Monday, November 26, 2007

C'mon Chico

After the wonders of New York City, I was not optimistic about the prospects for exciting visual material in Tel Aviv. But on my first real walk down to the sea early this morning I met these new friends soaking up the early morning sun. The parrot (not deceased) was perched permanently on the handlebars but the dog had to be coaxed onto the seat."C'mon Chico, they're taking a photo of us," said Easy Rider.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

New York Places

The last in the New York series I think, especially since all eyes on Annapolis conference as of now (although what am I going to do with the other 400+ photos?). So, in no particular order, above is a shot of the southern tip of Manhattan taken from the return trip on the Staten Island Ferry. This wonderful shimmering effect should have been something that I composed but is actually the result of poor focus and lack of camera stability.

Don't remember where I took this, possibly in the now gentrified Lower East Side or thereabouts. Some people find the fire escapes romantic but I couldn't figure out why they didn't put them on the back of the buildings.

This was taken in Williamsburg. Note the ad, selling Brooklyn real estate, that says 'Manhattan is so 5 minutes ago'.

Lower Manhattan with Brooklyn Bridge in the foreground. Being based in Brooklyn gave me a different perspective on New York, one shared by the majority of New Yorkers who don't live in Manhattan but in one of the other boroughs, each of which is a large city in its own right (Brooklyn would be the 4th biggest city in the US if it wasn't part of NYC).

And finally, entering the 'Comme Les Garcons' boutique in the old meatpacking district which is now the home of shops selling T shirts for $400. They've artistically left the grungy exteriors intact. I could go on and on but I guess the other photos will have be posted in another lifetime.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

New York Music

Brilliant flutist Itai Kriss (who happens to be a close relation) playing Latin music at the Fat Cat club with his excellent band Cachimba. See Itai's site.

Back on the Rooftop again after almost two weeks in New York. It was great fun (thanks to Itai & Adeola again) and provided plenty of food for thought and blogs but meanwhile here are a few more of the almost 400 photos (!) I took there, concentrating this time on music

Music is to be heard everywhere in New York and particularly in subway stations where musicians of every imaginable style play to a hostage audience of waiting passengers. My personal favourite was a drummer (unfortunately not pictured) who played brilliantly on a set of upturned plastic paint containers (with bits of dried paint still falling out of them). Apart from the subway and enjoying Itai and friends at various venues we went to hear two concerts by musicians we'd never heard of: the New Orleans based Subdudes at the B.B. King Club and Brazilian superstar Caetano Veloso at the Nokia Theatre - both excellent.

Here's a saw player who managed to draw the most convincing sounds out of her weird instrument.

This drummer schlepped an entire set into the depths of the subway. In some places there were groups of up to ten musicians.

Chinese music played on a banjo is not my personal bag but it too helped to while away the minutes before the arrival of the G or the L train.

An equally happy looking accordionist.

Brilliant pianist Jack Glottman, also with Cachimba.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

New York People

The variety is of course endless. Sitting on the subway, where photography is forbidden, is like watching an unending stream of faces from every corner of the world. Above - a window cleaner who thinks he's a rock star.
A waitress at the Aqua Santa restaurant in Williamsburg.

Polish kids fooling around in a park in Greenpoint.

A stylish shopper buying organic vegetables at the Union Square farmers market.

A hairdresser in Greenpoint.

This guy was sweeping up leaves in the park and gave me a hip hop salute.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

New York languages

Hi everyone. Resurfacing at last in NYC or to be more precise Greenpoint, Brooklyn, (thanks to I & A for a wonderful time). Reappearing also with a new and exciting Nikon D40 replacing my beloved but limited little Olympus. So without further ado.. above is the Empire State Building, over the East River, as seen from the kitchen window on a grey day. Strange to see it from this angle.

Polish rules and Yiddish lives.

