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Far from Sidon Poem

Far From Sidon

by Elisha Porat

translated from the Hebrew by Alan Sacks.

At the "Cedars Hotel" in Metula, watching the color television in the
evening. Behind
me, near the reception desk, army spokesmen are shouting to their superiors
children. They have to shout because it's a long distance to army
headquarters back in
Tel Aviv. I hear bits of conversation, personal matters. The names of
children who
suddenly break into a technical report.

A Maronite girl from the neighboring village scurries about the lobby.
She speaks
flawless hebrew and knows to laugh demurely at the officer's dirty jokes.
"It hasn't been
easy these eight years, pal," the proprietor tells an astonished officer.
"But she didn't
know a word of Hebrew when I brought her here. She hadn't seen soap and
recognize a toothbrush. Now she says "Metulan" perfectly, not like you
guests who wrongly say "Metulist". "One time", says the congenial
proprietor, "we were
Metulan shopkeepers. That was a long time ago. Now Metula is growing."

I have some free time until the evening news comes on so I go for a walk
around the
Moshava. A soldier stuck at the "nipple" gate can now find military lodging
in Metula.
Plain and rough but comfortable. The golden days in hotels and kibbutz
guest houses
are gone. Now it's clean, spartan quarters lovingly provided by Soldiers'
Welfare. If the
roads are blocked or snow has piled up or sabotage has made the route
impassible, you
can pass the night at this pleasant Moshava. The drooping cedars in the
gardens haven't grown in the past 10 years. But there are more roads.
Streets light
shine, the sidewalks have been widened and the business center, down near
the police
station, is expanding.

I remember a wonderful radio show I heard some years ago. "Far from
Sidon" it was
called, by the author Yehoshua Kenaz, as I recall. Or perhaps I'm mistaken.
I'm just a
confused reserve soldier and it's been a long time since then. In this
small hotel one
night in the Metula that used to be, at the tip of the "finger", something
unseen is
happening to the people sitting there. Could the writer have sat in the
Cedars Hotel's
lobby just as I am? Did he see the curtains open and a meal served to the
UN officers,
those envoys from distance worlds? Did he see, as I do, announcers from
"The Voice of
Hope" in foreign blue jeans and blond hair? And who dreamed then of a
protracted war,
a border terminal and a thriving drug trade? There might have been a few
but everything was strictly secret. Ten years separating one world from

On the bypass road around the Moshava, groaning vehicles ascend into
Lebanon. Traffic is heavy even at night. troops go in and come out, and
there is a
feeling that his place, on the route to the "nipple" gate near Metula, is
the center of the
universe. The men sit stony-faced in their open "safari" buses. Each
strains under a flak
jacket and heavy helmet. Some of them will continue to Tel Aviv, still
wearing their ski
masks and Canadian ski boots.

My ears hear shouts, curses, curt orders. The convoy bound for Nabbatiya
is forming
up below. It's time to hurry. Those entering the gate now are troops from
Sidon. Has it
really been only 10 years? Is Sidon really so close? Why, the very name
"Far From
Sidon" had expressed the illusion of unsurpassable distance, of an impossible
achievement and dreams never to be realized. But it wasn't only Sidon,
taken from large
colored maps and school books, mentioned on the ethereal radio show. No,
Metula itself
was the final, unreachable, forgotten point of the fringe of our land of
Israel books. A
place so far that it existed beyond the bounds of "from dan to Be'er Sheva".

The news has come on in the Cedars Hotel television room. The army
who for some reason strike me as bank directors on reserve duty, exchange
comments as though they know more than appears on the news. I close my eyes
hear the magnificent lyrical lines spouted by Kenaz's characters. That
fantastic program
lives and breathes around me, as true now as then. Only one thing must be
Ten years have passed, and we no longer are far from Sidon.

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