AMERICA TO ISRAEL BY 2 CV
My religious convictions placed me firmly in the fold of independent,
fundamental Baptists whose view of divorced pastors is dim to the point
of extinction, and of
divorced and remarried pastors even more dim, and of seminary professors
who teach pastors the most dim of all. As a result, the
decision of my bride of 15 years finally to fulfil on 7 July 1977 (7-7-77)
her 12-year threat of divorce, brought to an abrupt and ignominious end
my professorial career at the San Francisco Baptist Theological
Seminary. A few long-distance telephone conversations suggested a remote
possibility of teaching elsewhere. Since I had already taught some
elementary Hebrew, I decided to take a sabbatical (from nothing)
and to travel to Israel to improve my primitive and rudimentary Hebrew.
Time was not of the essence; it occurred to me that for
approximately the same price as flying to Tel Aviv,
I could fly to London, buy a cheap car, and drive the rest of the way to
Israel. The Israeli consul in San Francisco had solemnly informed me
that it is possible to bring a car into Israel by driving it from Jordan
on the Allenby Bridge across the Jordan River into Israel.
Accordingly, near the end of May 1978, two months after the divorce was
settled, I flew from San Francisco to London. I was carrying about $1000
which I had borrowed from my mother. I took the bus from the Heathrow
airport to the Waterloo train station,
where I found a cheap hotel run by Arabs about a block from the
station. Then I bought an Exchange & Mart
weekly paper of classified
advertisements and began looking in particular for a two-cylinder Citroën
2 CV. I had previously seen pictures of Israeli scenes in which these
cars were prominent; I therefore assumed that it would be no problem to own
one in Israel. And I had already owned two of them in the U.S.
Citroën 2 CV just like my 1967 model.
So after looking at two or three I bought for $400 a 1967 model with
original blue paint, left-hand drive since I planned immediately to take it
out of England, and 99,900 kilometers displayed on the odometer.
It was the third 2 CV that I had owned. Before I left
London the odometer turned over to zero, making it simple to keep track of
the distance that I travelled.
1960 Citroën 2 CV: my first of six.
The weather in London was beautiful—bright sun with not a
cloud in the sky. I wondered why people were always complaining about the
terrible London weather. Everywhere I saw people sunning themselves in the
various parks, and I wondered that they were as pale as if they had been
assiduously avoiding the sun. The second or third day the people appeared
with bright pink sunburns—and then I saw the headline of a newspaper:
“First Sun in Two Years!” I stopped
wondering; I was happy that people were appreciating the fine weather that
I had brought with me from California.
1967 Citroën 2 CV near Dover.
I then drove to the coast of England hoping to find a ferry to the
Continent. Without asking anyone I drove to the resort community of
Brighton; there I asked someone. He informed me that ferries leave not
from Brighton but from Dover, 67 miles east. I accordingly had to drive
on the narrow and winding coast road east to Dover. I had to drive on the left side of the
road while sitting on the left side of the car; fortunately, the car
was small enough that I could lean out the right-side window to
see if the way was clear to pass slow vehicles.
2 CV at Dover.
At Dover I caught the ferry to Boulogne, where I arrived in the late
afternoon, and then tried to find the road to Paris. I hadn’t bothered to
get a good map since I thought it would be easy to find Paris. So I
immediately lost my way and wandered on little country lanes through France
until I stumbled on an autoroute (freeway that isn’t free) long after
dark. I drove toward Paris not even knowing from which direction I was
approaching the city, and when I reached the perpherique road that
surrounds Paris I crossed over it and exited directly into Paris.
2 CV at Tom’s home.
Finding Tom’s Home.
I drove about half a mile straight on the city street onto which I had exited,
found a gasoline station,
and showed the attendant my brother Tom’s address and asked him if he
could direct me there. He pointed to a building about 200 yards away
and said, “Over there!” It was then
about 11 PM, so I decided to sleep in the car and to telephone Tom in
the morning so as to minimize the bother: he was not expecting me.
