Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Mid Life Crisis Plays Sublime

Mid Life Crisis in all its glory

Sunday May 10. A balmy evening. In Ramat Gan Stadium Fifty thousand fans have gathered to see Depeche Mode. Meanwhile, in a rock club in grimy south Tel Aviv, 'Mid Life Crisis' a four piece rock band, incapable of identifying even one Depeche Mode song, take to the stage.

This was MLC's second pro gig, this time at Sublime, an upgraded venue with a real stage, even a raised podium for the drums! We managed to run through 16 songs with a minimum of mistakes, the sound was reasonable, and a rocking good time was had by all.

Plans are afoot to upload some of the show to You Tube (depending on what it looks and sounds like). Meanwhile, to hear 5 Mid Life Crisis recordings including the newly added 'With A Bit of Faith', go to

Danny Zilberman playing those sneaky riffs in the foreground, me at the traps.

Danny Blumberg on bass guitar plays to dramatic effect

Danny Z in classic pose

Guitar lickin' Zev Labinger

Someone under 50 seems surprised to be enjoying himself

The audience - ok, consisting largely of the friends and family of the band members (special thanks to Z&W) - showered us with applause. Depeche Mode couldn't have had more of an adrenalin high.

Satisfied punters at Sublime. Could there really be a market in Israel for an ageing rock band playing original material in English?

Friday, May 8, 2009

Open House

A room in ha-blok

Following in the footsteps of other major cities, Tel Aviv has been holding an 'Open House' weekend for several years now. The local version is called batim mi-bifnim or 'houses from the inside'. The event, which opens up scores of private homes, workplaces and public buildings and spaces to the general public, becomes more popular ever year. After all, who isn't interested in peeking into other people's habitats? Consequently we met long queues at some of the buildings we'd planned to visit and decided to move on. There was still plenty to see though.

The day started on a green note at the community organic garden in Maoz Aviv, a charming quiet and very green neighbourhood in the north east situated next to the luna park. From small beginnings the garden is now used actively by 40 families in either general or individual plots. The municipality provided the land and the water. The families contribute 50 shekels a month to cover expenses like new plants. Even people who don't use the garden regularly leave their fresh garbage in the active compost heap. In fact we learned a lot about compost heaps - apparently a growing fashion (they don't throw meat and fish onthe pile in Maoz Aviv ). I resolved to start a communal compost heap in the back garden.

Moving on and still in green mode, we visited the "ecological apartment" situated on a picturesque corner of Bialik Square. This is the kitchen whose walls, according to the note, were painted with of flour and milk! The residents are eco activists who run an NGO called A Tree in The City. (Hebrew only). Another lecture on compost (yes you can chuck meat and fish on the heap) and I was ready for some plastic and steel.

But first. more organic kitchen

Over the road, is 'bauhaus tel aviv' , a modest but stylish collection of Bauhaus artifacts, with stress on the tubular chairs that have become modern classics. This was not part of the tour but worth the visit.

Taking the time to see buildings not normally visited whetted the appetite for forays into corners often passed but never entered. Thus inspired, we stopped at Tel Aviv's first cemetery on Rehov Trumpeldor (which actually served the Jews of Jaffa before Tel Aviv was Tel Aviv).

Amidst the crumbling gravestones lie the remains of some of Tel Aviv's and Israel's luminaries: Arlosorov (Zionist leader), Dizengoff and Rokach (early mayors), Haim Nahman Bialik (national poet), Moshe Sharett (Prime Minister) and others - "All the streets ," as A put it.

Many of the old gravestones carry the photographs of the deceased, an un-Jewish custom I always thought but today too, you see photographs on the gravestones of immgrants from Russia so it may be an eastern European thing.

Next stop was a four storey building on Rehov Barzilai near the now trendy gan ha-chashmal (Electric Garden) area. This started out in the early thirties as a set of elegant apartments built in the international style. As the area deteriorated in the 60s and 70s, the building, with its well proportioned rooms, high ceilings and beautiful floor tiles, was let out to small businesses and left to decay. In the early 90s a young couple rented the entire building and tastefully converted it in to a busy post-production studio called 'Edit'

Walking up the central stairwell at Edit. Click to check out the different tiles on each floor.

detail of modernist, early 30s tiles.

editing corner at Edit - each room has different theme.

Next stop was to ha-blok (The Block) which , it turned out, is the location of an Isaeli reality show. I'm a bit fuzzy on the details of the show (and intend to remain so) but what we saw is that a nondescript abandoned 60s block on the corner of Mazeh and Begin had been partially converted into 6 very small apartments, each of which was named after a different young couple (Ma'ayan and Roi, say). Some sort of competition was involved. The rooms, all overly designed and none, to my mind, attractive, were obviously slapped together for the show. Here an ABBA video on a loop competes with Marilyn for no apparent reason.

