Friday, August 31, 2007

Eilat and all that jazz

The Vienna Art Orchestra letting loose in Eilat - filmed with my digital camera. My first video on this blog. Turn up the sound!

Back from annual jaunt to the Red Sea Jazz Festival in Eilat. Three wonderful sleepless nights of jazz, booze and more jazz. Three days of sleep, reading, food and pool. If only real life was more like this. After the official shows at the port (attended largely by wrinklies like us) the action begins at the jam session at the Riviera Hotel where the audience is mainly under 25 and where even younger musicians can share a stage with some of the big names who come back to the hotel to jam until dawn. There's hope for Israeli jazz if so many young people are prepared to take the trouble to head for Eilat, often just for the jam session.

My personal favourites at the official shows were the Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko, saxophonist Chris Potter and the Vienna Art Orchestra but there was something for everyone including the slick British soul band Incognito (whom I'd never heard of).

The trip down to Eilat transports you, via the emptiness of the Negev, to a place without a sense of place, a town with no history that exists only for tourism; in other words, Israel's very own Las Vegas (only without the casinos). Lacking any natural attraction other than the harsh, dry heat, a few strips of beach and a small, rapidly disappearing coral reef, Eilat is constantly in search of new "attractions" to keep the punters coming. After the Underwater Observatory, the IMAX and Amazing World we now have Kings City (see below) which seems to feature a very big water chute and which, together with the architectural absurdities of Herod's Palace Hotel, is turning Eilat into our very own Disneyland.
Lying in our beds in mid-morning the noise of hotel aerobic instructors exhorting their flabby customers to push harder competed with the drills and jackhammers of a new hotel under construction.

Israel's plastic paradise in the desert - the pool at the Agamim hotel.

Sunday, August 26, 2007


I'm on holiday! Sunday morning. Time to do some siddurim (no translation I can think of - chores like paying a bill) before heading off for the annual jazz fest in Eilat tomorrow. But first some exercise to burn off some excess carbs. This took me to the entrance to the old Jaffa port where renovation work has started on one of the big hangars, part of the development of the whole area. The workmen laying the pipe uncovered whole layers of buried buildings. That's what tends to happen when you dig up a city which is 5,000 years old.

Later, a trip in search of a a part for the Rooftop's increasingly elaborate drip-irrigation system
led me to Rehov Levinsky, where most of the people you see in the street are foreign workers . Here I came across this water container for bomb shelters. Mmmm could come in handy.

On the Florentin side of Levinsky is the famous little shuk that specialises in herring, dried fruits, olives, seeds and spices etc. A good opportunity to get in some fresh dried apricots for the hotel room. Many of the shops in Shuk Levinsky are run still by immigrants from the Balkans

And on the way home, over the heads of the narrow streets crammed with merchandise of every kind, rises the skeleton of the new International Bank building on Rothschild (see previous blog).

Back after Eilat.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Tel Aviv's transformation

No 14, designed for the rich.

There has been a flurry of articles on Tel Aviv in the national media over the past few weeks.
Ha'aretz (following a PR blitz at the paper's offices by controversial mayor Ron Huldai and his image makers) wrote what one critic called a "panegyric" (look it up) on the dramatic development of the city over the past decade. Ma'ariv featured the downside of Huldai's accomplishments.

As Uri Misgav wrote in a critique of the Ha'aretz piece:

"No-one one disputes the fact that Huldai has advanced Tel Aviv in certain areas. But his tenure, particularly his second term, is far from a matter of consensus. Alongside construction enterprises, his "bulldozer" also sows destruction and anguish."

To sum up the arguments. On the plus side ,Huldai has fixed crumbling infrastructure ignored for decades, beautified the city's boulevards and developed formerly run down areas like Tel Aviv port and has turned them into bustling entertainment centres. In the process Tel Aviv has reversed its negative demographics and today is the most desirable city in the country.

On the downside, he has :encouraged the construction of unsightly towers designed for the rich and cut off from their surroundings ; acted to destroy some of the city's most beloved landmarks (like Hapoel Tel Aviv's basketball hall on Usishkin St. or the Gordon Pool) and wants to root out the neighbourhood pubs and cafes that give substance to Tel Aviv's claim to be the "city that never stops." In the process, soaring apartment prices are now shutting out the students, artists and young couples who turned the city into a lively, colourful metropolis from the early 1990s onwards.

