Wednesday, May 30, 2007


I lost my cell phone today. It fell out of my pocket when I was jumping out of a taxi. It had hundreds of numbers on it and I had no back up. I have not had a good day. Posting some photos of 'eclectic style' buildings from the 1910 and 20's will help soothe frazzled nerves.

This crowd of yellow hard-hats was shot by Jacky from our front room. They're students of conservation from Tel Aviv University taking a tour of the neighbourhood with their lecturer Amnon Bar Or (hi Amnon) who is also the conservation architect of the soon-to-be-renovated-we-hope building (Yehuda Halevi 6)

This is part of what writer and translator Hillel Hankin had to say about Tel Aviv's eclectic style in a recent issue of Commentary magazine (thanks to Fay for passing it on) :

" Best described as a kind of Levantine Victorianism, in which turrets, domes, porticoes, and other flamboyant elements from a variety of architectural idioms were deployed with naive exuberance, this style has a willful playfulness, as if the first Hebrew City had allowed its builders to indulge, within their limited means, in the fantasies that life in European environments planned and built by others had prevented Jews from acting out..."

Here are a few more examples:

Ahad Ha-Am street 22, originally the home of the Litviniski family and the seat of the 'Barkai' Freemason lodge. Temporarily deserted.

The house and lion in 'simtat almoni' (Anonymous Alley) off King George Street.

'Beit ha-amudim' 'House of the Columns' (Columnade?) on Nahlat Binyamin.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Alma, the heterogeneous beach

View of Yaffo from Alma beach at sunset
A few days ago, on the shavuot holiday, we met friends for breakfast at Alma Beach. Alma is both the beach closest to the rooftop and also the prettiest beach on the whole strip. To the immediate south, a few hundred metres away, lies the Yaffo promontory with its church spires and ancient stone skyline gently descending to the old fishing port. This proximity to Yaffo, as well to south Tel Aviv in general, makes Alma Beach the natural playground for the diverse populations who live in the area. Yuppie Neve Tsedek parents pick at calamari and supervise their kids behind expensive sunglasses ; Arab women wade into the waves, their black dresses ballooning around them. Gaggles of Filipino women from the Neve Sha'anan area, home for most of Tel Aviv's foreign workers, giggle and take photographs of each other. Ruddy Russian families scorn the pricey beach cafe for a picnic hamper and cheap beer. On the wide lawns behind the beach, entire families set up tents for the day , grilling meat, playing soccer and Arabic music. On the paved promenade, spandex joggers and fearsome bikers swerve between the tubby strollers. (I'll try to post some photographic evidence of all this in future blogs).

There wasn't a seat to be had on the beach itself so we ate breakfast on the paved area next to the kiosk. From this vantage point Hanan took this photo of the kitchen workers from Manta Ray, the fish restaurant next door, on their lunch break. The girls at the back are Asian , the guys in the foreground could be Jewish or Arab. Sitting behind us were two 60-ish Russian ladies who also seemed to belong the restaurant (click the pic for details).

Someone wrote in today's Ha-ir ('The City', one of the local Tel Aviv papers) that people come to the beach to behave like dogs: they chase frisbees and dig holes in the sand.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Dylan in Florentin

This is what Florentin looked like tonight. Hundreds of young people marking Florentin Day. The idea was to make the public aware of the lack of facilities in the neighbourhood (populated by a mix of Holocaust survivors, artisans , students and artists) and also to protest plans to evacuate long time residents to build residential towers without green spaces.
There were 12 bands, a fair and you could sign protest petitions. The band in the photo is
Puppet Folk Revival, 3 American musicians with muppet characters who sing Dylan songs. The kids, who were younger than our children , knew all the words. It was like being back in the 60s . For more on the struggle (in Hebrew only)

Monday, May 21, 2007

Media bash

Those of you who know me know that I don't normally rant about the bias of foreign media when it comes to reporting the Middle East but there's something about the way the Sderot-Gaza crisis is being reported that is infuriating.
This is a photo of a burning car that was hit by a qassam missile today in Sderot. One woman was killed there today and another suffered medium injuries. Sderot, a town of some 20,000 people, has been under intensive rocket attacks from the northern Gaza Strip for 7 days now. The Sderot area has been hit by 150 rockets in the space of a week. It has suffered from sporadic salvos for 7 years. The government has just promised to provide security rooms in all homes but it's too late; the local residents have had enough. Thousands have either fled or have been evacuated for 'rest and recreation' and those who stayed behind live in constant fear.

