'If Only I Could Tell Palestinians, Forget Everything, Start Over'

This week at the Tel Aviv airport: A Roman tourist suggests Palestinians should be grateful for Israelis, and a German artist explains why he talks to rocks

Liat Elkayam
Liat Elkayam
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Gloria Dell.
Gloria Dell.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Liat Elkayam
Liat Elkayam

Gloria Dell, 55, from Rome, and flying there

Hello, can I ask how you spent your time in Israel?

I hoped to understand the place better. But unfortunately I was here for only four days, and it’s hard to understand what’s happening here that way – hard to understand life here in depth.

Where were you?

In Jerusalem, and I have to say I didn’t feel anything spiritual. But maybe that’s because I’m agnostic.

That didn’t help for sure.

I wanted to go to Bethlehem, too, but I was already a little tired, and it wasn’t clear to me what was happening with the bus and when it would return, because the Palestinians looked a little slow to me. I usually like traveling in buses and trains, because that way I find interesting people to talk to.

And what did the interesting people here say to you?

In the Jewish section of the city, they told me that they only have a map of the Jewish section, which I thought was odd, and then I spoke with Palestinians in the Arab section, and they said things to me like, “What would you say if someone were to come and take away the water you’re drinking?” I tried to listen to everyone’s viewpoint, but all I could think of was that people don’t want to make the leap beyond this basic argument of, “That’s mine, and that’s mine too. Don’t take it from me.”

I take it you don’t have a concrete solution for the conflict.

I only think it’s impossible to move forward toward a solution if you have prejudices. If only I could talk to the Palestinians and tell them, “Forget everything, starting over is the only way. It’s true that the land was yours, but without the Israelis, you might have had only a desert.” But it’s hard to open the minds of people who don’t want to open up.

Sounds like you did choose a side.

Yes, I admire the Israelis.

Why? For what?

The thing I like about them is that they help one another a lot.

I suppose ...

But they don’t necessarily help other people.

Not necessarily. Do the Italians help foreigners?

It depends which Italians. I don’t want to boast, but I can spot inquisitive people who want to understand the other side and not judge them. That’s what I look for.

How did you develop that ability?

I’m a flight attendant. I travel a lot. I’ve been doing it for 35 years, and there have been some difficulties, but that’s how it is in life: There’s sometimes a big hill that you don’t want to climb, but after the difficulty passes, love blossoms again.

Sounds like you’re talking about a relationship, not about work.

I love my work so much that I think I married it. But I also think that the worst thing in this life is to work too much.

Isn’t that a typical Italian viewpoint?

The attitude toward work has changed a great deal in Italy; now it’s insane. In the whole world. In my opinion, the brain has to relax – and not just for two days over the weekend. Look at the Americans and the British: They just drink every day because they don’t have time and have to get the brain back to a desirable place. And their solution is alcohol.

What’s your solution?

To travel. My mother really likes to travel, and she passed on her passion for it to me. I also really like adventures, but I don’t look for especially hard places to be in. And I don’t look to hold onto anything forcibly. And I like changing my mind.

Smart.

In my opinion, the gist of life is to understand. It’s always exciting the first time I get to a place, to find a new street or to get quickly from one point to another. For example, when I was in Damascus, I was really proud after I understood how to navigate in the market.

What’s Damascus like?

I really liked the market, it was a gorgeous place, but now there’s nothing there. All the people who were there, all the things that were there – it’s all gone. I’ve cried a lot over that.

Do you still travel with your mother?

Yes, she’s the most wonderful person there is. I already have a granddaughter of my own, and my hope is that she will be able to travel with me like my mother did with me. My mom is going to celebrate her 81st birthday this year. These days she prefers to travel by train and bus, and less by plane, and I hope that in the spring we will go to Provence together, to see the flowers bloom.

Sebastian Gräfe.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Sebastian Gräfe, 41, from Berlin, arriving from there

Hello, can I ask you why you’ve come to Israel?

Because the Mossad asked me to. Just kidding! I came because I heard there’s good grass here – I didn’t say that. (Laughs)

Sometimes there really is.

So it’s too bad I don’t smoke. In any case, I’m going to an artists’ residency program in Arad. That’s the accurate answer to the first question, I think.

What will you do in the program?

I’m working on a project with an Austrian composer named Matthias Kranebitter. We both wanted to go to a remote place to work, and we thought the desert would be the perfect place for our needs. And there’s no lack of desert in Arad.

Why do you need a desert?

We want/are trying/are planning to create a work in which we try to understand what the stones and rocks have to say to us.

Do you think that the stones and rocks will want to talk to you?

I don’t know if they’re going to want to talk to us, but it looks to me as if we’re going to find out.

In what language?

We want to communicate with them in a musical form. We will try to get something other than rock ‘n’ roll out of the rocks. Matthias would kill me for saying that.

So you’re both musicians?

I am a visual artist. He’s a composer who writes new music, “high” music.

How did you get into this program?

We heard about it from an Israeli friend who used to live in Arad. We read up on it, we saw that it was suitable, and we submitted a request with a description of the project. Our hosts are from the Arad Contemporary Art Center. The woman we spoke to is Hadas Kedar, and she must be well known somehow, because when I wanted to ask for funding to come here I contacted the Goethe Institute, and they told me they know her and that they had already sponsored artists who stayed in Arad.

So you received funding?

No, I was too late, unfortunately. But it’s still a grant, in the sense that we don’t pay for our lodgings. We’ll be there for two weeks, and in return we’ll do workshops with young local people and have a meeting with the community about the project itself.

You’ll probably be asked why anyone should try to communicate with objects at all.

Who said stones are objects? I deal a lot with the relations between man and nature, and I try to find new ways to improve those relations.

You feel that these relations need improvement?

Yes. I think that if you look around you will see that it will be better for people and nature – if we define those two as separate things to begin with – to work on the relations between them.

What does artwork that seeks a connection to nature look like – if you’ve already created a work like that?

I will try to describe a work that’s related to what we will do in Arad, one that I also did with Matthias. It’s a musical work in which we blessed the river upon its reaching the sea. The work was played by five trombonists, and it was played at the site itself – at the estuary of the river. That composition was special, because it was translated into the language of the river, it was composed for it in terms of the way the water behaved and the sound within the water. In such a way that the river could understand it. And the music was played not only at the estuary of the river, alongside the river, but in the waters of the river themselves.

Didn’t the trombones get wet?

We had special devices with hoses that we developed and that made it possible for us to immerse the trombones in the water. We ourselves got quite wet.

What’s behind the idea?

For me, it was a shamanist ritual that was concealed and disguised as a trombone concert, or shall we say a shamanist ritual that was disguised as a festive reception, which people know from everyday life, like when a head of state visits another country. In this case, it was the river that reached the sea. I think that woodwinds are very suitable for receptions.

Were there other works of this sort?

Once I created a banner of a cloud, which was pulled across the sky by a small plane. The idea was to promote our gaze upward into the skies – something that has become too rare.

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