Body Art, Beards and Lionesses

The Yarqon Stream, not-so-early morning. August 2022

This post is overdue by almost a month.  The heat, the humidity, the noise, and the utter discomfort of being outside during the daytime hours in Tel Aviv during summer  lead to a level of lethargy that I can’t remember experiencing before (and it’s not really much more comfortable at night) and it tends to keep me indoors with fans and air-conditioning working full time in whatever room I  happen to be in at any given time.  Other than reading a bit, getting rid of surplus stuff (mostly paper but which will have to include books, something I should have done years ago and will nevertheless cause me great agony as they go) and organizing 40,000 photos so that I can do something with them (something that should have been ongoing over the years but wasn’t), there’s really not been much else to do or report.

Israeli television seems to be either news or current affairs with people sitting around a studio table all screaming at one another — which is par for the course in this part of the world – or programmes that are designed for halfwits.  Sky News, the only alternative I really have to follow what’s going on in the world isn’t really much better.  News used to be about reporting and commenting on what has happened whereas today it’s more to do with speculation about what might happen and in order to attract viewers, speculation usually accompanied  by transmogrifying what passes as news into a lurid description of the worst possible scenario that could come about.  As the British journalist and former Member of Parliament Matthew Parris once wrote “I really don’t like television very much. It’s partly that I don’t approve of television … because I think it is an inherently stupid medium.”  Parris also wrote somewhere years ago (although I can’t find the reference) that if you’re contracted to write piece of 800 or 1,000 words once, twice or three times a week and you have nothing interesting to say, then you still have to produce piece of 800 or 1,000 words even if it says nothing.  And so it is with the media in general — if you have to turn out a newspaper with 32 pages and here’s nothing to report, you can’t have 4 pages of news and 28 empty pages, so you fill what might have been empty pages with garbage.  And the same applies to television — a news programme scheduled for 75 minutes has to go on for an hour and a quarter — you can’t show a blank screen and although filling time with ads might obviate the need for presenting a blank screen, it appeals to me not one little bit.

I actually tried to start writing this blog post a fortnight ago but got nowhere with it.  It was the day after I had watched most of the Euro women’s soccer Cup Final which was held at Wembley Stadium in front of almost 88,000 spectators.  The media, as usual, had made such a hullabaloo about “The Lionesses” that I thought I’d give it a go, with little better to do. Frankly, and quite in contrast to the opinions I heard over the media following the match, I was bored to tears —— but, I must add, not as turned off as I was while watching Brentford thrash an absolutely dire Manchester United by 4 goals to 0 the other day.  The ladies’ match was played at a slower pace than the men’s. I also discovered that ladies don’t seem to dribble (they’re much too refined and ladylike to be seen to do that in public!).  Given that “diversity” is one of the most commonly used of current buzzwords, diversity was not something that seemed apparent on either the English side or the German team that day but I suppose that that will change, too. However, with surnames like Bright (she didn’t seem any more or less so that the others), Bronze (she didn’t seem any browner than the others), Hemp (she didn’t seem as if she smoked any) and Parris (who didn’t look remotely French), I have to say that I was a little confused.  There also seemed to me an undercount of tattooed arms and legs compared with the man’s game!  Other than that, I think the English goalkeeper saved the day for them!

As for tattoos, it struck me the other day as I went for a walk in the nearby Yarqon Park that as a result of the pandemic, things had changed somewhat.  Tattoos are definitely in— I used to see the the odd tattooed person but now, it seems as if every second person man and woman, young and old, has a tattoo.  Sometimes they’re modest —  just a butterfly on a shoulder or a name or a birdcage on an arm …

… but sometimes, it seems like a whole book or art gallery black curtain  has been inscribed on the person’s person.  And, of course, one is not supposed to refer to “tattoos” these days but only to “body art”.  Coming from a generation when it seemed like the only tattooed people were either merchant seamen or former criminals, I find it all a bit strange, to say the least.

And it’s not only tattoos that seem to have multiplied since the pandemic.  I used to walk in the park and see the occasional person with a dog.  These days, the canine population of Tel Aviv has multiplied several times over and it seems as if every second person is out with a pooch or two or three, some even with ten or more …

And beards, too, seem to have appeared in large numbers (on the male population at least).

The only other thing I’ll mention regarding my month’s “unusual silence blogwise” as one of my regular readers put it the day before yesterday is that both in the UK and Israel, people are gearing up for some sort of political “excitement”.  Here in Israel, the country is headed for its fifth general election in three years, not that things are likely to change much as a result.  The country will have survived approximately a year and a half of government by a disparate coalition stretching from left to right, the main aim of its construction having been to prevent yet another coalition of the right-wing Likud and strictly religious parties headed by a man who appears to regard it as his divine right to be Prime Minister of Israel and whose name I shall refrain from mentioning.  The current transition government is composed of ministers who appear to have been trying to do what they had been entrusted with compared with previous government in which ministers always seemed to check with the leader’s wishes first.  There’s been a lot of manoeuvering over the past month as parties split and amalgamate but to my simple mind, the Israeli electorate has shifted even more to the right than is credible and this time around, Likud seems to be competing with parties to its right, one of which can fairly be described as fascist, i.e. adopting a political philosophy that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition. There are [too many] centre-parties and a moribund left-wing but all in all, it’s an appalling mishmash— a total shambles.  Meanwhile, in Britain, the Conservative party, airing what the media consider the juiciest comments in a daily contest between Trusty Truss and Swishy Rishi, appears to be doing its best to convince the voters at the next election that it really needs a few years off from government in order to reconsider what it’s really about!

Anyway, back to Tel Aviv.  Walking through the park provides me with an almost infinite source of photographic material.  I’m attracted to tree trunks because although I know what they are and that trees grow in the ground, they often display reminders of perhaps another life entirely, such was this elephantine creature I found lolling on the grass not far away from home.

And then there’s a another tree close by that I’ve observed over and again and which I’ve dubbed “The Love Tree”

 

Meanwhile, the weather is so hot and humid that even the most avid smartphone users have to take to a reclining position to get through the day’s intake of useless information …

while others just haven’t even got the strength to do that!

 

Totally Exhausted. Yarqon Park, July 2022

 

Equally totally exhausted. Mount Carmel, July 2022

And then, the other day, while I was photographing a leaking tap and thinking of the caption “Every drop counts”, (something that is apparently applicable to large swathes of Europe these days, too) …

Every Drop Counts. Yarqon Park. August 2022

… I turned to my left and thought I might be able to use the same caption twice!

Every Drop Counts. Yarqon Park, August 2022

 

It’s a dog’s life … and I don’t even have a smartphone! Yarqon Park, July 2022

The Yarqon Park used to be a quiet place five minutes from home, an area to which one could retreat for some peace and quite.  Not any more!


 

And it’s not just in the park that construction is rife.  The whole neighborhood is under reconstruction.  When I returned at the beginning of June, two blocks of flats were standing on the area pictured below just a few minutes walk from home.  Then, in the space of less than a week, they were reduced to rubble — and so it goes.



 But back in the park, it’s not only human families that go for a stroll in the heat and humidity.  The family below can at least cool off in the water —— at least they will when the children are old enough.

But although summer is still with us, we can always dream of other things!

 

Parkhill Road, London NW3

 

 

… and one for the road

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When the knives came out

The knives came out this week

Usually when I post to this blog, PhotoGeography, I start by choosing a selection of photographs from which I whittle the number down to whatever seems appropriate and then — somehow — construct a story around it.  At any rate, that’s been the procedure for the past 6½ years and has stood me well for 270 posts.  Occasionally, something bugs me and I write the story first and somehow manage to find some photographs that connect, even loosely, to the story.

Being a natural skeptic, most of those posts that are “pre-photo”, i.e. in which the story comes first, have to do with the political situation at the time of writing, which is something that beleaguers us all in many and various ways. And although I promised to certain family members at the outset all those years ago that this blog would remain “politics-free”, regular readers will acknowledge  that it doesn’t always work out that way. (As an example, my last post, written almost a month ago, was little more than a rant on my part.)  Although there has been the occasional foray into the political views of a 77-year old doom and gloom merchant (a.k.a. cynic) it’s very rare that one rant has followed another.  So when I started this post almost a fortnight ago, it seemed as if I  would have to make this an exception.

I started with the picture that appeared on the cover of the issue of The Economist two weeks ago, which more or less summed up the circumstances of the individual responsible for the “farce of the year” competition.  No caption was really needed, I felt. (Parenthetically, I might add that long ago when I. was young and a skeptic rather than cynic, I used to cut out covers of The Economist to line the walls and ceiling of my loo in order to keep me amused while I seemingly I had little better to do.)

