Sunday, May 5, 2013

Metamorphosis


Florentin is in metamorphosis. Ramshackle constructions are rapidly giving way  to new building projects that are springing up everywhere. Here the stylish, Bauhaus inspired residential project designed by Ilan Pivco rises above Florentin's  makeshift sheds. 



The street artists are still running wild for now but, as the building cranes approach, like endangered species may soon have to find richer hunting grounds.



These industrial alleyways populated by metal shops, carpenters, students and artists won't be here for much longer.



But two young architects bought an old store, in a street much like the one above, renovated it, designed it to collect as much light as possible and have transformed it into a flat and studio. Their 
block is slated for demolition but meanwhile...





Spotted in a design studio we visited on' Open Houses' weekend. Tel Aviv separates itself from the rest of the country: a scenario that many would say has already taken place.  





Back to Florentin for some more street art....







A detail of  ceiling in Neve Shechter , a recently opened religious/cultural centre. The wall paintings were part of the original Templar design. Later the building was  called Cafe Lawrence and was used as a cinema for  British soldiers.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Some new pics



Tel Aviv's not Paris but sometimes it can be romantic.    




Street artist Rami Hameiri's studio on Hayarkon.




An eye grabbing creation of his a few steps up the road with one of the new hotels that are springing up on the sea front in the background. Probably won't be long before Rami's place will be swallowed up by a new building too.


Dalia's Hats on Nahalat Binyamin. From another time but still open for business.



In the winter the beach expands.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Recent images


Graffiti, Yehuda Halevy corner Allenby. Click and you'll see that the part of his blanket is painted over newspaper  



Some images snapped, mainly by phone, in the past few weeks. 




David Ben Gurion reading the Declaration of Independence, a detail from a mosaic created by Nahum Gutman  the quintessential Tel Aviv artist. It comes from the mosaic sculpture below that has recently been placed between office buildings at the very beginning of Rothschild Boulevard.  A few yards away, work is progressing (slowly) on a massive underground parking lot. When it's finished it will be covered and turned into a piazza.     



Here's the entire piece, which as a sculpture is, well, ugly. Which is why Tel Avivians never really took to it. For years it was situated on Bialik Street (for my money, the prettiest street in Tel Aviv). If you click on the link above you'll see a photo of it on Bialik. A few years ago Bialik was renovated and the municipality exploited the occasion to replace Gutman's mosaic with a round pond with water lilies that is much more popular. The sculpture was placed in storage to be reassembled years later (without  fanfare) in its new location. 



A corner of the Central Bus Station. 

A false hunt for an exhibition on a Saturday evening took us to Tel Aviv's  Central Bus Station . This gargantuan monstrosity, which took over twenty years to build, and contains  a thousand shops and restaurants, was for a few years the biggest bus station in the world (!).  Nowadays is now surrounded by neighbourhoods that are now populated  almost entirely by migrant workers . A few steps away from Jewish-Arab Tel Aviv -Yaffo  you  enter a third world more reminiscent of  Cairo or Delhi. The big poster on the top left advertising Western Union carries a message in  which the first two words are Walang Palya. 



An attempt to cheer the place up 


A sculpture by Ofra Zimbalista climbing up the wall of Beit Haomanim (Artists House) in north Tel Aviv 





At 10 Mazeh Steet an old eclectic style building from the 1920s (complete with tower and turrets. colonnades and romantic balconies) which stood forlorn and deserted for years, has been rescued  and integrated  into a new residential building. 

One thing I didn't come across in the past few weeks is thousands of election campaign posters defacing walls and peeling off noticeboards in the rain. The elections weren't very inspiring but at least most of the campaigning is now done on the Net.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Acco


On New Year's Eve we took the train up to Acco (Acre) to wander around the old city and eat some fish., Despite being steeped in history and rich in architectural treasures, Acco has never taken off a major tourist resort. And there lies its sleepy, run down charm.





In the moat, part of the impressive Crusader fortifications, someone found a useful way to utilize wasted space. 



