Another year gone: almanac season again


Hometown nostalgia.  Dizengoff St., Tel Aviv.  November 2016


This is basically a photographic post and my reason for doing it is that, quite frankly, I need to give myself a break from being a cynical sod.  I’m so frustrated by politics and politicians that a week without them won’t do anyone any harm, least of all the readers of this blog. 

It’s the end of November and in our household that means it’s calendar time again.  I started doing family calendars the year after I began wandering the streets, camera in hand.  Initially, I think I did one for ourselves and then the following year, I added in the children, and then the sisters and then for assorted nephews and nieces, each in their turn.  They’re wall calendars and Apple — and many other companies — provides a user-friendly application that allows you to do this with great facility.  In the beginning, there were 12 months and 12 pages, on each of which I placed several photographs.  However, I finally settled on a format where each month has a single photograph, usually taken in the 12 months prior to preparing the wall-hanging.  I also note the birthdays and wedding anniversaries (where appropriate) of family members, inserting a face on the appropriate date.  In recent years, I’ve done three or four for friends and other worthies (without the family photos, of course) as New Year gifts.

It started off as an uncomplicated affair.  But then, of course, the critics (i.e., the recipients) got in on the job.  These days, drafts have to be submitted to the family censorship committee, comprising she-who-must-be-obeyed and those-who-think-they should-be-obeyed (or at least listened to).  Their comments range from “That’s not a particularly good picture” through “A nice picture but not for a calendar” to “That’s a really nice picture to look at but I don’t think I want to gaze at it for a whole month over breakfast.  

Each of the three cleaners-up usually suggests that I replace two or three of the images in the draft calendar with something more to their liking.  Unfortunately, it’s hardly ever the same two or three pictures, meaning that half of what I had thought was fine and above board potentially needs to be replaced.  To tell the truth,it actually feels to me a bit like those situations in which I used to submit what I considered to be a pretty good academic paper to a journal and the editor (bless ’em all) would send it to three reviewers.  Each  of these three panjandrums would come back with a series of comments saying that they really enjoyed reading it and thought it was a fine piece —  but if the author were to do this, that or the other s/he would turn it into a super paper.  Unfortunately, there was rarely much correspondence among this, that and the other and really, what each of the referees would have liked me to have done was to rewrite the article according to her/his way of thinking, i.e., produce three new papers.

Anyhow, those days are over and all I have to do is navigate the crazy paving between wife and daughters and pick a dozen photographs that they’re happy with for 2017.

The whole procedure usually gets under way when I try to remember how to make the application work because, when all’s said and done, I only use it once a year.  That can take an hour or so.  Then it’s choosing perhaps 100 images from which 14 (12 months and two covers) will emerge as “winners”.  The hardest part of the whole operation is updating the images of the younger members of the family who change rapidly from year to year.  (We oldies don’t change all that much.)  All in all, I spend about two days on this actually quite enjoyable assignment.

So what I thought I’d do in this post is share with you the “victors” — even if the censorship board has hot given its final approval — and then add a sentence or two about each.  Some readers of this blog might recollect having seen some of the photos before in earlier posts, but what the hell.  

THE FRONT COVER is a variant of what is lacking in this region but which is present to some degree in this country even though if you live outside Israel, you might never hear about such a thing.  There’s a women’s outfitter on a street a few minutes walk from where we live with a clutter of cats that sit on the pavement outside the shop most of the time and inside the shop some of the time.  I had seen the rooster before on the main street about 50m away but one morning as I was passing, this is what appeared in front of the camera.  And it was one of those pictures for which the caption just popped out of my head and landed in front of my eyes along with the image.

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JANUARY  This photograph is a typical winter’s day in Tel Aviv.  It had rained the night before and the wooden planks on the promenade are not just damp but wet.  The sea is rough, the wind is blowing and the clouds look as if they might just shed some more liquid in the near future.  But the great thing is that you know it won’t last more than a couple of days.  Having said that, we have yet to experience a day like this this year.

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FEBRUARY  I haven’t even shown this picture to the censorship board yet so it may well lose out.  We have two oil drizzlers in the kitchen and they paint a pretty picture on the somewhat scratched glass table as the sun shines in through the window in the early morning autumn light.  They might as well be a  belly-dancing teacher and her acolyte.

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MARCH  March is daffodil month in the British Isles and after they made their appearance in the last post, these daffodils play an encore.  

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APRIL  I may yet change this one.  I photograph in the local markets from time to time and olives often turn up as “subjects”.  The darker ones are lovely to look at but photographed under lights — natural or artificial — they are usually too shiny and reflective, so I settled for these green ones, which are, as you can see, a trifle dull.

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MAY  These are not what my dietician recommends but I think that he was referring to consuming them.  The problem is that looking at them and photographing them is a temptation and consequently often leads to ingestion.

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JUNE  This is one of my favourite pictures and is the only one in the set that wasn’t taken in the past year.  I was walking up a slope exiting Hampstead Heath when I spotted the man, the girl and the scooter.  I photographed it in colour but realised as soon as I looked at it needed to be B&W.  In colour, it’s just a photo; black & white, it’s a real picture.

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JULY  The cyclamen is a winter flower so quite why I chose to place it in July is beyond my ken — except that following a month of looking at the B&W picture, it needed to be something pretty and colourful.

