there are dangers but it seems a great way to live

    • I have to admit, Mal, that I’m not very well versed in the study of psychology. And though I don’t really believe that the world is there (or here) to help me or make me happy, I do try to find and appreciate the good around me, and that which enriches my life. There are, of course, both happy and sad moments in this life, and I try to experience them all in depth. Thanks very much for your comment.

  10. Well, it seems you had a perfect day.

  11. Wonderful day. Thanks for taking us all with you.

  12. Robert D. Hayes, D.O.

    Hmmm, this stirred a lot in me. My Dad, who left the farm at age 16 to start his own business (and put me thru medical school) would occasionally say “Sweet essence of cow shit, a bucket of piss, I’m sure glad home, doesn’t smell like this!”.
    I never heard shuk before and found it with Google.
    What was wrong with Benzions arm? Re the market, what are all the little round things in different colors but all looking like the same thing? The Red Man with no head is intriguing, but I have no idea who he might be. I thought I was fairly knowledgeable with music but no I feel less knowledgeable. 🙂 In Tucson Az a couple yrs ago, I had a Margarita with prickley pears, and it was wonderful. In as much as I live in the country, but have lived in the city, I know all too well that feeling with the traffic vs pastoral landscape.
    Finally, I do not know what the last lines mean. Apparently they are in your langage. And, yes indeed, thank you for sharing your trip. We all should be so fortunate.

    • Try google translate

    • Ha, I loved that quote from your father, Bob. And those little round things in different colors are olives, and I wished I could offer you a plate of them right now, with some home baked bread, and a good cheese. What a delight! Though I’ve lived in the city pretty much all my life, I am always aware of the fact that our food comes from the country… and that the life there is more relaxed in many ways. It helps to get out now and then, to gain a healthier perspective. As for the last line, which you didn’t understand… that’s just a sort of la la la, that we sing or moan, according to mood, without going to the trouble of saying any of the words.

  13. It was very generous that you shared your day with us. Thank you for giving us a chance to see some of the sights and smells and sounds of Kiryat Gat. It may even inspire me to venture out in search of my own taste of something soothing to the heart and soul. My poor vehicle hasn’t been driven more than just a few miles within town for so long, that I can imagine it would be happy to feel the city disappearing beneath tires that gobble up the miles.

    How copacetic that you met Benzion, so that you could exchange information and have that moment of recognition. I can imagine that he will be delighted when the photo eventually finds him, and he is reminded of your meeting on such a fine day. For a few brief moments, he lived inside your camera, but with a push of the shutter, he will live indefinitely.

    I found the artwork intriguing, and although I have not yet determined who the subject might be, I’m confident that with a bit of research I will discover the story behind such a sculpture. That is just one of the things I love about art. It can tell a story, without saying a single word, and it can express a vivid opinion or perspective, and yet, at the same time, offer plausible ambiguity. After all, art is a matter of interpretation, and each person viewing the piece might come away with a different idea.

    Your talk of familiar smells reminded me that one of my favorite smells is what I can only describe as “ancient earth”. The dirt that clings to stones that has become wedged into every crevice, made sturdier by each passing of the seasons. When rubbed or scratched away, it evokes something spiritual, and tends to get my imagination to whirring. Since you’ve already inspired me to consider taking a short day trip, perhaps I should consider a place where I might do a bit of exploring amongst the stones and rocks, so that I might be reminded of something I’ve missed.

    Glad to hear you had a pleasant and enjoyable experience, and again, thanks for sharing it with us here. Hope you had a lovely holiday all the way around, and that you enter the new year refreshed and renewed.

