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.

Then, finally, on my way home and emerging from the Underground at Finchley Road Station, this is what greeted me as I walked to the bus stop to take the C11 bus back to Belsize Park!

 

And I was back in the real world again!

 

 

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Spring Seasonal Festivities

This past week has been a fairly quiet one, so if it’s been so quiet, perhaps I really have nothing much to write about.  Come to think of it, that is more or less the same as I think each time when I sit down to post to this blog.  But then every time I sit down to post, I do manage to find something to write about —and often it’s rather like the newspapers or the 24/7 news programmes that blight our lives from one day to the next —all day— as they have to fill up their allocated space or allotted time whether or not they really have anything to report—because if they don’t then the listeners, the viewers and the readers might complain that they’re not getting their money’s worth!

This weekend, with Ramadan already in full flow, we are being entertained through the medium of the spring festivals of Passover and its offshoot, Easter.  With all three festivals determined by the lunar calendar, they are what used to be termed “movable feasts”, which, I suppose is why the Brits introduced the early and late spring Bank Holidays, so as to stabilise things, as it were, and allow the population to calculate more easily when they can officially have time off from work, not that that having time off work seems to be a major problem in this part of the world.

In general, festivals provide a means whereby groups attempt to maintain themselves culturally.  Essentially, they are cultural artefacts to be  “consumed”  but which are also accorded meaning through by being actively incorporated into people’s lives.  The word “festival” derives from the Latin festivitas, and is a word for a social gathering convened for the purpose of celebration or thanksgiving.  Festivals were originally part of a ritual nature and were associated with mythological, religious and ethnic traditions. Festivals are periodically recurrent, social occasions in which, through diverse forms and via a series of co-ordinated events, members of a community participate directly or indirectly and to various degrees, united by ethnic, linguistic, religious, historical bonds, and share a world view.  The symbolic meaning of the festival is closely related to overt values recognised by the community as essential to its ideology, social identity, historical continuity, and its physical survival which is ultimately what festival celebrates.

Historically, the most commonly observed Jewish festival practice is the annual Passover Seder, and a survey conducted by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research in London (of which I was once the Director of Research) some years ago found that a substantial majority (71%) of respondents attend a Seder meal every year, higher than the 63% who responded that they fast on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. While the survey didn’t inquire as to why attending a Seder was so routinely observed, the fact that it usually takes place in a home, involves a family meal and is as much a cultural and familial experience as it is a religious one, almost certainly contributes to its prevalence.

This year, the spring season festivities made themselves present in a somewhat unusual way.  My daughters, Shuli & Tami, with granddaughters Gali and Lily in tow, arrived for a short visit, among other things so that we could have Seder together.  They were due to arrivelate in the evening at Heathrow Terminal 5, so I called the taxi company that I have used almost exclusively on every trip to and from London since 1995, gave them the information on destination and time of arrival and received—for the first time—the response that no cabs were available.  Several further attempts with other taxi companies yielded a very similar response as did all my attempts to book online and the reason given in each case —”There’s  a shortage of drivers”.  I thought “Here we go again—Covid is being used an excuse once more” but then I remembered that many of the cab drivers I’ve used recently seem to hail from Pakistan, Algeria, Afghanistan, Malaysia, and so forth — all of which happen to be Muslim countries.  And it’s Ramadan!  So am I being politically incorrect and am I arriving at unjustified conclusions? Maybe — but I think my explanation might have some underlying logic.  At any rate, the four ladies turned up on time (more or less) in a cab driven by a Sri Lankan Buddhist!  And the following morning they departed with the rest of the family to go climbing and walking in the Brecon Beacons.

Anyway, back to Passover.  When I was young, it used to be my favourite Jewish festival but in retrospect, that was probably due to the aforementioned Seder night(s) which were always fairly uproarious family events, in between the “historical” readings of the Haggadah, a text that sets forth the order of the Seder and is read at the Seder table and which fulfils the commandment to “tell your children” the story from the Book of Exodus about God bringing the Children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt.

