Monday, August 18, 2008

During the last few days

I attended an information evening at my son's high school concerning internet safety. The information scared me to such an extent that I immediately decided to pack up my entire family and move to a hut in the outback where there would be no chance of ever having access to the internet. Then, as I sat at home with my cup of tea and a large dose of desperate, paranoid fear, I remembered Alice's comment to me in a previous post about the fine line between solitude and loneliness. This comforted me and I was able to resume normal mothering, which includes allowing my children (and myself) to socialise via the internet, safely and in moderation. Thanks Alice.

I finished reading that book I was talking about last week. I was sitting at the dining table and leaning over the book when I noticed water drops splashing onto the pages. It took me a second or two to realise that they were my tears. That has never happened to me before, so it made me laugh out loud. My tears mixed with my laughter and made a rainbow.

I met an Australian woman who had recently spent three years living in Germany with her young family. She was describing the house with the rolladen, the gardens, the village life, and all of this time I was thinking that maybe, just maybe, she had been living in eurolush's village. So I asked the only question which would, beyond a shadow of a doubt, prove whether she had or had not. I asked "Was there a pastry van in your village? You know...Frau Muller's pastry van....which would stop at your front door every morning?" The woman looked at me like I was crazy, raising her eyebrows and smiling sarcastically and responding "No." Damn.

My son has gone off for a four-day tennis tournament with his squad, which means that I do not have to accompany him. He is having a wonderful time. So am I.

My husband and I celebrated our twentieth wedding anniversary. We went for a bushwalk, and while walking we came across a few large, moss-covered rocks which we had to cross so as to continue the trek. I do not like slippery rocks. My husband skipped easily from rock to rock, oblivious to the possibility of falling, then slipping, then rolling down the cliff-face can tell what I was thinking. So, naturally, NATURALLY, Eleanor (after much encouragement and an outstretched hand from her loving husband) attempted to skip easily from rock to rock, but instead slipped and slid and fell. Eleanor then used some very bad language. Eleanor then became overly dramatic. Overly-dramatic-Eleanor claimed that what had just happened showed that she is overly anxious and is therefore unable to deal with the smallest of problems which crop up like mossy rocks on the pathway of life. Luckily, Eleanor's husband has over twenty years of experience in the art of Eleanor management, so he simply said "Eleanor, what just happened is not a metaphor, you just aren't used to bushwalking."

This is not a metaphor.

I just love that.

That simple, five-word phrase is the best anniversary present I have ever received.

The photograph below is not a metaphor, it's just a photo of my husband.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

I won't worry my life away

This is EXACTLY where I was, with my daughter, on Saturday night - Jason !

Well, actually we were just behind the tall guy with the spiky hair, so you'll have to imagine us there. But you can hear us, because we were YELLING and SHRIEKING every time he said "people in the middle now let me hear you make some noise." You will especially be able to hear me a little bit later on because I was SINGING AT THE TOP OF MY VOICE the chorus - "I....I...I...won't worry my life away."

Oh, yes, and also, can you see the fabulous guy playing the bongo drums on the side of the stage? I'm sure he's famous but I don't know his name, anyway, he has this little gnome which you can see there, on the side, and apparently it accompanies him wherever he goes. When I saw that gnome I thought about eurolush, because when I first discovered her blog she published the funniest post about the gnomes in her neighbourhood, which made me laugh out loud.

To be honest, though; yes, I do try to be honest...the standing in the queue on the street for an hour so as to get a good place near the stage, and then the standing for an hour listening to Jason Mraz's "supporting singer" and then standing for two hours listening to him. Well. I'm getting a little bit old for that, I was in fact twice the age of EVERYONE standing around me. So next time I want to go watch the fabulous Mr. Mraz in Korea, because that seems to be a little bit more my style.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Homing pigeons

Do you know the scene in "Sleepless in Seattle" when Rita Wilson's character summarises the plot of "An Affair to Remember"? You know the scene... when she becomes so involved in remembering the heartbreakingly romantic ending of the film that she starts to sob, while her husband and Tom Hanks and his son all sit around the dining table and look at her with bemusement. Well, I have had a similar experience with a book I am reading, and which I have been trying to describe to my husband.

I'm still in the middle of reading the book, and still I am so very moved by a few scenes that I find myself compelled to describe them to somebody, and I must say that my husband's reaction was more one of magical delight than bemusement. But as I continued describing more and more plot sequences to him, and as my self-indulgent sobbing became louder and louder, I do believe I saw a bemused twinkle in his eyes, and a little smile twitch at his mouth.

