From the plane we could see the line marking the bright sands of the Tel-Aviv coast beneath us and knew that we were nearly home. For once we were returning in daylight so that it was not the myriad lights of the city that twinkled to welcome us back. The green-brown-yellow patchwork of fields, houses, buildings several storeys high and flat-roofed village houses all looked serene in the afternoon sunshine. It’s a far cry from the lush, leafy landscape of rural France but it’s home.
Coming back to Israel is a mixture of sounds, sights, scents and emotions. Do passengers anywhere else in the world applaud a pilot’s smooth landing? Even on an Easyjet flight? Do customs officials anywhere else consider it perfectly acceptable to examine your documents, then hand them back to you without saying a word? Do airports anywhere else in the world have large signs welcoming you to their country? Is it perfectly normal to hear people around you speaking in at least four different languages, sometimes in the same conversation?
I think not. Anyway, it’s good to be back on familiar ground after an absence of two months. A short ride home to Mevasseret (with a stop at the famous Caravan restaurant in Abu Ghosh, where we’re greeted like old friends, to scoop up some humus with freshly-baked pitta) and it soon seemed as if we had never been away. Forget courtesy on the road, forget acting as if you have all the time in the world, this is Israel where you take your life in your hands every time you get in a car. But one soon gets used to the different pace of life, and as we drove down our long, narrow street, made even narrower by the cars parked on either side, it felt good to enter the familiar portal of our house and breathe in the familiar scent of jasmine in the garden.
Whenever I ask anyone in Israel how their summer was they reply ‘hot, unbearably hot.’ The temps were in the high 30s for about eight consecutive weeks, and everyone suffered. In France we had about ten days of it, and the radio was constantly broadcasting warnings, saying ‘Attention. Canicule!’ and telling people to drink a lot of water and stay out of the sun. In Israel even though it’s taken for granted that you know that you should drink a lot (not alcohol) and stay out of the sun, the long spell of excessive heat did get quite a lot of media attention.
It’s nice to be able to go to the supermarket and not be confronted by a bewildering array of foods. Not that there isn’t a considerable range of options of all kinds – even cheeses – in our local supermarket, but at least I more or less know what the various names mean. It’s particularly nice, too, to be able to understand every word of the news on the radio, and when it comes to the classical music programme there’s a distinct advantage in having one that contains more music than verbiage. And of course, there are the concerts that await us – the Israel Philharmonic with four Mahler symphonies, the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra with a rich and varied programme, etc., etc.
But the main thing about being back in Israel is being reunited with our family and friends. It’s a delight to be together with our children and grandchildren again, even if it means cooking for fifteen people instead of two. It’s great to be able to pick up the phone and speak to siblings and friends and relations whenever the fancy takes one (well, almost). And it’s especially handy to be able to consult one of my sons whenever a computer problem crops up – as it invariably does.
If only we could bring some of France’s cool summer weather to Israel our life here would be perfect.