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 — Unpublished letters to The Daily Telegraph.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

 

For non-Hebrew readers, the caption reads “Private Parking”

 

And then walking home along Nordau Boulevard, this minibus passed and I was reminded that it’s almost election time again.  Mr. Sa’a the man whose smiling visage appears on the back of the bus, used to live just around the corner and had been Minister of Education and Minister of the Interior before taking “a break” from politics, returning to what had been this “Natural Home”, i.e., the Likud Party last year.  However, like many other advisers, underlings and lackeys who had been close, perhaps too close to Bibi, he did not find favour in Mr. Netanyahu’s eyes and was not reappointed to the [anyway overly bloated] government coalition last year, and so decided to take the make-or-break step and set up his own party, thereby adding to the plethora of rightwing options that the voters have this time on Israel’s eternally revolving election roundabout.  However, when you see a smiling face on the back of a bus, you can’t help but think that things are, perhaps, not going as well as they might be.

Gidon Sa’ar. — and th and the caption? —  Everyone’s Prime Minister

BTW from the smile and slogan, it’s easy to tell from the caption that this before an election.  Mr. Sa’ar  has also promised solemnly  that there is no way will he sit in a government headed by U-NO-HOO.  We’ll see and then judge after March 23 (or more likely, in May), by which time a coalition will have emerged (or not as the case may be).

Meanwhile, I will continue to stay warm and alert by biting hard on these until Spring arrives.

 

And for anyone who missed the livestream last Tuesday, here’s the link to the replay (the music starts at about 12 and a half minutes in).

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Penguins, PPE and Porter

Yarqon Park, Tel Aviv. Early morning

I know.  I know.  I’m late by a week or more but perhaps you didn’t notice. And if you didn’t notice, then maybe the time has come to pack it all in and find something more productive to do with my time, such as write a book (ha-ha!).  At any rate, the cause of this delay is that I upgraded the Operating System on my computer on Thursday of last week and although it seemed fine that day, the following morning all hell broke loose.  Computers are a bit like cars — when they work, they’re fine but when they decide to have an off-day, in gross understatement, they grate on the nerves.  Anyway, nothing seemed to work.  It was as if the machine had suffered a mini-stroke. I couldn’t find files or folders although I knew they were there and after consulting my family Mac guru, there was no alternative but to bring it to the Machospital in South Tel Aviv and let them figure out what went wrong.  The following day, I picked it up recovering from the mini-stroke has been limited for it seems to have affected its memory which is far from behaving normally. Perhaps the old girl is suffering from MacAlazheimer?

Anyway, this glitch probably appeared just in time, otherwise my readers would have had to endure one my occasional (or perhaps not so occasional) rants.  People have told me that I shouldn’t get upset about things over which I have no control but that’s sometimes more easily said than done, the reason being that on Sunday evening of last week, I sat down (alone again) and decided to watch a movie on TV.  But which movie?  Should I spend half an hour searching through Netflix’s offers only to find that most of what is there is rubbish.  Or perhaps I should just look at the offerings that have been on TV and which I bothered to record for I spend 10 minutes a week checking to see if there are any movies on, the names of which I recognize, and when I do recognize a name, I then try to remember whether they’re things I’ve missed or just things I’ve seen before.

So this time, I went through recorded movies and chose to view Julia Roberts and Richard Gere in Pretty Woman, a film from just over 30 years ago and which we went to see in Haifa when it was released.  I actually chose it because it’s a movie I remember that I enjoyed immensely.  However, memory sometimes only serves you partially and in this case, I had forgotten that the character played by Julia Roberts was called Vivian, so I thought to myself that I’d prefer to watch something else.  At any rate, I looked around for an alternative and chose Woman in Gold with Helen Mirren acting the role of Maria Altman, a woman who had escaped the Anschluss in 1938 and found refuge in America and then, with Arnold Schoenberg’s grandson as her lawyer, went on to sue the Austrian government to return five paintings by Gustav Klimt which had been owned by her family in Vienna.  A wonderful film — except as with Pretty Woman—  I had a forgotten a detail that appeared near the very start of the film; the opening scene was at a Los Angeles cemetery in which a coffin adorned with a Star of David was lying — a Jewish funeral.  No, not for me, the way I was feeling last Sunday evening.

After those two failures, I then did what I try to avoid each day and turned on the evening news on TV and what greeted my eyes and ears somewhat blew my mind, as that day saw the funeral processions of two aged (and probably venerable) rabbis, obviously much esteemed by their followers.  It was estimated that these processions each comprised about 10,000 individuals, all as far as I could ascertain, male.  Again, looking at this particular image below which appeared in Monday’s newspaper, I’d be generous in saying that I estimate that at most, 20% of the participants were wearing masks and of those that were, only a small proportion were wearing them covering mouth and nose.  As for social distancing, forget it.

At a time when the country is trying somehow to deal with a pandemic, this was a demonstration of people who ignore the rules that the rest of us have to observe and live as a law unto themselves.  However, it seems as if others have learned a lesson from all this in that the owners of stores in shopping malls seem to have had enough being being locked up/in/down and they, too, seem to have taken the law into their own hands, or as the TV news last night referred to them, Corona mutineers.

However, what really got my goat last week and yesterday was that none of the politicians who “matter” (actually, none of the seem to matter much at the moment) uttered a pip or a squeak of condemnation. I wonder why?  Could it have something to do with an event scheduled to take place on March 23 unless that, too, is put off because of Corona or because the numbers in the polls (generally inaccurate in Israel) prove to be unfavorable.  (Have I lapsed into cynic mode again?  Tut tut!)

In anger or desperation, I posted the picture above on Facebook and received some reactions.  One old acquaintance, who had spent some years in Antarctica more than half a century ago wrote: “…the photo looks like nothing so much as some of my photos from penguin rookeries in Antarctica.”  More to the point, a young woman living north of Tel Aviv, whose parents are friends of mine, wrote on her Facebook page: “The ticking time bomb that Israel has created is exploding. The charedim have no science education so they don’t understand Corona. They don’t serve in the army or do national service so they have no sense of duty to the state or experience of integration. They do not consume our news in any format so they don’t know what is going on outside of their world. The men do not work so are not forced to encounter people outside their spheres. They are encouraged by state financing to continue fanatical cults of personalities amongst their rabbis. Some communities only speak Yiddish. What the hell did we expect to happen? Attacking bus drivers and breaking lockdown rules seems like the tip of the iceberg.”.

I think that she just about hit the nail on the head with that one.  However, as I think we all realise, this con has gone on for so long, I can’t see an exit strategy.  They sit on their behinds all day and discuss all sorts of issues, real and hypothetical, but when it comes to making a decision, what does all this “learning” provide?  Nor very much, it seems, because they run to their rebbe or yeshivah head (individuals who suffer from and distinctly enjoy the fruits of personality cults) and do whatever they’re bid.  In this particular case, it appears that they were bidden to ignore the government, the Ministry of Health, Covid-19 and all the rest.  On the Monday evening, the day after these “events”, a senior police officer, interviewed on the evening news and asked why the police didn’t to more to stop such things happening, could only say that more penguins, wishing to enter Jerusalem from outside were prevented from doing so and without the help of others (at this point he raised his hands and indicated that he meant politicians) there was little more the police could do.  My line of thinking was that if these had been “normal” Israelis, things wouldn’t have passed so quietly and if they had been Arab Israelis, I dread to think what might have been the consequences!.

And meanwhile the authorities lock up law-abiding Israelis in Corona hotels irrespective of whether they have observed quarantines, been vaccinated or whatever!

So in order to alleviate my exasperation about events over which I have no control, I took to the streets and the park with the camera to see what I could find.

I started off with the inevitable mobile phone, this time a accompanied by a vaper.  The mask is off because I suppose it’s difficult to vape with one on and it’s not worthing making a hole in the mask to accommodate an addiction or let the vapor out, so as the song says …

 

However, at least some of the pansies found the whole situation rather amusing.

 

Meanwhile, parks create their own images.  Open-air kindergartens are now a commonplace scene, in particular in the springlike weather we are enjoying at present …

 

… and it’s a well known fact that the People of the Book start reading very early and in almost any situation, there’s no time to lose!

 

Meantime, the park continues to reveal its images in all their glory!

 

Easier getting up than down, it seems!

 

Others find other things to do in the park and one young woman just couldn’t wait to get online before starting the morning’s calisthenics

 

 

And then there are the egrets. Whereas some of these birds just sit in solitude waiting for something edible to pass by in the river before they choose to dive in …

 

… some others, more daring members of the tribe, fly down to the river where, on occasion, a kind angler will treat them to a slap-up breakfast!

 

And then, of course, there’s the Yarqon regatta.

 

And once more there are the inevitable hydrants.  This girl, near Tel Aviv Port has made sure that it had brought its mobile phone with her and is hooked up to the world — and moreover, she won’t go thirsty.

 

And once you get as far as the port, you see all sorts of wonderful things — like hungry rubbish bins (garbage cans, refuse containers, trashcans)

 

… Water speed boards or whatever they’re called

 

Finally, I came across this guy wearing his own version of PPE (Personal Protection Equipment, which, unlike the more common PPE, requires intense concentration for lengthy periods of time.  However, I seem to have been the only person around who paid him much attention!

 

However, the picture of the week is not mine at all but one that someone sent me of the two Jerusalem funerals juxtaposed with two images of Hamantaschen, a hamantasch being a three-cornered pastry with a filling such as poppy seeds or prunes or something else dark and mysterious, and which is traditionally eaten during the Jewish holiday Purim (by some, that is, but never by yours truly).

Take your pick, as they say!

Oh, and before I forget.  On Tuesday evening (16/02/2021) at 19.00 Israel time (17.00 GMT, 18.00 CET) there’s a concert from the Jerusalem Music Center worth watching and listening to.  Not the usual sort of thing I put up here but from experience, it will be an hour well spent!

https://www.jmc.org.il/index.php?lang=eng&p=concert&id=840

 

P.S.  It looks like spring is on its way (Photo: Shuli Waterman)

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Music, Elections and Music Again

I actually started this post yesterday, which was my birthday, so I had inserted the link that appears below in order to remind me of how old I am.  Sometimes I remember and at other times I forget, which seems to be an indication of the fact that I am now 76, which, I am told by some is the new 60.  Blah, blah and another blah.  But somehow the mood wore off me after a short while and as it’s now Thursday, I shall now resume my nonsense for this week.

