Longing for Jerusalem

Summer's here and I miss Jerusalem - but just for a minute.

"I haven't been cold for years already," says my new friend, stand-up comic Odea Koren, in her show "Closed for Renovations." And if I may be permitted to quote (freely ) again: At our age we don't dress - we wrap. In other words, if in the past when spring ended we looked for the shortest of shorts, the airiest of skirts and the thinnest of straps so as to get relief from the heat and at the same time to reveal taut, tanned skin - nowadays the aim is to spare the public sights that are unpleasant to behold. Instead of showing off, we cover up, stuffing in and wrapping up the flesh we once enjoyed exposing for all to see. Indeed, the flesh is no longer the same flesh, and the sea is also no longer the same sea.

This is exactly the time of year when I am filled with longing for Jerusalem. If once, when I lived in that city on a hill, my heart went out to the city in which women walked around clad in miniskirts and shoulder straps without any God-fearing people whispering, "My dear, maybe you should put something on?" - now I find myself envying those self-righteous women whose religious belief impels them to go about in ankle-length dresses and long sleeves. Not to mention that they never have bad hair days, simply because there is no such thing as a bad kerchief or wig.

Melting snowman - Avi Ofer - July 2011
Avi Ofer

Anyone can love Tel Aviv in fall, winter and spring, because there is no other real city in this country. Tel Aviv can compete with any real city in the world in its intensity of life. But even that is conditioned on the weather.

Since getting better and no longer enjoying chills, I suddenly discover that seemingly trivial distances, such as the 300 meters between my home and the seashore, become impassable upon summer's arrival. The thought of the dripping perspiration, the need to shower for a third time that day, the sight of the frizzy hair and the panicky look reflected in the bathroom mirror, even as the body's doused with cold water - all this precipitates a new round of perspiring, makes me avoid any unnecessary movement away from air-conditioned places.

Sometimes I have no choice. For example, when I take Shoshana out for her daily stroll in the public park. There I sit, in the shade of the trees, waiting for her to do her duty. However, I have to admit, I don't always wrap myself properly for this outing, on the assumption that the two homeless men who recently moved into the garden and the anonymous folks that gather in the evening have better things to do than contemplate a woman who is sitting on a bench next to the swings and calculating how much time is left before the end of summer.

A week ago last Thursday, much of Tel Aviv was hit by a power failure at 5 P.M. The intolerable heat that afflicted my apartment, and the fact that for an hour I couldn't use the computer, induced me to take Shoshana for her evening outing before dark. The park was relatively full of people. Four very pretty girls were romping in the playground, two of them in 100-percent nylon Little Mermaid costumes.

"Children really never get hot," said the mother of the two others, a young woman in short shorts and a tank top, tanned and gorgeous.

I sat on the bench in a blue sack-dress and wiped the sweat off my eyelids, a bit sorry that such a nice woman had recognized and spoken to me. I didn't even have the strength to claim, as I do sometimes, that I am my ugly sister.

Suddenly, two black-clad city inspectors appeared and alleged that Shoshana had been doing her stuff in the upper part of the park, which in their opinion is not part of the dog section. The sarcasm that laced my question of whether they enjoyed their work was of no avail (they don't, "but in this situation we have no choice," one of them replied ) - nor was the devout blessing I bestowed on the other one: "May the Lord reward you justly, sweetie."

On the spot I was given a ticket for NIS 475. "I didn't manage to warn you," the young woman apologized needlessly.

"Six o'clock, it's a rotten hour," I replied.

As though to prove how right I was, the next day, Friday, I went with two friends - a woman who lives in a suburb east of Tel Aviv, and a man who lives in New York - to find a place where we could have a cup of coffee. The heat was oppressive, the air as damp as a badly wrung-out floor rag, but despite this I saw my girlfriend waiting for me at an outdoor table.

"Why not inside, where it's air conditioned?" I asked, and to my astonishment she informed me that the machine was on the blink. "We do have an air conditioner," the waitress confirmed. "It just isn't working."

At the next cafe we tried we saw the owner taking in the chairs ahead of closing time; likewise at the next place. There we were referred to a third place, where we immediately noticed upon entering that there were three big air conditioners that were even working - but just after we sat down we were informed that the place would be closing in another 40 minutes.

"For this I left Jerusalem?" I complained to my friends, as though either of them had been involved in my decision.

"It's called a nonstop city for no good reason," the New York friend said. "The fact is that on Friday evening, it's hard to find a place that's open and air-conditioned."

"A city without pity," I said, summing up the subject.

But afterward I went to two dinners and in the middle of the night did some shopping at one of the all-night minimarkets near my place, and on Saturday I went to Super-Pharm and to a movie. And I remembered why I moved here.