A true story

Members of a stable government???

Instead of a regular rant about the state of Israeli politics and my views on Israeli politicians and while several of them attempt to form a stable government, let me regale you with a true story that occurred about seven years ago and an account of which I wrote up for the ESRA (English Speaking Residents’ Association) magazine here in Israel and which was published in its May 2015 edition (https://magazine.esra.org.il). (I had forgotten all about it until the other day, when I decided to google myself and discover what other people can find out about me without any input on my part and it turned up among other things.)  It concerned a frustrating week I’d experienced some while previously and the vexation was due entirely to my own recklessness. As the saying might have it, old dogs really shouldn’t try to learn new tricks; indeed, old dogs can be very stupid as I was about to find out. The adage “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is very true and the issue in case arose when I nevertheless decided to fix it.

A charming, (well, she sounded charming over the phone), young (well, she sounded young over the phone), woman introduced herself as a representative of HOT, Israel’s cable TV company and she was about to make me an offer that she said I couldn’t refuse. HOT had been around for several years, following the amalgamation of the three cable companies that had dug up Israel’s roads and footpaths in order to be able to compete with Israel’s satellite broadcaster, YES. And as we’d had cable TV for over a decade and there hadn’t been too many problems, I was prepared to listen to the sales pitch, which was, of course, mistake #1.

And what was this hawker (Sorry, sales representative) offering me? HOT Triple. For the princely sum I was paying them to receive a daily dose of depression (Israeli TV has an inordinate amount of current affairs programming alongside quiz shows, wrestling, B and C movies and other rubbish), they would provide me with Internet access and telephone calls to any landline or cellphone in Israel free of charge. And—this was the part of her sales pitch that really appealed to me—we could keep our existing telephone number. (It’s bad enough trying to remember 4-digit passwords at my age but an 8 or 9-digit phone number is more than my aging brain can handle. Even though our landlines and smartphones remember these things for us, ego and pride demand that we prove to ourselves that we CAN remember these things!) So after she’d concluded her part in this drama, I told her that I don’t make instant decisions based on cold calls and asked her to call back.

I looked at my monthly bills from Bezeq (Israel’s leading phone company) and Netvision (the Internet provider) and reckoned that I could save some money. And as we already had the infrastructure in the apartment there would be no need for any drilling. This was a no-brainer! (Little did I know then that “no-brainer” is really a sobriquet for me.) So when the HOT lady called back, I was ready to go with her wherever she wished to lead me.

Having done the deed, another and equally attractive female voice called me to fix a time for installation. Two days later, a young man unloaded his bag of tricks, and got down to the job of connecting our equipment to this super-fast and super-cheap HOTline.

Now, there should have been alarm bells ringing loudly in my ears. Perhaps there were and I just mistook them for my tedious tinnitus, something that I have sort of grown used to. The previous summer, I had made a similar decision in the flat in London about a comparable deal with Virgin, a retail conglomerate which sells everything from flowers to space tourism, who were selling me — you guessed it — TV, telephone and Internet. But more about that later.

Shlomi, the technician, got down to work immediately. Within minutes, I had a new converter box—replete with video recorder capable of recording hours and hours of TV programs that would probably never be watched—sitting under the television. That completed, the easier part of his attack, he set about dismantling the existing telephone and Internet connections, casually casting unwanted routers, plugs and wires aside as he continued on his merry march through my apartment. Within minutes, we had been effectively detached (albeit temporarily, I was assured) from civilization. I breathed easily knowing that the means to re-stimulate our daily dose of depression would be revived shortly.

However, in the course of connecting the telephone, Shlomi noted that there was a button to an emergency call center connected to one of the phone sockets. He informed me that it was forbidden to touch this and that he would have to issue me a new telephone number for the house, leaving the old number connected solely to the emergency buzzer. I misunderstood him, thinking he had told me the opposite, but before I could say Jack Robinson, or its Hebrew equivalent (which is, “Jack Robinson”), Shlomi had done his dastardly deed, informing me en passant that what he had done was irreversible. It goes without saying that I wasn’t too happy, as, amongst other things, it would entail my having to remember a new sequence of digits and not only that, but I would have to inform everyone of the new number, which by now was being posted up in strategic points throughout the flat and recited like a mantra over the table.

Effectively reconnected with the world, (albeit with a new phone number and a new name for the WiFi network), the time had arrived to test the television. Lo and behold, what had been almost perfect reception prior to the installation of the new converter now turned out to be flawed. In fact, it was so defective on the HD channels that there was no picture of anything recognizable to the human eye. Perhaps an insect with multiple eyes or an arthropod with multiple lenses might have been able to make sense of it so I asked Shlomi why this was and received the plausible response that because two functions (phone and Internet) had been added to a connection that had previously only delivered a TV signal, there had to be an amplifier somewhere around. I had no idea what he was talking about so I countered with “And where might that be?” “It must be on the roof,” replied Shlomi. “Ah”, said I — “just a minor problem. The roof belongs to my neighbor and the sole access is through his flat. Why don’t you go down to his office and ask him if you can get up there?” Shlomi returned a few minutes later to tell me that my neighbor was not terribly cooperative and that he’d have to try something else instead. He did, but failed to redress the problem — and then he departed, claiming that he was late for his next appointment. What I learned the following day from my neighbor was that he had accompanied Shlomi on to the roof and showed him that the signal amplifier was located on a pole two ladders’ height above the roof—and Shlomi didn’t have a ladder.

This resulted in another call to HOT and two days later, a different technician arrived. He turned up late afternoon—almost night would be more apt—and announced that without access to the roof there was nothing he could do. On the basis of his tight-fitting white full skullcap and long ringlets, this young man seemed to be a strictly Orthodox Jew and my good lady asked him prior to his swift exit whether or not he had a TV at home. Though my tinnitus must have been working overtime, I still didn’t hear the alarm bells that were obviously ringing at full volume. He responded in the affirmative, but added that he doesn’t have anything to do with HOT, his own employer.

So the next day I spoke to yet another HOT lady to whom I explained the sad situation. She announced with some authority that we needed the ‘B-team’, i.e. the lads who look after HOT’s access to a whole house rather than just an individual flat, and I was told to be on standby from 09.00 until 11.30 two days later. That day came and my watch began. 11.30 came but the B-team didn’t. So I allowed them half an hour’s grace and called HOT again—just to enquire, you understand. The HOT lady was sympathy personified and undertook to uncover the reason for the B-team’s non-appearance. And indeed she called me back to tell me that they had been delayed but that they had attempted several times to contact me. Upon enquiring after the number the B-team had been trying to reach and on hearing the number of my cellphone being uttered across the airwaves, I checked said cellphone, which had been in my pocket all morning and I had neither heard it ring nor felt a vibration. (Vibrations in the pocket are important for an older man with tinnitus!) Accordingly, I arrived at the only conclusion a long-suffering HOT client (by now just tepid) could arrive at: somebody in that torrid region which is HOT must be telling an untruth or fabricating a story.

My own reaction surprised me for I called HOT to cancel my contract. After all, had not the vendor a week earlier told me—as part of her sales pitch—that there was now a law in the State of Israel preventing companies like hers from tying their clients into a long-term contract from which there was redemption only by paying an exorbitant ransom? At this juncture, I discovered that signing out is distinctly more difficult than signing up. The company may no longer have a hold over you but that doesn’t stop them from pestering you into desperation to find out whether there is anything they can do “to help you”—a euphemism for encouraging you to change your already fragmented mind. Six different HOT employees phoned over 48 hours to ask the same question. Finally, I encountered another young-sounding female who admitted defeat by informing me that the HOT equipment would be picked up within a week.

During this hectic week I discovered several other things. I now had an active phone connection to the HOT exchange with a new number as well as the two Bezeq lines (one for phone, one for Internet — but that’s another other story). I called Bezeq to cancel the Internet line (the other one was still needed until I worked out a solution for the emergency button on the former (and soon to be reinstated) home line. A nice young Bezeqnik, obviously used to dealing with sullen overheated ex-Hotniks, suggested that instead of cancelling the line I should “freeze” it for three months at no cost—just in case things don’t work out. I followed this advice, which was my first sane decision in a week. At the same time, I discovered that without my Bezeq phone line I couldn’t open the gate from the street from within the flat! I also called the organization that supplied the emergency button on how to proceed. Their answer floored me—”There isn’t a problem”, they said. “We have lots of customers throughout the country who are connected to a HOT phone line!”

So … Shlomi, where are you, I thought? Please come back so I can wring your neck! But I have to find a solution to the gate — oh yes, and call Netvision, the Internet provider, because when I signed up with HOT, they informed me that they had an arrangement with Netvision to provide Internet services at a reduced rate through the monthly HOT bill. So … I called someone to come and see if there was a solution to the gate—there wasn’t unless I could locate a Bezeq junction box in the flat. But we couldn’t find it. (A year later, I discovered that it was in a cabinet in my neighbor’s office!)

And—at Netvision, while trying to reinstate the arrangement I had had with them prior to my HOT trip into outer space, I uncovered yet another gaffe. The pleasant lady with the soothing voice on the other end of the phone (she, too, was obviously used to talking with soon-to-be-ex-Hotniks) mentioned that I really should be using not the line through which I had always connected with Netvision but another number that flagged up on her screen. She then read out a number that meant nothing to me until I eventually remembered that about a year previously, responding to a Netvision sales pitch, I had agreed to switch from Bezeq to a Netvision line—but on learning that this required a physical installation (holes in walls, a new set of wires), I cancelled before anybody arrived. Nonetheless, someone had allocated me a number for which I had been billed with the itemized bills being sent to an email address that I had also been allocated but about the existence of which I had not had an inkling. A full refund was eventually paid.

Having reinstated my home phone lines (in other words, rescued my phones from HOT) and reverted to the old Wi-Fi router, I still needed to see to the TV. In this land of make-believe, the had just two options at that time, one of which I had just banished. So I called YES, the satellite TV company. Having signed me up, the YESman told me that another YESman with technical skills would connect me to outer space by 10.00 the following morning. This young man arrived on cue and I then discovered a basic difference between HOT and YES. HOT technicians come without ladders; YES technicians come without digital converter boxes! YES, this saxophone-playing technician, whose sole job is to connect people’s TV sets to digital converter boxes had actually arrived without one, causing my level of disbelief to rise in tandem with my blood pressure. But, nil desperandum, a man of infinite resourcefulness, the technician stole away in his car to a warehouse and returned an hour later, this time with box in tow. Within a short time we were reconnected and could receive the daily doses of depression without which we cannot survive.

Now, not only have you been reminded that old dogs do not learn new tricks but you’ve perhaps also heard the one about “once bitten, twice shy”. I mentioned that I had been in contact before all this nonsense with Virgin in London. In retrospect, I should have been able to learn a lesson from that but failed miserably when Virgin supplied us with their version of HOT’s Triple pack. Although the Virgin TV and the phone worked wonderfully, their internet connection gave problems. Put simply, the Virgin technician who wired us up (in my absence, after I’d returned to Israel, my son who had graciously become my proxy and wasted a day to be around) had simply used an outlet that some previous occupant of the flat had had installed. He didn’t ask questions; as far as he was concerned he simply chose an option easier than installing a connection de novo. Consequently, by the time the Wi-Fi signal reached the corner where my computer was located, it was breathing its last breath, moving in and out of cyber-consciousness and in need of some computer equivalent of a defibrillator. (The London flat is not a mansion but a small 2-bedroom apartment with a maximum internal distance of 12 meters.)

