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Idiot That I Am

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A tale as told by a fool.

The year was 1977. I was working for a small regional airline, long since dead. They covered the province with the smaller planes, even turbo props, during the week, and did charters with the larger planes (707 and 727) on the weekends. The 707s had to be overhauled in Tel Aviv, once a year or every two years. The airline employees were allowed on the flights for the grand sum of twenty-five dollars return. I went for the first time in 1977, for five days. Having just separated from my husband, I had very little money, but the hotel room was inexpensive, about twenty-five dollars a night. I knew almost everyone on the flight and usually kept company with the security guard (Cecil), and an employee (Luigi) whom I knew, and his wife, Francine, whom I met on the flight. The four of us stuck together most of the time.

One day, while the two guys were otherwise occupied, Francine and I went to a restaurant without them. Francine did not speak much English and I usually was her spokesperson. She had pasta with meat sauce, and there was bread on the side. I asked the waiter, who happened to be Japanese by the way, if Francine could have butter for the bread, and the shocked waiter replied, “But no, Madame, we keep kosher.” Not being Jewish, I had not realized that I was asking for meat and dairy products together. My first blunder.

Several of the company’s flight attendants, whom I knew, asked me was I going on tour or did I decide to eat instead. They were single, had no kids to raise by themselves, and enough money to go on guided tours, which was not my case. So I told them: I eat, or I go on guided tours. Being the inveterate traveler that I am, it’s easy to know what won out. The first tour was to Jerusalem. Once inside the walled city, we first went to the Wailing Wall, where I, of course, went to the men’s side instead of the women’s. Not being Jewish, what did I know … blunder number two. We did the touristy things, the Via Dolorosa, the Saint Sepulchre Church, where Cecil bought a small bag of “holy” soil for $1.00. I told him: you just bend down, scoop up a handful of dirt, and it’s just as holy and costs you nothing.” But he was convinced that that soil had been blessed.

It was extremely hot, this was I October, and as we went through what resembled souks, shops that were really holes in the wall, some of them had meat carcasses hanging outside Never mind the flies … the stench was unbelievable, at least for sensitive European and North American noses. The guide told us to keep near her, to hold onto each other, which was impossible, what with holding my camera in one hand and pinching my nose with the fingers of the other.

The next day, the guided tour took us to the foothills of the Negev, passing Bethlehem, Hebron, Qumran—where supposedly the Dead Sea Scrolls had been discovered—and a bunch of other towns and villages. The guide forbade us to talk, it wasn’t good for her concentration. In a sense I can understand her, she had to speak in several languages. But it was very hard not to exclaim when we stopped to fuel the bus and two camels leisurely crossed the street. We were treated to how Israel dealt with the Bedouins, made sure their kids had at least some education, how the country worked their plans to irrigate desert areas and how green a certain place was. It sounded like the title of the movie “how green was my valley.” We were allowed exactly ten minutes in the Dead Sea. I can’t swim, which doesn’t matter because it is so salty that no one can. Blunder number three: I was floating on my back, and reaching for my camera, I somehow managed to get the tip of my little finger in the corner of one eye. It burned for hours. Then we went on to Massada, but because it was so hot, those of us who did not have a head covering were not allowed to go up. I managed to find something. We got a lesson on how they managed to get air conditioning of sorts 3,000 years before. By then we were all tired and not too interested.

No more events until the last evening. The four of us, Cecil, Luigi, Francine, and I went to a restaurant. The guys were dead set on having St. Peter’s fish, which is supposed to be “native” to the Mediterranean. I forget what I had, but Francine ordered what she thought were scampi and was horrified when her plate arrived with what looked like prawns, and she screamed: I can’t eat this, they still have their eyes in their head. The dish was removed, she ordered something else, which came out more or less the same. The evening was lovely, about 80 degrees F around nine at night, but it was ruined for Francine because of the food.

Now we get to 1978. The company flight attendants were on strike, and us non-union personnel, after having been trained, replaced them. All went well until we got to Tel Aviv, where we had to deploy the emergency chute. We pulled and pulled and the darn thing did NOT deploy. Eventually, we had to deploy it manually. We made it to our hotel, and were finally able to relax. We had the next ten days to do as we pleased. Of course, my magnet was Jerusalem. One day, I took a sheroot, a community taxi. I made friends with a lovely Sabra, whose name I have forgotten now. When we arrived in Jerusalem, the driver told me how much my share was, and a Jewish lady from New York (you coul tell by her accent) gave the driver hell, telling him he was charging me way too much. Meanwhile, this lovely Sabra invited me to her apartment to meet her boyfriend, whose name was Avi. I spent an hour or so with them before getting on the bus to the old walled Jerusalem city. Sitting on the bus next to me was an old Moroccan Jewish lady, whose daughter was living in Canada. When she learned where I was from, she begged me to let her daughter know I had met her and she was alright. I asked her name, and she said she couldn’t read or write, but she told me her daughter’s married name, and asked me to give her daughter her regards. She blessed me, and my children, and their children, for doing that. I as only to happy to oblige.

Now, this was a Friday afternoon, and they were getting ready to close for the Sabbath. Whose I don’t recall! I wandered the shops, and made friends (of course) with a bunch of guys in one shop. One of them was called Sammy, the other George, and he had a shop not far from there. He told me I could get whatever I wanted from his shop. What I wanted was a hand carved chess set. George’s were a bit expensive for my wallet. I meandered and finally found a shop where I saw a beautiful set, hand carved in olive wood, of course. The set was absolutely gorgeous, no two pieces were alike. It was fifty dollars. I said I wanted it for twenty-five. The guys in the shop said, “You want LIKE THIS for twenty-five dollars?” I said yes, I want like that for twenty-five dollars. So, eventually, they gave me “like that” for twenty-five dollars. I was so proud of myself! I somehow found my way back to the shop where I had met George, and told him, “See what I got for twenty-five dollars, much nicer than yours,” and he said, my dear lady, you only have HALF A SET! Was my face ever red! Never mind that it was Sabbath and the shops were closing, I rushed to where I thought I had bought that ‘half’ set, and that store was still open, even though it was past closing time. They must have figured I would be coming back! Then we started another round of bargaining. Some of the pieces were holding sticks, which, frankly, looked like toothpicks, but which were another five dollars. Well, I paid the other twenty-five dollars for the half set, and told them to ‘stick the sticks’. I can’t remember now, after all this time, if I got the sticks for five dollars or for nothing. What a blooming idiot I was! I made it back to the store where Sammy and George were waiting for me, and showed them that I had at least the complete set. They were happy for me. There’s no fool like an old fool!

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