As Misgav wrote: "These moves... affirm that Huldai does not understand in depth the secret of the metropolis' power and beauty. The mayor, who confessed during his first term that he "did not fall in love" with Tel Aviv, insists on observing it through real estate and utilitarian lenses. His declared inclination to root out the pubs and restaurants from the city's streets in favor of distant ghettos of "entertainment zones" attests to estrangement and a lack of understanding. The city's residents steer clear of those places, and their love for Tel Aviv is based on just the opposite - the neighborhood coffee shop, pub and grocery store, like in Manhattan or Paris."

Meanwhile, the construction of high-rises that is transforming the city's once modest skyline into Manhattenesque proportions continues apace. The immediate area around the rooftop, thankfully full of old buildings on the conservation list, is out of bounds for skyscrapers but in a few years it too will have been transformed. On our street alone work continues on nos 9 & 14 and will soon start on nos 2, 6 and 10 ! All these apartment blocks will cater for the rich with apartment prices reaching millions of dollars. One of the results has been to bounce up the value of the apartments in our own modest building. Nice for us but less so for a young couple on a modest income looking to move into the neighbourhood.How ironic that the real estate boom is fueled by the wave of nostalgia for 'Bauhaus' architecture whose ideology was to provide affordable utilitarian housing for the masses.

Tel Aviv's history and scale is swept aside wherever a new tower appears. In the picture below the burnt-out building in the foreground was once a villa surrounded by citrus orchards. In the background, the menacing Neve Tsedek Tower blots out the sky.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Peace sells but who's buying?

"Peace sells but who's buying?" is a slogan (painted onto a wall in Florentin) that I never managed to get my head around. It sounds catchy but doesn't make sense. If peace sells then there must be buyers - right? But what if there is more than set of buyers in the peace market. Then peace would be bought by some but not others. Also right.

That, I think, is exactly what is happening right now. There are buyers in the peace market. The US for instance which would like to offset its losses in Iraq and blunt Iranian/Shiite advances with a deal between Israel and the pragmatic wing of the PLO. The same goes for Europe and the rest of the international community. Then there's Olmert, prepared to make peaceful noises as long as this holds out a chance of staving off demands for his resignation over his malfunctioning in Lebanon and/or corruption allegations. And Abu Mazen, keen to show Hamas-controlled Gaza that violence (especially against Fatah) doesn't pay and that his tottering administration is capable of delivering the goods.

Now for the list of those who are not in the peace market. Let's start with the vast majority of Israelis and Palestinians who are not prepared to meet the red line demands of the other side. Just for example, most Israelis are not prepared to share sovereignty in Jerusalem or accept the return of even a symbolic number of refugees while most Palestinians do not recognise any Jewish rights on har ha-bayit (Temple Mount) or are prepared themselves to drop the demand for the 'right of return' that most Israelis consider to be a death knell. And those are the moderates. To their 'right' are political/social forces - the Hamas/Islamic Jihad on the Palestinian side, the Likud , the settlers and the rightist/religious parties on the Israeli side - that have sufficient power to block the implementation of any peace agreement that might, just, be signed between the two weak leaders of Israel and the West Bank.

So what's it all about? It's about playing for time, apparently. There are analysts who believe that the two 'pragmatists' Olmert and Abu Mazen know that they are unable to reach an agreement but will keep this little secret to themselves. We'll have a US sponsored 'peace gathering' in November and more meetings after that and time will go by and meanwhile, at least, the sides will be "talking peace"and some trust will at least be renewed. But this deceit can only continue for so long. One day the masks will be removed and then... Who knows, but it won't be good.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Philippine heaven

Old house in Neve Tsedek.

Avinoam, the barber, is one of my few connections to the world of amcha yisrael which is a polite way of saying the common people, the hoi polloi. The time before last I had him trim my locks (if only) he was waxing ecstatic about the virtues of Philippine women. He had visited a friend who had recently met and married one (a foreign worker) through a dating agency. Avinoam thought he had died and gone to heaven.