So I called the Virgin client helpline and the empire struck back. As all good Brits know, what materializes when you phone a helpline to what is ostensibly a UK number is that most phone calls for help are directed in the first instance through the Subcontinent. Bookings for “engineers”, as the local British technicians are called, are made via Bangalore, Hyderabad or Mumbai. To cut a long story very short, I made a booking to have them move the digital converter and left my long-suffering and loving son to deal with the physical side of things. In the event, the Virgin man came. The upshot was a series of SMSs in which my dear son told me, asked me, pleaded with me (while I was trying to comprehend yet another sales pitch, this time for a collective health insurance policy through the university—yet another Israeli story):

“He can only run a cable INSIDE the house. Can’t do it from the outside. … would have to drill holes in walls and attach the cable through the living room. … ugly … what do you think? … There would be a white cable going across the top or bottom of the corridor and then drilled into your room … My personal opinion — it’s a very messy job… is it REALLY necessary to go through ALL this?”.

At this point, I raised my hands and surrendered. But I had not learned my lesson—hence my foolhardiness and imprudence over 10 days in Tel Aviv some time later and this story.  My misery eventually came to an end and I returned to the really important issues of the day, like pondering which corrupt and potentially corrupt politicians should run the country as part of a stable government.

Since this incident that I have just recounted, I have ceased to listen to sales pitches over the phone and make a request for them to send it to me in writing, something the cold callers usually seem reluctant to do.  So there is a moral to this whole sad story:

When a HOT Virgin calls you out of the blue and attempts to sell you her wares, making you an offer you can’t refuse, keep your cool, old man, and think long before you respond with a YES.

And yes, there are some photographs as well.

People sometimes ask me what I see on my [almost] daily early morning walks through the Yarqon Park and streets of North Tel Aviv.  What can be so interesting?  And I always respond that there’s always something new or something I hadn’t actually noticed before.

It’s not just the birds …

… or the flowers …

… that attract the eye.

It’s also people and their activities.

Time to catch up with the news

 

Relaxez-vous!

 

He’s exercising —  so keep away!

 

Not so cold compression!

And then there are the still lifes you come across, like this set of cutlery all ready to provide breakfast for someone …

 

… and which can be turned into something even more dynamic in black and white!


 

And then, of course, there are the really dynamic scenes, as captured in the sequence of four images below …

  

… and then yet again, from a different angle …


And there was still time to go there Alexander Calder exhibition at the Tel Aviv Museum of Arts, an artist whose mobile and wire moving sculptures that so fascinated me at the Tate Modern in London over five years ago.

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Keeping on, Keeping On

I know, I know.  I used this photograph in a different context in the last piece I posted a couple of weeks ago but as we’ve just lived through such an absolute bollocks of a fortnight, I thought it might be appropriate to use it again.

I don’t claim to have any particular insights into the goings on as, like almost everyone else, all my information comes from what I read, hear and see (and I really tried to read, hear and see as little as possible but unless one unplugs the radio and TV and refuses to read what turns up on the computer or in the mailbox, it’s impossible to avoid it.  Nevertheless, at the same time one needs to know what is happening, especially when one is forced to sit in a stairwell or an interior corridor in the flat (I live in an older building with no custom-made bomb shelter).  In other words, put plainly, I’m as ignorant as almost everybody else except those who are privileged to access real data and intelligence and my ignorance is, of course, like almost everyone else’s based on what radio stations, TV channels and newspapers one chooses to listen to, view and read.

The way I see things however is that each side in this round of the conflict ended up as both winners and losers.  Hamas stage-managed the show by succeeding in its effort to link contentious events in Jerusalem to the Palestinian situation in Gaza, thereby outflanking the PLO and making gains at their expense in Jerusalem and the West Bank. So in that sense, the conflict we lived through was part of an intra-Palestinian contest.  Dictatorial Hamas .v. less dictatorial and more corrupt PLO. In response to Hamas’ stage management, the Israeli security agencies just about mismanaged everything they could possibly mismanage and things got botched completely out of hand.  Politicians on both sides more or less vanished during the 11 days.  The Palestinian ones were understandably concerned about their own safety and emerged when the bombing stopped to issue further threats about this only being a preliminary and that they are willing to sacrifice 10,000 martyrs to the cause (typically Hamas).  The Israeli pols —— well, the less said, the better but they are now back on track trying to decide whether they can cobble together some sort of government or send us to the polls once more for the fifth time in two and a half years.

Over 4,000 rockets of various sizes and ranges were fired from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, almost all of them in the direction of civilian targets, some them landing in Gaza itself——but that’s not really a concern for Hamas or Islamic Jihad, their colleagues in tis form of violent religious-nationalism.    Given the extent of physical destruction in Gaza, it seems to me that the number of casualties (and I hate to say this because I won’t be forgiven by some) was relatively low.  In a way, as a sovereign state, Israel did what it had to do and that is to defend its citizens by whatever means necessary and if that meant by using the Air Force to carry out “precision bombing”, then so be it, although that, it would appear, has been branded as a war crime by those who wish to see it that way whereas sending rockets towards civilian targets apparently is not.  (All the arguments about a non-proportional response ring false, as they always have with me, and I’m still waiting for an explanation of what exactly a proportional response should consist of.

The “events” also led to the worst outbreak of thuggery I’ve observed in the friable and fragile society that is Israel, something that is even more worrying than the rockets.  What I found almost impossible to comprehend is the feeble response from Israeli government ministers.  In fact, the Minister for Internal Security, an appointee of the Prime Minister, publicly reprimanded the Police Commissioner just for referring to “Jewish terrorists”, when, in fact that was what they are.  Some of us, at least, were reminded that an Israeli Prime Minister was assassinated by one of them two and a half decades ago.  (The thugs on the Arab side are a perfect match for their Jewish counterparts, by the way). What bothers me more than anything and where there really is a disproportion, is that insufficient Israeli hoodlums have been arrested and charged for their thuggery.  Politics again, I suppose.  And as usual, in a time when there’s an escalation of violence between Israelis and Palestinians, there is a very slippery and bumpy sliding slope from criticism of Israel’s actions to virulent antisemitism as has happened in places like New York, London, Berlin and elsewhere throughout the world.  This time around, it seems to be more acute and a higher level than previously.  Another cause of worry.

From what I saw and read, I understand that the misery of the population of Gaza is a joint effort on the parts of Hamas, Israel and Egypt.  Some people [conveniently] tend to forget that there are two points of ingress and egress to the Gaza Strip, the one leading to Israel and the other to Egypt.  In between, there are approximately 2,000,000 people crammed into 365 square kms, held hostage by an organization that brooks no dissent.  (And just in case you think that that number of people on that area of land constitutes overcrowding, it’s proportional to Hong Kong or Singapore, places which have found different solutions to living and prospering at high densities.). As to Hamas, it’s worth reading the Hamas Manifesto (entitled the “Charter of Allah”) which one has to take a face value because it’s never been disowned, repealed or rescinded and which I attach for bedtime reading (and it really is worth reading, especially if you’re keen to wake up to nightmares).  In addition, if you do bother to read it, the slide from anti-Israelism to antisemitism is very smooth indeed.  In the words of Professor Colin Shindler, writing in this week’s issue of Plus61J, an Australian Jewish online publication, “The global far Left, in the glory of its superficiality and its passion for selective outrage, stage rallies which colour reactionary clerics as well-intentioned progressives. What matters to them is resistance — and not that Hamas is dictatorial, homophobic, occasionally antisemitic, often anti-Christian and prone to throwing their Fatah opponents off the rooftops of Gaza.”  Moreover, Hamas says that it’s not really in favour of “peaceful” attempts to solve the conflict.  “[Peace] initiatives, the so-called peaceful solutions, and the international conferences to resolve the Palestinian problem, are all contrary to the beliefs of the Islamic Resistance Movement.”, and you can read more of that if you wish on page 6 of the link directly below.

CHARTER OF ALLAH

Last week, among the many things to appear about the last round of fighting was a particularly obscene piece by John Oliver, who is described on Wikipedia as “a British-American comedian, writer, producer, political commentator, actor, and television host”.  (His official website says not an iota about things like that.)  At any rate, his one-sided diatribe showed nothing that could be interpreted as coming from a comedian or even a political commentator.) I felt sickened by his display and probably would have written about it somehow but one of the people who did respond to it was an Israeli “comedian, writer, producer, political commentator, actor, and television host”, Lior Schleien.  Mr. Schleien just happens to be the life-partner of Merav Michaeli, who is the current leader of the Israel Labour Party, but that is purely coincidental.  His enlightening and somewhat cynical commentaries are usually presented in Hebrew but as a favour to those who are perhaps not fluent in that language, he presented riposte to Oliver in a language many more can understand.  Again, in my humble opinion, it’s worth watching for its full nine and a half minutes.

And then at the end of last week, I received a video sent out from the institution I used to work in, the University of Haifa.  Three decades ago, I was the Director of the University’s Jewish-Arab Center so I’m familiar with the way the institution works—Arabs and Jews work together without thinking too much about it, as they also do in hospitals, clinics, government offices and other such places throughout the country, such things as cooperation generally going unreported abroad, where the emphasis is on conflict rather than collaboration, conflict being more TV-friendly.

The video clip below was sent out to faculty members at the end of last week, initially with Hebrew and Arabic subtitles where appropriate.  I wrote to the President’s office and complained that there were no subtitles in English and to my surprise, that complaint was taken care of two days later (and I like to think that it probably would have been anyway rather than being a response to my remonstration).

https://youtu.be/mzeKK7duchM

 

So enough!

 I still found the time and the will to get out in the mornings to photograph.

The other day, I went out to the park and as is my wont, I turned left towards the sea.  I usually walk along the south bank of the Yarqon, the stream that passes for a river in Tel Aviv but that particular day, I decided that I’d cross over and walk along the north bank, so towards the steps to bridge I went.  However, when I got there, I found that coming down the steps at a healthy pace in the opposite direction was a serious jogger.  Not only was she coming down, but she motioned to me not to come up until she had retraced her steps and it was then, as I followed her ups the steps that I noticed the tattoos, which from my observation angle looked likes works of art.

But why produce art on the body? I’ve never been able to understand tattoos for I suppose that when I was was growing up (if I have ever indeed done so, something some might deny), the people with such “body art”, the only people with semi-artistically punctured skin, were merchant sailors and criminals—— at any rate, people regarded in some way as being unsavory.  Purely coincidentally, the previous evening I  had been reading Alan Bennett’s Keeping On Keeping On, selections from his diaries between  2005 and 2015, escapist reading is ever there was such.  And there I read: “I find tattoos hard to understand, even to forgive. Afflicted quite early in life with varicose veins I’ve always been self-conscious of the greyish blue of the veins and found it a disfigurement and a stigma even, the blue of the veins the same blue as that of a tattoo. That anyone would voluntarily do to themselves what nature had done to me I find incomprehensible. Beckham, for instance, had a nice body until he had it so extensively engraved.”  I came home and re-read it and smiled as I looked again at the picture I’d taken.

