Pictures (3)

Happy days are here again!

It’s that time of the year again.  It’s the “Spring Festival”, perhaps better known as Passover, or by its Hebrew name, Pesach

This festival commemorates the exodus of the Children of Israel from servitude in Egypt.  It’s celebrated, if that’s the right term, for seven days (eight days if you’re unlucky enough to live as a Jew in the Diaspora, i.e., outside the Israeli paradise).  During this period, according to the biblical injunction in the Book of Leviticus, Chapter 23: In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, at twilight, is a Passover offering to the Lord. Then on the fifteenth day of the same month will be the festival of unleavened bread to the Lord; seven days you must eat unleavened bread. 

We no longer sacrifice a paschal lamb (although some do try and the Samaritans, at any rate, succeed) but we do sacrifice ourselves and our digestive systems to the vagaries of unleavened bread, otherwise known as “matzo” or “matzah”.

Matzah gets mentioned elsewhere in the Pentateuch.  In the Book of Exodus (12:8), we are exhorted to eat meat, with matzah and maror (bitter herbs) and we’re told again ten verses later on that we are to keep up what’s good for us for seven days.  Not only are we to eat this bread of affliction for a week (or, because of the fact that the festival started this year on a Friday night, for nine days), “for you came out of the land of Egypt in haste. Thus you will remember the day you left the land of Egypt as long as you live.”  

Not only are we to eat the matzah but we are also informed that we must not consume anything that has anything to do with leavening (chametz) — so no bread, no beer, or anything made from wheat, oats, rye, barley or spelt.  Although matzah is usually made from wheat flour if it’s been in contact with water or moisture for longer than 18 minutes, it is considered dangerous to the Jewish soul because it rises or “leavens.” Leavening agents, like yeast and sourdough, are also chametz.  

So … the wheat is closely supervised to ensure that no water touches it from the time of harvest to the time it is baked, to safeguard against the evil leavening process — and this leads to a whole industry of supervision and certification to ensure that the Jewish people remains in an yeast-free state for the duration of Passover.

Ashkenazi Jews (those whose forebears came from Eastern & Central Europe) also forbid the consumption of other grains and pulses, just “to be on the safe side”.  Sephardi and other non-Ashkenazim (those of Middle Eastern and North African origins) permit rice and pulses and are generally more generous about what our stomachs and intestines have to go through for a week and some American Conservative rabbis have followed suit this year.  Of course, these differences of stringency and exactitude can lead to absurdities, especially in Israel, where the same package or jar can have two labels on opposite sides, one telling that you can take it easy and eat happily without worry of having offended the deity during Passover week and the other promising you a life of hellfire and brimstone if you as much as touch the stuff, always remembering, of course, that you can repent six months down the line on the Day of Atonement.  (Unlike Catholics, Jews don’t need a priest for confession — you can autodivulge your sin and then listen to it yourself, should you so wish.)

The main irritant (literally and metaphorically) is not the fact that beer or whiskey can’t be ingested (why wine, the result of a process of fermentation is OK is a mystery to me but I suppose there’s a perfectly logical explanation — there always is) but that they want us to consume matzah.

For those of you who have not experienced this substance, it’s looks like and tastes like cardboard and you’re required to consume it.  Yes, eat it!  It’s hard to start off with but melts in your mouth once you get it out from between your teeth and unstick it from your palate.  What happens to it further down the digestive system is God’s revenge on the Jewish people for disregarding most of His/Her other decrees.  Consuming the regular version of matzah would, in normal circumstances,  be considered cruel and unusual punishment, and cruel and unusual retribution is prohibited in some enlightened countries.  

Matzah usually comes in square boards (occasionally circular) with perforations, supposedly to aid in breaking it into more manageable bite-sized portions.  However, this rarely works, as is well-illustrated by the photograph, which clearly shows a series of hidden fault lines.  These generally assume preference over the official puncture marks so that when you have spread something tasty on the matzah to give it some flavour (it really tastes like pasteboard) and apply pressure along a perforated line to break off an easy-to-hold, east-to-eat piece, you are more than likely to end up with a small piece in one hand and a larger piece landing on the table the wrong way up, or if you’re less lucky, down your front or on the floor.

There is another version of matzah that is eaten by the Strictly Orthodox, called matzah shemurah,  literally, supervised matzah.  Consumers of this variety are assured that every grain of wheat and every speck of flour have been overseen — kosher leprechauns following the grains and specks from field to oral orifice — so that there is not the slightest chance that they have come in contact with any leavened or leavening material or any vessel that may have been in contact with such unJewish matter.  

This may well make many people feel that they are on the deity’s right-hand side but it is my strictly unlearned opinion that matzah shemurah is an invention of the World Dental Federation to drum up business, just as the manducation and absorption of regular matzah is strongly encouraged by the International Society of Internal Medicine.

Bread of Affliction 2


And while of the subject of boards, the photograph below is one of those for which the caption appears even before you’ve raised your camera to compose the picture. A couple of times a week, I pass the Great Synagogue of North Tel Aviv at 312-314 Dizengoff Street not, I should stress, to use the facilities it offers for I am just passing.  The synagogue’s notice board generally contains some information of interest or relevance to the synagogue attendees if not to the general public and passers-by like me — prayer times, recent deaths, dates of religion study classes and so on.  On this particular morning in December 2013, the notice board was empty except for what you can see here.