And having started this post, this is where where I stopped a couple of weeks ago.  At the time at which I stopped, having intended to take it up again the following morning, my take on the farce unfolding at Westminster was overtaken by events. These “events” concerned the fate of the UK Prime Minister who is now the “caretaker” Prime Minister, when he was was literally told by several of his cabinet colleagues, some of whom had agreed to be “promoted” less than 24 hours earlier, that the game was up — literally — and that he’d have to resign.  Well, after all, 62 ministers had already done just that over the previous couple of days, many of them perturbed by the fact that they had been sent out so often to communicate to the media the disingenuities (a.k.a to cover up for the lies) of their boss.  During this time, he seemed intentionally to disregard the hints that had been hurled at him by several senior ministers but, eventually, he bowed to the inevitable and resigned, as he said at Prime Minister’s Questions last week, “with his head held high”.  However, he’s still there as “concierge” (although my dictionary translates “caretaker” as “concierge”, I’m not sure that it is the most appropriate word to use because it sounds so French, so European) and he’ll hang around (scheming one presumes) until the first week of September, when Parliament reconvenes after its summer recess.

The resignation of BoJo was only the overture to the opera that forms Stage II of this tragicomedy (well, if it wasn’t so serious, that’s what it would be) in which a dozen or so formerly loyal lieutenants vied to be elected Leader of the United Kingdom Conservative party, from which larval stage one of them would emerge as a fully-fledged butterfly and become Prime Minister.  The first act of this drama involved the elected members of the parliamentary party indicating the caterpillars of their choice after which s/he receiving the least votes were ejected from the opera. Stage III will be when the pair receiving most votes from the MPs are subjected to the whimsies of the members of the party throughout the country.  At the time of writing, the contenders to become a Painted Lady or Red Admiral had been pared down to five, three of whom seem to be “serious” contenders for the job (i.e. likely to win) and two of whom seem to be using the time and exposure allotted to larval candidates to advertise their very existence, first to members of the party and eventually to the voters.

And although there have been other “political”  and diplomatic” goings-on since I last posted, such as the visit of the President of the United States to Israel, a changeover the Prime Minister in the country, the calling of another general election (the fifth in just over two years in which millions of shekels will be wasted once more) to be held on November 1 (known in some parts of the world as All Saints’ Day but hardly appropriate to anything involving Israeli politicians), I’ve decided to refrain from writing any more that is even remotely political.  Enough is enough!

I haven’t even taken too many photos over the past three weeks.  The weather has been so hot and humid recently that walking during daylight hours is a burdensome task even though I live a five-minute walk away from the Yarqon Park (and for the first time ever, I  think, I’m glad I’m not in London in July where the temperature is forecast to reach 40 degrees Centigrade this week).  That notwithstanding, I have managed to get out occasionally and the remainder of this post includes some recent images, along with some taken over the past decade, which have been appearing on my computer screen as I attempt to label, classify, and catalogue nearly 40,000 images that have accumulated over the years.

Cooling off, Tel Aviv Port. July 2022

The weather being what it has been, during the last week of June and early July, much time was spent indoors watching tennis from Wimbledon, some matches good and exciting, others less so. Besides the activity on the tennis courts, one image stands out above all and that was the one in which many of the singles champions of previous Wimbledon tournaments came together on Centre Court to mark the centenary of the court’s inauguration by King George V in 1922.  They weren’t all there, of course.  Apparently Martina Navratilová had Covid, Serena Williams was absent because Wimbledon officials allegedly refused to let her keep her five courtesy cars for the whole tournament and Boris Becker is in prison for fraud.  Other than that, the thing that struck me about this image was the differences in the height of the players of the present generation, some standing head and shoulders above the others, the most prominent example being Venus Williams beside Rod Laver and that’s even allowing for age!

Much closer to home, I came across a teacher and his pupils giving and having trumpet lessons in the Yarqon Park.  There were about half a dozen kids (accompanied by parents and grandparents) aged, I would estimate, between 10 and 13, each having a 10-15 minute lesson from the teacher.  Reaching the brain via my unschooled trumpet ears, I reckoned that the quality was quite high — certainly no false notes, false notes being difficult to hide on an instrument such as the trumpet (as I remember clearly from hearing an unfortunate female trompetiste at a concert of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra in Canada over 50 years ago).

 

Evening in the Yarqon Park.  July 2022

And if, as you stroll around and the light fades, and you really need to do it, it’s compulsory that errors not be made!


Meanwhile, Tel Aviv, never a particularly attractive city, is constructing its Light Railway and this, in parallel, turns the whole of the city into an insufferable fusion of building sites with roadworks, as a result of which one is beginning to get the impression that compulsory lessons in Mandarin might be appropriate!

 

 

PowerChina, indeed!

On my occasional walks around the city, I noticed that there are people who have evidently been away for some time, presumably to seek cooler weather elsewhere.

Nordau Boulevard, Tel Aviv. July 2022

And while walking about, there are always interesting family photographs at hand, such as this Watermain family not far from the house (no relatives, note!).


One of the things that stand out in a city in which the cars are, for the most part, unwashed, is the accumulation of, for want of a better word, guano,  on the windscreens and from which interesting images can be constructed.

Finally, I’ll conclude with a few images selected at random from the 40,000 or so that I’m trying to sort out over the next few weeks.  A couple of weeks ago, I set up the computer to display as a screensaver at random pictures from the accumulation.  Each time the screensaver is activated, photos are displayed for about 12 seconds over an hour and each time I am astounded by the quality of the images.  The eventual aim is to put together 100 or so of them in a book but first of all I have to try and figure out the topics that might constitute a chapter.

 

Hampstead Heath, London

This photo reminds me that at some stage, I want to photograph all the benches on Hampstead Heath that have dedications.  I don’t know how many there are but there are lots and it would be an interesting exercise.

Tel Aviv Port on a windy day in winter.

The previous two photos are in black and white, which dramatizes contrasts.  The rest are in colour, which, for the most part, I prefer.  The one below was taken in the park not far from the house and was one of the first I took after I started looking for worthwhile subjects.

Yarqon Park.  Tap, Drops, Tail and Angle

Primrose Hill, just north of Regent’s Park is a place to which I walk often when I’m there.  I climb to the summit and look down on the city and then I know that I’m in London for sure.  However, it seldom appears like this!

Primrose Hill on a winter morning

Tree trunks and branches make fascinating subjects, if only you can find the angle from which to shoot when they look like something else!

And sometimes you have to look up or down and not straight ahead to capture in interesting image, such as the case of Iron Baby by the sculptor Antony Gormley, which was located in the forecourt of the Royal Academy of Arts in London rather than inside with the rest of the exhibits.

Antony Gormley, “Iron Baby”, Royal Academy forecourt. December 2019.

 

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Administrations, Alliances and Brick Walls

NEWS OF THE WEEK: You smell as if we could form a government together! The search for coalition partners, Israel-style

I really should warn anyone who is thinking of reading this blog post that the first 2,000 words or so constitute what might customarily be termed a diatribe.

If you’re curious, read on and if you’re not in the mood to be subject to a rant, then scroll down to the pictures!  I will just add here that I made the blunder yesterday evening of tuning into all three of Israel’s TV’s news channels to learn what was being said about the most recent events to have afflicted this country.  I spent less than 60 seconds with each, and all seemed to have adopted an identical format — six people around a table, one of which in each case, being  a moderator, I imagine, although in each case it didn’t seem as if the other five wanted to be moderated at all. Six adults all taking and screaming simultaneously — it was as ghastly as it was grotesque—but par for the course

Enchained! Yarqon Park. June 2022

 

Naftali Bennett (left) and Yair Lapid (right) in the Knesset. June 20, 2022

I’m starting this blog post (#269) on what is an auspicious day which (269, by the way, is a prime number, not that that’s of any significance.  It’s Thursday June 21 and it’s the summer solstice, when one of the Earth’s poles is at its maximum tilt toward the sun and on which the sun reaches its highest position in the sky, ensuring the longest period of daylight for year—in the northern hemisphere at least, but not so Down Under.  It used to be said that the English regarded the summer solstice as the longest day of the year whereas the French thought of it as the shortest night in the year, but post-Brexit, I don’t think that that’s amusing any more.  At any rate, after June 21, it’s all downhill—the days become shorter again and autumn and then winter beckon.  Unfortunately, in the sweat pot that is Tel Aviv, we won’t be feeling the effects of this amelioration for some time yet, probably some time in late October, possibly a little earlier and equally possibly early in November.

