For the most part, urban parks are public spaces where ordinary people enjoy themselves — within limits of course — doing what they want. Some people walk or waddle, others jog or juggle, cycle, row or read books, exercise, have parties and lots of other things. To the best of my knowledge, nobody swims and were they to, they may find that they dissolve en route to the far bank (although I understand that the “freshness” of the water in the stream has improved in the past 20 years). Still, given that the rowers seem to spend an inordinately long time and considerable effort hosing down their boats after a session on the river, I don’t think you’d want to take too many chances.
We live 150 m from Tel Aviv’s largest open space, the Yarqon Park, which includes the stream that passes for a river here and stretches along both banks. One of the most common activities in the park, especially at the weekend (or on Shabbat, to be more specific) are various birthday parties and family get-togethers that go on from early morning till dusk and sometimes even into the night. Even if you enter the park at 7 in the morning, you’re aware of the festivities about to take place because each group sends out its scout to stake claim to the patch of park that the rest of the jolly-makers will occupy when they, too, eventually turn up later in the day. The advance party can be around for several hours before the rest turn up. He or she or they will have reading material adequate for several hours and their job is not only to find a suitable spot but to mark out an area sufficiently large to accommodate the horde that will follow. Anything suitable will do — but more often than not, it’s balloons strung up between the trees or connecting folding chairs. Things that say “Strangers, keep out! This is ours for the next few hours”.
We also live 300m from the Embassy of the Philippines (Israel being one of the few countries in the world, perhaps the only one, where foreign embassies with the exception of one or two are not located in the capital). Sundays bring the usual flurry of ladies, young and old, who seem to make up a goodly proportion of the caring population in Tel Aviv to the Embassy building — whether for prayer or for other social reasons I’m not sure.
However, during early May, Filipinos and Filipinas take over the park on the stretch between the Ibn Gvirol and Namir bridges, directly opposite the embassy to celebrate Flores de Mayo. This is a day of parades, speeches, bright colours, and flowers. From what I can gather, the celebrations in T-A are minor compared with the goings-on in the homeland. However, we make do with what we can see near home and it is colourful.
The Flores de Mayo celebration in Tel Aviv reminds me of another but different kind of celebration that was held in another park in a different country. We stumbled serendipitously into Tango al Fresco in The Regent’s Park in London almost five years ago and though I could believe my ears, I couldn’t quite believe my eyes.
It was a Sunday afternoon in August and Tami & Shuli were visiting London for a couple of weeks with Gali who was then 4 months old and although I can’t remember, we must have done the trip in two separate journeys. At any rate, we parked the car on Chester Road, unloaded the scooter and started to walk down the Broad Walk inside Regent’s Park. As we trundled south, there was the unmistakeable sound of tango music coming from somewhere and then I noticed that our way through was blocked by tens, if not hundreds, of tango dancers.
There were young and old of both sexes in every combination taking their tangoing extremely seriously. I’ve never been a dancer and Vivien doesn’t do it much any more so what else was there to do but photograph the proceedings — as visual documentation of the use of public space, of course. We repeated the exercise a couple of years later but last summer, on checking the dates prior to our visit to London, I discovered that Tango al Fresco had been removed from the park without what seemed like a reasonable explanation.
Most of the dancers were amateurs but there was one display by a professional couple that held the audience in awe.
For an almost 70-year old, it was like having arrived in heaven and the angels were dancing for me on arrival. I was free to roam around, camera in hand, and record images of the people and their costumes, the shirts and shorts, the dresses and shoes.
Moreover, as tango is usually danced in an embrace that varies from very open to very closed and a good tango dancer transmits a feeling of the music to the partner with ankles and knees brushing as one leg passes the other, calves and ankles and heels are all integral parts of the action and the performance of tango — so not to photograph them would be failing in professional duties!
So I had a field day. And, because it was all so natural to aim the camera where I wanted to, nobody in this situation could actually accuse me of being debauched in any way! Which, incidentally, made the task in hand [literally] all that much easier.
In turn, this (the thought that somehow, heaven forbid, I might be considered depraved (“depraved on account of being deprived”, to quote Stephen Sondheim) reminds me of an old joke I heard some years back.
A Duck took his girlfriend out for dinner to a top class restaurant.
After finishing the excellent meal the waiter came over with coffee. As the waiter was leaving, the duck caught his attention. The waiter bent down and the duck whispered quietly into his ear:
“Do you sell condoms in this establishment?”
“We certainly do.”, replied the waiter.
“In that case I’ll have a pack of three.”, said the duck.
“Would you like me to put those on your bill?”, asked the waiter.
The duck, looking very offended, replied: “Hey, what do you think I am, some kind of pervert!”.
[Continue to] Have a nice day, even though I might have ruined it for you!