But three teenage girls who had gone to the movies and had missed
the last subway (Metro) train home,
apparently thought I was harmless (I was a bit
insulted) and asked for help. I accordingly tried to drive them home but
they knew the way only by train. After driving fruitlessly all over Paris
we finally returned to our starting point and then spent the next couple
of hours trying to nap in the car until the first train in the morning.
2 CV transporting tree.
Tom’s New House.
At about 7 AM I telephoned Tom and then went over to their apartment.
The previous year he and his wife had visited the U.S.; on that
occasion I saw him after a hiatus of 12 years and met his wife Danielle
for the first time. I stayed with them a full month, until the end of
June, mostly in their suburban home in La Varenne east of Paris. Tom
had sold his business for $1 million but the deal was dragging on
interminably with no money as yet forthcoming. Meanwhile he had bought
for $25,000 a six-month option on a $250,000 house in the middle of
Paris, expecting that some money for his business would arrive in time
to exercise the option. When I arrived the option had two weeks
left; if he did not exercise it, it would expire and he would lose both the
$25,000 and the house. In the first week of my visit he received
his first check for
about $500,000 (three million French francs); I attended the meeting that
he promptly convened with the various agents and lawyers in a
smoke-filled room, in order to
complete the transaction. Then I helped him buy a stereo and various
other things, and helped them move into the house.
Tom gave me a pair of swimming trunks, a product of his company.
He stayed on as manager and later bought back control.
Repairing brake cylinder.
France to Germany.
While in Paris I repaired the brake cylinder of the left rear wheel,
the only repair the eleven-year-old car required, and at the end of June
continued the journey. I drove east through Nancy and Strasbourg into
Germany, and then drove almost nonstop across Germany on the autobahn
(a freeway that is free) through Stuttgart and Munich. One night I
slept in the car at a roadside rest area.
Approaching the Danube.
Austria to the Danube.
I then drove into Austria at Salzburg and continued east to Vienna,
where I arrived at sundown. I continued through Vienna without stopping
and by late evening reached the bridge which crosses the Danube to
Bratislava in Czechoslovakia; my intent was to reach Hungary by cutting
across the protruding underbelly of Czechoslovakia. Because it was late
I slept in the car (or tried to: it was cold); in the early morning I
performed my morning ablutions in the waters of the Danube and then drove
across the bridge to Bratislava.
Unsuccessful Entry into Czechoslovakia.
At the border the guards turned me back, snarling that I could obtain
a visa only at the embassy in Vienna. So I returned to Austria and decided to try
to find Hungary. I still did not have a good map, and eastern Austria
has no freeways, only winding country roads with road signs in German.
At a tee intersection I understood only the sign pointing right to
“Vienna”; since I did not want to return there I turned left and entered
the village of Kittlesee. On the other side of Kittlesee a large grassy
mound blocked the road. It was a simple matter to drive over it with the 2 CV,
which has some Jeep-like qualities; several yards farther I was forced
to bypass a huge stair-like structure in the middle of the road.
Bratislava across the Danube River.
A couple of miles later the road was blocked by a gate in a chain-link
fence stretching to the horizon in both directions; a watchtower stood inside
the fence. I didn’t know where I was, whether I had crossed into
Czechoslovakia or Hungary, and since I had no previous experience,
I thought that maybe thus people enter Communist countries.
Successful Entry into Czechoslovakia.
After several moments a young soldier rushed down from the watchtower,
opened the gate, and confiscated my passport and the keys to my car.