This year in Israel it’s additionally auspicious for, watching the news on TV last night and reading it in Ha’aretz, Israel’s newspaper for so-called “thinking” people, “The Israeli opposition hailed Monday’s decision to vote to dissolve the Knesset and hold a fifth general election in three and a half years, with former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledging to establish ‘a broad, strong, and stable national government…that would bring back national pride.’  Reading that, I almost choked.  I’ve managed to avoid making political comments on this blog — at least as regards Israel (Boris & Co. is another matter)— for several months now but I feel that I need to rant and rave a bit for I’ve missed it.  Anyway, I was reminded that it was just a year ago when I wrote:

“Eventually, Mr. Bennett, a politician who I don’t particularly admire and his politics even less, somehow reached the conclusion of his prepared speech.  He was followed by the “Alternate Prime Minister”, Mr. Lapid, the architect responsible for the construction of this seemingly fragile coalition, who rather than give his prepared piece on the need for national unity, which was to have lasted 15 minutes, simply said the following: “My mother is 86 years old and we don’t ask her to come to Jerusalem lightly, but we did it because I assumed that you would be able to get over yourselves and behave with statesmanship at this moment, and she would see a smooth transition of government, … When she was born, there was no State of Israel, Tel Aviv was a small town of 30,000 people, and we didn’t have a parliament. I wanted her to be proud of the democratic process in Israel. Instead, she, along with every citizen of Israel, is ashamed of you and remembers clearly why it is time to replace you,” and with that he left the podium.

He was followed in turn by the outgoing Prime Minister who spent 30 minutes or so lauding himself after which had the downright arrogance to say that there was nobody else in the country with sufficient experience to lead it (as if he had nothing to do with that situation).  Looking at and listening to the Likud rump, it was easy to see that anyone in the party with sufficient intelligence to have been groomed to have had that experience had either left or had been forced out of the party. And it was also easy to understand how the thuggery that had erupted in some of Israel’s cities a few weeks ago was able to happen.  Oh, and Mr. Netanyahu failed to mention a simple fact while decrying the emergence of what he continues to call “a dangerous left-wing government” even though about a third of the coalition’s members are further to the right than him, namely, that, yes, the voters in March 2021 indicated that they preferred a right-wing government — but one not led by him — and this is what they got, thanks to him and no-one else.

In the end, a vote was taken and the coalition given a vote of confidence by the narrowest of margins — 60-59 and one abstention.  This was followed by a vote for a new Speaker who then took over proceedings.  After another few minutes, the ministers were asked to leave their seats at the Cabinet table for seats on the back benches.  One of the things that amused me was seeing Mr. Levin, the now ex-Speaker, explaining to Mr. Netanyahu, the now ex-Prime Minister, that, as he was no longer Prime Minister, he, too, would have to vacate the chair he had occupied for the previous 12 years and sit elsewhere while he, Mr. Levin, shepherded him directly to that place. Poor Bibi’s body language indicated that he seems to have been totally gutted by this strange situation in which he found himself.”

On Monday night, the same set of two appeared on television, to tell us that in the interests of the state, a decision had been taken to call new elections.  The Prime Minister, Mr. Bennett, actually sounded statesmanlike; the Alternate Prime Minister (yes, that’s what he’s called), Mr. Lapid, once again said what he had to say in just over a minute.  And then they were gone, having told us in the interim that they truly love one another (purely politically and platonically, one would hope); I think “admire” might have been a more appropriate word.  In what has been described as “a jubilant video”, prepared in advance and  released on social media, the leader of the Opposition Netanyahu virulently spat out his toxic venom by stating that “It is clear to everyone that this government, the biggest failure in the history of Israel, is at the end of its road … a government dependent on supporters of terror, that neglected the personal security of citizens of Israel, and that raised the cost of living to new heights”.  I had to remind myself that this was from a man on trial for several counts of corruption, etc. — not that many people seem to care about the amorality of that whole set of circumstances.  Almost immediately, his inane, inurbane and insane supporters began referring to him as “Prime Minister Netanyahu” as if his kingship had been illegally usurped from him only for His Majesty to be replaced by a Regent and even though the election, it appears, may yet be months off.  (The date will be decided next week when the Knesset is to be dissolved, which will leave Israelis with practically the same “choice” they’ve already had four times in recent years.)

It was always going to be difficult keeping such a motley lot as this coalition all on board.  Nevertheless, it seems to have functioned reasonably well for the past year, with ministers actually doing the jobs they’re entrusted with and paid to do rather than carrying out the wishes of what has been a one-man band for the past 20 years.  The thought of the return of a reactionary government held together by right-wing extremists so that the person at the top of the pile can continue his life’s aim of disassembling Israeli democracy and turning it into a demonocracy, dismantling the police, the prosecution service and the judiciary to further his own ends beggars belief — but it could still happen — and sooner than people think.

It actually brings to mind the fact that the Israeli political system is in dire need of serious reform.  People do mention occasionally the need to reform Israeli society and electoral reform was at one time an issue that some people thought about and others talked about occasionally.  However, nothing ever happened and, more than half a century on, it is unlikely that anything will for the only people who could make it happen are Knesset members and to put it very simply, they, in their collective wisdom, are not even slightly interested in changing a system they understand and have learned how to manipulate. It seems as if the electorate, bless them, are for their part both blind and deaf to the need even though it’s screaming at them every time they read their newspapers, listen to their radios and watch their televisions and scan their mobiles for the lies of social media. (Referenda or plebiscites are not something that happen in Israel because if they did, the politicians would have to listen to vox populi.  However, I have to admit that in respect of electoral reform, Israeli politicians are not much different from their counterparts the world over, who tend to despise anything that alters what they’re familiar with.

Fifty years ago, I was too unworldly to realize this and there are very few if any examples in which a Western-style democracy has debated a reform to its electoral system as radical as changing from an at-large to a constituency-based system, for generally speaking, districting (dividing the country into voting areas/electoral districts/constituencies) decentralizes and dilutes political power while simultaneously defactionating politics; it also focusses politics more on local issues, which makes it unattractive to Israeli legislators, although in the Israeli context this would probably be to the nations benefit, as it is anyway impossible to ignore national issues.  I had come to Israel from a part of the world that elected its members of parliament in electoral districts and in this strange State of Israel to which I had emigrated, geographical constituencies simply did not exist; the country operated as a single undivided electoral district.  It didn’t make sense to me mainly because it seemed to my simple mind that the Knesset members were not obligated as individuals to serve any recognizable set of voters and I asked myself not only how this situation arose but how it has endured for so long. 

 

It still amazes me that in Israel, one walks into a polling booth and chooses a slip of paper with the letters that symbolize the party’s name and pop it into an envelope.  Article 4 of the Basic Law: The Knesset establishes that the Knesset should be elected in general, national, direct, secret and proportional elections. However, as I understand it, Knesset members are not directly elected at all.  Rather these privileged individuals are nothing more than names on a partys list.  In the polling booth, voters dont even see the names of the candidates; they do no more than simply place a piece of paper with a party symbol in a box. Consequently, it is parties rather than candidates that participate in elections here. Moreover, not only are the elected Knesset members not beholden to any specific electorate, but unlike a more sophisticated version of the list system such as that used in The Netherlands, voters cannot express any preference for individuals on the list by means altering the position of the candidates on the list selected can be altered thus potentially affecting who is elected and who is not. 

In Israel, its a “take it or leave it” situation and certainly not one that encourages the representatives to pay much attention to voters to whom they never have to answer directly as the recent leakage of defectors, this time mainly from Mr. Bennett’s party, has shown. The are no by-elections (special elections) and Knesset members leaving the parliament for one reason or another (death, retirement, imprisonment or whatever) are simply replaced by the next name on the list.  There’s also no such thing as an absentee ballot or a postal vote—if you’rer not at the address that appears on your ID card on the day of the election, you can’t vote!

I had an interest in electoral reform almost half a century ago until I came to the conclusion that at least in the case of Israel, it’s a purely academic topic.  Meanwhile, in the interim, nothing substantial has happened. The quota (the proportion of the valid votes necessary to gain representation in the parliament has changed several times and the country some years ago experimented with direct election of the Prime Minister, separately from the parliamentary election, but gave up on that after only a couple of goes.  But neither of those issues could be classified as electoral reform. They were no more than electoral tinkering.  Almost half a century on, I still think that there is dire need for Israel to change its electoral system but I’m pretty sure it wont happen in my lifetime, and the four elections between 2019 and 2021 have only confirmed the worst of the system as it currently stands. 