 

Well, here we are again.  Israel’s fourth election campaign in less than two years has already begun and we haven’t yet  been informed about who the candidates are to be.  In fact, we’re still not sure which “parties” will be contesting the election for we, the saps, have now entered that “fluid period” when there are still current, former and aspiring Knesset members in search of parties to sponsor their ardently held desires to represent “the people”.  Not that any of them will care too much about “the people” they will claim to represent if and when they are elected. I say this because on the basis of past experience, the day after the election many of these same individuals with larger than average egos and overambitious estimates of their own self-importance will start looking around for a better arrangement that will lead them [ideally] into government or, failing that, into a stridently vocal opposition where they hope that some people , mainly reporters and interviewers, will sit up and take notice of their existence.

The electorate knows quite well from bitter acquaintance with the system that after it (the electorate) has expressed its opinion through “the democratic process”, the politicians will be looking after themselves rather than the innocents who voted for the party which they (the politicians) belonged to on election day itself.  As a result of all this, I am currently minded to cast my vote on two sheets of [preferably used] toilet paper which I will stuff into an envelope; I will then place it in the envelope designed to hold the slip of paper with the symbol of my “preferred” party, and write an appropriate message on the outside.  However, being basically a decent person and not wanting to ruin they day for any unsuspecting teller, I will probably grit my teeth and select a more conventional method of voting.

But be in no doubt; the campaign has started.  Mostly gone are the days when party representatives would knock on your door or stop you in the street in an attempt to sway you to vote one way or another.  Almost gone are the days of cold calls on your phone exhorting you to do the same thing.  There are some very large posters displayed along main roads and across bridges but my phone is already filling up with messages trying to swing me this way or that — not that I will pay much attention to any of them other than to try and block any further messages from the same numbers—a futile exercise really because each of the parties seem to have several numbers from which they will harass and plague us.

It’s really a sad situation and one wonders how the authorities will expect people to stand in line, masked and socially distanced, in order to cast their ballots for politicians in whom we have very little trust after a year of rampant COVID 19.  Will we have to have a negative COVID test less than 72 hours before casting a vote or produce a “green passport” with which to prove that we have been vaccinated?  Will people who have chosen, for whatever reason, not to be vaccinated be prohibited from voting?  Who knows?  Has anyone given it any thought? After all, there is no postal or absentee vote and we now all know that half of American voters know  that that only leads to “stealing” an  election”.  (On this point. ex-President Trump has been (temporarily?) silenced and was absent from the Biden Inauguration last Wednesday, which as President Biden is reported to have was “just as well”.  Soothing words were spoken, which made a change, and the rendition of the “Star-Spangled Banner” was, I found, extremely moving.)

Still, the Israeli election campaign is already producing some funny moments.  Last weekend, the almost defunct Labour Party, the party that ruled Israel for the first 30 years, elected its tenth leader in 20 years.  Merav Michaeli, a former journalist, TV personality, radio broadcaster, feminist and activist, was elected leader of the party by the small proportion of its members who bothered to vote.  She has always struck me as a very down-to-earth politician who seems to believe in what she says but, unfortunately, she belongs to the wrong party.  Anyhow, I learned of this earth-shattering event at 6 a.m. last Monday morning, during the first of my two daily news updates. One of Michaeli’s first acts as Labour Party leader was to instruct Labour’s two ministers who sit in the government to resign from the their coalition posts as she had been absolutely opposed last year to Labour entering Netanyahu’s government.  They two gentlemen responded by announcing that they were resigning from the party but not from the coalition, thus remaining in their government posts.  What made me laugh out loud was the reaction of one of this pair of insubordinates, Amir Peretz, an individual who is currently Minister of Economy and a former party leader himself, and someone who has been Minister of Defence and Deputy Prime Minister in the past.  He labelled Ms. Michaeli “an opportunist”, and this came from a man who has been a member of five different parties over the years and who doesn’t think twice about the conflict of interests incurred by being elected on one list and the following day leaving it!  What is opportunism other than unscrupulous expediency?  Ask Mr. Peretz!

But enough of Israeli elections.  There are two months to go and lots (or nothing) can happen between now and March 23 (which is just four days before the start of the festival of Passover), so there’ll be lots of unleavened bread, bitter herbs and salt water to mull over, with coalition talks dragging on and on towards the summer.  Great fun!

Meanwhile, Israel’s third (or is it the fourth?) lockdown continues as COVID continues to rage.

Without wishing to apportion blame for this situation on any one group or another, it’s interesting (and perhaps one of the telling points of this whole COVID plague) that almost every decision contains one or more political facets.  There’s little doubt that the Prime Minister will attempt to convince voters that he, and he alone, is responsible for the fact that 3,000,000 people have already been vaccinated.  Yet, the question that needs to be asked OUT ALOUD is why the country is nevertheless in the mess it’s in and who was responsible for that situation.  In Israel’s case, it would seem that there has been more than just a modicum of disinclination to take on and restrain the breaches of lockdown and social distancing amongst some of the Strictly Orthodox (Haredi) and Arab communities, the former having been steadfast allies of the Prime Minister and which, he hopes, will remain so after the election for reasons dear to his heart but something that is far from certain.  In this regard, there appeared in Haaretz this week an interesting article by one of its top journalists, Anshel Pfeffer, (who, incidentally is also the representative of The Economist in Israel and the author of Bibi, the [unauthorised] biography of the man himself.  Mr. Pfeffer explains things in a way that I could never do.  Pfeffer on Haredi violence

Meanwhile, the population looks on in horror.

Looking on in horror!

I am still out most mornings when weather permits, walking though the park and the port.

The streets of the city are near empty; cafés and restaurants are shut although people can still buy coffee to drink out of paper cups (yuk!) and sit on benches that are conveniently situated not too far from where the coffee and croissants can be had.  And as people sit, unmasked and not always 2 metres apart, I sometimes wonder about the anomalies, if not the absurdities, of social distancing rules.

Shabbat morning [external] prayer services. Yarqon Park, Tel Aviv

And being restricted to park and port, I am somewhat limited in the subject matters that I photograph — the sea, the waves, the birds, and so forth.

 

 

The Yarqon estuary after three stormy days

 

Parakeet

 

Drake

 

 

Kingfisher

Kingfisher

Occasionally, there are other things, too, like this very hungry tree making a meal of the railings on Stricker Street.

 

And on occasion, if you keep your eyes open, you find some other things of interest, like the sign below where it appears that Hebrew- and English-speaking males may enter & pee together and likewise Hebrew-speaking females. However, Anglophoniae are only permitted to enter one at a time (evidently)!

Men & Women and mistranslation

Finally, one of the joys of “working” at home is that a homeless quartet needs somewhere to rehearse, so while they get sown to business in the living room, I’m in the next room writing something like this!

What they were rehearsing was A MUSICAL HOMAGE—MozartString Quartet in G Major, K. 387 (dedicated to Haydn)KurtágArioso – Homage à Walter LevinBrahmsString Quartet in C Minor, Op. 51 No. 1 , for a live-streamed concert to be aired from the Jerusalem Music Center, next Tuesday 2/2/2021 at 19.00 hrs Israel time (GMT+2). https://www.jmc.org.il/index.php?p=stream

Meanwhile, for those of you who are interested, on Tuesday and Wednesday, February 8 & 9 at 20.00 hrs Israel time (GMT+2), you can purchase tickets for their next streamed concert either via the Carmel Quartet website (www.carmelquartet.com) or from (+972)-3-58-58553353.

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Monkey Business and more

Not really in the mood

I know I’m late with this one (not that I work to any strict timetable) but I needed to be in the mood and have a little more time for reflection than usual before I put pen to paper (or index fingers to keyboard) this week.  Does one write a blog post and ignore events less than a week after they occurred, in this case after the President of the United States appeared on television screens in America and around the world appearing to give the green light to tens of thousands of his supporters, who had descended on Washington to back his groundless claim that November’s presidential election had been “stolen” from him, to march on the Capitol and demonstrate against this “theft” of what was “rightfully” his?  Giving him the benefit of a teeny-weeny modicum of doubt, perhaps he was unaware that mingled with those who truly believed his claims were assorted thugs and anarchistic groups with agendas and, seemingly, operational plans of their own, who found that the President’s egging on of his own supporters presented them with an opportunity to wreak havoc to American democracy by threatening the lives of the duly elected legislators who had gathered to give formal legitimacy to the results of the election that had taken place a little over two months earlier ?

Spiralling out of control?

His words were more than just a call to thugs and other assorted idiots to march on the building that is the home of American democracy but to disrupt—if not bring to a complete end—the democratic process of rubber-stamping a result that everybody had been aware of for weeks, i.e., that Trump had lost the election.  Perhaps a man who cannot bear to be labelled a “loser”, whose narcissism was dealt a mortal blow, was not entirely aware that his words would be taken so literally and beyond.  What followed this seditious call for an insurrection and the overturning of the will of the people to replace it with the will of Trump just beggared belief.  This was happening not in Belarus or in Libya or Zimbabwe or some other banana republic but in the country which has prided itself as being the embodiment of democracy, a showcase for the rest of the world, armed with ironclad institutions to protect it.

The President of the United States had just incited a mob to disrupt —and perhaps prevent— the peaceful transfer of power from himself to his democratically elected successor.  Perhaps he intended that they just create a rumpus outside the building and intimidate those inside from afar; perhaps he did not did not plan that they enter the Capitol and lay waste to what they found there—but that’s what happened.  And the fact that so many Republican legislators seemed to think that it was all okay — until the mob entered the building, that is — is scary enough but that of those who voted for the Republican Party at the last election think so, too, is scarier still.  His call later in the afternoon, while the hoodlums were on the rampage, “We have to have peace. So go home. We love you. You’re very special. You’ve seen what happens you see the way, others are treated that are so bad and so evil. I know how you feel. But go home and go home and peace.” would have sounded like a bad joke if only it wasn’t serious and frightening — not just for the USA but for the world as a whole.