As I looked at it, I discerned that there was something familiar about it and it was then that the caption “Oblivion” appeared in my head.  I had spent 40 years as a journeyman academic.  You know what I mean — a life of turning out papers, looking for outlets for your work, hoping that you can get at least some of the articles into good journals — and if you’re really eager and enthusiastic, hoping that someone might actually read them and then cite them so that you can have some impact on others who follow.  

On the whole, I was reasonably successful and I have a few pieces that I’m quite proud of, a few of which have had an impact.  I also have several that I wish had never been published. Whereas in the past, these would have been entirely ignored, or in a less bad situation, forgotten, today with electronic journal access, that’s almost impossible.

However, this noticeboard summed up my efforts and those of the vast majority of my colleagues.  The rusting staples, of course, represent an academic’s published works, the contents of which for the most part have been forgotten — they’ve simply vanished.  Here and there, you see scraps of paper, the remains of your life’s opus, those which are remembered.  The bat droppings are the stuff you really don’t want to be reminded of but can’t get rid of because they’re there and can be called up by anyone, anywhere, at any time.

And on that note and with that deeply disturbing thought, I’m off to eat some matzah and flagellate my insides yet again, which, too, is deeply disturbing.


 P.S.  My wife tells me that some people actually enjoy eating matzah and that they do it all year round.  It takes all kinds …


Pictures (2)

It’s always something of a problem for me photographing people.  Who is “fair game” and who’s not?  If, as seems to be the case, I have become something of a street photographer, then it’s not sufficient to just be able to photograph buildings and streets and shops and things.  People are part of the action, too.  In fact, people are what make streets and cities tick.

I am aware that some people don’t like to be photographed and if they request that I do not take their picture for whatever reason, I can understand that and will comply.  However, having said that, if I have already clicked the button and the shutter has opened and closed before their exhortation, I don’t delete the photo; I’ve not yet been asked by someone to do so and don’t know quite how I would react if someone did call on me, post facto, to erase a picture already recorded on the memory card.  I suppose it would depend on how aggressive they were or pretended to be (the more bellicose, the less likely).  What I really detest is when someone shouts at me (and it’s happened on several occasions): “Photography is forbidden here!” or something equivalent, when it plainly is not the case — such as walking through the park or down a street or along the beach.

My rule of thumb is that the world is divided into public and private space.  There’s also a liminal space between public and private space.  For instance, when you’re in the street and the subject is inside, say, a restaurant or café or beauty parlour, making the decision as to whether or not to photograph a bit trickier.  But anybody who chooses to walk or talk, sit or stand, jump or run, cycle or stretch or carry out any other action in a public space is part of the street action and it’s therefore admissible.  

I’ve also discovered that there are certain groups of people who are active in public space but who seem to think they are occupying private space.  Among these are the many “personal trainers” who ply their trade throughout the park and who usually object strongly when they see a person with a camera point it in their direction.  One young lady a couple of years ago came running over to inform me fff in no uncertain terms that photography was absolutely forbidden (she and her clients were under a tree in the park), so I responded by telling her (also in no uncertain terms) that I pay rent to the same authority for my photography studio as she pays for her gym.  That terminated the conversation quite abruptly.  After a while, I calculated 2+2 and got 4 when I figured out that their business is a cash-only business and I might be an Income Tax agent! 

As Susan Sonntag put it 40 years ago, the street photographer is a sort of flâneur.   “The photographer is an armed version of the solitary walker reconnoitering, stalking, cruising the urban inferno, the voyeuristic stroller who discovers the city as a landscape of voluptuous extremes. Adept of the joys of watching, connoisseur of empathy, the flâneur finds the world ‘picturesque.'”  The armour to which she refers is, I think, the camera.

The Steel Drummer


Five years ago, I took a course in Street Photography at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.  It was a three day affair, involving a day of talking, a day of doing and a day of editing.  The second and third days were a good experience involving, respectively, a day photographing in and around the Portobello Road street market followed by a day selecting 40 images from the over 600 I had taken and producing a booklet of 20 pairs of matching photographs on facing pages before we packed up and went home.  In retrospect, it was a wonderful learning experience.

The place itself was colourful in the extreme and there were some wonderful images.  As I walked up and down the street clicking merrily away, I kept on coming back to this individual who was hammering away on a steel drum, a little robotically, I thought.  He wasn’t busking in the sense that he didn’t seem to expect any monetary recompense for his efforts.  He was just a part of the street scene. 

And then, as I looked at the photo and then looked again at his eyes, I smiled.  For I realised that it was we — the photography class and the shoppers/strollers — who were the subjects of his gaze.  And what’s more, I think he found us mildly amusing.  I asked him if he stood there the whole day and he responded by asking me if I was nuts and that he’d have done his two hour stint in half an hour’s time and then would be off home for lunch.  And at 11.30 prompt, true to his word, he removed the straw hat, upped the drum and its stand and departed.

The Friday morning “shopkeepers”


There’s a small electrical goods shop not far from us that we’ve been using since we moved to Tel Aviv 10 years ago.  It’s a father and son operation.  These days, the father  (on the left of this picture) looks after the shop on Fridays while the son does whatever his Friday thing is — sailing, I think.

