Thursday, March 26, 2009

Notes from the Greenhouse

Notes from the Greenhouse, Tel Aviv
October, 1991

Cheng was a student from Beijing who had gotten out just in time and had no intentions of going back in the near future. The blood hadn't washed off of Tiananmen Square and never will, but if things ever ease up and people aren't just picked up and beaten, humiliated, and incarcerated for speaking their minds, then maybe she'll return and pick up the pieces of her life, see her family again, and yes, dream and strive for a democratic China.

Dimitri had been living in Israel for two years now, spoke fluently in Hebrew, English, and his natural Russian tongue, but as he approached his thirtieth birthday he was still unable to find a niche in the fast and often rude lifestyle of Tel Aviv. He worked hard at several jobs that had no future, made friends easily, but had his eyes and heart set on moving to the States --- the place of "opportunity." Everyone wished him luck.

The several pairs and small groups of South Africans that passed through the Greenhouse doors brought with them all the variations and colors of that society. Black, Dutch, English --- Christian and Jewish --- their prejudices, anxieties, and dreams found their way into our conversations around a large rectangular wooden table in the common living room. I guess we all learned something from each other.

Cynthia was a beautiful young woman from Singapore who had traveled Europe and Asia as an exchange student, was fluent in Mandarin, English, and French, and who had a character that radiated with the adventure of the remote and compassion for the dispossessed. She trekked through the length and breadth of Israel, saw the best and worst of Jewish and Muslim life, felt a particular closeness to the Christian history, and left with a smile and positive feeling about her experiences. She'll be back.

Eamon wailed away the blues each night along Dizengoff Street near the fountain with his saxophone case open and inviting to the waves of upbeat passersby. He crashed each night at the Greenhouse feeling half-empty from the few shekels he gathered, but more than half-full from the musical expression. A couple of weeks passed and he was on his way back to upstate New York, but not before a short stopover in the streets of Paris.

There was a work ethic and routine of cleanliness at the Greenhouse that made it rather unique among hostels in this part of the world. Be that as it may, it was still a transient place, a quiet place in the midst of a noisy city, a shelter from the storm, a place where you began to think of your next steps and previous steps along your unique pathway, where you thought of the people you had met and the ones you had left, but where life had a way of melting together a most unusual group of people in need of each other, if only for a short time, in a world often too busy or indifferent to feel the human touch.

There was no substitute for being there.

--- e b bortz

Notes from the Greenhouse, Part 2

about eighteen years ago
for several days in a row
the hostel staff
as kind as they were
had to tell me
to get the hell off my bed
for the well advertised five hours
of daily hostel cleanup

it was totally unlike my normal routine
to lay around
i usually got out early
sometimes looking for a temporary job
but often just leaving morning rush-hour
bicycling to the countryside
or to the library
to scribble a few words
agonizing over what israel
was not
like what was not
like the expropriation
of the cramped beaten streets
soon to be gentrified jaffa
like the dominance of military uniforms
militarism injected into the body of an entire new generation
(except the yeshiva boys of course)
like the newly arrived young ethiopian brothers and sisters
that some ashkenazi israelis swear/assault as they utter
(at the ethiopians in their fatigues)
and where palestinians ripped from their homes
and their land
bulldozed into refugee camps and ghettos
in an attempt to smash
their life color
their spirit
like an enemy
like a self-fulfilling prophesy
this was an israel
without the makeup
disco jewelry
beach life magazines

but my moping wasn't just social reckoning
sometimes it takes that personal
to unravel the entire illusion
like a french love flower
that never has a chance
to take root
you end up with
dead hollow leaves
maybe in that emptiness
a greater consciousness grows
and so it did
replacing beach facades
lost luster
haifa to ashqelon
the frame still includes
all those fucking plastic bottles
washed ashore at caesarea
and all the orange groves
of a kibbutzim

i rescheduled a return ticket
to the states
uneasy yet cognizant
of the uncertainty
yet to come

--- e b bortz

Notes from the Greenhouse, Epilogue

It's taken a fast eighteen years to write "Part 2"...even if the whole thing seems like one continuous stream...rapids and all.

The social network of the Greenhouse should be a book in itself...some potent lessons particularly in light of the Israel I see has changed and so have my eyes...the war makers and racists dominate the government in Tel Aviv/Jerusalem bringing me to the embarrassing conclusion that they relish in their fears and sadism...maybe all the way to the abyss...suicide.

When I was very young my image of Israel was formed by the stories of courage of the Jewish fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising during Nazi occupation. Every molotov cocktail thrown at the shiny German uniforms had with it the cries of millions of the dead...millions of oppressed. I gave little thought to the aspirations of Palestinians who were destroyed in the land between the river and the sea when the "two states" were mandated...the hundreds of thousands of indigenous people brutally driven from their homes, schools, olive groves...and the many who died with their dreams in refugee camps.

Someday, there will be peace in the contiguous land from the river to the sea, that will live cooperatively, with "one person / one vote"...and for those that refuse to accept this simple premise...maybe they'll leave and hopefully take their fears with them.

--- e b bortz

(Notes from the Greenhouse, Tel Aviv previously published in

Golden Triangle, 1992 and Voices of a Wanderer, 1993)

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