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Tuesday, December 13. 2005
11-12: Persimmon Picker Inspector
Today, I was a Persimmon picker inspector.
To Kibbutz Glil Yam (Ocean's Wave), in Herzilya, I went on bus, after
talking with Moshek last night to be sure I could join our "cousins,"
he says, his Bedouin pickers today.
First, small town living vignette. I am up around 530, but Moshek had
asked me to come later, more like 800. So, I write, then head off for
the bus at just before 700, packing my laundry to be done before
shabbat (one set of sheets, guys). The makhbesah, laundry on
Ostrovski is closed -- unusual. I won't dally, so head over to Ahuza,
figuring Alberto's (formerly of Argentina) is open. Nada doing. What
to do, other then lug a plastic bag of linens about? I ask the owner
of the stationary store, who is setting up, if I can leave the laundry
with him to give to Alberto. He apologizes that he cannot leave the
store to deliver my laundry until 900 am. (Goodness, even an apology
for this?) Fine, I write a note to Alberto b'Ivrit to call me when
Which he does around 1200. I field a call in the orchard, from a
foreign sounding Hebrew fellow, confuse him with Patrick placing a
prank call to me from San Francisco, then realize it isn't Patrick.
Alberto is done with my laundry and will close in half an hour. No way
I can leave and get back by then; we are just finishing and Moshek is
nowhere to be seen. So? Well, I ask him to deliver my laundry to
the stationary store. But to pay him. No hay problemo; he says to
stop by on Sunday, after ulpan. Beseder.
Nice life, if you can get it.
Then to persimmons. I need to ask the bus drive, a bit of a sullen
fellow, to let me in on when we get to K. I recall the Mall opposite
the Kibbutz, but also that the Mall is after the kibbutz bus stop.
Sullen as he may be, he calls me a couple time out of my Herald
Tribune-induced reverie. Then the Dati fellow sitting across the
aisle joins in on rousing me: Get down here.
I march the familiar path from the busy road into the kibbutz. When
last I was here, at the beginning of the Intifada in 2000, it was the
same season: persimmon picking. There were then lions of various
decorations, statues I mean, sponsored, I think by Peugeot (recall its
logo?) around the country. Near the kibbutz entrance stood such a
one, decorated with silvery medallions that twinkled with the light,
shimmered with the wind. But my memory corrects me that it was perhaps
a penguin statue shimmering.
The sign announcing the kibbutz's founding is in "antique" Hebrew:
alah ha'kikar, "alighted upon the ground"; today a single word,
something like nosad, or mooshtat, would be used. I am struck by the
elevated, and a bit antiquated Hebrew that greets me, a sign of
earlier, and better times, ideologically. For, today, economically
things are fairly rosy for Glil Yam, in part, because for complicated
reasons, it will be building fancy-hoo homes, apartments for people
off kibbutz to buy and live in, which will make beau coup bucks for
the kibbutzniks. And I am told, is generating greed among the
kibbutzniks. Previously, the kibbutz did fairly well making plumbing
fixtures. Then, when things looked tough, it began to rent out
buildings to various private companies. For me, one of the more
remarkable buildings is a former double silo (image a double barreled
shotgun, painted white, pointing to the sky, like an oversized
sculpture by the whimsical sculptor, Claes Oldenburg, who made the
oversized 20-ton baseball bat for Chicago, or the oversized thumb
statue at a Napa vineyard. The
thumb, like an artist's thumb, focuses your glance at the landscape;
just stand behind it. Anyhow, this double-barreled building is
converted into architects' offices. It is near here, I wait for
Moshek. Nearer to the guard booth, which no one is guarding.