However, as I have become older, and in the words of some friends, quite quirky and in the words of others, just plain cynical, Passover (Pesach) no longer holds the same magical spell for me.  The biblical exhortation is pretty simple: In Exodus 12:15, it is written “For seven days you must eat unleavened bread. On the first day you are to remove the leaven from your houses. Whoever eats anything leavened from the first day through the seventh must be cut off from Israel.”  This enjoinder involved cleaning and clearing the house, changing all the dishes, pots and pans (i.e., only to use dishes, pots, pans, cutlery, &c. specifically for the week of Passover), sell any leavened products that may have been loitering in cupboards over the previous year (usually to a self-appointed cleric) and then on the morning before the Seder ritually burn anything that may have managed to escape your previous rigorous searches.

Now that I’m older and more disbelieving, I’ve come to the conclusion that if the rabbis had had to do all the cleaning and clearing themselves rather than leave it to their wives and daughters, they would have been much more clement in their restrictions!  This year, my skepticism and cynicism were given an extra dose when last week a friend gave me a couple of slices of a cheesecake she had made and left it for me in an aluminium foil container.  Looking at the container and the inscription on the bottom, which says that it has been approved for Passover use, I assumed that it had contained something kosher for Passover use before it was used to contain the cheesecake, so I called her as was in formed: “No. It was new”.  The foil container had been approved for Passover use by the Haredi (Strictly Orthodox) rabbinical court and I assume that that court’s approval came at a premium.  So much for the simple and seemingly straightforward “For seven days you must eat unleavened bread”!!!!!!!

 

By now, I have aroused within myself a possibly dangerous state of apoplexy, so enough is enough and it’s time for some pictures!

Last weekend, I joined my London family on a visit to the area being redeveloped around the old Battersea Power Station.  The kids were looking forward to using the fancy playground that had been advertised in the newspapers as being opened the day we went — only to discover that due to “technical hitches” that wouldn’t happen until the middle of the following week (notwithstanding the fact that the website contains a statement from the Mayor of Wandsworth, the borough in which the power station is located that the playground opened on March 25 2022!

Unopened playground, Battersea Power Station

From the 1930s through to the 1980s, Battersea Power Station was a working Power Station, which at its peak, was producing about 20% of London’s power, supplying electricity to both the Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace. Rather like the former Bankside Power Station, which was converted into the Tate Modern Art Gallery approximately 25 years ago, the Battersea Station is undergoing extensive redevelopment as a residential and commercial centre.  At the moment, it’s a work in progress but looks as if it will be something more than spectacular when completed, with residential complexes designed by both Norman Foster and Frank Gehry.

Battersea Power Station in redevelopment (1)

 

Battersea Power Station in redevelopment (2)

One sees all sorts of strange things while wandering around.  I felt that I perhaps I should tell this guy that Mecca isn’t in that particular direction only to discover that my son was photographing the ripples in the water!

A good time had been had by all! Battersea Power Station

My grandson, Tal, asked me if he could borrow my camera while we walked about so as any grandfather might do, his wish was granted.  And then I discovered that he has an eye for a photograph!

 

He even spotted the bath on the top floor of one of the residential buildings and after I showed him how to operate the zoom on the camera, this was the picture that resulted.

 

There was even a message from Mr. Putin as we ambled along.

And then at the end of the week, I went to Dov’s place and spent a couple of hours with Tal and Maya and cameras for although I thought that Tal had a good eye for a picture, I also thought that it might be a good idea to explain to both of them how a camera works.  I’m not sure I succeeded as well as I would have liked but I did get through to them partially.

At the end of the session, I asked each of them to take photographs of things they found interesting in the house and then to explain to me why they took the photos.

Maya explained to me that she photographed the mess in her wardrobe because of all the different colours she saw, which I thought was a fair enough explanation.

