Kfar Saba, Israel
Thursday, July 30th, 2009 http://adamkhan.net/rambles/at-modiin-mall
oming here to this new shopping mall outside Modi’in with Irit and her cousin Tali to buy a dress for Tali’s daughter Tamar didn’t seem like the most thrilling thing to do today, but it was a gorgeous drive down from their moshav, Mesilat Tzion (just off Highway 1 between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem), through empty countryside and a turn east into the gentle rocky Shomron foothills. This mall can be no more than a year old. Modi’in’s new train station is visible down the highway. The city itself barely existed ten years ago. Modi’in means “intelligence”, by the way.
At Modi’in Mall
Wednesday, July 29th, 2009; Israel
This mall is on a scale describable only as American, the target visitors being I think upper-lower to upper-middle classers—that is, almost everyone. Malls are no longer being built indoors it seems but as series of anonymous low-slung buildings fronted by parking lots. There’s absolutely nothing else around here except empty desolate pretty hills—Modi’in itself can’t be seen. The Israel Trail passes by a bit to the west. It’s a hot July Wednesday morning. Things are reasonably busy. The shops are mostly franchises, almost all homegrown—imports are limited to a large Ace hardware store, a smaller Office Depot and a Burger King. The local ones include Super-Pharm, Aroma, Tzomet Sfarim, Cup O’ Joe’s, LaMetayel, Mega, Fox, Castro, H&O. A general thought: somehow, through all the bluster and unpleasantness, Israeli culture fully enables the cooperation to implement enterprise and ambition. A personal thought: it’s nice for me to just write down the names of these brands; I feel at home here.
Next to me at the bar a worker takes a break, eagerly pouring salt and pepper on his eggplant sandwich. Everything on the menu at Aroma is vegetarian; no fuss is made about that fact, that’s just how it is (the only exception is the tuna salad). [Edit: the Aroma branch at the Tel Aviv mall is now introducing salami sandwiches. And my beloved Aroma now has much competition, such as from CafeCafe.]
But halas with this tired perspective of the Anglo or American amazed and impressed that Israel isn’t camels and tents, that the coffee machines are Italian, that the screen in the corner of the cafe is showing CNN as if every spot has the potential frisson of an airport departure lounge. I have to admit to being impressed—this morning anyway—by the sum total of life here. After walking through Sussex to London, I can see now that the happy flip-side of Israel’s method of crowding people into apartments brings the countryside closer so that it’s quick and easy to get out to complete isolation here.
I got out quickly and easily into such glorious isolation yesterday, walking the trail around Mount Carmiela just near Mesilat Tzion. But the glory was marred by the passing of a mountain-biker. Unsmiling, not acknowledging my nod of greeting that civilized people bestow upon each other when passing in an isolated place, he was decked out in full mountain-bike regalia, like he was participating in a race. Here there is none of that ambling amateurism that seems to me integral to civility. The hiking map we bought was covered with ads directed at mountain-bikers such as he. It’s curmudgeonly to critique biking habits—any biking is good biking—but it wasn’t so long ago here that anyone on a bike beyond the age of puberty was considered either unacceptably eccentric or suffering from poverty so extreme as to signify idiocy, for if you’re that poor you should be able to wangle enough from the government to get a car or a bus pass. Today biking is socially acceptable if you have all the expensive gear, but I suspect that it’s still déclassé if you’re doing it dressed like a regular human being.
So what? Fine. There are morays. Every society has ‘em. In this modern age of seeming societal dissolution, it’s impressive to even have morays to which everyone subscribes. And I also get the hierophantic feeling that despite the cultural straightjacket Israeli society imposes on its young, these are values and norms that are appropriate and good for people anyway. Live in a small polity. Travel a lot. Bring back goodies from abroad like honeybees. Be too close for comfort to your relatives. Live in apartments in crowded towns so you can keep your countryside public, open and pristine. Value entrepeneurship and science over pedigree and the arts. Keep building. Have inept but nonetheless unabating enemies. Be undiscovered and unblighted by the corrupting blessings of a foreign tourism industry. And talk a lot of baloney.