The unreadiness of the Capitol police to foresee what was about to happen and to do anything about it when it started it was equally terrifying.  Meanwhile, the Capitol has been turned into a large camping space for part of the 20,000 National Guards who will (hopefully) protect those at the Inauguration of President Biden.  It’s not America and how it prepares for elections is perfect — far from it.  Just think on the one side of the crusades to register “people of colour” and on the other,  legislation to make it  more difficult for them to vote.  Or the perpetual deeds of gerrymandering to influence the results of the election before people cast their votes at all we begin to understand how divided American society is and has always been.

But how America has changed! It used to be if that if there were a close result here or there, after all the recounts and examination  of claimed irregularities had been exhausted, the losing candidate would deliver a concession speech and pledge allegiance to the new President, his administration and Constitution or whatever.  Not this time around.

And while I was listening to Trump’s angry incitement last week and to the reports coming from Washington, I had also started reading Bob Woodward’s Rage, his second book on Donald Trump and had got to the following description from four years ago, just after Rod Rosenstein, who had occupied the second spot at the Justice Department for just 12 days, came in charge of the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election because his boss, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, had just recused himself from the investigation.  Rosenstein had just appointed Robert Mueller as Special Counsel to investigate this, telling one of Trump’s aides that the president should be encouraged because Mueller was going to expedite this and find out whether Trump aides had coordinated with Russia but not to get Trump. A special counsel investigation, he said, would be best for everyone. When Trump was informed (and this was in 2017!!!), he said, “This is the end of my presidency. I’m fucked!”

“In line with Rosenstein’s assurances”, wrote Woodward, “the official White House statement from Trump released … that evening said: ‘As I have stated many times, a thorough investigation will confirm what we already know—there was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity. I look forward to this matter concluding quickly. In the meantime, I will never stop fighting for the people and the issues that matter most to the future of our country.'”

According to Woodward, “Trump’s placatory tone was the opposite of his mood. The following morning Trump tweeted … that he wondered why there had been no special counsel for ‘all of the illegal acts’ of Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration. ‘The Russia investigation’, he said, ‘is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history.’ … Trump’s anger, more than any previously seen by his inner circle, was uncontrollable. He oscillated—stormed—between the Oval Office and his private dining room. ‘We barely got by,’ said Rob Porter, then the White House staff secretary. Trump is a large man—around 6-foot-3 and about 240 pounds, almost the size of a football linebacker. On the move and in a rage, he is frightening. Why Mueller? ‘I didn’t hire him for the FBI.’ Trump had interviewed Mueller for perhaps another tour as FBI director and rejected him. ‘Of course he’s got an axe to grind. Everybody’s trying to get me.’ Impeachment talk was on the TV. ‘What power does a special counsel have?’ Trump asked. ‘Virtually unlimited’, Porter, a lawyer, explained. … Trump stayed mostly on his feet, continuing to move between the Oval Office and the dining room. ‘I have to be fighting,’ he said in a frenzy. ‘I am the president. I can fire anybody I want. … ‘”

Seemingly little has changed in four years—five years, actually if you count the first Trump election campaign—so America had plenty of time to get used to the idea of a crazed man being in charge, a crazed man who has emboldened or perhaps scared into quiescence and pliability the right wing of the party he has led as well as spawning more extreme members of the other party to behave likewise.  As for the witch hunt, according to the President yesterday, it’s still ongoing and is now the worst witch hunt the whole world has ever seen.  Paranoia magnified by ego and self-obsession gone mad.

And this was all so beautifully summed up by Kal in last week’s edition of The Economist newspaper.

And then, what raced through my mind was whether or not something like that could happen here in Israel given the plethora of rightwing fanatics and desperadoes of all shades — secular, religious, strictly religious, Jews and Arabs — there are and, as repeated lockdowns have shown, prepared to ignore decisions taken by politicians.  But, it turns out that it’s already happened, albeit nearly 70 years ago and not because of a disputed election result.  However, it was something I had not been aware of before and which illustrates my ignorance on yet another issue!

https://www.thejc.com/comment/opinion/the-march-on-the-knesset-69-years-ago-1.510442

And I can’t help wondering whether or not it could happen again though I think that even Bibi Netanyahu, arch-panderer to Trump, might have been surprised by what took place in Washington last week.

 

 

Screen Shot 2017-03-21 at 16.20.11
Cormorant

But then if we look back just 25 years ….   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JhMF30VLZCA

 

And today? Cigars and Champagne

Meanwhile here in Israel, the campaign for the country’s fourth election in less than two years has been launched officially with the Prime Minister receiving his second dose of the vaccine, once more on live television.  Whereas I could understand the cameras being there when he received his first jab three weeks ago (setting an example to the population at large, &c. &c.), this time around when people had already seen him sitting, wearing the same black short-sleeved shirt as he did then, his stalwart self-satisfied smirk sitting smug on his mug, you knew for sure that the election was upcoming, and especially when the news reported yesterday that if things go according to plan, the adult population of Israel should have all received — or at least been offered — vaccinations by mid-March, i.e. just one week before the election

Mind you, last week was not without its funnier events, too.

Strictly unkosher (several times over)

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/video/2021/jan/12/welcome-to-brexit-dutch-officials-seize-ham-sandwiches-from-british-drivers-video

So, before I go further off on a tangent once again, some photographs from the past few weeks since I returned to the Promised Land in addition a few “oldies”.

Avian Reflections, Yarqon Park

 

A tale (tail?) of angles. Yarqon Park

 

At Tel Aviv Port (1)

At Tel Aviv Port (2)

Not many of these in the neighbourhood!

 

 

It’s been a long, long time.  Nordau Boulevard, Tel Aviv

 

Hoopoe. Minding its own business and enjoying the sun

 

Nice n’ easy does it every time

 

I take things quite seriously

And for those of you who’ve got this far, why not relax with some music.  A concert from last July (the 1st and only one of a planned three before the government banned assemblies of more than ten people indoors) starting the following put paid to the 2nd and 3rd).  Enjoy an hour and a half of Haydn, Ligeti and Brahms.
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Once More Unto the Breach, Dear Countrymen …

 

Israel’s [first?] election of 2021.  YOUR COUNTRY NEEDS YOU [R VOTE]

*************

Adrift with the prospect of another election (yet again!)

Back in Tel Aviv, I completed my fortnight of self-isolation — well, almost.  By my calculation, I should only have been permitted to exit the house last Monday morning but come Sunday, Day 13, I really couldn’t face another day of sitting around inside so I took myself out a day early to buy some bread and coffee beans, not that anyone was checking, or so it seemed. And just as in the previous period after I had spent two weeks in self-isolation in this country, in March 2020, when I eventually emerged from quarantine, it was straight into a lockdown, which began so it was said, on Sunday evening at 17.00 hrs and which is supposed to last “at least a fortnight but probably three weeks — or more”.  Not that anyone seemed to be paying much attention.

It is intended that we not wander more than 1 km from our places of residence but nevertheless one is permitted to do so—for exercise, to shop for food, and several other mundane things.  Public transport is still running, the traffic seems as heavy as normal—people are allowed to travel to work—though many shops are closed.  Food shops are open, pharmacies too, and other outlets providing “essential services and goods”, such as stores selling mobile phones.  It is also intended that we stay away from contact indoors with family and friends but if you want to buy, say, a new washing machine or if you have a problem with, say, your water or electricity supply, there’s nothing to stop you having someone come in and install the machine or fix the water or electricity even though the technician who arrives in your apartment may have visited half a dozen others before he gets to you on that same day. Significant matters, like cultural events are still taboo and remain virtual although musicians and actors are permitted to travel to work to rehearse and record programmes for future streaming or broadcast.  I hate to say this because I understand the objectives of this lockdown but the way things are panning out, it’s really farcical, which is why I heard on this morning’s news broadcast that next week will see the introduction of a new “serious” lockdown, in which there will be greater enforcement of confining citizen prisoners in their cells.

Emerging from quarantine (officially), the first task on my list of things to do was turn up for Vaccination Shot #1.  The day after arriving back from London, I had a text message from Maccabi Healthcare Services asking me to call and arrange an appointment for inoculation. Inoculations in Israel follow a strict order.  First, the Prime Minister and the Minister or Health (on live TV, of course.  What else?), then members of the government and Knesset and the State President, then health care workers and then the “vulnerable”, which includes some people with underlying health issues and the old (i.e., the over-60s!!!).  I called the number within two minutes receiving the notification and got a recorded message (which I had expected) telling me that because of the situation I might have to wait a little longer than usual, so I put the phone on speaker, prepared dinner, then ate dinner, cleared up and then waited after dinner.  Normally, I would have hung up after 15 minutes but I guessed that if I did that the appointment given me would be later than otherwise.  And then, just over an hour after placing the call, it was answered and I received an appointment for 10:04 on December 28 with a second shot due three weeks later.  The instructions were to turn up wearing a mask (naturally) 10 minutes before the designated time to avoid crowding so I duly arrived at 09.56.  I joined the line at 10.00, had a needle stuck in my upper arm at 10.03, was done by 10.05 and was instructed to sit outside in the sunshine for 10 minutes and if I felt OK, I was free to go home. It was like an automobile assembly plant, a conveyor belt.  I’ve never seen anything quite like it before in this country for sure, or elsewhere for that matter.  As of today (Friday), over 800,000 people have already received the vaccine in Israel, quite an achievement indeed.

Nothing could go wrong, they said, except that just after I arrived home, I felt something sickly and then ticklish and took a selfie.  I looked incredulously and then shaved and it hasn’t returned.