Tal then had Maya throw up some balloons left over from his birthday party a few days earlier and as they fell, he snapped this picture in which the pink balloon (which is inside the house) looks as if it’s a second ball outside in the garden.

He also photographed Pia, their dog, because he liked the way her ear was positioned — also an interesting observation, I thought.

His final effort, piano keyboard, was a tour de force.  Good imagination and implementation!

But after an hour or more listening to granddad drone on about cameras and photography, it was time to let off some steam.

Meanwhile, in another location, while taking time off from reading a book, I looked up and thought I saw a face looking out of the window…

… and looking upwards, I saw something else that caught my eye.

Finally, just when I thought I was done with photographs for the week, I went for a walk on Primrose Hill.  As I was walking up to the summit, I heard what I thought was a bird behind me — but it wasn’t the usual tweet of a small bird.  And then I heard the squawk again and turned around as saw a man with a parrot balanced on each shoulder while he chatted away on his phone.  I should have taken the photo there and then but wasn’t sure what his reaction might be so I waited until he had passed me by and it was only then that I realised that he wouldn’t have minded at all because he was doing it all for show.

Parrots on Primrose Hill

Finally, as if to compete with the parrots’ colours, this gentleman emerged from a bright red Bentley saloon, climbed to the top of the hill and took photographs of a couple he may or may not have known with the City of London as a backdrop and then returned to his Bentley and drove off!

 

Happy Pesach, Easter, Ramadan and whatever!

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London calling — again!

Well, after over seven weeks in Tel Aviv where winter reigned for much of the time and Covid-19 for a large part of it, I find myself back in London where we endured more than a week of real spring weather — sort of as if the world had been turned upside down, something about which we have been made painfully aware, what with climate change, Covid, Brexit, Ukraine and all the rest.

One listens to the news for a few minutes in the morning and it seems as if nothing much has changed — war (or is it just a special military operation?) in Ukraine, exploding figures for new Covid infections, garden parties in 10 Downing Street once more, babies and mothers dying unnecessarily in Shrewsbury, ordinary people being murdered on the streets of Israel’s cities (something that hardly gets a mention here in the UK), etc., etc.  So what’s new?

But spring is spring and we should be grateful for small mercies, which brings me back to Professor Lehrer again and makes me glad that I’m not a pigeon!

It’s quite amazing, though.  It seems there’s no escaping the war in Ukraine short of turning off the radio and TV, giving the newspapers and magazines a permanent miss and being determined not to use a smartphone, the weapon that has become the principal vehicle for the transmission of notifications on social media, in particular “fake news”, “alternative facts” and other falsehoods.  Looking at the images that appear on the television screen and elsewhere, all I can think of that life for the 4 million or so people who have fled their country to seek refuge elsewhere is a life in hell.  I find that this combination of round-the-clock news and the images that accompany it emotionally disturbing, to say the least, and I can’t even begin to comprehend what people are going through in this, Putin’s war.  The more I see and hear, the more I begin to think that this man is not just a run-of-the-mill bog-standard dictator but a combination of the worst of Stalin and Hitler and an individual who personifies the Russian paranoia of being surrounded by enemies better than anyone else.  Last week’s Economist newspaper contained a briefing that attempted to explain this and it made for chilling reading indeed—and is more than worth a cursory glance.

The New Russian Cult of War

One gets the feeling that a single wrong move of the part of any one involved in this conflict could bring about irreparable damage — disaster, in fact. Which, as you might have guessed, brings me back to Tom Lehrer — and although the song was written nearly 60 years ago and contains in its lyrics a couple of references to the time in which it was written, most of it is still relevant — even apt — to what is going on today.

