Tag Archives: country

old as the hills 2

for readers with time to spare
this is fiction

My first impression of the new place was emptiness and quiet. The landscape seemed to continue on and on to the horizon. There was the big house and a barn. But mostly, what I could see of this world… new to me… was heaven and earth. Aside from the two structures, and a few sentinel and shade trees, everything that wasn’t in the heavens was found close to the ground. The few people that I met spoke little, with little intonation in a language that was so far unintelligible. The landlady took us to our quarters, We were shown what to do by example. The first familiar voice I heard was the crow of a rooster, It was reassuring, recognizable sound.

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Time seemed to move slower than ever before. the newspaper which I saw passed from one person to another, was foreign too. Very likely, even if I could read it, there’d be nothing there that’d interest me. My bible and prayer book had been pulled out from between the shirts and the socks in my suitcase, and were now on a little table next to my bed. but I hadn’t brought pages to write on, and I longed for some connection to my parents. The one phone in the house, hardly ever used, held no promise for me. In those days, international calls were a rarity and expensive. Such things were beyond me. The radio too, which was turned on for about an hour, or an hour and a half in the evening, seemed like a special luxury, and it occurred to me that the classical music we listened to, in chairs arranged around the radio, might have been especially for my benefit. For I was asked more than once if this was the music I liked. Music was a word that I knew.

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As the days passed, the shock of landing in an unknown environment receded leaving the door open to curiosity. I began to notice that there were sounds, mostly subtle and of lower intensity, but sounds all the same, which seemed to be interwoven with the landscape. Daytime sounds and the sounds of night. A bird that sang at the approach of sundown. People here seemed to get up with the rising sun, and went to their beds not long after night had fallen. Little by little I began to realize that my first impressions had been incorrect. The quiet that at first had overwhelmed me was merely the absence of sounds I was used to. My eyes began to register distances as my feet mapped the territory from the house to the farm and from there to the fields. By way of my feet, through socks and shoes, I sensed the land. My nose and ears became sensitive to this new reality. The hair follicles on my head could recognize a gentle breeze when it came. washing face and hands was less a ritual and seemed a necessity. Some of the vile smells which at first I had tried not to smell (that was impossible) became pleasant after a while.

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In my parents’ home, my earliest associations had not been defined. Home was a medley of familiar voices and smells; routines that I expected without ever thinking about them. The warmth and good cheer of mother. I thought she knew everything, and I trusted her implicitly. Singsong voices wrapped around me like a comfort blanket. Home was familiar and protective though I often discovered new objects or signs that bore meanings, were there for me to learn. There were orders, requests, and instructions from parents to children, usually in a matter of fact voice without emotion. Punishments were so rare that I can remember only one example. But it was quite easy to read the faces of mother and father, and a message of disapproval or disappointment even if unspoken, was punishment enough. The word that could best express my relationship to parents and teachers was awe. A person who could be completely trusted was usually described as a person having awe of heaven.

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Our sages used to say, turn your home into a meeting place for the wise. This advice had been so thoroughly absorbed by the adults I knew that it never needed mentioning. As much as human beings were an integral part of our home, so were books. They could be scrolls, or pages sewn and bound together. There were holy books and there were kosher books. These were the scrolls on parchment. And there were secular books too.

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There was often a book or two on the dining table, and occasionally a group of books, some of them opened to a particular page, if someone had searched for an explanation or information regarding some obscure subject. On all the doorways of our home, except for the toilet, there was a little box made of wood, attached to the frame of the door. I had once seen this box opened. Maybe it had been opened especially for my edification. Inside was a tiny scroll. And on the scroll there was writing, black square letters on white parchment, crying out to all of Israel that god was one, and he was all encompassing. This was followed by a few paragraphs from the bible regarding how one should or could relate to that.

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This tiny scroll looked much the same as the torah scrolls which were read in the synagogue on Mondays, Thursdays and twice on Saturdays, except for the fact that the torah scrolls had two poles and the tiny scroll was rolled into a cylinder without any pole at all. There were scrolls without poles, with just one pole, and with two poles, depending on how much parchment there was to read or study from. They were all called books. In my new home I found only one book, obviously a bible though I couldn’t read the writing. It was kept on the same shelf that carried numerous ceramic figures.

