May 28 – Jul 18, 2015
I return to Tel Aviv with excess body weight and an absent bank balance. Out of all the fantasies I had about our stay in Berlin, not a single one has materialized. Now I also have a child. Anxieties I wasn’t familiar with were born together with him. I’ll be forty soon. They tell us to fasten our seat belts. The flight attendant (not so young any more) attaches the baby’s cot to the bulkhead and asks, with phony cheerfulness, if everything’s all right. I think how amazing it is that I started from nothing and it has taken me years of strenuous effort to arrive at nothing. “Can I bring you anything?” she asks with a smile. “Yes, something for a headache,” I mumble.
When the plane reaches cruising altitude and we hear the bell permitting everyone to get up and walk around in the aisles, a memory that goes back years comes to mind. Tel Aviv Sea Scouts. A summer afternoon. Grass on the banks of the Yarkon. We’ve lost a sailing competition against the Jaffa Sailing Club. I’m crushed by the force of the disappointment. After we’ve washed and organized the boats, Nahum, our sailing guide, comes over to me. I admired him. He had the strongest pair of hands I’d ever seen. “Zagursky, we lost. True. But don’t let that defeat you. Sometimes we sail with the wind and a lot of times, against it.” He continued, “You’ll lose many more times. The thing is to be persistent about sailing.” I didn’t understand what he was rattling on about. Fasten seat belts again. We’re landing.
A few days later, it was clear to me what I had to do. Now I just had to inform the crew. I waited for the right moment. The child was already asleep. Dinner time. I asked with assertiveness, hesitantly, hardly pausing for breath: “What do you say we buy an old boat? I can repair it myself…make it a home…we can get it organized for sailing, fold up everything and go to sea. General direction – westward.” I went on, “What will be, will be. Now is the time. We only live once!” Oppressive silence. She frowned and threw me a look I knew well. “You’re not serious, right?” Exactly one year later, we set out.
Nostos was a French sailboat. She stood there old and stubborn, built as strong as steel and as stable as a house. I felt she was thanking me for redeeming her from a certain and agonizing death in the Kishon Marina. To me, she was the most beautiful thing that had ever been built, beautiful specifically because nothing could be found in her for the sake of beauty alone. This was possibly the last man-made object in the world that worked according to that logic, I thought, as I examined the anchor winch and the heavy stitches along the length of the lazy bag.
The port we left merges with the coastal strip. It’s already hard to be sure where Ashkelon ends and Tel Aviv begins. Long minutes stretch into hours. The routine of sailing. Every two hours I check the navigation error and adjust the steering by a few degrees. Waves lap against the side of the boat and the blue turns dark blue, deep, almost purple. Strange how all the continents look exactly alike when they first appear on the horizon. I think of the first sailors, how nature itself has become something primitive, of an old world. The sea is the same sea and the wind is the same wind. The first to let us know that we are approaching Greece is a small bird that comes to rest on the mast.
I met Christos by chance on a small island in the Northern Dodecanese. He lived in a rundown shack close to the water line, at the far end of an abandoned shipyard full of boat carcasses and motor parts. He had no one in the world except for a fat cormorant that hopped after him wherever he went. A little before sunset, I found an acceptable place to dock, alongside a battered, old, concrete wharf right next to a wooden boat encrusted with many layers of peeling green paint. Tails of enormous tuna adorned her wooden side. I was busy tying the ropes when I heard Michael shout with excitement behind me: “Abba, look at the huge duck!” From a tangle of fishermen’s nets, a cormorant burst out and marched towards us, erect and filthy, as black as if it had just fled from the bottom of an engine room. We all laughed. That evening the fisherman invited me over for ouzo in his yard.