Tel Aviv Noir edited by Etgar Keret - Haaretz.com
Tel Aviv Noir
xTel Aviv Noir
Tel Aviv Noir
Excerpts from a dark new anthology of short stories edited by Etgar Keret & Assaf Gavron

"In spite of its outwardly warm and polite exterior, Tel Aviv has quite a bit to hide," writes acclaimed Israeli author Etgar Keret in his introduction to "Tel Aviv Noir." "At any club, most of the people dancing around you to the sounds of a deep-house hit dedicated to peace and love have undergone extensive automatic-weapons training and a hand-grenade tutorial. … The workers washing the dishes in the fluorescent-lit kitchen of that same club are Eritrean refugees who have crossed the Egyptian border illegally, along with a group of bedouins smuggling some high-quality hash, which the deejay will soon be smoking on his little podium." This dark underside of Tel Aviv is the inspiration for "Tel Aviv Noir," an anthology edited by Keret and Israeli novelist Assaf Gavron. Published this month by Akashic Books in Brooklyn, the 14 original short stories in the collection expose what Keret calls “the concealed, scarred face of this city that we love so much.” Here, Haaretz publishes four excerpts from "Tel Aviv Noir": Keret's introduction to the book, "The Dark Side of the Bubble," and an excerpt from his short story "Allergies", about a couple who adopts a dog with a rash and unusual eating habits; Gavron's story "Center", a murder mystery set at a start-up company in Dizengoff Center; and Silje Bekeng's "Swirl", about mysterious visits from the Shin Bet.

THE DARK SIDE OF THE BUBBLE
An Introduction to 'Tel Aviv Noir'
By Etgar Keret

When I was a kid we didn’t have a car. My dad and I didn’t like taking the bus, and preferred to walk. I liked the peace and quiet of walking. Dad liked being able to smoke. Sometimes, when we walked down the neighborhood’s main street together, Y’s car drove by. Y was one of the most famous criminals in the country in those days. He’d pull up and greet my father. He’d ask how he was and how my mother was and offer us a ride. Usually we said no, but once or twice he gave my dad a ride to a meeting on the other side of town. One night, when I was already in high school, the evening news reported that Y had been arrested as a murder suspect. Dad, who was watching with me, lit a cigarette and shook his head. “This has to be a mistake,” he said. “You know Y. How could they accuse someone so warm and kind of murder?”

Almost thirty years later I found myself sitting with Johnny Temple of Akashic Books at a coffee shop in SoHo. When he asked me to edit the anthology Tel Aviv Noir, I felt a little like my father in front of the television. I wanted to say, “Tel Aviv Noir? This has to be a mistake.” Tel Aviv is one of the happiest, friendliest, most liberal cities in the world. What could possibly be dark about our sunny city, a city nicknamed “The Bubble” due to its sense of complete separation from the violent, conflicted country in which it is situated? Compared to Jerusalem—torn apart, exploding with nationalism, xenophobia, and religious zeal—Tel Aviv has always been an island of sanity and serenity. If you don’t believe me, you can ask my eight-year-old son, who walks to school by himself every day, fearlessly. Stories of crime and sleaziness taking place in my beloved city sounded about as unbelievable to me as the accusations against Y had sounded to my father. By the way, Y is no longer with us. A bomb attached to the bottom of his car took care of that. But Tel Aviv is still around, and considering and reconsidering the question, I realize that in spite of its outwardly warm and polite exterior, Tel Aviv has quite a bit to hide. At any club, most of the people dancing around you to the sounds of a deep-house hit dedicated to peace and love have undergone extensive automatic-weapons training and a hand-grenade tutorial. This isn’t a conspiracy, my friends, just one of the fringe benefits of a country that institutes mandatory military service.

