Configuring Loneliness

So long - I'm going somewhere where no one will lure me out of the house

As you read these lines, I am already somewhere abroad, after a 13-hour flight, a five-hour train ride and a few hours' wait in between. "That bitch," I hear all of those left behind hissing at me.

Avi Ofer
Avi Ofer

I know how it is. I heaped plenty of curses upon all my friends who all, to the very last one it seemed, disappeared from the country during the summer vacation or as soon as it ended, and especially during the holidays. "I'm the only one who never goes anywhere," I would tell them. And then they would vainly remind me of my last trip to my favorite continent, way back in late June or early July. But I was unmoved.

Not long ago, I was invited to spend a few days of vacation with a girlfriend who lives out in the country: a half-hour from Tel Aviv. The accommodations were wonderful, the company was even better, the sight of the green lawn outside the big living room windows and the open kitchen was eminently soothing. If I'm not mistaken, I think that I even heard a bird chirping one morning. I also thoroughly enjoyed the reading material I came across there - a large selection of travel guides, especially the "Eyewitness Travel Guide" to Italy that was published in Hebrew by Keter on incredibly durable and waterproof glossy paper.

I like a lot of writers, I told my girlfriend, but my favorites are the authors of the Eyewitness series, especially the ones who wrote the guides to New York and Italy. You can flip through them over and over again and still feel you haven't read enough. Somehow you must have missed the name of one amazingly picturesque small town in the rolling plains of Tuscany, or some fantastic schmattes store on Manhattan's Lower East Side.

If only I could write such wonderful books, I said to that girlfriend (who, since I once dared to mention her name, has become paranoid about any kind of media exposure ). They contain so many pearls of wisdom and every time one reads them it's like meeting them afresh, like an endlessly new encounter. What style, what succinctness, what worlds of unknown beauty are hidden in every sentence, and at the same time, how nice it is to remember everything you saw after reading the description in the marvelous guidebook. Like taking a return trip, so to speak.

There is no Hebrew version of an Eyewitness guide for the place I'm traveling to now for an entire month, and its name is not to be found in the English guidebooks either. For it is such a tiny place, and in Israeli terms even remote (it takes a half-hour of fast driving to get from it to the nearest town or urban area ). And it isn't gorgeous landscapes or pleasant memories that are pulling me there.

"You've deliberately put yourself in a corner," my close friend Yair said to me. "Just so you will have no choice but to finally do what you've promised yourself."

"And what my editor and publisher want me to do," I added.

"No, that's secondary. It's mostly for yourself that you must write this book, and so you're deliberately sending yourself somewhere for a whole month where you'll have no choice but to write."

Please take note, dear readers. In the place I'm going there is no way to get a cappuccino or a double espresso - not even lousy ones. They do have there a fine national health-care system, excellent roads, cautious drivers, a very high standard of education and a much lower level of corruption than in our record-setting homeland. Crime, if it exists, still hasn't reached the local and national press there; at the giant supermarket, the food is cheap and the packages are much bigger than they are around here; salespeople are courteous; bank tellers smile; and there isn't a single homeless person. But there is also not a single cafe.

"Zand und zand und zand," as the late great comedian Shaike Ophir said in one of his sketches - only in this case it's the opposite: There isn't a speck of sand to be found, just trees whose leaves will turn orange, red, yellow and brown during the month I'm there, "und wasser, und wasser" - a lake and a river, and blooming gardens. Just no cafes.

And when there's no cafe and I don't have a single friend around, what reason would I have to leave the house, to abandon the computer? The thing I'll miss most is having the ultimate excuse - the reason that I still sometimes put on a little makeup before leaving the house - for my first social encounter of the day with the world, even when I don't have any set plans to meet people. It's the visit to the cafe, the daydreaming, the unsatisfying leafing through the free tabloids (because of which, I have to say in protest, the cafe owners on my street have stopped buying real newspapers, although the freebies still serve the function of being bed linen for homeless people on public benches ), and the totally chance encounters with friends whom I'd forgotten to schedule meetings with before.

If you'll allow me to paraphrase the familiar parable about the nightingale and the crow: Without any cafes, I will have no choice but to finally write the book, to stare at the river and write, or else hurl myself into its depths. And thanks to you, my wonderful editor, for your marvelous patience with me. To you, dear and devoted readers, I shall say only this: Mommy is leaving now, but Mommy always comes back. Just ask your kids if you don't believe me. I have gone into exile. Please wait for me and I shall return, God willing (when it comes to writing, I'm ready to believe in superstitions ), less 30,000 words that I must urgently speak to the nation.

(This column will be on vacation for a month. )