The Hebrew tel’aviv means spring hill, although there is no hill in my city. Spring, too, is a distant memory. The red night sends lightning bolts from the posh suburb of Herzliya.
I close my eyes to capture some of the magic of the night. Bar-Ilan University spits out young girls in tight dresses and velchros. I clutch the newspaper that will be printed tomorrow under my sweaty armpit. The Bauhaus building that faces me seems to stare at me.
I am in the white city of Tel Aviv. The name of the neighborhood comes from Naomi Semer’s song: « From the foam of the waves, I built myself a white city. Bialik Street is discovered under a rain of fire: the bars send golden neon lights into the burning sky.
I have an appointment with a young journalist in the Sapphire café. She is waiting for me on the roof terrace of the café, sipping a dark purple grenadine. I wonder how many sugar cubes are in her drink. The radio in the bar plays a frenzied foxtrot. A bee lands on the table between us as I sit down. Really a lot of sugar, I think to myself.
— You’re really going to publish this paper, she sneers.
The street is full of people. Swarms of tourists fall on the street like crumbs drowned under the rain which intensifies. The evening is almost at attention in front of our wet eyes, and I realize that I haven’t eaten anything since the morning. I order a hamburger. The waiter brings me a kind of stylized half-hamburger in the kind of nothing to eat, so much for my wallet. I sigh. Jodi looks at me sideways. I think she’s in love with me. I decide to play it safe.
— I’m going to publish this paper, because… It’s important, you know. It’s like… It’s like that. I’m a professional. Can you give it to me now?
She pulls out of her black trench coat a dusty blue flash drive with a glittery flower sticker on it, which makes me pout with disapproval. As I wait for her to put it by my glass, I discover that I still have a leftover pack of Oreo in my bag. To compensate for the indigestible sophistication of the burger, I bite into a half of the oreo. Unfortunately, the second half falls on the floor of the café. I pretend I didn’t see it. Jodi runs her tongue over her lips. Her teeth have a slight finish defect. Is she too poor to get a new set of teeth? I bend down before a big pigeon comes along three meters away to retrieve my half-oreo crushed on the ground and I see the pink varnished tips of her Balenciaga shoes. Certainly, no, she’s not too poor, even if the newspaper is paying us for bits of sole. Then why? Some women have a total lack of perspective on their physical morbidity.
I shake my neck back and forth. The sky is loaded with big white threatening clouds. The sky glitters, we are well in summer that makes no more doubt. The waitress drops her green apron, picks it up and gives me a glare. She has an amazing chest. I do believe I’m successful right now, it’s about time to kick back and enjoy it, but I have to release a little revolution tonight.
I smile at Jodi like a monk at a hypocrite, I get up and slap her with a kiss from a distance – no way I’m touching her faded skin – I put a few shekels on the white table and my figure disappears in the August sun.
I take Allenby Street to Bialik Square, under the cackling of pigeons devoured by the heat wave. The birds have gone crazy. They would be ready to gouge your eyes out for a leftover steak. As I walk, I can’t help but look up at the protruding balconies with their distinctive ridged edges. The balconies cast a sharp shadow on the walls. A black pleated skirt swings from one of the balconies, almost all of which have satellite TVs. I hear a game of I don’t know what sport, quite loud.
The time is long gone when this neighborhood lived under the benevolent gaze of the poet Haïm Nahman Bialik who gave his name to the street. I remember these few lines from the holy writer. I find that they fit well with the summer sweat of these last days:
When the noon of a summer day
makes the sky a burning furnace
and the heart seeks a quiet place for dreams,
Then come to me, my tired friend.
A shady carob tree grows in my garden –
green, far from the crowds of the city –
whose foliage whispers the secrets of God.
Let us take refuge, my brother.
Let us share pleasure and tenderness
in the hidden sweetness of noon,
and in the mystery that the golden rays reveal
when the sunlight pierces the rich shadow.
I continue my way pursued by a handful of stray dogs. I stop only for a moment in my walk in front of the Avezerman building. I need to think. My thumb caresses the flash drive. I pull out my Comberton Ray-Bans and look at the sun. I feel invincible. Then I light a fresh mint cigarette that falls out of my hand. No matter, I relight another one, cursing. The wooden pergola of the building is damaged, the wind made devastations in the district. In a small ledge above the windows, a couple is chatting, their discussion looks lively. How many divorced people are there in the city? I squint. I am untouchable, the most daring journalist in the country.
Students from the Beit Leviim dance school walk past me laughing. One of them is pretty, with her chocolate hair up in a bun and her big grey-blue eyes wide open in front of the dust that stains the streetlights. I smile at her between the smoke of my minty white cigarette. A smoke screen separates us, the heat is too dense to try anything, so I continue my walk towards the city center.
A young guy in uniform leaning against the wall near the stairwell of a building with horizontal black stripes stares at me. I give him a wave, I keep walking. The sun swallows my last hesitations. I have to publish this paper.
Haaretz (literally, the country), Israel’s largest left-wing daily, is located near a store that sells hardware and sensational cherry chewing gum. I stuff my pockets with the latter, then ride the elevator to my boss’ floor.
A team of specialists are bent over computer screens updating all the data in real time in the main room. I glance at the big screen and knock on Norman Sher’s door.
— Mah atèn rotzot (what do you want) asks the old man. He looks like a ragged eagle. His piercing gaze pierces my open shirt. I don’t answer right away and I hear him ask me in his affected accent: « soukar o soukrazit » (sugar or sweet?).
