Suddenly Sabra: Wild rosemary

I'd come to this apartment much as I'd come to Israel. The line that had brought me here had been something less concrete, harder to define, but I'd created a story around it.

It seemed too good to be true - a two room, split-level apartment with a garden in South Tel Aviv for NIS 2,400 a month. "That's 1,200 apiece," I said to Boaz. I was already fantasizing about socking some of the money I'd be saving on rent into that garden. I'd had limited success with plants in the States. Killing off one rosemary plant after another, eventually, I'd stopped naming them. Then there came a succession of numbered "Rosemary"s, each a grim tribute to the ones that had died before it. But I was sure that in South Tel Aviv, things would be different. I'd make the concrete desert bloom. The more we talked about the apartment and what we would do with it - "…and we can have little parties in the backyard" - the more my voice rose toward a giddy, girlish shriek. "Relax, Talia. Don't get excited yet, or you'll be disappointed," Boaz said. It was too late. In my mind, the garden had already morphed from a backyard to a lush jungle that extended far into the distance, further than my eyes would see. The next day, Boaz and I took a bus down Allenby. Then down Ha'aliya. We got off at Lewinsky and walked the rest of the way. Boaz scanned the signs looking for the number. And then, wordless, he pointed. "That's it?" I asked. It was a squat tin-roofed structure wedged between two tall, proper buildings. The door was thick and metal, like the kind that go on warehouses. From the outside, the apartment looked like a storage space. Boaz winced. But I refused to lose hope, "Let's just wait and see what the inside looks like." A small car chugged up, parked illegally. Everything about the guy who got out of the car was round. Round face, round stomach. He lit a cigarette, coughed, and unlocked the door to our shanty. He held the door open. "Come," he said to us, beckoning with a wave of us hand. We stepped into the newly-tiled and still dirty hallway. There were several doorways, none with doors. "At the end," he said, pointing. There was a sink and half a counter. "Kitchen," he said as we stepped into the garden apartment. And then he waited in the hallway, puffing on his cigarette. The "first floor" might have been big enough for a double bed. One at a time, Boaz and I climbed a ladder that had been anchored to the wall to the "second floor." A mat or my desk, perhaps, would fit there. We eased ourselves down the first floor. "Where's the garden?" Boaz called. "Outside." We stepped onto a filthy, barred porch where a ceiling fan sat broken on the floor. Through the bars, we were privy to the going-ons of a small kiosk that sold rice, dried beans, and spices. The radio was blaring. The salesman shouted at someone in the street. And that's when I started laughing. Not at the apartment but at myself and how I'd floated away on fantasies from a one-line advertisement. I realized then that I'd come to this apartment much as I'd come to Israel. The line that had brought me here had been something less concrete, harder to define, but I'd created a story around it. I'd assimilate quickly. I'd learn Hebrew in no time and soon be privy to others' jokes and witticisms - shared or eavesdropped. I'd find an assertive, macho Israeli whose straightforwardness and abruptness matched my own. Boaz, as Ashkenazi and polite as they come, is often mortified by my "bad manners." But looking at our garden of cement he started to laugh, too. As we left, we thanked the round man. "Renovations will be done in a month," he replied. Boaz and I found a café near the next apartment we were scheduled to see. Two mundane women sat at the table next to us. "So what do you think?" Boaz asked me. "It's got potential," I said. "And who knows how it will look when the renovations are done. We can slap a layer or two of paint on and make it work." "But what about the garden?" "He's going to tear that porch out, right? We can plant one. A small one." No, it wouldn't be a jungle, and there would be no backyard. But it would be my little piece of land. And in Israel, rosemary grows wild.