Saturday, March 25, 2017

Disembarking at the HaHagana train station

The HaHagana train station in Tel Aviv at night.

I recently started to commute to Tel Aviv with the train and has to get off at the last station called the Hahagana station. It means “the defense” in Hebrew and yes, I totally agree that it is a strange name for a train station.

Travelling from Benjamina (my home station) one has a quiet and fast 30 minute ride to the first stop at the university. Then the journey carries on to the central train station also known as Savidor, the third one that is called the Shalom train station and with then the last one is HaHagana.

If you come to the city to shop or see museums, you will embark at the Shalom station. And the other two will provide further connections inland or take you to the northern suburbs of Tel Aviv. But Hahagana station will be your gateway to the real heart of Tel Aviv. If you disembark there, your destination is down-town baby!

The first three stations all seem to have to the more upscale-y disembarkers. The first three stations are also closer to each. It is basically drop the passengers, get the passengers, ride for five minutes and then slow down again to get more passengers.

HaHagana station however is a bit further apart from the other three. When I just started my commute into the city I kept feeling that I have missed my stop somehow. The view from the windows show that we are leaving the city behind us and at first I often worried that somehow I left Tel Aviv and am on the way to the airport. Slowly, with every train ride however, I learned to start looking for the signs that I am still on the right track….

As soon as I started feeling that we are leaving the Tel Aviv sky scrapers too far behind, I look out for the graffiti drawn on the flood control channel running parallel to the railway tracks. The sentence “Why did I join the army?” written in huge Hebrew letters, is my first sign. At first I pondered this rhetorical question also and felt sad for the person who wrote it.

it is a rhetorical question because here in Israel the army is not voluntary. It is one’s strictly enforced duty to defend country and country people. Soon after the conscription question follow large drawings of black sewer rats. I guess that the huge graffiti rats are appropriate for the runoff channel and in a way ties in nicely with the sad rhetorical question. One still wonders however who would have gone to such an effort to draw so many large rats…

This is however not the most depressing road sign on my way to the HaHagana station. Not even close. Soon after the rats, the runoff channel is graffitied with a large amount of drawn coffins. Some are large and some are small, some are draped in the Palestinian flag and others in the Israeli flag.

Was it maybe the same person who joined the army and became so fed-up and disillusioned that he/she/they took the time and effort to mark the ride into haHagana with this depressing graffiti? The politics here in Israel often causes depression but to go and draw such a large amount of coffins seems a bit extreme to me.

I have tried to look out of the windows on the opposite side of the train but the endless rows of four- lane traffic are not much of a comfort either. They just make the graffiti rat race on the other side of the train a reality.

As I ponder the motives of the coffin artist I conclude that he or maybe even she is probably not even Jewish or Muslim. Both religions don’t really use coffins to bury their dead in. So maybe the coffin artist is a Christian then? But then again it is very unlikely that a Christian tourist on a pilgrimage to the holy land would have the time or even thought to climb into a large drain and decorate it with depressing graffiti…

Ah, I know now!! It must have been a Russian immigrant! Quite a few of them are Christians, they all go to the army AND all seem to have a creative gene.

Just as I congratulate myself on my superior conclusions the train driver announces our next stop in that TV-reality voice that they all seem to have:
 “Ladies and gentlemen, our next stop is…” and then pause an extra-long pause for extra dramatic effect.

It is this pause that makes me question my sanity all over again. WHY is he waiting so long? Are they going to surprise us with a different train station today? Did we somehow travel into a parallel universe and now are going to get the surprise of our lives? Or maybe aliens kidnapped the whole bunch of us..?

I quickly backtrack through my steps and assure myself that I am 99% certain that I am on the right train. (The other 1% is left for the parallel universe and the aliens because you never know!)  And I did indeed saw the sad graffiti again today.

And  then train driver completes his sentence:
”...HaHagana train station. Exiting the train station is only possible with a train ticket. Please do not leave any of your belongings behind on the train.”

I am ripped out of my thoughts of sad Russian artists, the real and metaphysical rat race, aliens and parallel worlds and scramble to gather my belongings. Out of the train and up the stairs I flow with the rest of the disembarkers but then I leave my group to make a quick stop at the WC. I have learned by now not to use the toilet in the first stall because the automatic flush is a bit premature. It tends to flush the toilet while one is still using it. (I promise this is truth and not just me being dramatic!)

On the way to the bathrooms I slow down a bit and have a quick listen at whoever is playing at the piano in the entrance hall. At the university train station there is also a piano and it only seems to attract serious pianists. One is usually greeted with a classic sonata or a lengthy polks whenever you pass through that entrance hall.

At the haHagana train station, the situation is a bit grittier. I have listened to young soldiers playing their own compositions, a gothic teen jazzing up something half-familiar, a cleaner practicing scales and a toddler softly tickling sounds from the patient piano.

But then it is time to leave the train station and to start the day. I click myself through the gate and then scurry away with the rest of the crowd like the good little rat that I am.

2 comments:

  1. Those coffins have probably been there for a while but I noticed them for the first time on Thursday when I rode the train to Tel Aviv.

    HaHagana station is named for the street it's on, of course, and the street is named for the Hagana, which was the Israeli "army" before the state was established in 1948.

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    1. Thank you for clearing that for me, Bari!

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