Of course, there’s a long time (in other words, there are a few days) before the vote to dissolve the Knesset takes place and it may never happen at all, for Netanyahu and his zealots might attempt to recreate the so-called “Dirty Trick” (or “Stinking Trick”, as it’s called in Hebrew) when the late Shimon Peres attempted to replace the then coalition, led by the right-wing Itzhak Shamir and of which Peres was a senior member, in order to form a government comprising the left-wing factions and the ultra-Orthodox parties without calling an election after the Knesset had voted no confidence in the coalition that was. It ultimately failed when the ultra-orthodox parties backed out of the deal.  So, in essence, anything could happen.

But enough of this rant even though I enjoyed writing it!  Let’s move forward.

Last walk before travel.  Lichen on a wall, East Heath Road, Hampstead, London NW3

Before I left London a couple of weeks ago, I had the flat cleaned so that on my return, I wouldn’t have too much to do.  Just prior to leaving and before putting things away, I noticed that the vacuum cleaner was giving me a wink of approval, so I smiled back at him.  (In this day and age, I have to stress that the vacuum cleaner is male and his name in “Henry”!


And then it was back to Tel Aviv — although I’ve already posted some pictures from my first trip to the sweltering exterior after coming to terms with the shock of the heat and humidity.

Back out in the park, about 400 metres from the flat, I noticed what appears below.  Although I’d seen it before, I didn’t really pay too much attention to what it was advertising.  It’s a defibrillator, which my dictionary defines as: “an apparatus used to control heart fibrillation by application of an electric current to the chest wall or heart.an apparatus used to control heart fibrillation by application of an electric current to the chest wall or heart.” It tells one what it is in four languages (in addition to Hebrew, there’s Arabic, Russian and English) but unfortunately, having learned what it is, you also have to know what to do with it if, heaven forbid, you have to — and those instructions are solely in Hebrew.  What one is supposed to do is to phone “101”, speak to the duty medical attendant, hope that s/he speaks a language in which you can converse and follow the instructions with which s/he provides you.  One can only hope that you understand what you have to do before you pass on into the the world to come!

Turning 180 degrees from the defibrillator, I caught sight of the hoopoe, known in Hebrew as doo-khi-phat, Israel’s national bird, which always provides a lovely picture though it doesn’t always stay still enough to get a decent picture.

And while the hoopoe uses it large down-turned bill to to probe the ground for large insects, their larvae and pupae (they’re also apparently enthusiastic foragers of animal droppings and dung heaps, seemingly searching there for beetles, their neighbours, the pigeons, seem to have been far better looked after by well-meaning persons, messy though it may all look …

… and just leaving a little more for the cleaner to clear up on his daily search through his patch in the park.


And inevitably, there are the dogs.  This lady was doing her calisthenics on the grass while her pooch looks like the epitome of ennui.  And not only is s/he bored I (the dog, that is) , there’s absolutely nothing that s/he can do about because before the lady started her fitness training, she had made sure to tie el doggo up.


Dogs in the park are a common sight, especially since the start of the pandemic.  Usually, there’s a single one, sometimes two, on a lead with a human attached to the other end.  However, occasionally, one sees dogwalkers in the park and on the streets with many more (my highest count was one woman with 11 leads to which 11 tykes were attached).  However, I’m not altogether dogmatic about what I photograph and in recent days, I’ve come across this gentleman several times.  He seems to specialize in miniature mutts, each one of which has a name (he seems to remember the moniker of each one and I’ve overheard him talking to each of them individually and seemingly lovingly) — but he didn’t seem altogether happy that I was taking a photograph.


 

And then there was a reminder posted on the gates of the Philippines Embassy that we are not our of the woods yet.

 

However, it just seemed that the sun was a more pressing issue than masks and Covid these days, as I noticed when this individual walked past me in the opposite direction!

 

And there was the usual plethora of people on the water, from canoeists …

… to paddlers strapped to their vehicles — just in case they fall in but don’t want to lose it.

And then there was this guy who looked as if he might have been a remnant left over from the Edinburgh Tattoo.

 

And, of course, there are the other inhabitants of the park.

What should we do with our brood?

 

Teach them to swim, of course!

I finally encountered a wall, and realized it was time to make a beeline for home!  Even walls with the right kind of light can seem attractive!

 

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Platinum, Shmatinum!

Well, here I am once again, location altered.

After the extended Platinum celebrations in London and the rest of the United Kingdom last weekend, I find myself back in der Schweiß” of Tel Aviv where the temperature is in the low 30s Celsius but where the weather forecast says “Temperature feels like 37” — no joke!  Moreover, the relative humidity is 50% although I would have guessed it to be even higher.  And —  the same weather chart told me that the humidity in Belsize Park in London is 48% and where 21 degrees actually feels like 21 degrees.   It also tells me that in Tel Aviv, “precipitation is not expected”, which is the way it’s likely to be until the end of October — at least.  Neither rain nor snow will fall.

But let me start with the events of last weekend, not exactly a shenanigans but something approaching it.  This year, 2022, marks the Platinum Jubilee of the accession of Elizabeth II as Queen of the United Kingdom and the British Commonwealth.  The queen was an active participant in the jubilee events, which lasted from Thursday through Sunday — a four-day break, which was somewhat longer than what the Brits as a group—where national holidays are in somewhat short supply——usually allot themselves for what are referred to colloquially as “Bank Holidays”.  (The banks may have been closed but everything else seemed to be open.).

Elizabeth II R may well have been an active participant but she was considerably less active than she might have hoped to be, reluctantly withdrawing from the National Service of Thanksgiving at St Paul’s Cathedral on the Friday, where her eldest son Charles, the dependable Prince of Wales  and “King-in-waiting #1” represented her at the service.  The decision for her absence, it was reported, came after she experienced “discomfort” during the first full day of celebrations as she has been suffering from “episodic mobility problems”; after all, the monarch is 96 years old, well past the official retirement age for the other state employees.  Having watched on TV part of what she missed at the Cathedral, in my humble opinion, she may well have nodded off, such was the lack of exhilaration and animation in that particular ceremony.  Despite this, she did take part in a beacon lighting ceremony that stretched the length and breadth of the country, with the first beacon being lit outside Buckingham Palace in London by the Queen’s grandson Prince William, “King-in-waiting #2”, while Her Majesty herself touched a globe at her home in Windsor Castle, which magically and majestically was the sign for the coast-to-coast beacon-burning to begin in earnest.

Of greater significance, perhaps, was the fact that she missed attending the Epsom Derby, the premier horse race of the British flat-racing season for only the fourth time in 75 years (the queen is fond of horses—and little Welsh dogs). She also missed the Derby last year when it was held behind closed doors (not that a horse race can really be run behind closed doors) due to lockdown, but before that she had only failed to be present at the event twice, once in 1984, when she was in France for the 40th anniversary of D-Day, and once before in 1956, when as a public servant, she attended to her official duties by making a state visit to Sweden.

Of course, there were all sorts of other “questions” being asked in the ever-present and ever-nosy media.  Would Harry, the younger brother of “King-in-waiting #2” shake hands with same?  Where would Harry and his American wife, Meghan, sit in the Cathedral (second row apparently)?  Meanwhile, the “skirt-chasing atheling”, Prince Andrew, seemingly the queen’s favourite child but now scandal-ridden and effectively removed after 61 years as a public figure to life as a ‘private citizen’”, was absent from all of the festivities, having been conveniently diagnosed with Covid-19 a day before things started in earnest.

In the event, Her Majesty appeared on the balcony a couple of times on the first day, flanked by most of the Royal Family, limited to those family members that the Queen designated as undertaking official public duties on her behalf.  Notwithstanding, the less than fortunate family members were apparently still invited to take part in other activities, such as a private dinner, so they didn’t exactly go hungry.  After the death of Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh last year, the queen’s second balcony appearance on the first jubilee day was alongside her cousin, Edward George Nicholas Paul Patrick Windsor, the Duke of Kent .  Although I didn’t notice it at the time I was watching intermittently, from the photograph that appeared in the press, it seems that perhaps one of the queen’s corgis had bitten off part of the duke’s left ear —— but one should not laugh at the misfortune of others.

