Call me 'Miss Understanding'

My stay in Eilat has been a bit of a comedy of errors but it is still good to be here

By Julie Burchill, April 15, 2010

I've always laughed at people who say breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but when you take it in the swaggering sunshine of the Eilat seafront (look, Jenny Tonge, even their sunshine swaggers about like it owns the place - which it does) at the incomparable CafeCafe and it features a Cosmopolitan and a bottle of Yarden wine, I'm starting to think they might have something.

I'd already had my five-a-day (Hawaiian Tropic Factor 5 features mango, papaya, guava, avocado and passion fruit) so the way I looked at it, with the cranberry and the grapes, I was well ahead of the game.

When I asked the people I know in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem if they knew anyone in Eilat they could hook me up with, the reaction was not favourable, to say the least. Most were baffled; a couple were openly offended. Ooo, she's gone too far this time! God forbid Jews should have a bit of mindless fun and consumerism, seemed to be the attitude.

True, on the first night, I started thinking that maybe, just maybe, Nadia and I should have waited a tiny bit longer before returning to Israel.

Last time, we left it seven years; this time, it was three months. As we trooped back to the other half of the hotel restaurant, having inadvertently outraged kashrut, our embarrassment among these people we admire above all others was pathetic to behold. "But we only had vegetables!" I bleated, as onlookers gave us evil stares that implied that we had been attempting to force down the throat of a Jewish toddler a bacon sandwich washed down with a chocolate milkshake.

No one ever said that the Israelis were the politest of people

The next day, unbeknown to us, was Yom Hashoah, commemorating victims of the Holocaust. Not knowing this, when the siren started howling at 9am, we were prone on our loungers with our eyes closed, laughing away as usual when Nadia suddenly said, horrified, as she opened her eyes to reach for a cigarette: "Julie, everyone's standing up with their heads bowed. Even children."

We scrambled to our feet just as everyone sat down and resumed talking (probably about us and what a pair of disrespectful skanks we were).

It is not the easiest thing in the world to go to Israel. My poor friend, who is so philosemitic she makes me look like Abu Hamza (and so quick-tempered she makes me look like the Dalai Lama) has had the "Why are you called Nadia" line? put to her at the El Al desk so often that she has threatened to wear a sign around her neck saying in large letters: HELLO, MY NAME IS NADIA. MY MOTHER WAS ITALIAN AND MY FATHER WAS A SERB AND IN BOTH THESE NATIONS IT'S A VERY COMMON NAME. THE ARABS STOLE IT.

Yet she keeps her dander down a treat. No one ever said the Israelis were the politest of people. "Who told you that?" the checker-inner asked us when I said that I'd been told I might get an upgrade.

"The man from the Zionist Federation!"

She looked at me as if I'd said the Passover Bunny. But then went on to be extraordinarily helpful and kind.

You get this everywhere in Israel - the prickly-but-sweet thing. However, the prickliness appears to have increased. Eilat may be a funky seaside town, but the events of the past months - the cloned passports, the Biden "snub", the showdown with Obama over the proposed meeting with the Turkish and Egyptian leaders - give the visitor from abroad the distinct feeling of sunbathing in the last chance saloon.

An air of "might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb" hangs heavy over Israel, and I didn't blame the Israelis one bit. Even when, on the second night, I became so lame that I couldn't walk unaided and had to be half-carried, half-dragged back to the hotel by Nadia, wailing in pain as the Hebrew equivalent of "Look at that disgusting old drunk!" followed me along the strip. So, yes, to some extent it has been something of a comedy of errors but I am still glad to be here, immobile in the sunshine, the roar of jets loud overhead.

You pick your team and you stick with them, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. You walk a mile in their shoes and then judge. Even if, like me - temporarily I hope - you can't walk any more.

Last updated: 10:49am, July 9 2010


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