Alan Bennett lives in Primrose Hill, one of my favourite places in the part of London I like and sort of know, and after the tattoo statement I read on a couple of pages and came across: “And then, I pass the house in Fitzroy Road with the blue plaque saying that Yeats lived there but with no plaque saying that Sylvia Plath also died there. I look down into the basement where Plath put her head in the gas oven. And there is a gas oven still, only it’s not the Belling or the Cannon it would have been in 1963 but now part of a free-standing unit in limed oak. It was this house where Eric Korn heard someone reading out the plaque as being to ‘William Butler Yeast’. ‘Presumably,’ Eric wanted to say, ‘him responsible for the Easter Rising.’ ”

And then I remembered that I’d photographed that , too!

And a couple of pages further on in Alan Bennett’s diary, I came across the seemingly insightful “Meanwhile every politician who speaks begins by making a ritual affirmation that their party’s first priority is firm and stable government and the sooner that is achieved the better. Whereas it’s all too plain that so far as stable government is concerned the politicians are largely superfluous and that the civil service can carry on with the firm and stable government just as they usually do – temporarily relieved of the interference from their ministers.”  Listening to Dominic Cumming’s (of Boris Johnson and “comings-and-goings-in-lockdown notoriety), and a man with several large chips on each shoulder as well as some large axes to grind marathon testimony yesterday, were it all so simple!  (Mr. Cummings, I reckon, is slightly more credible than Alexander Lukashenko, on whose orders a Ryanair plane was hijacked last week so that he could torture and imprison someone who had the impertinence to call him a cheat and a liar, but that’s not saying very much!)

Surprise, surprise, surprise!

Walking the streets of Tel Aviv last week, it seemed as if they were lined with mauve as was everything underneath the trees …

 

… though how it got as far as Tel Aviv Port is a bit beyond my understanding.

 

And then as I exited the fishmonger’s last Friday, I came across this [apparently] homeless individual calmly sleeping on the pavement at 9.30 in the morning.  I thought that if the rather sophisticated electric bicycle beside him, on the right of the photo, belonged this sedate slumberer there was something strange about him. So I enquired of the fishmonger if he was to be found there every day and got a positive response.  And then there was an addendum. Every day, it seems, they move him further down the footpath as he was impedes the comings and goings of the clientele, but he always seems to come back.  This was followed by a comment that he probably has sufficient funds at his disposal to purchase a Boeing jet, which suggested that the fishmonger had some prior knowledge of state of the sleeper’s mind!

A couple of years ago, when new street signs went up in Tel Aviv, I noticed that the name of the British author of the turn of the 19th into the 20th century, Israel Zangwill, had been misspelled and moreover, poor Zangwill had been demoted from a “street” to just a “lane”.

However, last week, I was pleased to observe that he’d been restored to his true and former glories, so that I can now end this post on a positive note.

And here’s to the next time.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K8ApUuO42ZU

 

 

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A note from Israel’s politicians

Israeli Democracy, May 2021

It appears that I haven’t posted anything for four weeks, mainly because I didn’t think there was anything worthwhile to write about on this blog and, anyway, I wasn’t I the mood. That’s the longest period of inactivity on this blog since I started writing in December 2015. And then yesterday, I had an email from a friend who has been reading this stuff for five years and usually turns up with an apt comment—or several apt comments—four or five days after I post.  He wrote: “[Neither] pics nor rants reached me lately. Are you ok?”  I am OK, more or less, except when I have the bad luck to listen to the news and I really try hard not to listen, watch or read not because I want to remain ignorant of what is happening (the opposite is true  as it happens).  I listen to five minutes of news on the radio at 6 in the morning and sometimes just the headlines at on TV around 8 p.m. and that’s it for the rest is so soul-destroying.  For some peculiar reason, probably the result of a tendency to self-harm, I glance through the pages of The Guardian and Haaretz, two newspapers that appear compete with one another with great delight in reporting the ills of the world, including criticism of the Israeli government (the latter being a competition won hands down by Haaretz, if only because most of its news deals with Israel).

However, there have been sufficient “stories”, magnified by what always sounds like a panic-stricken broadcast media determined to turn listeners and viewers into a panic-stricken public, to make me want to rant again.  The fact is that when I found myself shouting at the TV and radio at the mention of certain individuals and their untruths, I began to worry myself and I took myself off for a session with a therapist I know to talk things over.

So where to start? Well, sitting in a taxi a couple of weeks ago en route to an appointment with a physiotherapist in town, the driver’s radio (one of the things one has to get used to in Israel is that on a bus or in a taxi, as often as not a radio is relaying either a news broadcast or a chat show on which all sorts of disturbed people express their views on a variety of topics, usually egged on by the  interviewer to produce weirder and weirder views) reported the attempted suicide of one, Yehuda Meshi Zahav, the co-founder and chairman of the ZAKA emergency service.  Meshi Zahav had been taken to hospital in Jerusalem in critical condition following his attempted suicide, apparently by hanging, leaving a note in which he asked that his good deeds be remembered.  He had resigned from the ZAKA organization in March of this year immediately after several allegations of sexual assault had been levelled against him and as a result he announced that he would not accept the prestigious Israel Prize for his charitable works, an award which he was to have received on Israel’s Independence Day.

It was reported that he had left a suicide note in which he wrote: “I am sorry. I have already received my punishment, and please make an effort to remember me for the good things I have done. I have always loved and I feel very much ashamed.”  I presume that Mr. Meshi Zahav is still alive as it hasn’t been reported otherwise and although one shouldn’t prejudge, the very facts that he resigned from the organization he had founded, declined a prestigious award and then tried suicide, says as much as I want to know.  Members of ZAKA, most of them strictly Orthodox Jews, assist ambulance crews, aid in the identification of terrorism victims, and other disasters and, where necessary, gather body parts for proper Jewish burial. They also provide help with the search for missing persons and participate in international rescue and recovery operations.  What was particularly galling in this episode, beyond the alleged misdeeds themselves, is that it appears that many people knew what was going on, including the police, but nothing happened.

At one stage, I was reminded of the misdeeds of one Jimmy Savile, an English television and radio personality who raised an estimated £40 million for charities and, during his lifetime, was widely praised for his personal qualities and as a fund-raiser. However, after his death, hundreds of allegations of sexual abuse were made against him, leading police to conclude that he had been a predatory sex offender and although there had been allegations during his lifetime, they were dismissed and his accusers ignored or disbelieved, Savile taking legal action against some of them.  Almost a year after his death, an ITV documentary examined claims of sexual abuse by Savile, leading to media coverage and a rapidly growing body of witness statements and sexual abuse claims. Scotland Yard investigated allegations of child sex abuse by Savile spanning over 60 years and the investigation concluded that he had sexually assaulted men, women and children aged between 5 and 75 over several decades.  Again, people knew and nothing happened, an interesting parallel to what occurred here in Israel.

Israel’s politicians seemed to have disappeared from the scene for a few days but then a fortnight ago, they returned to the to the front line again with the [apparently illegal] appointment of a Minister for Justice.  The [seemingly permanently interim] Prime Minister, Mr. Netanyahu, was having some difficulty forming a coalition but nevertheless, having been warned by the Attorney-General and by the President of the Supreme Court, not to involve himself in judicial appointments, that is exactly what he did, by appointing one of his acolytes/sidekicks/attack dogs, Mr. Ofir Akunis, (a man I see occasionally walking in the park and prone to taking selfies while doing so) to the job after the mandate of the Acting Minister of Justice, Mr. Gantz, (the co-called “Alternate Prime Minister”) came to an end. (It should be remembered that Mr. Netanyahu is not a Prime Minister under investigation nor is he one who has been indicted for a criminal offence but one who is currently on trial in the first of three scheduled trials in which it has been determined that criminal acts have been committed.  In a normal country,  he might have taken leave of absence while under investigation and possibly would have when indicted.  But Israel, it seems, is not a normal country and there he is, three days a week on trial and eight days a week trying to form a government with a parliamentary majority so that he can legislate the termination of this current trial and prevent the others from starting.  If that isn’t, in gross and crass understatement, an embarassment to the State of Israel, I don’t know what is.  At the same time, in just an ordinary gross euphemism, it’s scandalous.  But nothing seemed to worry Bibi — until the following day — when Mr. Akunis’ appointment was withdrawn.

Minister for a half a day (left). Yarqon Park, Tel Aviv. 2017

 

However, the crème de la crème of scandals and tragedies occurred last Friday on Mount Meiron in the Galilee.  Mount Meiron houses the grave of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and in the words of a former colleague from Haifa, Professor Noga Collins-Kreiner, “is one of the most important graves in Israel…located on the slopes of Mt. Meron. The Ministry of Religions estimates that 2,000,000 visits are paid to the site every year. Shimon Bar Yochai was a rabbi who lived in an era of the Tannaim (Mishnah scholars during the Roman period), after the destruction of the Second Temple… he is traditionally attributed with the authorship of the Zohar the main work of the Kabbalah and Jewish mysticism.”——something that hardly appeals to me very much.

Last Friday was the holiday of Lag b’Omer, a “free day” during the Omer, the period between Passover and Pentecost (Pesach and Shavuoth) and is the day of the year on which pilgrims, mostly religious and Haredi (strictly Orthodox), congregate to celebrate a hillula, a sort of ecstatic revelry at the shrine of the esteemed Rabbi Shimon.  Watching the TV news on Thursday night (something I rarely do but I  wanted to find out what was happening in the coalition negotiations), I was treated to interviews with two participants who had arrived early for the merrymaking, both stating that they had come to celebrate and that nobody could stop them from doing so, especially as last year’s outing was severely restricted because of Corona.  As I listened, and as it had been reported that the police had said they could control a crowd of up to 10,000 but reports were coming in of an expected 100-150,000, I started to think that this was a disaster just waiting to happen.  And when I turned on the radio at 6 the following morning, the disaster had happened with 45 people dead from the crush and another 150 injured and hospitalized.

It happened but will we ever know who is responsible?  The Prime Minister turned up 12 hours after the event to declare a national day of mourning on Sunday and that flags would be lowered to half-mast, not exactly what I might have expected from a leader.  So, reluctantly, I had to conclude that he’s not really a leader because I might have thought he would announce the establishment of National Commission of Inquiry. But then, I am naïve. A National Commission of Inquiry is unlikely to come into being because it would have to be headed by a Supreme Court judge and Bibi is not very keen on that species.  And anyway, heaven has apparently decided that he can only be associated with success stories such as vaccinations and not with disasters (Mount Meron).  The Minister for Internal Security had announced publicly before the tragedy that anyone who wanted to turn up at Meron on Lag b’Omer was welcome and obviously, lots of people listened to the young minister and diligently obeyed his words of wisdom.  After the event, he stated that the responsibility—but not the guilt—was his, whatever that is supposed to mean.  The Minister for Religious Services, himself a convicted criminal, seems to have vanished entirely from the scene.  And meanwhile, 45 people are dead for no reason other than irresponsibility or negligence and perhaps even worse and it will likely be swept under the carpet, not to be mentioned again.