I found it hard to detach myself from the Brexit trade talk, which (along with Covid-19) had been the bread and butter of all the news in the UK during most of my time there, and especially during the last month.  With all the song and dance act about “deal/no deal”, I always had the impression that something would work out before the deadline so that it could be approved by the UK parliament by December 31 and so it came to be.  The UK Prime Minister was ecstatic — he’d won back sovereignty, independence and all the rest though other politicians seemed a little less euphoric than BoJo. As things turned out, my attention had been drawn to a BBC television programme Have I Got 30 Years for You, which was a retrospective on a satirical comedy programme, Have I Got News for You, that has been broadcast weekly for the past 30 years.  The format of the programme, which satirises the news of the previous week (mostly), is that there are two permanent panel members (Ian Hislop, editor of Private Eye, and Paul Merton, a professional and improvisatory comedian, both of whom have been there from the beginning), plus two guest panellists and a guest host that change from week to week.  At any rate, you can see the “interesting” bit at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_TXlLWOAZkU from 39 minutes and 19 seconds in, ending at 44:55—if you don’t want to watch the whole show.

Take a leaf from Boris’s book and address the voters looking good!

And here in Israel, it’s election time again.  The Knesset failed to approve a budget by the requisite date, so it was automatically dissolved with the result being a fourth election in the space of 23 months due on March 23, not that it is likely to change much.

The dissolution of the Knesset

And it’s taking place early enough in the year to enable a fifth election by the end of 2021 if necessary.  And if it’s not necessary?

Related to this, (yes, really) according to the Mayo Clinic, “Oral medications are often the first line of treatment for erectile dysfunction. …[M]edications work well and cause few side effects [and they include] Sildenafil (Viagra), vardenafil (Levitra, Staxyn), tadalafil (Cialis) and avanafil (Stendra)… .”  So far, so good.  But it’s not erectile dysfunction that plagues Israeli society, for in addition to the Coronavirus, there’s actually something else that might be called “electile” (perhaps more usually referred to as ‘electoral’) dysfunction in which the country and its population is kept in a semi-permanent state of readiness to perform its duty, not that it seems to solve anything at all.  Actually, the real reason there’s another election on the way is because it seems as if the people get fidgety and neurotic if they’re not forced to stand in line to vote every now and then every few months.  It’s rather like having a jab against the virus and then getting a booster a few months down the line..

To say that people are apathetic might be going a bit too far because most of us understand why it’s all happening again but I fail to recognise anything resembling enthusiasm.  When I left the polling station after Elections, Round 2, on September 17 2019, as my ID card was returned to me, I (only half-jokingly) wished the young people checking the voters’ lists all the best and told them I’d probably see them again in the Spring.  This time round, I suppose I’ll tell them—only half-jokingly once more—that I’ll see them again in September-October unless the seemingly impossible happens and the voters manage to scrape together a majority that forces the sitting Prime Minister out of office,

SuperJew — The alternative Israeli Prime Minister?

thereby preventing him from obtaining the kind of immunity he really craves, an immunity of impunity that has absolutely nothing to do with vaccines or Coronavirus. 

… or perhaps this is he?

I wrote on this blog early in 2019 and at the beginning of 2020 that the Israeli electoral system is a mess and I frankly didn’t expect I’d would need to write similar words again so soon.  But as I mentioned on both those occasions, there was a time when as an active academic, I was interested in electoral reform and if I didn’t think that electoral reform was the epitome of an “academic” topic (in Israel at any rate), I might have stuck with it. But we’re landed with the electoral system we’ve got. It’s not that the voters are uninterested in changing the system; it’s just that they’re unaware that there are other electoral systems out there in the wider world that would serve them better.  (I don’t really want to use the word “ignorant” as that would be “elitist” of me — but they are). I find it odd that it’s never a topic that gets discussed in the media or elsewhere and that’s probably because the politicians, for their part, don’t want to countenance any change at all because they are comfortable with the system that exists and they know how it works (for them).

Waterman—Elections

Perhaps I’m just a little cynical (“A little?”, they murmur to themelves as they read this) but the main issue is that Israel’s elected politicians represent nobody but themselves and their buddies in their respective parties.  There are no constituencies or electoral districts; the country as a whole is just a single electoral district.  In order to get elected, a candidate has to be placed high enough on the list of candidates that the parties present to the Electoral Commission.  That means that each of them has to be active within his own party and is beholden only to the party members or leaders and frankly, for the most part, none of them give two hoots or two anything else about the voters.  So voters — ordinary, uncomplicated people like me — get to choose a list of people, most of whom are unknown to the electorate at large.  And in fact, although the lists exist, very few people know where to find them even if they wish to so voters end up picking a piece of paper with a letter or two or three printed on it, symbols representing the party, and stuffing it into an envelope and the envelope into a box. We can’t even express any preference by promoting or demoting a candidate on the list that we choose as is possible in some other countries that operate similar systems.  So given the method used, and my dissatisfaction with the parties and politicians contesting this election, my initial reaction was that this time, instead of taking one of the slips with printed letters on it and stuffing it in the official envelope, I would instead insert two pieces of lavatory paper, preferably used pieces, to make my point.  But I would, indeed, be spoiling my vote.  Consequently, I will probably do something less hideous if not a lot more sensible.  Anyway, lavatory paper is something that seems to enter public consciousness as a commodity that is susceptible to being in short supply during lockdown, so as a potentially scarce item, I shouldn’t waste it on something as frivolous as casting a vote.

At any rate, things stink.

In addition to the absurd lack of resonate responsibility in Israel’s electoral system, one’s vote can only be cast on the day of the election at the polling station designated by the address that appears on one’s ID card.  There is no such thing as an absentee vote; there is no postal vote.   And for a country as hi-tech as Israel is, there is no such thing as an electronic vote.  Very simply put, if you can’t be there on the day and at the predetermined place, you can’t vote—unless you are either a diplomat or a member of merchant marine serving out of Israel on election day.  It’s a absolute shame and a complete sham.

Israeli voters seeking out their polling booths.

In this regard, I had a call one day last week from a friend in London who rang me to find how how I was doing and then launched into a story about him wishing to know when he would be able to get an appointment to have the coronavirus vaccine (in London).  So he contacted his MP and receieing what he regarded as an unacceptable response, he contacted him again and then for a third time.  I listened patiently to this wail and tale of woe and when it concluded, I said simply that he was very lucky to have a representative to contact because in Israel, the populace has no such representative because the 120 members of the Knesset are in no way individually beholden to any recognisable group of voters in any specific geographical area. 

What is entirely lacking in Israel’s political system is something which generates a modicum of humility amongst its elected representatives, something that would remind them—as individuals rather than as members hidden behind a party leader and concealed within the blanket of a party list—that in order to be to re-elected, they have to show to a specific and distinct electorate that they are worthy of re-election.  As long as they’re invisible (or in some cases far too visible and audible) inside a list and the voters can’t “push” them down if they really dislike them, all they have to do is suck up to their party colleagues and they can continue be as corrupt or useless as they want to be.  Or, if they really get exasperated, they can leave and form a new party (see below).  Sadly, there is no electoral reform in the offing and nothing will happen in the foreseeable future or in my lifetime. In its absence, we will continue with the current charade because the only people who are qualified to reform the system are the members of the Knesset (referenda in Israel constitute another pipe dream) and they have no interest whatsoever in doing so!

However, I lost interest in electoral reform at the end of the 1980s, believing that I was wasting time and effort.  I’d participated in three residential seminars held in Tel Aviv, organised by the precursor of the Israel Democracy Institute, a non-partisan think-and-do tank that works to bolster the values and institutions of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, employing applied research to influence policy, legislation and public opinion and electoral reform was part of a more general discussion about a Constitution for Israel.  These seminars brought together politicians and academics from Israel and abroad to discuss the issue through formal presentations, round-table deliberations, and informal chats and discussions over meals.  It was all very enlightening.   One of the Israeli politicians, a former Speaker of the Knesset, said quite openly over breakfast one morning that he thought he had understood something about electoral reform when he agreed to participate in the seminar but that when he heard the discussions, he realised that he actually knew nothing and for a politician to say so in public that he doesn’t understand something was a revelation. But my overall impression after these meetings was that the Israeli politicians present had not the slightest interest in changing anything and would do their utmost to prevent people from discussing it.

So here we are, in January 2021 heading into another election campaign.

There is no shortage of political parties, new or old.  Far from it!  In fact, it seems as if new parties are being created and introduced to the unsuspecting electorate every day.  There are so many parties and so many current and potential Knesset members running from one party to the other that it’s impossible to keep track of who’s having it off with whom.  In fact, the politicians and their parties seem so promiscuous that the whole affair has become definitely orgiastic in nature.  Poltical promiscuity and debauchery seems to be the order of the day!  And the knives are out not just among parties with within them.

… and it’s not at all funny!

An Israeli voter hovers while she surveys the scene below and tries to decide which clump of yarn-spinners to vote for. 

Here we see Israeli politicians arriving to explain to the expectant public the policies of their party and thereby cadge votes from the electorate

Israel’s floating voter

 

But what they mostly do is turn a blind eye to the voters’ real wishes!

 

Here we see how they seek out potential coalition partners

Political bullying.  If you don’t join my coalition, I’ll eat you for breakfast!

This is just a quiet difference of opinion among close friends discussing the coalition negotiations

 

Sometimes things work out badly.  “You ratted on us. Now you’ve paid the ultimate price.”

 

Caught in the act. Jumping parties from right to left!

 

But if we join the coalition, we can offer you favours — for a price!

 

Coalition negotiations over! Exhaustion reigns.

 

Disgruntled.  Let me out of here (a retiring politician!)

 

We won!

 

But not everyone can!

 

The aftermath of the election campaign

Is it really worth it? Perhaps they’re all bats and a genuine dictatorship is what’s really needed!

 

Let’s hope that 2021 is a better year than 2020, a year I’d like to be able to forget but probably won’t.