What I find particularly scary is that with control of the media within Russia, so many Russian citizens appear to have little idea of what is really taking place and believe everything they’re told by the state-controlled media—as outlined in the Economist briefing. And all this reminds me of the lyrics of another Lehrer song that famously satirized the alleged amorality of the German rocket scientist Wernher von Braun who developed the V1 and V2 rockets that terrorised parts of southern England at the end of WWII. Over 1400 were launched at Britain, with more than 500 striking London, each one causing vast devastation, and killing  almost 3,000 people and injuring almost 7,000 more. Von Braun worked for Nazi Germany before turning his expertise in rocketry to serve the United States, his work satirised by Lehrer in the lyric “‘Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down? That’s not my department,’ says Wernher von Braun.”   (The story of the V2 was recounted in V2, a recent novel by that wonderful storyteller,  Robert Harris.).

Unlike the unfortunates who lost their lives in England nearly eight decades ago to V1s and V2s, the same cannot be said in regard to today’s Ukrainian citizens facing bombardment from Putin’s rockets, which far from not being his department is absolutely his department as they are aimed at, guided towards, and enventually destroy, civilian targets throughout the country.

BUT ENOUGH!

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So here I am again in a city I enjoy being in although I only really ventured out on my own for the first time a couple of days ago for although I was officially “cleared” of Covid three weeks ago, I have not yet  returned to a situation that I would regard as “normal”—whatever that might mean.

So what’s been going on now that I’m here?  Well, for a start, I’ve been enjoying the blossom on the trees and in the gardens and this year, it seems to be more colourful than usual.

Magnolia blossom, London NW3

 

Almond blossom, London NW3

 

Daffodils, London NW3

 

Daffodils, London NW3

 

 

One of my granddaughters loves pictures of squirrels — although why anybody thinks that these bushy-tailed rodents are “sweet” is beyond me as I regard them as vermin, rather in the same that I regard pigeons as winged vermin (as, apparently, do some others).

However, I [generally] do what’s requested of me or what I’m told and every now and then, I take the camera out and look out the windows to see if there are any around.  I watched these two one day last week as they gadded about but then I realised that perhaps as it was a warm spring day, it was more serious than the usual kind of joyful squirrel-play.

On my first walking day out a week ago, I ventured around the corner to Primrose Hill.  It was a misty morning and although I’ve been photographing Primrose Hill in various lighting conditions, at different seasons and at different times of the day, I don’t recollect ever having seen it like this before.

Primrose Hill, London NW3

And while on the way there, I observed something that seemed to represent optimum use of a balcony — chairs, bike, drying area, repository for plants, etc.

Optimum balcony use. London NW3

We Rent Everything/Anything. Belsize Park, London NW3

Then, last weekend I accompanied some friends for a walk along the Grand Union Canal, which runs between London and Birmingham.  We didn’t walk all the way to the Midlands but stuck to a strip in and around Paddington, where there were all sorts on interesting things on view.

My eye, as some of you may have already noticed is drawn to signs — street signs, road signs and the like.  So one of the first things that I chanced to see was the sign below, to which my cynical self, probably from watching too much news on the TV, equated with young Russian soldiers sent by Mr. Putin to besiege and capture the Ukrainian capital.

Having reached the canal, we encountered these two gentlemen preparing to sunbathe and generally have a good time.  I managed to count four bottles of wine and as I didn’t spot any guests, I could only presume that it was all for two and two for all.

And then we found ourselves in an area called “Little Venice” although it really beats me as to why …

… because it didn’t conjure up in my mind anything resembling Venice other than the canal, of course.

It was certainly missing some of the glamour of the Grand Canal.

A couple of days ago, I ventured into town to visit the National Gallery, ostensibly to view Gainsborough’s Blue Boy, which left me somewhat underwhelmed.  However, in the adjoining room were four pictures of Venice by Canaletto, which more than made up for the disappointment of the Blue Boy.  The amount of detail that Canaletto manages to get into his paintings always astounds me.  It has whetted by appetite to view the Canalettos that are currently being exhibited — for 6 months — at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, (Canaletto’s Venice Revisited)part of the collection from Woburn Abbey, which formed the largest single commission that the artist had ever received.  It’s a show that “reassesses Canaletto at the height of his career, and looks beyond the broad views for which he is renowned by examining t closely the features that bring his Venice to life.”  Something to look forward to, indeed.