How far Israel has come from November 1976, when a journalist gave the police information on various matters raising suspicions of offences committed by Avraham Ofer, then the Minister of Housing, including allegations of embezzlement in favour of the party of which he was a member. On examining the charges, the police concluded that they were unsubstantiated.  Ofer expected an official statement clearing him but the then Attorney General, Aharon Barak, later to become President of the Supreme Court, decided to continue with the investigation based on a new testimony and by January the Prime Minister and Justice Minister assured Ofer that everything possible would be done to expedite the inquiry.  However, on January 3, his body was found in his car on a Tel Aviv beach with a suicide note, stating that he was innocent, but did not have the strength “to bear any more.”

Aah, those were the days!  And it’s so much easier to wonder who financed the refurbishment of the flat in 10 Downing Street!

Meanwhile, President Rivlin chose not to extend Netanyahu’s mandate to form a coalition, tasking Yair Lapid with the job.  In partnership with Naftali Bennett, Mr.Lapid will try to come to some arrangement to form a stable government, rather like trying to build a house on quicksand, but their task will be no easier than Bibi’s.  Whatever is going on in the Knesset is going on solely among the politicians; Israel’s voters have been truly and absolutely forgotten, if they were ever remembered at all as soon as the last election took place.  The only thing that a majority seems to be keen on is that we don’t need a fifth election in this series, although Netanyahu might like one, but it’s 50-50 that that’s what we’ll get—not that it would solve anything.  Meanwhile the politicians are continuing to pull the rugs from under one another and competing to see who can spit a more poisonous venom further than anyone else.  And if Bibi ever returns to the picture by one method or another, I shouldn’t think that any of his sidekicks will be feeling any job security as he has always treated his ministers as some mothers treat disposable diapers — use them to clear up the mess and then get rid of them a.s.a.p.

That said, any more relating to politics is definitely out in this post so I think I’ll let some photos speak for themselves.  I’m still going through the first round of my photo collection and have managed to reduce over 44,000 photos by almost a third, and that is hardly sufficient.  Working through them chronologically, I have now arrived at June 2020, so when I eventually get around to reviewing May 2021, within the next couple of days, I start over again before matching up images that I’ve taken many times from different angles and in different light conditions and choosing just two or three of the better ones and either junking the rest or sending them off to a “neutral resting ground” where they won’t interfere with the better pics.

It’s actually an interesting exercise because I come across all sorts of things that I hadn’t really noticed before.  For example, on my early morning walks through the local park, Tel Aviv Port and the streets in the north of the city, there were people whose paths I crossed almost on a daily basis, sometimes when an opportunity arose, photographing them.  Im am constantly amazed by things I pass daily and which never seemed to have been there before. Going through 14 years of photos, I noticed that in about half a dozen cases, there were people I had photographed often and who suddenly vanish, never to be seen again.  Id they were younger people, I might have assumed that they had moved away.  However, with the older ones, I fear they may have moved away to a more peaceful place and I find that somewhat disconcerting, to say the least.

I also noticed that I have a propensity to take pictures of certain things.  Photographing people while in a bus or a train is something I enjoy doing;  I find that looking at people when they are travelling is fascinating.  Mostly, it’s a record of boredom but sometimes there are individuals people in conversation or doing something useful like reading a book or even a newspaper.  On the London Underground in the morning, it’s not uncommon to find eyes being made up en route to work (that is, in pre-Corona days), a particularly difficult exercise to perform but one which, with much skill and adequate practice, some women appear to seem particularly adept.

I have lots of images of people with mobile phones.  In fact, what we did before the invention of these social/antisocial weapons of mass destruction, I do not know.  Then there are the street signs which appear all over the place.  I don’t mean just the names of streets but things that appear in shop windows or outside on a placard and which convey messages, sometimes overt, other times covert.  Looking at these photographs taken over the years cast into memory me a day about five or six years ago when my eldest granddaughter, Gali, who had just started to read, discovered that words are not just symbols hidden away in books but appear everywhere you go.  This amazing discovery happened suddenly on a single day and she couldn’t wait to get back into the streets to find more grocery shops, butchers, bookshops, pharmacies and whatever, because most things out there are labelled

So, without further ado, let’s have a look.

Walking around London one day, I came across this sign, so I called Fred and applied for the job but was told that my background rendered me culturally unsuitable for the job, so I just shrugged it off and went back to photographing.

… and London is full of blue plaques telling who lived or slept or visited where, such as  …

… on the other side of the street …

In Israel, one is often reminded of the dangers of living in a part of the world fraught with danger, as in this sign directing people to a public shelter.

And public morals must be maintained at all costs.

That was clear enough although there are some signs for which guesswork works overtime.  The sign says that access to cars and motorbikes is prohibited and the upper part of the graphic seemingly refers to that.  However, what on earth does the bottom graphic mean?

Whereas some signs leave one guessing, others leave their readers in no doubt as to what is intended.

This sign in Regents Park in London was there long before Coronavirus lockdowns.

I often think that this sign should appear not only on streets in Israeli cities but at the exit from the arrivals area at Ben-Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv.

These two signs, one from Tel Aviv and the other from London complement one another say the same thing but the upper one, taken in the Israeli cultural context being a bit of a joke and the lower one, from London, definitely to be taken seriously.

And then there are the notices that relate to accessibility.

What happens if you’re bursting and don’t have a mobile phone?

And after you’ve climbed the three or four steps to read clearly what is written …

… you discover that you can’t get in anyway because the bell is disabled, too.

Some signs are fascinating.  This one informs us that south is straight ahead whereas north is to the right, which is not what I learned in geography a long time ago.

And sometimes you have to look down rather than straight ahead to upwards to see the relative signs.  However, although this is designed to lure unsuspecting tourists, somebody might be disappointed because having worked themselves into a frenzy, the six characters in Hebrew say “Without sex”!

And these photos bring me to another bugbear, namely misspellings.

And although the honourable judge might have been an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, he might have been a little put out to think that Tel Aviv Municipality might have considered that he had something to do with spirits.

And one is reminded always that Israeli is a multicultural country and the sign on the side of a Tel Aviv bus reminds us not that the Hebrew transliteration is all that accurate!

And there is always the chance that the multilingual sign in the Yarqon Park might save a life——if you could figure out how to operate the machine, that is!

And who says that the British always know how to spell correctly in English?

In Hampstead Village, NW3

And I’ve always been fascinated by this reminder of Brexit in shop window in Tel Aviv.

Finally, to return to where I started — Bibi Netanyahu, for in his announcement yesterday, televised in real time, he warned Israelis that should Messrs. Lapid and Bennett succeed in forming a coalition, then Israel will be ruled by a dangerous left-wing government.  Really?

Another Jew who believed in dangerous left-wing government? Highgate Cemetery, London

And that’s it for now.  Just remember to be serious some of the time.  (To be continued,  perhaps).  Have a great weekend.

 

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To be or not to Bibi

Reading Power Station, Tel Aviv

I’ve been quiet for over a couple of weeks and for all sorts of reasons.

Just before my last post, Israel had just voted itself into a situation that couldn’t really have been imagined a year ago and then, three days after the voters had created the democratic equivalent of hara-kiri, we were struck by that annual stoppage festival called Pesach or Passover when the effects of devouring unleavened bread (matzah) cannot be undone by even a copious consumption of stewed fruit and other foodstuffs designed to soften the blow.

One week of agony and another to recover from the attack.  Perhaps an operation to excise the stuff might be appropriate?

 

However, not all came to a standstill during Passover week, and “informal discussions” took place among politicians and political parties as to which might be able to form a stable governing coalition with which.  However, although the commentators on the TV channels, radio stations and newspapers, not to mention “social media”, expended much time and energy on speculating on what might happen, I was reminded me of an article many years ago written by Matthew Parris, a British writer for conservative outlets, who made me fully aware about the need to be skeptical about what appears in daily newspapers  when he explained that when a journalist is contracted to write 800 words or so once, twice or thrice a week but has nothing worthwhile to write, s/he must nevertheless fulfil their contractual duties. And so it had been proven time and again over the past three weeks.

Finally, last Monday, Israel’s State President, Reuven Rivlin, spent the day “consulting” with representatives of the 13 political parties elected the Knesset as to whom they would recommend that he select as the first victim in the attempt to cobble together a coalition and, as nobody had received a majority of recommendations, he had little choice but to let the current and continuing interim Prime Minister to have a go.  (This, of course, is a joke—you’re all meant to smile silently while reading this).

Politicians rushing to the President’s residence to recommend selection of Prime Minister

The irony of all this was that just as Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud representatives were entering the President’s Residence in Jerusalem to put forward his fitness to serve as Prime Minister once again, the Prime Minister himself was exiting the Jerusalem District Court which he had been obliged to attend in person for half an hour before the first witness for the prosecution began to present his evidence in this, the first of Bibi’s trials for corruption, abuse of power and all the rest.

On emerging, Mr. Netanyahu launched into a tirade in which he accused the state prosecutors of “hypocrisy” and of leading a “witch hunt” against him, averring that the police investigation and the prosecution constituted an effort by the country’s law enforcement officers to “trample democracy” in Israel and subvert the will of the electorate!  Up until then, I had thought, naïvely it seems, that in a democracy it was the job of the police to investigate and of the prosecution service to prosecute (but not to persecute, as I had originally written in a typo).  Perhaps I’ve been misled over the past seven decades? (This outburst was interesting, as in his first post-election statement a few days earlier, he had said that will of the electorate was clearly shown to have a right-wing government.  Although this was a disappointment to me personally (in severe understatement), he neglected to mention that the results of the election did, indeed, show a desire to have a right-wing government but they also showed that a significant number of so-called right-wing voters had expressed a clear preference for someone else to lead that right-wing government!).  He accused the prosecution team of acting illegally and senior Justice Ministry and police officials retaliated by saying that Netanyahu’s claims were false, they in turn accusing him of seeking to intimidate the court.  Moreover, they also stated that security precautions for protecting the lead prosecutor, who he had specifically targeted in his paroxysm, needed to be reviewed.

Netanyahu, for his part, denies any wrongdoing and claims—without any evidence—that the charges were fabricated simply in order to remove him from power.  In other words, the police and prosecution were attempting to stage a coup against the legally elected leader. (He actually said this.) “The entire process against me was marked by the heavy-handed abuse of the powers of… the prosecution,” he said, “the investigations against the prime minister of Israel [were opened] illegally… in breach of a Basic Law.” “It’s a witch hunt. They didn’t investigate a crime, they didn’t look for a crime; they hunted for a man, they hunted me.”

Strong words, indeed, all of which makes a mockery of the words proclaimed at the end of each stage of the ceremony on the eve of Independence Day, which falls this coming week, when chosen individuals light a candle and state, “לתפארת מדינת ישראל” (which translates as “To the glory of the State of Israel”). It has just struck me that should Mr. Netanyahu choose to resign and perhaps retire to the UK (mind you, it can’t be early retirement because he’ll be 72 in October), he could, without much effort, compete with the largest of the UK’s fish and chip chains, given the heavy weight of the many chips he carries on each shoulder!

