Like you’ll be walking along and all of a sudden, you will be surrounded by an odour, overwhelmed, buried alive with a stink the likes of which you have perhaps never experienced before in your life. Then if you keep walking (which you must, in self-preservation!) it’s gone a second later.
To be fair, I’ve decided this is mainly because of the heat, because it wasn’t so bad in the areas where we were last winter on our pilot trip, and because I don’t notice it as much now that the weather has cooled off by a few degrees. (a few! not a lot!)
In certain areas, there’s not only the heat to contend with but also the fact that the air isn’t moving around much; without a breeze, a smell can linger noxiously just about forever in one spot.
But it’s also because of the garbage. Depending on where you go in the country, it’s everywhere. This picture is in no way representative, in fact, because it shows a garbage bin with the garbage placed nicely inside, no debris casually tossed on the ground nearby and there’s a mattress propped up neatly nearby. (This wasn’t even meant to be a picture of garbage; it was just a random shot snapped from the top of a double-decker tour bus last week in Yerushalayim.)
Ah, but if I actually wanted a picture of garbage, I’m sure I could find a great one. Here in the krayot (burbs of Haifa), things are actually pretty neat – depending on what area you end up; I’m not counting the dead cat I saw on the way to GZ’s gan this morning. Here, street sweepers putter around and men trim grass and bushes and pick up litter seemingly all the time.
(Even with all that, it’s nowhere near as clean as Toronto, or anywhere else in Canada that I’ve ever visited – okay, maybe Montreal, which I love, but is an older and grittier-feeling city than Toronto.)
But certain parts of Yerushalayim are absolutely awful. Soda bottles and cans and laundry detergent bags and diapers and discarded whatever that somebody didn’t want anymore. And then once seven people have used a yard to dump their stuff in, there’s very little to stop the next seven, and the next seven, and… well, everybody.
But this post really isn’t about garbage, I promise, and it’s not about the spiritual tragedy that is a few ratty diapers cluttering up Yerushalayim. I’m sure others have ranted more capably about that. (and I don’t actually believe it IS a spiritual tragedy; so there)
It’s about smells. And how they jump out at you. It takes getting used to, and so far, they have predominently been BAD smells. Rancid smells; manure smells; rotting vegetation smells and many others that probably cannot or should not be named.
Part of it is dog owners. Despite signs warning them that they will be persecuted to the fullest extent of the law, they never seem to notice what their dogs are up to when they’re off the leash (aka always).
Probably a thousand times in the last couple of decades (usually when my children beg for a dog), I have told myself that I am above stooping to pick up a dog’s disgusting waste, and so have never bought a dog. Israelis, on the other hand, seem to tell themselves they are above stooping to pick up a dog’s disgusting waste – so they look the other way and then keep right on walking.
But dog messes are not what this is about either; just smells. And how they pounce and take you by surprise, stealing your breath like a cat might do to an unsuspecting infant if that legend were indeed true.
The good thing is that if you keep walking, the smell is gone quickly. The bad thing is that if you walk the same route day after day, sometimes the same smells are waiting there to jump out at you, day after day.
As I write this, I’m standing in my window overlooking the Mediterranean, a slightly-salty sea breeze making my skin cool but a little sticky (as it usually is here). And there is a bit of a garbage-truck smell wafting in, lightly, hidden away like it’s been tucked in lovingly by the sea. Just the slightest hint of eau de garbage. Creepily enough, I don’t mind it all that much.
With the weather changing, there are some good smells creeping in, too. I find that I can smell the bakery from farther away, or maybe it’s my imagination. When we were here in February, I remember thinking (did I blog it?) that the whole country smelled like a good bakery, yeasty and floury-sweet. And I can smell a little of that now, even over the faint nastiness of the breeze.
As in other areas, perhaps it’s just that this crazy country is not shy, cannot be shy, is incapable of being shy or coy about anything. If there’s garbage, it’s gonna stink; if there’s a bakery, it’s gonna make you drool. And yes, even both happening at once, the bitter and the sweet, or Naomi Shemer’s poetic dvash, the sweet honey, along with the oketz, the painful sting…
…or is that stink?