Monday, May 26, 2008

What Italians (mainly Sicilians) have #2

An enduring infatuation with Jesus

As seen here entering a coffee bar in Altavilla, a provincial town outside Palermo.

And Mary ...Supervising a kickabout from a niche in a square in Salerno. Sicily is packed with these shrines

The most active volcano in Europe

In the shape of Mt. Etna, seen here from the patio of a friendly B&B in the undistinguished, poor but very friendly town of Randozzo which lies at the foot of the Etna range. Particles of black volcanic grit fall constantly on the good people of Randozzo who have the Sisyphian task of sweeping it up every day, lest the whole town be buried in black. It seems to be good for the plants though.

Etna erupted about a week before we arrived which lent a tang of danger to our climb of about 2,500 metres (the first 2,499.5 were done by car and cable car). The lack of oxygen, extreme cold and freezing wind made this a traumatic and exhausting experience.

The top of Etna is a brooding, ominous monster of dried lava. On the way up, driving through the gorgeous countryside full of wild flowers, we saw clearly where the lava had burned everything in its wake.

A problem with the mafia

" The mafia is a mountain of shit" Peppino Impastato , the tireless anti-mafia activist (eventually murdered by the mob) is quoted as saying on this poster marking 30 years of anti-mafia activity.

An affinity with the sea

Swabbing down the decks on a fancy yaght in the marina at Riposto.

Part of the morning catch in Riposto. There was also a massive swordfish and a very big tuna.

Click this pic to make it bigger and you'll see that this colourful awning, covering a stack of deck-chairs on the seafront somewhere on the Amalfi coast, is a ctually a photo of ... Jerusalem.

What the Italians have # 1

A vibrant culture of popular sports

Last Sunday morning , town square, Monreale, near Palermo, Sicily. A 'triathalon' was advertised but all we saw were runners of various ages. From time to time a policeman on motorbike would race round the square yelling. After about an hour of running around the narrow alleyways nearly all participants received a cup from looking local sporting dignitaries from the Union for Popular Sports. Italians also seem to be fond of "aquatic circuses".

A long and vivid history

As exemplified by this Moorish-inspired detail from a column in the beautiful Norman Duomo of Monreale. There was evidence of the strong influence of Islamic and Norman art and architecture all over Sicily, especially in the churches.

This mural from the brothel at Pompei gave us a deeply penetrating insight into the daily life of the local Romans lived before they were buried in hot ash - Sodom and Gemorrah-like - by the eruption of nearby Vesuvius.

A relaxed attitude towards life

Or at least that's how it seemed while observing this couple in Salerno. Father and son perhaps, pop in red-hot pants, strolling down an alleway, morning papers in hand, discussing the garbage crisis in Naples? Or maybe checking out a real estate opportunity in what seemed to be an emerging market (260,000 euros for 50 square metres!)

A group of fish market workers in Rispoto, Sicily, arguing at 8 o'clock in the morning. "That's Italians for you," the vegetable vendor told us. "Ten men talking and one working!" Two nights previously the mafia had set off a bomb in the newly renovated indoor fish market. On the night of our visit, local elections seemed to be underway. We decided that a Mr. Facki , on Berlusconi's list, had the least smarmy smile and announced him the victor.

Three stylish gentlemen pausing for a morning chat in Salerno. The way they're standing reminds me of an Italian version of a Pink Floyd album.

Playing an early evening game of snooker (with local rules involving little skittles on the table) in Erice, a small village perched on a mountaintop in western Sicily. The older people we came across seemed to be active and often stylish. (Sorry these photos are all of men. I have a good photo of a stylish woman but she refuses to be uploaded by the likes of me)

more to come...

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Independence Day

Once the actual anniversary celebrations got underway all the philosophising and speculating was pushed to the side and you just go with the flow. Here are some pics starting with the view from the rooftop on Wednesday night when the laser beams from the lightshow on Rabin Square could be seen behind Shalom Tower.