Later the same day, Mr. Netanyahu delivered yet another speech, at the opening ceremony of Holocaust Memorial Day.  In this oration, he referred to the possibility of renewing the international talks about an agreement with Iran on the issue of restricting its nuclear development.  In that speech, he said that “history has taught us that agreements such as these, with extremist regimes, are worth about as much as the skin on a piece of garlic.”  This particular item was reported on the news the following morning at 6 a.m. (why I listen to five minutes of news at that ungodly hour is beyond me), and I thought that there must also be some Israeli politicians silently smiling or loudly guffawing with me and coming to the same conclusion about any agreement they might have signed in the past or might sign in the future with the same Mr. Netanyahu!  Oh how I envy the Brits at times to have a real royal family they can take pride in or grieve over or whatever, rather than the ersatz variety that we have here.

At this stage, with the premiership on my mind, I might just add that I’ve spent several days over the past week “bingeing” in front of the television, something I’ve never done before.  The object of my curiosity and enjoyment has been the Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister programmes on BBC television from between 35 and over 40 years ago, a series starring the late Paul Eddington as the bumbling minister/Prime Minister, Jim Hacker, (played by the late Paul Eddington) and his senior civil servant, Sir Humphrey Appleby, a master of obfuscation and manipulation (played by the late Nigel Hawthorne).  I remember watching the programmes a long time ago and thinking that they very humorous and very clever, but this time around, older and more cynical and more disillusioned, I am enjoying the brilliance of the dialogue — written by Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn (who is incidentally, a nephew of Israel’s former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Abba Eban, and first cousin of the neurologist and writer, Oliver Sacks).

Reaching Episode 5 of the first series of Yes Prime Minister, there was a conversation between Jim Hacker and his Private Secretary, Bernard Woolley (played by the late Derek Fowlds), and which was recorded (compliments of Jonathan Lynn) in Hacker’s diary:

Annie [Hacker’s wife] thought — still thinks, for all I know — that the Prime Minister is completely in charge. It’s a fallacy. A leader can only lead by consent.
“So who is in charge, if you’re not?” asked Annie, rather perplexed.
I was perplexed by her question. There didn’t seem to be an answer. I thought for a bit. “Nobody really”, I said finally.
“Is that good?” She was even more perplexed.
“It must be”, I replied hopelessly. “Thats what democracy is all about.”
“Annie! I wasn’t in control when I was a Minister, was I?”
“No”, she said, “but I thought that was just you.”
Annie, like the press and the media, keeps harping on about control. But the point about government is that no one has control. Lots of people have the power to stop something happening — but almost nobody has the power to make anything happen. We have a system of government with the engine of a lawn-mower and the brakes of a Rolls-Royce.
Of course I’d never say any of this in public. The electorate would interpret this as defeatism. It’s not, though! Its the truth! And I am going to fight it.
Actually, what I’ve been doing for much of the past 10 days (not all that successfully, I might add) is going through the photographs I’ve taken over the past 14 years and attempting to thin them out before trying to organized them properly once and for all.  There were 44,000 of them at the start and I’ve found that if it wasn’t such a difficult task in itself, there are so many memories incorporated within them that it makes the task even more onerous — but it’s a chore that has to be done. And while doing it, I’ve concluded that although I’m not a professional (had I been, I’d probably have spent most of my time at weddings and barmitzvahs and such like), I’ve taken some good (and interesting) photos, many of which I’d forgotten about entirely!  So here’s a very short selection (some of which have appeared before), replete with comments and more, undoubtedly, will follow.
 
I enjoy taking photographs when travelling on the London Underground.  People are generally so busy reading or looking at their phones or applying their makeup that they don’t have the time or the interest to notice an old guy on the opposite side of the aisle with a camera.  So, a few years ago, one day, I noticed what was happening opposite me.  There were two young teenagers busy with their phones — at least one of them was.  The other one, to my right, looked at his for about 10 seconds and then his eyes would look rightward before returning to his phone’s screen.  And then I looked to my left and and noticed what had attracted his attention —  and she had noticed him and she knew exactly what she was doing.
When I take photographs, there’s something about symmetry that always seems to attract me.
It might be the windows in a building, like the Boots store on Oxford Street in London that stares back at you when you look at it and which changes from hour to hour and day to day with changing light conditions.
Things don’t always present themselves as clearly as the windows over a shop on Oxford Street.  Yet, if you keep your eyes open you discover interesting things.  Lawn Road is a street in Belsize Park in Northwest London that runs from Upper Park Road to Fleet Road.  Part of the footpath along this street was laid with red bricks many years ago and walking along one day, I noticed that a single brick out of what must be several thousand, had been laid upside down, although whether accidentally or on purpose, I have no idea.  Anyway, as Lunsford Brickyard ceased production as such well over 40 years ago, this gives some very rough estimate as to when the footpath was laid.  And this is the sort fo thing that ex-geographers seem to spot.
Every now and then I take photographs of people — not portraits but photographs.
A few years ago, I shot a photograph of this individual, seated along a main street in Catania, in Sicily.  It was shot as I was passing by; I don’t think I even stopped to take it.
Exactly half an hour or so later (so the times on the photos tell me), and walking in the opposite direction back to the hotel, he noticed me, beckoned me over, and this time posed for the camera.
And it seems that even over 50 years ago, I was taking photographs that there not quite the snapshots — the one below taken on honeymoon in Connemara in 1966.
And sometimes, I find myself attracted to a specific characteristic of an individual, in this case while walking along Haverstock Hill in Belsize Park, London, a pair of eyebrows beckoned me to record them.
Finally, one of my favourites, taken while coming off Hampstead Heath one morning.  The original was shot in colour because the camera was set for colour. But I knew as soon as I looked in the viewfinder that it had to be in black and white; the colour photograph in a nothing whereas this picture asks a thousand unanswered (and unanswerable) questions.
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Animal Farm

The Netherlands 17, Israel 13

The Dutch, who managed to elect 17 parties to their 150-seat parliament last week were hands down victors this virtual competition; Israel could only manage 13 parties in its 120-seat Knesset this week. Still, that was quite an achievement as several years ago, the quota for gaining representation in Israel’s parliament was raised to 3.25% of the total valid vote supposedly in order to prevent small parties from interfering with the smooth running of government.  It seems as if those political machinations by some myopic politicians who thought they were being very farsighted haven’t really succeeded.

And as in a saying often attributed to Albert Einstein, but apparently misattributed because according to Google, someone traced the original back to a mystery novelist, Rita Mae Brown, who credited the quote to a fictional “Jane Fulton” in her 1983 book “Sudden Death“.  Ms. Brown wrote: “Unfortunately, Susan didn’t remember what Jane Fulton once said. ‘Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.’”

Whether it was Einstein or a fictional character in a mystery novel published by Bantam Books in 1983, Israeli voters (or about two-thirds of them) went to the polls for the fourth time in under two years with the sole purpose of providing the serving Prime Minister with the gift of a LXI majority, the 61 votes he needs to make it a retroactive law that a sitting Prime Minister cannot be put on trial.

Some went to the polls enthusiastically; others less so.

Israeli voters head to the polls again for the fourth time in under two years.

Prior to the election, the electorate was subjected to all sorts of promises and untruths by the candidates, speaking on behalf of their nebulous parties (Israel’s elected politicians never have to face the voters as responsible individuals) all of which boiled down to whether or not one wished to see the same man ru[i]n the country or give someone else (anyone else, it seems, irrespective of any clear plans they might have had) the opportunity to do something.

We were beckoned by the politicians over the past two months since the election campaign officially began (unofficially, it started immediately after the results of the third election were announced) to come forward and cast our vote for their party.

Vote for us and we’ll promise you the world!

Not every voter was convinced of the promises she or he was hearing and regarded them with different levels of curiosity and skepticism.

 

You REALLY want me to vote for YOU and your pals? Come on!

 

Say that again and this time, look me in the eye!

 

I’m serious! Explain to me in simple words the long spiel you’ve just delivered (or can you?)!

However, notwithstanding the untruths and all the rest of the nonsense, a majority of the voters carried out their civic duty and went to the polls and put a piece of paper with the party symbol into an envelope and thrust it into the ballot box to be counted.   (Some others exercised the privilege that a democracy extends to them and elected not to vote.  I frown on this reluctance but in retrospect, the breadth of the choices placed in front of us made the decision —— to vote or not to vote — a difficult one.)

The Israeli floating voter takes a bow and makes his presence felt

And I might add that once a decision had been made and one had chosen to vote, things didn’t get any easier.)

Secret votes are part and parcel of the democratic process, so let me get on with it and hump off!

Of course, the whole point of the election as well as aiming to provide stable government, is to produce an fairer society or at least one, the members of which, are able to live with one another.

Peaceful coexistence

And so we went to the polls…

Yes, that’s the way we are!

… and performed our civic duty and after the process of opening envelopes and tallying their contents, we were officially informed of the unenviable political impasse that we had cast ourselves into.

Some people were so shocked that it made their hair stand on end.

Others made light of it.

It’s just a bad joke — nothing to get upset about!

Yet others were saddened by the whole thing and had sleepless nights over it

I feel like crying all day and all night long

As for stable government, it’s not going to happen.

Stable government? It would be so boring!

And that’s because immediately the results were announced, the illusion of stable government frittered away and we were left with what has become par for the course in Israeli politics — horse-trading, replete with blinkers.

In the sort of horse-trading (or dog-trading, it seems) that goes on after an Israeli election, the rule of the game is:

 

And then the search for suitable coalition partners begins in earnest.

It think that we might be able to work well together!

 

The less said, the better!

But keeping control of the beasties that make up Israeli politics and what makes it so exciting is that some of them stick together and are unwilling under any circumstances to attach themselves to other parties.

We have promised to stick together — you can’t separate us!

Others sit on the fence and wait to be approached by one party leader or another.

 

I’m waiting. Someone must want me with them.

Others wait patiently, expecting someone to recognize their usefulness.

Foreign Ministry? Finance? OK, I’ll settle for Natural Resources. Just give me a job.

There are those who walk around in festive dress and just know that nothing can happen without their being there.

My leader says that you can’t do without me!

Others just want to hide away and have nothing to do with what’s going on.

Bottoms up!

 

And while the larger parties need smaller ones in their coalition and while they say without interruption that they will honour all their agreements and promises, what they’re really thinking about is something else entirely.

Do as we say or else this is what you can expect!

 

The long and the sort of it is that we have thrown ourselves into a stockpile of pig shit!

Pig and pigswill

And I hate to say it, but the problem might be soluble

HaYarqon Street, Tel Aviv. Election campaign 2013

And to those of you to whom it concerns, have a happy Pesach and be careful with the matzah.  And in case I don’t manage a post next week, to those of you who celebrate Easter, have a happy holiday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Cellphones, coffee, cockroaches

I know, I know.  I promised that I wouldn’t write anything about the once-again-upcoming Israeli election until the final results are published and so I won’t.  Having said that, I was sent one of these things that circulate on WhatsApp and other such outlets that was so apt that it seemed a pity to miss out.  So without writing about the election, I will just post.  (Readers of Hebrew can plough straight ahead; I provide translation/explanation for others.). Though Mr. Netanyahu has been courting Arab voters of late, I shall reserve comment on that for another time perhaps.