The workers washing the dishes in the fluorescent-lit kitchen of that same club are Eritrean refugees who have crossed the Egyptian border illegally, along with a group of bedouins smuggling some high-quality hash, which the deejay will soon be smoking on his little podium, right by the busy dance floor filled with drunks, coked-up lawyers, and Ukrainian call girls whose pimp keeps their passports in a safe two streets away. Don’t get me wrong—Tel Aviv is a lovely, safe city. Most of the time, for most of its inhabitants. But the stories in this collection describe what happens the rest of the time, to the rest of its inhabitants. From one last cup of coffee at a café targeted by a suicide bomber, through repeat visits from a Yiddish-speaking ghost, to an organized tour of mythological crime scenes that goes terribly wrong, the stories of Tel Aviv Noir, edited by Assaf Gavron and myself, reveal the concealed, scarred face of this city that we love so much.

Etgar Keret
Tel Aviv, Israel
July 2011

Copyright 2014 by Etgar Keret; used by permission of Akashic Books.

ETGAR KERET, born in Tel Aviv in 1967, is the author of five story collections, three children’s books, and three graphic novels. His writing has appeared in the New Yorker, Zoetrope, and the Paris Review. His books have been translated into many languages and published in over thirty-five countries. In 2007, Keret and Shira Geffen won the Cannes Film Festival’s Caméra d’Or Award for their movie Jellyfish. In 2010, Keret received the Chevalier Medallion of France’s Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.


Images courtesy of Akashic Books, Dreamstime, Flickr and WikiCommons/ Gilad Avidan / Yaniv Hartstein

<
CENTER
(An excerpt)
By Assaf Gavron

We sat inside the villa, sipping black coffee and staring out the window: it never stopped raining. The sky was low, the garden wet and green. Piles of floor tiles, sacks of cement, and tubs of paint crowded beneath a plastic sheet that blew in the wind by the pool. I was about to ask Srulik if he thought we could head home after we finished our coffee—we weren’t going to get any work done in this rain—when an unfamiliar ringtone sounded. It wasn’t my phone or Srulik’s, and it wasn’t the villa’s landline either. I shot Srulik a quick look and saw deep grooves between his large eyebrows. “It’s the other phone,” he said. “Get it from the jacket by the door.”

The other phone? What phone? I wondered, putting down the small glass and walking toward the coat rack by the front door. I found the phone ringing in the coat pocket and hurried back, handing it to the boss.

“Hello?” The wrinkles grew deeper. “Yes,” he said into the phone. “Yes, this is actually a good time. I just had a cancellation because of the rain. Hold on, I’m writing it down.” He covered the mouthpiece and whispered to me, “Write.” He removed his hand and said, “Yes, go on.” On the edge of an old Haaretz I wrote in pencil: Dizengoff Center. Apartment tower. 11th floor. Monbaz. “We’ll be there in fifteen minutes, man.” He hung up, turned to me, and said, “Let’s go, doctor, we have a job.”

We were silent the first few minutes of the drive from the northern Tzahala neighborhood to Dizengoff. The rain on the roof of the car and the monotonous dance of the windshield wipers silenced a conversation the radio announcer was having with a meteorologist. Finally, stopped at a red light, without even the moving landscape to break the silence, I asked Srulik, “What’s the story with that other phone?”

His fingers drummed on the steering wheel through his woolen gloves. He whistled and looked at me sideways. Then he faced forward again and said, “It used to be Cindy’s phone. When we broke up and she went back to Canada, I was left with it.”

Strange, I thought. Why walk around with an ex-wife’s phone? But before I even had a chance to ask, Srulik said, “I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, why would the person calling on that phone talk to me about a job and not ask to speak with Cindy?”

“Um . . .”

“I know, I know that’s what you were thinking. Come on, I’m always two steps ahead. So it’s like this: One day I got a call from the yellow pages, on my normal phone, not this one. They offered to print an ad for the renovation business. They gave me a good rate, explained the target audience, ana aref, that kind of stuff. Then they said, two for one. Meaning, I can print a second ad and only pay for one . . . I still know what you must be thinking.”

I wasn’t thinking anything.