A courtyard  




Acco, in today's Israel is best known for its humous humous joints and its annual alternative theatre festival but it's also a  treat to wander through its authentic shuk whose wares are aimed at local tastes.


The  Khan  El Omdan  (Khan of the Columns) was once an important trading post but has become so run down that  entry is limited to the entrance where a man sits selling fresh pomegranate juice. The Khan is crying out for preservation (and a business plan).


Here and there, traces of a vanished magnificence.



Hamudi's spice and coffee shop in the shuq. Business has been slow since the war in Gaza. A lot of cancellations, he told us over a Turkish coffee on the house.  

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Optimists in Habima Square



I It was a bright and sunny Shabbat and we decided to ride our bikes up to Beit HaOmanim -the Artists House in north Tel Aviv. In Kikar Habima (Habima Square) at the end of Rothschild Boulevard we came across this scene.



Sitting around a table, placed in the sandpit of the sunken garden, were a group of Israelis (on the left) and Palestinians (on the right). Armed with a microphone some bottled water and notepaper they seemed to be debating the finer points of final Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement. Around them, children ran between the flower beds, owners played ball with their dogs. A few interested spectators listened from the deck terraces.As usual, the Israels were casually dressed while the Palestinians were dressed formally. There were no signs of informational material.  



It was interesting that the Israeli side was not entirely composed of classic left wingers as is normally the case in peace encounters. One of them, in the centre of the picture, was wearing a big white kippa and a shanti-settler style shirt. He  also seemed to be representing settler concerns on the panel. From the context, I assumed that they had reached  the point where they were discussing the land rights of settlers who chose to remain in Palestine under Palestinian sovereignty.
"And what if I want to sell my house?" asked the bearded man in the kippa.
"Why not," answered one of the Palestinians. "You can buy and sell to whoever you please."
"And what if I get together 30 young families and we want to do a building project in Beit Lehem ?
"I don't see any reason...." mumbled the Palestinian.
"But first give us '67," interjected another Palestinian.
"What do you mean by 'first'?" added one of the Israelis, "Is this a two stage process?"
And so it went.

Two thoughts ran through my mind. The first was the heartwarming thought that here were a group of committed activists from both sides trying to thrash out mutual problems through debate: and in public no less. They were willing to listen, if not always to agree. The municipality had (presumably) sanctioned the event and as such, it was the sort of commendable democratic practice that could only happen in Tel Aviv (or maybe Haifa). The second was, 'These people are living in La La Land'. (Without going into all the details) the future looks bleak for a negotiated settlement and most Israelis and Palestinians, for different reasons, have lost  faith  in the idea. These might be people of good will but they were rehearsing for a play that was unlikely to be staged,      



Kikar Habima taken from a different angle and in a different season. A picture postcard of a place.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Day 5 of Gaza campaign. Some notes from the Rooftop

Wake up, check the news. On Day 5 it seems as though ceasefire talks are underway. French foreign minister flying in. Hamas reps talking to the Egyptians in Cairo. Quiet night in the south and no  missiles shot down over Tel Aviv since yesterday morning. On the other hand, tens of thousands of reservists called up with the army preparing itself for a possible ground incursion. Tanks and artillery lined up to go in. Israel, like Hamas with its missiles aimed at symbolic Tel Aviv, upping the ante to deter the other side and/ improve its own starting point for setting cease-fire terms. General impression : Israel doesn't want to send in ground troops but will do if Hamas halts its fire. Hamas wouldn't mind a cease-fire but needs this round to end in a victory so demanding its own terms (opening of Rafah crossing, halt to targeted assassinations). Thankfully drink coffee. Make fruit salad, feeling uncomfortable positioned between a ceasefire and a serious escalation, 