    Sending generous amounts of love, Nancy

    • It is a good thing to break the routine… to change the environment at times… so as to get things back into perspective. And you’re right, Nancy, when you say that art is a matter of interpretation. My feeling is that art, when it’s good, taps into some of the universal blood veins… and speaks to each of us in our own language, allowing us to recognize certain elements that were not necessarily the intention of the artist. Yet still, if it’s true art, it works. And I too enjoy the contact with ancient earth. Seems to me that that’s why I needed the trip so much. When you live in the city, sometimes there’s no earth at all… just the works of man, everywhere we look. And in an indoor mall, it’s at its worst. I can look up at the sky, and even that is artificial. Well, for one day, I had earth under my feet and the sky above me. Thanks so much for your good wishes. And mine to you for a very good year of health and happiness… and a good living too.

  14. Thank you for a nice field trip! J&A

  15. What a wonderful trip this was! Yes, so wonderful I felt I was right there with you. Lovely photos–just lovely, Shimon.

  16. Ah Shimon … as usual you describe the scene so well that I’m right there enjoying it all with you. And am happy that the cities still haven’t managed to devour the villages, nor blinded the eyes of people to the beauty of simplicity. As I get older, I retreat more into myself and quietness and sometimes yearn for a place and time where everything is slow and gentle and natural. I”m feeling nostalgic for so much of my life before I joined the race for security and success.

    When I retired from my work of twenty five years a few months ago, I was at a loss and in dismay. But now my eyes are opening up and I gratefully realize l that now I can lay down that burden and go back to a better and simpler life.

    It is so good.

    • So often we get involved in some sort of work, and eventually find ourselves locked into a routine; taking care of the same things again and again. And then, when we try to part ways… it can really hurt. But I think it’s really a liberating experience to step out of that routine, even for a short while, when we’re still going strong. Changing major interests, Changing professions, this business, so called, of retiring… can be as dramatic as being reborn… and often, it comes as an anti-climax. Wishing you a beautiful year, and continued learning and adventure as you go forward, Nikki. Life is full of surprises.

  17. Daniel Barenboim?

    • Of course, I’m not the sculptor, so I can’t answer questions… but what would Barenboim have in that violin case?

      • I believe he carries a very small piano and a conductor’s rod. But like the man in Limerick who was asked the way to Dublin and replied, If I was going to Dublin I would not start from here, I feel it’s of a higher order of difficulty to go from here to there now than it was 70 years ago. Still, Dublin is an important place, and I just have to find where I’m sitting, and then find the way to go there. Can you give me advice?

  18. I feel happy just reading this post, what a lovely day, and you describe it so well I feel as though I am walking with you, once again.
    I just loved how you talked of Benzian, what an wonderful thing, to know a friend by his eyes….brilliant that! I hope he got his picture.
    How fascinating about that sculpture, I shall have to find out more about that!xxx

    • Thanks so much for sharing the adventure, Dina. It’s wintry weather again, and I don’t even know whether to take the camera with me on my walk. But the skies are very dramatic. And who knows what unexpected adventure might await me. I loved those new pictures from you, and am awaiting more, as you try out your new camera. Wishing you a very beautiful new year, filled with love and joy. xxx

  19. What a beautiful day (post)… I feel same as you about escaping from the city 🙂 Thank you dear Shimon, my best wishes for The New Year, love, nia

    • To you too, my dear Nia. May the new year bring great adventures, and inspiration. It’s getting a little cold here, in Jerusalem… and all the cats have found warm corners to wait it out… the less fortunate, under parked cars… and some drinking soup near the fireplace. Winter again…

  20. A lovely post, especially as here, we are surrounded by snow and ice! My very best wishes for a good year to come.

    • I can well imagine that there are a lot of beautiful scenes, with the snow and ice… but as I get older, it’s harder for me to face the cold. And right now it’s getting cold again, and looks like rain. But the sun is a lot of fun, when it peeks out from behind the clouds. Best wishes to you, Jenny, for a very good year, with the delight of rediscovering the world, and enjoying the moods of nature.