I am speechless for a moment; the air-conditioning makes a deafening noise in the room.I would like to ask your permission to…
— Bèsha’ah tovah oumoutzlahat higa’ta larèga’ shètzarikh liqpotz lamayim vèlishot bè’atzmèkha (you have arrived at the right moment, the moment when you must jump into the water and swim alone.
I’m used to Norman’s strange remarks. I never mind, even though it’s often a waste of time listening to the old man. The air-conditioning burns my eardrums, I don’t answer, I’m still a bit dazed by his lunar remark.
— On this USB key, I announce to him, not a little proud, one can find the rigged campaign accounts of not less than fifteen political parties. Those in sight. I run my tongue over my lips.
Norman does not look at me, he is typing with a heavy imitation wood fountain pen on a glass panel. A photograph of his wife and daughter catches my eye. A bottle of whiskey hangs behind the old man. I hasten on to get his attention:
— Zèh lo hakol (that’s not all). Yèkholim limnot ‘od: miflègèt ‘olim hadashim, dovrèy rousit, sfaradim (We can still mention the party of new immigrants, Russian speakers, Sephardim)…
My dear boss looks drunk as an ox. His gaze pierces me, I am a ghost for him. I continue:
— … datiyim, hiloniyim, vatiqim, miflagot, ‘arviyot, miflagah lèma’an èikhout hasvivah (the party of the religious, the secular, the elders, the Arab parties, the environmentalist party). It is a re-vo-lu-tion, I tell him, detaching each syllable between my teeth moistened by my ambitious saliva.
I’ve talked too much, I know, and it doesn’t bode well. Norman finally looks up at me with his two big, drunken blue eyes and sweeps the room with his right hand.
— You talk too much. Do you think these numbers will captivate our readers? Because… because they don’t make sense? But mathematics is not meant to be logical, my friend. Mathematics must be the poetry that renounces the madness of men. Money doesn’t exist, mathematics doesn’t exist, it doesn’t matter. The poetry alone must bludgeon the spirits.
He is drunk, I am now sure of it. I shrug my shoulders. He’s talking nonsense. Tonight, it is almost possible for me to change the political life of the country. To make it more sincere. More honest. Yet this camel seems to want to make me fail.
— Poetry, continues the senile old man.
— These figures must be published. It’s not just math. They’ve been playing with the salaries of our citizens.
The window of Norman’s office opens violently. A young woman in a low-cut black dress comes to get the glass of whisky and a small ashtray left on the table. I sigh. I slide the flash drive to my boss over the desk in vain. He looks at it as if it were a lizard, then he bursts out laughing.
— You’re wrong, my young friend. People don’t give a damn about schemes and money. They want sex. Pink flesh, the passion of bodies that wash up on our beaches. The world has changed I grant you and I have done my time, but what? It is necessary to make with the reality. Mathematics does not count anymore. Only the infatuation of our readership counts. Our articles must be the poetry that the country lacks. You walked through the neighborhood on your way here, didn’t you? Didn’t you see the slimmed down figures? The silhouettes that merge with the turmoil of lack and melt into the rain? People are losing their jobs. The clubs fill up in Tel Aviv to better spit out the suffering of the clubbers in the morning. Have you not been taken aback, my young friend, by the disinheritance of our time? Our articles must raise the brow of our fellow citizens…
Fists clenched vertically and pressed against my dark blue Armani suit recently bought at the market (surely a copy), I decide to leave the room.
— Ein bè’ayot (no problem) I throw to the old man, like a spit. But he doesn’t hear me anymore and I can see his back still turning towards his bottle cupboard.
Once in the big room, some colleagues come to speak to me. Tal Benyezri has gone on a cruise with one of the gay singers from the group Arisa. The music of a pop band pulses through the room. How can you concentrate in a hellhole like this? I unzip my linen shirt and head for the bathroom. No one is there and I wash my face with ice water. Then I decide to take the day off. I run back down the stairs and go down into Tel Aviv to see what the old man told me.
The sun has disappeared. The evening stretches across the neighborhood, hanging on the sky by a few shy stars. My eyes are red, tired. I call Jodi to tell her the plan didn’t work, but she doesn’t answer. I buy a bouquet of roses from the florist near the newspaper and start walking. I don’t have anyone to offer my splendid bouquet to, but I want to give the change to my compatriots. I want them to think I am a good lover, instead of the journalist who failed to revolutionize Israel’s politics.
When I arrive at my apartment in the chic suburb of Herzliya, I take a bath. I turn on the radio, listen to a sizzling jazz standard while looking at the cracks in the white ceiling. I put on my black leather loafers and head back to the ocean. A big man in black and white suspenders greets me, it’s a politician, I’m sure of it even if I can’t remember his name.
The sea is calm, not a wave on the horizon. Groups of teenagers are joking noisily. The hum of a scooter reaches my ears. I massage my forehead, the headache is waiting for me. Patiently, I wait for the night to fall on the beach of Tayelet. A bar has installed deckchairs. I lie down in one of them and put my moccasins on the warm sand. A breeze refreshes me and gives me a shiver. Someone has turned on a radio. They’re talking about the latest reality show.
I still have the blue key in my right pocket. I get up suddenly, caught up in the bottomless night. Someone is taking a picture of a pretty girl in a long white dress. The flash devours my pupils. No matter, I walk to the ocean without looking back. Once the yachts are in sight, I grit my teeth, grab the object in my pocket, and silently throw it into the waves. I hear nothing, not even the dull sound the key should make on the water. Then I leave in a great burst of laughter, go home happily, bantering about the future. I want to dance, I want to smoke, I want to enjoy the crackling night away from my conscience, from mathematics and poetry. Haunted by the din of my city, I end up going downtown, sitting at a bar and striking up a conversation with a pretty girl passing through for the week.