The book is "A Pigeon and a Boy" by Meir Shalev, and I'm reading it in Hebrew, although a quick search showed me that it has already come out in an English translation. The very fact that I am reading it in Hebrew is quite astonishing, because it has been a while since I have had the energy to do so. Having lived in Israel from the age of two to eight I seem to return to this language throughout my life, in ways I can't explain, like a homing pigeon I suppose. I continued my Hebrew studies in school, and have a degree in Modern Hebrew Literature, although I cannot remember ever actually planning to do so. In any case, my brother lives in Israel with his wife and four children, so he occasionally sends me a book from the Israeli bestseller list, and it is usually placed on my shelf at home for the next decade. Unread.

So, I finally picked up this book and read the first line, a first line which I would probably translate as:

"And suddenly," said the elderly American in the white shirt, "up above this hell, suddenly, flew a pigeon."

Now the Hebrew word for pigeon is "yona" which is the same word for a dove. Translating is a damn shame. In any case, moving right along.... Isn't that a great first line? And you know what, even as I write this, my eyes are teary. You see, that was a homing pigeon which was making its way home from a war-zone. Then, still on the first page of the novel, there is a line which just grabbed my heart and squeezed it. The line describes a gun-battle near a church, and every so often a bullet hits the church-bell: "A strange note. At first sharp and high, as if the bell itself is surprised, and then becoming weaker, hurting but not dead, until the next shot. And one of our injured said: "Bells are accustomed to receiving their hits from inside, not outside."

Do you see what I mean or are you smiling at me with bemusement? really doesn't matter, either way.

The plot includes the story of the homing-pigeons and the boy who cares for them, but it is also the modern-day story of the man to whom that elderly American in the white shirt is speaking. That man is an Israeli tour-guide who finds himself in an unhappy marriage and is given a sum of money by his dying mother with the instructions to use that money to "find a house he can call a home." But it's really much, much more than just that because each character has a childhood history which feeds the plot as it meanders back and forth from 1948 to the 21st century, and back again.

What would you think if a homing pigeon landed on your balcony, and you went to help it with its broken wing, and you discovered that it had a little capsule attached to its leg? What if you opened the capsule and read that the note said "Yes or no?" Well, the twelve-year-old girl in this novel is absolutely convinced that it is a love letter from a man to a woman:

The girl felt her heart pound. "It's a 'yes or no' of love. The man wants to know whether the woman agrees."

"Why of love?" the boy demanded. "It could also be a letter between relatives or a business letter or in connection to the Hagana."

But the girl insisted: "This is a love letter. Now the pigeon is here and the man doesn't understand why the woman isn't answering."

This is where I start crying. It's just so beautiful. Later the boy and girl will take the pigeon to the zoo to get help for it, and they will meet the homing-pigeon trainer. At first, the girl doesn't tell him about the note, but eventually she does. She tells him "The pigeon was carrying a love letter." He answers that such a letter sounds much more interesting than the usual letters he sends. "But how much love can one write on such a tiny note?" he asks her. "Three words," she answers him, "yes or no?" "Yes, certainly," he replies. She then takes the note out from her pocket and shows it to him and he smiles and said, "Oh! It really is the note, and I thought you had meant it as a question."

Three little words. A twelve year old girl's explanation. An elderly pigeon-trainer's interpretation. Isn't that just too beautiful for any number of words?

Friday, August 8, 2008

Wedding Cake Island

The boat was only big enough for two, which was fine, because there were only two of them on the journey. The sea which had once been so very rough was now a flat and peaceful landscape for them to push through. She stood at the head of the boat and signalled to him when they had reached the perfect spot to drop anchor. It was past Wedding Cake Island and then a little to the left; not very far, but far enough to be away from other people. He dropped the anchor and they floated there, the two of them sitting cross-legged, side by side, facing the massive expanse of blue and white. Her hand slid slowly, secretly into the pocket of her jacket and she took out the cache of jewels which she had dug up out of their backyard that very morning. She didn’t open the hessian sack to look at them, she simply let it fall from her hand down into the blue water. It made a very slight splashing sound as it landed in the water, and then it was gone. He looked at her for the first time that day, and he said “I think you may have dropped something.” She turned to him and nodded.