  21. This post is so filled with love and joy – I smiled throughout reading:) May it be an indication of your year to come….Janet. xx

  22. I love to hear of people enjoying themselves as it is quite rare nowdays

  23. You have found the way to heaven? That exquisite adventure, dear Shimon… the way you describe this small village in the northern Negev, it seems so far away from the political problems and wars of power… Perhaps here we are in the grip of fear that it is passed by reporters, so much to make us to desist from only to think to visit your country or neighboring ones. But the photos that you show us, are of a place of peace where people are in the streets, in the market… It is a pity that again due to lust for power there are wars that isolate people and cultures… that harms everyone.
    Thanks for sharing your feelings, so preciously described with colors and scents… What’s regarding Mr. Benzion, I know this deep conviction: your Mind recognized him! As I said some few times, our lives are multiple… and karma sometimes allows us to rediscover, even if only for a few short moment, souls that already we had known in previous lives. It’s always a very deep and special occasion, to make tresure of it, since is a kind of gift to be conected to this faculty…
    Hugs wishing you serenity and love :-)claudine

    • I think that rather than finding a way to heaven, I just had the opportunity to get down to earth. I suppose you know that reporters, are often busier trying to produce a good story, than they are in search of the objective truth. One thing for sure, though; almost all the reporters who cover the conflicts in the mid east, try to get hotel rooms in our country, because it is very pleasant here and relaxed (despite what they often write about us). As for the lust for power, I suppose there is some of that. But It seems to me that a lot of war is caused by blaming others for one’s own mistakes and shortcomings. Of course it might be an innate characteristic of human beings. There have been wars for a long time, and even today in Europe, we watch the aggression in the Ukraine and wonder why. Thanks for your good wishes, Claudine. Here’s wishing you a very beautiful, peaceful, and inspiring new year.

  24. During the holidays, I had the opportunity to be one day in the heart of urban San Antonio, along the famed River Walk.The next day, I drove south, to a tiny fishing village on the Texas coast, to visit with friends. It was such a reminder of truths you tell here: that people can be good, and friendly; that land walks differently than concrete, that art, in the sense of creativity, can be found everywhere, and that history is not dead, but living in the stones of old buildings and the stories of the people.

    How happy I am that you had such a trip — and how I smiled to see that we share the prickly pear. I think you might enjoy this post about the way we harvest and prepare them here in Texas.

    • I read the blog post your recommended, and loved it. That is the plant that grows wild here in our country, and many enjoy the fruit. Very glad to hear that you had a similar experience, of travelling out in the country, among relaxed people who enjoy the simple life. Of course, I agree with you, shoreacres, that art and inspiration can be found everywhere. Thanks so much for your comment.

  25. Great photos! They truly depict LIFE.

  26. My friend, this is so delightful, and I’m happy for you. I know well the delights of small towns like this, and what a bonus if there is good art, and a serendipitous encounter with a fellow spirit like your man with sling. I’m sorry I’ve been MIA here but my job is consuming me. Later in the month I’m going away to a warm place, a small town, in the desert. It will be interesting. Would that I had your gift for words and fellowship! Best new year to you and thank you for giving so many people a peak into your world.

    • Thank you very much for your good wishes, bluebrightly. I am sure that the warm weather and the little town will offer you many opportunities to do more of your great work, which I always enjoy. It is always exciting to see your fine work, and may you continue with the same energy and curiosity that is evident in your fine blog.

  27. What a wonderful photo tour. Your love for your country is touching, and as always, I enjoy your humor.

    • Thanks so much, yearstricken. I’m sure that many would say that one has to have a very healthy sense of humor in order to survive love for any country.

  28. Love this post. Wish you’d stroll by me so we could visit one day. There’s nothing better than encountering the “old friend” you just haven’t met before. You recognize each other’s joyous expression and both bask in its warmth It doesn’t matter that it’s the first and possibly last time you see them.

    • Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could be tele-transported in some way similar to our virtual conversations through the internet… Since the popular use of the computer, and now the cell phones and the tablet, I really get the feeling that I’m in a science fiction movie a lot of the time. And so I wouldn’t be so surprised if one of these days will sit down at the same table for a cup of coffee. So nice of you to come by. Always a pleasure to meet.

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