The Trooping of the Colour, at which over 1400 parading soldiers, 200 horses and 400 musicians come together in a great display of military precision, horsemanship and fanfare to mark the Queen’s official birthday was very splendid and colourful to watch.  Although the official birthday doesn’t have a set date, it usually takes place on the second Saturday of June as it did this year, the parade moving from Buckingham Palace and down The Mall to Horse Guard’s Parade with members of the Royal Family on horseback or in carriages following.  (The “official birthday”was initiated by King George II in 1748, and is related to the British weather, which is cold in winter but warm-ish and sometimes dry in summer.) From the distance of an armchair to the TV screen— crowds are anathema to me—it was quite spectacular, not that I would have gone anyway).

Given my predilection for looking at things rather sardonically, as the horses and their riders rode down The Mall in their finery, I was struck by the volume of equine excrement (a.k.a. horse shit) that had been involuntarily deposited by the gee-gees as they made their way down this rather attractive London street. However, what struck me even more was the sight of thousands of pedestrians, a very short time later, marching down the very same street in the opposite direction.  Who picked up the horse shit and when did they manage to do it? The TV cameras missed that somehow!

And the sight of so many people shuffling along at such high density made me think that it must have been a pickpocket’s paradise (although what sort of person would want to pick pockets on such a joyous occasion?) but it reminded me of Roald Dahl’s short story The Hitchhiker, in which the hitchhiker, on his way to Epsom on Derby Day objects to being labelled a pickpocket by the driver who is giving him the ride.  “So you’re a pickpocket,” I said.  “I don’t like that word,” he answered. “It’s a coarse, and vulgar word. Pickpockets is coarse and vulgar people who only do easy little amateur jobs. They lift money from blind old ladies.” “What do you call yourself, then?” Me? I’m a fingersmith. I’m a professional fingersmith.

The Hitchhiker -Roald Dahl

For me, however, the highlight of the three days was not the Queen — but Queen — who, even without Freddie Mercury, are as good as ever they were!


And there were signs that people were enjoying the jubilee break just about everywhere.  It certainly took their minds off what was to follow the day following the cessation of the jubilation when the Prime Minister, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, survived a vote of confidence by members of his own parliamentary party, winning the vote with 211 in favour and 148 against (59% in favour, 41% against).  And they were members of the his own party,  Watch it, matey!

England’s Lane, Belsize Park, London

 

England’s Lane, Belsize Park, London

 

And there are various ways of celebrating, as demonstrated below (it’s pronounced the same way as the authentic stuff is (yuck!) in southern Britain.

 

The British summer

And then it was time to leave the British summer to pack and return to the heat and humidity of an early summer in Tel Aviv in order to try and sort some things out prior to returning to the UK.

Travel day turned out to be a nightmare. I booked a taxi and was told by the taxi company that if I wanted be at Heathrow by 12.15 (I decided to leave three hours before the flight just to be on the safe side) I needed to book a ab for 11. At 10.55, I received notification that the driver, accompanied my a map, that a cab was was on the way from St. John’s Wood and would be with me shortly. I lugged things downstairs when the taxi company called to say that the drive, having accepted the ride, had cancelled the trip (she’d obviously found something that suited him better) but not to worry because a replacement would be with me within 15 minutes. The replacement arrived 45 minutes later and an hour and a half after that I was at Heathrow. It turned out that there was a strike of train drivers that day and as a consequence, all of London was on the road, more or less bumper to bumper.  Security &c. at Terminal 2 took the best part of an hour, with hundreds if not thousands of suspect terrorists shuffling their way along narrow rope-lined queues, only to be screamed at to removes belts, shoes, &c.  I eventually got on the plane — just. However, half an hour before landing, I was informed that my case hadn’t been loaded on the plane and that I should file a claim on arrival. That took ¾ of an hour even though there were only two people ahead of me and I was told that I could expect to receive the case maybe the following day or the day after that.  In the event, it was delivered just after midday the following day but it was a total nightmare of a trip—an ordeal.

So, after a day playing the role of a zombie, it was back to the Yarqon Park, where the beer grows on trees …

… where the ducklings wait for Mama Duck to tell them in which direction they should paddle …

… where Chinese holes (the Hebrew reads “pit”!) await the unfortunate or less than careful, as they build Tel Aviv’s soon-to-be light railway (tram line) …

 

Yarqon Park, Tel Aviv. June 2022

… and where tattooed ladies walk past a slower you and while trying to photograph the tattooed arm (I’ve never really understood why people tattoo) one discovers that there may be more interesting things to focus on, weariness notwithstanding!

Finally, I leave you with two pictures from the current exhibition at the Courtauld Gallery in London, which is devoted to the Norwegian artist, Edvard Munch.  Just 18 pictures in two rooms (The Scream wasn’t one of them) but brilliant nonetheless…

Edvard Munch, Evening on Karl Johan Street (Courtauld Gallery)

Although there was little to scream about, the exhibition did include Self-Portrait in the Clinic (1909), one of Munch’s most impressive and introspective self-portraits, painted when he was undergoing treatment for emotional stress in Copenhagen. The therapy Munch received for the following eight months included change of diet and “electrification”, and his stay in hospital seemingly stabilised his personality.  It’s a powerful work, and marked an important shift in his style, adopting a brighter palette and applying paint with loose, jagged brushstrokes that left parts of the canvas visible.

See you next time!

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From Jubilee to Japan

And so, a couple of weeks after a short visit to John Bull’s Other Island, it was time to catch up with some news from the eastern shores of the Irish [Celtic] Sea and strangely after only four days away, nothing much had changed.  The country’s  96-year old monarch is still going strong though no longer as strong as was once the case.  Although she missed the state opening of parliament, her place taken by her dutiful eldest son and heir apparent, Charles, who delivered the Queen’s Speech in her stead — with a crown in place to his right-hand side and well within his view—just in case he got any smart ideas — she has been seen in public opening the new London Underground Line, referred to for the years of its gestation and incubation simply as “Crossrail” and which has now been officially named the “Elizabeth Line” — what else could it have been called? — and in a golf cart at the Chelsea Flower Show.  Although it’s never mentioned, some people must be hoping that she survives until after the Jubilee celebrations conclude on June 5 although all in all, Her Majesty seems in pretty good form.  And remember, her late mother lived to be 102, surviving it’s said by some, on a daily does of gin and tonic and by others on  Scotch.  Whatever!

and the flags and bunting are beginning to appear in town and throughout the suburbs,

although it seemed a little more subdued that the bunting for the Olympic Games hosted by London a decade ago.

The ongoing conflict/special military operation/war in the Ukraine is still in the news although it no longer seems to head either the reports on radio and TV nor the newspaper headlines as much as  it did a few weeks ago.  The upshot of this is that the British Prime Minister has been enjoying a “good war” and a ׳wonderful jubilee, for between the Royal Family and Ukraine War, it’s easy to divert people’s attention from what has been termed “Partygate”, the blatant breaking of rules that had been devised by the government during lockdown through partying and drinking in 10 Downing Street and Whitehall, involving government ministers (including the Prime Minister himself) and civil servants (some of them quite senior), while the bulk of the British population obediently observed the rules that the government itself had thought up.

The Prime Minister insisted that he had not knowingly broken any rules at all and made several statements to that effect in the House of Commons during the weekly circus commonly known as PMQ (Prime Minister’s Question Time) — which always seems to me to be a piece of “official comic entertainment”, something that seems to be totally lacking in other countries.  The most recent of these solemn denials of rule-breaking came last Wednesday and it was followed shortly afterwards by a press conference at 10 Downing Street attended by many of the most senior political journalists and commentators in the country, some of who seemed to receive very short shrift from the Prime Minister.  The overall impression from my superficial view of things was that most of the time, Mr. Johnson was not telling the truth, the whole truth and not even anything remotely like the truth but, of course, I may well be way off the mark.

Things are slowly returning to normal here.  Concert halls, theatres, cinemas have audiences even though the few times I’ve been in the past few weeks, they haven’t been full. Three weeks ago, it was back to Wigmore Hall to hear the Gringolts Quartet perform Igor Stravinsky’s 3 Pieces for string quartet and Arnold Schoenberg’s first string quartet.  I’d heard the Stravinsky a couple of times  but never the Schoenberg.  It needs a lot of concentration but was a wonderful performance although I’ve never quite got used to quartets that play while standing. https://bachtrack.com/concert-video/gringolts-quartet/365349

The other Wigmore concert I attended was a recital last week given by the Canadian pianist and composer, Marc-André Hamelin whose recordings I had heard many times but had never heard live.  Some CPE Bach to start off with and then Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata, which I last heard live at Wigmore Hall many years ago.  This performance was like nothing I’d ever heard before.  My eyes and ears were working full-time and when the pianist came to the end, he seemed a trifle tired.  I know that I was exhausted and all I had to do was sit and listen.  I was so impressed that I’m off to hear him again, in the company of his Norwegian colleague, Leif-Ove Andsnes in a concert of piano duets.