 

And while at the National Gallery, I thought that this was definitely photographable although I was later tapped on the shoulder and informed that I am not permitted to take a photograph with children in it.

And on exiting the gallery, I passed this bust and wondered who he might be … but I was not left wondering for long for the plaque told me that it is John Paul Getty Jr himself.  It was commissioned by the National Gallery to acknowledge his £50 million donation. Not bad!

On and beside the canal, there were all sorts of activities (besides drinking four bottles of wine directly from the bottles, of course).  This pair adjusted their poses several times over the 10-15 minutes I was observing them …

… and this lot were obviously enjoying their brunch (the person on the right was steering the vessel).

 

Zero horsepower!

 

How many cricket bats would one willow produce?

 

The permanent residents

And then there were the things that just caught my eye.  For instance, en route to the canal we passed this edifice, constructed to memorialise Hotmail, which was launched in 1996 and acquired by Microsoft in 1997 for an estimated $400 million.  Also not bad for the founders Sabeer Bhatia and Jack Smith the founders of Hotmail!

Hotmail!

The Hotmail box contrasted with one on England’s Lane, NW3, which was obvious rather cold as it’s wearing a designer tea cosy or pillbox (postbox???) hat.

And while on the subject of postboxes, one frustrated resident on Primrose Gardens NW3 was obviously so exasperated with the postman (or does it have to be postperson these days?) that he had to leave strict instructions.

Signs of the times, England’s Lane. NW3

And to finish up with a couple of signs that I photographed on the Tube en route to The National Gallery.

Sometimes I wonder how brainless people can be—for instance, the designer of this sign.  This one prompted the following question to enter my cynical mind:  How is one to know whether, when, and how staring is intrusive and sexually harassing. I write this because until I saw this sign directly opposite me as the Tube jangled down to Leicester Square,  I had just assumed that my staring was brought about by the fact that sitting on the Tube simply causes boredom.  Now I learn that I could be reported to Transport for London’s Sexual Harassment Line just for staring, with goodness knows what punishment to be meted out to me as a result.

The second sign, on the way home, was equally thoughtless (or so I thought) and it prompted me to think that if not all disabilities are visible, then what would I see when I look up and the person I’m looking at had an invisible disability!  Right?!

Meanwhile, Horatio keeps his [one] eye on events.

Admiral Lord Nelson (in stone). Trafalgar Square, London.

And the sun during the spring “heatwave” was affecting his eyes! (with thanks to Nira Querfurth)

Finally, just as I started this post this morning and was writing about spring, I looked out the window and this is what I saw — snow!

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Putin on the Agony

This time, it’s been a month and the truth is that I haven’t much felt like posting to this blog recently as there have been so many diversions.  That being the case, I suppose I should start with the most obvious digression, the goings on in southeastern Europe.

 

However, in addition to calling to mind Lonnie Donegan’s “Puttin’ on the Agony”,

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SE50GiTMJXo 

recent events in Ukraine also reminded me of spaghetti puttanesca, which is one of my favourite pasta sauces. Apparently it’s an easy sauce to prepare, and includes tomatoes, garlic, olives, and anchovies, although I have to admit that I possess no first-hand experience of that.  It seems that it needs to be cooked but briefly, and all I can say is that it’s very fragrant and rather spicy.   It’s worth noting that puttanesca translates as “in the style of the whore.”, (or lady of the night), the name deriving from the Italian word puttana which means “whore” and that in turn arises from the Latin word putida which means stinking (or putrid).  At any rate, some people have told me that that relates to the fact that spaghetti puttanesca “has everything in it”, hence the name.  Either way, puttanesca relates very well to the leader who has taken the world to the brink of World War III.