When I first met him, he was 75 and had just returned from a fortnight in Colorado riding out with Harley-Davidson bikers.  A few months back, I asked him if he was still a biker (he’s now 84)  and he told me that he’s given that up — not safe at his age.  But he asked me to come outside and behold something.  Curious, I followed him out to where his motor scooter was parked on the footpath, whereupon he produced a USB disk-on-key which he connected to a sound system he had rigged up on the scooter.  He turned the ignition key and switched on the sound.  And just what was on the flash drive?  Well, the roar of a Harley-Davidson accelerating, of course!  Really!  Just so that he can continue to instil some fear into car-drivers and that they should know who’s still in charge.


On Fridays, customers are invited to join him and his “long-time assistant” for a chat and something to eat and drink while they look after the shop and see that the business doesn’t go under.  Olives, sausage, cookies, sweets and more.  The bottle looks like it contains orange juice but the label says it’s vodka.  I can guess what’s in it — and from the looks of things, some of the precious liquid had found its way into where it had already been well appreciated.

Mother & Son

Mother & son

In May 2014, I was a volunteer photographer for the Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Competition in Tel Aviv.  It was a very hands-on learning process and I gained a good understanding about what being a professional photographer might entail over those three weeks, something which convinced me that photography as a pastime is fine but that I don’t need the pressure of having to get things done absolutely perfectly to a deadline, especially when I’m not getting paid.

Most of the time was inside the concert halls, listening to the competitors and waiting for the ideal picture, which, incidentally hardly ever presented itself, given the stringent restrictions on movement imposed on the photographer.  However, exiting the Tel Aviv Museum of Art late in the afternoon at the start of the second week of the competition, I found myself walking behind a couple who had also been attending the same session.  I would guess that she was in her late 80s, and he abut 60.  From the look of their walk and from the way they were talking to one another, they were obviously mother and son.  So, I focussed on their hands from behind and shot this picture.

The Sunbather


However, I found listening to 36 talented young pianists trying to impress on the members of jury that they are, indeed, the best can be a little trying for a non-professional so each day, I tried to escape the confines of the concert hall and manage my regular morning walk.

One day, during the first week of the competition, I walked a route that I often take but in reverse direction and as I found myself facing the beach just south of Tel Aviv Port, I was confronted by a sunbather, who I reckoned might be my age — and a bit more.  She seemed totally unconcerned that anyone might see her lolling on her plastic chair and towel.  Soaking up the sun and pride in her body seemed to be her apparent interests at the time.  As I saw the scene, a caption did come to mind to go with the photo: “I knew Rubinstein in my younger years”, but that might have been a bit gross and inappropriate so I didn’t apply it.

Nevertheless, there she was, ensconced in a public space, almost inviting the onlooker to observe and note. So, indeed, I looked on and observed and noted — and then clicked [more than once].  The camera did the rest.


Pictures (1)

“One picture equals a thousand words”.  In which case, I’ve either written far too many words or not nearly enough, depending on what way you’d like to interpret this “saying”.  I would have thought that it was something with much deeper meaning than appears on the surface, the origins of which are obscured by the distance of time.  Shakespearian, perhaps?  An import from the ancient Orient, perchance? Well, I’d be wrong on several counts.  It origin — or at least its popularisation — is twentieth century American, connected to advertising and newspapers, which, when you think about it, makes sense.  

According to an article in The New York Times over 20 years ago by William Safire, the earliest citation was in a trade journal called Printer’s Ink on December 8, 1921 and it appeared again in that magazine on March 10, 1927.  To quote Safire: “Fred Barnard was national advertising manager of Street Railways Advertising, in the 1920’s a sizable agency having offices across the nation … Barnard took an ad in Printer’s Ink with this headline: ‘One Look Is Worth a Thousand Words.’, and attributed the origin to ‘a famous Japanese philosopher’.”  It started off life as “One look is worth a thousand words”, morphing six years later from “one look” to “one picture,” which drew a nice comparison with “words”.  At the same time, “one thousand” became “ten thousand” and the famous Japanese philosopher had migrated across the East China Sea and become Chinese (Well, why not?  If you’re going to [re]invent something, you might as well go the whole hog — perhaps an inappropriate phrase for someone living in Israel.  

Be all this as it may, it prompts several questions.  Can a picture actually tell a story? Surely for a story to be told one needs several pictures, certainly more than one?  So, perhaps the question has been inadequately phrased and should be some variant of “Can a picture help one to construct a story?” or “Can a single picture be interpreted in various ways by different individuals?”

So, if a picture has a story to tell (unimportant whether it’s a thousand words or more or less) and I try — not always successfully — to limit the wordage of a post to under 1,250 words, let me show you three (or four) pictures and offer a few words of description or explanation.

Man & Child, Hampstead Heath (2011)

Man & ChildAbout five years ago, I was returning home after a walk across Hampstead Heath.  I had just walked along the path that separates the mixed bathing pool and Hampstead Number 2  pond.  There’s a slight upward rise as you head towards Downshire Hill and as I looked up, I saw a man, in his 40s and a little girl who I assumed was his daughter.  From the way they were standing, it seemed that he was comforting her.  Perhaps she had fallen off the scooter and hurt herself.  Or maybe she had scooted too far away on her own and got lost.  Perhaps.  At any rate, two things came to mind.  First, it was a scene worth recording and second, although I saw it through the viewfinder in colour, I knew it had to be in black and white.  

In these situations, you don’t have too much time to think but you have to make a decision whether to click or not.  If I’d waited another five seconds, they might have moved (they probably did) or he might have spotted me and objected, which would have been within his rights.  I would have preferred to get closer even though I had a telephoto lens but that would have been fatal, I think.  So, I went ahead and took the picture in the hope that it  would turn out OK.