Go for a walk. Glorious weather. Decide not to take any form of communication with me so as to be liberated from the news for 45 minutes. Through the quaint alleyways of Neve Tzedek to the beach. Sea as flat as a plate. Sand sparkles in the morning sunlight. A few swimmers, joggers and cyclists. Back home, switch on radio. Earnest conversation with expert on the amazing success rate of Iron Dome rocket interception system suddenly interrupted by a calm but insistent voice: "Colour Red siren in the Ashkelon Beach Regional Council"; the signal for everyone in that area to scramble for the shelters. An actress selling accident insurance to the over 50s  punctuated by "Colour Red alert in Ashdod, Colour Red alert in Ashdod." Appears that the talks aren't going so well, or perhaps that these are their final salvos aimed at justifying a declaration of victory before the cease fire kicks in? Take a shower. Start worrying about a ground incursion. Tying up my shoes before going out,  I hear the siren go off outside. Chain reaction:
Uncertainty: Is that really a siren?
Fear: A missile could land on my head and kill me!!
Rationalization. After all what are the statistical chances of my specific building being hit?
Irrational Confusion: 'Where the hell did I put the phone? Can't go downstairs without the phone..
Movement
Out of the door and to the landing one floor down which, according to the Home Front Command, is the safest place to be if you live on the third floor of a three floor building and can't otherwise get to the shelter in a minute and a half. Hear the families on the bottom floors entering the shelter which we recently cleared of excess bikes to make room for its original purpose. Think to myself, this is stupid, after all what are the statistical chances of my specific building being hit? Hear very audible BOOM!. Think thank goodness I wisely chose this relatively protected space. See neighbour 'L' slowly opening her door clutching two month old baby girl, both of them bleary eyed ,and slowly descend the steps, . "They seem to time them with her naps," L tells me unhappily, clearly feeling the pressure. "Is it over?" she asks? I tell her it is and we both go back up.  I tell her to tell me if she needs anything. Back in the flat I remember that you're supposed to stay in protected space for 10 minutes after siren. What the hell. 'A' calls. Tells me that someone saw the rocket being intercepted over the sea opposite Yaffo. Radio presenter reminds me and other spoiled residents of central Israel that what we just experienced has been the daily experience of residents of the south for 12 years. I also wonder what it feels like  in Gaza with over a thousand airstrikes in 4 days.

Walk to the post office, shops, forgetting to follow Home Front  instructions to constantly spy out protected spaces should I  be caught short by an incoming missile.  Neighbourhood as usual. People in cafes, girls on bikes, except that an ever higher percentage  are  glued to their phones. Serious cash register problems at Bagir menswear outlet unconnected to Operation Pillar of Defense. Lady at post office especially friendly: perhaps something to do with wartime camaraderie? At the local mini market I ask 'N' the cashier where they run to when the sirens go off. To the ground floor of a building under construction over the road, she says.                                        

Back home, see this:
"The Iron Dome anti-rocket system intercepted two rockets fired at Tel Aviv Sunday morning. A siren sounded in the central city shortly before the interception and an explosion was heard. Hamas's Izzadin Kassam Brigades took responsibility for the launches.Shrapnel from the interception struck a car in the greater Tel Aviv area, setting the vehicle on fire. There were no immediate reports of injury."


The  car hot by shrapnel in Holon from the rocket interception over Tel Aviv. The driver jumped out in time and was saved.  

Start  fretting that these "strategic" attacks on Tel Aviv might push Bibi/Barak into ordering a ground incursion.  See that, according to US officials, "Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu assured US President Barack Obama on Friday that he does not plan to launch a ground operation in the Gaza Strip - unless Hamas escalates its rocket war. Wonder if  those two rockets constitute an escalation? 

Check out the news sites: Rocket seriously wounds man in Sha'ar Hanegev region. Rocket strikes building in Ashkelon : no injuries. Netanyahu: IDF prepared to broaden Gaza operations. IAF strikes launching area of Tel Aviv bound missiles.25 missiles hit Israel throughout the morning. MDA treats 4 injured throughout the morning. 12 for shock.

