. . . that the grilling one gets on arrival at Ben Gurion International, Tel Aviv is second only to the reception laid on at points of entry to the USA. They’ve always been a particularly grim lot a JFK but I gather they’re even worse since 9/11.
So there I was at seven o’clock this morning, my body still tuned in to GMT telling me it was two hours earlier, confronted by a humourless Gorgon asking me all sorts of damn fool questions the burden of which was why on earth would anyone in their right mind want to visit Israel?
As I say, I was forewarned so, having patiently waited my turn, I marched forward to the cubicle wearing my most winning smile and wished her the top o’ the morning. No, I didn’t assume my lamentable Irish accent, but I tried to put a bit of Irish enthusiasm into my greeting. But it cut no ice. She scarcely batted an eyelid let alone responded with anything resembling a smile and said not a word in response. Why was I visiting Israel? Was I with anybody? Did I know anybody in Israel? What did I do? That took a while because I rashly mentioned being bursar of Ely Cathedral until last July. She didn’t seem to have the faintest inkling of what a bursar might do and was clearly not too sure about English cathedrals. ‘Oh, so you’re a priest then’ she offered, finally and hopefully. Clearly she was used to priests. ‘No,’ I told her, ‘I’m not a priest.’ If it could have done, her face would have fallen. ‘But aren’t you afraid of being alone for a week in Jerusalem?’ I resisted the temptation of asking her why on earth she should think that and simply responded in the monosyllabic negative. She sighed and stamped my passport.
I’m sure this lady is the salt of the earth, has a loving husband, has a household full of the most delightful children and is the life and soul of every social occasion in which she participates. But this morning she did a most convincing imitation of the babushkas the Soviet authorities used to seat at the end of every hotel corridor and who seemed to have been programmed to respond to any question put to them with a dispiriting ‘nyet’.
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.