When I uploaded the image, I realised that it had some potential.  There were the figures and the child’s scooter and the branches to the left and the top to frame the picture.  But the footpath occupied the lowermost quarter of the frame and there was the airplane on the horizon that I hadn’t noticed as I took the picture as I was concentrating one the main scene.  

So, I settled on a black and white image, with high contrast and fairly grainy.  I cropped the picture so that there just enough footpath and leaves to give it a frame and I edited out the plane, which, in retrospect, spoiled it.  And I ended up with something I felt quite pleased with.

Man & Child, Hampstead Heath


I will write a post on street signs some time in the future.  I’m not referring to locational signs, you know, the ones that tell you where you are (street names) but the ones that tell you what you can and can’t do, how to get there, &c.  Because they are street signs in a motorised society, you normally pass them as you’re driving, and obey or disobey as you see fit in a minimal time span.  Usually, the instructions are clear enough to allow you to carry out the instruction in good time.  There are times when the directive is far from clear and really don’t know how it’s supposed to apply to you as you drive by.  I am quite convinced that the authorities are very good at putting up new signs as needs change but they are less efficient at taking down the old ones, something that can lead to a great deal of confusion.  And then there are signs that are both ambiguous and humorous. 

This one was confusing at first (although it’s really quite straightforward) but being a geographer, I also found it amusing.  Decades ago, when I first became aware of maps, I learned that north and south were polar opposites.  North sat at the top of the map and south at the bottom.  Some years later, I learned that that was no more than convention and it can just as well be the other way round, too.  So, when I saw this direction sign for the first time at an exit from Tel Aviv Port, I burst out laughing.  Here, the uppermost direction arrow says South whereas the lower one, ostensibly at 90º to North, points you to the South.  Definitely not what they taught me at school and later at university.

Of course, it’s all very straightforward.  You make a right turn at the traffic lights on to Hayarqon Strteet to head south; the left turn on to Hayarqon Street requires a detour along a parallel street first, whereupon you make two left turns, and “Bingo”, you’re heading north.

Still …



The Finger

Israel is an interesting place.  In contrast to Britain, say, where what you hear on the breakfast news at 6 a.m. lasts you for the whole day and watching the 10 o’clock news is usually déjà vu par excellence, in Israel, if you listen to the news at midnight just before you fall asleep and then wake up to the news at 6 the next morning, you might almost be in a foreign country.   And the news changes throughout the day, too.

Truth is, your mood for the day can be deeply affected by what the people who write the early morning news bulletin choose to either emphasise or ignore.  If they start with traffic accidents, it’s usually a good sign (provided you’re not one of the victims) — nothing more important has happened overnight.  And if you learn that Atletico Madrid has made it into the Champions’ League semifinals, then it’s a really good day.  On the other hand, if you make it late for the evening news on TV, which starts at 8 p.m. and tune in, say, 20 minutes late, then it’s murder, sexual harassment and worse,  embezzlement, bribery, tax evasion and all the rest of it.  

As if the physical threat to Israel from terrorism and the mental anguish caused by the leftist loonies of BDS and the rightist crazies of the settlements aren’t enough, we have to live with muckraking news,  and screaming print and broadcast media, which tend toward the sensationalist. Which is why I sometimes find Israel to be a very frustrating place.  If I don’t exactly have a love-hate relationship with it, then I do suffer from topsy-turvy  mood changes.

So seeing that I’ve already written nearly 300 words and gone nowhere, where’s the picture, you might  ask?  Well, there used to be a jewellery store on a street in north Tel Aviv that specialised in rings and bracelets though I think it’s since been replaced by a café.  One day, a couple of years ago, while passing the shop — and I don’t understand how I hadn’t noticed it before — the window contained a mannequin with a difference. Because of their specialisation, all they needed was an arm and a hand to display their wares.  So, I photographed it — and then, looking at it the other day, I thought that if the middle finger was straighter, if its top joint wasn’t so arthritic, then that might sum up my feelings on my less-well-disposed-to-Israel days.


Have a lovely shabbat and/or weekend!


A democracy post[er]

This post is going to be a bit difficult to compose as many of my readers are Hebrew-illiterate and most of the photographs need some right-to-left literacy, of which I possess a small amount.

Last week, I exercised my democratic right and participated in a parliamentary election — not in Israel where I live nor in the United Kingdom, which I visit often — in Ireland, where I was born and [sort of] educated.  The vote was in the election for the Upper House of parliament, Seanad Éireann, where Dublin University comprises one of the constituencies, electing three members to the Irish Senate.  All graduates, whether Irish citizens or not, have a vote, this being an anachronism from the days of British rule (the UK used to have university constituencies — a Scottish invention, by the way — but abolished them in 1950.  Ireland, an enlightened country in some matters, retained them so every now and then I am asked if I’d like to vote and I mail my ballot papers to Trinity College.

Israel is less illuminated than Ireland, at least in this respect.  When elections take place in Israel, I cannot post my ballot paper anywhere because I am neither a diplomat nor a merchant seaman.  Instead, I must vote in the polling station assigned to the address which appears on my ID card, and if I’ve moved and forgotten to notify the Interior Ministry, then I just have to travel to the address it says.  And if I happen, for whatever reason, (wedding, funeral, business, pleasure, etc.) to be abroad on election day then that’s just too bad and I become disenfranchised, something that I find not just a throwback to mediaeval times but an out and out insult.