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Later, a teacher once told me, ‘we’re not here to teach you facts, but to teach you how to learn’. I wonder if I knew that then, or if it was a natural reaction to an environment completely new, but soon I was learning from the bushes and the trees, and from the vegetables whose leaves were still anonymous. How thrilling it was to discover that there were carrots, radishes and onions growing under those leaves, and a little scary to observe the tomato bugs trying to get to that fruit before we were able to enjoy them at the table. I learned to fold leaves or rub them to intensify their smell; to check the taste of leaves; to smell the barks of trees… to hold dirt in my hand. Dirt, which had always been an unwelcome intruder in my parents’ home, and whisked right out… had joined the assembly of characters who now occupied my new world.

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The language of the locals was my biggest challenge. No one talked to me, so when I heard others talking my mind would stop and stand at attention. I would try not to think at all. I would let the words enter my head like waves at the sea shore, reverberating sometimes back and forth till they were replaced by others. I would watch the faces of the speakers, discerning expressions that accompanied the sounds. It was difficult at first to know when one word ended and another began. The faces were more expressive than the sounds. Occasionally there were familiar sounds. Now and then there was a word that I thought I recognized. And then there were more. I was in no rush to speak. I knew I was different enough without spilling broken and twisted words in front of everyone.

all photos here from the Makor Baruch neighborhood
in Jerusalem

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old as the hills 1

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this is a work of fiction, no flash intended; any similarity to persons living or dead must surely be coincidental

“I was about your age”, said the old man, looking at me as if he was searching for something in my face, “and we were suffering through the previous war then… my parents worried whether we could make it through. We’d seen sights in the streets…” he paused. I knew he was thinking maybe it was best I didn’t hear what he’d seen in the streets at that time. He was still looking at me with that big question in his face, but I figured I might have to wait a long time till I figured out the question. Maybe he was wondering if I’d cry when he finally got around to telling me what he had to say. I knew it wasn’t about the sights he’d seen in the last big war, because he never talked about such things… and I knew that no matter what he said, I wasn’t going to cry… because it was hard for him to bear, and we didn’t have too many of these heart to heart talks. They usually came when there was bad news in the offing. I’d tried now and then to initiate a conversation with him. But I really didn’t know the things that interested him. So I just did my best to hold up my side of the conversation. The contact… the communication was precious. This time, he wasn’t telling me something that I was supposed to have known before he even started talking. No, this was about getting a piece of news. And my part of the interchange was just waiting for it to get out there; the less I said, the easier it would be for whatever it was to get out.

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We were heading towards another war. That I knew. He said he didn’t think it’d have to be as bad as the previous one… though you never can tell. Still, there might not be much food around for a while. And food is very important when you’re growing. Children, he explained… didn’t see any of them around… have all kinds of needs. They make noise, even without realizing it. I couldn’t help wondering about that. I knew children made noise. But it seemed to me that they were aware of it. Didn’t say anything myself. Because I knew that such facts had been assembled to let me know what was coming… this wasn’t about sharing mutual experiences.

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It turned out that we children… me and my sister, and the next door neighbor’s boy and a few other kids were going to be sent far away, though it wasn’t really that far… to a farm, where there’d be all kinds of animals, and nice people who weren’t like us at all, and chores that we could do, to help out on the farm. Maybe there were children there too, that we could get to know and play with once we learned their language, and it was a lot easier to learn a new language when you were a kid. We’d have plenty to eat, and lots of new things to learn. We’d see where food comes from.

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Now, here was a new idea… my first thought was I knew where food came from; from the market, from the green grocer, from the bakery… but his words told me that I didn’t. It sounded interesting. For the first time since he’d taken me aside to ‘talk’ I realized that the news might be seen as an opportunity. I didn’t like the idea of going far away… nor all the rest of the things that had been mentioned… terrible things to be seen in the streets, or nice people that spoke a different language… it didn’t seem like I’d want to go far away, even to see animals. I’d seen my share of animals. But none of them had been quite as intelligent as my cat, and he was always here with me. mmmm… I wondered if my cat could join us on this trip. But I had a feeling I knew the answer to that one. No. All the same, it would be interesting finding out where food came from… before it got to market.

it takes a village

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Always had this romantic love for the country… It was half a century ago, and I was on my way to visit a friend in a little village up north. I was used to buses that ran every few minutes, back in the city. Hadn’t occurred to me to check the bus schedule. So here I was, out in the country, after the big intercity bus had let me off… waiting… and no bus came by. I slipped my bag over my shoulder and started walking along the country road. What did it matter if it took me an hour… or even three. I was young, and the day was beautiful. I could walk.