The caption reads:  “Netanyahu arrived at a Bedouin settlement and asked the mukhtar (village chief): “What is the most pressing problem in the settlement?”.  The mukhtar replied: “We have two problems”, to which the Prime Minister responded “What’s the first one?” and the answer was: “We have a clinic but we don’t have a doctor.”  At this point, the PM borrowed the mukhtar’s cellphone and spoke aside for about 20 seconds, returned it to the mukhtar and said “It’s all sorted”.  “And what’s your second problem?” asked Netanyahu, to which the mukhtar replied: “We don’t have cellphone reception in this settlement.”  And that more or less sums up the situation!

Anyway, to move on from there.  Yesterday (Thursday, or at least I think it was), I sat in a café with a friend for the first time in what seemed like a very long time.

So when I got home, I decided that I would perform a reality check and yes, the last time I was in a restaurant or café was on Sunday March 8 2020.  Over a year ago.  I find it quite incredible but it did happen.

And looking back on the calendar from last March, what I read seemed somewhat familiar.  It read as follows:

March 2: Election Day (and that was only the third one, the previous two having been on April 9 2019 and September 17 2019)

March 3: Fly El Al to London at 09.05; then receive grocery delivery in London at 17.00 (grocery delivery was yesterday afternoon in Tel Aviv)

March 5: Meeting

March 7: Concert, Israeli Chamber Project (missed because I was in London); their next concert in tomorrow evening down the street.  I’m going!

March 8:  Lunch with friends and Dinner with a friend (the last visit to restaurant)

March 10:  Purim.  David Hockney exhibition. Afternoon tea with friends.  Dinner with more friends.

March 12: Fly back to Tel Aviv

March 13: Start a fortnight’s self-isolation

March 27: End quarantine

March 29: Start lockdown

Sound familiar?  And that was a year ago!

 

L. O. C. K D. O. W. N.

Meanwhile I’ve sort of settled into a routine.  Awake at 05.30.  Listen to the news at 06.00, which is thankfully a short bulletin that lasts at most 7 minutes but which provides me with much of the information I need to get through the day ahead and a lot more that I don’t need to hear at all.  This usually include the results of the latest election forecasts based on polls of small samples and which, in Israel, are usually inaccurate anyway, because I suspect that many of the people polled are not forthright with the answers they give.  I am also updated as to how many murders have been committed in Israel’s Arab sector (seems like two or three every night) which is just the kind of news one likes to hear on awakening), which public figure is suspected of sexual harassment or worse, and most importantly, whether to not I need to take a sweater or just a teeshirt when I go out for my morning walk.

As I’ve said, Israel is opening up again.  Shops and malls, cafés and restaurants are open again and full…

The clients haven’t arrived yet but they’ll come for sure. Tel Aviv Port, mid-March 2021.

… which makes a big change from just a couple of weeks ago.

There won’t be any clients today but they’ll come for sure some day soon. Tel Aviv Port, early March 2021

Yarqon Park provides its usual complement of early morning exercisers and their instructors.

I’ve been spotted — but there’s little she can do about from that position. Yarqon Park.

The park also provides us with any number of free riders that pass by the photographer and his camera.  All that is needed is awareness and alertness.

There’s also barefoot in the park but unfortunately, there’s no Jane Fonda or Robert Redford to go with the pair of feet that obviously will need a thorough scrubbing and cleaning when he gets home.

 

In addition to riders and runners, one also comes across others—  surfers in full battle dress, for instance, on their way back home from some fun in the sea.

I also keep an eye of this hydrant guy, who I photograph from time to time and whose giant Afro seems to have got out of hand recently.  Perhaps the stylist who attends to his coiffure hasn’t yet heard that lockdown is coming to an end and that he can go back to work!

But it’s not all fun and games.  Occasionally, a walk through the park makes you aware of history and historical geography and that things change over time!

And this blog wouldn’t be this blog without a couple of bird pictures.  This time round, I’ve chosen two images of Israel’s national bird, the hoopoe — or to use its Hebrew name — du-khi-phat.  It’s not a easy bird to photograph as it has a tendency to stay still only for a very short time before it prods around with its beak looking for goodness only  knows what.

However, having said that, occasionally one will choose to open up its distinctive “crown” of feathers and it’s always something worth seeing and catching an image of, if you can.

And back on the street after coffee yesterday, this WOLT delivery man isn’t wasting any time while waiting for the traffic lights to change en route to bringing his goodies to a hungry client possibly from some popular eatery or maybe a top-class restaurant.  Pandemic or no pandemic, somebody has done well out of the situation.

WOLT deliveryman (and others) in traffic at Dizengoff Circus, Tel Aviv

And as the weather was fine yesterday, some people took advantage of it, like this young man amidst the traffic and throng at Milano Square, just about 400m from the house …

    

And walking the streets, if you keep your eyes open, you come across all sorts of interesting things such as this neighborhood notice board of which there are hundreds around the city …

… or what seemed at first glance to be some large stick insect untilI looked a little closer and saw that it was something else entirely.

The more observant of you might have noticed that not all the pictures that I’ve posted today have been taken in the past 10 days.   However, as I mentioned in my last post, I will include some more older photos that appealed to me as I trawled through my collection, and add some comments as to how and why I bothered.

One morning a few years ago, while walking north along Ibn Gvirol Street, one of Tel Aviv’s busy north-south arteries, the traffic was stopped at the traffic lights at Arlozoroff Street.  Out of nowhere, from a little behind me, this guy came running out into the middle of the street and chose a car, one with a woman driver, to perform his precious act of bible reading.  The cars must have been stuck there for a good 90 seconds and I have no idea of what the driver thought of the scene that was being acted out on the hood of her car as she waited to pull away.  I can’t remember but I assume that the scene ended when the traffic started to move again but a picture is a picture!

And while one waits to cross a street at a junction, one never has any idea of what is about to appear.  I was waiting for the light to change to allow me to cross Pinkas Street in Tel Aviv at the junction with Ibn Gvirol.  Just before the light changed to allow me to cross, this is what I saw ride up.  As the camera was primed, I didn’t waste any time; there wasn’t even any to look in the monitor or the viewfinder; I just clicked and hoped for the best.  And as I crossed, the ride with helmet, mask, jacket and riding pants asked me “Did you just take my picture?” to which, as I moved on, I responded in the positive— and I’m glad I  did [take the picture]!

 

A few years ago, we drove down to Regent’s Park in London.  On the east side of the park, there is (or was) a sculpture garden and as my eye is always attracted to symmetry, I took several photos of this one.  What I liked about it was that the metal on the periphery of the side on which I stood is in sharp focus whereas what is on the other side of the tubing is—naturally—out of focus.

Inner Rings? Outer Rings? Regent’s Park, London

 

I took this photograph while she was sitting on a bench just off Yehuda HaMaccabi Street in Tel Aviv.  What attracted my attention at first was the sound of very loud wheezing and a rasping cough. When I eventually located where the noise was coming from, I pointed the camera and focussed.  Not what I would call a pretty picture but certainly an interesting one, one that cries out about the dangers of smoking to one’s health.  The cigarette has just been lit and the necessary equipment to light the next one is at hand, too.

A propos this picture, a fascinating read is the following:

Published in 2005, the book relates the invention of mass marketing which led to cigarettes being emblazoned in advertising and film, deeply tied to modern notions of glamour and sex appeal. No product has been so  deeply entrenched in American consciousness and none has received such sustained scientific scrutiny. It was the development of new medical knowledge that demonstrated the dire harms of smoking that ultimately shaped the evolution of evidence-based medicine with the tobacco industry engineering a campaign of scientific disinformation in order to delay, disrupt, and suppress these studies. Well worth the read!

The final picture is one that used to greet us when we returned home from a longish stay in London, especially in summer.  Dead cockroaches do not provide a particularly pretty or interesting picture, but I took this one at the bottom of the stairwell of the building not long after Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un had met.  Looking at the original picture, I decided to embellish it and then looking at the enrichment I had given it, I came to the conclusion that instead of being a picture of two cockroaches, it represented the pair of presidents cracking up after they had managed to fool the world into thinking that perhaps they had discussed something serious when, after all, it was just a fun meeting between two serious people who happened to hit it off!

Good luck on Tuesday to those of us voting and let your conscience rather than tactics sway you !

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Birds, zebras and hydrants (among other things!)

I was reproached last week by an old friend who has recently–[fairly recently, I might add]—become a reader of this blog.  She told me that the anger that I feel inside of me is palpable in the words I write; in fact, it’s too strong.  I guess that she didn’t have to be over-preceptive to detect that, and as I no longer have a live-in toner-down of what I write, I do tend to go overboard sometimes.  And yes, I do get angry from time to time, mainly as a result of the actions and the inaction of politicians and the general way in which in a democracy, many of them are incapable of seeing past the next election.  Still, I think I prefer to be in that situation rather than to suffer what unfortunates in dictatorships have to live through.  Nevertheless, having written that, as I was walking home through the park this morning, as is their wont, my eyes fell upon a sign, which, for the non-Hebrew readers of this blog, reads: “Danger! Constructing a Dictatorship here!”

Notwithstanding aberrations such as thuis, as I wrote over five years ago when I began writing this blog, I’m basically a likable and essentially a happy individual (I hate to think of myself as a chap)—it’s just that as I grow older, unlike some fruit and other things, I appear not to mellow and I feel increasingly frustrated with many events that are happening around me and over which I have no influence whatsoever.

At any rate and come what may, I’ve decided to refrain from any further comments on Israel’s upcoming election and the people and parties contesting it——at least until after the coalition talks appear to be concluding and then, who knows what?  So what do I do meanwhile?  Well, I revert to the aims I set out with over five years ago, i.e., use the blog as an outlet for some of my photographs.  As  I wrote then, “… an SW photography blog — something where I could show and explain some of the many images I have taken over the past few years”.  And now, to my horror, I find that I have 44,000 to choose from, which, in itself, means that I’ve got a lot work to do thinning these out or else the new disk that was installed recently on my computer will be full before I know it!  So that being the case, I’ll use the next few weeks at least to mix some recent photographs (taken over the 10 days or so prior to each post) with some of my favourites from through the years, with short appropriate comments on why I took the photo and what there is to see in it.

So as the announcer on the BBC Light Programme used to say 70 years ago at a 1.45 p.m. for Listen With Mother, “If you’re sitting comfortably, then I’ll begin.”

It’s a Tuesday morning but two days ago, at breakfast, I looked out of the kitchen window and saw a small bird perched on the railings. There was nothing particularly unusual about that; birds often fly in and then fly out.  This one—I think it’s a wagtail—didn’t fly out and it’s been there for three days already!

Not being sure what to do to convince the birdie that I would prefer that s/he not hang around, I thought that it might be hungry so I took a Pringle’s potato crisp from the packet (I very occasionally indulge) and put it on the window ledge.  The little thing  pecked and pecked until it had bite-sized pieces to match, consumed them in front of my very eyes and then looked at me longingly as if to ask for more.