In the 1970s and ’80s I used to have an interest in electoral reform.  I participated in seminars and wrote learned articles about the need for reforming the way Israel chooses its parliamentary representatives but stopped abruptly about over 20 years ago when suddenly the penny dropped and I concluded that electoral reform was an academic topic par excellence.  The politicians had no interest in changing something they were familiar with and knew how to work and the electorate was never really consulted or seemed interested.  In other words, the likelihood of Israel adopting an electoral system different to that which has served it for the past 68 years is nil. (It tried something once when there were separate elections for Prime Minister and parliament but that was a disaster.)

So every now and then (it could be as long as almost every five years but averages less than 3 1/2) they ask us, the voters, to inform them which group of gangsters we prefer — and then, the day after the elections, the villains get back to work as usual — without any further consultation with us, the voters, and work out which ones will be in for the next couple of years and which will be out.

So what’s the direct connection between this blah-blah and geography?  Well, each time an election comes around, we are subjected to audio and visual cues as to which party is best for us.  Some of this comes through the broadcast media, some of it in the print media.  I doubt whether many voters actually read the bumf where the parties set out their programmes, i.e., the lies they tell us in order to capture our votes, but they publish it anyway.  (By the way, for those of you unfamiliar with the British English word “bumf”, it means “useless or tedious printed material”, an abbreviation of the slang “bum-fodder”, which is, of course, toilet paper.)   But we also can also see this bumf appearing in the urban landscape.  Billboards, buses, balconies, bumf — it’s all the same.

I thought I had photographed much of this stuff for the election of 2009.  It transpires that I took a small number near the end of the campaign and made a resolution to do getter the next time, which turned out to be quite a long wait — 4 years.  So I looked closely in 2013 but by the time the next election rolled around two years later, I had  more or less exhausted the topic.   

In 2009, Binyamin Netanyahu was king.  He still is although his throne is perhaps a little wobblier than it was then.  This was an election in which the then Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, had been forced to resign as leader of the Kadima party, over allegations of bribery for which he was finally convicted just a couple of months ago.  Tzippi Livni had been elected to replace him and, how shall I say it, neither Netanyahu nor the then leader of the  Labour Party, former PM Ehud Barak, were too happy about the idea of a woman running the government [again].  Bibi’s message was more subtle than Barak’s and it said that a strong Likud would provide a stable government, which is something of a joke in Israel.  

Tel Aviv

King Bibi


Barak’s message was pretty clear.  Livni was dreamy-eyed and couldn’t be trusted with Israel’s security; Bibi simply couldn’t be trusted.  Only one of three major party leaders could look the people straight in the eye and be counted on at the moment of truth.

Tel Aviv


Livni’s own message was clear — that only a vote for her could defeat Netanyahu and her picture presents an image quite different to one used by Barak.  

Tel Aviv

Tzippi Livni

There were other candidates, too, such as Efraim Sneh, who had served as Minister of Health and of Transportation in two earlier governments, had fallen out with the Labour Party and was running “to fight crime”, although that had little to do with his falling out.  In Israeli politics, such situations usually fail and this is probably the last public picture of Dr. Sneh to be seen.

Tel Aviv

Efraim Sneh

In the event, Livni’s party, Kadima, won more seats than Likud but she was unable to form a coalition and became Leader of the Opposition.

2013 was a better year, as they say in the wine world.  Bibi’s message was clear “A strong Prime Minister  [leads to] a strong Israel”, a message that was different from four years earlier.  It was also a much more personal message.

Bibi strong 2013

However, when I saw the ad below on a bus about 6 weeks before the election, I couldn’t believe my eyes.  Shas, a Sephardi Strictly Orthodox religious party was so sure that it would be in the next coalition government that it was running advertisements with Bibi’s picture.  Didn’t they have a leader of their own?

Shas 2013 (1)

Actually, they did — but he wasn’t running for parliament— their “spiritual leader”, the former Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.  Their message was that they would look after the underprivileged in Bibi’s government.  However, when, about three weeks into the campaign, the polls were showing that Likud might not emerge as the largest party, all of a sudden we had this: 

Shas (2)

It was still a state with a soul — but Rabbi Yosef was there to lend his moral authority when it came to forming a government.  Then, they decided that they would also lead the fight against Avigdor Lieberman, the right-wing Foreign Minister and at the time, allied to Netanyahu. Lieberman is an avowed secularist, so the bus message said that they would prevent “assimilation”, which was rather amusing because it was unclear, to me at least, which group was about to assimilate with which!

Shas (3) 2013

The Labour Party meanwhile was in some trouble.  Its leader, Shelly Yachimovitch, had decided to campaign on social issues and was considered left of centre in her own party.  Her message was that “Shelly is good for you and that Bibi is good for the wealthy” and that “capital+government=underworld”.

When, late in the campaign, posters appeared with her photograph, there had been so much airbrushing on the portrait that it became something of a source of national amusement, which is unfair but true.

Shelly 2013

Our current Education Minister, Naftali Bennett, having stolen the moribund National Religious Party, renaming it The Jewish Home, just a short while earlier, presented himself as tolerance personified—”There’s room for everybody”, it said, “[we’re good for the] religious but also [for] the secular, the [female] student, the soldier, the driver (???!!!)” 

Bennett 2013

It took less than two years for us to realise that for Mr. Bennett and his party members, tolerance and toleration are actually rather dirty words (not really in their lexicon at all) as he sets himself up as a sort of Superjew.

