Saturday, January 30, 2010

Crazy building, full moon

On a steep side street in Ramat Gan sits a crazy apartment building. We went to visit it last night with Y who has just moved into the neigbourhood.

It was a moonlit night

The tentacles of alien creatures hung over the sides of the crazy building.

Their parents, possibly scavenging for food, roamed the neighbourhood

Surprising shapes inspired by Gaudi confronted us at every turn.
A concrete banana skin helter skelter wrapped around the exterior of the crazy building contains a staircase that allows the visitor to enter the beast from the outside and as well as from the inside.

What a shame that most buildings are not crazy
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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Engrish, Hebrish

What with everything being so gloomy and all (Iranians getting closer to the bomb, Bibi planting trees in settlements, International Holocaust Day tomorrow, it's cold) I thought I'd cheer myself up with some examples of Engrish and Hebrish I recently stumbled across. 

                    My personal favourite.

Have they no shame?

Couldn't have put it better myself.

The rest are for Hebrew speakers. Here ' Navy vessel Nidkar' in Hebrew becomes 'my brother was stabbed" (that is in the Hebrew meaning of the English).

Similarly 'Alexandroni' (one of the regiments that fought in the 1948 War) has been transformed by the linguists attached to the street signs department of Tel Aviv municipality into 'Alex and Roni'. The guys who live next door?

Finally, a sign , obviously created by the department of philosophy attached to ma'atz, the public works office, because it raises profound questions about whether the material world we think we inhabit consists of no more than a series of abstract concepts. If you're a Hebrew reader, road 431will take you to Holon; however if you inhabit the world of English, the same road will take you to Bat Yam! English speakers will have a mayor accused of corruption but may get a sea view. Hebrew speakers will be closer to the licensing office of the ministry of transport.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Indian Summer

While Europe freezes, Tel Aviv (and the rest of the country) basks in an Indian Summer with temperatures in the low twenties. The air is uncannily warm for January, at least in the middle of the day. The shadows start lengthen early on and by 5.30 it's dark. The springlike weather has brought everyone out.

"U.S. envoy George Mitchell will arrive in the region this week without a new agenda for renewing negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, the pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat reported on Saturday." according to Haaretz . Not an inspiring headline for those of us still interested in solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Probably the last thing on the minds of the picnikers above spreading a blanket in the soft sunlight (above) under Ilan Gur's sculpture of the Propher Elija (I think). In fact, interest in politics, especially the "conflict",  is probably at an all time low in Israel right now. This week one of the few decent politicians left in the Labour Party - Ophir Pines - quit the Knesset, saying that he was fed up with everything and wanted to go home. And as regards the Palestinians Aluf  Benn  wrote in Ha'aretz this week :
"Let's assume the optimistic forecast by special U.S. envoy George Mitchell comes true and in two years the establishment of an independent Palestine is declared at a ceremony. The event will be broadcast on prime time, but most Israelis will opt to view "Big Brother 6," "Survivor 7" or whatever the next television hit is. Viewers will behave this way not because they oppose a Palestinian state but because they are indifferent. Palestine-shmalestine simply does not interest them."

Cafe in the Yafo flea market

Nor apparently does Palestine -shmalestine really interest the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships otherwise why would they both be making preconditions for renewing the negotiations that they know the other side will be unable to accept. And to top it all George Mitchell is plan-less. One briefly wonders, yet again, whether 'Palestine-shmalestine' is ever going to get off the ground and whether Israel will ever be at peace. But then the afternoon sun takes effect and the question fades into insignificance.

The light in Yaffo has a special quality.  It seems to be saying: "empires will rise and fall and this light has seen it all and it means as much as the froth on the waves."

Balcony, Neve Tzedek, once Yaffo,now Tel Aviv-Yaffo
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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Three quotes on the State of Tel Aviv

Enjoying the good life with not a thought for the rest of the country. Good or bad ? Above and below: Young revellers on Rothschild Boulevard during a recent street party.