On TV, another expert is in the middle of a long winded Koranic analogy demonstrating Hamas's  duplicity vis -a- vis the Islamist splinter groups in Gaza when we cut to Ashdod where the sirens a  have been blaring. See pictures of a bombed out living room. Nobody hurt because they were in the stairwell. Turns out that Naftali Bennet, new head of the religious-rightist Jewish Home is also in Ashdod. He wants to stop messing about, send in the army,  topple the Hamas government, reoccupy Gaza and set up an Israeli controlled buffer between Gaza and Egypt to halt the flow of missiles.  A siren goes off behind him. TV announcer says we're halting the interview. Naftali runs for shelter.We see a picture of a deserted square in the middle of Ashdod, sirens wailing. Later local residents emerge, one of them competing with reporter for camera's attention and telling us that she's prepared to stay in the shelters for as long as it takes as long as they let the army do the job and stop the missiles "once and for all. Amen!"  

Radio expert says that the next 24 hours will be "crucial".Tune into Galei Tzahal for news but the army station is broadcasting from the Sapir Regional College near Sderot, a town noted for the disproportionate number of talented musicians as well as the disproportionate number of Qassam rockets it has absorbed.We're hearing an interview with a promising local singer-songwriter about to release his first alum but are interrupted by "Colour Red siren in the Eshkol Regional Council". Sorry, Noam, when did you say the album was coming out?

17.15. By now 70 rockets fired at Israel today, 40 of which intercepted. But no firing for the past 90 minutes. Reports coming in of an entire Gazan family killed. Gazan death toll now 60.  Expert says that following the massive airstrikes of the first few days, Gazans don't know when the next one is coming.  They've stocked up on food and water and are staying indoors. IDF has taken over Hamas radio and TV broadcasting messages to stay away from Hamas firing positions and warning of an impending ground incursion.Not far away, tens of thousands of young soldiers and older reservists are waiting for an order that may or not come. Each of them with a family and friends. Expert 1 says problem is that neither side yet has the "winning picture" that can allow it to halt without losing face. Expert 2 says that a tahadiye/ cease fire agreement has almost been reached but predicted it wouldn't last more than a month or two before unraveling like all the others. Ma shehaya ze ma sheyihyeh. 


What happened in the past, we'll have in the future. 


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Everything's Gold





The writer and poet Haim Heffer  a bastion of secular Israeli culture from  the “Palmach generation”, passed away yesterday and today they are playing his songs on the radio. When I first arrived in Israel and began to distinguish a few Hebrew words in the songs I was hearing on the radio, many of them were his. I also cut my teeth on the maqamas  that he wrote in Yedioth Aharonoth, in which he’d comment in rhyme on current affairs – a form that seems hopelessly outdated now but was taken seriously then. Even someone taking his first steps in the language could recognize that Heffer was a master wordsmith with a prolific output. But, for me, the sentiments expressed in many of his lyrics belonged too closely to the 1948 generation, to times and places before my time, that were foreign to me.   .

Not so with one song that I loved from the start : Hakol Zahav  (Everything’s Gold). Heffer wrote the lyrics for the singing troupe Ha-Tarnegolim  (The Roosters) under the direction of Naomi Polani. Since the  Tarnegolim, who became wildly successful, started appearing only in 1960, I prefer to think that the song's upbeat message was not intended to lift the nation’s morale but rather to simply lift the human spirit in general  in the wide-eyed style that the Tarnegolim were perfecting.  

You can hear the original version here 

Hakol Zahav’s music is the work of another master, the much loved composer Sacha (Alexander) Argov. Argov’s intricate but unforgettably jaunty melody and Heffer’s childish, irreverent wordplay meshed to create an Israeli classic. The message is simple : everything around you is beautiful if you have the eyes to see it. This pre-dates the Beatles  “There’s nothing you can see that can’t be seen” by almost a decade.

