Tamar is sleeping against the window as the Negev desert infuses our bus with a sense of disconnectedness. Tamar is using her Army-issued coat like a blanket and her blond head rocks with the rhythm of the charter bus. She has written earlier in the back of the notebook in Hebrew and English instructing me how to say, “I love Tamar,” followed by a note written in a hand unused to English. It is meant to be in my voice: “I came to Israel and met the one and only Tamar Hendler—”, and then hers, “OK Joe… I’m going to bring you back your crapper book don’t worry. There you go.”
It is an English that is pockmarked with strange inflections and words—I had written in my journal that her speech was like a carob tree that suddenly sprouts a rose, but in reflection, it would be as if a rose bush suddenly sprouted a bunch of carobs. These carobs would be in constant danger of pulling the whole rose bush down.
It is not to say she butchered her English—she added whoops and halloos that would rise with her delight or frustration that I, at least, not speaking for some in my group, found to be a fascinating mutation of my own tongue. And in turn, whenever I attempted Hebrew, “Mah otevet atah? (What’s your problem?) she’d laugh and correct my pronunciation. “Errrrr,” Tamar would growl, mimicking a game-show buzzer, “I thank you for trying.”
For her, dogs said, “Hav Hav” and roosters cockle-doodle-dooed a “cocka-rocka-roo.” Her frog sounded like it got in a car-accident: “Feck! Feck!”
If you were misunderstanding what she was saying, you were, “In a totally different movie.” If you wanted everything but gave nothing back, you should know that “you can’t have your pie and all the rest.”
She never seemed to get along with the other Israelis. While Duklat tells us over dinner the importance of serving in the army, Tamar wanders away. When Ela leads us in a religious service, telling us of her Orthodox community and emphasizing her decision to skip the nightclub in respect for Shabbat, Tamar plays with her sunglasses. When it is her turn to speak, she says, “I don’t celebrate Shabbat, but you can.” Later, she rips her Sergeant’s strips from off her coat and puts them in my hand.
It is the fourth day she is with us and Tamar once again takes my notebook prisoner. This time I do not get it back for a half hour and each time I look over at her, I get yelled at. “My English is horrible,” she says. “Then write in Hebrew,” I answer. “But you do not know Hebrew.” “I’ll find someone to read it.” “I write in both,” she decides.
At the airport she mills around awkwardly waiting for us to disappear into the security. Her train is coming in a half hour. I am standing behind the velvet rope in line to have my baggage put through the X-ray machine. She comes down the line, saying her goodbyes to everyone from our trip who is returning to the US. When Tamar comes to me, we hug and let go quickly. I do not remember what I said or what she said, only that she takes a few steps, turns, and upon seeing me looking at her, smirks self-consciously, says, “What?” and goes to check her train time.
It is on the plane that I look through my notebook. She has drawn a blobby picture of Israel, inclusive of the West Bank and Gaza, and marks, as the only town in Israel, Kibbutz Metzer-Sireni. She has also drawn a disproportioned house which in front is covered in what I assume are hanging vines.
“In truth, I did not like most people on the trip,” she writes. A few sentences later starts, “The truth is now I’m like all in it. I feel happy of the situation, in the air… It’s hard to respond, to expresse my self bla bla bla… I believe that in a few days or so, it will be quite easy when everything will sink and in the past. I could write you with a “sober mind.” The thing I experience here is really beautiful but I will write about it when I’ll have the mood and you know…”
In an email, Tamar writes me that “The higher powers have decided that the time has arrived to show American Joe Getzoff a glimpse of Tamar’s art work.” She then adds, tacking it on in parentheses, “you will get a big “balagan”, “titmoded.” I have no idea what these words mean—I am wondering if they are some perversion of an English word or transliterated Hebrew. There is no way of telling unless she decides to define them for me.
My first reaction to Tamar’s art is a first thought of what I have seen of Van Gogh’s. The works are colorful, the landscapes transient washes of reds, greens, blues, purples—colors fading into each other as if patterns on a scarf. She seems to have no regard for realism.
Tamar’s paintings avoid allusion. They are dream-like and built around landscapes that are neither here nor there, tangible objects that, because of the constant shift of color, have no set look. There is one painting that sticks out from the others because it seems to lack landscape. On the left side is a rainbow octopus and on the right is a naked woman. The octopus is reaching towards her, its tentacles searching her out, invading, as they wrap around her breast and search between her legs. The woman is set against a dark tiled background—the octopus on a swirling Van Gogh-like sky. The woman seems to be screaming, but she is transient too; her body a rainbow in itself, her legs transformed into tentacles as they hang off of the red and brown tiles and drip into the blue and white swirling sky.