"[...] In the last decade the Israeli -Palestinian conflict has degenerated into a desperate, hopeless, impasse with no bright horizon in sight. And around Tel Aviv the country is deteriorating into a lowbrow, narrow mindedness saturated with hate and prejudice, nationalistic and  fearful of the other. When you place Tel Aviv in this perspective and without comparing it to European capitals, it is far from disappointing. On the contrary. And, as as the siege on Tel Aviv develops, its contrary nature become ever more contrary. In Tel Aviv it's normal to have sex with Arabs, to be a woman who was once a man, to go to a sperm bank to have a baby, to be homosexual, not to go to military reserve service or even mandatory service. In Tel Aviv it is not mandatory and no-one raises an eyebrow. In Tel Aviv people smoke joints in cafes. Everything that happens in other places behind closed doors happens here in the open, without shame, without the need to explain, make excuses or justify.  In Tel Aviv the fate of the Jewish people  and the Middle East conflict do not define who you are and do not define your existential space. In comparison with the rest of the country, Tel Aviv offers priceless freedom.[...]"  

Rogel Alfer summing up the last decade in the Tel Aviv 'Bubble'. Ha-Ir 1.1.10 

"[...] In 2007 only about half the 18-31 age group were certain that they wanted to live in the country..similarly only 59% of the secular public wishes to stay in Israel as  against two-thirds of the traditional and religious pubic and 87% of the haredim who wished tostay... Only 47% of the voters for the (left wing) Meretz party in the 2006 elections wanted to remain in Israel. So the chances seem high of finding adults and the elderly, religious and haredim, and voters for religious and right wing parties among those who wish to remain in Israel; on the other hand, [there are] more young people, secular people and voters from the left who want to leave (Phillipov 2007). It may be stated with certainty that the latter groups are typical of the population of 'Tel Aviv state' - young people whose culture is cosmopoltian, who are devoid of Zionist roots and who are probably ignorant of the essence and geography of the Land of Israel"

Israel : Demography and Density 2007-2020 Evgenia Bystrov and Arnon Sofer

The Anglo-Jewish writer Jonathan Margolis, recently wrote an amusing piece in the Guardian called 'Not Jewish but Jew-ish ' in which there are connections to be found between the cosmopolitan culture of the 'Tel Aviv state' and the state of secular Jews in the UK.

"Apart from the not insignificant point that being a Jew is largely an inherited condition, it seems perfectly adapted to being an "–ish". I even wonder if the etymology of the word Jewish has developed to allow my race/creed/orientation/whatever to be available in Lite. There aren't many other things you can be born into where you can choose to live the "–ish" version rather than be an "-ist" or follow an "–ism". All we Jew-ish Jews do is to elect for the Ultra Lite option."

Read the whole article (recommended) here

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Friday, January 8, 2010


It's been a while since I've written about the neighbourhoods surrounding the Rooftop - Neve Tzedek, Shabazi, Florentin, Yaffo and the old city centre. All of them are undergoing rapid transformation as a result of the real estate spree that has ignored the economic crisis and is gentrifying formerly shunned neighbourhoods in south Tel Aviv.

 Our little stretch is a good example.These photos, taken from the Rooftop, are of a building (one of a  pair of twins) over the road, built in the 1920s. For many years it served as a court. By the time we moved in, in the mid '90s it was already empty and neglected and over the years degenerated into a refuge for the homeless, junkies and film crews looking for authentic locations. The first photo was taken in July 2006. The bottom one was taken a few weeks ago. Beautifully conserved and with a swimming pool on the roof, its rich new inhabitants will be part of the trend to move into old conserved buildings. Unfortunately for them, while we we will be looking at their building, they will be stuck with ours.

