Greetings, literarians. Today we have a guest post from Kevin Haworth, whose work was recently included in Famous Drownings in Literary History. The content below is part of the ongoing blog tour curated by The Next Best Book Blog.

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“This essay tells its own origin story, but it’s worth repeating: I really did find almost the entire essay on a sandwich wrapper.  My greatest thanks to the anonymous author, who inadvertently left me this material to remix and set in a context that I hope allows the original writer’s experience to be revealed to a reading audience.

In a sense, all of non-fiction is found material, whether it’s the material from our own lives or that which we pull from history, art, science, elsewhere.  This essay is included in Famous Drownings in Literary History in a section called “The Israeli Narratives”, which moves from my time on Kibbutz Ramat Yochanon, near Haifa, to an army training accident, to a story from a young officer, to deep into the history of the place, to finally, this piece—a young American’s view of Israel from the details up.

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What’s There: or, Essay Found on Sandwich Wrapper

 

The sweetest essay about place I’ve ever read was written on a sandwich wrapper, left outside a falafel shop in Tel Aviv. The writer was American — plenty of English interspersed with tourist Hebrew, all in a long list like a kind of ecstatic diary. It began:

 

Blue toilet paper

Marzipan

Falafel

Shwarma

 

There is the essence of place: the logistics of toilet and food. Both particular and common — the universal through the specific detail, as we writers like to say. The list continues, all in round and bubbly letters, like a sorority girl’s, and becomes a datebook of recent adventures, bars and buses:

 

Ben Yehuda

Rock bar

Orient Express

Glasnost

Bus #5

 

Anyone who has spent time in Israel will recognize this list. The writer was the kind of American traveler in Israel (young, Jewish, let loose by her parents) I had met many times, the kind I myself had been ten years earlier. The emotional content (drinking beer! In Jerusalem!) comes from its very ordinariness. What we know — what the writer does not have to say, what the list says for her — is why it matters. Because it happened to me. Because it happened here.

 

Peace with Jordan

Christmas in Bethlehem

Turkey, Greece, Egypt

Dahab (smoking)

 

One place leads to another.

 

Soldiers

Hasidim

Ketushas from Lebanon

Yael Solomon shooting

Clinton’s visit

Hillary at the Kotel

Gore at Hebrew U.

Nutmeg in the oatmeal

 

Can’t you picture the scene? The odd figures walking by — black-hatted scholars, beautiful soldiers with their weapons hanging from their shoulders, the American dignitaries promising to bring peace. And yet the rockets still come over the border. The next morning, you have breakfast.

 

Chocolate spread

Goat shit in the Galilee

500 pitas

 

The wonder of the new place becomes routine; you don’t know if you will ever see it again with those fresh, devouring eyes.

 

Egged

Bezek

Bureaucracy, lines

Cramming for finals

Climbing Masada

Floating in the Dead Sea

Bye to 1-semester people

 

Here’s what I think every time I look at this list, which I keep folded in the book of poems by Yehuda Amichai that I was reading when I found it: If you want to tell me about a place, you don’t have to tell me what it means. Events are overrated; conflict can be a burden on both writer and reader. Just tell me what you saw — with bitterness, or with a kind of sweet-eyed yearning. I just need to know what’s there.

 

Tell me what’s there.

 

Laundry in building 3

Coffee from the kum-kum

Parents visit — food!

How are you (masc.)? How are you (fem.)? I’m from America!