Exiting Wigmore Hall, I took the picture below and as Wigmore Hall had been Bechstein Hall until it was acquired as enemy property back in 1916 during World War Once, due to its German roots, I was interested inn what was going up.  The new building will consist of a two-floor showroom, 13 practice rooms, a one-bedroom apartment equipped with a Bechstein piano and 24-hour practising facilities intended for international artists performing in London.  It will also have a 100-seat concert venue, called Bechstein Hall and is set to open in Spring 2023.  The Steinway showroom is just around the corner so competition returns to this part of the world.

Other cultural events in the past fortnight included a trip to the West End to see 47th, a new play by Mike Bartlett, set in 2024 when Donald Trump is contemplating another run at the presidency.  The playwright turns American politics into Shakepearean comedy but it falls rather flat despite some brilliant performances, especially that of the English actor, Bertie Carvel, playing Trump, who arrives on stage in a golf buggy.  He also has all the tics and inflections of the real Donald Trump, so much so that you might even be inclined to believe that you’re watching the Donald himself, as he encapsulates his swaggering facility to amuse and coin an offensive catchphrase and use it to best effect; the actress (can I still say that or do I have to say “actor” who played Kamala Harris was pretty good, too as was the man who played Sleepy Joe Biden.  Nevertheless, however good the performances were, the play wasn’t able to plumb enough depths in its ideas to bring up anything new; we’re still too close to the original Trumpist times for any greater wisdom to be unearthed. So, at the interval, we just looked at one another, nodded, and off we went.

Then, we went to see the most emotionally draining movie I think I’d ever seen, certainly the most poignant — The Quiet Girl (An Cailín Ciúin), set in rural Ireland, a film with dialogue in Irish and English, about a 9-year old girl who has an unhappy family life with a philandering and bullying father, sisters who ignore her, school mates to ridicule her and who is fostered out to relatives who have recently lost a child of their own while her mother has fallen pregnant again.  It is in the company of these relatives that the child learns love and kindness for the first time.  The 12-year old Catherine Clinch who plays Cáit, is simply outstanding — as is the cast as a whole.  Definitely not to be missed — and if you do go, bring load of tissues with you!

In between the “cultural events”, there were other things worth photographing, from watching grandchildren training with Highgate Harriers on Hampstead Heath running track …

… to observing how some people try to prevent visitors from knocking on their front doors.

139 Constantine Road, London NW

Nearby were some remnants of historical geography — chimneys and analogue TV antennae, neither of which function today.

And not far away, something that had taken to making its home plain for all to see.

Other people hide their “pets” away in places where they are hardly visible until somebody spots them by chance and moves them to more visible positions.

En route to the Old Vic to see 47th

Bicycle “park”.  Waterloo Station. May 2022

 

An all too common sight in London 2022. n.b. note shoes and backpack.

As is often the case, my eyes are attracted to signs and the errors or nonsense that sometimes appear in them.  A couple of weeks ago, we met friends in a kosher café in Golders Green, NW London and I espied the sign below, which is well intentioned yet contains one superfluous ingredient for kosher-observing Jewish people!  Can it be spotted?

Then walking down from Berkeley Square towards Piccadilly, I passed a Rolls-Royce showroom where one can pick up a one-year old Rolls-Royce Ghost with just 5,000 miles on the clock for the knockdown price of just under £320,000, a saving of just £50,000 over buying a new one!


And next door, there was a restaurant and bar, which is fussy about what its clients should wear and as I was wearing trainers, albeit on my feet, I decided to forego the ignominy of being ejected onto the street, hungry though I was.


And driving along East Heath Road, Was reminded that next time I want to ride my horse to Hampstead Heath, I will need to acquire a permit!

Finally, this week, I was asked if I would like to poin a party going to view the exhibition, “Japan: Courts and Culture” at the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace.  Never having been there before, I agreed to accept the invitation.  The group congregated at St. John’s Wood Synagogue where we were given an hour’s interesting talk about what we were going to see, which was followed by a discussion as to how we would manage the journey from the one place to the other and it was decided that cabs could be shared amongst up to five people.  This proved to be  a novel experience for me as I’d never shared a taxi with four not-so-young and highly vocal Jewish women, all from north-west London.  A short sample of the soundscape appears below and it went on, all told, there and back, for about 45 minutes during which I was forcefully rendered speechless!

Just before we set off for the ride into town, I noticed [yet another] sign that seemed to confuse me and which suggested that a simple process like opening a gate/door a trifle more complicated than it actually is.

The pieces in the exhibition all came from the Royal Collection, which holds some wonderful examples of Japanese art and design and relate the story of 300 years of diplomatic, artistic and cultural exchange between the British and Japanese royal and imperial families (King George IV seems to have been a fanatical and fantastical collector of this stuff) and the exhibition includes rare pieces of porcelain and lacquer, samurai armour, embroidered screens and diplomatic gifts from the reigns of King James I to the present Queen. Together, they provide a unique insight into the worlds of ritual, honour and artistry that brought together the courts and cultures of Britain and Japan.

By the way, one of the curiosities mentioned in the talk was that the Queen’s grandfather, Prince George of Wales – the future King George V, who reigned from 1910 to 1936, and his brother, Prince Albert Victor, visited Japan as teenagers in 1881, serving as midshipmen aboard HMS Bacchante and were granted shore leave to meet the Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. George kept a diary and they returned to the UK with presents for their family from the Japanese Imperial family.  However, in addition, they had  their own permanent reminders of the trip—tattoos on either arm and in his diary, George wrote that they had spent a very pleasant week on shore at Nara & Kyoto … [that] nearly everybody on board had been tattooed and that he had a dragon done on one arm at Tokyo & a tiger on the other arm at Kyoto and George’s diary gives a detailed account of the tattooing process.

Unfortunately, there were no photographs of the princes’ tattoos in the Royal Collection nor, as far as I am aware, are there any photos of King George with his shirtsleeves rolled up — but there are some photos of some of the exhibits.

 

 

 

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Nostalgia, Apprehension and Molly Malone

This time, I’m posting earlier than I usually do and that’s because I had an unusual weekend — unusual, that is, for me.  The reason is that last Friday morning, Isabel and I set off for Dublin, the place in which I was born and in which I lived most of the first part of my life and where I received what passes for an education (of sorts).  She was curious to see the place from which I emanated and so, it was with some apprehension that I set forth on this short journey, which would last all of 72 hours.  The reason for my trepidation was that I hadn’t been to the city for about a decade and, it was beginning to seem to me, that I carried with me very little nostalgia for the place.
I used to be a fairly regular visitor to Baile Átha Cliath (as Dublin is known in the Irish language), going once or twice a year while my parents were still living.  I had spent a few days there in 2008 (14 years ago already!) with the idea that I might write a piece concerning the millennium since the foundation of the city but having pottered around archives for a few days, I decided to give that idea up as a bad job.  And the few times I had been there over the almost two decades since Ma passed away, all but one had been to do with funerals and memorials, which, I suppose has contributed more than a fair share to my lack of homesickness for the place.
However, it was time to go back and although I wasn’t really looking forward to it, go back I did, flying Aer Lingus from Heathrow to Dublin Airport.  The flight was uneventful save for the announcements that came fast and furious during the 80 minutes or so that we were on the plane.
During the short breaks between announcements from the captain and his co-pilot, I was able to enlighten my companion, who had never been to Ireland before, that Dublin is on Ireland’s east coast, more or less due west of Liverpool (although flying over Liverpool was not the route that air traffic control had directed the plane to fly) and as we descended through the clouds, we emerged into more or less what I expected to find—greyness, wetness and windiness.
Fortunately, we were able to locate a taxi without too much bother and made our way to a small hotel in central Dublin while we carried on a short conversation with a rather intelligent and clued up taxi driver.  As we crawled through the city traffic on Friday noon, the driver pointed out landmarks that he thought tourists (for that is what we were at this stage) should be aware of and as we drove up D’Olier Street, he showed us the walls of Trinity College, (TCD).  I mentioned that I had spent several years of my life there 60 or so years ago, and that seemed to take him by surprise but an even greater surprise (to him, at least) was when I mentioned that things had changed at Trinity in the years intervening and that when I had been a student there, the institution was sometimes referred to as “The Last Bastion of British Imperialism in Ireland” and that the bulk of the (then) rather small student body was Protestant and that probably more than half the students came from Great Britain or Northern Ireland.
However, what really floored Robbie, the driver, was when I said that Catholic students, if they were true believers, in order to study there, had to receive written dispensation from the then Archbishop of Dublin and Catholic Primate of Ireland, John Charles McQuaid.  “And what on earth had that to do with study?” asked Robbie.  “It’s beyond belief!”  Except that it wasn’t!
McQuaid was a man described by the journalist Fintan O’Toole in his recent book We Don’t Know Ourselves as:  “a small man whose piercing eyes radiated power and perception, had been the Catholic Archbishop for eighteen years already. He embodied the authority of the church in a country in which 95 per cent of men and 94.8 per cent of women were Catholic. … McQuaid’s writ ran so strongly that it did not need mere state law to impose it.  The extent of [his] obsessive monitoring of Irish cultural life for occasions of sin was as remarkable as his ability to enforce his will. Not long before [O’Toole] was born, the one and only national radio station, Radio Éireann, had played, on its popular and innocuous music programme, Hospitals Requests, Cole Porter’s ‘Always True To You’: But I’m always true to you, darling, in my fashion Yes I’m always true to you, darling, in my way. The presenter, Tom Cox, was summoned by the controller of programmes, Roibéard Ó Faracháin, a poet and playwright associated with the Abbey Theatre [and] heard the most dreaded words in Ireland: ‘The Palace has been on.’, the Palace [being McQuaid’s Archbishop’s mansion in Drumcondra—it is striking that the metonymy evoked a feudal aristocrat or even a monarch. Ó Faracháin told Cox that ‘His Grace is concerned at the somewhat, eh, circumscribed morality of the song. Indeed he believes that it advocates the proposition that a limited form of fidelity is somehow acceptable.’ The next time ‘Always True To You’ was requested by a listener, Cox played an instrumental version by Victor Sylvester and his Ballroom Orchestra.”

