Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Night Flight from Tel Aviv

It's Wednesday, and I'm headed to Missouri. School visits in Chillicothe, where I spent a delightful two days several years ago--it's the second time I've been invited back to a school I visited before.  My intensive travel year is nearly over--I've got a week of visits in May, and then it's all fun and games until September.

If you're at all interested in having me visit in 2018-2019, please contact me now. I sincerely doubt I'll be squeezing anything else into October, mid-November through the end of January are booked for my husband's surgical recovery, and spring is filling up really really fast. Plus it's still marginally possible that I'll have a new book out next spring--I should know for sure in a few months--and if that happens I won't accept new visits until the launch details are worked out.

So. Last night I dreamed of airports--no surprise--and Israel. I want to tell you about my flight home, and a boy named Yoshe (that's not his name; I don't use the real names of minors in my blog. But it could have been).

To understand my night you first have to understand the day. It was our last day in Israel. We woke early in Jerusalem, ate a good breakfast (how I loved Israel breakfast buffets! a multitude of offerings I'd never eaten before. Sashushka! Berochis! (I have no idea how to spell that) Persimmions! Potato Kugel! Gefilte fish! every day I'd take a serving of whatever I couldn't identify, take it back to my table, and ask my friends what exactly I was eating. Someone always knew.), staggered onto the bus, and drove to Tel Aviv. It's not far, maybe an hour. Unlike most of the places in Israel, which pre-date Christ, Tel Aviv didn't even exist until 1909, not in any form. It feels like a very modern city, nothing at all like Jerusalem.

First we visited the house where David Ben-Gurion, founder of the State of Israel and its first prime minister, lived. He had the best personal library I've ever seen; I think we all felt a longing for it. Then we went to an adjoining conference space and had some reflection on the trip as a whole. Then we went to Independence Hall, the former Tel Aviv art museum where Israel declared its independence in 1948. Then we were turned loose on the city for nearly two hours. Mara Rockliff and I went through the Tel Aviv market--I'd missed the tour of the Jerusalem market by opting for Yad Vashem. We ate some sort of lovely flatbreads at an outdoor stand, bought spices and halva, and I had my first ever Turkish Delight. As Mara warned, I was deeply disappointed. This was why Edward sold out Narnia? I think less of him now.

The market ended near the beach. We walked along it, searching in vain for somewhere without steep rocks, so we could wet our feet, and more successfully for a public restroom. Then back on the bus to another part of town, where we had a graffiti tour, which is exactly like what it sounds--a tour of graffiti on the buildings. By now it was getting darkish. We had our farewell dinner, highlighted by a talk given by one of Israel's leading modern writers, whose name I entirely forget, though I liked him.

Then it was 8:30 at night. The first flight out--the one that went to New York, not California--left at 11:10, and given the size of the plane and the scope of Israeli security we were actually leaving it a bit late, but we all made it. I was in seat 45J--that's the 45th row back, actually the ninth seat over, the aisle seat of a group of three against the far side of the plane. The window seat was occupied by a very nice woman from Boca who had been visiting family in Israel. The middle seat was occupied by Yoshe.

He was, he told us, eleven years old. He was slender, slight for his age, an ultra-Orthodox Jew whose long forelocks were pulled back and tucked securely into the edges of his kippa. He was fluent in both English and Hebrew and I have no idea where he was actually born, or lived; he was part of a family so numerous that the very small children were seated with the parents and Yoshe nowhere near them.

He delighted being alone. He delighted in the screen on the seatback in front of him, which showed whatever movies or cartoons or video games he wanted. He delighted in the dinner they served him. He was audibly pleased when the flight attendants announced that while the only meals they would be serving were dinner right after takeoff and breakfast immediately before landing, anyone who felt hungry during the 12 hour flight could go to the middle galley and pick up whatever snacks and drinks they liked.

I was worn out from the day and the trip. I was full from dinner. As soon as we took off I made myself comfortable, glasses and shoes off, wrist guards on, neck pillow in place and a light scarf thrown over my head. My superpower is sleeping on air planes and on this one I needed no medical assistance. I was whacked.

I'd barely shut my eyes when Yoshe tapped me gently. "Sorry-sorry," he whispered. He needed to get out, and he was too small to clamber over me without banging into me.

I removed my scarf, moved my legs sideways, and said, "I'm going to be sleeping this entire flight. Anytime you need to get out, wake me up. It's okay. I won't be angry." It was only fair. He grinned.

He went off, to the bathroom I presume, then returned via the middle galley carrying a can of Coke. I went back to sleep. He turned on his overhead light (the only overhead light on in the plane, a small puddle of light, not enough to disturb me), put his headphones in, and started watching movies.

When he finished the Coke, he whispered, "sorry, sorry," pushed himself past me, went to the bathroom, and returned via the middle galley carrying another Coke.

And another. And some pretzels. Half a dozen bags. And some Sprite, for a little change, and then back to Coke again. At one point when I woke to use the toilet myself he handed me two empty cans to throw away. Then it was his turn to get up. "Sorry, sorry."

His second or third movie, Despicable Me, cracked him up entirely. He giggled and giggled. I'd been perfectly happy moving six or seven times so he could pee and refuel, but this was too much. I raised my scarf. "Quieter," I said.

"Sorry, sorry." He reached to adjust the volume on the movie.

I said, "No. YOU."

"Ah." A big grin. "Sorry, sorry."

He was quieter. He kept drinking soda. He never once slept, not for one single blessed moment, whereas I, despite everything, slept for 10 hours. With interruptions every eight ounces or so.