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Five Years On — & a year to try and forget

 

This post will probably seem somewhat different to previous ones, mainly because I have been prevented from being able to go outside generally and to take photographs specifically.  As a consequence, what I’m going to write this time round might seem somewhat out of the ordinary, because what usually emerges is a “story” somehow linked to photographs I’ve taken recently but this time, the photos that appear have have been around for some time and some of the stories are personal.  So if you don’t want to read on, you can stop here and come back in 2021.  (BTW, I’m also taking this opportunity to note that this week marks five years since I began this blog—something that I hadn’t intended to happen when I set out, 20 posts having been my original aim way back in December 2015.)

I arrived back in Tel Aviv on Tuesday evening last week at the end what turned out to be 3-month stay in London. The winter solstice has just passed but more importantly than length of daylight hours, it seems like I arrived back just in time, given the COVID-related events over last weekend in the just-about-still United Kingdom, as a new and more virulent strain of the Coronavirus was making its presence felt.  Had I decided to return a few days later, I might just have delayed my return till Easter, never mind the end of year holiday season and that’s because in a state of panic, it would seem, Israel has over-reacted by closing its airspace to flights originating in the UK.  Non-Israeli citizens were not permitted to board the last few flights from the UK to Israel at all and for Israelis in the UK and returning “home”, the government decreed that they couldn’t actually go home but were required to spend 14 days in a government-sponsored “Corona hotel” — but they didn’t discover this until the planes had actually landed in the country.  I attach a piece tweeted by one of these passengers and kindly forwarded to me by one of my daughters via Facebook.  (The translation from Hebrew is mine!).  If I had been on that flight, they’d have had to carry me off screaming — or I probably would have done what some others did and just waited until the plane turned around to fly back to the UK!  Corona Hotel

Actually, before I left London, my son asked me how long I had spent in captivity during the three months I was resident in the UK and the short answer, given a period of 14 days of quarantine, three days of torrential downpour (that was at the beginning of October when Saturday 3 October became the wettest day on record since 1891 for UK-wide rainfall and 84 mm fell on NW3 on October 2,3,& 4), then a 28-day lockdown and four days during which I was ill — a total of 49 days out of 89— 55% of the time I spent there.  Add to that another 14 days of quarantine in Tel Aviv last March, followed immediately when that ended by a month of lockdown in April and all that adds up to a long time locked up/down/in.  And next Monday, after yet another 14 days of quarantine, I am due to exit in order to receive a vaccination but this morning’s news at 7 a.m. informed me that as of 17.00 hrs on Sunday week, Israel starts a further lockdown of two weeks, which, if infection rates fail to come down will be extended by a further fortnight.  And through all of this, the callous cretins in charge of this country couldn’t agree on a budget by the date required by law, resulting in the automatic dissolution of parliament and yet another election on March 23, the fourth in less than two years.  Unbelievable but nevertheless you have to believe it because it will happen, COVID or not!

So I got back, safely at least, in time to experience some reality TV, as vaccination time had arrived for some.  The American Vice-President, Michael Richard Pence, appeared with his wife, Karen, the Second Lady (a.k.a. Tuppence), on live TV to bare their upper arms and receive the needle in an exercise to demonstrate to the American public in general and the League of Anti-Vaxxers in particular  that there is nothing to fear from receiving the vaccine.  Mr. Pence’s eyes even suggest that he’s enjoying his moment of renown; Tuppence, however, doesn’t appear to quite as happy about the situation in which she’s been placed but she bravely went through with it nevertheless.

Screen Shot 2020-12-21 at 14.56.52

Back home on the range, it was the usual Bibi show.  Turn up with an army of handlers and bodyguards alongside the Minister of Health and make a speech in order to be and be seen as the first Israeli to receive a Covid shot (no modesty there) and thereby achieve immunity, even if it’s not the immunity for which he’s been searching for the past three years and as a result of which we will have endured four election cycles in the space of 23 months.  No doubt, he will try and make the case for achieving herd immunity by vaccination during the upcoming election campaign, hoping tat the herd will vote for him, whereas his rivals will make hay by reminding voters of his never-ending attempts to legislate immunity from prosecution for a sitting Prime Minister.  However, to his credit, I must say that it was one of the few times during which he has appealed for national unity and that people work together (by having the vaccine).

However, I noticed that his personal physician Dr. Tzvi Berkovitz who gave him the vaccine is not wearing gloves — so much for hygiene.  Personally, I would have asked his friend Trump whether or not it would have been better to have shot of bleach or disinfectant as the President suggested for curing “Kung Flu” way back when.  Then, after receiving the shot the Prime Minister was seated under observation for 30 minutes I order to discover whether or not he had an allergic reaction but all was OK.  

Fear Not! Nothing could go wrong!

Vaccine politicians - 1.jpeg

I suppose it’s time to insert a photo at this stage but photos have been few and far between over the past fortnight.  Nevertheless, here are the last picture I took before leaving London and the first I’ve taken since returning to Tel Aviv.

Back to the stories.  Several interesting things have happened to me over the past few weeks.

The first concerns my first week in London last September.  Last August, a few weeks before I left Tel Aviv, I’d agreed to review an article for a journal I’d been associated with for many years.  I rarely get papers to review any more, which is just as well.  However, every now and then something turns up (it’s as if editors maintain a database of potential reviewers from which my name has not yet been deleted).  I read the abstract and thought it might be interesting so I agreed to do the review but somehow the timing was off and I didn’t get around to it before I departed in September.  I took the printed manuscript with me and eventually, but after the deadline, I got around to reading the article (three times, as it happens) and felt it was less interesting than the abstract had suggested.  These days, requests for reviews are “anonymously” sent from the publisher’s website and in this case there was no interaction with the editor.  I submitted the review a few days past the due date (and I couldn’t do it on the website as a result) but having done the work, I decided to send the review anyway with a recommendation to reject the paper as it needed a substantial rewrite and I thought it unsuitable for the journal anyway and then, a couple of days later, I received a letter from the journal manager and thought that that was that.

So, imagine my surprise when, almost two months after submitting the reviews I received an email from the editor in which I read: “I wanted to write personally, to thank you for reviewing the above referenced manuscript. Reviewing takes a lot of time on top of and in addition to our already busy working lives. I appreciated your review.  I have reached a revise decision on the manuscript. Although this is at odds with your recommendation, the other reviewers felt there could be scope for a revise and resubmit so I have given the author this benefit. I have urged them to think seriously on issues of methodology and the positioning of the paper for our journal.  Thank you for your contribution and time in reviewing this manuscript, which not only assisted me in reaching my decision, but also enables the author(s) to consider their work in the context of expert assessment.”

I wrote back the following: “Thanks for your letter, which I very much appreciated.  I’ve been associated with [the journal] for over 35 years as an author, reviewer and member of the editorial board.  This is the first time ever that any editor has informed me of how my review helped them reach a decision. Occasionally, I’ve asked if I thought I might have gone a bit overboard and received replies.  I hope that this was not a one-off and that you continue to do this with other reviewers because although we do it because it’s part of the job, it informs us that our views have been taken on board.”

Then, the following week, I had a request from a colleague at the University of Haifa to ask me if I’d be willing to talk to the department’s doctoral students about how to prepare a journal article for publication.  I didn’t have to think too long about whether I wanted to do this because over the years I’ve learned a lot and thought that I actually might have something worthwhile to contribute.  Even though it’s a Zoom meeting, which I abhor, I’m actually looking forward to it.

A third event in this month of pleasant surprises was when I received an email from a Professor of International Relations at the University of Tartu in Estonia which read: “Dear Prof Stanley Waterman: I have your conference paper “Partition: Containment or Provocation?” which you were supposed to present at the 7th Mediterranean Social and Political Research Meeting, Montecatini Terme, 22-26 March 2006. Unfortunately, you were not able to make it at that time. I know this because I was one of the workshop organisers. I’m just writing to see whether you managed to get this paper published. If so, could you please send the copy. If not, may I ask your kind permission to make a reference to this piece?”

I laughed out loud as I read this in amazement because I had no recollection whatsoever of ever writing a paper of that title or of planning to be in Tuscany in March 2006.  And then it struck me.  I must have written the paper a few months before the said conference was held but the date of the conference was in between two moves — a short one in Belsize Park in London after which we returned to Israel after nearly six years in London and then moved from Haifa to Tel Aviv.  I must have decided that I wouldn’t be able to manage two moves and a trip to Italy.  However, Professor Berg sent me a copy of the paper I was to have delivered — and yes, I found it on the hard disk of the computer so I printed it out and read it and it actually reads quite well.  So, I might just—I said might—re-work it and see if I can turn it into a journal article!  Miracles never do cease!

And then in the week prior to these events, I had an email from an American colleague informing me about a chapter I had contributed to a book that he had edited.  My chapter was on National Anthems and has an “interesting history”.  More than 15 years ago, the same colleague had suggested that we jointly write an original journal article on national anthems, which  I thought it was a great idea.  So I put together a reading list, bought a CD collection of national anthems so that I could familiarise myself with them (they’re mostly insipid pieces of music) as well as the Ninth Edition of Reed & Bristow’s  National Anthems of the World so that I could analyse the words and play them on the piano.  I created files of themes used in anthems and everything else needed to write an article but after I began to write, managing about 4,000 words, I read it back and concluded that it didn’t really contain enough original material to be an article in a scholarly journal.  As a consequence, I wrote to my American colleague to say that I was abandoning the project.  However, as has been my habit when I forsake something I’ve worked on for some time, I leave it on the computer—just in case.

So, fast forward about a decade and I receive an invitation from another colleague editing a book, tentatively entitled Handbook of Geopolitics, with a request that I write a chapter for a section called Geopolitical Representations and Images with a suggested tentative title: “Geopolitics and Music”.   So, I re-read the partial draft I’d written in 2004, updated the bibliography, read the new material and rewrote the article draft so that it now read as a chapter in a book and got it back to the person who had commissioned it before the due date.  Seven months later, and having heard nothing, I received another email telling me (and another 16 people who had already sent contributions) that for personal reasons, he didn’t have enough time to devote to the project but that [perhaps] in a couple of years …

Well, I’d invested time and effort and it seemed like a pity that it should go to waste.  As a consequence, I sent it to the person who had originally suggested the topic a decade and a half before, simply asking if he could take the time to read it and perhaps suggest a possible outlet for it.  Imagine my surprise when he said he would publish it in a[nother] book he was editing and for which, incidentally, I had already written a chapter—and, more importantly, I didn’t need to make any changes.