“Such tranquility! Such respect! She waits on him hand and foot and she’s always cooking him meals and worrying about him. And the apartment! Not a speck of dust! That’s what I want! A woman like that. A woman who will respect me and love me and look after me!”

(A, aged 50, is single, on ideological grounds, having allegedly suffered a series of humiliations and rip-offs at the hands of Israeli women).

“And what about her?”


"Her. What about her? What does she get out of it?

“Well, he looks after her too! He keeps on buying her jewelry and he’s happy and she’s happy so what’s wrong with it!

I tried to explain that in this day and age, a marriage is potentially more than a master-slave arrangement. Avinoam, starry-eyed and clearly fantasizing about his future life with the perfect Phillipine servant-wife, was having none of it.

A few days ago I popped in for a trim and A., now on the defensive, decided to attack the subject head on.

“You were right!” he crowed. “I told them that I have a customer who said that it was a mistake but I didn’t listen to him.”

“OK. What happened?”

“ Well, I went to the guy and I paid him a thousand shekels and I met two women but what can I tell you? “


“You see that wall? Can that wall speak? There was nothing there to talk to. And the only time she could meet me was on Saturday night because she works all week! You were so right!”

“What about the money?”

“To hell with the money! Let them keep the money! What’s a thousand shekels. A day’s work? I just lost forty thousand shekels and laughed. Laughed! Do you know anyone who wants to buy a big TV?”

Saturday, August 11, 2007

In the cabbage patch

Met this little guy amongst the cabbages in shuk ha-carmel early on Friday morning. He had been adopted by the cabbage seller who was quite happy to have him roam the undulating topography as he set up his stall.

The news of the past week of the past week has included the opening of yet another criminal investigation into Ehud Olmert's shenanigans, lots of talk about a peace process and peace plans (to be discussed) and the march of the Holocaust survivors for some decent support.

When it comes to important issues like redeeming the reputation of a crooked prime minister or a sex-offender President, the "strategic advisers" amoral and unscrupulous to the core, are called in to save the day. One of the most aggressive (and weird) is Moti Morell who this time was working for the Holocaust survivors' organsation and whose methods are described this week in Ha'aretz.

But early August is still too hot to get even hotter under the collar about how our little cabbage patch is being manipulated by a small group of spin doctors. And some of us have more important things to do.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Humous Ashkara

The Palestinians argue that we not only stole their land but also their national dishes - humous and falafel - and made them our own. They may be right but, historical injustice notwithstanding, there's nothing more Israeli today than humous ( or humus or hummus) .

Open an Israeli fridge, be it that of a family hailing from Russia, Morocco, Poland, Iran, or Brazil (or just Israel), whether its owners are ultra-haredi (ultra-orthdox), super-chiloni (secular), Moslem, Christian or Bahai, be they tycoons or street sweepers, - and you'll find a container of humous.

Humous , tasty, cheap and filling , so happily adopted by the non Palestinian residents of the area , has also become a sort of glue, a neutral meeting ground for Jews and Arabs. The Arabs serve humous to the Jews, the Jews show their appreciation and come back for more. Jews who would be afraid to enter Shefaram visit Abu Ghosh in droves - for the humous. In Tel Aviv-Yaffo, Abu Hassan in Yaffo is the humous joint supreme but there are similar establishments, with names invariably starting with Abu, wherever Arabs live in close contact with Jews: in Jerusalem, Acco, Ramle, Haifa and on the roads across the Galil.

Then there are Jewish humous joints where Jews serve humous to other Jews. In Tel Aviv Rehov Yermiyahu, between the park and the port, is humousland. This evening , wife and I, peckish after paying a family visit (S, call your parents) and being close to humousland decided to go for one. At Houmous Ashkara, a no-nonsense Tel Aviv landmark, we attempted to put away one portion with snobarim (pine nuts) and another with an egg and humous bits and gave up half way through. Too much humous sticks to your tongue, without mentioning your internal organs. The raw onion and finely chopped salad brought some relief but we soon called it a day and, like the old farts that we are.... all the way home.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

In the old North

A few weeks ago I had to visit north Tel Aviv, something I do quite infrequently. There's nothing much I normally need in that part of town and I'm quite content to limit my leisure time activities to Neve Tsedek, Florentin, Yaffo , the beach and the city centre.

