Behind Steel Doors

A view from my window

I was sitting out on the balcony and the wind blowing through the apartment changed direction; with a sudden gust, it slammed the bomb door shut with an enormous bang seemingly shaking the whole building. There is nothing like the shockwave of the heavy door banging shut and it seldom happens but its sudden shattering of the peace brought other realities to the fore and I realized that I tend to take some things for granted already.

The bomb door is something we all live with, in these concrete towers and, as life goes on and we fall into our day-to-day city routines, we tend to take for granted the state of peace we live in and the freedom that we are blessed with.

I call it the bomb door, it’s the outer door to the bomb room and it’s a refuge for the whole apartment should any of those rockets that sometimes fly in get this far, but mostly it’s my bedroom. With extra steel shutters on the window and the steel door behind my door, I feel very safe. As safe as I have felt in the past, surrounded by elephants at night; at home, my old home.

Above me are 14 floors of much the same and our tower is flanked by yet more towers. To the right, as I look south, there is an unfinished building that has grown floor by floor over the first few months of being here and, having reached its height, is now in the process of getting dressed in its final form for the property market.

Through the gap between us, looking south, lies one of Hod Hasharon’s last strawberry fields and beyond that, an open field with lonely old farmhouses encased in gardens with giant old trees beyond. Every now and then, the flash of the red double-decker commuter train to or from Tel Aviv flashes by behind the houses and beyond it all, is the built-up suburb of Kfar Saba, with dust stained white walls, red-tiled roofs, and plant-filled balconies.

Our western view from the balcony is fairly open for a stretch thanks to a school and a gymnasium and basketball courts that provide a larger gap to some of the towers that block the left hand side of the view, with some unfinished buildings still wearing their scaffolds and cranes and, in the distance, yet more crane ridden concrete towers that grow the horizon ever so slowly.

Looking past all that, to the northwest, we see far over the Ranaana Herzlia highway, over the roofs of Kfar Saba to where the weather comes from, sometimes blowing in hard off the Mediterranean.

With it out of sight, it becomes out of mind and although the beach and the sea are only a few km away we tend to forget our close proximity. The Med’s eastern seaboard and our western boundary, is quite significant geographically, especially the way the European and Asian migrant birds use it as a route down to Africa and it makes for a wonderfully different world of nature to explore and discover. Sadly, I haven’t explored much, yet, but I am strong enough and positive that it is only a matter of time.

Living inland, everything I tend to do lies within a small radius of the distance from here to the hospital. Rising before the sun three times a week to take my place at The Machine, has become routine and effortless, it is a necessity. I love the silence in the concrete canyons so early in the mornings as well as in the middle of the night when all are still in slumber.

Tom

It’s usually in the middle of the night when I am called out to the balcony by my master, Tom. He sleeps all day; as any self-respecting cat is wont to do and expects me to wake up and play at all hours of the night. Games he has taught me to play.

He invented a box game. Well, he thinks he invented it but little does he know that cats, in general, are genetically predisposed to the attraction to boxes but nonetheless, we have a specific game that requires my input and so I am powerless to protest. The box is regularly replaced as each one becomes shredded but it is an integral part of our relationship and an equally important prelude to the string game, played with a favourite piece of red string. To most cat people, that needs no embellishment.

Anyhow, the northern face of the building has all of our bedroom windows and we look over the main road and traffic circle to a plot of open ground to the left and a small quarter acre park to the right, with a huge mulberry tree, rose gardens and Flamboyants that become aflame with red when they eventually bloom in mid-summer. For now, a few small jacarandas are finally showing their colours but are not flowering as profusely as they did last year (yet) and the one and only over-pruned African Tulip tree has a few brilliantly defiant flowers sprouting out of the top.

The open plot of ground is relatively unsullied by humans and dogs but it is a hunting ground for the odd feral cat and, to my surprise, one day, a cat like my Duma and like Cat at Kum kula, strutted her stuff and stalked some birds. I regularly see the local kestrel in one of the syringa trees and when the plants are not so high, and I’ve been birding there, I’ve been surprised by an Israeli sunbird and wattled starlings and still can’t identify the little cisticola that is way too shy.

Sunbird Cinnyrus sp


Beyond all this, as the land rises to the north, and up the hill and out of sight, is the small commercial district that I call Town. There are few shop-lined streets and a park, with establishments that cater to the daily needs of its surrounding community.

There is the vegetable shop on a corner, that bares its produce out on the sidewalk in tilted trays in waves of colour, luring you in to the variety within.  My pharmacy and doctor’s office are a couple of blocks the other way with the pet shop for Tom’s food and toys in between. It is only a short walk to this little shopping mecca and with a slight incline, it has been instrumental in me regaining my health and strength over the last few months. And with it, my courage to venture out.

Jaffa

Having Fabienne here and feeling so much more human than I have in so many moons, we ventured further out, bussing it to Tel Aviv and the old city of Jaffa; walking the stone cobbled streets lined with ancient stone walls, down narrow staircases that echoed the sound of jazz coming from a museum, to one of the oldest ports in the world, and with this age comes a wonderful atmosphere and a place steeped in tradition and history. It is an old city that has been through countless wars, seen countries fight over occupation, but stands today as a melting pot of culture and flavour and while it may be a bit commercialized and has become a tourist attraction, there’s something to be said about walking foot polished stone that has seen thousands of feet walking their alleyways.