Fast forward a couple of years, to three weeks ago, in fact, and I get an email reading: “Greetings… ! I have attached the latest download data for [the book] chapters. Note that some chapters have been available online much longer than others, so chapters at the bottom may catch up in the coming months.  We will send a new list sometime in 2021. The total is now over 50,000! Congratulations on a job well done.”

So I looked and this is what I saw.  I was a little unbelieving and wrote back to say so but was reassured that the numbers were correct.  I was really pleased!

 

Finally, a couple of [mostly unrelated] photographs, but this blog is called PhotoGeoGraphy.

Menage a trois.jpg

Ménage à trois

 

Huldai Clean Government 2011

Clean Government!  Ron Huldai, Tel Aviv’s Mayor

 

Stormy day

A stormy day at Tel Aviv Port

 

Boris's folly.jpg

Boris’s Folly

 

Mitzpe Ramon

At Mitzpeh Ramon, October 2017

 

Baby (Royal Academy).jpg

Antony Gormley’s “Baby”.  Royal Academy, London.  December 2019

 

Puppy (Bilbao).jpg

Jeff Koons’s “Puppy”.  Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao.  May 2015

And Season’s Greetings and let’s hope that 2021 is a better year than the one just passed!

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It’s all to do with timing

How do many of us get our news these days?

Why?  Via the Web, of course!

I’m very “late” with this post indeed and, as I sit down to start writing it, which is already a few days ago, I should have been one a plane from London to Tel Aviv at the start of this week. However, the reality is that as things stand, I’m still in London, which, this time, was not something of my own choosing.

On Monday morning last week, I had the beginnings of what is sometimes euphemistically called a “stomach upset”, a pain in the gut, which over the course of the morning led to all the symptoms one would expect in such a situation and I won’t bother you with all the grisly details.  Suffice to say that walking (or shuffling) the eight or nine metres or so from bed to bathroom was a major effort accomplished with more than a little difficulty.  By the following morning, things felt a little better but far from well.  As a consequence, I called the local NHS clinic and asked to speak to a doctor and I was informed by the receptionist that I would be contacted that afternoon. (It’s a group practice and in a group practice one never knows which doctor is going to answer the call).  Sure enough, early in the afternoon, just after what would have been lunchtime had I been in the mood to eat, one of the doctors called me and I described to her pretty accurately all of the gory details of the previous 36 hours.  She listened, asking relevant questions, and then told me what I had guessed anyway, that it sounded like a viral infection but that it was “nothing to worry about” as it usually clears up within 48 hours.

The following morning, however, and feeling a good bit better, I got a shock when I looked in the mirror as I prepared to shave and was got a rude awakening by what I saw.  And what I saw was that I was covered in red blotches from neck to midriff as if someone had taken a pot of purple paint with a paintbrush and aimed the brushed, dripping with paint, straight at me. And the thing was that it seemed to be spreading across my body before my very eyes.  There had been nothing there at all the previous evening as I went to bed yet during the less than two hours from the time I first observed it, just before 6 a.m., it had spread to my thighs.  I looked like some modernist abstract painting in the shape of a man.  Here I go, thought I, I’m on my way out—my end is nigh.

So I phoned the clinic as soon as it opened and later in the morning yet another doctor from the group practice called me and I described the actively developing situation to him.  He sounded cheery enough and he, too, said “Nothing to worry about”. “Urticaria”, he said, “a common reaction to a viral infection”.  Urticaria, I discovered, is just a fancy word for hives, which up to then I had thought was what young children occasionally got as a reaction to eating something like strawberries or raspberries.  The last time I had hives was when I was about seven or eight.

Just to be on the safe side, I sent the pictures of mottled me to my GP in Tel Aviv and asked him his opinion. After a couple of hours, back came his response: “Urticaria”, he said, “a common reaction to a viral infection”.  So, I was treated to a week of antihistamines during which the purple blotches have faded to a phantom what they had once been, the palest pastel pink.

So, I re-booked a trip back to Tel Aviv and hope that next Tuesday evening, at the FOURTH time of asking, I’ll make it—steeling myself for yet another round of what’s become my most frequently played out activity game of this weirdest of years—quarantine/lockdown.  Hopefully, as I move into 2021, I will qualify to have a vaccination against this nasty bug that has upended the world over the past year.

Taking about vaccines, it looks was if at some stage between Chanukah/Christmas and Easter/Pesach, we will have a choice of several different products.  There was great excitement here in UK last week at the announcement that the first vaccine had been approved and was being shipped in bulk from Belgium to the UK and when the first, 90-something year old person received her jab, the event was covered by the media and as she was wheeled away in her wheelchair following the short procedure, she was cheered on by all the onlookers.

As usual, politicians have been at the forefront of the ballyhoo about vaccines.

Matt [wu]Hancock, the UK Health Secretary, smiled for what seemed to be the first time in many months (and given his job, he hasn’t had much to smile about) when he announced that British regulators had approved the Pfizer vaccine. Then he and some other Conservative colleagues put this speedy approval down to Brexit and the fact that the soon-to-be fully re-independent UK did not have to wait for European regulators to take their time over approving it.  (Meanwhile, 4½ years after the Brexit referendum, Brexit talks seem to be drawing to their almost inevitable conclusion that there will be no trade deal, although by Sunday, everything might change on that score.) The fact that the vaccine was developed in Germany by a Turkish immigrant couple seems to have escaped Mr. Hancock’s attention last week.)

On the other side of the Atlantic, three former American presidents, Barack Obama, George W Bush and Bill Clinton volunteered to have their Covid-19 vaccinations publicly televised once it has been approved by regulators and recommended by US health officials in a move intended to boost public confidence in the safety and efficacy of coronavirus vaccines, a good idea.

We were also treated to President-elect Biden introducing his Health team to the media and the American people in what seemed to me like a patriotic and conciliatory speech that sounded like an attempt to begin to heal the rifts in American society.  He, probably somewhat over-optimistically, set a goal of 100 million Covid vaccinations in his first 100 days in office, starting January 20 and although he realistically said that his first months in office would not end the outbreak and he gave few details about a rollout plan, he said he would change the course of Covid-19.  He also urged Americans to “mask up for 100 days”.  All of this might have been a little far-fetched but it at least indicated to those listening and viewing that he understands that there is an urgent problem that needs to be dealt with.  The BBC News programme that transmitted Mr. Biden’s pitch to the American people then switched to a “Coronavirus event” at the White House chaired by his erstwhile rival, the sitting President, who spoke for about three or four minutes about how wonderfully America has managed the pandemic (really!!!) before switching to a tirade on what has become his favourite hobby horse, about how he had been robbed of the election by people wheeling out illegal votes in suitcases from underneath tables and telling viewers that he won millions of votes more than any other sitting president.  However, he failed to mention that notwithstanding his record-breaking number of votes for a sitting President, his erstwhile rival had received 7 million more votes than he did — but then they were all illegal.

The Israeli Prime Minister couldn’t be left in the cold and remain silent so, in similar vein and is the wont of vain politicians, he announced that he would be the first person to receive the vaccine in Israel, as if we didn’t know already what a brave and thoughtful man he really is!  Given that he has manhandled and mishandled the whole Coronavirus episode as a one-man show, why not bare your arm in front of the nation and receive the first vaccination, thereby protecting himself and allowing us the privilege of being led by him for yet another decade at least.

Having written all this nonsense, let’s hope that by the summer, and with the help of the vaccines, we will be able to rid ourselves of notices and situations such as these and feel healthy again, shiny all over.

 

Post-Coronavirus Man. The Regent’s Canal, London

Looking at the notices on the tunnel wall on the  London Underground, I sometimes avert my gaze and look down and wonder what would happen to those whose English might let them down.  I suppose that if it lets them down, then down they go!

 

Lockdown and ancillary restrictions help bring out initiatives and inventiveness in people—even though entering someone’s home to offer them a haircut or a shave might not be considered by some not to be observing Government guidelines unquestionably.

On the other hand, this gentleman, who was located close to the entrance to Angel Underground Station in Islington was doing nothing wrong, just showing initiative and getting with the job at hand!  (One person who saw this last week observed that initially he thought it might have been the former Leader of the Labour Party seeking a disguise but on closer inspection realised that it wasn’t.)

Ostensibly, I came to London in mid-September for a six-week family visit and somehow through a series of unfortunate series of mistimings and other events out of my control, I’ve seen off a gorgeous autumn and been here to welcome a cold winter.

However, although winter is well and truly here, there are already reminders that spring isn’t all that far off.

… and not everyone or everybody is necessarily cold, including this little furry thing (male)!

And one day the week before last, en route to Hampstead Heath to meet friends, I came across this and wondered what the ½ really indicated.

Really???

And last week, feeling well enough to get out, I managed to do something that I never thought I’d manage on this trip to London and walked along Eton Avenue to the Hampstead Theatre and saw a LIVE performance in a socially distanced auditorium—55 minutes of Harold Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter.  Frankly, I didn’t care what it was — just the feeling of being able to sit in a theatre and watch to live actors strut their stuff was enough to leave me on a high!

… and to those to whom it applies, a Happy Chanukah!

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Salvation and sludge

In the front garden

I’ve been curious about what I hear and read about the state of our mental health during lockdown.  I’ve been in the UK now for almost nine weeks, just about the longest continuous period of time I’ve spent here in the past 15 years and of those 61 days, 35 have been spent either self-isolating or in lockdown, and there still 10 more days of current lockdown to go.  Moreover, the thought of a further fortnight of quarantine once I return to Tel Aviv, I find a little daunting, to say the least.

