We’ve been back in Tel Aviv over a fortnight already and it’s still summer with no end really in sight. Actually, that’s not quite true because on Monday afternoon we had a torrential shower that must have lasted all of seven or eight minutes. But that was one of those instances when the meaning of a phrase becomes clear for the forecast had said that “localized showers” were possible. And true enough, halfway through the 4 km drive home from baby-sitting duties not only did the downpour cease but the road was a dry as it has been since last April.
It’s one of those years where the lunacy of the lunar calendar becomes evident. The first day of the Jewish New Year falls this year on October 3; there have only been three or four occasions in the last 60 years when this has happened and the whole festival season doesn’t come to an end until October 24 so that when they’re all eventually over, there’s a lot of catching up to do.
Anyway, it’s back to photographing the mundane close to home. While in London a couple of months ago, I visited the retrospective exhibition of photographs by William Eggleston at the National Portrait Gallery. Eggleston was an American photographic pioneer, known for his brilliantly coloured and esoteric images but he is acclaimed mainly for his experimental use of colour at a time when art photography was still marked by use of black and white and colour reserved for gaudy use in advertising and glossy magazines. But I like to think that in addition to his experiments with colour that Eggleston should be remembered for photographing the mundane in Mississippi and turning the mundane into something fascinating.
So I returned to Tel Aviv after 11 weeks in the big city to walk through the Yarqon Park, Tel Aviv Port and the neighbourhood streets to photograph many of the same scenes I’ve been photographing for the past nine years. And that, of course, is what makes the scenes mundane. It’s not so much that they are uninteresting and everyday but that I’ve photographed them so often and still find something new almost every time I lift the camera to my face and look through the viewfinder.
The photo below is just a public phone box. Whereas in Hampstead, someone had converted the iconic red British phone box into a coffee shop on the footpath, this phone box might be interpreted as a shelter for someone using a mobile phone when it’s raining or as a place where a dog can get a drink while chatting to its owner on the phone.
Not far away from where I photographed the phone box, I came across this notice — in three languages — on a streetside box belonging to the Israel Electric Corporation. The upper of the two notices appears on almost every electricity pylon in the city — and I presume also throughout the country — so I didn’t pay much attention to it. It was the lower one which caught my imagination because it made me wonder what if the high magnetic fields that may be present actually affected the pacemaker (or other implanted device, perhaps a steel pin in one’s hip or knee or foot) as the owner walked past and the heart stopped working properly or the hip was attracted inward towards the electricity box. Who might be held responsible? The electricity company or the victim for not having the presence of mind to escape the forces of magnetism before actually encountering the warning?
Walking along Ibn Gvirol Street, one of the main north-south drags in north Tel Aviv yesterday morning, my eye was drawn to the gun in the window. My goodness — could Israel be going the way of America in that anyone can walk in off the street and buy a pistol. Then I saw the price — 250 shekels, around $65 or £50. But not to worry — it’s just a pepper spray pistol and two canisters of spray. So I bought one to put in my camera bag so that I can threaten people who don’t want me to take their photograph.
There’s a large residential building going up 200m or so from the house and when we returned a fortnight ago, where there had been a large open pit, there was now many tons of concrete, the foundations of a building that will be several storeys tall. And, of course, there’s a crane. I’m fascinated by these real-life Meccano sets and it’s not all that often you get to see the operator — but there was one hard at work the other day.
This morning (Friday) was Farmers’ Market day at Tel Aviv Port. I rarely buy anything there — too awkward to lug home with the camera around my neck. But I go for the colours and there’s always something that attracts the eye, like these bright orange-coloured corn cobs.
There was something about two signs below the day before yesterday on the northern section of Dizengoff Street that made me stop and walk backwards to have a closer look. In the upper one, I couldn’t help thinking “If only they could make up their minds!”. In the lower one, the café is advertising Happy Hour. But even if you don’t read Hebrew, you can understand that time passes slowly in this part of the world, with happy hour lasting for a full 150 minutes!
Then leaving the house this morning, I photographed something I pass every day — and have photographed a couple of times before but never when it’s so full. This is one of the ugliest pieces of street installation in the country (at least this one isn’t bright yellow and has a floral “artistic embellishment”. These containers are for plastic bottles, almost all of which carry a 30 agorot (about 8 cents or 6 pence) deposit if you return them to a shop or supermarket but nobody does. Every now and then you can find someone (usually an older person) attempting to rescue bottles from the installation in order to claim the refund but generally it’s not this full and is therefore difficult. I drink tap water, by the way.
My walks often involve crossing the river. Here are two early morning pictures from adjoining bridges taken about 20 minutes apart. The upper one is looking east towards the rising sun; the lower one is the next bridge to the east looking westward towards the lower reaches of the stream.
The final picture in this series is of one of the many egrets that you encounter on any walk through the park. Naturally, what drew the eye into this picture is not the bird itself but its shadow.
Finally, the past few days have been taken up with listening to and viewing people talking and reminiscing about Shimon Peres who died a couple of days ago and was buried this afternoon in Jerusalem. There’s been so much written about him in the past few days by people who knew him well or who had interviewed him that I feel that perhaps I should say nothing at all. But I can’t because I feel that a very special person has passed on.
Listening to the Israeli politicians talking about him made you realise how lilliputian their views are. The gap between the winner and the also-rans is enormous. The hypocrisy and cynicism of the members of government interviewed over the past couple of days know no bounds, it seems. In life they fought him tooth and nail over everything he believed in. In death, he was the most wonderful man.
Peres was a paradoxical person (read the obituaries in the Economist and the Guardian this week and you can see how and why). As a civil servant, which is what he was before he became a politician, he was responsible for building the Israel Defence Force into what it became. Yet he was vilified as politician for all sorts of reasons. He wasn’t Israeli enough, he wasn’t a general, he was too European, he spoke with a Polish accent, he was too Ashkenazi. He was a loser, they also said, leading the Labour Party into elections five times and never winning a majority. It was also said that he couldn’t be be trusted, moving from party to party when it suited him. He was the ultimate pragmatist, a feature of his character that didn’t endear him to ideologues right or left.
As a politician, he took decisions and didn’t wait to see the results of polls in order to evaluate whether or not “the people wanted it” before deciding something. And, as a politician who took decisions, some of the decisions were wrong but that’s the name of the game, vide Winston Churchill. As a post-politician, as State President, as elder statesman, he had a vision and was an eternal optimist. He gave many people reason to believe that there could be a better future.
I didn’t see him as a loser but as a winner. If you look at Israel’s history over the past half century, he may have lost elections but generally ended up inside the coalition rather than in the opposition. He believed that if you wanted to get things done, then you had to be in government. Some people might call that untrustworthy. I like to regard it as ultra-pragmatism.