Someone making a film of Kitty’s life could well call it “The Birds.” They give her no peace. Mainly at early morning or at dusk, when they make an agitated din from the trees in the courtyard, but at other times of day too when there are likely to be a few flitting around out there, they give her a spectacle from her window-ledge seat that fascinates, frustrates, and addicts her.
It has to do — I infer from her expression and body language — with the chutzpah of these small creatures who presume to exist, and even to move rapidly, outside the range of her fangs and claws. Sometimes one of the big wagtails even seems to shout at her from a safe perch, and Kitty answers with a strange, harsh sound she makes by quivering her jaw. It’s an ongoing “dialogue” and it has no resolution.
So I cannot say the scene in the apartment, even at earliest morning, is one of peace, with the birds in their uproar and Kitty watching them in her predatory derision. That includes me. An early riser, I’m likely to be awake at this hour too, but no more in peaceful reverie than Kitty is. Instead I’m likely to be a few meters away from her on the sofa, bent over the morning paper. It arrives all too early, around the time the first bird starts peeping, and I can’t ignore its presence down there in the mailbox any more than Kitty can ignore that sparrow flitting from branch to branch.
It wasn’t always like this. There was a time when I was very attentive to the peace of morning and perceived much serenity in the world. Though already interested in politics, I was more into poetry and loved the nature passages in Wordsworth and Whitman. I would have considered it blasphemy to read a newspaper at such an hour, at least deferring all that grayness to the profane time of the workday.
But politics came after me. There was too much news from Israel for me to live peacefully in upstate New York. What was I doing, reading Faulkner, writing short stories that seemed to be in an American tradition, while “my people” were under siege over there? It seemed I was living in two worlds. One I associated more with land, greenery, and artistic creativity, the other more with moral intensity. But if I opted for the latter, what would happen to the former? What would happen to me as a writer if I left my linguistic and cultural roots behind for a little, distant place that called to me mainly from the pages of newspapers and political magazines?
My fears were, of course, exactly right. I began, in the Holy Land, to lose touch with my old mainstays, that endlessly spreading land that evoked such lovely words from its poets and fiction writers. In Israel too, of course, there’s a land and beauty and poets and fiction writers, but unless you know Hebrew from a young age you can’t connect with it in the same way. It was a gradual process; for years I kept writing my short stories in English, but they became more abstract and symbolic and weren’t getting much attention, and meanwhile I was doing more and more of a different kind of writing, a kind that’s mired in political and moral urgencies, more likely to come from agitation than from “emotion recollected in tranquility.”
“No no no, no peace I find” — it was an American artist, Ray Charles, who used to sing that, swinging his head down fiercely to the right as if to hammer home the words. You can come to Israel for many things, but peace isn’t likely to be one of them. Yet we’re doing fine, Kitty and me; she with her birds, I with my morning paper, we’re incorrigibly engaged with the world, in no danger at all of apathy and malaise. You can already see, in the morning scene, that our respective obsessions will get us through this day and many other days. Instead of all that burden of the past, we live — though for her it’s less of an achievement — in the intensities of the present.
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