Since moving to the Mediterranean coast a few months ago, I’ve fallen in love with the sea. Of course, it took me a few months to break the habit of calling this huge body of water “the ocean”, a faux pas of the highest order. I’ve had a love-hate relationship with the Mediterranean since sixth grade, when my teacher decided to kill time one day by playing a game in which you take the letters of one relatively long word, and rearrange them to form several smaller words. Whoever formed the most words would be declared the winner. That day, we were given the word “Mediterranean” to parse, and I undertook a systemic search in ascending alphabetical order for all of the words that were hidden deep within.
I was working on words beginning with the letter “n”, when I felt a little thrill of discovery. In one of the books I had been reading for fun, I had come across the word “née”, referring to a character’s maiden name. Lo and behold, there was “née”, right inside of the parent word “Mediterranean”! Having amassed such a large collection of answers that I was sure I would be declared the champ, I skipped up to the teacher’s desk full of excitement. She stared silently at the dozens of words on the paper I handed over, and then the edge of her mouth twisted up into a hint of a sadistic grin.
“This is an excellent attempt, going far beyond my expectations. I do declare you to be the winner. Née, however, isn’t a word.”
And she with that she gave a dismissive sniff and went back to coming up with some other timewaster to fill the last 20 minutes of the class period. I, on the other hand, was willing to settle for nothing less than total conquest. I wandered over to the unabridged dictionary lying dusty and forgotten on a shelf in the back of the room. After flipping to the Ns, I found the entry I wanted and headed back triumphantly to the teacher’s desk.
“I think you’ll find that “née” is indeed in the dictionary,” I said to her in a voice that, I can admit now, was chosen for maximum dispersal. In the moment, I was too giddy with that intoxicating feeling of power to calculate the cost of my pyrrhic victory, until my mother, also an elementary school teacher, made the gravity of my offense clear when I returned home, noting that under no circumstances was I ever to embarrass a teacher in public again.
After nearly three decades, I was only just getting over the trauma that I had suffered at the hands of the Mediterranean. So, it was something of a surprise to me just how comforting I found its waters. I went to the beach first every Friday afternoon, and then eventually on Fridays, both mid-morning, and again right after lunch.
One week, I decided to go back on a Sunday morning before work, at 6 am. While I drove to the beach, I worried that it would be deserted, and I’d be stalked by a mutant killer-rapist, looking like a Reaver from Firefly. But upon my arrival, far from being empty, the beach looked like the site of an aquatic Matlock convention, with elderly bathers “exercising” on the shore, and more elderly swimmers bobbing in the water.
Most of the geriatric Speedo models had congregated in one side of a protected bay, but since I planned on doing some “real swimming”, I decided to hang out by myself, where I could avoid splashing water into anyone’s colostomy bag. After a few minutes of doing an enthusiastic butterfly stroke, just to show that I could, I sat down in the shallows, entranced by the play of the sun rising over the water.
The sea was incredibly clear, and the light broke into myriad rainbows. Fish starting to circle around me in the water, and I felt like a modern-day Snow White (Cocoa Brown?). I relaxed into a yoga pose I had learned from a cartoon and meditated on zen and the art of station wagon madness. I felt like I had wandered into a Bob Marley video.
While I basked in the glow of peaceful coexistence (and absolutely nothing else!), the fish kept creeping closer. I shooed them off with a wave of my hand, but I was getting a little uncomfortable. Just as the words, “Hey fellas, have we got a problem?!” made their way out of my mouth, the fish attacked, biting me in a very uncomfortable place … and I don’t mean the back of a Volkswagen.
I screamed and ran out of the water, while all of the old men and women turned to look at me like I was the killer-rapist. Defeated, I toweled off and got back in the car, nursed my wounds, and headed for home. And now at the beach, I make sure to stay with the rest of the pack. Because in Israel, even nature is likely to bite you in the ass.