Here’s the second episode of Peter Donohoe’s diary in the Holy Land:
I kept myself to myself on the first evening, and ventured outside only to a local late-night supermarket. (I wrote a lot and watched TV, which, other than the local Hebrew stations, by and large comprises the same American mix as – in fact pretty well identical to – that which I saw in Bogota, Seoul, Auckland and in the UK on Sky, some of which is entertaining, some of which makes me lose the will to live and my toenails curl.)
However, on the second day, after our rehearsal with the orchestra (the Israel Symphony Orchestra based in Rishon LeZion near Tel Aviv), the conductor (the Australian, Kynan Johns, who studied conducting here with the founder of this orchestra, Noam Sheriff, some years ago) and I went off to Jaffa Old Town to eat.
What an extraordinarily beautiful place. I am not good at verbal descriptions, but imagine an American skyline of high rise buildings (Tel Aviv) on the other side of a bay from where you sit after dark in an ancient enclave of restaurants and bars by the side of a small harbour in a temperature of about 35 C. And great food.
Then there is the sea – the eastern end of the Mediterranean somehow reminds me of what I imagined as a child when I read the part of Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth when the explorers reach the Lidenbrock Sea – I am sure you know the bit. It may be fanciful and stimulated by foreknowledge of where I am, plus the late-evening haze, but I felt it very strongly.
The first impression that I can guarantee not to change with the days I am here is of the extreme openness and friendliness of most people. I don’t mean just people who know who I am and what I am here for, but almost everyone – in the supermarket, at the restaurants, the hotel – everywhere. Even the immigration guy at passport control smiled a welcome. I absolutely do not want to give the impression that I cannot see any problems, or to be obsequious about the place, but so far, it has been a real pleasure to be here.
To feel the history is particularly thought-provoking. People mention Jerusalem, Bethlehem, The Sea of Galilee, The Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Dead Sea in the same way as we in the UK mention Brighton, Burnley, Loch Lomond, Chichester Cathedral, The Cotswolds and the Lee Valley Reservoir – of course they do; they live here, and those places are present day living and working environments to them. My comment may seem silly to those readers who are either Israeli themselves, or who have visited. But to encounter for the first time such places in the present day real world, as opposed to either on the media or in the Bible at Sunday-school is spine-tingling to me. I felt it for slightly different reasons – as the history is so totally different – when I first crossed the Iron Curtain into Hungary 35 years ago, and in particular when I later first visited Siberia.
It makes me realise how lucky traveling musicians are to experience such things. Of course, we can all visit them on holiday, but I promise you that it is not the same as working together with the people in such diverse places as we do. The reality of actually living and working permanently is obviously going to be even more different to the impressions we have, and visiting musicians are for sure shielded from that. However, we get closer than any tourist – partly because we work with the locals at least temporarily, and partly because music is such an emotional experience that it opens up peoples’ hearts and one feels close even to audience members one doesn’t meet – in some places more than others.
Silly interlude: One of my wife’s favourite jokes, going back to her childhood: Q. ‘What do you call a male teabag?’ A. ‘A He-brew’. [Yes, I know it’s terrible, but it is so terrible that it keeps coming out at parties.]
Israel is a very small country, compared to the UK, and seems to be surrounded on all sides by enemies. However, it is protected to some degree by the democratic West – particularly the USA. It also has an extremely aggressive element itself, and contains hugely diverse cultural and political views; Zionism is one of them, and there are many different forms of that alone. Its Secret Service – Mossad – has the reputation of running rings round the CIA and MI5 and of having even given the KGB a run for its money. And it has what they called ‘nuclear ambiguity’. The less ambiguous countries are USA, Russia, China, UK, France, India and Pakistan. In all cases it is a good thing the others are in a position to fight back, and the same applies to Israel. But God help us all if Iran tries to put into action the ravings one hears about on the media – ambiguity or otherwise.
I cannot help but respond positively to Dorothy’s comment that the Jewish musical traditions and tomatoes comprised a good reason to live here; both of those items are wonderful. And some Halloumi I had yesterday was to die for, as was the avocado (I know they are not specifically Israeli, but they were very special). But the political, religious and historical significance of any country, plus the way it is regarded by the rest of the world, are things I am always aware of wherever I go, including the UK.