Yesterday was a beautiful day and I spent the whole morning in Jaffa, a beautiful and gritty enclave just south of Tel Aviv. It was magic. Even the parking gods smiled upon me (I was literally praying to find spots while still on the highway). First I met a client of mine from the US who is here for work (she's a translator/interpreter and owns her own firm). She moved here in her younger days, met an Israeli, got married, moved back to the US, had kids etc. Now she's back and forth a lot. Obviously we had plenty to talk about. She has commissioned a few pieces from me over the last few years and it was great to finally connect over coffee. I dropped her off at a hotel to meet up with one of her translators and then I stopped by the little gallery where my work was hanging the last few weeks. I retrieved my three pieces and then wound my way back to the Jaffa Flea Market, home of the best assorted crap and treasures worldwide. I find the place to be a little overwhelming if I'm actually looking to buy something so I decided to only look for the one thing I'd been trying to find for a few years now - an old printer drawer to hang on the wall for my kids to stick all their tchotchkes inside. It turns out that they are expensive! And hard to find! But I found one at a really good price and now I'm thinking I probably should have bought two because neither of the older kids will want their figurines to mingle. I guess I have to go back!
But the best thing I found was the thing I wasn't looking for at all. Isn't that always the way? I found a guy selling all sorts of cups and dishware but who also had a duffel bag full of small "blue books" or little lined paper pads typical for Israeli students and bits of paper remnants - stamps, library receipts, old id cards, medical approvals - from a woman named Yael Hasid who died a few years ago. Fascinating stuff! The blue books are from the fifties with the most incredible handwriting in both Hebrew and English. One is for a course on Shakespeare. King Lear! Another is about child psychology and the Montessori method. And there's a transcript from selections of a Susan Isaacs book entitled Troubles of Children and Parents. Hmmm... I was already imagining the zillion collages I would make with this stuff. Well he charged me about $5 for a bag full and now as I look through it all I am thinking how strange it is that I have in my possession this woman's old writings, obviously thrown out by her survivors or estate lawyers or whoever, the kind of stuff that we all throw out all the time because otherwise we'd be drowning in our own stuff. But now I'm kind of getting attached to this woman I don't know and I'm not sure I'll be able to tear up her work and glue it to a canvas. I look at her handwriting and it's almost like a time capsule. No one writes like that anymore. No one writes anything by hand anymore.
It reminds me a short film I saw maybe six months ago on the online NY Times Magazine I think about a woman who was cleaning out her mother's apartment after she passed and making boxes of what to keep and what to give away or throw away. You could see how much this woman loved her mother and how difficult it was for her to part with her mother's things. I can see how this pile of papers was maybe the easiest thing for a son or daughter to throw out. How other things, maybe the stuff that held more significance to them, were more difficult to part with. We generate so much stuff in one lifetime and most of it doesn't much matter after we're gone. Lord know how these papers ended up in the duffel bag with the guy selling cups. He said he got it from someone who cleared out the apartment of someone who died, but that seems odd. If I were Ira Glass maybe I'd write a chapter for This American Life. But I'm not and Yael wasn't American anyway. I think I'll read through her work a little a bit and pay her due respects. And then I'll turn her old stuff into something new.