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Lost in translation

Izrailovka. Part 5

The creators of the Slavonic alphabet, the brothers Cyril and Methodius (why is it called Cyrillic, by the way, and not Methodic?) used Greek prototypes for most of the letters, but they borrowed the letters for “sh” and ts” from Hebrew, because the sounds did not exist in Greek. This is a big relief, of course. Although they could have moved the entire Jewish alphabet to Slavonic soil. Then things would be easier. Although I’m grateful that my torments were reduced by at least two letters.

So I sit there not bothering anyone – learning the letters. Suddenly there’s a knock at the door, it’s my neighbor, a Brazilian.

Our apartment used to be large, with many rooms. Then it was compacted. In other words, it was divided in two and rented out. I have two rooms and the Brazilian has two rooms. So we get our mail in the same box. And we share a corridor.

And my neighbor…

She’s no good at Hebrew, just like me. She hands me an envelope and says in English that she’s sorry she opened my mail by mistake.

My English is slightly better than my Hebrew, but not much.

I reply that she shouldn’t worry about it, no problem. And I take the envelope from her.
She apologizes again and doesn’t go away, the snake.

She has a husband and a young daughter. The daughter has been suffering from a dry cough recently. A barking sort of cough. I’m afraid my dog might get infected by her. But that’s not the point.

So she stands there, apologizes, and doesn’t go away.

I show her by gestures that she shouldn’t worry about such unimportant things – it’s not a private letter, it’s official, from some office. In short, no problem.

Then she asks: what’s this office that’s writing to me? Who’s the letter from?

My neighbor really likes to pester me, she’s far too curious. Maybe all Brazilians are like this – I don’t know. If you think about it, what business is it of yours who sends me letters?!

I look at the logo on the envelope. If it’s from a bank, then it’s definitely not my bank. My bank’s logo is a red diamond, and this logo is some blue thing. And the hospital bills are printed in green – so that’s not it either. The vet would be unlikely to send me letters… Yes, if there was a picture of dog or a cat at least… But this envelope is quite incomprehensible, without any distinguishing features.

So I reply to her honestly, that God only knows who this letter is from.

She says: then why did you decide that it’s addressed to you?

“What a stupid woman!” I think. Perhaps all Brazilians are like this, I don’t know. I tell her with gestures that I wasn’t the one who decided this! She told me herself that the letter was for me! She stood there sniveling for half an hour because she opened my mail.

Then she said: what shall we do then?

I told her not to worry, we’d sort everything out, no problem. I went into my room to get my glasses and my textbook.

So I’d practically learned the alphabet. Although I only knew the handwritten letters. And the letters on the envelope were printed. I slowly look up the letters in the textbook, and realize that they definitely do not spell out my surname. Not even in printed letters.

Then I say to her that the letter probably isn’t for me, and that she didn’t need to apologize – no problem.

My neighbor then says happily: then it’s for me. And she takes the envelope out of my hands. I tell her that it’s quite possible, but I wouldn’t stake my life on it. If she waits another few months, I say, while I learn the printed letters, then I’ll probably be able to tell her with more certainty.

But to be honest, I think that if Cyril and Methodius got us into this in the first place, then it’s time for Israel to switch to Cyrillic as well, as Mongolia did back in 1940. As far as I know, they’ve never regretted it.


Living at a resort

Once when Vadik Solomonov met me at Dusseldorf airport, he stretched out his leg, which was in a surgically clean boot, and said proudly:
“Look at these shoes – I’ve worn them for two years and have never cleaned them!”

I hope he visits me one day. And then I’ll strike the same pose at Ben Gurion airport and say:
“Look at these flip-flops – I wore them for two winters without taking them off!”

To leave the house in December, you just have to get up from the table, take your keys and lock the door.

In other words, without any warm pants, scarves and hats, coats and gloves. Every winter I cursed the cold and the greyness, the chemicals and stained pants. There are three times of weather in Russia, as we know – mud, dried mud and frozen mud.

It’s ten minutes’ walk to the sea. Three minutes to the market. And the same distance to the nearest bank, pet shop, supermarket, vet, a minute to the hair salon, the locksmith, the household supply stall, the hardware store, and, so they say, the best place to get humus in town.

Going to a few of these places and running two or three little errands often takes less time than getting to the nearest underground passage across Tverskaya Street in Moscow.

Of course size matters.

“I want to cross Israel by bicycle.”
“Right, and what are you going to do after lunch?”

A palm grows in my entrance way. It’s an old building, stuck together from cigarette paper. All the windows are open. It has acoustics like the Bolshoi Theater. You can’t fart without someone else hearing you.

You get the feeling that you are living at the dawn, in the transparency of summer water colors, in the rays of a film projector.

Smells spread at the speed of sound. You always know what other people are having for dinner.

It’s like my childhood, when I went to the seaside with my parents, and we lived like “savages”. You wake up, you listen to the neighbors quarrelling, and sniff the pancakes or omelet sizzling in the kitchen, stretch your arm out the window to tear a fresh fig off the tree, rub it on the sheet and eat it without getting out of bed, and throw the stem back out the window. It’s great. That’s how we live. Like at a resort.

In the morning my dog and I walk along the beach. Palms, waves, sand sun – an idyllic picture… I already suspected that I was a simple creature, made up of stock phrases, clichés and other banalities that I had picked up from movies, for instant. He, she and a dog (perhaps a child as well) walk along the seashore. This usually happens at the end of the film and means that the characters are absolutely happy and life is great. It’s a happy end. In my case, everything’s the other way around - that’s where we start. And where we will end up by the time the credits role – that’s a big question…. But miracles at this geographical point happen much more often than they do anywhere else.

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