Street sign, Tel Aviv (March 2022)

The media coverage of the war (seemingly, Russians are, Basil Fawlty-style, are not permitted to “mention the war” or call it an invasion (it’s ‘only’ a “special operation”).  At the beginning, a couple of months ago, as the Russian army prepared for its “special operation”, the toing and froing of Western leaders to Moscow and elsewhere in order to meet the Russian dictator was reminiscent somewhat of that 1938 meeting in Munich between Mr. Chamberlain and Herr Hitler, after which Chamberlain stated that  “… the German Führer … and the British Prime Minister, have had a further meeting today and are agreed in recognizing that the question of Anglo-German relations is of the first importance for our two countries and for Europe.  We regard the agreement … as symbolic of the desire of our two peoples never to go to war with one another again. We are resolved that the method of consultation shall be the method adopted to deal with any other questions that may concern our two countries, and we are determined to continue our efforts to remove possible sources of difference, and thus to contribute to assure the peace of Europe.”  Except that in 2022, the efforts of the Western leaders proved less fruitful that those perceived to have occurred in the mind of the then British Prime Minister and Moscow 2022 was, I thought, just a re-run of 1938— but on steroids—with Putin playing the role of Hitler.  However, as time passed, it has become more and more obvious that Putin is not really akin to Hitler at all but to that alternative dictator, Stalin, as he imposes more and more means of silencing the Russian populace and keeping them ignorant by any and all means possible as to what is happening.  Reading Catherine Belton’s Putin’s People —  The Story of Russia’s History and Politics, the level of corruption among Putin’s associates makes corruption every place else seem like child’s play.  And in this respect, this conversation between the journalist and writer Jonathan Freedland and Professor Timothy Snyder is well worth spending an hour on.

https://vimeo.com/680431466/8d9851aeaa

And I have to say that whatever some Ukrainians might have done to Jews in World War II, it does not mean that I am not moved by the images of ordinary civilians under attack from land, sea and air by the “special operations” of the Russian army for unlike 1938, everything is being played out in real time on the media——TV, radio, newspapers, &c.— which made me think that if there had been similar media coverage 85 years ago would all that had happened to the Jews actually have taken place.  Remember that at that time, the only way of learning what was going on was via radio and newspaper reports and perhaps a couple of minutes of video news if you had gone to the cinema to watch Charlie Chaplin, the Marx Brothers or the Three Stooges.  Today, we are fed images 24/7 and images projected in Russia come with different subtitles.  The response of the West has been to impose sanctions on Russia and Belarus, the impact of which on the global economy are as yet unknown.

How all this will end is anybody’s speculation and how long it will take to end is anybody’s guess.  Whatever the past failings of Ukraine and the Ukrainians, they did democratically elect a president with 73% of the vote and this is the country that Mr. Putin has pledged to “deNazify”, which, in gross understatement, is rather rich, given that Mr. Zelensky, Ukraine’s democratically elected president also happens to be Jewish.  But then, we have to remember that Putin is playing to Russian memories of the Nazi treachery and invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941.

I have no knowledge or even a view as to whether Mr. Putin is out of his mind (i.e., mad).  His behaviour over the past couple of years whereby he greets people and talks to them one on one around a table made for 20 or more suggests more than just social distancing caution. It suggests that he’s afraid of dying but if that is what is going to happen, then he’d like to be remembered as the man who saved Mother Russia from whatever threats there are from the evil outside world (Russian paranoia again).  However, more than that, he seems (is?) more like other despots who have come and gone and who surround themselves with sycophants and others whom only tell him what he wants to hear (or what they think he wants to hear) and that lends itself to forming a somewhat distorted view of the world.

Enough!

Now for some photographs and other diversions.  A couple of weeks ago, I popped over to visit Shuli and Tami, my daughters.  In addition to just being able to be with them, it was a sort of special occasion for they were playing host to the “old Aviv String Quartet” for this was the first time in 20 years that the four original members of the quartet had all been together and they thought it a good opportunity for nostalgia and reminiscences.

