Below is the first segment of ‘The Mysterious Texture of Memory,’ a new short story—based, however, on my award-winning short memoir, the ‘Sweet Life.’
The other day, an old picture of Anita Ekberg popped up on my Twitter feed. It was a grainy, black and white photo—back when I was growing up, photos were mostly black and white —of the Swedish actress I’d never seen before, posing on a sailboat at sea, wearing an old-fashioned white bathing suit, with dark, ominous clouds gathering in the background.
For a long moment I couldn’t take my eyes away from her—so beautiful she looked, so young and unspoiled—as she brought with her a gushing wave of irresistible memories about the place I left behind. One memory in particular, though, of the day and night that had changed, so dramatically so, the trajectory of my life.
It was a summer day, which on that year had arrived early. It brought with it a suffocating heatwave, as well as—though little did I know at the time—the seeds of change that would reshape the course of my life. I was just a teenager then, still trying to catch my breath after crossing half the length of the kibbutz, running like the meshuga boy I truly was. Our class had ended just a short while ago, up where I and my classmates lived and studied together on the slope of that Biblical mountain, Mount Gilboa. And as was my habit every Wednesday, I ran as fast as I could all the way down to the big communal dining room, where the heart of the kibbutz was beating.
The place was always a beehive of activity at noontime: people were coming and going, arriving from work in the fields and orchards, clothes dirty and smelly, while others were leaving already after taking an early lunch, in a hurry to reach their homes for the mandatory two-hour afternoon naptime. The work coordinator’s room was busy with people, checking their work schedule and arguing about it, while around the ‘Parliament Tree’ grownup men were loudly discussing politics or the latest scrimmages on the border with our Arab neighbors. Young women with toddlers strolled by, sneaking some private pleasure-time before returning their offspring to the common kindergarten.
No pleasure-time for me, though, not yet. That would come later at night. For now, I was stuck opposite the large bulletin board; the youngest one there but by no means alone, since that board had functioned as the main artery of the kibbutz, where the most vital flow of information regarding its rhythm of life was posted. I had no interest in reading general announcements from the Kibbutz Secretary, or the extra duties members were assigned to carry out aside from their regular work schedule, or who was on guard-duty at nights during that week, or who was about to get married soon. No, my attention was focused solely on a little piece of torn lined-paper, tacked down at the bottom of the board as if it were just an afterthought. It read: “Film on the lawn tonight at nine. La Dolce Vita. Adults only.”
It was penciled in longhand, without the translation of the film’s title into Hebrew, and without explanation as to why it was for “Adults only.” Plain and simple as it was, it complicated the rest of the day for me, and—though I was unaware of it at the time—my whole life. I was consumed thereafter by three crucial questions: What was the meaning of the film’s title, why for adults only and, since I was only fourteen at the time, how to nonetheless see the film?