This morning, I looked out of the window as I sat at the computer and realised that I’ve been observing the seasons transmogrify from autumn at its most glorious to the beginnings of winter.  This notwithstanding, I found myself last week looking at a blank wall and uttering profanities in its direction but, unsurprisingly, there was no response.  I mentioned this to a friend and she said that people our age shouldn’t be talking to walls, that we should really be talking to ourselves.  So I gave that a try but it didn’t really work as the acknowledgements I was receiving in return sounded too much like those of an old cynic with whom I’ve been familiar for a long time and they didn’t really do anything to improve the state of my mental wellbeing.  They only convinced me that what I have always felt is, in many ways, true. The truth is that I’m not really going nuts but I sense a certain unease and frustration—with the situation in general and with politicians specifically.  (You’ll notice, if you bother to read on, that this week’s post has no mention of a Bibi, a Boris, a Trump or any other politicos who more often than not enter these diatribes!  Difficult to do but it happens on occasion.)

So I just grit my teeth and get on with it.

About three weeks ago, I had a phone call from someone who introduced himself as representing the North Central London Diabetic Eye Screening Programme.  I had never heard of such a programme before and I wondered why they decided to call me and then it dawned on me that a couple of hours prior to his call, I had a conversation with a nurse at the local NHS clinic to review the results of blood tests I had had a couple of weeks after arriving in London in which she told me that I was “pre-diabetic”, something I’d known for a few years.  The young man, who had seemed more than a trifle confused, offered me an appointment at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead a couple of days later and told me that I would receive a text message confirming the appointment.  No such message arrived on that day so the following morning I called the Ophthalmology Department at the Royal Free and left a voice message with all my details, asking whether or not I really did have an appointment.  No response was forthcoming by the morning of said appointment and a further attempt to establish contact failed and, the weather being what it was,  I decided that a 40-minute round trip walking in the rain to get to a clinic where I might or might not have an appointment wasn’t worth it.

Then, last week, I received what I can only describe as a reprimand, a letter which began “We made an appointment for you to have your diabetic eye screening  examination … and our records suggest that you did not attend.”  How British!  Their records didn’t suggest; they screamed out loud.  I don’t like being rebuked when I don’t think that I’m the one at fault, so I emailed them back informing them why I didn’t turn up and I called the following morning and relayed the same message verbally.  I was given a new appointment (which I did attend, last week) and was told again that I would receive a text message for confirmation.  When, after half an hour no such message had arrived, I called again to ask them to which number the text message had been sent and was told that it had been sent to the number from which I was calling but that they would send it again just in case.  I am now awaiting three text messages. Perhaps they got held up in lockdown. But to my surprise, I did receive another email in answer to my rather tart rejoinder to the “letter of rebuke” apologising for the mix-up!  So some things work.

At any rate, I went to the NHS clinic in Kentish Town and had the eye scan.  I don’t particularly like eye scans especially when a rather bright light is aimed straight at my eye so I wasn’t looking forward to it.  However, on this occasion, there was no bright light at which I had to stare.  Rather there was one flash of the brightest yellow light I’ve ever experienced which blinded me (once in each eye) for perhaps a second or two after which the technician, looking at her computer screen, told me that there didn’t seem to be any serious problem with my eyes, which was good to hear.

After that, I decided to walk from Kentish Town to Belsize Park along Prince of Wales Road, a street I’d often driven along but never walked, I passed the Church of Christ just before the junction of Castlehaven Road, and given my state of mind re lockdowns and quarantines, my eyes were attracted to the sign that appears below …

… and there, on the adjoining poster, was spelled out the five-stage strategy for attaining salvation.

I studied these carefully and came to the conclusion that as I age, I seem to be increasingly hard of hearing so Stage 1 might prove difficult.  I also found that Stage 2 might be awkward because again, as I age, I appear to believe less and less of less of what I read.  With regard to Stage 3, were I to be provided with an organised list, I might be able to tick off what might apply but as that’s unlikely to happen, so that went by the board as well.  Re Stage 4, the only thing to which I might confess is that I have a tendency towards cynicism.  Finally, I’m not quite sure how the creators of this message envisage this re-enactment taking place and anyway, I have a fear of water.

So having digested the message and come to the conclusion that this kind of salvation wasn’t really for me, I continued my walk along Prince of Wales Road and came across a rather handsome terraced block of flats.

Lockdown, however, doesn’t mean that I’m indoors 24/7.  The week before last, a walk along The Regents Canal with some friends yielded some satisfying photos.

One never quite knows what one is likely to see en route.  No sooner had we arrived than I saw an amateur acrobat strutting his stuff.  He was quite impressive if only because his body shape was not what one usually associates with acrobatics.  The first photo of the three is nothing much to write home about (not that I can manage myself) but my youngest grandchild does it each day as a matter of course.

His second movement was quite impressive and he held that position for several seconds.

However, it was the third exercise that had me stop and stare because he held that position for at least half a minute and, as I said, his overall  body shape didn’t seem to tally with what he had managed to accomplish.

And the pictures didn’t stop with just acrobatics but also contained some landscape photography!

The Regent’s Canal, Islington

Prior to the walk along the canal, we’d been to Newington Green to visit a public sculpture,the work of a British artist, Maggi Hambling, commemorating Mary Wollstonecraft, a 19th century feminist writer and advocate and the mother of Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein. The sculpture, the culmination of a decade-long campaign, was unveiled on November 10 2020 and attracted a lot of media attention.  It is is sited opposite the Newington Green Unitarian Church that Wollstonecraft attended. The work is a representation of a naked female figure, emerging out of organic matter and was described by the BBC as “a swirling mingle of female forms”. Inscribed on the plinth is the quotation: “I do not wish women to have power over men but over themselves”. The sculpture has been criticised for its depiction of nudity and objectification of the female form, something that several people considered inappropriate for representing a feminist figure but the artist noted that the figure in the work was not intended as a historical likeness of Wollstonecraft, saying that she felt that clothes would have restricted her as statues in historic costume seem as if they belong to history because of their clothes and it was crucial that she be considered relevant ‘now’.

Frankly, I don’t know what all the hoo-hah was about.  The naked lady is tiny and you have to have pretty good eyesight to view it.  I couldn’t see what there was to be offended about but then I couldn’t really appreciate it as a great piece of art.  Everyone to their own, it seems.

Walking back towards the car, I encountered something that looked as if it was an interesting happening.  The shop was shuttered and it seemed as if the gentleman wanted to get in but he hadn’t received permission.  I’m not sure what language he was speaking—perhaps Turkish—but there was a constant stream of words being injected into the letterbox, apparently with nil response from whomsoever was inside or whomsoever he thought might be inside.

 

And then, of course, there’s always Primrose Hill to offer its weekly complement of images!

Finally, Sunday afternoon brought 2½ hours of walking with the London grandchildren and their parents on Hampstead Heath.  They, being who they are, tend to shun the main footpaths  on the understanding that nothing could be more interesting and fun than strolling, slipping and sliding along little-used byways?  The operative words to describe this activity are “mud” and “fallen leaves” which were in superabundance.

I’ve never been a great fan of mud!  I was told that I must not use the word “hate”, so I just loathe it.

 

Fallen leaves, bare trees, and more mud

The activity started a little later than planned due to a misunderstanding regarding the meeting place and it seems that I misread the map of where we were supposed to meet up. After all, I’m (or I was) a geographer!  Fortunately, as I waited to be located, the weather was mild and the skies were more or less clear.

Waiting the arrival of family members on Hampstead Heath

Mud, mud, glorious mud!

However, one of the positive outcomes of this foray into ooze and sludge is that I was able to teach the other the chorus of The Hippopotamus Song, the Flanders and Swann hit from six decades ago.

 

 

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America, vaccines and the end of autumn

It’s been an odd week.  Last Tuesday, Americans (at least, those who had not already voted in person or by mail) went to the polls to elect a new President or to re-elect the current one.  As I write the election is over and although it is clear that one candidate received more votes in more states than the other, the serving President refuses to concede that he lost the election.  He is bent upon spending what will probably amount to millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money (which, if we are to believe reports, a sum to which he contributed $750 last year) in attempting to prove that the election was “stolen” by votes that arrived late and which shouldn’t be counted at all.

If memory serves me correctly, we’ve been hearing claims like this from Mr. Trump for four years now.  In 2016. he was unable to admit to the fact that Hillary Clinton had received more votes than he had when the total votes cast had been tallied (not that the popular vote means anything under the American electoral system), claiming that several million votes had been cast by illegal immigrants to the United States. He also disputed the size of the crowds that had turned out in Washington to observe his inauguration, though there was no room for dispute there as counting heads is easy and when the media reported otherwise, it became “fake news”, one of the man’s favourite terms (it’s a phrase that’s easy to articulate because each of the two words contains only a single syllable) and the one he will probably be remembered by — along with “alternative facts”.

As the man has another 70 days to complete his term of office, the mind boggles at what chaos he might cause not only among government bureaucracy and not only to the United States  but to the world as a whole.  We can only hope that his finger isn’t touching the nuclear button when it becomes itchy or twitchy.

Anybody who runs for elected office (or dictators who get to the top without having to undergo the burden and barrier of something as demanding as an election) has to have a certain inflation of ego (that applies no only to those seeking high political office but also to those who run for lower echelon jobs like a department head of a faculty dean in a university.  But the 45th President of the United States brings whole new meaning to the word EGO to the point at which the

EGO

becomes totally detached from reality.  I mean that if things worked normally, all he would have to do is add an aitch to the word, insert a space and

EGO

would become

HE GO  

but that would be admitting the impossible, i.e., defeat, and thereby being labelled a “loser”, something which in Mr. Trump’s limited lexicon can only be applied to others.  So the world must suffer on for another two months and a bit.

The other story in the news to break from the tedium of Trump and Covid was the news that Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, died of complications arising from Covid-19 in an Israeli hospital, Hadassah Hospital, in Jerusalem.  Whereas this fact was hardly mentioned if at all in UK news broadcasts (Jerusalem was mentioned but not the fact that it is in Israel), it carried a certain irony.  Mr. Erekat was desrcibed as a negotiator who spent 25 years negotiating with Israel over recognition for Palestinian independence or self-government or call it what you will.  I’m not sure that either side, after the signing of the now defunct Oslo Accords, was actually negotiating anything.  More to the point these were exchanges of ideas between two sides that were suffering severe hearing defects.

