Damn French

Posted: April 4, 2011 in Stuff

There are a lot of things I like about Gaza. Surprisingly, the food is great. Not in a ‘jus of this drizzled with reduction of that’ sort of a way. No, just hearty and delicious. Shawarma and falafel and hummous and eggplant dripping with olive oil and pickled everything else, what more do you need?

Turns out my taxi driver in Egypt was the rule and not the exception; all taxi-drivers force you to smoke a cigarette with them when you get into their cab. Trying to insist that you don’t smoke really doesn’t make much difference.

In fact, there’s a weird tension between trying to rip you off as a foreigner, which occasionally happens (to the tune of maybe 50p), and insisting that you are not allowed to pay for anything. On a couple of occasions, I have ordered coffee and the waiter has refused to let me pay – welcome, welcome. A Gazan would not receive the same treatment in Starbucks.

Coffee is great here too – small shots, flavoured with cardamon, doesn’t make my palms clammy, and a good thick sludge in the bottom, perfect for tasseography (look it up).

Weirdly, I actually find this city quite beautiful. Sure it’s covered in rubbish, but I gotta say, I love walking on compacted sand rather than tarmac, and I love whitewashed walls and blue skies and bright sunlight. What’s not to like? Even the Arabic graffiti, which I can’t read, looks cool.

Yesterday evening I went to a picnic area by the beach with my boss and his three kids and two older Swiss psychodramatist ladies. In fact, I’ve been helping these two Swiss ladies with the English translations of their accounts of conducting psychodrama groups with traumatised Palestinians. Psychodrama sounds pretty horrific to me; as if the original trauma wasn’t bad enough, you have to act it all out a second time. Sure, it can be valuable to process painful material which has been repressed, but does it have to be through drama? Personally, I find acting pretty traumatising in itself. But apparently the Palestinians found it therapeutic.

So I shoveled in some more delicious spiced meats, then I kicked a football around with the boss’ three boys. Everyone has so many kids here. In part, it’s a form of resistance. Everything here is political. And that can give mundane things a certain poignancy. A flower pot placed in a patch of sunshine seems to mean something more here, to symbolize a people’s struggle for growth towards a brighter future. Or perhaps the pot had just been in someone’s way.

Here’s another weird thing. This is Gaza, where everything is supposed to be ultra-conservative and strict and so on. And in some ways, it is. But then everyone smokes in their offices, and when someone’s mobile goes off in a meeting they feel no shame in answering and chatting quite loudly, and people do u-turns where the hell they want and generally drive as if they were off their heads at sunrise in Ibiza.

My friend B was back from the West Bank where he goes to join his wife for the weekends. He works for the UN where he has a great job, but the funny thing is, he is not allowed to go anywhere unless he is in a bullet proof UN jeep. He’s been in Palestine for at least 5 years and he thinks these security measures are totally unnecessary, but he’d get in a lot of trouble if he didn’t obey them. He basically just gets ferried backwards and forwards from his office to his apartment. It’s funny because he is a wild one and we used to roam together in the glory days when he made the fat doc look like a lamb.

One night we were drinking a sweet blue spirit called aftershock. Next morning B came down while the fat man was washing up, with blue washing up liquid. I passed B a pint glass full of the stuff, somewhat diluted, and B, thinking it was aftershock, knocked it back as was his wont in the glory days. Then he looked sorry and ran up stairs and started vomiting into the loo and all the while the fat man running behind and chortling ha ha ha, and then B vomiting more and it was bubbles, just bubbles! Oh the glory days.

Anyway, the wind started to blow and I tired of kicking the soccer ball, so I said goodbye and left, just so. And that too is easily done. People here just come and go as they please. Now if that isn’t freedom.

Then I went to join B who was having dinner with his French wife in a hotel also nearby. But really it was a very fancy hotel, who’d have thought? The dining hall was enormous, maybe like on the Titanic. And I spotted B across the room – he is distinctive – and I waved, then I walked and walked and walked, and eventually got to his table. And I met his wife, only for the second time, and we talked a lot, but not about the glory days because wives do not like that.

All this time I had also been thinking how wonderful it is that there is no booze here, and no women. Well, there are women, but Palestinian women are all wrapped up and do not provide fodder for Onan, although maybe that’s because of the fear of decapitation. And the only other women I had seen were the two senior psychodramatists, and my friend’s wife. But it’s a wonderful thing, no booze or women, because the mind stays clear and calm always.

There were some women in the dining room of the Titanic, but it was not enough to destabilize, they were do-gooder women and probably hairy everywhere and rivaling the good Doctor in girth, at least some did. Now A, the wife of B, said, ‘Oh la la, there is the table of the French documentary team. They are here filming the children of Gaza for a week. We should say hello. You should meet the presenter of the film, she is so beautiful.’

Pah! thought the fat man and B, for B was eating a dish of melted cheese (which is his favourite), and I thought, ok, so maybe not as hairy and corpulent as toutes les autres, but, for onanistic purposes, the fat man likes pretty and petite and all the lovely things that he is not.

So, world weary and sagging of paunch, we trundle over to the table, and there I meet this:

Her name is Melissa Theuriau and yes, she is utterly ravishing. It made me so angry. What the fuck does she think she is doing here? Gaza is not a place for petite sexy French girls. And, goddammit, if she’s here filming a documentary about Gazan kids, she might even have a brain, maybe a heart? Perhaps she thinks about more than designer handbags? Sacré bleu! She has a husband too, as it turned out, but that didn’t help – the equanimity had been upset, and now I wanted a drink. Fortunately I couldn’t have one, so I left with A and B and was cheered up when they had to wait while THREE security guards coordinated the surveillance of the 200m stroll back to their apartment, and I walked freely in the night.

Then I got home and Onan the Barbarian was on tv.

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