Monday, 7 September 2009

A random conversation today... I'm sitting on a bench on a small side street just off Dizengoff, waiting for Mrs Goy and the Small Noisy One. They're late; but I don't particularly mind. I'm listening to the iPod and watching the world go seems very pleasant and stress-free indeed...

So when I sense someone settling behind me (I am sitting with my shoulder to the bench's upright, all the better to see the passing human traffic), I do not feel the need to acknowledge my new companion.


The voice filters through the music. I ignore it. It can't be directed at me, after all..

"Boom!" More insistent. Apparently it is. I sigh and turn around.

She is in her mid sixties perhaps, solidly built but not stout, with hennaed hair and dressed in the vaguely shapeless flowery dresses favoured by women from a certain period. She is rummaging through a voluminous handbag on the bench by her side.

"Boom!" She slaps at her forearm with the open palm of her other hand. "All we hear these days...Boom! Boom!" She is speaking a mixture of Hebrew and English, for my benefit no doubt. I remove the headphones warily.

"What do you mean?" I ask, in Hebrew.

"All you hear nowadays, Murder, Murder, Murder. Boom!" She slaps at her forearm once again, before continuing the excavation of her handbag. I wonder what she is looking for.

But I don't ask her this. "What happened?"

"In Ramat Gan." She is sticking to Hebrew now. "A man goes into a shop, asks for the owner, pulls out a knife, then Boom! Owner is dead." She finally discovers the object of her quest; a Sphygmomanometer.

(I only know what they are called because once, many years ago, some recalcitrant rascal of my acquaintance gave me one - stolen from his father, a doctor, I believe - as part settlement for an old and mouldy debt. It sat in my wardrobe, in boarding school, for a year. Eventually, I recouped most of the debt by offering blood pressure checks to my classmates during our final school leaving examinations. Probably illegal, passing myself off as a qualified medical technician. Never mind...)

"In a shop?", I ask. I wonder if it is a protection racket gone wrong.

(It wasn't, as it happens. The full story is here)

"All you here in Israel these days is murder, murder, murder. A man walks on the beach...Boom! A small girl dumped in the Yarkon, wrapped in polythene...Boom! This country is awful."

"But stuff like this happens everywhere..." I start

"No!" She cuts across me. "Look, I was born here, grew up not ten minutes from here. It wasn't always like this." She is smiling, friendly even, belying her predictions of doom and gloom. "We have killed this country," she concludes sadly, shaking her head. No "Boom!" this time.

Occasionally, my old muckers in the Old Country(s) accuse me of going native when I try to tell them that Israel isn't quite as bad as it is made out to be by bored foreign correspondents presumably paid by the word or with one eye on the book deal where they explain what precisely, in their not terribly humble opinion, is wrong with the Jewish State. I can live with that. But I am scarcely equipped to defend Israel against the natives themselves..."It's the same everywhere..." I repeat lamely.

She shakes here head vigorously. "You put on the television every day, it is the same thing, Boom! So," she continues, strapping the sphygmomanometer to her forearm as she speaks, "I killed the television...Boom!" She cackles delightfully.

I smile. My telephone rings. It is Mrs Goy. She is running late (I know!) and asks if I can meet her outside her grandmother's, five minutes away, instead. I rise to my feet, a little reluctantly. "I'm sorry, I have to go..."

She peers up at me. "How do you know how to speak Hebrew so well?"

I blush (metaphorically, at least). My Hebrew is one small step away from appalling, as opposed to merely dreadful. Her comment is the nicest thing anyone has said to me in quite a while, true or not. "I've lived here for two and a half years..." She looks unconvinced. "I talk to my wife in Hebrew occasionally...she's Israeli."

She brightens. "Really? That's wonderful. Where are her family from?"

We go through the family tree, as I have done for absolute strangers many times before - here, for example.

(Digression - I often wonder why the British TV programme "Who Do You Think You Are?" has not been adapted for Israeli Television; it seems tailor made for this country...)

"And your family?" she asks. I tell her. "I hope you get to see them regularly..." she queries. I smile.

"Do you have any children?" I tell her I have one. I don't tell her that at the moment, he is convinced that he is a Lion, and wakes me up most mornings by pouncing on the bed and roaring as fiercely as he can manage - think Peter Sellers and Cato in the Pink Panther films, as below. I suppose this won't interest her.

"Is he beautiful?" (She uses the masculine adjective Yafeh, which literally translates as beautiful; in this context, it'll probably read better as good looking.)

I smile. "Well..."

"Is he more like you, Kushi?"

(If I'm correct, the word Kushi comes from is the Kush, an ancient race in North Africa - Sudan and Egypt, Wikipedia helpfully tells me. Generally, I had assumed that it was used in Israel in a vaguely pejorative manner, like Coloured in the UK. I'd be interested in exploring the etymology of the word in modern Hebrew now, after this conversation...)

"He is, yes. But he gets his good looks from his mother." (Mrs Goy, if you are reading this, this MUST be worth something...forgiveness for past misdemeanours on my part, perhaps?)

"Tov, you must be going, she'll be waiting for you."

She is right, and I bid her farewell.


Anonymous said...

"Kushi" in Arabic is a derogatory word for a colored person, and the big chocolate-coated marshmellow treats are called "ras kushi." I am dearly hoping that the Hebrew has a better context than the Arabic.

Goy said...

I don't think it has a better context - not in today's Hebrew, anyway. But words can evolve from the neutral to the derogatory over time - that's why when she used it, I thought that perhaps it might not have the same meaning for her as it would for a person half her age...

Adam E. said...

I like living in a country in which the prime minister has to appeal for public calm because there have been three murders in the last month. But "boom" lady does seem right...things are changing.

Goy said...

Are you in Israel now? Welcome, Brachim Ha'Ba'im!