"We're not talking about India, and even in India you can get everything already," I reminded myself, putting back the roll of toilet paper that I was thinking of packing in my suitcase. I blessed Shoshana for chewing up my ugly Crocs sandals just in time, thereby making room in the huge suitcase for another pair of boots, crucial because of the unpredictable weather at the destination, even when it's only a long weekend.
The airport was full of Israelis, and so was the plane, just like an "all-inclusive" charter flight to Turkey, but the faces seemed somewhat different. Conspicuous by their absence were families with young children, groups of young people or garden-variety loud people. It seemed that the quiet group of passengers was older, much older. But who, aside from Danny Ayalon - who I hope will now have to travel every other week to a family weekend in Turkey - can now risk trips to Turkey? Alas, my beloved Sinai +was destroyed by the intifadas and Sharon, Olmert, Peretz and Barak, but at least Ayalon and the minister in charge of him have not yet succeeded in destroying Eilat - although it may be only a matter of time. And in general, who would have dreamed that Eilat, a not-to-be-maligned necessity on the way to Sinai, a city that is usually lacking in charm, Eilat of all places will turn out to be our only hope, the last bastion of regional tourism that has not yet been conquered by Lieberman and his outstanding colleagues.
You have to work with what there is; the situation calls for a reassessment, I said to myself, and only an ass does not change its mind. The time has come to travel to Eilat with an open mind, perhaps finally to sail in a glass-bottomed boat, bring my children as a souvenir a bottle of colored Eilat sand of the kind my mother brought to me in the early 1960s, and maybe even pamper myself with a ring or earrings of turquoise Eilat stones.
I was also told there is excellent music in Eilat. In fact, I went there three years ago for a long, enjoyable weekend in a luxury hotel, sponsored by the Isrotel hotel chain, to listen to concerts in the framework of the Rubinstein Competition. Some of my good older friends have been going there every year for over a decade, just at this time of year, to listen to concerts at the Red Sea International Music Festival, a joint project of the Eilat municipality and the Isrotel chain. And if that is not enough, there will soon be a chamber music festival held there (sponsored by the same hotel chain) and another music festival, called the Eilat Festival.
One could perhaps argue that Eilat needs the hoteliers more than the hoteliers need Eilat, since otherwise there would be no cultural life there at all, and people like me would continue to be mired in their belief that Eilat is a wonderful place if you're a French Jewish tourist or going to a pre-army induction party.
The weather was wonderful. It's hard to imagine more perfect weather than Eilat offers at this time of year. The sea is very blue and smooth as a mirror, and small sheep-like clouds roam across the deep-blue sky. In the softened autumnal light one sees the sidewalks of the city when they are clean, free of crushed soft-drink cans, greasy papers or plastic bottles, and without plastic bags sailing on the water. The many taxi drivers in the city call this perfect situation by an inappropriate name: "Crap. A dead season. There's no livelihood. Even in tourism there's work, but no livelihood."
But for a post-traumatic tourist, Eilat turns out to be a corrective experience at this time of year. And still, the city of Eilat has one serious problem. The sea is not located on the proper side. Even a geographical amateur like me knows that the sea is on the west. Is it any wonder that I got lost? It happened when I left my nice room in the wonderful hotel in order to burn - by means of a relaxed walk in the light of a magical sunset - three of the 3,000 calories contained in the tray of chocolate miniatures that had been placed next to the fruit basket (which remained untouched until the end of the visit; after all, I'm on a diet) on the table in my room. I marched in the wake of the ball of fire plummeting downward, right in front of me. On my left, in other words, in the west, as is customary in Tel Aviv, was the sea, and I noticed a strange fact - in Eilat the sun sets in the north, would you believe it?
The forces of nature never cease to amaze me, and the world remains silent. I have never, anywhere, read about this anomaly of the sunset in Eilat. Is it possible that I of all people, as a temporary guest who notices every flaw, am the first to make this discovery?
Ada Yonath, I'm next!
Excited by this discovery of mine, I turned on the heels of my sandals and began to make my way back to the hotel. The sun had already set. The promenade was empty of tourists. The hotel area was empty of pedestrians. Southward, southward to the hotel, but I had forgotten to bring a compass with me. I continued to walk and walk until in the end I decided to hail a taxi.
The driver was testy. "To the King Solomon Hotel," I instructed him, and also asked: "Is it far?" "Pretty far," said the driver. "This is the Royal Beach." "I've heard," I said, trying my strength with a worn-out joke, "that the hotel is named after Sara Netanyahu." The driver didn't laugh.
"In other words, 'beach' is not only a coastline, there's another meaning, you know, and you must have read in the newspaper what she did to her maid." "I don't read newspapers," said the driver, "and I can't stand leftists from the north." After long moments of silence he dropped me off at the entrance to the hotel. Only the next morning did I discover that the so-called Royal Bitch is right opposite the King Solomon, and all the driver had done, by making long detours, was to take me from one side of the road to the other, for 20-something shekels. But at least it was nice talking to him.
Next week: How to be wise in the city of Eilat, and how to grow old gracefully.
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