Aviv String Quartet, Melbourne. July 1999

By the time I got there, they were well into dinner and the second bottle of wine but It was wonderful to see them all together again after so long, albeit two decades older.  And then the miracle happened …

… because the “Old Aviv Quartet” sat down to play together, chamber music as it was and should be played.  Without rehearsing, they just parked themselves on chairs in Shuli’s living room and played quartets by Haydn, Debussy and Brahms — all with the same nuances that had marked them out 25 years ago, as Tim Ashley had reported in The Guardian“the Aviv String Quartet is rapidly emerging as one of today’s finest chamber ensembles. Rich, warm and distinctive in sound, their playing combining technical exactitude with instinctive emotional intensity…”

 

In addition to the upsetting news coming out of Ukraine, there was another event that shook me, and that was the premature death, at age 52, of the larger-than-life Australian cricketer, Shane Warne, possibly the greatest bowler ever to have lived.


Why I was so upset, I’m not quite sure but it weighed heavily on my mind.  Cricket was the one sport I enjoyed when I was young although I wasn’t all that good at it. I was a fast bowler of sorts but my real dream was to have been a leg spin bowler, a skill that required a manual dexterity that I didn’t possess. Richie Benaud, later captain of Australia and one of cricket’s best loved commentators was my hero of the times and was the leg-spin bowler par excellence in the pre-Shane Warne days.  Much later but still many years ago, while browsing through CDs at the HMV store on Oxford Street, I espied someone next to who looked uncannily like Mr. Benaud.  So all that remained for me was to sidle over and ask him if he was whom I thought he might be.  A smile and a just a couple of words from that unmistakable voice were enough to confirm my suspicions immediately and as I related my childhood dream to him, we shook hands and parted.

 

The other diversion, and one much more pleasant than Ukraine and the early death of a cricketer, was a visit from London of a lady who, for the moment, will appear under the pseudonym IVO. She came to be with me for a planned 2½ weeks but ended up staying for four.  As my late mother used to tell me, “If you want to get to know somebody, then go live with them.”  However, having experienced that, I would just add that if you really want to get to know someone, then go live with them when you’re both ill!

We travelled around and met friends and eventually ended up visiting myself sister, Roz, whom I hadn’t seen “in the flesh” for a year and a half.  We drove back to Tel Aviv from the Golan Heights through torrential rain on Friday morning but by Sunday, IVO was feeling unwell and we decided that a PCR test for Covid was needed.  The results came through that night; she was positive and I negative but to cut a long story short, I tested positive two days later and we ended up being entrenched together in the flat for almost a week and it was an interesting experience from which we both emerged unscathed.  Quite the opposite, in fact—although I’m note sure I’d recommend this as the way to get to know someone better.  I don’t know who described the symptoms of a Covid attack as “mildly flu-like”; I’d never had a flu like this before and I thought I might be on my way to meet my demise.   All I can say is “Avoid it like the plague because it is a plague.” And although it’s gone, it’ll take another while before I can truly say that I feel normal again, whatever “normal” is supposed to mean!  And BTW,  IVO has recuperated and has successfully made her way home to London.

Climbing up walls with Covid. Neve Tzedek, Tel Aviv

 

 

En route to the Golan (1) Sea of Galilee (Kinneret)

 

En route to the Golan (2) Sea of Galilee (Kinneret)

 

 

 

Lupins after torrential rain. Givat Yoav, Golan Heights.

 

Snail after a rainy day. Stricker Street, Tel Aviv

 

 

Kumquat tree. Givat Yoav, Golan Heights

 

Signs of the times. Zikhron Yaaqov

 

 

Spring is on the way. Almond blossom. Haifa

And diversions notwithstanding, there was usually time for a walk in the park.

 

Blue-hair day, Yarqon Park

 

 

Feed the birds …

 

… and look at what happens

 

At the kitchen window

 

I’m looking straight at you!