You can get an idea of what it's going to look like when complete here

A ten minute bike ride south and you're in the newly renovated shuk ha-pishpishim (flea market) in Yaffo. The grubby old alleys have been spruced up with fake cobbles and smart bollards and instead of the junk and heavy dark furniture that was on offer here a decade ago, cafes and restaurants with interior designs leaning heavily on the fleas market have appeared alongside designer shops, high end antiques and trendy hairdressers. New housing projects are bringing newcomers into the area and the old shuk is also developing a nightlife.

Retro is the rage. An authentic sixties lamp beside an old album by Hava Alberstein.

Not far away, the American Colony , until recently a collection of ramshackle wooden houses, originally imported from Maine in the 19th century, has been extended over the past two years into a quiet , tasteful area, with the new buildings  echoing the style of the old. New residential blocks are springing up around it, along Rehov Eilat, one of the arteries that links Tel Aviv to Yaffo and divides Neve Tzedek from Florentin. If the plans to build 7 towers along Rehov Eilat are implemented, thousands of new residents will be flooding into this area.

A sea view, once not consdidered a big deal by Tel Avivians used to regularly encountering the sea, is now worth its weight in gold.  And the higher you are, the more sea you see. Many of the purchasers of apartments in the luxury residential towers (like the one on the right below still under construction) that are springing up in and around the old city centre are foreign residents, often Jews who have come into an inheritance or hi-tech professionals working in Israel. Not the strategically placed balconies.

At the very foot of these towers lie the narrow alleways of Neve Tzeked. Behind them stands Migdal Shalom, Israel's first 'skyscraper' built in the 1960s on the ruins of the old Gymansia Herzlia school, an act now bemoaned by many. The building used to house another 'first' -Kolbo Shalom - Israel's first real department  store which caused a sensation when it opened. The building itself was dubbed "the tallest building in the Middle East". Now, it in turn has being overtaken by rapid new construction and its famous wafer shape -once one of Tel Aviv's symbols - is being blocked out by the competition.

Saturday, January 2, 2010


No-one knows quite how to relate to New Year's Eve in Israel. Some people have started wishing others a shana ezrachit tova (a "happy civil" - as opposed to Jewish - "new year") but somehow this doesn't roll off the tongue. Religious people shun Sylvester entirely of course as an odious alien custom. But secular Israelis, i.e. those of us who are not averse to sharing some non-Jewish notions with the rest of the world, have been increasingly interested in joining the global party.

Strangely, instead of just adopting New Year's Eve as a totally non-religious excuse for a booze up as in other countries, in Israel, New Year's Eve is referred to as 'Sylvester' . Not clear how many Israelis are aware that this is named after Pope Sylvester (314- 335 AD) who was very chummy with Constantine, the first Christian Roman emperor. Apparently, since, "in the West, the liturgical feast of Saint Sylvester is on 31 December, the day of his burial and since this is the last day in the year , in German-speaking countries and in some others close to them, New Year's Eve is known as Silvester." Was it German speaking immigrants who brought the name to Israel?

Whatever the reason, Sylvester has caught on in a big way, especially in the Tel Aviv bubble, where every pub and club offered a Sylvester special. We, in our own tradition celebrated at the home of friends. After dinner and copious glasses of punch and wine, we sat around, each of us pronouncing our New Year's rezolutzia. The only condition from our genial host was that (in the interests of avoiding a cliche) we we were not allowed to ask for the release of Gilad Shalit.

One friend said that because of what is going on in the Territories he felt increasingly ashamed of being an Israeli and hoped that in the coming year he would be able to feel less ashamed. We all drank to that. A few turns and toasts later, 'J' was greeted with applause when she threw caution to the wind and wished, despite previous warnings, for the return of Gilad Shalit. 'I'  (not I) responded from the left with a wish to see Marwan Barghouti released too and that also got a round of applause.

At about 1 a.m. we walked back to Trumpeldor Street where we had parked the car (somewhat creatively) in a no parking zone. There were maybe twenty cars there, but not mine. Sylvester or no Sylvester, the towing department of Tel Aviv municipality recognises no foreign interference.

Thanks to H for the pic. Note first photoshop attempt.

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...