Later in the morning, when I came into the kitchen to make a cup of tea, s/he was still there and then as I sat at the table, I heard a “ratatattat”, which continued without any discernible rhythm and I looked up to see the nudnik (because that was it was rapidly becoming) pecking away at the window.   And when I went to look, I saw that not only was there a “ratatattat” but the little pieces of Pringle’s that s/he had pecked down to size, after which it had flown off for a few minutes to help its digestion, had flown back only to leave on the window ledge a generous deposit that perhaps had been Pringle’s so that in addition to the ratatattat, there was a generous helping of shittyshatshat!

By afternoon, the knocking was still going on.  Where this tiny being found the energy to peck away at the window is beyond me; there’s obviously no word for “glass” in Wagtailese.  In short, it was beginning to get the better of me.  And then I hit on the idea of closing down the kitchen blinds.  Alright — that meant that I would have to turn on the lights but maybe it might have stopped the little bugger from looking in.  And when I returned to the kitchen a little later and peeped through the blinds, there was nothing there and I regarded myself as triumphant.

No way!  Next morning, there s/he was again going through same act.  Not only that, but while flying off to take a break from looking in through the kitchen window, s/he returned with two friends and there were now three of them outside the window.  So I was left with no alternative but to close the blinds again and hope that the issue might have vanished.

It hadn’t, in that today (Tuesday) the third day, there she was again.  Note that I have applied a gender to the bird not because I know how to distinguish between the male and female of the species but because I was convinced that no male bird would have brought two buddies to stare in through the window at an aging male member of the human species.  (And if you think that the birdie is sweet just from looking at the photographs, I beg to differ!)

However, I decided to put the male/female issue to the test.   So after my shower this morning, having dried myself, I went into the kitchen wrapped only in a bath towel.  I waited until she looked at me face to face and then I dropped the towel briefly (ensuring in the process that I was visible only to Winny Wagtail and not to any of the neighbours).  And imagine my shock when this bird, which had hitherto just sat and shat, suddenly perked up and went into an ecstatic frenzy, wings fluttering at an incredible speed as she flew up and down in the small space between the bars and the window, feathers flying all over the place.  I’d never had much success with birds before and never such an effect on one—and I didn’t even have the camera to record this little incident.  Were I a Buddhist and a believer in reincarnation, where the soul of a person transmigrates to another body after death, I might have thought something else… but unfortunately, this is not the case.

And these weren’t the only bird pictures of note this week. (Somehow, in the general absence of people doing “interesting” or just mundane things, I seem to have a plethora of avian photographs.  Anyway, last week walking home after a morning walk to the sea and back, I came across three crows perched on a bar near the first playground I encounter on entering the park (which is, coincidentally, the last one on the way home.  Normally, three crows don’t interest me and in general, crows have little to commend them.  However, I noticed that one of them had a twig in its beak so I got the birds into focus.  Then, the two unencumbered ones flew off and the crow with the twig remained and, more importantly, remained in focus.

Knowing that these birds don’t generally remain still for long periods, I just waited with the object of my interest in focus until the decisive moment arrived, which is when I got the picture I wanted!

 

So much for the past week.  However, as I had promised some older favourite photos, I wondered when I took my first picture of a fire hydrant. It turns out that with the exception of one below, which I took on weekend trip to Pennsylvania with an older friend in the summer of 1978 and which I kept all the years because, kitschy though it is, I liked it …

… the first one I took in the “modern era” dates from February 2008.  Long since passed on to wherever ancient fire hydrants are disposed of, I find that I’m attracted to these things because I see faces in them.  This one at Tel Aviv Port, and this is what attracted me, just looked so old and sad that I had to record the picture and I photographed it several times as the rust caused its demise and destroyed any “life” that had been in it.  And once I had detected the “faces” that are part and parcel of the character of the fire hydrants, I was up and running and now have a “collection”about 1,500 of them.

Tel Aviv Port, February 2008

However, there is a problem in that I tend to see faces everywhere and in all sorts of places you don’t expect to see them!

Chocolate Yogurt top

 

 

 

 

I’m not what you think I might be!!!!!

 

Corporate Man, City of London

It’s not just fire hydrants that have attracted me.  Although most of the photos I took before I retired pretended to hav some sort of didactic logic to them, there were some that were just decent photos, was photos go.

Jerusalem. Pre-Six-Day War, 1966. High density living

Then, years ago I was fascinated by this road sign that appeared on Parkhill Road, in Belsize Park, in London.  What could it mean?

 

 

A visit to the zoo and little manipulation of the image solved the issue for me …

Humped-back zebra 

and eventually led to the image below,

Humped-back zebra crossing

And several of the photos found their way into the “book” that I wrote with grandchildren in mind.

Faces on the Street Draft 4 March 2018

Bottoms Up!!!

Regent’s Park, London

And by the way, in case anybody’s interested, the little birdie is still at the kitchen window — and it’s 16.30 on Tuesday afternoon!

 

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Lily Waterman, age 8, on a bright spring morning

I was going to begin this post with a deep philosophical issue but then I received a copy of the photo above the day before yesterday and thought it might be better to start with something positive before I move on to an issue that has been bugging me on and off these days before I return to the issue of springtime later on in this post.

The big question is this: Why do I appear to be more cynical as I age?  In order to try to answer this and enlighten you on what is for me a serious matter, I thought you might like to share in my frustrations of one day last week!  However, before I enter that saga, let me say that releasing my frustrations through being sardonic about things has a distinctly cathartic effect, which can be magnified by screaming and/or weeping.

So the story is thus. In early September 2020, before travelling to London, I filed Vivien’s will with the Ministry of Justice in Tel Aviv.  It had been written 11 years earlier and was a holographic will (one handwritten without witnesses) and was in English, with wording based on a formulation recommended to us at the time by our lawyer.

The Ministry of Justice granted probate on January 23 2021 and a copy of the will appears on my personal area on the Israel Government website. However, last week, I needed to renew the car’s vehicle licence prior to bringing it for its annual road test.  In the course of trying to accomplish this task online, something which is supposed to make life more efficient and less troublesome by absolving one from the requirement of going to to a bank or post office to make payment, I  discovered that this proved impossible. My ID number was unacceptable and Vivien’s ID number was no longer recognized (that’s efficiency!).  So it turned out that before I could renew the vehicle licence, I needed to transfer ownership of the vehicle and although the Ministry of Transport suggests that this can also be accomplished online, it also proved impossible, for same reason that I seemingly couldn’t renew the vehicle licence.  (Although I was listed as the second owner of the car, it had been registered in Vivien’s name so that over the past decad we could pay a reduced rate for the annual vehicle renewal because of her physical disabilities.

This being the case, I called the Ministry of Transport several times at the number that their website had provided and left my details. After two days of trying to reach a human being with brain and voice attached in order to hear what I was supposed to do next, I was called one evening by an employee of the Ministry and informed that someone would call me on February 23 at 11.05 [exactly] to arrange transfer of ownership.  “It’s a simple procedure”, the guy said, “it’ll only take a couple of minutes.” When I rang again last week to confirm, I was informed that I might have to wait up to three hours from the appointed time of 11.05.  And so it turned out.  Eventually, at 12.40 on the appointed day, I heard a woman’s voice on the phone and in the course of conversation after I had explained why I was calling, she asked me if there was a will.  I responded that there was and then she said “Oh, I  see it on the screen in front of me.” (as I could also for I was looking at my personal area on the http://www.gov.il website in front of me).  It all seemed so efficient — until the next utterance from the Ministry of Transport bureaucrat,

She said “But the will is written in English”, to which I responded “Probate was approved by the Ministry of Justice over a month ago and they didn’t see any problem!”  Her response?  “We (the Ministry of Transport) need the will to be translated into Hebrew because we don’t deal with documents written in a foreign language.”  [Hebrew is the only official language of the Jewish and democratic state in which I live].  Then she said: “I’ll do you a favour and grant you temporary ownership for this year so that you can renew the vehicle licence and the car can have its test.  After that, you’ll have to go to the Licensing Office in Holon (once it opens again physically!) with the translated will so that you won’t have this problem again next year.  I’m sending you the proof of transfer now in the post.” I asked her if she could perhaps send it to my email address as the post in this part of the world is irregular at best but her response was quite definitely negative.

However, by the following day, I managed to renew the vehicle licence (using Vivien’s defunct ID!) although there was nothing doing with on the transfer of ownership, which, apparently, will have to be done physically, whenever and if the licensing authority should reopen its office.

That took the best part of the morning and then the afternoon was taken up mainly (and unsuccessfully) trying to download an app to my iPhone.  Apparently, this particular app, the “Green Passport”, is something that I will need to show in order to prove that that I have been vaccinated. It seems as if the certificate from the Ministry of Health that I downloaded a few weeks ago is susceptible to forgery so an app, on which the images move, has been designed instead.  I tried repeatedly for over an hour but kept receiving a notice that no such app existed, at which point I surrendered to Google and discovered two things.

The first was that the two numbers which appear on the Ministry of Health website and to which one is directed if having difficulties downloading the app do not lead anywhere, least of all to a human who might (or might not) be able to assist.  The second thing I learned is that each country or region in the world has a different App Store and my iPhone used the UK one (as that is where I purchased my first iPhone several years ago) and I had not had a problem until this one arose, because the Ministry of Health had decided to make the app available only on the Israeli App Store but, I read, that if there was sufficient demand, they might consider making it more widely available.  I googled again to find out how to migrate my App Store to the Promised Land; I followed the instructions to the letter but up to this point, it all turns out to have been in vain.

Several days later, I discovered that hidden on the Ministry of Health website is a means of down loading what is called the Green Passport, which you then print out, which IO did.  So let’s wait and see what happens when I’m asked to produce it!

(Even the birds were screaming!)

 

However, not everything last week was as black as I have painted it here.  On Thursday mornings, for the past few weeks, I spend an hour and a bit on Zoom with my two London grandchildren. Normally, it’s English comprehension, grammar, punctuation and the like but last week I was asked if I  would spend some time talking to Tal (who will be 11 next month) about “something political”.

That something was a piece of work in which he was required to present the arguments for and against lowering the voting age to 16.  I was impressed by what he had prepared and by what he knew about voting and suffrage.  Towards the end of our half hour together, I decided to present a slightly different argument from what we’d been talking about just to see his reaction.  So I mentioned to Tal that if he was considering lowering the voting age to 16, perhaps he might also consider taking away voting rights from people who reach perhaps 80 or maybe 85.  “Why?”, he asked.  “Because most of them don’t work but take money from the state in the form of pensions, &c.”, said I.  “But they’ve got experience; they understand things “, he said, “something that lots of 16-year olds don’t have”.

“OK”, I said, “but lots of them are in care homes”.  His response to this comment was that people in care homes sit on armchairs around the TV sets and listen to the news and read newspapers, so can they follow events.  Sensible argument.  When I mentioned this exchange to my almost 86-year old cousin later that day, I was told that I should have mentioned to Tal that 15 minutes after hearing or reading the news, many of these these older folks will probably have forgotten that they did so anyway.

