Taxi Driver in Jerusalem

The cab driver’s clothing smells of cigarette smoke. He looks about seventy but I tell him he is too young to smoke. He asks, ‘You are doctor?’His throaty voice is the ashtray of a thousand smokes.

I confess I am a doctor and the driver changes the subject. He drives with dash and confidence, like the tank commander he used to be, a few wars ago.

 

He detects my foreigner’s accent in his own language and asks: ‘From which country you come?’

‘Australia. You?’

‘Here. Born here, in this city. Only here.’

‘Here’ is Jerusalem.

The driver starts to sing a love song to his city, the song of a faithful son sung to a mother. 

I listen to the words and as the singer’s voice thickens I take a peek. Tears glisten on the driver’s cheeks as he sings his song.

‘All my life in this city. I live in the house I born. Never leave, never change address. This my one home.’

 

The song ends as we approach our destination, the fruit and produce market. ‘You maybe visit other places, maybe Tel Aviv?’

‘Yes, we’re going there in a couple of days.’

‘I take you. Only 260 shekel.’

The price is fair. We agree. I give him the address and he will pick us up at 8.30 am.

‘I am best taxi in Jerusalem. My mother tell me I am best. Not my wife say this.’ A hoarse smoker’s laugh.

 

Eight-twenty we sit at the kerbside, two old tourists and two thirteen-year old grandchildren and four suitcases and sundry packages. Eight-thirty, still sitting. Eight-forty, a bit restless. I call the best taxi driver in Jerusalem. The recorded voice invites me to leave a voicemail. I do so. Eight-fifty, no driver, a new voicemail with a bit of an edge to it. At nine, no driver and my voicemail is choicemail. I end with, ‘Would your mother be proud of you this morning?’

 

A man pulls up in a brand new cab, a squat little vehicle with a raised ceiling, a sort of minimaxicab. Yes, the driver will take us to Tel Aviv. His price? ‘Two hundred forty. Is OK?’ Is more than OK. The cab smells of new car. The driver hums with the pleasure of his new vehicle and the vehicle hums up and down the great hills that surround the city and the driver tells us what we are seeing. Hill follows hill, hills unfolds into yet more hills and every hillside is dotted with dwellings and farmland. Yaakov – that’s our driver’s name – gives a quick history of every community. ‘This one settled by Hasidim from Rumania, that one is collective, built by kibbutzniks, you know, communists? This one – you see minaret? – a Muslim community. That one a “moshav”, cooperative farm, Palestinians and Zionists together, in one community. Down there, old tank, burned out, from the first war.’ And so the drive goes on, every hill telling a story, the same old stories, sad stories of conflict, stories of hardship, of failure, of success.

 

Yaakov’s phone rings, a woman’s voice. He listens and answers: ‘Yes, we arrive soon. I meet you at the beach. Yes, I drop customers, I come and we meet.’ Yaakov smiling, the smile a grandfather smiles on his way to a picnic on the beach with his daughter and the grandchildren.

 

The land flattens, the traffic slows and thickens, green gives way to cement, here is Tel Aviv, sparkling by its beaches, the light a blaze. We alight and pay and take Yaakov’s card. We will ride with him again.

 

The best driver in Jerusalem is forgotten. Two days later my phone rings. A voice thick with smoke says, ‘I miss your call. You want me?’ It takes me a moment to recognise the voice of the lachrymose singer of Jerusalem, his mother’s pride. Not his wife’s. I remind him of our arrangement.

’O yes, something happen. Family…’

I remind him of my family. I remind him he has a phone and our number.

‘Yes. Sorry for that.’

I ask, ‘Would your mother be proud of you this morning?’

The man’s voice, softer now, says, ‘No.’

I tell him he has shamed his city. ‘Do better next time.’

 

Exultation is

Exultation is 

The going out

Of an inland soul

To sea

The train leaves Southern Cross right on time at 7.10. No queueing, No Security. No fumes.

The price of a cup of coffee at Southern Cross does not amaze the buyer nor does the drink disgrace the bean. (The cup is of paper; you can’t have everything.) Once aboard, no safety sermons, no-one forbidding standing or moving about the cabin, no weight limits, no serpentine lines of tired, tense travellers with toddlers to repress.

How old fashioned this iron caravan. The carriage rolls, moving in its jazz rhythms forwards, side to side, moving as it did in the rides of childhood, in those long slow rides across time, across the wide, dry land, singing clickclack past silent mobs of kangaroo, putting to flight soundless pink-grey clouds of galah, slipping past indifferent cows looking at me in philosophic enquiry, rolling past stands of eucalypt, no two gumtrees the same, every one the same – whether elegant, smooth and pastel, or scarred, twisted and greygreen – every gum tree declaring I am Australia, I survive, I thrive, I endure, every gumtree bearing, proffering vital knowings.

Only the cabinet has changed. Gone is the sign requesting passengers not to use the appliance while the train is standing at the platform. A press of a button, an airliner’s hiss, and everything disappears without trace.

The twenty-first century city, where they’ve gone about as far as they can go, the city, with its looming concrete overpasses, its car-teeming freeways and tollways, its roar and bustle, its gouging, its uprooting, its foetid air and gritty, its smoking and choking, its babel towers rising up to the heavens, its pavements grey; this great, enfolding and alarming home to millions and to me; this violence, this violation, this nature denying, this horizon hiding, this coded mute cry, this city slips away. And I ride.

The ride beguiles. It seduces. It invites nostalgic romancings of the past, endless retrogression, convenient forgettings of how railways were themselves violators of countryside, the out of control, accelerating agency of dangerous change.

The train to Albury accelerates, exhilirates into the green.

And for all that nostalgia is malignant – 

acceleration is/the going out/of an inland soul/to sea

Past the houses, past the headland/to deep eternity…  

A nod to Yeats, a filching from Paterson and a bow and apology to Emily Dickenson.

Questions of Etiquette – Chapter One

English: Woman getting on a tram, Brisbane, 19...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Although this question is addressed to my women readers particularly, I will welcome the responses of all.

Imagine a doctor, male, say 67 years or so old, riding the tram in the Central Business District on a summer day in Melbourne. The old gent is surrounded by partially dressed women, most of them a good deal younger.

The doc’s eyes rest upon a patch of skin on the back of the shoulder of a younger female. At the centre of that patch, the doc catches sight of a pigmented area. He, the doctor, can see this. She, the spotted female cannot.

The doctor wonders about that spot. He peers more closely: is the spot pigmented uniformly? Is it black or merely brown? Are its borders regular or does it stretch its pigmented claws, crab-like, into the surrounding pink?

He cranes, then, conscious that he must appear to be exactly what he is – an older male scrutinizing an unwitting person, younger and female – he straightens. And wonders a bit and worries a bit. The skin spot is situated posteriorly, the lady’s eyes anteriorly.

This is what marriage was made for. When the Bible advises (as it does in Genesis) that a person leave the home of origin and take a spouse and become one flesh, it must be for the purpose of checking the spots on the spouse’s back. And vice-versa. The Bible does not specify any specific number of mole-kibbitzers, nor their gender. Clearly de-facto spouses (such as Adam and Eve were) are perfectly approved for mole patrol. Nowadays with marriage in flux and many settling for serial monogamy (with or without serial infidelity), the mole role loses continuity. This is regrettable. Hence the need for alertness on the part of tram-travelling mole watchers.

But what is the etiquette here?

This particular 67 year old gent has noted suspicious naevi on any number of female backs. One of those looked fairly innocent but not quite typical. The old gent advised the young woman to see a specialist who duly removed the mole, thereby saving her life. The naevus was a malignant melanoma. Continue reading