Most of the narrow staircases wind down to the old harbour where the warehouses and offices of the old port are transformed into trendy bars and seafood joints with tables out on the wharf, speakers playing good beats and fishing boats and fancy yachts rising and falling with the tide, their lanyards rattling on masts and flags flapping in the wind. All around, seagulls compete with cats for scraps that are bound to be found.

Beyond the old gates to the city in the old streets that grew from Old Jaffa, there are a few square blocks of a rather intense commercial district. Shops of middle eastern trinkets and treats that spill out onto the roads and alleys and there is a festive mood every single day. It gets noisy and a bit crowded at times but there is an overwhelming feeling of fun. There seems to be no end to the restaurants and shops and flea market stalls and it is a bit of a time warp, stepping out of this other world and, just around the corner, the 88 bus back to Tel Aviv and traffic moving around the huge traffic circle in apparent ease. There is little I have experienced to compare it to. So we went back, another day. And I’m sure there will be many more bus rides to Jaffa.

A much shorter bus ride in the same direction takes me to a small eco-park. It is a fairly new creation on the edge of a wetland and also bordering an industrial and business area on the outskirts of Hod Hasharon.  It reminds me of another little wetland that bordered on industria not far from my childhood home in abutting suburbia.

Cormorants at the eco-park

Anyhow, the Eco Park is a small man made lake with aquatic and waterside vegetation that has attracted a wonderful composition of birdlife and the fish polulation ensures a healthy diversity of kingfishers, cormorants and herons. It has become a great place to sit at and watch a bit of nature unfold.

And such is my new life. In this day to day existence within such a diverse human microcosm, one tends to forget the fact that we are surrounded by hostility and a real threat to this wonderful sense of peace that all Israelis have created. All that changes when the rockets start flying in and recently, the latest barrage of hundreds of rockets have been a perfect example of how, like the slamming of the bomb door in the wind, reality can suddenly push that peaceful family feeling aside and bring the face of reality to one’s door.

We live somewhat north, out of the range of fire from Gaza but we were still given a bit of a rude awakening one early morning a few weeks ago when a rocket hit just south of us. I heard the blast as I was waking up for dialysis and the subsequent air raid siren that cut through the crisp morning air and reverberated off the concrete canyons seemed to echo forever.

Still, it is all a relatively distant threat and lends more toward the political so I won’t go there. Mostly one gets on with day to day necessities and the general atmosphere is very positive.

No words can describe my loss of Mopane Grove. There is nothing that can replace what it represented to me, to my access to not only elephants but everything that is Nature in that land of Mopane. It is bound to induce melancholy at both thought and memories and sometimes it comes to the point of fondness of memory overriding the sadness and, knowing that it is in good hands, that I was just a blip in the time of its history like an elephant passing through. For me, though, it was a lifetime. Twice.

We have been sailing again. My wonderful cousin and seaworthy captain of note, Rael, has taken us out to sea again and these outings on the med, away from land, are now equivalent to finding that perfect spot out in the bush to watch the sun go down. If I can’t have an ele sunset, I’ll settle for dropping the sail and drifting miles offshore and watching the sun hit the sea.

Sailing out away from the mainland is akin to being in a remote area surrounded by miles and miles of “the bush”, a vast unknown but mostly, a 360 degrees of freedom and isolation. Especially when I jump overboard and drift, facedown in a vast blue entity, my limited underwater vision making out only the sharp angles of the sunbeams that dance and cut through the water. It is an absolute luxury.

From my confinement in hospital, when there were times that I thought I’d never leave, to have such a new life is so much of a step that I will be forever grateful for the support of all of the people around the world that sent prayers and wishes, for the way my family adjusted their lives to accommodate me and continue to be there for me.

So, here I am! A new citizen in an old world. I am surrounded by patriotism that I haven’t experienced since we made a new flag in SA. The fact that we have just had the nation’s anniversary celebrations might have a lot to do with this feeling especially because there is such a display of national pride associated with the annual celebrations.

Flags fly on balconies all around the concrete canyons and the buildings have hundreds of feet of flag-emblazoned bunting that stretch from the 15th-floor roof to the ground. Cars fly the flag on special things that fit in their windows and it is a time of a variety of celebrations, the early summer emergence of life also coming to the party.

I’m doing fine, I am doing well. I am focusing on my next phase in this new life and I thank each one of you who follow and read my ramblings, I don’t know where I’d be without you all.

All y’all!

To conclude:

Twenty years ago, I bought a twenty-year-old land rover that became “The Landie”. That trusted little green series three with its canvas top. We covered the whole country but had the best times with the lion and elephants of Mansimvula. It is being cared for not far from its old home, in Hoedspruit and is waiting for me to return.

The part of the world I now live in is as interesting geographically as it is in its diversity and with it all to still explore, I am about to take ownership of another twenty-year-old land rover and there can only be good times to follow and many miles to cover.

Lotsa Love!

And… a flower….for the ladies….

Tel Aviv from the old city of Jaffa.