I was then held under guard the entire day. At first I was held where
I had stopped near the gate; later some soldiers in a Russian
four-wheel-drive army vehicle led me away from the fence back toward Austria
and left me in an area of high brush on both sides of the road, and
a guard of two soldiers. I opened the canvas roof of the
car, took off my shirt, and enjoyed the sun while the soldiers at first
stood careful guard at each end of the car, and then gradually lost
interest and lay down in the bushes out of sight where I could hear
them talking and laughing. Two or three times Czechs came out, finally
bringing someone who had lived in New York and could speak English;
they interrogated me and decided I was harmlessly
“nonpolitical.” I had neglected to inform them
that I was a former member of The John Birch Society. In
the afternoon they drove out to where I was parked and a fellow in
civilian clothes who could speak a little English got in the car. At
his behest I followed the Russian vehicle through the gate and on toward
Bratislava from the Czech side. That road reached a fork, right into
Hungary and left toward Bratislava. The right fork
was lined for several miles with stopped cars
waiting to cross into Hungary; I turned left.
1961 Russian Gaz army vehicle.
Expulsion from Czechoslovakia.
At Bratislava I waited in a building at the border adjacent to
the bridge for two or three hours; at about 5 PM the Czech police
rode with me in my car to the center of the bridge.
A couple of burly Austrian policemen had walked there to meet me;
they received my passport from the Czechs and rode
with me back into Austria. I then had to drive them to Kittlesee to
show them where I had crossed into Czechoslovakia. They turned me over
to the local Kittlesee police, who promptly fined me $15 for crossing
the border illegally. They admitted that the warning sign had fallen
down and people make that error frequently; it seemed very much like
a trap. By then it was dark; I grudgingly paid the $15 in order to retrieve
my passport, and then drove immediately into Hungary, where I could get a
visa at the border, instead of staying the night in Austria.
In Hungary I drove to Gyor, the first town, and stayed the night in
a large and rather plain hotel which met very well my requirements for
cheap, not luxurious, accommodations. The next morning a well-dressed
man bought most of my dollars at double the official rate. With a box
full of Hungarian forints I drove through Budapest where I did not stop; I’m a
terrible tourist. After Budapest I met a fellow driving in the opposite
direction in a Citroën 2 CV. He had the canvas top open, and waved at me
through the top. I waved back and thought, Fiat or Renault owners
don’t greet each other like that. Nor, for that matter, do owners
of other Citroën models. On the way I picked up a man and his wife and
baby whose car had broken down, and drove them into the miserable little
hamlet where they lived. They spoke only Hungarian but managed to convey
2 CV at hotel in Mako.
Five Days in Hungary.
At Mako, near the Romanian border, I checked into a hotel and
decided to rest a while; the price of less than $2.00 a day including
breakfast, due to my special exchange rate, seemed reasonable. I stayed
five days, met a few people, rode in an East German Trabant automobile,
and visited the town swimming pool.
That was the only swimming pool I had
ever seen with water the color of which was so dark as to obscure
completely everything in the water. I don’t know what it was, and don’t
want to guess, but at least it didn’t smell too bad. I looked at items
in shops and was impressed with the combination of very cheap quality
and extremely high prices in that workers’ paradise.
After a short drive I reached Romania where I was able to trade my
remaining forints for Romanian currency; I heard later that the
Romanians shortly thereafter stopped accepting forints. The border
police chief was an
attractive, petite female whom I kidded about taking her with me to
America. As a result they all but dismantled the car trying to find
something suspicious, while I remained in good humor throughout. When
she asked if I had any religious literature I replied “No”; then when
they searched my suitcase and found my various Bibles she wanted to
know why I had said I had no religious literature. I told her I thought
she meant literature for distribution; of course as a Christian I had my personal
Bibles. They finally released me and with a cheery good-bye I drove
At Sibiu or Brasov some high-school students were conducting a
traffic survey; when they learned that I spoke English they turned me over
to an older student who spoke perfect English. I told him he spoke English
better than Kissinger and that he should come to the United States where
he could be elected Senator (and maybe even President if he hides his birth
certificate—OK, I thought of that later).
I reached Bucharest after dark and had to
find a hotel. But none was apparent. I asked someone who spoke English; he
turned out to be a plain-clothes policeman. He gave me precise instructions,
but I still couldn’t find the hotel, and circled back to him. Then he
told me to go straight down the road that he pointed out; the hotel is
immediately on the right after the next intersection. The problem was
that I would thereby be going the wrong way on a one-way street. I
don’t remember his name; I’ll call him “Bruno.”