Near Sderot, on kibbutz Nir Am, a group of young people built an Indian restaurant - Namaste - out of wood. Two nights ago we saw them on TV in their flowing Indian clothes. As the air raid sirens wailed they hung around in their empty restaurant. Since they hadn't built a shelter there was nowhere for them to hide. Yesterday their restaurant suffered a direct hit and was burned to the ground. We saw them again on TV this evening, in shock, but vowing to rebuild it on the same spot.

None of this is as bad as what is happening in Gaza but surely it should be newsworthy. Not so. Apparently, the Sderot drama, a huge story here of course, has caused barely a ripple abroad. When asked why, a foreign correspondent reportedly said, "not enough blood".

The Israeli air strikes aimed at ending the rocket attacks on Sderot have already caused more loss of life and done more physical damage than those 150 rockets and therefore they 'deserve' to be the bigger story But the news cannot be understood without context and the context of this particular round of fighting is the Hamas qassam offensive on Sderot. By ignoring or downplaying that, the media failed dismally in its duty to report.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Another tour of the Middle East

My first blog was on December 30, 2006 and it was called Setting the Scene. I did a 360 degree tour of the immediate region from the rooftop and briefly described what was going on there

Today, The basic elements are still the same but the entire picture is much worse.

In Jerusalem sits a discredited government living on borrowed political time, traumatised by the Winograd report on Lebanon II and incapable of making strategic decisions. In Sderot, on the border with Gaza, thousands of residents have been evacuated as scores of qassam missiles devastated homes and caused numerous injuries. After years of incessant bombardment the government still hasn't found the money to build proper shelters for the people of Sderot. Even the evacuation of its terrified residents was partially funded by the Russian oligarch Arkady Gaidemak who, once again, caught the government with its pants down and put up the cash for buses and hotels.

If the people of Sderot are living in a nightmare, their neighbours in Gaza are in hell. Chaos reigns as the cease-fires between Hamas and Fatah collapse in quick succession. The fighters on the ground take matters into their own hands, ignoring the commitments of their leaders. Criminal hamulot compete with the various security forces for control of teritory. No-one is safe, life has ground to a halt and to add the misery of ordinary Gazans , Israel has begun to respond the qassam attacks. So, for amusement during the long hours at home, the children of Gaza can wonder whether the shots outside are from a Hamas killing squad or an Israeli attack helicopter.

On the other side of the half-closed border between Gaza and Egypt, the oppressive Mubarak regime is beginning to feel the heat of public discontent. The Islamic parties have joined up with the Left and criticism of the regime is more vocal than ever. Mubarak's face fell when the Hamas gained power in Gaza because he knew that this would strengthen the Islamic street at home. Is the tide turning in Egypt? If so, it will be bad news for Israel . An Islamic government could revoke the peace treaty.

Across the dwindling stream known as the Jordan, the monarch is concerned that the anarchy in the Palestinian Territories will spill over to his fragile kingdom. "We're on the same side," he told Israeli visitors recently. Abdullah is pushing the Arab League peace plan and quite rightly But with the Palestinians in the midst of a civil war, Abu Mazen has a few other matters on his mind while Olmert has the Gaza situation to add to his tzoress.

In Damascus, Bashar Assad is still making peace overtures but is also reportedly stockpiling missiles. Three out of four intelligence agencies in Israel assess that he's sincere about peace talks. Olmert (surprise, surprise) heeded the advice of the fourth. The Americans didn't complain.

What's left. Lebanon is still unstable, Nasrallah has come out of hiding and the Hizbullah have started planting flags along the border again.

Summer's here and the time is right for dancing in the streets!

