Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Lost in translation

A number of years ago, I took this photo in Netanya, a town on the coast of Israel. At the time, I was highly amused by the multiple personality disorder of the restaurant, but I realised it probably summed up rather well the struggle that some Israelis battle with - identity. If you are a recent "Oleh" or immigrant, you might have an English/Australian/American/S.African/Spanish/French/Iranian/Ethiopian accent to your Hebrew. If you are "Second Generation" your parents may have raised you trilingual (Hebrew/English/Mother Tongue). If you are over 60, it is possible that trilingual includes Yiddish as the Mama Loshen.

I then got to thinking about my own crisis of identity at the weekend - that weird sense of isolation in the place you are supposed to call "home". It wasn't language that singled me out as different. It was a longing for something “other” which I found as nebulous and unfathomable as a sea fret. Sometimes it is as basic as someone using an idiom you haven’t heard for years, or a book in a second hand store that transports you to another place and time in a country far away.
The thing that is guaranteed to stop me in my tracks is smelling a wood burning fire in the air. It reminds me of bonfire night as a child in England, of crisp autumnal walks in the village I lived in the Vienna woods, and the refugee camps of Africa. I have been on a six year mission to get a wood burning stove in New Zealand. I suspect it would make me feel less of an immigrant and more like I’d come home.

1 comment:

Leora said...

We live in a world where people travel so much - my great grandparents lived in one country and may have moved to another, and that was it.

Maybe what you are looking for is connection on some childhood feeling. Ever read Aharon Appelfeld? He almost never writes about Israel - it is all about his childhood, with different characters in each tale.

"Vienna woods" - you lived near Vienna, too?