He said, “If someone stops you, just tell him Bruno said it’s
all right.” Then he laughed heartily and repeated the same
sentence. No one stopped me, and sure enough the hotel was located
precisely where he said it would be. And it was evident why I had
trouble finding it. I had driven right past it at least twice; it was
totally unlit except for some dim lights visible through a glass door.
But it turned out to be a good hotel; I slept very soundly.
Through Bulgaria to Turkey.
The next day I crossed without incident into Bulgaria, drove to Varna
on the Black Sea, and continued south along the coast to Turkey,
enjoying on the way the views of the Black Sea. I was using a map which
makes its compiler, the National Geographic Society, appear to be a
Communist-front organization: they indicated roads in Communist countries
as freeways, like the German autobahns
and the Franch autoroutes,
which were actually two-lane roads. That map showed no road of any
kind into Turkey from the edge of Bulgaria bordering on the Black Sea,
but in fact a rather good road existed. I reached southern Bulgaria after
dark and tried to find a place to sleep in a miserable town that
manifestly had received no civic improvements since the Communists had
taken over after World War II; the roads were almost impassably dusty.
No place to sleep was forthcoming, so I drove into Turkey and
continued all night until I reached a town.
Santa Sophia church.
The circular sign
Although morning light had already arrived, I was exhausted and found
a cheap hotel where I bedded down for a few hours. Then I drove
to Istanbul; at the outskirts of town an information service guided me
to an excellent if not very cheap hotel where I stayed a week. I met
there a group of Austrian tourists who invited me to accompany them on
one of their excursions, a trip on a yacht to an island in the Sea of
Marmara. Istanbul has the largest indoor market in the world, with over
5,000 shops; I spent days roaming around and buying presents
which I then airmailed to everyone in my family. I visited the
Santa Sophia church that Constantine built, and also the Blue Mosque
that the Mohammedans built to try to outdo Santa Sophia.
visited some archaelogical sights and in short played the tourist.
Once when I walked out of the hotel to my car, which was parked
in the street, one of a group of small boys pulled me by the arm
to behind the car, and showed me how the trunk door was open and
my toolbox was still safely inside. Maybe he wanted money, but
instead I picked him up and hugged him, while he beamed.
I closed the trunk lid and inexplicably left the toolbox
in the car, so they and I repeated the incident a couple
of days later, generating an even bigger smile.
2 CV to Tarsus.
Istanbul to Adana.
But money was running low, forcing me out of Istanbul and on to
Ankara, which I skirted and then drove south all night through rugged
terrain on a very narrow and winding road to Adana near the
Mediterranean Sea. Shortly before Adana I reached an intersection with a
sign pointing right to Tarsus. Again acting the tourist I detoured into
Tarsus but saw nothing Biblical or Pauline, so I turned around and drove to
Adana where a gasoline strike thwarted my plans to refuel. I slept overnight
in the car at a gasoline station where I was told gasoline would be
available in a “couple of days.” There I met a group of East German
athletes who had been waiting already for three or four days. But I
took a walk and stopped a motorcycle policeman to ask him where it might
be possible to get gasoline.
2 CV in Tarsus.
He informed me of a station that was open;
when I told him I had no gasoline to drive there, he let me siphon
gasoline out of the tank of his motorcycle. His generosity enabled me
to drive to the station where after waiting in a long line I obtained
gasoline and continued the journey.
At the Syrian Border.
It was a short trip to the Syrian border. There a suspicious
policeman asked me where I was going. I said, “Jordan.” He looked even
more suspicious and said, “And then where after that?” That caught me
off guard—I didn’t even know what country lies beyond Jordan. I
stuttered and then said irrelevantly, “Well, I’m coming from Istanbul.”
He exclaimed, “Oh, Istanbul!” and began stamping my passport without
further questions. As I waited for the next step in the process, the
man behind me approached the same officer, and the following conversation
officer: (Examining his passport) I see that you’re from Egypt.