The photo (not mine) is of Azrieli Towers in Tel Aviv on a foggy winter morning. When you're in fog its hard to see a way out.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

New towers by the sea

The weather is spring crazy: hot, dusty, dry days of 'hamsin' followed by dirty rain and then a perfect day. In general it's getting progressively warmer and so I took my first dip of the season this week. This is the best season for swimming in the sea. The water is clean (or at least looks clean). In summer, this end of the Med has the consistency of dirty chicken soup and is often infested with massive jellyfish (medusot in Hebrew). The waves also get bigger, churning up the sea bed and on a really good day something goes wrong with the system and raw sewage is added to the mix. But this week everything looked pristine and, after the initial shock, the water felt great.

For demographic reasons (Jewish Tel Aviv wanted to bypass its Arab neighbours in Jaffa and Manshiyeh the 1920s and 30's) , Tel Aviv's main streets (Hayarkon, Allenby, Ben Yehuda, Dizengoff) run parallel to the sea, thereby breaking the rule of every Mediterranean seaside town. Hence, the sea in Tel Aviv only appears when you are almost on top of it, surprising you somewhat each time anew. In the 1970s the municipality decided to build a string of (ugly) hotels along the beach front, thereby blocking access to the sea for several blocks. Still, the beachfront promenade and the beaches, which now run uninterrupted from Yaffo in the south to Tel Aviv port in the north are our greatest natural asset. There aren't enough green spaces , especially in the south. but the beach makes up for it.

Opening Ha'aretz on Monday I discovered that "Tel Aviv residents might be separated from the beachfront permanently, if plans by the Tel Aviv Municipality come to fruition. Contradicting its own bylaw passed in 1983, which prohibits beachfront construction, over the past few years City Hall has been promoting 11 projects to build 1,800 housing units in those very areas."
The view from the rooftop will also be harmed. Two big residential towers are going to rob us of another chunk of our sea view. Tel Avivians have never been obsessive about a sea view and a seaside address was never that much of a big deal. The beach belonged to everyone and was always easy to access. But now the property sharks in league with the planners and answering the new demand for apartments with a sea view, will be blocking Tel Avivians from their urban playground.

If the plans go ahead, this might be the only way to get to the beach soon.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Observing the ruins

I was thinking about an image that might illustrate how most Israelis view their political institutions at this point in time and happened upon this ruined, dangerous, old pre-fab(erected in the 1860s by Christian 'Lovers of Zion' in the American Colony). In the background the get-rich-quick-and-screw-everything-else Neve Tsedek Tower dominates the landscape.

Rabin Square was filled last night with 150,000 (or whatever) people holding a variety of political views yet united in their demand for Olmert and Peretz to resign. Peretz seems to be wavering but Olmert (with the backing of most of his Knesset faction) is hanging on.

After Tsipi Livni blew her chance to grab the leadership of Kadima, who knows what will happen. If the public wants to bring down the PM, thousands will have to demonstrate in Jerusalem -and for long, bitter weeks. Somehow, despite the general disgust with Olmert, I don't see that happening.

Today, Tel Aviv saw another sort of demonstration. ' Houses from the Inside', a day when scores of homes and buildings were thrown open to the public. We visited a restored house/museum in the American Colony and this amazing loft on the top floor of an undistinguished office building in south Tel Aviv. The 300 sq metre space is owned and was designed by a member of the Castiel family whose shop happens to sell outlandish and expensive furniture for very large spaces. The man dressed in white standing on a table in the centre is Mao Tse Tung.

Here's a small corner of the space, regularly rented to companies making TV commercials.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Tight around the neck

Winnograd report fallout is at fever pitch and the people want Olmert's neck. If Olmert's popularity could get any lower it would be subterranean. The tsunami of demands for him to resign is obviously having a physical effect on him too. All eyes are now on the big demo planned for Thurs night in Rabin Square. I hope they don't spoil it by letting politicians (and especially Bibi) demand Olmert and Peretz' heads.
The best outcome possible is probably Olmert's replacement by Tsipi or even Shimon. That would keep Labour (without Peretz at its head) on board and we might be spared new elections. Anything but Bibi. But will they have the balls to do it? Sources close to Livni deny that she is planning a putsch,7340,L-3394533,00.html
I hope they're wrong.
On a more serious note, a new song has appeared on the Mid Life Crisis page on myspace
It's called Ecstasy and features New York flautist, Itai 'the Shark' Kriss