A street party in Neve Tzedek

and in Florentin

The flypast on Thursday looks like a replay of 9/11 but in fact the only people who were hurt were spectators on the beach, several of whom were injured when a parachutist smashed into them.

Aerial acrobatics from the rooftop.

Friday, May 2, 2008

60th celebrations 2 - flags

Half proud of the flag

The impending outbreak of Israel's 60th Independence Day (coming up on May 8) obviously triggers all sorts of middle-aged contemplations that involve comparing the naive hopes of the youthful past with the complex realities of the over-ripe present and a very uncertain future. In the media we've mostly been subjected to a series of nostalgic flashbacks (like the 'A Song for 60' competition won, predictably by Yerushalayim shel Zahav.

But in the more thinking pages of Ha'aretz at least there are some interesting reflections on where we are where we might be going . Modi Bar On is a TV producer and presenter (who has the image of the ordinary Moti-like bloke) who specialises in using plain language and old footage to dissect Israel through his historical documentary programmes:

'Bar-On is 45. His disappointment with Israel's Independence Day, and the state, is inevitable. "Now, I spend the holiday mainly at home. We used to have a cookout on the lawn. If we happened to drive around, you could see fireworks everywhere. It's become just another one of those holidays, like New Year's Eve, when you 'have' to celebrate, but it doesn't really work... We are Lot's wife. We have become petrified by looking back." Click here for the entire interview.

The most scathing indictment of Israel at 60 (on the Zionist-Israeli side that is) must come from Advocate Ya'akov Weinrot, paradoxically an ultra-successful advocate of the rich and famous, whose clients have included Ariel Sharon, Binyamin Netanyahu and billionaire/politician Arkady Gydamak. Surprisingly, Weinrot, who , it turns out, in his youth both studied in yeshivas and was a Marxist, spent most of his Ha'aretz interview bemoaning the rampant Thatcherization of Israel and the loss of all values and ideology to the destructive god of the free market. Here are a few extracts from a man who rubs shoulders with the real movers and shakers of Israeli society:

"The kibbutz movement was cast aside because it was a central obstacle to the Golden calf, to the god of finance, to Dionysus who has turned into the real god. ... I am sure that the big ideas like equality, like comradeship, like solidarity, are ideas that cannot die, they are ideas that need to rise anew. The idea of equality will arise. The idea of equality must arise.... Thatcherism sees the free market as the main thing, the foundationof all foundations, the God of all gods. Not only does it erase all other values, it conquers the queen at home.... There is no government any more. Capital is the government. Capital rules the entire expanse of experience, it flows through all the hidden veins of society....Here there are about 10-15 families controlling about 55% of all resources. In such a situation, do you really think that decisions are made in the government complex?"

No surprise then that he always looks so unhappy.

Advocate Ya'akov Weinrot

The official celebrations have the somewhat Soviet-style theme of "strengthening the nation's children", weakened as they are by a diet of pop idol shows, junk food and sms messages. If you're interested in the official anniversary site in English , here it is. But when I googled, what came up was which is subtitled "60 years of Palestinian suffering". Don't read it if you're interested in an Independence Day barbecue untroubled by the thoughts of how Israel's creation was also the crushing and dispersion of Palestinian society.

Some of my more politically active acquaintances will spend Independence Day in Arab villages destroyed during or after the War of Independence, to acknowldege that the liberation of one people resulted in the naqba (disaster) of the other.

Personal flag on an electricity box copyrighted just in case..

The Palestinians themselves are hatching all sorts of plans to spoil the Israeli party and bring attention to themselves. To give one example, more than 100,000 Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon are expected to march toward the border with Israel on May 14 in the context of the Palestinian Authority's plan to mark the 60th anniversary of the establishment of Israel.

The stage is ready for both Soldier's Memorial Day and the Independence Day party in Rabin Square

Troubled and guilt-ridden as well as happy and proud, we'll be on the rooftop with friends watching the flypast and the flottila, listening to the old songs on the radio and grilling our meat (and organic corn on the cob).

Happy Independence Day(naqba)!!