Don’t you speak Arabic?
man: Yes, I speak Arabic.
officer: Then why aren’t you speaking Arabic? That’s our language and
we ought to use it and not be ashamed of it!
man: Well, yes, you’re right.
officer: So speak Arabic!
man: Well, yes, there’s no problem.
officer: (Becoming angry) If there’s no problem, then why are you still
And then the officer continued in Arabic.
2 CV in Damascus.
Through Syria to the Allenby Bridge.
As I left the border, which was late in the afternoon, I was “asked”
to take a couple of men in civilian clothes to Damascus. This I did;
they were pleasant, one spoke a little English, and they were able to guide
me to and through Damascus. We reached Damascus very late at night
and I made no effort to find a
street named Straight; it was morning when I left Damascus en route to
Jordan. The Jordanians allowed me into Jordan without incident. By then I
was extremely tired and had only $50, and wanted to get into Israel as
soon as possible.
I therefore drove immediately to
the north end of the
Jordan valley and continued south along the Jordan River to the Allenby
Bridge, intending to cross immediately into Israel on the basis of the
information that the Israeli consul in San Francisco had supplied. When I reached the
approach to the bridge, some exceedingly friendly
Jordanian soldiers stopped me: they declared that I could go no farther—because the
do not allow vehicles to enter.
The Israeli consul had lied.
To Amman, Aqaba and Petra.
That news left me no choice but to drive to Amman. Shortly after
turning around I picked up an American hitchhiker; he had crossed into
Israel from Jordan but had had to leave his bicycle behind, and he was
now on his way back into Jordan to retrieve the bicycle. He had been in
Jordan before and even knew a bit of Arabic, and was able to guide me
to the American embassy and also to a cheap hotel, where we slept in
beds on the roof for the equivalent of 75¢.
We found his bicycle, which
I thought somewhat of a miracle, and loaded it in the back of the car
and drove to Aqaba to see if it might be possible there to cross into
Israel. It wasn’t; we slept on the beach that night and the next day
drove back to Amman, stopping on the way to visit Petra, a very
lovely sight indeed. A flat tire was the first and only problem the
car experienced since leaving Paris.
A Hotel in Amman.
He then took his bicycle and departed for Turkey, where he intended
to take a boat to Cyprus and then to Israel. Since my money had run out
I had to stay in Amman and try to sell the car. I returned to the same
hotel and decided to wash by hand my dirty laundry which had accumulated.
When I began to pick up what I had washed, I discovered that Tom’s
swimming trunks had disappeared. I queried the hotel management, only to
discover that they had suddenly forgotten how to speak English.
Changing the flat tire.
So I went to the
police. I had to wait a full hour for a policeman who could speak English
to appear. I then waited another hour for another policeman, who could
not speak English, to accompany me back to the hotel. He said something
to the hotel manager, and then he and I sat down together in the
unadorned waiting room with wooden chairs surrounding its entire perimeter.
Every chair was occupied by an Arab, and for about three-fourths of still
another hour not one person said a word. Suddenly the door opened and an
Arab entered clutching a plastic bag with the swimming trunks inside. He
handed the bag to the policeman who with a smile handed the bag to me. I
thanked him, he left, and everyone else then began to chatter in Arabic.
I stayed in the hotel for two more days, figuring it had become the
safest place in Amman.
Once while walking in Amman I saw in the street a colorful
brochure in English. I picked it up; it was a guide to the hotels in
Amman, listing hotels in order of quality, with the best first. The list
began with five-star hotels, then four-star, then down to one-star hotels
and finally to hotels with no star at all. The hotel where I was staying
was conspicuous by its absence from the list.
Thirst in Amman.
Amman was searingly hot. Water is so scarce that it is turned on in
various parts of the city in succession, two hours per week.
Everyone has various kinds of reservoirs in his home, which he hopes
will receive enough water during the two hours to last the family for
the entire week. Sometimes the water is not turned on even during the
allotted two hours, and then water trucks patrol the streets
dispensing water to people carrying plastic pails. Because of the heat
I quickly learned enough Arabic to ask for water: Fee maya?