He pulls up towards me, makes a U-ey with the ancient Subaru. I enter
and he grasps me with that handshake: sturdy, firm and held a bit
longer than I am prepared for. He is pleased to see me, as I him. And
today, I come as an Israeli picker, I tell him. We first stop at the
tool shed, where I, four years ago, shoveled shit into baby saplings
to help them thrive, before Moshek could trust me to do more sensitive
matters in the orchard, like trimming the fig trees. He emerges with
a folding tree-trimming saw; the blade, perhaps eight inches, folds
into its handle. I glance around the familiar transport. The Subaru is
covered inside and out with multiple layers of fine dust. Something
like an archeologist happening on a site that has been uncovered by
the winds, multiple layers of eras showing simultaneously. So, in the
car, there are thick layers, and finer and some barely dusted. On the
steering wheel, the stars of Subaru are still visible, like a night
sky whisped by clouds. Moshek's seat is tilted to the left; either
from his leaning so (as a good kibbutznik should, at least
politically), or from frequent ins-and-outs of the car (more likely).
A single spark plug sits in the center console, a just-in-case plug.
In the rear well, where a passenger's feet might have been, lies a
heavy iron chain coiled on itself, a bit haphazardly, one on those
"don't tread on me" coils. Another just-in-caser: to drag another
vehicle out of a ditch with the four-wheel Subaru.
Moshek returns. We are off. Past the houses, we enter the road that
also passes: the kennel, the stable for horses, an empty field, a
field with some lonely melons, then the citrus orchards (pardisim, as
in "paradise"), until we come to the non-citruses orchards (bustanim,
as in the beautiful Hebrew dance and love song, whose words begin, I
think, Layla yored l'at). I reminisce that when I was last here, as we
drove to the orchards, we were greeted by his 5-year old
granddaughter, who was walking with her class, perhaps along the pecan
trees. Moshek, proudly updates me that he now has six grandchildren;
announces that he is now a grandfather of grandfathers.
We arrive at the persimmons. Here, Moshek introduces me to the two
groups of our cousins, and to Shay, who is from Thailand. Shay works
in the packing house and seems to be supervising: he gets to drive the
tractor. Another Thai worker joins intermittently: he is enrobed
against the sun; wears a t-shirt over his head with the neck hole over
his eyes, so that his mouth and nose are covered. He looks a bit
goggle-eyed in a manner. A cap perched on top holds the t-shirt from
I see that I am underdressed. I had been known to under dress in SF
for the opera -- I own no tuxedo, and never wear my suit -- but this
is different. I arrive with Teva sandals, shorts and a black Nike
spandex "t." No hat, no kova, no gloves. Now, it will become hot.
The others are dressed in long pants, most with long sleeves and many
with boots, including Raba's army-issue clodhoppers.
Each picker has a kind of semicircular bag with a frame that holds
its shape; image a semicircle, then depress the round side slightly,
kind of the opposite of a gibbous moon. The bottoms are fastened up
with a plastic clip, the tops open. Once filled, the picker
approaches, puts the bag, bottom down in the crate, unclips the bottom
and the persimmons emerge, kind of like giving birth. This should be
done gently, which doesn't happen frequently. When Moshek visits, he
sees one picker who lets the fruit barrel out and Moshek, quietly,
insists, "Like eggs, like eggs treat them." After a season of
growing, of watching, of watering, of battling insects, he doesn't
want them bruised. Like a woman give birth: primum non nocere, first
do not harm.
Raba seems head of this family, this Bedouin family from near Har
Tabor. Har Tabor is where Megiddo is located, the site where the
children of light will do final battle with the children of darkness.
This family is of perhaps twelve people. They drive the two hours or
so each morning during picking season, arriving in a van and car.
Raba is a formidable presence, of well-thinned hair, which sprouts
instead even at 8 in the morning, beads of sweat. He is friendly,
greets me well, speaks Hebrew clearly. When I remark on this, he
explains that he ws a tracker in the army; learned to speak clearly.
The Bedouin are mean-good trackers; know the secret passages and how
to follow trails. This also makes them remarkably good drug runners,
I was told proudly by a Bedouin sociologist at Ben Gurion University.
But that's not for now.
