Friday, April 17, 2009

Tel Aviv's spirit 100 years young

Carmel Market

Travels over and returned to roost on the rooftop, it's time to catch up with Tel Aviv's centenniel celebrations.

Despite the official opening - a successful big bash in Rabin Square with lasers, fireworks and major artists - and the year of parties and events to come, a tangible sense of excitement is noticeably absent, at least amongst Tel Avivians I know.

The explanation to this paradox is perhaps to be found in the article (thanks to A) by Tel Aviv columnist Ben Zilka that opened the special centennial year edition of Ha-Ir (The City) -"cool" local paper popular with lefties and the cultural circle. So, as a public service, here's a translation of a few passages. And since this piece eloquently sings the praises of everyday life in Tel Aviv, I'm interspersing a few of my photos of ordinary Tel Avivians.

Purim street party

Second hand book stall on Allenby Street

Today is Your Birthday by Ben Zilka

"....Despite one's professional duty to devote this column to the birthday, we wouldn't be telling the whole truth were we to say that excitement over the festivities is keeping us awake at night. After all, this coming weekend, like all the other weekends in the city, will be crammed with events that are no less attractive. And, with all due respect, we had already made other plans for our days off.

Bride and groom, Carmel Market

"In the south of the city for example there's a big buzz about an exhibition in which a lot of artists are going to take part and the word is that "everyone in town will be there."Clearly we're going to put in an appearance ourselves. At a club not far away from there there's a party, nothing special, the sort that happens here all the time, with famous DJs from abroad and similar attractions and we thought that maybe we'd drop in. Apart from that there's our regular evening at the bar that always manages to lift the fatigue accumulated during the working week, the regular Friday meeting at the cafe and perhaps also the beach, weather permitting. So, all in all, we don't have that much time to spare this weekend...."

Miko the mechanic, Florentin

"... Tel Aviv has traditionally turned its back on ceremonies and titles dictated by this or that establishment, and this time too, even though the party is being held in our honour, it's reasonable to assume that we won't depart from this custom . This is also how the history of Tel Aviv - born exactly 100 years ago - came into being.The sanctity of place never applied to us as it applied to , say, the city elders of Jerusalem where the divine aura emanation gazes at them from every corner of the city and and directs them to act according to its conditions. Nor does any spirit of heroism hover over us , and our city is not named after fallen soldiers whose legacy- whatever it might be - we are supposed to uphold."

' Matkot players' , hotels section of the boardwalk

Girl, Florentin

Young mums on the beach

"This does not mean to say that Tel Aviv is a city without a past, but rather that its past is woven into its daily experience: we sit in cafes just as Dizengoff and Rokach [former mayors of Tel Aviv] sat in them, we sip the same glasses of alcohol as Bialik and Alterman [renowned Tel Aviv poets] and the sea is, it goes without saying, the same sea. "


Fashion conscious street cleaner, corner Allenby/King George/ Sheinkin

Singing waiters, Tel Aviv Port
"The city's poets and authors sang praises to its cafes, to its nights, its streets, the trees along its boulevards, its women, its night life and its beaches. None of them ever glorified the memory of its dead or its fabulous past, just its daily routine and the joy of life that they experienced. In this way, for a hundred years, we have learned how to look back, to the point where the commemoration of any historical event, be it even the city's birthday, appears alien to us."

Friday afternoon drummers, 'Drummer's Beach'

Abu Hassan, "mythological" humous joint, Yaffo

Never too old to folk dance, Shabbat morning on the beachfront

If , nevertheless, we stop for a moment in Rabin Square, we won't be looking back to the day on which Tel Aviv was born, we will simply be celebrating what it is."

Shuk Levinsky

Fishermen, Jaffa port

Purim, Florentin

Yom Kippur, Yehuda Halevi

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


'Museum Island', Berlin, formerly part of East Berlin

Considering that it embodies the two evilest empires ever - Nazism and Communism - a quick trip to Berlin revealed a pretty laid back city. Berlin's turbulent history seems to have been successfully subsumed into its flourishing tourist industry while its liberal zeitgeist has transformed it into a magnet for young people.

Berlin's devastation by the Allies and its subsequent West/East division also forged the nature of its revitalization. After the communist side closed off the border, West Berlin's need for working hands led to activist immigration and asylum policies. Today, about 14% of the population of the united city are of foreign nationality while another 12% are descendants of "international migrants" and have either become naturalized German citizens or obtained citizenship by virtue of birth in Germany. With about 25% of the population being "outsiders" it's not surprising that Berlin has become a symbol of the cosmopolitan, global city.