Green Point is a blue-collar Polish neighbourhood: decent, unpretentious, and a bit down at heel. Everyone here speaks Polish. The newspapers are in Polish and every sort of service (food, travel, DVDs) are advertised in Polish. If you go into a shop, people will assume that you are Polish and then be surprised that you aren't since non-Polish speakers are the foreigners around here. This is the perspective I'm getting from this trip. Each neighbourhood in Brooklyn (as in Bronx and Queens) has its own character, quite separate, even segregated, from its neighbours. Just up the road, along Bedford Avenue, is hip, gentrified/student type Wiliamsburg followed by Puerto Rican Williamsburg followed by Hassidic Williamsburg, Italian Williamsburg and so forth .

A poster in Chinatown.

Street art in Spanish Harlem where we ate at a Dominican restaurant. Inside, everyone was Spanish speaking, the TV was on a Spanish language station and the food was good and cheap.

It's a bit of a shock to see how New York's immigrant communities still rely on their native languages despite being resident here for generations. The Jews relied heavily on Yiddish in the beginning but, in their quest for assimilation, their children turned their backs on the language, regarding it at best as quaint and at worst as an embarrassing relic of the Old World. Perhaps because these Jews felt that they had no particular country to relate to (which European country wasn't anti-semitic?) the Yiddish legacy was easier to drop? In any event, it seems that today close-knit immigrant communities are less interested in assimilating into mainstream America and tend to adhere to their original languages (Spanish & Chinese for example) to the extent of barely bothering with English at all.

A poster advertising excerpts from the autobiography (?) of Haim Weizman, Israel's first President - from the exhibition at the New York Historical Museum devoted to the role of the Yiddish language 'Daily Forward' newspaper. The socialist Daily Forward served as a chronicler and a guide to the mass Jewish immigration of the beginning of the 20th century.

As one of the Forward's editors said,

And indeed it still prospers in the ultra-orthodox ghettos like Williamsburg and Crown Heights, although it sometimes gets transliterated into English too.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Trouble in Peki'in

A massive 'finjan' (defaced with old elections posters) symbolises Peki'in's renowned hospitality
but now seems to have reached boiling point.

The year before last, the English and Israeli halves of our family met up in Israel over Pessah and spent a wonderful few days in the Upper Gailee village of Peki'in. Peki'in is a mixed village of Druse, Moslem and Christian Arabs and a few religious Jews in 'New Peki'in'. The majority is Druse though. We stayed at a simple but hospitable guesthouse, sampled the great local cooking, wandered the quaint alleyways, played sheshbesh under a canopy of vine leaves and soaked in the serenity. Everyone we met (mainly Druse ) was friendly and helpful. The Druse, only about 120,000 strong, have made a so-called Blood Covenant with Israel and serve in the security forces.

It was therefore a shock to learn that a clash between local youths and police "left 40 people injured, including two seriously, and erupted when a large police force entered the village to make arrests over a vandalized cellular phone antenna."

The Druse and Arab organisations accused the police force of using unnecessary force while the police claimed that they had been attacked with masked youths lobbing hand grenades and building blocks and only used live bullets in a life threatening situation (in which a policewoman was taken hostage). For more on the events and aftermath

All this goes to show that there's a lot more going on in Peki'in than quaint Druse hospitality. According to a an expert I listened to tonight, the Druse suffer from a number of chronic problems that have spilled over into violence: much of their lands which sit on Galilee hilltops, have been effectively confiscated and turned into nature reserves; they live in some of the most isolated spots in the country , their institutions are under funded and they have serious employment problems. His main proposal was to invest in building a railway to Carmiel that would link the wild north to Tel Aviv and open up new possibilities for the Druse (as well as everyone else in the Galil)

The Druse are a tough bunch: fiercely independent, close knit, traditionally agricultural community with their own religion and traditions. They're also fierce warriors (I served with a Druse unit for a few days and was very glad they were on our side). The 'Blood Covenant' seems to be coming apart though and that's a negative example for the much more numerous Moslem Arab population which is now being offered voluntary national service as a way entering the Israeli mainstream. If this level of frustration is what happens to the Druse , who serve in the army, why should other Arabs contemplate cooperating with the system?