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After I’d walked for about a half an hour, I heard the sound of a tractor coming down the road. It wasn’t moving fast, and you could hear it a long way off. I turned around and watched as it approached. Made the sign of the hitch hiker, and he slowed down to a stop. “Where you going?” he called out to me over the noise of the tractor. It was a big one, and it towered over me. I told him the name of the village I was headed towards. “I’m going to the same place,” he said. “But you’d have to sit on this dirty fender, and you’ve got your Sabbath suit on”. I’m not worried about that, I said, and with a smile, got up on the fender and rode the rest of the way. It was like visiting heaven. There was nothing I didn’t like about the place.

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bomb shelter

In the years that followed, I never got over the love I had for that beautiful piece of country. We even lived there for a while. But my darling wife couldn’t appreciate it the way I did, so we went back to the big city. That wasn’t hard for me, because I was part of Jerusalem too, as she was part of me. But there was something about living in the country that left me with a great longing for that kind of life.

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play car at the kindergarten

This was long before people started having ‘virtual’ experiences, and living the virtual life. But even back then, the difference was profound. I felt an intensity in the country life that made the colors more brilliant and the earth under my feet more immediate. There was an intimacy with nature that was always with me. I could listen to the plants growing… hear the flies as they flew in the air. I always had the feeling that it was a better place to bring up children. When you live in a village, you get to know a lot of people, all of whom are contributing something to the welfare of the general population.

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art

It isn’t as abstract as living in the city. You actually get to know people and the way they work… what they do all day. That’s the benefit of a real community. When you grow up with people you meet every day, you get a more realistic example of what can be gained in this life. You might get to know the garage mechanic and the barber, the horse trainer and the scholar. You see them working. You see a working man or woman on their feet from morning to night, and the farmer repairing fences. When you try helping with the chores for a neighbor or a professional in town, you get something of an idea of whether their work would interest you, whether you could really figure out the sort of problems that they have to deal with all the time.

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The photos here are from the same village… taken just a few years ago. Time moves a little slower there. The society I got to know there has changed a lot. But the village itself still carries traces of its past. And the people too, aren’t quite as up to date as we are in the city.

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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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getting out into the country

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Though I’ve lived all my life in the city, my children have chosen, for the most part, to live in the country. And when I visit with them, as I did last week, I am reminded, not only of the pleasures of country life, but of the fact that nowadays, in the era of the internet and the cell phone, many of the advantages of city life are available to those who choose to live in the country too. Of course, there is more need for a car… and often there is more than one to a family. And one can’t just walk down the block to pick up groceries and household needs. The children often have to be taken to see friends and to participate in activities.

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but just like in the city, the kids are connected to the computer…

But people live closer to nature; are freer in their relationships to pets and animals, and enjoy large gardens, and large homes too. Adults and children can bicycle around without the constant fear of traffic. And there is plenty of open space.

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sculpture by the door

Many young couples have moved to a village in order to improve the quality of their lives, even though they continue to work in the city. And though it means losing some time, commuting to work, it seems that the advantages are still very attractive. In the last generation, we have seen quite an increase in ‘bedroom communities’ where people chose to live, even though they can’t hope to find work close to home.

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sculpture in the back yard

This time, the visit was of a personal nature. And as it turned out, I didn’t do any photography at all, But there are plenty of pictures from other times. The trip to Sileet was quite rainy, and there were heavy clouds overhead. But now, back in Jerusalem, we are waiting for snow. We’ve been told that this will be a white Sabbath, and the children here in the neighborhood are anticipating this ultimate winter weather with excitement.

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what I like about living in the country