After a while they decided to sail back home. He pulled up the anchor and they picked up speed as the wind blew them towards the shore. When they finally walked through the front door, all of the children were lined up in the hallway with serious faces. The eldest boy had what looked like tear-streaks down his cheeks. “Someone stole the jewels again,” he said to them, and the other children nodded and the baby sniffed a couple of times and wiped his nose on his sleeve. “What?” asked their father, “Again?” They all nodded slowly and stood together without moving, in complete silence. “That’s all right,” said their mother, “It wasn’t a stranger who stole from us, don’t worry, I dug the jewels up myself.” They all turned to her, shocked by what she had said, trying to understand what she meant.

Their father suddenly understood. He turned to her with this new knowledge in his eyes, a knowledge of a boat big enough for two and an endless ocean and a cache of jewels floating down, down, down to the sand. “Well, that’s that then,” he said. “Yes,” said their mother, “but it doesn’t mean that we don’t love you any more.” The children didn’t understand what their mother and father meant; they only understood that their mother had taken the jewels and had hidden them somewhere else, somewhere only adults could find. Then, surprisingly, the baby stepped forward and looked at his father’s damp sailing-shoes, and his mother’s wind-blown hair, and he said “Did you take the jewels sailing with you?” His mother nodded, and his father looked down at his hands, and that was that.

I wasn’t there when all of this happened. I only heard about it afterwards; after the house was sold, and the boat was sold, and the dog found itself a new owner in a new home. The mother told me her side of the boat, and the father told me his side of the boat, so that I sailed away with each of them past the island and out into the open sea. But, at the end of the day, I always found myself sitting on a bench at the beach, looking out at the vast expanse of water and wondering to myself which side was true, and which was false.

From then on, every day, after work, I’d wander back down to that beach and find myself on that bench again and again and again. Once, while I was sitting there on my bench, I thought I saw something floating on the water. It was something that looked quite similar to a hessian sack of jewels, and it was being pushed towards the shore by a series of cascading waves, all foamy and full of promise. But I was wrong, for when I stood up from the bench and ran towards the sea, I could see it was merely an empty, plastic shopping bag floating on the water. I reached out to grab it, and suddenly found myself engulfed in the waves, and pulled by the current.

Of course, I managed to save myself from drowning that day. I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this if I hadn’t survived. I am not sure how I found the strength to pull myself out of the power of that ocean, but I did, and I returned to my bench the very next day, and every day that followed, to continue looking out at the horizon.

On one of those days, to my surprise, I found the children sitting there on my bench and staring out at the ocean. They were all there, even the baby, who wasn’t such a little baby any more. When they saw me they moved over to make room for me to sit down on the bench with them. “There are always so many people sitting at the beach and looking out at the water,” said the baby, “Do you think they are all looking for jewels?” I turned and looked at the baby with love. “I remember the day your mother and father called me to tell me you were born,” I said to the baby. “After they told me the news that you had arrived in the world, I decided to go for a walk along the beach. On that day the beach was covered with the most beautiful shells, and I started to collect them. I stuffed them into my pockets and brought them home and put them in a bowl, and the following day, when I went to visit your mother in the hospital, I brought the bowl of shells to her as a present.” The children were all looking at me now, instead of at the ocean, so I continued telling them my story. “You know what sea-shells are? Really? They’re jewels that have been in the ocean for such a long time that the water and the salt changes their shape and colour and texture.” “How long does it take for a lost jewel to turn into a shell and come back to the beach?” asked the eldest child. “I can’t answer that,” I told him.

That all happened a long time ago, and I still can’t answer that question. But I’ve started collecting shells again. Just in case.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Hello friends!

When my daughter was two years old, we would walk down to the park on the corner, and the minute she would see some children on the swings or the slide she'd yell out to them from her stroller, "Hello friends!" Most of the time, as we came closer, I would realise that they were complete strangers, but in the eyes of my skinny little brown-haired playground toddler, they were friends. I really loved it when she did that, because I was never a particularly social child, and I had hoped that my daughter would find friendships easier than I had. My own reaction upon seeing other children in that park was usually, "Oh god, now I'm going to have to make small talk with the parents."

I am still a very private person, and I am still not very social.

So now I'm back from my holiday, and my daughter comes into my study and sits down and says to me "You are being missed in blogland, and I think you are being a very bad friend." Once again, my daughter (now sixteen) is pulling at my hand and dragging me towards the playground and saying "Look! Friends! Hello friends!" And, to be honest, I am thinking "Oh god....what am I going to say to all of these strangers?"