“You’re thinking, what would I need two ads for? The renovation ad will go on the renovation page—what’s the other one for? And then the lady on the phone asks me, Don’t you have anything else to advertise? I thought about it. I had another line, another phone, why not advertise something else? So I thought, there’s this dream I’ve had for years, of opening an investigation firm. Why not? What’s the worst thing that could happen? I have a phone. I have an ad in the yellow pages. I have a brain that thinks two steps ahead. Someone calls, I’ll try to help them. Seemed interesting, a bit of a change of pace.”

I stared at him blankly. I didn’t know what to say. A detective? Srulik? He’s not even that good of a handyman.

“Don’t look at me that way,” Srulik said. “Renovations and investigations are very similar. What do we do? We take things apart and then we put them back together, layer after layer. Revealing and covering up. Investigating is exactly the same thing.”

I said nothing. At that point we entered Ibn Gabirol Street and were about to turn right on Nordau and then left on Dizengoff. The rain seemed softer in central Tel Aviv than in the northern neighborhoods, but it didn’t stop. The radio announcer read out an unending list of traffic jams all over the country. “Two questions you’re asking yourself. One, if I have a private investigator’s diploma. And two, what I wrote in my ad. So, one, no, I don’t have a diploma. And, two: Private investigator with diplomas and recommendations. One hundred percent service. One hundred percent reliability. One hundred percent responsibility. Seventeen years of experience. That’s what the lady recommended I write. And she said, Don’t call it AAA Private Investigations or anything like that. People know you only do that to be the first on the list. So I called it Srulik Lasry, Special Investigation Services.”

I didn’t know what to say. I’ve been doing renovations with Srulik for six months and I’ve never heard about this. Not about the ad, not about the investigations. I’ve never even heard that other phone ring. I also couldn’t figure out what my job was, and how much I’d get paid.

“I know exactly what’s going through your mind,” Srulik said as we drove below Dizengoff Square, and for seven sudden seconds the rain stopped banging on the roof of the car. “You’re wondering if I’d gotten any investigation work since posting the ad. So let’s just say . . . let’s say not really. Nothing serious. I found a lost cat once for a student.” He swallowed and slid the truck down the steep concrete ramp into the guts of the Dizengoff Center parking lot.

“Come on,” he added as he pressed the button to lock the car, which bade us farewell with beeps and blinking lights, “let’s go see what this Monbaz guy has for us.”

Copyright 2014 by Assaf Gavron; used by permission of Akashic Books.

ASSAF GAVRON is the author of five novels and a story collection. His fiction has been translated into ten languages and adapted to the stage and cinema. He is the winner of the Israeli Prime Minister’s Creative Award for Authors, Buch für die Stadt in Germany, and Prix Courrier International in France. His latest novel is The Hilltop, published in the US by Scribner in fall 2014.


Images courtesy of Akashic Books, Dreamstime, Flickr and WikiCommons/ Gilad Avidan / Yaniv Hartstein

<
Swirl
(An excerpt)
By Silje Bekeng

There are many Shin Bet stories circulating in Tel Aviv’s expat community. They are among our favorite conversation topics, somewhere between West Bank travel advice and anecdotes on encounters with the ultraorthodox.

Shin Bet stories—like the one about the British first secretary who came home to his Sheinkin apartment to find all the drawers in the kitchen opened. Nothing had been touched, nothing was missing. It was just the open drawers. A subtle, frosty hello.

Or like the one about the pale wife of the Swedish consul out in Herzliya, who discovered the sheets in the master bedroom had been changed one day while she was out. They were white in the morning and blue in the afternoon. And it wasn’t the maid’s day.

And then there’s the Croatian NGO guy with the ironic mustache, who’s always telling the story about the one time he found a latex glove placed neatly on a chair in his living room.

There are many stories like these—about furniture moving around, whole sets of teaspoons disappearing, clocks being turned, dead fish floating in aquariums. Stuff like that. Nothing violent, nothing harmful—except to the fish. These stories serve as warnings only, they are but a mere feeling attaching itself to the back of your neck and shoulders, sticky and thick. These are stories with one simple message: You are not alone.