SuperJew, 1967.jpg

Other parties offered us other things.  Meretz, a left-wing group, told us that we could be sure that a vote for them would be a vote against Bibi —  not that he would have invited them in anyway.  The Green Leaf party, using the Hebrew acronym קנ (CN for cannabis) campaigned on legalising weed, and so on.

Meretz 2013

Marijuana 2013.jpg

After a few weeks of photographing campaign posters, I began to find some really interesting stuff.  For instance, driving out of Tel Aviv, I found that the cure for Bennett-induced pain was simply a dose of ibuprofen.


And somehow Bibi got stuck in the wrong place, even though the sign is apt!

Take Him Away

I even found a sign, on a bridge across the river, whereby if you hung around for 30 seconds, Tzippi morphed into Bibi and back again.

I found all this very interesting, mainly because when all is said and done, this sort of advertising has almost no effect on what the voters do.  And as I presume the taxpayer is paying for at least some of this nonsense, it really is a waste of time and money.

One party, Yesh Atid (There is a Future), led by Yaïr Lapid, a former TV talk-show host didn’t have any posters.  I discovered that this was because Mr. Lapid reckoned he could be more effective using Facebook, and it must have worked because he won 19 seats out of 120.  Lapid

I did, however, find one poster, opposite the polling station — put up on the day I went to vote!

Lapid 2013

Let me finish this rather long post with two more images.  They are politician-related if not directly to the elections.

The first one, I photographed in 2011.  It is a picture of Ron Huldai, Mayor of Tel Aviv, on his way to work, having just got out of his car.  As soon as I saw him, the caption “Clean Government” presented itself to me.  A colleague told me that it could not possibly be in Israel because what the caption expressed was unthinkable.

Huldai Clean Government 2011

The final picture was shot in July 2013.  Exactly a year later, Israel’s 120 Knesset members elected Reuven Rivlin to be State President.  Another candidate for this ceremonial figurehead position was Dan Shechtman, a professor at the Haifa Technion and Nobel Laureate in Chemistry in 2011.  Yet another candidate was Binyamin (Fuad) Ben-Eliezer and retired general, former minister and Labour party grandee, who was a serious candidate until he had the misfortune to be investigated for suspected bribery, money-laundering, fraud, breach of trust and tax evasion, as well as suffering from ill-health. However, as a sitting member of Knesset, he participated in the vote for president.  Shechtman received one vote (of the 120) in the first round of voting and to my warped mind, the only person who might conceivably have voted for him was … 

… and I base my cynical surmise on what the photo below, where another secret ballot was taking place at London Zoo on whether camels with two humps should be able to cast their vote twice!

Trump that!

Fuad votes for Shechtman

P.S.  If anyone would like to learn more about the 2013 election in Israel, click the link below.

Waterman (2014) — The elections to the 19th Knesset, 2013 — Some thoughts


A florid floral extravaganza

Yellow flower and fly

I have a couple of topics that I want to write about over the next few weeks but I’m still working on the photographs so I thought I’d take a short break.  That doesn’t mean that I’ll miss a second post this week.  Instead I’ll post some more or less ready-to-use images.  As I’ve already posted dogs and cats, birds and trees, I might as well put up some images of those things that amateur photographers take when they’re short of other suitable subjects.

The truth is that I enjoy photographing the flowers that I see on my walks through the city, both in Tel Aviv and London — and in other places, too.  First of all, they are there to be photographed.  They call out (if flowers can be said to call out) to have their image recorded.  For the most part, they don’t move, so you can take your time with them and unlike people, they don’t ask you or tell you not to photograph them.  Moreover, with a good camera, most of the images look even better than the real thing.  Occasionally, but only occasionally, I use Photoshop for effects and believe me, you can play around with flowers endlessly.

Flora can be found in all sorts of places as you walk through urban thoroughfares.  They appear in gardens and on balconies; you can see them as blossom on trees and cacti; they grow out of walls; they appear in vases.  I see them everywhere — but other than roses, pansies, buttercups and daisies and a few more,  I haven’t a clue what they are called. And if you tell me, likely as not I’ll have forgotten the name an hour later.  That’s just the way it is—and that’s after two years of university courses in botany (I was good with the books, not so good in the laboratory, useless in the field).  I also learned to distinguish fungi from trees,lichens from mosses and ferns, gymnosperms from angiosperms, monocotyledons from dicotyledons — but it really doesn’t get much more refined than that.

When I lived and worked in London, I always tried to walk at least once a week through The Regent’s Park, parts of which comprise an enormous garden employing an army of specialist gardeners who replace the flowers at least every other month so that whatever the season, there is almost always a splash of colour in the park.  

Or I could walk on Hampstead Heath or Primrose Hill and observe flowers in a more “natural” state.  In Tel Aviv, most of the flora are planted in gardens that line the footpaths and add some colour to what is not one of the world’s most attractive cities.  Some of the displays are spectacular.  These days, it’s rare that I come home from a walk without at least one flower picture.

However, let me begin this post with the picture of Jeff Koons’ Puppy, from outside the entrance to the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.  I posted this image a couple of months ago but it’s worth a second look because it really is an amazingly florid, constantly changing, floral display — almost as astonishing as the museum itself 150m down the ramp.Puppy1

Contrast Koons’ extravaganza with the gladiolus shot in The Regent’s Park a few years ago and the one beneath it from a garden in the Upper Galilee. These unedited pictures were shot into the sunlight, focussing on and taking a light reading from the petals and that creates the dark background effect.  Nice picture!


