I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in that: at some point in my life I realized that I loved travelling. I even felt I could do it forever and never get tired, so I started asking myself: “how can I realistically make it happen?”
Then some experiences helped me realize something more: I was travelling already and actually I had never done anything else.
Life feels more complicated and less pleasant than a travel because it forces us to deal with relationships and consequences in the long term, but this is precisely what we need: real knowledge and understanding cannot be achieved with short and occasional contacts but requires longer periods of interaction and integration.
So living is travelling and travelling is living. Our daily steps, be they close or far, are our home (cit.) and our life is the big trip already: just slightly shifting one’s perspective is enough to become aware of that. No need to even switch places.
Being a curious person I’ve always loved learning and luckily the world is just too much of a giant amusement park for learners.
One must also recognize that, beside being a marvelous travel, life is an amazing novel and honestly I could have never imagined what was in the pages with my name: of all the places I was considering travelling to, Israel was as unknown and absent as “Grønland” (and now I can be pretty sure that Grønland is amazing too, even though I still know nothing about it).
I really knew nothing about Israel. That’s why I had never considered travelling to it and that’s how heavily we are limited by the boundaries of our knowledge and imagination: it really is not just a teacher’s slogan that the quest for freedom entails exercising knowledge and imagination all the time (by the way: dear professors, I apologize if I thought it was just meaningless old-people speech when I was young and wild).
The first page of this travel started with falling in love with an amazing Israeli girl (she’s also my editor). We now live together in Israel but then the novel went on with some quite unbelievable coincidences that connected me with this country even more.
Don’t worry though: I’m not going to bother you with long personal stories for my Ego’s satisfaction but rather to share experiences from a foreign resident’s perspective about the local life, the cultures and the languages.
I’m currently studying (and a bit wrestling with) modern Hebrew, which is Israel’s most spoken official language (the other one being Arabic). English is considered semi-official and it is widely spoken especially among the younger and Israeli-born; it is spoken at a very good level too, so English-speaking visitors will feel quite comfortable while touring.
But apart from official languages and resident cultures, I’m now convinced that in Israel there must be almost as many spoken languages and imported cultures as there are on this planet and that makes it an even more interesting and stimulating place.
The one thing that is necessary in order to fully appreciate a new experience is to let go of your preconceptions and expectations. This is especially true when getting to know another country and surely even more so when getting to know Israel.
That’s why I decided that this first post will be more of a slow start to help you getting along with your inner eraser (which you’re going to use a lot).
If you’ve never lived in Israel then what you might think about it is, with near-100% probability, very much inaccurate and/or even plain wrong.
Just accept it and get on. I’m telling you not because you should feel ignorant but because that’s what happened to me with my own idea (and I felt very ignorant, yes, but that happens to me all the time so I’m kind of used to it).
If instead you’re already aware that your opinion has to be burnt to ashes or you don’t have one at all, then you must be wiser than me (and so much for the better, of course).
As for myself, I had initially only the very vague idea that, I suppose, many other people from Europe hold: a relatively young country with a Jewish majority surviving a bit by the sword in a more and more boiling middle-east.
This is not completely untrue but it’s a view as restricted and minimal as defining Italy, which by the way is my birth country, in terms of catholic churches and priests, pasta and pizza (and of course mafia, funny people that are mostly sexual maniacs and embarrassing politicians, sorry for forgetting about that).
You see my point: first of all let’s do some initial cleaning and I think that what you’ll see after landing at the Ben Gurion Airport, just on the outskirts of Tel Aviv, will work well for a start.
The security will stop you, either at Passport Control or even before that, and will ask you questions; some may seem quite personal about your intentions in the country and your Israeli contacts and the officer’s attitude may range, very honestly and apparently, from a grudge to the kindest in this world but they will always operate in very professional and accurate way. And with an impeccable English.
You’re in Ben Gurion now: a very beautiful and modern airport, the only Israeli international one, that recently reached the 4th place in Conde Nast Traveler‘s annual Reader’s Choice Awards. With free, easy to use and working Wi-Fi. Of course.
If you expected to see instead an old building falling to pieces with camels going ’round, merchants shouting and stuff covered in scratch and sand you’ll have to rethink: of course there are such places in middle-eastern Israel and you can visit them. I actually think they are pretty interesting and charming but the airport is most definitely not one of them and I believe that’s a good thing because like this it can work for pretty much everyone.
Okay, so we’re basically in a western-friendly, boring golden cage seen so many times in so many modern airports around the world, aren’t we? Well… Not quite, at least in my opinion.
You start by noticing the typical stone used in many Israeli buildings, the different designs and architectures, Jewish gift shops, ultra-orthodox guys dressed in their traditional clothes distributing prayers (to you too, and giving up a bit sadly but very respectfully if you’re not Jewish), signs written from right to left in a squared script you’ve possibly never seen before (it’s Hebrew) and also in what you recognize as maybe Arabic.
You’ll also see all kinds of people in all kind of styles, from modest or even openly religious (for example with veils or kippas) to definitely quite the opposite. From tall blond eastern-Europe girls to colored guys to middle-eastern complexions of several kinds to many different eastern Asia people and many, many more. Just name one and there it is.
But that’s what happens in international airports, isn’t it? People of any kind from anywhere going ’round and then taking a plane to some anywhere else.
Well yes, except a substantial amount of those people are in the public area with a very relaxed attitude and are not going anywhere, or at least not today: they speak Hebrew and/or Arabic, or maybe English or Russian with you or occasionally with local relatives, or maybe regularly with inbound relatives. They’d switch seamlessly between them and some of them are still waiting for someone with a flying “I love you” or “Welcome” balloon in their hands, and maybe flowers, too.
Because they are not travelers, they are Israelis.
By the way, and just for the record, these somewhat unexpected but very warming scenes are really commonplace at Ben Gurion, much more so than anywhere else I’ve been.
Anyway… Strange and nice, isn’t it? But why is that so? We’ll talk about it. For now we’re just erasing preconceptions by pure mean of observation, remember?
Time to get a train. You walk outside and you get run over by an even stronger middle east wind: the exotic and tasteful architectures, the hotter weather, the omnipresent small and big gardens with Mediterranean and tropical plants as well as dazzling colored flowers.
You easily buy a train ticket at the automatic machine with cash or credit card and follow the Hebrew/English signs to your platform. There, more gardens and plants await you from the center of an incredibly clean walk and you can purchase something to drink or eat from brand-new vending machines while young musicians play something live a few steps away.
The train arrives just on time. It is comfortable and cheaper compared to many places in Europe and it, too, has free, easy to use and working Wi-Fi. Of course.
You sit close to an Indian-looking girl with the latest smartphone, in front of her a young man dressed à la mode jeune working on a recent MacBook Pro and wearing a kippa on his head. Beside him sits what you guess must be a young Muslim observant woman with the hair covered and with trendy sneakers, probably a student.
“What are these people, languages, places, services, modernity? What is this westernized Mediterranean / Middle Eastern melting pot?” you’ll catch yourself wondering.
It is Israel.
Now you’re left with a definitely emptier mind, travelling through a place out of this world to fill your eyes with. But it’s not out of this world, it is just out of your world, out of your mind. For now at least, and for a while because there’s so much to see and to learn.
!ברוכים הבאים לישראל
“Barukhìm haba-ìm leIsra-èl!”, lit. “Blessed are those coming to Israel!”, a commonly used Hebrew phrase with a Biblical taste that is often translated with a much less welcoming “Welcome to Israel!”.