The photos here are from the 'old' north, just off Jabotinsky and quite close to north Dizengoff. . The first thing you notice is how green the streets are compared to the south. The trees here are old timers, the pavements are cleaner, broader and almost deserted. The buildings here are post 'Bauhaus', from the 50s and 60s, spacious and well maintained. By Israeli standards this is still a genteel neighbourhood. The north (tsafon ) has become synonymous, by way of association with the ashkenazim that tend to dominate in this neck of the woods, with wealth, elitism and snobbery. Hence a 'tsfoni' or a 'tsfonbon' means a rich, ashkenazi snob.

Hedges forming an arch, shielding the building from the street, are a common feature. Most of the buildings in this area are built on stilts, an idea supposed to allow the sea breeze to cool them in summer. The strip of hotels along the beachfront put an end to that in the 1970s and then the air-conditioning made it irrelevant.

For some reason , hair salons in north Tel Aviv always look like this. A few steps up from the pavement, a cactus in the entrance an awning over the front door.

And as a finale, a typical example of 50s brickwork on Jabotinsky itself.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Preparing the shelter

I've been having some serious technical problems which have kept me off-line for a while. Also been busy with a roller-coaster of family celebrations, and departures. It's good to be back. Being technically obstructed from posting this blog was surprisingly frustrating. Now that the technology is is so simple, I'm as hooked on it as everyone else.

Another technological marvel, produced the photo above which I used to illustrate my very first blog. A few months ago I submitted it to a photo contest on theme of tmunot yafot (beautiful pictures of Yaffo) and a few days was awarded an honorable mention and dinner for 2 at a fancy Yaffo restaurant! The contest was sponsored by Harova (The Quarter) a company marketing a new residential complex in Yaffo but the judges included some of Israel's leading photographers. You saw it here first! See all the photos here. Click to enlarge.

While banished from my small virtual world I wrote something that I'll post here. I'll be back soon......

End of July, the height of summer. Outside, the air consistency resembles krupnik soup. Rooftop temperature 31 degrees Celsius with 80% (it’s-not-the-heat-it’s-the) humidity. Sea temperature 30 degrees. Swimming is only refreshing for the 45 seconds the hot breeze blows against your skin as you exit the water. Then you’re sweating again.

The northern European epidermis I inherited from generations of Polish, Lithuanian and British ancestors, revolts violently against this boiling Levantine sauna. Only a/c brings reprieve.

A few days ago I needed to enter the miklat (air raid shelter) of our building and after heaving open the heavy iron door was almost knocked senseless by a wave of damp, acrid heat. Admittedly, part of the problem may have been connected to the fact that I had stuffed rags into the air vents so that the neighbours wouldn’t be disturbed by my drum practices. I decided that the place needed airing urgently but when I tried to open the heavy emergency exit-window to let in some air from outside, it would hardly budge.

Apart from the ventilation problem, another reason to fix the shelter’s emergency exit (the only escape route if the main door is blocked, by debris, say) is that we might actually need to use it. Exactly one year after the outbreak of the Lebanon III War that brought Hizbullah missiles as close as Hadera, a 40-minute drive away, we have all been acutely conscious that next time they could hit further south and that the Tel Aviv bubble is not exactly a missile shield. Syria’s Assad has been noting that if the Golan Heights are not returned through negotiations they could be liberated by war. And of course the media have been playing up the “Will there be a war in the summer?” theme.

Right now, war and peace with Syria seem like equidistant possibilities. For a serious look at the tangled web of Israeli-Syrian contacts see

Meanwhile, the friendly neighbour from number 5 has agreed to take care of the emergency exit and also to install a venta (electric ventilation fan) instead of one of the air vents. Va’ad ha-bayit (the house committee) will foot the bill.

Our miklat, its bleak concrete walls enlivened by life-sized images of jazz greats painted by one of kid's artist friends, is a general depository for bikes, garden tools, my drum set, old prams, and other junk left behind by generations of tenants. Without water, a toilet or medical supplies, it is totally unprepared for hostilities. At least we’ll be able to breathe better once the venta is installed but before packing away my drums to make way for an emergency mattress I want to to be assured that war is imminent.