A dispiriting room in ha-blok

This morning, together with another 300 people, we took a tour with environmental activist, TV journalist, foreign affairs expert and now Knesset Member Nitzan Horowitz through central Tel Aviv: from Dizengoff Square to Gan London next to the Dan Hotel on sea front. The theme was urban sustainability

Ma'onot Ha-Ovdim (Workers Residences)

Along the way, Nitzan (below) pointed out how once throbbing Dizengoff with its smart shops, bohemian cafes and vibrant street life had been handed over to the automobile in the 70s. Historic Tzina Dizengoff Square, surrounded by magnificent International Style buildings (see today's lovely Cinema Hotel for inspiration) was raised to allow cars to flow underneath. Once its connection to the street was severed the whole area went downhill. Today, this end of Dizengoff is a collection of run down buildings, felafel joints and cheap bazaars. The solution: restore the square (actually a circle) to street level and market forces will revitalize the whole area.

Further along the way we stopped at ma'onot ha-ovdim ('workers residences' - see above) built in the 30s in a utopian vision that, according to Nitzan, holds the secret to urban sustainability today. This was the "affordable housing" of an earlier age. Three sides of modest apartments surrounded a large central lawn , protected from the busy street outside , where children could play safely. The apartments were originally populated by a mixed bunch of factory workers, intellectuals and Labour Party workers. In today's terms this would (apart from the party hacks) be considered a good "mix" of types of population. Thirty seconds away and you are on busy Dizengoff street , hence also a good mix of residential and commercial use. The third elelement for sustainable urbanism - an efficent, integrated pubic transportation system with dedicated public traffic lanes and limits on private car usage - was less of a problem in the 1930s.

MK Nitzan Horowitz

Tel Aviv argued Nitzan, is already an "excellent city" but, with a bit of thought and planning, could be a "model".

Saturday, May 2, 2009


A few days ago, a flyer appeared on the front door handle. It carried the slogan "Protect Yourself - Right on Time" (sounds better in Hebrew) and showed a map of Israel (and the West Bank) divided into brightly covered sections. Each section referred to the amount of warning time you'll have to reach your "protected the case of an emergency" (read: "if your area is attacked by missiles").

If you live in Kiryat Shemona you have zero time. Lucky Jerusalemites have 3 minutes.The rooftop and the rest of Tel Aviv will have 2 minutes. We don't have a mamad (reinforced room) in this old flat but 2 mns would probably allow us to reach the bomb shelter on the ground floor in time - although the security window in there is stuck half open. If not, we'll head one floor down and seek protection in the stairwell. The folks from the Home Front Command advise us to keep water, food, batteries, first aid and even an internet link in our safe areas, since, it appears, we could be stuck in there for a quite a while...

The flyer is part of a campaign to better prepare Israel for the next war which, in all probability, will see missiles flying into major population centres. A nationwide exercise is planned for later in the month. Ask the Home Front and they'll tell you that it is better to be doing this now while Israel is not in an emergency situation. Ask other observers and they'll tell you that is part of the preparations to launch an attack against Iranian nuclear facilities.

The question of whether Israel will or won't do this has become a national obsession. Some say that the reason that Barak joined the government was because he shares Bibi's existential concerns regarding Iran. As if the flyer and the media attention were not enough, my day (unusually cloudy and cool) is being further darkened by an article by Aluf Benn in Ha'aretz with the catchy title Is Netanyahu bringing Israel closer to a 'second Holocaust'?

It starts with:

"Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's actions are shaped by a profound conviction that Israel will be in danger of extermination if Iran has nuclear weapons at its disposal. Removing the Iranian threat to Israel has been Netanyahu's main goal for years, and the Iranians' progress in this realm has only reinforced his
awareness that the fateful hour of decision is fast approaching."
and ends with:

"As long as the diplomatic process continues, and Obama is asking Israel to hold off on any action, it is too early to declare that a war against Iran is
inevitable. But Netanyahu's rise to power is clearly bringing Israel closer to
such a conflagration, because of the gravity he attributes to the Iranian threat
and his belief that he is tasked with saving Israel and the Jewish people from
destruction. Anyone who thinks of himself in such terms and is also talking
about history books will not want to be remembered as the prime minister who
served when the Islamic Republic, whose leader considers Israel a "filthy germ,"
became a nuclear power."

A Skpe conversation with S in the UK revealed that the Iranian issue hardly featured in the British press. When I told him that it was dominating ours, he dismissively waved one hand and, with the other, took another swig of whiskey. The fear and loathing that the Iranian nuclear enterprise understandably evinces in Israel is being talked up by our politicians in an orchestrated fashion. This is partly designed to convince the rest of the world of the seriousness of the Iranian threat but (judging by the British press) if the rest of the world remains unconvinced, this may also eventually paint the Israeli leadership into a corner. If diplomacy and sanctions fail, they may feel that there is "no choice" but to take military action.

My fear therefore is not that Iran will launch a nuclear strike against Israel (it knows it would get one in return) but that Bibi will launch a strike against Iranian nuclear facilities that will lead to (non-nuclear) war with Iran (and probably also Hizbullah and Hamas) in which thousands of missiles will be launched at the rooftop and the surrounding area known as the State of Israel.

Where did I put that flyer ??

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...