‘Our Is­raeli Di­ary,’ by An­to­nia Fraser

An­to­nia Fraser’s 1978 di­ary presents her time in Is­rael with her late hus­band, Harold Pin­ter, as a trip of naive trav­el­ers and lit­er­ary so­phis­ti­cates.

Forward Magazine - - Contents - By Ju­lia M. Klein

Even on va­ca­tion, writ­ers may not be able to set aside their vo­ca­tion. And so we have this spik­ily charm­ing di­ary by the Bri­tish bi­og­ra­pher and mem­oirist An­to­nia Fraser, a chron­i­cle of a 15-day trip to Is­rael with the play­wright Harold Pin­ter.

Read­ers of “Must You Go?” Fraser’s lovely mem­oir of their re­la­tion­ship, may re­call that a din­ner-party en­counter be­tween the two writ­ers — both al­ready mar­ried — led to a pas­sion­ate af­fair, a tabloid scan­dal, two di­vorces and even­tu­ally a mar­riage of true minds. They mar­ried in 1980 and stayed hap­pily to­gether un­til Pin­ter’s death at 78, in 2008, from can­cer.

In May 1978, at the time of their first-ever Is­rael trip, the two were not yet mar­ried. “We’re lovers!” is how Pin­ter glee­fully de­scribes their re­la­tion­ship to Is­raeli air­port se­cu­rity. (I re­mem­ber a sim­i­lar grilling at the Tel Aviv air­port, in the com­pany of an ex-boyfriend, and our rather less ex­u­ber­ant re­sponse.)

“Our Is­raeli Di­ary, 1978” will be most res­o­nant for past trav­el­ers to Is­rael, or any­one with a par­tic­u­lar in­ter­est in Fraser or Pin­ter. Dur­ing their stay as in­vited guests in a “de­light­ful and large” Jerusalem apart­ment, the two hit many typ­i­cal tourist spots. They visit the labyrinthine streets of the Old City (where she bar­gains over Be­douin kaf­tans) and fre­quent the King David Ho­tel (he drinks, she swims). They take road trips to Beth­le­hem, Jeri­cho, Tel Aviv, Masada, the Dead Sea, Tiberias and Safed, al­ways re­turn­ing by night (or early the next morn­ing).

Fraser is an acute ob­server, both ap­pre­cia­tive and acer­bic. Here are her first im­pres­sions of the Old City: “Shops on left and right and soon we are un­der arches and thus shaded in an end­less com­mer­cial cat­a­comb, kaf­tans, east­ern blouses, gold sou­venirs of Is­lamic na­ture, even sheep­skin waist­coats, with ea­ger shop­keep­ers all cast out of the ‘Ara­bian Nights’ (oper­atic ver­sion), also masses of veg­eta­bles, piles of pep­pers, red and green, toma­toes, bananas…. A night­mare of slight claus­tro­pho­bia and hy­giene.”

Fraser, who is Catholic, is drawn to Chris­tian sites, in­clud­ing the Church of the Holy Sepul­chre and the Via Dolorosa. Pin­ter, who is Jewish, be­gins to feel more so. (Fraser ded­i­cates the book to Pin­ter’s late par­ents, whom she says “loved Is­rael.”)

The cou­ple are lit­er­ary so­phis­ti­cates but, in some ways, naive trav­el­ers. “The depth of our ba­sic ig­no­rance about ob­vi­ous facts hits us again and again,” Fraser writes. “We were rather like moon-ex­plor­ers in both his­tory and pol­i­tics, es­pe­cially as H. [Fraser’s ab­bre­vi­a­tion for Harold] won’t have a guide (I think rightly — he would be mad­dened and so learn noth­ing) and re­lies on me to dig up knowl­edge from my thin mem­ory.”

At Masada, where the Zealots — first-cen­tury C.E. Jewish de­fend­ers against the Ro­mans


THE LOVERS: Pin­ter and Fraser in Lon­don, circa 1998.

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