They also serve for humor, these stories. Blaming Shin Bet is the standing joke among the expats. Every time something disappears, you can bet someone will make a joke of it. Your keys are not where you left them? Shin Bet must have taken them. Your e-mail never reached its destination? Shin Bet hacked your account. Those single socks that never return from the washing machine? Shin Bet has a storage room full of socks lifted from diplomats, lobbyists, and international aid workers. On casual Fridays the Shin Bet people wear the mismatched socks themselves, for fun.

This morning it is my husband’s ID card that has gone missing again. He is late for work and from the street we can hear the driver of his armored Mercedes honking, eager to move away from the activists who have occupied most of Rothschild Boulevard for the last fortnight. My husband is hurrying about the apartment, throwing stuff around, searching for his ID.

—How is it even fucking possible? he cries.

In the kitchen I am stabbing the bloated yellow of a fried egg with a knife. The texture never seizes to fascinate me: the thin protective membrane of the yellow, how easily it’s perforated, the way it bleeds itself empty in one simple, relieved sigh.

There’s a roar coming from the street. The unrest is in its twentieth day and getting violent. At seven in the morning we received the first message from the corporation’s expat notification service: Demonstrations and clashes expected throughout the day in central Tel Aviv. All personnel advised to avoid the area until further notice.

Our apartment building overlooks the section of Rothschild Boulevard where the bats live, and now the activists too. I found them creepy at first, the bats, but they are so light, so swift, so immaculate, like melancholic, nocturnal cousins of the hummingbird, and I do not mind them anymore. I wonder what it would feel like to hold them, the leathery texture of their wings.

—I cannot believe this.

My husband is back in the kitchen, going through a pile of Haaretz on the counter. It’s a paradox that a man so sure of himself is always losing his ID.

—Must be Shin Bet, he says, grinning at me, ha-ha—stressful morning but he made a joke!—before finally locating his ID card hiding behind the toaster. With his stuff going missing, we both know it’s not Shin Bet. It’s just him, his absentmindedness, his elsewhereness. He gathers his documents, stuffs them into a laptop bag.

—I won’t have time for breakfast. Sorry, fucking Middle East, all these ID requirements, he says, kissing my forehead. Hey, try to get out today, eh? See some people?

—The corporation says avoid the area.

—Hon, the corporation always says avoid the area. It’s their default advice for anything; social unrest, bomb threats, any clustering of living organisms. I’ll tell them to take us off that stupid mailing list. Go to the beach. No one’s rioting on the beach.

I am the expat spouse. Each morning he kisses my forehead and heads out to work the politics of the Middle East. Each morning I drink freshly squeezed orange juice, I water the plants, I walk barefoot on cold limestone floors. I should go to the beach, where no one is rioting.

There are more tents on Rothschild every day, popping up between the trees, colorful and childlike, as if the activists pulled them off their parents’ yards, the tents they were playing hide-and-seek in yesterday. They have their own soup stations, laundry service, portable toilets. There are banners and flags, and cardboard boxes are being used for everything: for shelter, for sitting on, for writing your message on.

The message is in Hebrew, so I can’t read it. But the sound arising from their camp is the same as in any other demonstration I have witnessed in the countries I have lived in throughout my husband’s career. It’s the sound of homeless desires.

Stone-throwing reported by demonstrators in Old Jaffa. All personnel advised to avoid the area until further notice.

I lock the heavy front doors behind him as he leaves. Two doors, double locks on both of them. I slip the keys with the Home Security keychain back into my pocket, and I am enveloped by the kind of echoing quiet that is only found in too-large, underfurnished apartments.

All expat homes are like this one: tastefully decorated by a team of professionals, yet bland and too large. Every weekend we attend dinners in apartments like these, with northern European diplomats, journalists, associates of the corporation, and other internationals with job titles consisting of acronyms.

When the corporation’s local administrator guided us around the apartment she excused its massiveness.

—If you want quality in this country, you have to go for one of these new, oversized apartments, she said.

This is how you speak to northern Europeans: as if our wealth is unfortunate, but necessary. The administrator handed us keychains with alarm buttons, explained the different functions. Activate, deactivate. Press House and the star at the same time and the alarm will sound throughout the building; the security company will be notified.

