A city without mirrors

I miss Brooklyn. Of course, I miss Matt and Everett, two of my best friends who are now living in Park Slope, but I also miss Brooklyn. For the last two years or so, I’ve lived in Haifa, Israel’s third-largest city. Built on the soft but steep slopes of Mount Carmel, the city is a verdant cap on the forehead of this desert country. It’s an eclectic, labyrinthine port-city, boasting of most of the advantages of a big metropolis despite its modest population of 260,000-odd Jews, Arabs and Bahais. I’ve never been much of a city mouse, but in my time here I’ve tried to embrace the myriad cultural opportunities offered by these great silt-traps of humanity we call cities. There are quirky neighborhoods, festivals, concerts, traveling shows and multitudes of interesting faces. Still, there is one spectacle which is unavoidable in this last-ditch homeland. The city, like the country, is old.

In the western neighborhoods of Brooklyn, the demographics are remarkably similar to urban Israel in many ways. Educated, self-made money walks its undersized dogs at all hours. Jews are the overwhelming norm, and ambition is palpable as a breeze, forcing through crowds and windows and the static of urgent dropped calls. There is one difference. In Brooklyn, the average age on the street hovers around twenty-some, the margin stretching by perhaps two decades in the afternoon toddler hours. It is the google-eyed universe of the young. Here in Haifa, the majority of passersby are rheumatic seniors, shuffling from clinic to grocer to peeling apartment. Just now, on my way to the café where I now sit typing, I saw a man who must have long since forgotten his seventy-fifth birthday, inching knock-kneed down the sidewalk in a suit-jacket that must have fit him once, before the weird wasting of age shrunk the gentleman four sizes too small for his own favorite jacket. Haifa is a ghost town that doesn’t believe in ghosts.

My grandfather, incidentally, is offering his own ounce of flesh to the clockworks. He will be losing his left eye in one week, victim to a long series of ophthalmologic maladies. He is understandably upset, and my dementiatic grandmother can still sense this, even from eight floors up in her separate room at the nursing home. I am there a couple of times a week to force a smile onto their faces. I love them, so the guilt of dreading these bleak visits is all the more powerful. First in college and then again at sea, I wrote of my dreams, full of images of mortality. Since I’ve been back, the dreams of death have stopped. Maybe my subconscious looked into the mirror of this city and was spooked by the reflection.

Of course, this is the real world. I am ultimately thankful to live in a city as diverse as this one, and age is a vital part of diversity. The awareness of all of life’s stages enriches my daily grind and gives perspective to the overwhelming worries of post-college young-adulthood. Still, sometimes I just want to escape to where life is frozen in its youth and skin is more a hint of sex than a record of hardship. God bless America and its wicked high.


~ by jonlib on June 22, 2008.

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