Coffee and Pink Floyd

One of the invisible faultlines running through Israel/Palestine is coffee. Everywhere you go you the alternative to espresso is ‘black like in Israel’, dark mud, the Turkish stuff, and it’s strong but bland. Only when there are arabs around do you get Arabic coffee and my first cup in Jerusalem came as a surprise when a very average-looking street café in the old city with only tiny pastries for breakfast (‘you pay for the cakes also’) served a cup of the most deliciously and unexpectedly aromatic black stuff, laced with cardamom. In Bethlehem’s Manger Square, a couple sell three-sheqel plastic cups poured from a kettle with an internal wood chip burner. Off the Desert Highway in Jordan, missing my breakfast, we pull into a tatty souvenir shop and café where they serve tiny cups ‘strong enough to wake you up today, and maybe tomorrow too.’ In Haifa I importune strangers in a supermarket to help me find the Arabic stuff on the shelves, but they’re not sure; to be safe I buy two different brands, and it’s only the one with Arabic script on it that has to go in the special security box on the plane when I leave Ben Gurion. In Nazareth at last I know for sure in the souq when I find a store with a tub of the stuff loose, cardamom scattered over the powder like camouflage, and a final pinch in each bag for luck.


Pink Floyd are big in Israel, though Roger Waters made himself unpopular last year moving a gig from HaYarkon Park to Neve Shalom. I’m alone at a terminal in an internet café in the old city, the only kind of establishment that stays open after six, when the owner asks if I want to listen to some music and suggests Pink Floyd. He’s got everything, so Wish You Were Here echoes into the empty souq outside, as I tap away at my email. On a bus near Masada I ask a young man to decode a Hebrew timetable, and in return he proffers me his headphones to listen to Bedouin music. This, to us, is like Pink Floyd to you, he says. My friend here, he gestures to the kid beside him who grins behind sunglasses oblivious, is a Bedouin. So don’t be surprised if the bus blows up. The kid grins again. He understands nothing, he says. They’re like animals.

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