“Do you like Tracy Chapman?” my Danish roommate asked me as we are getting ready for bed.
He starts to sing: you got a fast car, I want a ticket to anywhere…He points at his friend, already lying in the bunk beneath mine, headphones in his ears. “He loves Tracy Chapman, can’t fall asleep without it. Do you want to listen?”
“I’m okay,” I reply, although a little tempted. I had forgotten my own iPod at home, and so as we turn off the lights, I am instead lulled to sleep through the hot nights of Athens by my Danish roommates humming Fast Car.
I had been in Greece for less than twelve hours, suddenly thrown into a moment of jumping and solo travelling with zero warning. The arrival of three Danish boys into my room in the middle of the night woke me with a start. I was disorientated, groggy and jet lagged. My bra was hanging off the bunk bed banister! They apologized profusely as they turned on the light. I grabbed my glasses threw them on in a hurry as I whipped my bra off the banister and stuffed it in my sleep sac. We made idle conversation before we grew tired and Tracy and Fast Car took over. I left Athens shortly after.
It’s been almost two years since this moment. And yet, when Fast Car plays on the radio, or comes up on random shuffle in my playlist, I am brought back to Athens, to my Danish roommates and their drunken antics. And I miss them, however fleeting our encounter was.
This last month on the road through Greece and Turkey have been incredibly stressful, stressful and yet surreal. I couldn’t wait to leave, to move on to Israel where I knew H was waiting for me and no doubt her presence would slowly cause the stress to disappear.
I arrived at the Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv on potentially one of the worst days to arrive in Israel. Not only was it Shabbot, but it was also a Holiday. That meant the trains and buses were not running, and many of the shops would be closed. As we waited for a taxi at the airport, H introduced me to an Israeli artist: Idan Raichel of the Idan Raichel Project.
I will admit at first I wasn’t a fan but as we travelled throughout Israel, in the unbearable heat of Ein Gedi, I began to fall in love. When it reached 50°C and H and I could barely summon enough energy to eat, never mind climb to the top of Masada, we would lay sprawled out, in the shade, with Idan Raichel plugged into the stereo and let Mima’amakim play on and on and on. To the annoyance of our couchsurfer who finally demanded we play anything as long as it was NOT Idan. Apparently, for Israelis, Idan Raichel was like Celine Dion to us Canadians.
What came next was a frantic idea of an adventure. The Idan Raichel Project was playing two shows in the opposite direction of where we were and where we were heading. But to see him live would be amazing. H and I counted our money, we looked at a calendar and tried to change our plans, we could skip this city in exchange for this place and what about here or there, what if we went there and back to here and stayed with him … I wish I could say we had this amazing adventure following Idan Raichel around Israel, but sadly it just wasn’t meant to be. The irony of this was that he was playing a show at the local Folk Festival back home–the same week I was bound for New York City for a conference.
Somethings, just aren’t meant to be.
Driving through the countryside of Northern Israel in the dark, A & I are kept company by the songs of the Israeli band Asaf Avidan and the Mojos. I fall in love, instantly. With the lyrics, with the melody, and with Israel. I can’t get the lyrics of Maybe You Are out of my head:
They met when he was in a hospital
he whispered “I ain’t got no heart” into the room…He held her up naked, she was just his fig.
I am reminded of Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar, of so much (and yet so little) jumping. In a moment of the type of kindness I have begun to associate with Israel, A hands me the copy of his CD. It is a little bit scratched–a sign of something well played. I carry this for the rest of my travels in between the pages of a book, in a deathly fear that this fragile remnant of a time traveling throughout the country will be broken and lost.
The moment I arrive back home, I order the real CD online along with the next one. But it is the first song I ever heard, Maybe You Are, and the words about hospitals and hearts and figs that makes me remember Grade 12 English class with Howe, Plath, and more recently, a country I love so much.
These are just three songs that bring me back to moments that would otherwise become blurred in a collection of travel memories. These songs are more private than photographs; they are a secret that only I remember every time I hear them come through the stereos…