(photo credit: Deborah S. Danan)
I recently rewarded myself by booking a day off from the proverbial office for
no reason whatsoever. On said day, I woke up to hours of nothingness
stretched out in front of me. Like an empty canvas in an artist’s studio, the
day was brimming with promise. After a glorious few moments of relishing the
unfamiliar feeling of being bored, I got, well, bored.
What to do? I
decided to get on my trusty bike and see where it would take me. It took me to
the Carmel shuk, which today seemed to have more weirdos than usual loitering
around. With flowing blond hair cascading down his red robes, Jesus Christ sat
cross-legged in the square holding a sign that kindly informed shuk-shoppers that
the Messiah had finally arrived and was residing in Tel Aviv, no less. An old
man with salt-and-pepper whiskers pushed along a shopping cart stuffed with a
mountain of clothes, upon which a small terrier sat and barked at hapless
The woman with the organ was belting out Naomi Shemer. ’Nuff
said. Anyone who’s ever been to the shuk knows who I’m referring to. I’m sure
I’m not the only one wishing for the day she finally lands a break and
talent-spotters come to whisk her away to a packed auditorium in some exotic
location – far away from here. Failing that, a sore throat might do.
CARMEL shuk isn’t a patch on Jerusalem’s Mahaneh Yehuda market, but the
neighborhoods surrounding it are delightful. Nahalat Binyamin and Kerem
Hateimanim are full of cobbled sidestreets that seem to have charming little
eateries hidden in every crevice. Old men sit outside and while away the time
smoking and drinking Turkish coffee, laundry hangs off a random tree in the
middle of the road, and people wave and say “hello” to each other.
those who dwell in Kerem Hateimanim – or “the Kerem” as it is known locally –
living anyplace else is unimaginable. Sort of like the way Nahlaotdwellers feel
about their neighborhood in Jerusalem. In both Nahlaot and the Kerem, it
is the shuk that provides the community’s heartbeat.
I stopped off for
lunch at one of those no-frills eateries that doesn’t feel the need for
trivialities such as a name or a menu. Delicious aromas emanated from a row of
pots that were precariously balanced on gas burners. The elderly owner, Shimon,
asked me what I wanted, and after a moment’s pause he gave me a reassuring
smile. He knows my type. I can’t make decisions – especially those that involve
“Don’t worry, I’ll bring you a plate of something nice,” he
After finishing a plate of rice and okra, fishcake, fried eggplant
and a small salad (all of which set me back a heartwarming NIS 25), I cleared my
table and returned the plates to Shimon’s sink. Somehow it’s understood that
this is a be-your-own-waitress kind of establishment.
appeased, I moseyed on and found myself climbing the stairs up to the Little
Prince, another of my preferred quirky locales. The Little Prince is a bohemian
coffee-shop-cum-book-seller-cum- bar that has a gorgeous balcony overlooking
Nahalat Binyamin Street and is the place where writers and artists escape to
work on their craft and discuss the meaning of life. I opened my laptop and a
bottle of Goldstar, and allowed the decadent wiles of social cyberspace to
seduce me for a few moments.
A message popped up on my screen from a
newly acquired friend: Would you like to go sailing for an hour this afternoon? LOL, sure. Tell me when and where.
Two hours later, I was in the marina
by Gordon beach, woefully unprepared for a sailing expedition – my first, I
might add. And it wasn’t my first unexpected “first” of late. A few weeks
earlier, I had jumped out of a plane in honor of my birthday. It was only when
we had reached the hangar that it started to dawn on me that my birthday
surprise was a skydive.
So I wasn’t nervous about sailing today. Being
out at sea seemed a lot less daunting than plummeting to the ground from a
height of 4,500 meters.
Oh, how wrong I was.
YOU’LL FORGIVE me if
I happen to use words like “thingamabob” in lieu of nautical terminology. I am,
after all, not much of seafarer. I was not aware, for instance, that sailing
includes getting wet, nor was I aware that it was probably not a good idea to
keep my camera and other personal items on the boat. I was wearing the most
ridiculously inappropriate clothes for a sailing trip: boots, leggings and a
woolly sweater. All of which got soaked through the first time the little
The clouds had come in, so the water was very choppy and
the waves were high. I’d like to say we were nervous we wouldn’t make it back to
shore, but we had only advanced about 5 meter away from it. The boat hit
a small wave and didn’t quite make it over, so I fell out. I was wearing a life
jacket, which would’ve proved quite useful had the water been higher than
waist-deep. I stood there, submerged in water from the waist down while the
exposed top half of my body felt the beginnings of hypothermia seep slowly in,
and I laughed hysterically. As did all the people on the beach who were watching
and pointing at us.
Employees from the marine club were standing on the
rocks waving frantically to get our attention. They shouted to us that we needed
to release the wooden thingy that was wedged on the floor of the boat into the
water. By this time, the boat was flooded through and way too heavy to sail. We
dragged it back to shore and emptied it out – a process that took another 15
minutes of the allotted hour and almost caused me a hernia.
Once we got
the boat the right way up, a gust of wind swung the sail right toward me so that
the metal base smashed into my forehead. I yelped in pain and ducked my head as
the sail swung on behind me. I picked my head up just in time for another gust
of wind to hit the sail from behind, giving me a nice dent on the back of my
skull. It was as slapstick as Laurel and Hardy, except by this point I wasn’t
I decided I’d done enough sailing for the next few
lifetimes, and thanking my sailing buddy (who looked positively catatonic), I
headed off home.
ON AN ordinary day, the cycle home from the beach can
take up to a couple of hours due to the myriad distractions, but then, on an
ordinary day, I’m not usually in danger of death by chilblain. In an effort to
preserve my body temperature, I cycled as fast as I could. I did not stop by my
friend Shaul’s new gallery on Bograshov Street to observe the artist at work on
a canvas while biding his time until tourist season; nor did I pause to listen
to the jazz musicians who sound like they should be playing in Carnegie Hall but
play instead on the corner of Ben-Gurion and Dizengoff streets. I even rode past
the wedding-dress shops without so much as glancing at the window displays to
laugh at the latest batch of ludicrous bridal-wear concoctions.
night, as I lay in bed battered and bruised and thoroughly spent, it occurred to
me that there probably isn’t another place in the world where a random day off
work could unfold in such an unexpected manner. Except, perhaps,