 

 

A bloated feeling. Tel Aviv

 

A Guinness overdose. Zikhron Yaaqov

 

 

Delivered by Caesarean section. Nissenbaum Street, Tel Aviv

… and one more for the road!

 

 

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Springtime, Tel Aviv style

It looks like this blog is turning into a fortnightly affair rather than the weekly one that it’s been for the past six years.  These things happen, you know, as concentration becomes diluted and diversions begin to appear and thoughts over what to do in the future wander in and out mind followed by plans to make such thoughts more tangible.

However, while all this is going on in my mind, I’ve still managed to get out and about and add to the conglomeration of images that continue to clutter up the computer as well as thinning out the surplus junk that has accumulated in the flat over the past 16 years, something that should have been done as it was being assembled over the years.  I suppose that there’s nothing like planning a move to make one become a little more organized than the “normal” jumbled and cluttered self.

Springtime

The weather has been springlike in Tel Aviv this past week, something that is almost sufficient to convince me that relocating from the Promised Land to that place called DUCK (that Disunited Kingdom) might not be as wise as it at first seemed.  Almost — but not quite.   Throwing out old clothes that haven’t been on a body for years was the easiest part of the clearing process — four large garbage bagfuls found their way into the charity box around the corner and nothing was missed at all.  The only problem is that the closet still seems full so that it looks increasingly as if a second round will be necessary in the near future.

The next issue to be resolved concerns which books I should take with me.  My problem is that I’ve always found it very difficult to part with books but the books are such a part of me so that even if I were never to open them again (which won’t happen), they are still me.

 

On photography

 

Social and Cultural Geography

 

On Music

 

On language

 

Most of the walks I’ve taken involve the streets of North Tel Aviv, the Yarqon Park and Tel Aviv Port, places that have appeared in this blog many times over the past six years but I’m still amazed each time I go by the variety of photographable things that I see.  For instance, over the past few weeks, fire hydrants, for which I seem to have a fondness seem to have reappeared all of a sudden— and that doesn’t include the images of fire hydrants that well-meaning people send to me every now and then.  So, it seems that this blog post will primarily be one of images.  It sometimes works out that way!

 

 

That’s right. Hang your head in shame!

 

The backpacker

 

Oops! Partially dressed.

 

The seeing eye hydrant

And then there are the birds!

A little too much for a tiny guy to eat at a single sitting!

 

Cormorants in formation over Tel Aviv Port

 

All together, now — 1, 2, 3!

 

 

Avian Durante! (Shnozzle)

 

The ballet dancer (sans tutu)

 

This is what’s called a public snog!

 

A lack of social distancing, I would say.

 

I can see you — but you can’t see me! Tel Aviv Port

And anyway what are these weird things crawling along the ground in the park?

And are these fish or birds or something else?

 

Is that a cat I see or something else entirely?
Baby, it’s cold outside!

 

… and then, of course, there are the people.

Two of these young women are being put through their paces by a third who seemed happy to do her bit for there others.

… and as you stand there taking images of people engrossed in physical activities, if you bother to look down, you’re likely to come across something almost as interesting.

And as were sitting quietly sipping coffee in the port, I watched this couple enter the café where we had bought our coffee and noticed the attire of the gentleman so I was at the ready when they exited.  He looked about my age (i.e., not all that young) and my eyes were attracted to his outfit.  He wore a tight-fitting blazer and even tighter-fitting black jeans; his head was adorned with a smart cap, had what looked like a late model mobile phone in his breast pocket, two pairs of spectacles, and earbuds in his ears, the New Balance trainers that he’s got on his feet.  But what really drew my attention towards him were the fringes (tzitzit) —  the poncho-like mini-prayer shawl that religious men wear throughout the day, often under their shirts, apparently due to God commanding the Jewish people to affix fringes to the corners of their clothing so that they would constantly remember Him and His commandments.  Somehow, at first glance, there seemed to be an incongruity between the tzitzit and the rest of the snazzy paraphernalia that he was toting.