Returning from a four-week jaunt across the USA in which we visited six cities and met countless relatives and friends – both old and new – it took no time at all to get used to the pace of life in Israel. That may be due in part to the fact that our last port of call was New York, which is even noisier, pushier and more raucous than our home stamping ground just outside Jerusalem. Suddenly our way of life seems positively sedate, though from our experience New York is the exception rather than the rule regarding the American tempo of living.
Apart from the god-given gift of spaciousness that characterizes the American cities and homes we visited, what stands out in my memory is the warmth and kindness of the people we met. Of course, our friends and relatives in Boston, Maryland, Washington, Richmond, San Diego and Brooklyn were all at pains to make us feel welcome and loved, and I hope we managed to show how much we appreciated all the kindness, warmth and generosity of which we were the recipients. But all the people we encountered – whether in stores, cafés, airlines or restaurants – were invariably courteous and helpful.
We started off in Boston, where the icy cold bit into our bones and obliged us to wear our warmest clothing, and as we progressed through the various cities the weather gradually got balmier, to the point that in San Diego we had to buy some lighter clothing (one T-shirt, actually). But that was more or less the only shopping we did, much to the disgust of our children and grandchildren in Israel, for whom USA is the Mecca of retail therapy (but of course we brought back gifts for each one).
But for us, apart from the wonderful interpersonal encounters, the high points of our trip were the cultural events – concerts and museum visits, in each and every place we visited. We are no strangers to the museums and art galleries of Europe, and of course the local offerings in Israel are not to be sneezed at either, but the wide range and richness of the art collections to be found in Boston, Washington, Baltimore, Richmond, San Diego and of course New York left us wishing we had more time (and younger feet) to take in all the goodies on offer. A performance by the Boston Symphony, an orchestral rehearsal in San Diego and a chamber concert in Brooklyn were just the icing on the cake.
When it comes to the other kind of goodies – the edible kind – we were often left wondering what has come over the American populace. There were times when we were unable to finish a soup which was described as tomato but tasted of anything but, or to find a sandwich that did not include cheese – melted or not – with the chicken, turkey or other filling. What with that and the proliferation of fast-food outlets, there’s no need to look any further for the source of the obesity epidemic assailing America.
Indian food is greatly overrated, in my opinion, and whatever one orders tends to taste the same. In the sole Indian restaurant we visited the manager was waiting for us as we left, our bill (‘check’) in his hand, asking us several times if we had not been satisfied with the service (the service was fine, the food inedible). Eventually we understood that he thought that our tip had not been large enough, so we gave him another five dollars and left, swearing never to go there again.
I was fortunate to be able to benefit from several ‘parlour meetings’ in San Diego and Brooklyn where I could talk about my novel, ‘The Balancing Game,’ and sign the copies that were bought by members of the audience. I’m eternally grateful to all those who went to considerable lengths to organize those events, and can only hope that the kind people who bought my book will enjoy reading it.