For example, I tapped the fear I felt being dragged off a beach in Torremolinos by a crazy man, only to discover he may have actually saved my life. It was 1975 and Franco was still in power. As a solution to drug trafficking from Morocco via the beaches, he’d ordered the Guardia to shoot anyone on the beach after 10:00 p.m. Needless to say, I bought my savior a drink, and discovered the fun of drinking Snowballs in a bar in the south of Spain.
In my latest book, Dark Waters, I drew on experiences I had while living in Israel for two months.
For Example, late one afternoon my eleven year-old daughter and I boarded a southbound bus in Tel Aviv. We missed our stop and ended up in an ultra-orthodox area of the city. Realizing our mistake, we got off the bus intending to turn right around and head back north. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find the right bus stop. It was just around sunset and families were coming out to stroll the streets. They were dressed in conservative Jewish attire: men in their long back coats, payots, top hats and wool fringes; women in dresses with conservative necklines that covered their arms and knees, the married women in wigs or scarfs that covered their hair. Being American and coming straight from a beach day in Tel Aviv (a very cosmopolitan city), I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt. My daughter had on a tank top and flip-flops. Needless to say we were inappropriately dressed for the location.
When the men started saying “lech” and spitting at us, I turned to Danielle and asked her what they were saying, not really expecting an answer. I was surprised when she answered “they are saying go home.” When I asked her how she knew that, she said it’s what our good friend and neighbor in Colorado always says to his dog Hamoodi.
To make a long story short, I would have gladly obliged and gone home, but no one would talk to us except to hurl insults and spit. The cab driver wouldn’t let us in his cab because we would taint it, and we couldn’t find the bus stop to catch the northbound bus. Finally a young teenage girl whispered, “Cross the street, go up a block, and take the 92 north.” When I tried to thank her, she shunned me.
Later, an Israeli friend told us how lucky we were. He said that even a conservative Jew like himself wouldn’t go into that community, especially at that time of day. He shared stories of women being stoned for not dressing properly. Suffice it to say, Danielle and I made it back safely.
That set the stage for this scene in Dark Waters that begins:
He heaved the stone. It struck Jordan in the back. She winced and her hand instinctively went to where her holster should be. Then she remembered she had left her gun in the car.
Jordan picked up her pace. Clearing the yard, she figured the men would stop at the edge of the grass, but they followed her into the street.
The sedan was parked halfway down the block. She jogged toward the car, and the men followed, moving so swiftly the tails of their long black coats flared out behind them. Another stone was hurled, then another. Both missed. A fourth rock slammed into her ribs.
“Tamei, lechi habaita,” rose the chant….
Chris, a scary adventure. There are sections of long island that my modern orthodox cousin does not feel comfortable going into – let alone these neighborhoods in Israel. They are a small fringe group of Hassidic and ultra orthodox, not representative of the majority of orthodox or religious Jews, but growing in Israel because they have a lot of children. As you noted in your excellent novel, they do pose something of a threat to Israel.
S. Lee — I've heard that there are places on Long Island that are ultra-orthodox. I know there are places in Chicago, too. One of the biggest issues in some of these communities is that their religious rules conflict with the law and aren't legally enforceable.They designate certain sides of the street as men only, have gender specific gathering places, expect certain attire, etc. Needless to say, it creates conflict.
Oh Chris, What great descriptions of your (often scary) adventures. Now I can't wait to read that novel – you are a great writer and I' so glad you have a place here to share your travels, thoughts and your future plans for more stories. Thanks for this one!
Chris, thank goodness for the courage and kindness of the teenage girl who helped you! What a gripping account of your adventure. My travel adventures pale in comparison!
Chris – the airlines are having issues because some of these ultras refuse to sit next to a woman on a plane. An Israeli woman is suing because she was forced to move in order to accommodate an ultra orthodox man.
I want to hear more about that beach in Spain!!! Thanks for the great story–
I love the way you translate experience into stories. No wonder your work has such a sense of authority, of authenticity!
Thanks everyone for your kind comments. S. Lee, that's interesting about the airlines. I wonder if the woman will win the case.
Francine–it was interesting being 19, traveling for six months with my grade school BFF on a Eurail Pass (which at the time allowed you to hop on and off at will during it's activation period). We bought a 3 month pass to start. We did some very stupid things that we survived, providing adventures that I'll never forget. It's a much different world now.
Chris, what an unforgettable and powerful experience. I'm happy you made it back safely. And you sure brought verisimilitude to that story!