And so we arrived at the hotel and after unpacking, decided to go for a walk in central Dublin, which, after having been cooped up for several hours seemed like a seisnible thing to do, especially as the sun was now shining.  But first, being in need of something to eat, we took ourselves off to a place in which I had wasted many hours six decades ago — Bewley’s Oriental Café on Grafton Street.  At first glance, it seemed as if nothing much had changed, save the coffee roaster that used to be in the front window of the café, billowing out clouds of coffee-smelling smoke from the roasting of coffee beans into the street but on closer examination, some things had indeed changed.

For a start, there were fewer tables than there were then.  The clatter of dishes as they were moved from trays to marble tables had been muted.  And then there was something that never had existed in my day — waiters.  Bewley’s of the early 1960s had waitresses, dressed in black with white aprons, all looking well over 60 years of age (well, I was about 20 at the time) and who never, ever smiled, let along talk to the customers. However, the coffee in 2022 was as good as it used to be in 1965 and the light snack was tasty as well.

 

However, sitting there, I noticed something that I’d never paid attention to all those years ago — Bewley’s quite wonderful stained glass windows. So over the next couple of days, we returned to Bewley’s twice.

 

And then it was back out to Grafton Street, a right turn to Nassau Street and across the road into the hallowed grounds of Trinity College.  And that was where I felt my first pangs of nostalgia for, after all, I’d spent four years of my life there as an undergraduate and a further year two years later as a graduate student.  And where did I go that afternoon, if not straight to the Museum Building, which housed the Geography Department, as well as Geology and Civil Engineering.  I turned the handle of the front door and lo and behold, it opened and as I walked inside, it seemed as if nothing had changed in 60 years!

 

I just couldn’t believe it.  And I was reminded that as a third year Geology student, the then Professor of Geology, one Robert George Spencer Hudson, FRS had set a compulsory examination question which asked us, the students, to write about the geological history of the building stones in the Museum Building.  Although we’d been in and out of that building for the best part of three years, only one student (and it was not I) was able to manage it.

I duly sent a copy of the photograph above to an old friend, also an Emeritus Professor of Geography at a Canadian university and some years my senior with the caption “Nothing has changed—Amazing!” and received the following response: “Those bannisters were great for sliding down”.  I had never thought of doing that and I didn’t really think that he was that kind of person but, never a great judge of character, I have been proven wrong yet again!

And as we exited the Museum Building, Ireland being Ireland, the heavens opened and, umbrellaless and soaked, we returned to the hotel.

Bra fitting specialists — but no in-window demonstrations

The following day, we went our separate ways for an hour or so — shops for one and the TCD campus for the other.

Outside the Berkeley Library stands Arnaldo Pomodoro’s sculpture ‘Sfera con Sfera’.  The “Pomodoro sphere”, as it is apparently known locally, was donated by the artist. supported by TCD and various Italian organisations. There are similar works in this spherical format at such locations as the UN Plaza in NYC, at UC Berkeley and at The Vatican Museums.  This particular sculpture underwent a major conservation project in 2008 bringing the surface of the piece back to its original condition and restoring its complex sub-structure and pivot.  Quite some piece from any angle.

 

… and then it was off to College Park …

… The Graduates’ Memorial Building …

… and. of course, the Campanile.

And then it was back into the city while Isabel completed her shopping expedition and I made the acquaintance of one of Dublin’s more illustrious citizens.

“She wheels her wheelbarrow through streets broad and narrow.”  No cockles, no mussels!   Molly Malone’s baskets were empty. 

Illustrious, she may be, but I’m not sure that the RC Church would have approved of Molly’s outsize mammary glands or the mollycoddling they were getting from passers-by in the process of passing by!

Adjoining Molly and her coddling was Richie, from New York, who informed all and sundry that he had fallen in love with Irish traditional music some years ago and is now pursuing a Master’s degree at TCD in this area.  I hadn’t heard the uileann pipes played for half a century when on summer evenings, a neighbour, a contemporary of mine, used to sit in his back garden and play this rather mournful sounding instrument.  Vivian didn’t become a professional piper but he did become a High Court justice in later years.

Then it was off to see something new in the city — the EPIC, The Irish Emigration Museum, located in the Docklands, near the Custom House.

The Custom House, Dublin

It’s a museum that covers the history of the Irish diaspora and emigration to other countries and which was voted “Europe’s Leading Tourist Attraction” for three years 2019, 2020 and 2021 ate the World Travel Awards.  Initially, I thought that I’d come to some cheap sound and light show but as we walked through it, it struck me that it is really a very slick history of Irish emigrants and their contribution to Western culture.  A lot of thought went into this show and it made me think that Ireland has finally come to terms with its history.

And this feeling of coming to terms with history is nowhere more marked than across the street from EPIC where six statues depicting the  Great Famine have been installed.  I say “come to terms with its history” because about 30 years ago, an American colleague who was spending a year on sabbatical at University College Dublin was astonished to discover, as he travelled around Ireland, that there were no memorials to the Famine and on inquiring, was informed that the Great Famine is also the great shame.  So seeing these installations just confirmed the opinion that I had formed an hour or so earlier.

 

After all the activity of the day, we met up with old friends for dinner and had a really enjoyable time notwithstanding the racket in the restaurant for the first part on the meal.  And then the following day, a near miracle occurred when the sun came out.  We were collected at the hotel and driven to the Jewish cemetery where I visited my parents.  I hadn’t been there for a decade but after reciting the kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead and shedding many tears, the feeling was cathartic — there was no other way to describe it.

After the cemetery, it was a quick tour of what remains of Dublin’s Jewish community as we were driven to the house in which I grew up (where the saplings of 70 years ago are now fully-fledged trees), looked in on both schools I had attended and visited the synagogue where I had my barmitzvah and where I was married.  Unfortunately, the building was locked as it’s only open at for prayers, i.e. every morning and evening and on the sabbath and festivals and it will be sold eventually when the move to a smaller venue on the Terenure Road is renovated, something that could be as much as two years away.

… but I was able to take a photo of a photo of the interior with its beautiful stained glass windows …

… inside what passes as the only kosher grocery shop in town

Then it was off to Avoca in County Wicklow for lunch with Joyce and Alan with helpings the size of which even ravenous Americans might have found difficult to finish and we ended the day in a very crowded Glendalough, as beautiful was ever notwithstanding the bikers and the hundreds of cars waiting to find a place to park!

 

The Sunday weather was amazing and the large expanses of gorse provided a shade of yellow that was a contrast to the rapeseed yellow of a fortnight ago in the Cotswolds and was absolutely beautiful.

