AMERICA TO ISRAEL BY 2 CV
May–July 1978
John Holland
Background. 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.
London. 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.
2 CV like my 1967 model
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.
2 CV: my first of six
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
1967 Citroën 2 CV near Dover.
Leaving England. 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
2 CV at Dover.
Entering Paris. 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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Entering Hungary. 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 their gratitude.
2 CV at hotel in Mako
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.
1975 Trabant
1975 Trabant.
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.
Entering Romania
Entering Romania.
Entering Romania. 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 into Romania.
Reaching Bucharest. 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
Santa Sophia church.
The circular sign reads “Mohammed.”
Istanbul. 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.
Blue Mosque
Blue Mosque.
I also 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
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
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 took place:
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 speaking English?!
And then the officer continued in Arabic.
2 CV in Damascus
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.
Entering Jordan
Entering Jordan.
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 Israelis 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¢.
Entering Petra
Entering Petra.
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
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.
Amman
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
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
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.