Highlands and Holy Lands: Observations from Civilisation


By Melchett Mike
August 27, 2012
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While I find a ten-day getaway, each year, to some remote part or other of the British Isles to be conducive to my state of mental well-being, it can also leave me feeling rather worse than when I left, constituting a much-needed break from life in this mad little place, on the one hand, but also a painful reminder of the ‘small’ things that we can never enjoy here.

Pulling into passing spaces to give way to oncoming cars on single lane country roads in the Scottish Highlands in June – always accompanied, of course, with a courteous, if perfunctory, wave of the hand – it occurs to me that such an arrangement could never work back home . . .

With the British and Irish, there is instant, mutual understanding of which vehicle of the two should enter the space, based on an assessment of relative: proximity to it at the point of cognition, velocity, vehicle size, etc.

With Israelis, however, such mutual consideration, and respect for the unwritten rules of the road, would, instead, turn into a potentially lethal game of “chicken”, with the driver with the more chutzpah and chest, back and shoulder hair winning the day.

I also enjoy, on my trips, the endearing ability of the English (especially) to talk enthusiastically on any subject, however ostensibly mundane. In an Ardnamurchan Peninsula hotel bar, one evening, I sit spellbound through a half-hour discussion, between the English proprietor and a patron, of the establishment’s problematic central heating system. Until the Croatia vs. Spain Euro 2012 kick-off brings a premature end to the excitement, I learn that boiler “recoverability”, not capacity, is what really matters.

I attempt in vain to imagine a similar scenario – and without audience mutterings of “ya Allah” (dear God) and “me’anyen et hasavta sheli” (literally, it interests my grandmother) – back home, where Iran, high-level corruption, making a fast shekel and plastic media ‘personalities’ appear to be the only subjects which animate.

The realization that my all too brief reintroduction to civilisation is at an end is always harsh and sudden, upon arrival at the Departures check-in desk, with the invariable, tense standoff between incredulous gentile airline staff and my adopted compatriots/Stamford Hill charedim muttering of anti-Semitism and beseeching that:

* the 20 kilo hold allowance really allows up to 35 kilos;

* the one-piece-of-hand-luggage rule does not preclude it being stuffed with weights or being accompanied onboard with an unlimited number of plastic bags; and

* the airline’s hand luggage size frame is not really binding, but for guidance purposes only.

Just in case I hadn’t noticed that I was back in Israel, on arrival at work the following morning, I am pinned to the rear elevator wall as I attempt to exit on my floor. The natives exhibit quite curious elevator etiquette: when elevator doors open here, those on the outside, rather than letting people exit, immediately stampede in, as if they have been tipped off that a buffet of burekas – cheese, potato, and spinach – awaits them at the back.

And my mind drifts back to those dreamy passing spaces . . .

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