The Illawarra Flame Tree, is a large tree native to the east coast of Australia. It is famous for the bright red bell-shaped flowers that often cover the whole tree when it is leafless. There are three of these majestic plants on Brandeis Street next to ours — and you never quite know when they are going to burst into colour.

Daffodils appear all over the place in the urban and rural landscapes in Britain in February and March — and when they appear, they appear everywhere, casting a yellowish hue!

Daffodils Hyde Park.jpg

When all at once I saw a crowd
A host of dancing Daffodils;
Along the Lake, beneath the trees,
Ten thousand dancing in the breeze.


Daffodils after the rain

The daffodils were shot in London — and so was the sunflower.  Unlike the sunflowers of Provence and other like parts of the world, which fill fields, this poor specimen was one of four that strove to see over the wall in a garden in NW London and somehow managed to survive the rain and wind and add some colour to the street.


One of the earliest photographs I took when I started up eight years ago was of these bouquets of roses in the Carmel Market in Tel Aviv.  We were taken to the market as part of a beginners’ course and instructed to photograph things that looked interesting — and these roses just cried out to be photographed.

Rose Bouquets.jpg

Plants will latch on to any location with sufficient nutrients and sunlight, like these “wall flowers” on an ordinary street in Belsize Park in London.  Once again, they add some colour to the drab greys and browns.

"Wall" Flowers.jpg

Just as attractive are these poppies growing in a semi-wild state in front of a block of flats on Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv or the hollyhock below, near Primrose Hill, which was growing out of a gap between a footpath and a wall.  


Pansies, a smiley flower, are usually planted and frequently found on road and street dividers as decoration.


Cyclamens bloom in the winter and add colour.  You can find them in the wild state all over Northern Israel and our front garden in Haifa always had a semi-wild cyclamen display — at least, we never planted any.  They are planted border plants all over Tel Aviv and indoor flowers in London.  These ones are from a pot in the front “garden”.


Occasionally, you’re lucky enough to see a flower with its natural visitors.

Water flowers.jpg

And these can be found all around the city in ornamental ponds outside public buildings.  These ones are from a pond in Rabin Square, near the Tel Aviv Municipality building.

Still, it takes a lot to beat an artichoke that’s long past its eating time!

Artichoke flower

I always think that to see cactus plants in flower is a wonderful display.  These ones are from the foot of Mount Etna, in Sicily.

Cactus Etna.jpg

A couple of years ago, we went to a concert at the Israel Conservatory of Music down the road from where we live.  On our way home at about 11 p.m., we saw something that definitely wasn’t there three hours before.  The large cactus three houses from us had burst into bloom.  It was quite an amazing sight, so when I got home, I took the camera and came out again to photograph the spectacle.   “Queen of the Night” indeed.

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I went out again the following morning at 6 o’clock and they were still there but by 8.30, they had closed and by the end of the day, the flowers were beginning to drop off, a process that continued for several days.

The Bot Flame tree is a magnificent sight when it blossoms on this small street in North Tel Aviv.  The rest of the year it’s pretty colourless.

Red tree.jpg

A dozen or so years ago, Kew Gardens in South London, put on a display of works by the world’s foremost glass artist, Dale Chihuly.  He made the magnificent 30ft chandelier that hangs in the lobby of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London and the glass flame in Park Lane during the Olympics in 2012.  But in 2005, he installed work all over Kew for his Gardens of Glass exhibition, not that the magnificent Kew Gardens need glass “flowers”, but they worked amazingly well!




Memorials and remembering

Many years ago, when I was a Post Doctoral Fellow at the University of Alberta in Canada, I met an American academic from a California university who was on a sabbatical in the same department.  I was just 24 and he seemed so worldly, though in retrospect he was all of 37 when we met!  

Before arriving in Edmonton, I had written up half a chapter from my Ph.D and sent it to a decent journal for consideration for publication. (Publication is sort of a game that academics play with one another; books and articles used to be all-important for getting promoted.  Nowadays, it’s more complex, apparently.)  Just after I arrived in Canada, I had received a letter from the journal editor telling me that she’d love to publish the paper but not in the form it was in, thank you very much.  Could I rewrite and resubmit?  Nothing else.  No suggestions — nothing.

I plucked up courage and took the paper to Richard and asked him if he might have time to give it a quick read through and perhaps suggest how I might revise it.  The following day he did something for which I am forever grateful.  He invited me to his office and asked me if I had a some time free, as he wished to go through the paper with me.  We spent the next two days together, about 15 hours all told, as I read the paper aloud, sentence by sentence; at the end of each sentence, there was a variant of a question that went: “Well, what did you intend to say here?”  I explained orally and the follow-up was: “Well, why didn’t you write that?”  In this way, the paper was rewritten sentence by sentence and then restructured paragraph by paragraph.

He was a strong advocate of reading a paper written for publication aloud so as to hear how it sounds.  The rationale was that your eyes just scan something you’ve rewritten umpteen times whereas listening to what one has written was a more effective way of latching on to obvious errors, stylistic glitches etc.  Never mind that you might bore yourself to death. It was a piece of advice that worked for me for over 45 years.

