Neri - Avi Ofer - March 23, 2012
Illustration by Avi Ofer
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My best friend has been in Canada for the last few months. The house he’s staying in is located between a mountain ridge and deep blue lake that doesn’t even have a name. Just a half-hour drive away are dense forests. This paradise, just five hours from the nearest airport, is actually called a desert, because of the minuscule amount of rainfall there.

I have a clear impression of how this place where Y.H. is staying looks; after all, I’ve read my beloved Margaret Atwood’s “Cat’s Eye” again and again. Nonetheless, Y.H. is not so keen on Canada, to which he exiled himself for family-related reasons. One time he even wrote me that the country was nothing but a collection of giant shopping malls surrounded by endless parking lots.

Granted, he hadn’t yet developed the same powerful and deeply-rooted resentment that I have toward untamed nature teeming with flora and fauna, magnificent rock formations, forests, meadows and all sorts of other greenery with which that land was blessed even in its “desert” areas. And the vast empty spaces don’t stir in him that same feeling of nothingness that they did with me. But still, as he recently wrote, he’s been getting a little fed up lately with this whole weather thing.

Because, yes, Y.H. told me, he finds it a bit disturbing that descriptions of the climate are taking up such a big chunk of our correspondence. This is, of course, because Canada is one big bore and he’s already begun counting down the days until he returns to Israel. When he gets here, he can wax nostalgic for all the glorious beauty that he’s surrounded with now and which is about to bore him to death.

In case you were wondering, the weather in Canada has been milder than ever this year. My friend Leon, who just got back from Italy, also reports on wonderful weather in Venice, where it’s usually quite hard to go sightseeing in early March. Miri, in Paris, tells of sun-drenched days at the height of winter. My friend Meni, who lives in Manhattan, writes about the pleasant and mild winter there. And even Ofra in Los Angeles is saying the weather is more perfect than ever. And here, meanwhile? Wind and rain and cold that never seem to end.

And I ask: Where is the justice? All we have is one depleted lake, another lake that died long ago and a vast salty sea that is fast disappearing. We have no rivers, no surging waterfalls, no mighty cliffs, no wild animals or angry bears roaming about at their leisure.

No matter how hard I looked, I couldn’t find any place here that would justify the talent and effort invested in Margaret Atwood’s gorgeous descriptions of Canadian nature. Because how much can one really write about a little wagtail or an autumnal squill, and then go on to wax all poetic over the Jordan River? But here at least, so we’ve always thought, we’ve got the best weather. The kind of stable weather we have here, you’d be hard put to find anywhere else in the world.

Where else does it never ever rain in the summer? Where else could a poet have written, with the swagger and confidence of Dahlia Ravikovitch, the line: “In winter she is cold, in summer she is hot.” ‏(Of course, had she lived on the Equator, in Antarctica or in the Caribbean islands, the poet could have reported on monotonous weather all year round, but no one is really interested in those places.) For it is well known that in the summer here it is hot and sticky and devoid of rain, while the winter is chilly and often rainy too. And once in a blue moon it even snows in Jerusalem. And only in fickle places like Paris, Rome, London, New York, India and other countries that you need a plane ticket to get to, do you suddenly find yourself soaked to the bone in the middle of summer. But not around here. We always have weather you can rely on.

Nor do we have an easy and pleasant life like they do in Canada. No cashier here will politely ask how you are doing today, lest you actually answer her, god forbid. Cyclists on the sidewalks tend to curse you out after they run you over. The government, so they say, is corrupt. All the talk about imminent war seems like it’s going to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The whole world is against us. But still there’s one thing we’ve got − and that’s the weather.

I once asked a girlfriend who made aliyah from a beautiful northern Italian city how she came to trade in the place where on her way to school she would walk down cobblestone sidewalks past two magnificent churches, one Duomo, three piazzas and two fountains − all for the city of Ramat Gan.

“What I remember from my childhood isn’t that on the way to school I saw fountains, churches and piazzas, but that in the winter I was walking to school when it was still dark and it was very, very cold,” that friend replied. Because until recently, at least, if there’s one thing you could be sure of, she added, it was that the winter here, at least in Tel Aviv, was always warm and pleasant.

There are winter people and there are summer people. When I was growing up in Haifa, I loved the winter. Afterward, in Jerusalem, I preferred the dry summer to the bone-chilling winter. Since I’ve been living in Tel Aviv, I’m back to loving the winter − and the fall, because it means winter is coming. The thought of the humid, sticky summer makes me ill, and that makes me dubious about Tel Aviv in general.
So what now? According to the calendar, spring has just begun, but the heaters are still going strong in my house. What else can I rely on if not the weather?