 

Overall, it seems that Ireland, like other places emerging from Covid restrictions has a labour shortage for it appeared that every other business in central Dublin was carrying notices like these.

On the basis of the fact that the booth for Tarot readings in one of the city’s arcades in Central Dublin was closed up, it might seem that there is little future for us all and for Ireland.

 

We finally made our way back to Dublin Airport to await the plane returning us to London.  Finding a men’s loo proved difficult but near to where we were sitting, I found this, which I [mistakenly, it seems] interpreted to be what it wasn’t but which annoyed me all the same at the time.

 

And then it was back to London and to the quiet of Hampstead Heath!

   

And, folks, if you’ve got this far, you’re invited to download this and find out a little more about the writer of this blog. All comments, queries and corrections are welcome and will be answered in due course!

Stan’s Memory Book, late 2021.  

Memoirs Draft 4 Complete 1

 

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On Spiders, Weathervanes and Physiognomies

 

Bluebells. Nettlebed, Oxfordshire. April 2022

What was once a weekly blog has, fortunately or otherwise, become somewhat more irregular, but   circumstances have changed.  I last posted here almost three weeks ago and I feel that I am losing it somewhat.  Anyway, we’ll see how this one develops as I sit here and arrange the photographs and try to make a story out of them.  So, here goes.

The first piece of information I proffer to those who choose to read this blog is that the dreaded Passover festival has passed and I am absolved from eating this form of unpalatable yet edible cardboard for another year.  This stuff, commonly referred to as matzah, is fine for the first couple of days after which it takes command of one’s digestive system and controls one’s ability to perform certain bodily functions in what I would consider to be a normal manner.   It’s a form of self-purgatory with which many Jews afflict themselves annually in the Spring.

This year, I was joined by Shuli and Tami and their daughters, Gali and Lily, prior to the Passover onset/onslaught.  They stayed with me in my small flat in London for the first half of the festival, the first day of which they sought to recover from three days of walking and climbing with my son and his tribe in the Brecon Beacons, a mountain range in South Wales.

Sharing a restricted living space with four females was quite a formidable task and given the restrictions that it involved, I think we came out of it not too badly indeed.  I bunged them all into the bedroom and I occupied the spare room while the living room was the common meeting place and somehow, we managed.

All of this was preceded by the Passover Seder with Dov & Keren, which more or less  stuck to the “rules” and as Passover is often referred to as the Festival of Freedom, Dov had done his homework and spoke about the concept of freedom, in addition reading some of the traditional extracts from the Haggadah, a text that sets forth the order of the Seder and the reading of which is a fulfilment of the commandment that each Jewish person should tell their children the story from the Book of Exodus about God bringing the Israelites out of Egyptian slavery.  Quite!

And Keren’s Seder meal (with contributions from other family members) was a work of art in itself (and very delicious, too).

The four Waterman women managed to get around London during their stay here, which included shopping with a visit to Hamley’s toy store, a show, lots of walking and, for the younger ones, visiting a Starbucks for the first time (no coffee served!!!) and taking advantage of the parks in NW London, and generally jumping around.

Lily Waterman jumping for joy at experiencing some spring sunshine. Belsize Park, NW3

Then there was also a family get-together in The Regent’s Park, which included frisbee throwing — but prior to that, some practice was in order …

… before the elder of the family joined the act.

And as this occurred during the intermediate days of the Passover holiday, there was always something of interest walking through the park to attract the eyes and cameras of the tourists.

Passover over and family returned to Tel Aviv, and all of a sudden the flat somehow became silent.

Nevertheless, it was time to take a break — so of we went to North Oxfordshire, in the Cotswolds …

… in a small cottage that was on loan for four days.  The colour of the Jurassic oolitic limestone in this part of the world was just so calming and to wake up in the morning to the sound of birds rather than the wailing of ambulance and police sirens made it seem like being in a different country entirely.

The shades of brown from which the buildings are constructed contrasted with the vivid yellows of the fields of rapeseed that are dotted throughout the countryside.

A trip to the Cotswolds went beyond walking around a small village and included the customary pilgrimages to such places with names as vivid and wondrous as Chipping Campden, Stow-on-the-Wold, and Moreton in Marsh.  However, having visited these three small country towns, I declined the suggestion that we also visit The Slaughters (not Ukraine but the villages of Upper and Lower Slaughter), which have a combined population go around 500.  I’m sure they are extremely pretty (quaint? twee?) but the three towns had already provided me with enough material for thoughts and smiles.

The first town of the threesome provided me here, in the Cotswolds, with a reminder of what is going on in that faraway place to the southeast of Poland and south of Belarus.

And in the same country town in Gloucestershire, there are markets that cater to local residents at bargain prices …

… but turn around through 180 degrees and you realise that in addition to the local population who speak with a lovely soft burr in their voices, there are later arrivals who also have to have their needs provided for …

… the sort of people who might use another facility advertised in window, where you walk in as one person and emerge as another unrecognisable being — perhaps because one’s skin has been “rejuvinated”, whatever that may mean.

This trip also allowed me to indulge in my photographing of weathervanes, each one of which seems to be ever so slightly different to the others.

Weathervane atop St. Stephen’s (decommissioned) Church, Rosslyn Hill, Hampstead.

The rest are from the Cotswolds!

After four days in North Oxfordshire/Gloucestershire, it was back to London where the trees and the tree trunks provided material for more photographs.

Nettlebed, Oxfordshire.

Walking along the street on which I live, I came across these two (of a set of four) on which I was able to observe faces that gaze down on the pedestrians from above.

 

But faces can be seen everywhere, as here on the South Bank, exiting the Hayward Gallery.

We went to the Hayward Gallery to view an exhibition of work by Louise Bourgeois. whose large metal spiders I first saw many years ago at the Tate Modern (the picture below is of a later version at the same place) …

… or a slightly miniature version on the inside at Tel Aviv Museum a couple of years ago …

… or this gigantic metal spider, which forms part of the permanent exhibition outside the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.

However, the current exhibition at the Hayward was something entirely different. Entitled “The Woven Child”, it’s a spectacle of her late work from the last two decades of her life, exhibited over three floors of the gallery and is an exhibition mostly of soft fabrics, fragile emotions and various feelings of hurt and regret. It includes sculptures, busts, tapestries, that are witness to an emotional journey through the artist’s life, and the varying parts she played as daughter, mother and lover.  She began to incorporate clothes from all stages of her life (which she kept from her youth onward) into her art, which developed into a varied body of work – that included her monumental installations, figurative sculptures and abstract collages – incorporating such textiles as bed linen, handkerchiefs, tapestry, and needlepoint.

Initially, I thought that the whole thing was weird, to say the least, but as we worked our way around the exhibition, we found that it was stunning — simply astonishing to think that a person in her mid-90s could both imagine and then construct these fabulous works of art.

And again, there were faces!

 

 

Two days later, we were back on the South Bank to view a different kind of exhibition, for in The Courtauld Gallery, there was an breathtaking collection that occupied just two rooms on the third floor — 16 self-portraits of Vincent van Gogh, about half of the 35 or so that he made in the last four years of his life.

Many of these self-portraits are familiar to us — from seeing some of them at the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Courtauld Gallery itself, the Musée d’Orsay and so on — but to see so many in such an confined space was truly amazing.

 

However, one such painting, which was circulated around the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic in order to encourage us to smile, didn’t make it into the Courtauld exhibition!  And there’s little wonder why not!

My final foray into art last week occurred a couple of days later with a visit to an exhibition at the Barbican Gallery, entitled Postwar Modern — New Art in Britain 1945-1965.  This show explores art produced in Britain in the wake of the cataclysm that was World War II. Confidence had vanished and aftershocks continued, but there was also hope for better times, producing conditions that provided us with a barely credible richness of imagery, forms and materials in the following years. The show features 48 artists and around 200 works— of paintings, sculptures, photography, collages and installations, that explore those topic that most concerned artists — the body, the post-atomic condition, the blitzed streetscape, private relationships and envisioned future horizons. The exhibition includes works of well-known artists but also gives a prominent place to refugees from Nazism who had arrived in Britain  in the1930s and to migrants from a disintegrating empire—as well as to female artists who tended to have been overlooked.

One piece in particular caught my eye — Willesden Junction, Early Morning, 1962 — a piece of oil on board by Leon Kossoff, who had moved to Willesden a year earlier and whose studio was next to the rail junction.  Already in decline by this period due to social and technological changes, Kossoff managed to evoke the hurtling energy of the a train and the seeming terminus with his sweeping furrows of very thick layers of paint.