27 March 2010

The start of a few things at the end

I’ve learned a few things along the way. Probably very little things at that, but perhaps significant to the narrative.

The array at breakfast is enormous. Salads, fruits and vegetables, an assortment of cheeses, varieties of breads and lately matza (not for me and not until Pesach), juices, eggs, cereals, not dishes, only some of which I recognize . . . perhaps one can only imagine. The service tables extend the length of the rooms.

For me it is excessive. I have learned that I want simply my coffee in my mug and a small slice of bread. Sometimes some hot cereal, or sometimes a single egg omelet. Only one of these, mind you, and not all of them at once.

I grow tired of touring. I know at some point I will recall Be’at Sh’ean, but right now I remember nothing about my visit there. Israel for me is like a great museum, and when I go to a museum (rarely) I focus on one or two rooms (or one or two paintings) and then I choose to leave. It isn’t the seeing of the artifact, but the study of it, and the latter requires time and concentration, some important study and conversation. The artifact alone, out of any context at all, is meaningless, and only the individual can give it the necessary context to make it expressive in the story that I am writing.

Touristing should be done more leisurely. Of course, this was the intent of the Grand Tours made by the wealthy in the nineteenth century. I have learned I have not the means nor the mind to do so.

And so the tour guides tell the story, and offers broad summaries, lists a few titillating details, must always be speaking or ready to speak, can even answer (depending on the expertise of the guide) many of the questions. But in fact, though they know their subject, more or less, they do not know their tourists at all, and so the story they tell is impersonal—as too much history has always been narrated. And at the obscene additional customary tip of 400 shekels a day, the guide represents serious excess. I have learned to minimize my contact with tour guides.

There is no way to learn a country as a tourist. We keep eating at the restaurants they let us see, or that we can easily find. We talk only to the people who can talk back to us, and we are prisoners of our own culture. And how do we know we have found the real experience unless we are told by a native, or have our experience confirmed by some citizen of the realm. I have learned not to see the authentic.

I have learned the pain of a broken heart, and I did not need to be away from home to experience that.


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