Street art in the borough of Kreuzberg, home to many immigrants from Turkey.

Reminders of Berlin's Jewish life and - more often - death, are scattered around the city. The stunning Jewish Museum tells the whole illustrious and painful story while the controversial, impressive Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (see pic below) covers an entire block but, at least for me, did not have a deep emotional effect. While some visitors seemed to be pensive, others, especially kids, treated the whole affair as a kind of maze, which, of course, it is. An official is on hand to shoo youngsters off the tops of the symbolic gravestones. Whatever your view on the monument, it is but one of many visible signs that Germany society has internalised the lessons of its dark past. Surrounded by sad monuments to the past and by the free roaming grandchildren of the war generation, it was difficult to complain about the way Berlin is transforming itself.

Today, Berlin's community numbers about 12,000 people. We saw armed guards outside every Jewish institution we happened to pass. This was a reminder that while another Holocaust is unthinkable, the Jews of Europe, sadly, still need protection from some of their neighbours.

Tourists at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

The nondescript park and parking lot shown below cover the site of Hitler's bunker, the site of his suicide together with Eva Braun. The relatively smart residential buildings in the background were built, in clear view of the West, by the East German authorities for their ruling and intellectual elite in a last ditch effort to show that they too could build stylishly. A neat spot to sum up the last days of these empires. Fake GDR memorabilia can now be purchased from Indian hawkers on street corners while we didn't see any Nazi memorabilia on sale at all, even at the flea market. Thus are the mighty fallen

Decadent Berlin, which the nazis hated, seems to have a sneaky way at poking fun at pompous politicians. The Fernsehturm TV tower (needle with a golf ball on top) - now Berlin's icon -was erected by the communists as a symbol of modernist, secular superiority over the tradition-laden religiosity of the bad old world. Trouble is that at certain times of the day the sun's rays create a cross on the globe, thus gaining it the nickname, The Pope's Revenge.

Even the dramatic impact of Kennedy's 1963 "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech in West Berlin has been dampened somewhat by the controversy over whether these words can be taken to mean "I am a doughnut."

Tourists on Trabi (lousy GDR car) Safari near one of the last remaining stretches of the wall

There's a certain style that, judging by the number of hat shops encountered, never seems to go out of fashion in Berlin.

War becomes war tourism. Choose your bike tour: Berlin's Nazi past or the dungeons of the Stasi?

But all that's behind us now. After reuinification once depressed and still cheaper East Berlin attracted students and artists thereby transforming neglected and grimy neighbourhoods into cheerful places with a bohemian edge and upwardly mobile real estate prices.

Hanging out in a neighbourhood flea market. The stallholders were terrible bargainers. If you offered a significantly lower price, they immediately agreed. In the Middle East this is considered to be unacceptable practice. Could this be the secret of peace in Europe since WWII?

You can see more photos of Berlin here

and the whole of my webgallery here

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Playing for change thru-you

Kutiman live

As a Pessah present I wanted to upload two amazing music videos that have been circulating recently. Apart from being superb musically and visually, both are uplifting in that they involve so many musicians from so many different countries. They also both use carefully blended performances of music to tie everyone together. The musicians, who have never seen each other, are linked either actively or by the producer to one another. Everyone is in a different place yet everyone is doing the same thing in perfect synch. It's probably that aspect that gives the viewer that uplifted feeling. The multiculti mix also enriches in ways that would be impossible in an ordinary production.
Since blogger won't let me upload the videos from you-tube, I'll just give the links and hope for the best.

The first is by an Israeli musician Ophir 'Kutiman' Kutiel who, after after months hunched over a computer in Tel Aviv emerged blinking into the sunshine to announce that he had completed the thru-you project. In this he has mixed you-tube clips from anonymous and (formerly) amateur performers to create 7 superb tracks Go to


According to music site The List "Israeli producer Kutiman has become an overnight internet sensation by mixing an album entirely from samples of YouTube videos. The online album Thru You ( has become so successful that (at time of writing) the site hosting it is down due to "overwhelming traffic"."

The second is Stand By Me performed by street musicians from all over the world. This was produced by the Playing for Change foundation programme whose goal to create a "music movement" that would "inspire and improve communities in need around the world through music". The on-site recording technique is different but the results are equally inspiring.
I've just seen that they have a new song recorded with the same technique -Bob Marley's 'One Love' . This includes contributions from an Israeli singer called Tula filmed in Yaffo.


Re-Remembering David Crosby

               We recently saw the film David Crosby: Remember My Name at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque and as I write, I’m listenin...