This is the panic button. House and star.

I eat two eggs, some hummus. Turn the pages in Haaretz, do some yoga. There is a certain discomfort, boxy and sharp, in my chest. I sit on the floor and take in the room, absorbing all the details. I need to know exactly where everything is placed in case something changes, in case he leaves a sign. There have been no signs for twenty days and I know something is wrong. Nothing has been moved, rearranged, or gone missing. Everything is exactly where it should be and it leaves me restless.

This story was originally written in English.

Copyright 2014 by Silje Bekeng; used by permission of Akashic Books.

SILJE BEKENG, born in 1984, is a journalist and critic for the Norwegian literary journal Bokmagasinet Klassekampen. After spending a few years in New York and Jerusalem, she currently lives in Oslo, Norway.


Images courtesy of Akashic Books, Dreamstime, Flickr and WikiCommons/ Gilad Avidan / Yaniv Hartstein

<
Allergies
(An excerpt)
By Etgar Keret

One day when I took Seffi out for a walk, he attacked the old Russian man from the second floor. He didn’t bite him, because he had his muzzle on, but he did jump up on him and pushed him down on his back. The old man received a serious blow to the head and had to be taken to the hospital. He was unconscious when the ambulance arrived. Rakefet told the paramedic he’d stumbled. We became really depressed, knowing that when he regained consciousness we’d have to move again. Actually, I was depressed. Rakefet was mainly worried that Seffi would be taken away from us and put down. I tried telling her maybe that was the right thing to do. He was a good dog, but a dangerous one. When I said it Rakefet started crying and turned cold. She wouldn’t let me touch her. Then she said I was only saying that because I wanted to get rid of the dog, because he was giving us a hard time with his special food, and not being able to have people over or leave him home alone, and that she was disappointed, because she thought I was stronger, less selfish than that.

She wouldn’t sleep with me for weeks afterward, speaking to me only when she had to. I tried telling her that it had nothing to do with selfishness. I’d happily endure all the difficulties if I thought the situation could be solved, but Seffi was just too strong and scared, and no matter how closely we watched him, he’d continue hurting people. Rakefet asked if I’d have our child put down too. And when I said that Seffi wasn’t a child, he was a dog, and that she had to accept that, it just ended in another fight. She cried in the bedroom. Seffi went over and started howling too, and I could do nothing but apologize. Not that it helped.

A month later, the Russian man’s son came over and started asking questions. His father had died in the hospital. Not from the blow to the head, but from an infection he caught there. The guy wanted details on what happened, because he was suing social security. He said there were deep animal scratches on his body, but the emergency services’ report said his father had just stumbled. He wanted to know if there was anything we hadn’t told the paramedics.

We didn’t let him in the apartment, but as we spoke in the stairwell Seffi began barking and the guy asked questions about the dog and wanted to see him. We told him he couldn’t come in, that the dog was new, we only got him ten days ago, long after his father had the fall. He insisted on seeing him anyway, and when we refused again he threatened to come back with the police.

That very night we packed up our things and went to stay with Rakefet’s parents for a few days. I met some realtors and found an apartment in the Florentin neighborhood. It was small and noisy, but the landlord didn’t mind the dog. Rakefet and I went back to sleeping together. She was still a bit cold, but the drama with the Russian’s son brought us closer together again. She also saw that I was standing up for Seffi, and that softened her.

Copyright 2014 by Etgar Keret; used by permission of Akashic Books.

ETGAR KERET, born in Tel Aviv in 1967, is the author of five story collections, three children’s books, and three graphic novels. His writing has appeared in the New Yorker, Zoetrope, and the Paris Review. His books have been translated into many languages and published in over thirty-five countries. In 2007, Keret and Shira Geffen won the Cannes Film Festival’s Caméra d’Or Award for their movie Jellyfish. In 2010, Keret received the Chevalier Medallion of France’s Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.


Images courtesy of Akashic Books, Dreamstime, Flickr and WikiCommons/ Gilad Avidan / Yaniv Hartstein