I am not a persimmon person; can't recall when I last supped on one;
like the tea-rose color; can't recall the taste well, nor how to know
when they are ripe. Today, I become a persimmon maven. The trees are
a bit unruly looking, like the hair of an eight-year-old Huck Finn;
sprouts in various directions, but generally rather upwards. Shay
occasionally uses the folding saw to half-prune a branch so that it
leans downwards for easier picking. Rarely use the three-legged
ladder to reach them. (The third leg makes it easier to insert among
branches.) I am brought to the michal (massive, heavy plastic
containers, moved around by the back end of the tractor). These,
michalim, four years ago, I was also told to label by Moshek, who
returned an hour later surprised that rather than discard the old
labels on the ground, as he had done, I had collected them in my
pocket. He admired this. I didn't say that my father would have had my
head, had I discarded labels on the ground. Nor did I say that I find
something holy about this ground; not a place to discard things.
I am to root through the persimmons, make sure they are high quality;
those not, get discarded. This time on the ground, but I think of
dust-to-dust, and how these persimmons will feed their own trees, and
am not as much bothered. But, I must discard even fine persimmons
which have an odd shape of sorts. I find a rather funny fellow with a
"nose-like" banana extending from it; the body of the persimmon, when
seen straight-on, facing the nose, look like chubby cheeks. This
charming fellow I must discard, as no Treasure Island or Whole Foods
buyer would adopt this fellow, certainly not buy it. Later, Shay
gives me a small crate to put the second grade fruits in for the
Bedouins to take home. I find this easier. He finds a persimmon
fellow with four noses; places it on the corner of the michal for all
to admire. Quite a find; like a four-leaf clover.
I am loathe to discard. I check with Shay. He is ruthless; any deep
defects, for sure get tossed; if slightly unripe -- to the ground.
Each persimmon has a Greenwich Mean Time longitude: if it is
discolored, out!. If the leaves on top a bit dried, to Azalzel! Only
the finest of persimmons will pass from my hands to your lips.
I venture a nip of a persimmon, forgetting that to be edible they
must be "gassed." I retreat, pucker-mouthed. Astringent from the
To be edible by us guys, us discerning feinschmeckers, the persimmon
must be CO2-d. Two ways to immerse it in CO2, which de-astringents
the fruit. (Now, for a Hebrew word you are likely to ever use,
L'havkhala, to de-astringent.) The usual way is to subject the fruit
to the CO2 it normally exhales. Immerse the persimmons for several
days in water; its CO2 emerges naturally, and due to the water,
remains around the fruit to convert the tannic acid. Now, there is a
faster, and feinschmecker way of doing this. Put the persimmons in a
plastic bag with a thimble or so of scotch for a couple days, and
voila! But, when Moshek tells me this in the car at the end of the
day, we look at each other and agree that we would do-in the scotch
I try for the names of the others, but the breathy Arabic names blow
in one ear and out the other. There is, I think, a Dohhhan and a
Johhhan. Dohhhan is perhaps in her late twenties, with hair streaked
blond, pulled back, beginning to show wear in her otherwise lovely
face. There is a perhaps 8 year old boy, who I think is her son, but
he wanders freely between the two groups, Asahhhi. He is perched on
one of the michals after blowing past me a few times, giving me a
chance to introduce myself. Later, I get from Shay this clipping
do-hicky; kind of like an oversized cuticle clipper, but with ends
blunted and oversized handles. A tired velcro strap hangs in a loop from
the spring between the handles, but I find it easiest to insert the
cuticle clipper into my waist band; just taking a bit more care when I
am to bend over. This, I feel, is a promotion, to get a clipper from
Shay, just like the other pickers. I am to use this when I find some
fruit with a bit of stem attached. See, here's the deal. Got to pick
the fruit, first so they are ready to come off; if not, not ripe yet.
Then, need to clip off the remaining stem, down to the base, so that
in the crates, stem-stubs don't poke into other fruit. For, if they
do, the fruit is disfigured. And, well, by now, you know the drill
about feinschmeckers at Dean and DeLucca's.
Perhaps you now have heard enough about persimmons? I too was ready
for a break around 11:00. I heard "break," and people began to
disappear, when I emerged bending over a crate. The bedouin family, I
find a bit beyond in the shade of the woods; the two Thailandis are
off on their own. I don't really know what to expect of a break.