The reason I mention this is that the other day, I had coffee with a friend who has spent the past year or so reading a lot of material in various disciplines about names and the significance of naming.  I don’t pretend to have any expertise in this area (do I actually have expertise in any area?) but I’m willing to listen and as long as my eyes didn’t glaze over too much and I nodded and said something not inappropriate at more or less the right time, he could continue to verbalise whatever was on his mind.  The logic is identical to that behind reading an oft-rewritten paper aloud:  by allowing him to continue to talk in full flow, he might hear himself say something that was so obvious that he’d failed to notice it before.  And so it turned out.

Unlike me, Maoz can claim expertise.  Commemoration, memorials and street names are among the topics that have garnered him an international reputation.  I don’t claim to know much about memorials except that within a kilometre and a half of where I live in Tel Aviv, there are five memorials of which I am aware—although I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there were many more.  And the reason I selected this topic for today’s post is that there is a memorial garden, commemorating soldiers from Tel Aviv killed in all of Israel’s [too many] wars, less than 15 minutes walk away, which I pass two or three times a week but have only ever walked through once.  So today, I plonked a wide-angle lens on the camera and that’s where I went.

But before anything else, there are two other memorials dating from an earlier period in the area.  The first is located near the Tel Aviv Lighthouse where the Yarqon stream reaches the sea. The inscription tells us that on the night of 20-21/12/1917, a British brigade crossed the ford and captured the Turkish positions there.  The obverse states the same in Hebrew.  

Having said that, about a kilometre and a half to the southeast of this memorial pillar, surrounded by residential buildings, is another pillar, which states more or less the same thing except that it adds that the Turkish positions were at Sheikh Muannis, which, as far as I can ascertain, was north of the river.  So then why are the memorials located where they are?

More or less in between these two World War I memorials lies Gan HaBanim, the memorial garden I mentioned above.  The  garden comprises 11 distinct areas, each one representing a different war, and each with a plantation of native trees.  More obvious than the trees are 34 upright rectangular pillars of black granite, each one bearing the names of fallen soldiers from each outbreak of hostility. I suppose what stands out here — and something I wasn’t aware of before — is the relatively large number of fighters from Tel Aviv who were killed during the War of Independence, between the end of November 1947, when the U.N. voted to partition Palestine and July 1949 when the Armistice Agreements were signed.

Memorial Garden 5

Memorial Garden 7

If you exit the park from here across the bridge and walk south along the western side of Ibn Gvirol Street, you come to the Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipality Building.  Just before reaching the building, you come across a slab of black granite, on which is inscribed the name of the assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the date of his murder.   This sober, sombre memorial is a far cry from events that occurred during the week of national mourning following the assassination, when the square became an emotionally laden meeting place in which arose many spontaneous memorialisations, redefining it as a national centre, transforming it into a sacred space (see attached).  (The Spontaneous Formation of Memorial Space)

Rabin Square, renamed after the assassination, is located south of the Municipality building. It’s estimated that perhaps 40,000 people is the maximum number that fit “comfortably” into the square, although estimates for some rallies put the numbers much higher than that.  Be that as it may, at the southeastern side of the square stands a structure that elicited my curiosity when we moved to this city exactly ten years ago.  It is constructed of metal in the shape of an upended pyramid and its very shape draws they eye to it.  I had no idea what it was or what it was supposed to be then.  There were [and still are] no explanations anywhere in the vicinity.  It is, in fact,  Tel-Aviv’s Monument to the Holocaust and National Revival.  

There was widespread agreement of the need for a Holocaust memorial in Tel Aviv and when the idea was a proposed in 1962 by the then Mayor, Mordechai Namir.  But in contrast to the location of the proposed monument, which was clear at this stage, there was some confusion over what its exact theme should be . Should it be a monument to the victims of the Holocaust?  Or one dedicated to the Holocaust and heroism?  It was decided that the commemorative theme should not solely be the Holocaust but the dual theme of Holocaust and national revival, intending the monument to commemorate Holocaust, national revival, and their interrelationship.

An expert committee was set up and 10 Israeli sculptors were invited to participate in a design competition.  Apparently,  none of the designs won unanimous approval but in order to avoid a lengthy standoff when nothing would have been done, the design of an inverted pyramid almost 5m high, of metal and glass by Yigal Tumarkin was chosen.  It was abstract in form, avoiding the human form so as not to impinge on the sensitivities of the religious population, images of the human form being a sort of taboo.

At any rate and in understatement, the design was unpopular and considered inappropriate to what it was intended to memorialise, the Supreme Court was even petitioned to have the Municipality annul the decision.  But it was constructed and then neglected.  When I first came across it (you really can’t miss it) three decades later, it had rusted, the glass that had been part of the design had been dismantled as a hazard to people in the square, replaced with sheets of yellowing plastic.  

In the centre of the monument, there is a steel plaque.  It says in Hebrew “Remember” (״זכור״) and there are two Stars of David, one with a “J” — Jude — and an arrow.  But quite what this is meant to represent, only Tumarkin knows.  Obviously, it can’t be seen unless you climb inside and even then …

As to commemorating something — it had failed entirely, as illustrated by the absence of any explanatory text or plaque in the vicinity.  Today, it seems to serve as a backdrop for the pond and flowers to the east of the monument.

Still, I think it’s one of the most striking pieces of art in Tel Aviv and deserves better than it’s got. Tel-Aviv’s Monument to the Holocaust and National Revival


Tel Aviv  Tumarkin Monument

Holocaust and National Revival Memorial, Tel Aviv

Tumarkin Monument

In the centre of the monument

Tumarkin 6