At any rate, when I compared what Tal understood with what I remembered on a similar topic 65 years ago, all I knew about politics was the headmaster at the primary school I  attended, Zion School, on Bloomfield Avenue in Dublin, Joseph Barron, was a city councillor and a member of a political party called Clann na Poblachta, a Republican Party led my Seán MacBride, the son of Maud Gonne, a woman with whom the poet W.B. Yeats was infatuated .  Mind you, when I was 10 or 11, I didn’t know any of this. Joe Barron stood unsuccessfully for election to the Dáil in 1948 for the Dublin South-Central constituency and unsuccessfully again in 1951, 1954 and 1957.  But he was persistent, if nothing else.  He was finally elected a member of parliament in 1961 and as the only member of his party and (Seán MacBride had lost his seat at that election), Joe became the party’s leader.  However, t his political career ended in 1965 when he lost again and three years later, he died.  End of story.

I’m writing this on Sunday morning as Israel emerges from [yet another] mini-lockdown, which marked the festival of Purim, which fell this year on Friday.  As a consequence, the government instituted a night curfew (from 20.30 until 05.00 the following morning) in order to prevent undue, unseemly and unwanted gatherings over the holiday (which commemorates the saving of the Jewish people from Haman the Agagite, an official in the Persian Empire, who was planning to kill all the Jews, as recounted in the Book of Esther until his plans were foiled by Mordechai (Morduk?) and his cousin Esther (Astarte?), who had been inveigled into becoming Queen of Persia. This day of deliverance (whether it’s true or not is hardly relevant) became a day of feasting and rejoicing.

In normal years, Jews celebrate Purim by exchanging gifts of food and drink, donating charity to the poor, eating a celebratory meal, reading of the Scroll of Esther” publicly (usually in synagogues).  It is also generally a fun day, marked by dressing up and having a little too much to drink.  This year was somewhat different (and it’s the second year things have been like this at Purim.  However, it didn’t turn out quite as the health authorities and the government planned, with the two great offenders being Chassidic sects, many of which insisted on carrying out their expansive public gathering indoors and at high density as is their wont and, not to be outdone, a vast number of teenagers and twenty-somethings congregating over the Purim holiday and generally having fun on the streets of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and elsewhere in even greater numbers than usual.  Jerusalem (as a walled city— or at least parts of it are) doesn’t celebrate Purim on the same day as the rest of the country but [usually] on the day following except that the day following Purim this year was a Shabbat and Shushan Purim, as it is known, was celebrated on Sunday, instead—all of which meant that police were kept busy trying to shut Jerusalem off from the rest of the country for all of Sunday for reasons that should be quite obvious to everyone by now.

So I return to my initial question—why am I becoming more cynical in my old age?

I’d better put up some photos before I go completely bats (I suppose I’m not supposed to write “bats” in these Corona times so “bonkers” will have to do.). (The images bear little in common with the text that has preceded them!)

Corona Time. Tel Aviv Port, February 24 2021

It’s time to bet back to walking around the city — but meanwhile, the park birds provide photo opportunities galore.

Gulls, too, form a multicultural society of their own! Yarqon Park. February 2021

 

The Night Heron is still hanging about waiting for a bite …. maybe. Yarqon Park, February 28 2021

 

And the mynah is quiet, too, for once.

Purim means parties and parties mean people and people mean discarded matter — lots of it …

 

 

… but the other side of Purim is fancy dress and Tel Aviv Port did its damnedest to get in on the act.

 

And as I stated at the outset, there’s spring in the air, to be experienced all over the park.  What a difference a week makes!

       

 

And spring time means more exercisers than have been seen in the past four months — and people take exercise in many different ways.

Every morning, come rain or shine, between 07.30 and 08.30

 

Happy families!

 

Carrying your pooch is exercise, too.

 

 

 

 

Finally, the image below is a photo that I took at the the Carmel Market in Tel Aviv four years ago.  I’d forgotten all about it until it turned up one day last week as a “memory” on Facebook.  I quite liked it after I took it and four years on, it looks even better.

 

And that’s it for now.  Many people in Israel are expecting the next lockdown to coincide with the Passover holiday in four weeks’ time.  Before that, we are due our fourth General Election in less than two years and I’m wondering whether the only people who will be permitted to vote will be those who can produce a Green Passport. I wouldn’t rule it out. The government is meeting today to discuss whether or not to permit the return to Israel of an estimated 25,000 Israeli citizens currently abroad and who have expressed a desire to exercise their democratic right to vote!  It really is time to enter the 21st century and to institute into the Israeli political system an absentee or postal ballot!  Just a thought.

Have a great day and an even greater week!

A Winter Wonderland

How do I begin this post?  With a rave or with a rant?  Perhaps I’ll leave a rant [if one develops while writing this] until the end, as today we might be seeing the very beginning of a return to something resembling normality, as museums galleries, gymnasia and concert halls open to the public again — or at least to those who have received a Covid vaccination.

The thought of things returning to normality was so outlandish that she couldn’t stand the pressure. (Corner of Stricker and Shlomtzion Streets, Tel Aviv)

So, I’ll start off with two stories.  Last week, I received a gift from an old friend.  It was a book, one that I had read several years ago. Nevertheless, but it’s one of those books that if you really want just to read short items and then smile after reading most of them, this is it.  The book is entitled: Am I alone in Thinking …? — Unpublished letters to The Daily Telegraph.  To the uninitiate, The Daily Telegraph, is a conservative British daily newspaper (a broadsheet, which means that it seeks to be regarded as a “serious” newspaper, as distinct from the tabloids, which are not).  Its readership comprises mostly Conservative older folk and its one saving grace is that it publishes generally “do-able” crosswords.  The book consists of letters to the editor, which the editor[s] decided not to publish, which is just as well.  In bed one evening last week, I read the first few pages and when I got to this communication from one, Arthur W.J.G. Ord-Hume, I laughed out aloud, something that might have frightened the neighbours had they been listening.  The letter read as follows:  SIR — I find it intensely humiliating to be asked by airport security staff if I have packed my own bag.  This forces me to admit, usually within the earshot of others, that I no longer have a manservant to do the chore for me.  Gentlemen should be able to answer such questions with a disdainful: “Of course not!  Do I look like that sort of person?”  Well, at least Mr. Ord-Hume, if he is still in the land of the living—the book was published in 2009—hasn’t had to be humiliated recently as nobody has been travelling very much in the past year.

Then, the other day, I travelled out of Tel Aviv for the first time since arriving back in this country in mid-December to visit my oldest friend (we met, aged 6, in Zion School in Dublin), who came to live in Israel in September and what with me being away and then in self-isolation, followed by a five-week lockdown, this was the first opportunity that we had  had to get together.  So off I went to the city of Ra’anana, all of 20 km away.  We nattered away for a good four hours and midway through the chatter and the tea and the lunch and the tea, and me being 76, I asked where I could find the loo (that is the bathroom, as American euphemism would have it).  Directed to the appropriate spot in the apartment, I emerged, announcing that while in there, I had decided to write a letter of complaint to the CEO of Marks and Spencer, where I have bought most of my underwear for the past half century (yes, I admit, shamefacedly, that that’s true).  “Why?”, I was asked.  “Well”, said I, “it’s because M&S have redesigned their underpants.  They used to sell Unterhosen that made it easy for older men to do what must be done quickly and without fiddling.  Not so any more — there are so many folds that what used to be a simple procedure has now turned into a minute and a half of near-absolute panic.”  Mind you, I will mention that there are other aspects of the design that might become useful as I age but it has been suggested by a very wide person to whom I sent a draft for comment that I spare my readers the details!

Anyway, perhaps by the next post I’ll have some more photographs of people in the streets.  It’s not that the streets have been entirely empty but cafés, restaurants and other places where people meet and chat have been—and still are—closed.  So, on the mornings during which the rain let up, it’s been out and about the Yarqon Park for an hour and half of exercise (what actually used to take me about an hour when I started doing this regularly about a dozen years ago).

We’ve had a few wet days, although, as is the case with a Mediterranean winter, after some days of heavy rain, the weather has now cleared up.  (It takes just about 10 minutes of heavy rain to turn in the street into a stream but once it’s over, it clears up as rapidly as it appeared.)

Shlomtzion HaMalkah Street after 20 minutes of rain

We even had a hailstorm one day last week, which provided me with one picture of a situation unusual for Tel Aviv, to say the least.  I suppose that it was just as well I took the camera out when I did because 10 minutes later, the the hailstorm has ended and the sun came out for a few minutes, it was all gone, which indicates, I guess, that it what I photographed wasn’t coarse salt.

 

Hailstones (or just coarse salt?)

 

Mud became the operative word.

The Yarqon stream. Saturday morning, 20/ii/2021

 

And when the storm had abated, the rowers took to the high sea where the mud that had polluted what passes for Tel Aviv’s river had migrated overnight.

Mud, mud, glorious mud (not to mention the floating garbage)

The sea was still rough on Sunday morning, two days after the end of the storm.

 

There was also the inevitable clearing up of the mess caused by the storm so that everything will look neat and tidy until the next squall rolls in and does its thing.

Neat and tidy does it every time

 

However, it’s important that one should note that people , in the absence of cafés and during a break in the rain, continued to stand in a queue for their coffee and croissants in Tel Aviv Port in the hope that they might be able to find a bench under an umbrella where they could sit and chat——and shiver.  And to what purpose?  For the most abhorrent thing of all is that the coffee they had queued for was being served in paper cups—and in gross understatement, coffee—as well as other drinks—doesn’t taste the same in paper cups; that’s because people’s smell and taste perception is affected by different features of the vessel in which the beverage is served and that’s because there are multisensory interactions between the smell and taste of the drinks and the type of vessel in which they were presented. (See Cavazzana et al., “The vessel’s shape influences the smell and taste of cola”, Food Quality and Preference, Vol. 59 (July, 2017) pp. 8-13!). (I used to be an academic, you know!)

 

 

 

Maybe they had run out of coffee at home and had no alternative.

And just around the corner from the where the coffee was being served in paper cups, this unfortunate pooch was left waiting patiently until its owner emerged.  However, the doggie didn’t receive any coffee—or croissants for that matter.

 

And talking about dogs, this mini-dogwalker crossed my tracks earlier this morning.  I mean, I’ve seen more than seven or eight dogs being walked before by a single person but this is the first time I’ve come across a population of miniatures. (Or are they toy breeds?)

 

And when I reached the port area, I was reminded that a year has already passed!

March 2020 (Then)

 

February 2021 (Now)

And so, I was left walking though the park and the port photographing (mostly) the avian population.

Night heron. Yarqon Park.  February 2021

 

Of mixed lineage, methinks. (An avian Dalmatian, perhaps?) Yarqon Park, Tel Aviv. February 2021

 

An egret in waiting

 

And everyone’s favourite bird!

 

Social distancing is for the birds (or not, as the case may be)

And finally, a few images that have nothing (or very little) to do with what’s come before.

I hadn’t realized they’d been selling much lately at all.  Castro, Tel Aviv Port.  February 2021