Roman amphitheater in Amman.
Selling the Car in Amman.
But I had to sell the car. A Greek Orthodox Arab employee at the
American embassy expressed interest and led me around a bit, but he
then decided not to buy it. That bothered his conscience, so he invited
me to stay in his home until I could sell the car. That got me out of
the hotel. Someone asked me what the import duty would be on the car,
and told me where to go to find out. I drove there, the official
disappeared to search his records, and resurfaced to inform me that no
one in the history of Jordan had ever brought a car like mine into the
country; I would therefore have to get a letter from the Citroën dealer
stating the price of the car in order for him to calculate the import
duty. Thus I was in the position of having to sell a tiny, two-cylinder
car in a country where all the Arabs want Mercedes.
After some delays due
to inconvenient Muslim holidays, I located the
Citroën dealer and found the manager standing on the showroom floor
with another Arab. I asked them if I could have the needed letter. The
manager said, “I don’t understand; do you want to sell a 2 CV or do you
want to buy one?” I said I wanted to sell one; he could see it through
the window. He indicated his companion and said, “Meet Mohammed”
somebody—“he wants to buy a 2 CV!” It seems that this Mohammed had become desirous
of buying precisely the car I wanted to sell and none other, and was
thinking of paying up to $5000 to import a new one. He was 24 years old,
married, with a new baby girl; his father owned a large Persian rug
store in Amman; he drove a gleaming new Buick; and their house was
located in an upscale part of Amman with the Swiss embassy next door on
one side and some Arab embassy next door on the other side. He looked
at my car, the original paint of which I had waxed in Paris and had
kept clean, and said, “I’ll give you 125 dinars for it.”
But I know
how to deal with Arabs. I said, “Absolutely not. The least I can take is
150 dinars.” He said, “125.” I said, “140.” He said, “125.” I said,
“135.” He said, “125.” I said, “130.” He said, “125.” I said, “Let’s
split the difference.” He said, “125.” I said, “Sold!” That’s how to
haggle with Arabs. Fascinatingly enough, the U.S. equivalent was
$400—the precise price that I had paid for the car in London. We signed the papers
over coffee at his house, we drove in our respective cars to the customs
area where we left the Citroën 2 CV, and he then drove me to the location
from where buses leave for the Israeli border.
I asked Mohammed what his family did for water. He said
that the house had a basement encompassing the entire area of the house,
and that the entire basement was a pool. The entire roof area was also
a pool. When the city turns on the water, it flows into the basement;
a pump then transfers it to the roof. Not having the city deliver
water directly to the roof means that the house receives more pressure
and therefore more water.
Crossing the Jordan River.
I took the bus to the border checkpoint, waited with the crowd to
get my papers duly stamped, and then boarded another bus full of
Palestinian Arabs. It drove across the Allenby Bridge into Israel (i.e.,
the “West Bank” of the Jordan River). At last! It was
then the end of July, two months
after I had left the U.S. The 2 CV had gone over 8,000 kilometers
(5,000 miles) on the trip. At the border Israeli soldiers
separated the few tourists on the bus from the Palestinian Arabs
and took us to a presumably more congenial search point
where they duly inspected us and instructed us to
take a photograph of the ground with our cameras.
The Western Wall.
From the Jordan River to Tel Aviv.
An eight-passenger taxi then brought us to Jerusalem, of which my
first sight was from the east where I saw the Mount of Olives and the
Temple Mount, a very moving and proper way to see Jerusalem for the
first time. There I took a local bus to the central bus station,
caught an express bus to Tel Aviv, and stayed in the principal Jewish youth
hostel for two or three days while I made arrangements to stay on a
kibbutz where I intended to study Hebrew for one year and then return
to the United States. The bus brought me to the kibbutz on 25 July 1978,
my 44th birthday.
The one year in Israel became thirty.