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Friday, November 18, 2011

Driven Artist

Winding down, or trying to. This is my last, or next to last, night here. It is Thursday, my flight is 6am Saturday morning, and I am planning to leave here 2am Saturday morning, by taxi, for the airport. I don’t know yet whether I’ll try to sleep a few hours first, or not. It’s about an hour’s drive, and Said has ordered a taxi for me. The driver doesn’t speak any English, so he will call me when he arrives and say ”taxi” and I will come downstairs to meet him. At least, that’s the plan, and I sure hope this is one plan that goes according to plan!

Tomorrow, Friday, is the day the gallery is closed. And it is just occurring to me that this, my last day, will also be the first day I am here alone with the gallery not open. The other Fridays either Suzi was here, or I was away. So it will be a bit strange.

Tonight Said took me out to dinner, along with Rawan, his daughter, home from Jerusalem for the weekend, Eiman, Laila, and Ola( who recently finished her degree at the American University in Jenin, is now working at the gallery while she waits to see if she passed her licensing exam in Physiology Therapy. She says job opportunities are good. She’s been working with a group of high school students doing their community service taking photographs of the remaining old buildings of the city. And she also helps with interviewing the elders.

The original plan had been for us to go to lunch at 1pm, and for Lilli to join us. But Said had lost track of the fact that these high school groups were coming, so that plan changed. Kamle therefore couldn’t come, which was a shame. She told me she’d be working in the office until 2pm today, so I came downstairs shortly before that to say goodbye. But she’d already gone. So I will have to call her in the morning. I feel bad not to be able to say goodbye in person. She’s such a warm and good natured person.

One plan that did work out was for me to visit Nidal at his studio this afternoon. Mohammed, as usual, took me. I have gotten so attached to Mohammed, and it was hard to say goodbye to him. It was hard to say goodbye to the girls, too, but maybe a bit easier than it could have been, as it was three of them together.

Nidal is the painter who went to Russia for six years to study, and whose paintings are exhibited currently here. He is an intriguing person, shy in a way but passionate and vocal about his art. His studio, which is right next to his mother’s house, is two stories high. The first floor walls are covered with large canvasses with sketched in scenes awaiting paint. It seems as though he’s easily got a couple of years’ work ahead of him right there.

Upstairs are many more completed canvasses, the majority of them scenes of St. Petersburg, (how did he get them all back here?), but also quite a few of local scenes, and some portraits and still lives. After we’d looked at as many of them as possible (not all of them were accessible, they are stacked all over the large space) he asked me if I wanted to see a few more in a small room. The room he led us to was in his mother’s house, next door, and she, clad all in shades of purple, matching her room which was also lavenders and violets, served us nescafe and almond pastries. I asked how many people lived in the house, and Nidal said only his mother, his siblings lived nearby. He’d also showed me some early paintings from when he was a teenager, and one that had a slash in it. Matter of factly, Nidal said his father had done that. When I asked why, he quietly laughed and said his father was foolish. I think he meant crazy. Actually, my guess was that he didn’t want his son to be a painter. Pretty lousy way to express it. When I asked if his father was still alive, and what kinds of terms they are on, the answers were yes, and not good.

Mohammed later told me tha Nidal and his dad were on better terms than they once had been. But when I described the conversation to Said, he said that no one from Nidal’s family had come to the opening of the exhibit.

The painting of his that I think I like the best is one that is in the exhibit, and quite different from all the others I’ve seen. It’s a young woman washing dishes in a kitchen, and more realistic, less impressionistic than most of his other 250 plus. He told me that it is of his sister.

Nidal is driven, his whole life seems to be devoted to his art. He works in the building trade to support himself, but told me about the vast amounts of money he spends to buy the best paints, etc. There’s a bed in his studio, I wondered if he sleeps there all the time or just when he’s painting. He is quiet in temperament. Mohammed, who is anything but quiet, has decided that Nidal needs a wife, and is trying to match him up!

I thought I understood Nidal to say he had never sold a painting. I hope I heard him wrong.

The restaurant we went to tonight is Kapolsky’s, which is part of a chain that has been around since 1934. I know that because it says it, in English, on the employee’s shirts. This is the same restaurant that I went to with Nidal and Mohammed a couple of days ago, the day I met Nidal. I hadn’t been especially excited with my chicken cutlet , although Nidal and Mohammed seemed to thoroughly enjoy what I couldn’t eat. I had been quite taken, though, with this very cute young waiter who constantly had a huge grin on his face. Tonight, he just beamed when he saw me, and immediately started practicing his English on me. Mohammed had said all the girls love him, and I can believe it.

Tonite, no need to wonder about choices from the menu, Said took care of that. He told me they always ordered the same things there, and had called ahead to say we were coming.

We had what seemed even a greater variety of salads than usual, and some that were unusual. One had greens, eggplant, tomatoes, walnuts, a few other ingredients. There were mushrooms with a tahini sauce, grilled eggplant with some kind of green sauce, which I think was my favorite, cole slaw, corn salad, etc, etc. I told Ola, sitting next to me, that in the U.S. we didn’t usually share small portions of many things like this, except for Chinese food. and she was surprised. Next came several main courses, again to share. A dish that was pretty much a dead ringer for lo mein, with about twice the amount of soy sauce than at home,, (Said said it was a Thai dish) another unusual salad with eggplant and a variety of other ingredients, and then, a potato and cheese casserole, bubbling hot. By that time I was overwhelmed and even though Rawan said it was very delicious, and I believed her, it was just too much, and too rich looking, for me to consider at the moment. Now, I regret that I didn’t at least give it a try. Everyone had had healthy portions of most things, interesting because the girls had just eaten a big meal a couple of hours before, at the gallery, and had told me they were just going to have something to drink at the restaurant.

Suddenly, the three young women, Eiman, Leila, and Ola, stood up and said they had to leave. Quickly, I hugged them all and said goodbye. They are all on Facebook, and hopefully we will stay in touch. Rawan, her dad Said, and I were left. Said ordered coffee, ordered tea for me, and our cute waiter brought a teapot with green tea and cups for all of us. He then also brought us tea bags with regular black tea. Rawan added the teabag to her herbal tea, which I gather is typical. Said drank his coffee and then his tea, I drank my green tea, and then we got up to leave. As we were heading out, the young waiter said I love you and made a heart with his fingers. I told him I loved him too.

By the way, on the subject of missed appointments and changed schedules, Lilli ( the only non Arab working at the gallery) had said she thought it was a different attitude about making plans, more casual, that when one said let’s do such and such, it really meant well, maybe we’ll do that.

I invited Lilli, (it only dawned on me today that her name is actually pronounced more like Leelee) and whoever in her family could, to join me for lunch tomorrow at El Baboor, the famous expensive restaurant in town. She responded by inviting me to her house for lunch, a different but wonderful plan. Even plans made with Lilli often seem not to come to fruition, largely, no doubt, because she is working within the framework of the gallery and everyone else’s style and schedule. But tomorrow I expect things will go as planned, since no one else is involved. It should be a nice last afternoon, and I look forward to meeting her husband and kids.

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