Heffer niftily plants the word ‘gold’ throughout the song, almost creating the illusion in the mind of the listener that his/her own world is composed entirely of sunbeams. It also helps that the Hebrew word for orange ‘tapuz’ is an abbreviation of tapuah-zahav (golden apple). And then comes the C part where Heffer writes (in rough unrhymed translation)

"Not everyone  who goes out into the street
Sees what his eyes meet
Mostly, a person goes out into the street
Distracted by his own concerns 
I feel like getting up close to him
And telling him with a a big wide grin
What a night! What a sea!   
What shade! How hot it is!
Go crazy you idiot!
Do nothing with everyone else! 
Ring bells for no good reason!
Look around you man - everything is gold!"

(It sounds better in Hebrew)

Hearing these yelps of wonderment at the everyday ordinary, with lyrics that could almost be taken from from "Hair",  Ha-Kol Zahav, which had been recorded a decade before I heard in, say 1973, stood head and shoulders above the sentimental, patriotic fodder of the time. And while I was conscious that someone who had heard Hendrix  play live should not be enjoying a song with an 'umpa umpa' rhythm accompanied by an accordion, it was too late, I was hooked.... Looking back, it might not be too much of an exaggeration that Ha-Kol Zahav was an important part of my integration process, an Israeli song that seemed, somehow, to resonate with the "counter culture" that I was familiar with..  

And maybe, in the  rebellious universality of the message,  also lies the secret of the endurance of Ha- Kol Zahav as new generations of musicians cover it in different  styles.  

Here’s a clip from an Israeli film called 'Danny Hollywood' where the singers start off by parodying the original and then launch into a rock version (You may have to copy it. Blogger doesn't want to insert videos)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cUCGN09-mJU&feature=related

Avi Adaki did this “indie version” a few years ago, changing the jolly umpa umpa rhythm to an Arabic beat and turning the “C” part into reggae.



Photographers too are always on the lookout for the sort of golden light that lifts the spirit and think themselves lucky if is they stumble across it..    

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Changing places




We've recently returned from two weeks in the USA visiting family and had the good luck  to exchange the Rooftop for a fortnight with Paula Derrow and her husband whom we met through a house exchange site. So while Paula and R were discovering the charms of Neve Tzedek, A & I were wandering around the  Upper West Side. And while they  were enjoying the beach here at the eastern end of the Mediterranean, we were riding bikes down the Hudson River Greenway, all the way to Battery Park.



Central Park

Apart from the financial savings, people who exchange homes do so in order to simulate  the experience of living as an "ordinary" person in a foreign place. Living in an apartment block and not in a hotel, means that you get to meet the neighbours in the stairwell or the lift; you visit the local grocery store, buy in local shops and eat in local restaurants.     
  
Everywhere we went in New York, people were kind, courteous and patient. What happened  to the brusque and gritty New York of old we wondered? Where did all the fast-talking hard-bitten New Yorkers  with no time for tourists go? But time and again people went out of their way to direct us or help us in some way. We also noticed that neighbours greeted each other more generously than in Tel Aviv. That people acknowledged each other and seemed more open to some sort of social contact than in Israel.     


Times Square?

When we got home and started exchanging notes with Paula, she shared her blog 'The 49th Year'  where she'd written some posts about her stay. After praising the virtues of New Yorkers, it was somewhat startling to read her impressions of Israelis (mainy Tel Avivians). Fo For example people she was introduced to , took the time to show her around Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, something that a New Yorker would never do. And there was more...  

"One thing that's so nice about being a tourist in this town is that all these people take you right into their world--they are not jaded about tourists the way New Yorkers are but are genuinely interested about where we're from, why we're here, what we've done. (Imagine listening to a Times Square tourist with such interest and enthusiasm.)"   

How is that Paula was able to strike up numerous conversations in which complete strangers  expressed genuine interest in her  when in my experience that  is a fairly rare occurrence in Tel Aviv.     




Amish (?) cheese seller and attractive clients, Farmers Market, Union Square    

"And about the Israeli character, so often described as pushy, money grubbing, arrogant:" wrote Paula  "Yes, we've seen some arrogance, but mostly we've seen warmth, eagerness to help and happiness that we've come to their country, despite trouble brewing with Iran. Kind of like misapprehensions about New Yorkers."