The irony is that there has been a significant decline recently in the number of West Bank and Gaza Palestinians receiving treatment in Israeli hospitals, mainly because the Palestinian Authority ceased paying for their treatment, something which emerged from Erekat’s campaigns  against “normalisation” with Israel and for a boycott against it.  Yet when he became dangerously ill with Covid, he knew where he was most likely to the best medical care the region could offer, an opportunity that he cynically denied his own people.

Such is life, I suppose.

And then there’s Covid.  The good news, perhaps the only good news this week, has been the positive reaction to the announcement that a vaccine against the disease will possibly be ready early in 2021, if not earlier.  And by that time, there should be further vaccines available.

However, making plans with Covid around is like betting on a rank outsider in a horse race.  Originally, I was due to return to Israel at the end of October, but extended it by 17 days till next week.  Then to continue where I left off in the last post, at the beginning of last week, I received notification from British Airways, which read “You’re currently due to travel to Tel Aviv with us soon. Unfortunately, due to the UK Government’s national restrictions, your flight will soon be cancelled as we’re temporarily suspending our flights on this route.”  I called BA and was told that flights would only be suspended after November 11.  My attempts to book a flight on November 11, 10, or 9 were met with responses that the flights were full.  I called BA again only to be told after half an hour’s conversation with a very pleasant man called Krishna that I could only rebook after the flight had ACTUALLY been cancelled.  Checking my email the following day, there was no notification of anything from BA but when I went to manage my booking online, I discovered that the flight had ACTUALLY been cancelled.  So I rebooked yet again for a couple of days after Boris J promised the British people that lockdown would hopefully end.  However, with today’s news that Covid deaths in the UK had risen to over 50,000, I’m not sure about that.

Meanwhile, I hear from Israeli friends that the government there is considering a further (third) lockdown to coincide with Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, which could easily be renamed this year, the Festival of Murk and Darkness.  On hearing that news, I made a rough calculation.  Since March 13, when I last landed in Israel, I’ve done 14 days’ self-isolation, followed by 1 month of lockdown.  Then arriving back here, 17 days of self-isolation (14 days official + 3 days of rain stopped play) and now another 28 days, perhaps followed by another 14 days of self-isolation and possible lockdown again.  More than 90 days locked up or down or in and I haven’t even committed a crime!  Nor, having spent so much time with myself, can I claim to have gotten to know myself any better.

When we lived in London 35 years ago, I used to be amused by the announcements on the radio that this railway line or another was out of action for that particular day because of “leaves on the line”.  Walking around the neighbourhood these days, I understand better why this was a real problem and not at all funny!

The beginning of the week contained one beautiful misty morning, though not quite as ethereal as the one Facebook reminded me of last week, which contained photos shot on November 5 2015 and which I subsequently shared once more on Facebook

Still, I couldn’t help being struck by the changes in the trees on Primrose Hill in the few weeks I’ve been here, especially in the last three weeks.

As to the clump of six trees that draws me towards them each time I’m there, I now think that I’ve photographed them at all times of the day, in all sorts of light and in every weather condition — except snow.  And given the way that this stay in London might be going, I might well succeed in that endeavour this year!

Autumn is truly giving way to winter and the trees shed their leaves ever more rapidly …

… and in other cases where they’ve helped on their way by the tree surgeons, as this amputree amply and aptly demonstrates.

The inevitable squirrels are busily looking for food to tide them over the winter although in Regent’s Park, they needn’t worry as the humans provide them with so much of what they want that they don’t have to worry too much about winter.

Lockdown there may well be but some of the lamps can still get together to party and have a good time while nobody else is looking …

Meeting people from outside your [lockdown] bubble is only permissible these days if you meet outside in a public space, so on Sunday, my sister and I met up for a real live chat instead of the almost daily virtual one.  This time, we met in Regent’s Park, one of the Royal Parks that is like an oasis in an urban desert.  Even in the bleakest of seasons it tends to look immaculate.  And the photograph below indicates that it’s almost time for a face-lift again, providing the park’s armies of gardeners with work — that goes on the year round.

And it may well have been November but last Sunday was mild (I was overdressed) but at least one person the park thought it was summer …

Looking out the window the following day, I was struck by the cloud formation which I thought deserved a photo all of its own, reminding me that although most photos are taken at eye level you also have constantly to keep your eyes open and look upward and downward.

And while in Regent’s Park, older men do what older men have to do, more frequently than I seem to remember in the past.  Entering the loo, I was reminded of a piece of advice I was given some years ago by someone exiting exactly the same public toilet.  There’s a charge of 20p to get in through the gate and (a) as I didn’t have 20p on me at that time (it doesn’t give change and couldn’t use a credit card and (b) I thought 20p for one pee was an exorbitant rate of exchange, I was in a quandary.  But the same gate that opens with the insertion of a 20p coin opens automatically for someone leaving, so my loo advisor just said to me that I should wave my scarf or coat or tee-shirt across the back of the gate and lo and behold, it opened.  And what worked some years ago also worked in 2020 as I removed my camera from around my neck and swung it back and forth to open the gate.

When I succeeded in doing what must be done, I noticed the social distancing instruction that appeared on every second urinal.  From the notice, was I to understand that if I were spray neither to my right nor to my left but aimed straight ahead, then I would be preventing the spread of coronavirus.  Really?  Seems rather like the power or prayer, perhaps!

Finally, while walking home, I espied this welcome sign.  I think the dog isn’t too sure about welcoming visitors and somehow it reminded me of the welcome that Biden might be receiving from his predecessor at the White House on January 20.

Standard

It’s all in the timing

 

I’ve been in London for six weeks now and that was my original plan.  Then, about 10 days ago, having endured 14 days of self-isolation/quarantine in an enclosed space, with an additional three days of the same due to the fact that London received its October average rainfall over three days, the total length of my confinement was 17 days after which time I started seeing family and friends and getting out and about. Then about 10 days ago, I realised that I’d been here over a month but in real terms, it was only half that length because of my Covid-imposed incarceration.  I wasn’t looking forward to returning to Tel Aviv to spend another 14 days locked up so soon after just ending the previous one so I did something I don’t like doing and I changed my plans and my ticket by 17 days, expecting to return on November 17.

Watching news on TV (I’m not obsessed by 24/7 TV news but I watch over breakfast for about 15 minutes and do another 5 minutes towards evening and usually discover that nothing much has happened during the day).  Most of the time, it’s Covid this, and Covid that and nothing else, which leads to a glut of information which tends to confuse and/or depress most people.  Occasionally, there’s something to divert the attention elsewhere, such as an event that will take place in the United States on Tuesday, but which has been in operation already for several weeks as people cast their ballots early or send them by mail, in the faint hope that they might reach the right place by the right time.  Listening to the newsreaders regale the election rallies staged by that theatrical monster, Donald Trump, is as dispiriting as hearing dispatches about Covid.   Another beheading in France in the name of God, of course, several stabbings and shootings (in the name of God, again), a Turkish president whose egomania seems to know no bounds, and yes, Liverpool is top of the Premier League again.   Oh, and Seán Connery is no longer.

Yesterday, however, it seemed to me that timing is of the essence and that my timing had been a little out or a little off tis time round, for the British Prime Minister, Mr. Johnson, appeared on television around 7 p.m. to announce that England would go into a month’s lockdown on Thursday, November 5, ending on December 2.  His sidekick, Michael Gove, is reported to have said that it may go on for longer than this.  (I might add that the devolved regional governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland came to the conclusion that something was amiss a little earlier suggesting that Boris & Co. were somewhat remiss.  The governments of several European countries seemed to be ahead of the game as well.)  November 5 in England is Guy Fawkes’ Night (or Bonfire Night or Fireworks Night), and this year, it might act as an excuse to burn the whole place down.  Who knows?

Anyway, flanked by the Government Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance and Professor Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer for England and Chief Medical Adviser to the UK Government, they reported that the rise in new cases of Coronavirus in England was exponential and if nothing was done immediately, England might experience 4,000 deaths a day in December whereas their reasonable worst case scenario for the winter had previously predicted a maximum of around 800 deaths a day.   All this moroseness was pretty glum news but being human, I started asking myself where this left me personally.

Things are quite unclear, though and the Sunday papers are reporting all sorts of things.  If I stay here, I am considered a single-person household and as I understand it, I am part of an “exclusive” support bubble, which allows a single-person household to meet and socialise with another household, i.e., my son and daughter-in-law (I hope).  However, I am also allowed to meet one other person outside for “recreation” as well as exercise.  But more to the point, I am concerned that my flight on November 17 might be cancelled as the report also stated that “most outbound international travel will be banned”.

However, trying to get information out of British Airways at this stage is impossible as they don’t seem to know anything yet, a recorded message stating that if my flight is cancelled, I will receive due notification and will be able to rebook.

Meanwhile, time appears to be completely screwed up.

I’m usually loth to change plans once made and I’ve already made an exception to that rule once already.  However, it seems to me that at the moment, there are three options open to me.  One would be to try and find a flight to Tel Aviv before lockdown starts in the UK in four days’ time, meaning that if I append 14 days of self-isolation in Tel Aviv, I might be able to emerge into the world again by mid-November.  The second option is to wait out until the end of lockdown in London and then travel back.  The third option is to wait and see whether British Airways will still be flying in a fortnight’s time and travel as (re)planned, becoming liberated at the beginning of December, which is possibly what would happen if I stayed here in London.

Dilemma; Uncertainty; Quandary.

 

Walking around, autumn is still very much in the air although evenings tell us that “Winter is icumen in, Lhude sing Goddamm” …

Autumn colours. Hampstead Garden Suburb

… yet it struck me the other day how easy it must have been four years ago for the Brits to “Vote Leave”, for in this season, they “Vote Leaves” every year.