Turns out, kind of lunch. I am feeling a bit abandoned, rather hoping
that Moshek would come back, we would have a coffee as we did before.
He seems to be stuck in assorted meetings.
The bedouins invite me, known for their hachnasat ha'orchim,
invitation of guests. I feel a bit awkward, find myself sitting like
the Vietnamese, perched on my haunches, and not a typical stance for
me, having no Viet heritage. But it captured my sense of not feeling I
should belong. I have been surrounded by Arabic and Thai speech much
of the morning; when Shay tries Hebrew, we try to understand each
other. Raba is my best translator, from Hebrew into Hebrew.
But they are gathered in a bit of a circle, raggedy in shape.
Someone exclaims something, indicating that we have started eating
without a proper picnic blanket, which is found and spread. A nice
Scotch plaid pattern, although I cannot identify the clan. Upon which
appears, containers of levana (handmade cheeses in little balls or
hot-dog-shapes, floating in an olive oil and lemon juice), tomatoes,
cucumbers. Later a can of tuna is emptied out. Much Coke througout
the day; and not Diet. When I try to refuse, I am told, "It's
American!" and the cup is passed to me again, emphatically. No one
seems to notice when I pour it out a bit behind and to the side.
I had peeked the matriarch earlier, sitting on the ground, limbs
pulled down to her for her to pick the fruit. Now, I see her up close.
She is broad, covers much ground, has a quiet grandeur. Land
disappears beneath her and her legs beneath her front porch, a big
spread. She insists I have more levana, flings a flying-saucer-sized
pita toward me that makes a perfect three-point landing on the plaid
before my knees. I partake. It is good.
The fellow next to me, perhaps 20 brings out his cell phone; wants me
to see his photos. These are miniscule photos and my reading glasses
are elsewhere, as I was not prepared for reading this day. But, he
runs through the album. This, his room with Bob Marley, which comes
out as Bohb Maarlay. I recognize the photos, of which there are many,
more than life sized, and one with posed next to the man with the
Rastafarian locks. Then a few of Lake Kinneret near which he works a
farm in the summer and where he likes to swim and SCUBA. Once I have
made noises of appreciation, he produces an apple for me. I try to
demur, but like the Coke offerer, he insists. The avocados are sliced
on the equator. I realize that it is much easier to scoop out the meat
in this way; I have always been a longitudinal surgeon and just last
year learned to do a brit milah on each end in order to better scoop
out the meat, or more neatly (for a dinner of vegetarian
feinschmeckers, who were duly impressed with my surgical expertise).
But this works better. I am bit to shy to reach all the way across
Scotland for these tender slices of avocado and recall that somewhere
on the kibbutz are the avocado orchards and we can pick up all the
avocados we wish from the ground. (Not from the trees; never from the
trees; from the trees are for export, for the Dean and DeLuccans.)
Nu, back to packing. By noon, I am feeling bleary-eyed. Someone
asks after the status of my back, which seems fine. One of the young
men, perhaps Johhhan, asks me how many picking baskets I think it
takes to fill a crate. No idea, I ask him. He guesses 30-40 and we
later ask Shay, who says 30. I tell Johhhan (or whatever), who is
quite pleased. As he should be.
We have perhaps two more crates than I am prepared to do,as I have
gotten the above mentioned call from Alberto and am picturing the art
store closed before I return and my sleeping on bare mattress. Then
we are done.
Near the end, one of the Bedouin men, the driver gets quite excited,
angrily so, has a bit of some battle two rows over with one of the
pickers. Violence seems an option. In our row, however, Raba almost
doesn't notice; seems accustomed to this.
Shay is off with the tractor, moving the crates.
He tells me to wait for Moshek in the orchard. I, not much of a
waiter, take to walking. Past the grapefruit orchards, I pick up some
of the fallen; gifts for Shabbat. Moshek is looking for me, but by
then I am near the double-barreled architect's office. he drives me to
the exit, regrets we did not get coffee together. I too regret. But we
have next week. Next week, I will be a farmer again. Or at least a
Please, have a persimmon. Perhaps also a scotch
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