This cynical Tel Avivian might suggest that, "happiness that we've come to their country, despite trouble brewing with Iran," could be also construed as amazement  that anyone would be so foolhardy as to visit a city that could soon find itself under a barrage of missiles.  In the two weeks that I was in new York, Iran was hardly mentioned in the news while in Israel the threat of war had been headlining for weeks, driving us all  to the verge of hysteria. So Paula, (I'm admittedly speculating now) was probably vaguely aware of tension with Iran while the  people she spoke to were all too keenly aware of it, not to say truly afraid and naturally assumed that she would would be too. We might live in global village but, unless you really look for it, the news is still doled out in local flavours, sometimes leaving the tourist in a state of blissful ignorance.        



Crossing the street in Manhattan. Aristocratic locals? Visiting Austrians? 


Meshane makom meshane mazal (Change your place and you'll change your luck) goes the Hebrew saying. In New York, exuding the relaxed, vibrations of  befuddled tourists, we may have prompted some of the kind and polite reactions we got there. Paula and her husband, both undoubtedly charming people, may have elicited a similar response here. A response   reserved, to an extent, for outsiders? 



Street musician and Omaba supporter, playing for change



See Paula Derrow's blog here (scroll down for her Israel trip)
More photos of New York City and Connecticut  here 



Friday, August 10, 2012

Evidence of normality on the Rooftop



The endless hot-muggy weather has kept me more indoors than out. It's only in the early morning or evenings that I escape the AC for some fresh air. Venturing out at sunrise a few days ago I discovered that a fully grown sunflower had appeared on the Rooftop.      



Over the road, signs of work on the Tel Aviv metro.



A humid haze hangs over the sea to the west.



To the north on nearby Yitzhak Elkhanan, a big  residential tower is going up.



The sun rising through the office buildings to the east.



To be welcomed by the sunflower...


  
At this time, with the threat (no one for sure knows how real) of an imminent war with Iran and its satellites feeling more credible by the day, and just before we head off for NYC for a family visit, I wanted to post these signs of normality. In a superstitious attempt to ward off the coming disaster? As a way of documenting the Rooftop and its immediate surroundings before the ....      

Here's a small sampling from today's news:

"A foul wind is blowing over Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, with weekend gusts toward Caesarea. A wind of pugnacity. Before the eyes of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and in the spirit of the chants of which he is so fond ("They are frightened"; "There's no free lunch" ) - it's as if a new sign has been raised high, bearing the words: "Strike now!" " (Haaretz)

"Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak  advocate an attack of Iran's  nuclear facilities in the upcoming fall, Yedioth Ahronoth's senior commentators Nahum Barnea and Shimon Shiffer reported Friday. According to Barnea and Shiffer, "Not a single state official or military official or even the president – supports an Israeli attack in Iran." (Ynet)

Paris has reportedly drawn up emergency plans to evacuate French citizens from Israel in case of war.
The plan, reported by French news outlet La Tribune, would see 200,000 French nationals ferried in small boats to large warships stationed in the Mediterranean.Diplomatic sources told the news outlet the plan was drawn up amid fears that Israel may come under attack from Iran or Hezbollah in the wake of an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear sites. (Times of Israel)


Wishing us all a safe fall.... 








Sunday, July 22, 2012

(Keep on) Rockin' in the Free World


July 12, Neve Yosef Community Center, Haifa. MidLife Crisis performs Neil Young's  socially relevant 'Rockin' in the Free World' at a the Neve Yosef community theater festival. Filmed by ML.

It took over three hours navigating  traffic jams to get to Haifa in Danny B's 'band van' and when we arrived at the prestigious "back balcony" stage, the audience consisted of roughly 3 little girls and a savta . But MLC will never pass up a gig, no matter how small (as long as we're all free that day and preferably if there's a drum set). After a few numbers, more people dropped in. A few started dancing. For once we had monitors and could hear ourselves. Threatened with only a short 45 minutes, our set extended to over an hour and a good rockin time was had by all. We've been promised the "front balcony" next year. At last, the big time!