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AUGUST  Last August we spent a few days with our son and his family at their annual retreat far away from London on the Isle of Skye.  What struck me most was the ever changing light.  I took several pictures at different times of the day and in different light conditions from the same spot.  I was tempted to place four together on one page but decided that the  sunset picture suited the calendar best.

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SEPTEMBER  Years ago standing opposite the Wigmore Hall in London on a cold November Sunday afternoon, the result of a security alert, I was talking to an acquaintance, a retired architect.  He bemoaned the fact that people never look upwards as they walk along the streets because that is where interesting things are.  A few months ago, walking along the north side of Oxford Street, I happened to glance at the other side of the street at the Boots the Chemist store at #193 and saw these windows above the shop front.  The glass panes, reflecting the building against which I am standing, reflecting the light and the image at different angles yielded the image above.  And there’s no Photoshop involved!

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OCTOBER  I photographed the date palms in the Remembrance Garden in the Yarqon Park near the house a few weeks ago when the trees were heavily laden with ripe fruit.

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NOVEMBER  Looking south along the Ayalon freeway that runs north-south through Tel Aviv, I was trying out a wide-angle lens.  The high-rise office and residential buildings on either side of the picture are clearly visible.  The channelised Ayalon river is on the east (left-hand) side, with the northbound traffic.  The main north-south railway line is in the centre of the picture and the southbound traffic is on the western (right-hand) side.

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DECEMBER  The multi-coloured peppers at the Friday morning Farmers’ Market at Tel Aviv port are placed to brighten up what, I would hope, should be a dull, rainy December.

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BACK COVER  The Oleander Hawk Moth has made its appearance several times, staying   for a couple of days each time, on the door to the stairwell of our apartment building.  I was overruled about placing it inside the calendar.

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And I really wanted to place this one inside, too, but I was told that it was too frightening!

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… and the runners-up were …


Celebrity, Narcissism and Humility


One of the decisions that I have to make before going out on my daily walk is what lens to stick on the front of the camera.  Do I want some large sweeping photos of the park or the street or a building or whatever and affix a wide angle lens?  Or do I take out the telephoto lens and become something more like a paparazzo if not quite a voyeur.  Or should I play it safe and put on the standard lens which is a bit of both and just get on with the job?  

More often than not, I plump for the last option and go out with the standard kit lens on the camera, which means that although I can zoom in and out and get most of the pictures I want, occasionally I miss out on something that would have turned out to be far more exciting had I made a different choice.

Of course, one of the things I can never tell is whose path I’m about to cross as I saunter along as a visual flâneur and this is true of both London and Tel Aviv. In London, I can bump into Sir Derek Jacobi in the Turkish grocery or Oliver’s Fish & Chips on Haverstock Hill, Lord Melvyn Bragg exiting a taxi on England’s Lane or Dame Maggie Smith learning her lines on the Tube.  In Tel Aviv, you are likely to bump into all sorts of celebrities — major and minor — as you walk through the park or along the streets, from the mayor to Knesset members to the owner of Israel’s largest bank, TV hosts and reporters, Chief Rabbis and more.

Huldai Clean Government 2011

CLEAN GOVERNMENT, a.k.a.  Tel Aviv’s mayor Ron Huldai, en route to work

A couple of years ago, we were honoured to have as neighbours, about 200m away and just around the corner, the then Minister of Education and his TV hostess wife.  Mr. Sa’ar’s presence or absence was always provided by the number and demeanour of the security guards outside the building (not quite the Royal Standard flying over a royal residence) until he fell out of favour with the Prime Minister through disagreeing over who should become State President and resigned, thereby cleansing the street of security personnel.  (Two doors away from the Minister and his wife lived the then head of Israel TV’s Channel One News who had ruled that Mrs. Sa’ar  — or Geula Even as she is better known to viewers — could not conduct her current affairs talk show in the hour before the main evening news because of a potential conflict of interest, something that I’m sure didn’t quite bring about good neighbourly relations!)


Brandeis St., Tel Aviv.  Demo demanding free beaches opposite Mr. Sa’ar’s residence, 2013

Anyway, Wednesday morning, I plonked the standard lens on the camera and went out into the park and turn westward towards the sea.  About halfway there, I was overtaken by youngish man (you have to understand that these days anyone under 55 appears to me to be “youngish”).  As he came past, he wished me “Good morning” and there was something about the intonation that suggested me might be a politician trying to make friends with a potential voter. When I looked again just as I had fallen behind him, I wished him a good morning, too, and then asked him if he was who I thought he might be, to which he immediately answered in the affirmative, which only convinced me that my instant internal analysis had been correct.  (I once asked Howard Jacobson, the Booker Prize winning novelist, in a Ryman’s stationery shop on Tottenham Court Road the same question and his response was more sophisticated: “That depends on who you think I am!”.)  


Mr. & Mrs. Howard Jacobson, Tottenham Court Road, 2012

I followed the path of the youngish walker (sort of, that is, as he was walking more quickly than I) and he turned out to be Ofir Akunis, Israel’s current Minister of Science, Technology and Space(!), a politician whose politics are so far to starboard that if he were sailing south in the Atlantic Ocean expecting to round the Cape of Good Hope, he would likely hit Cape Horn.  Anyway, his trademark coiffure — which suggests that he might be centre-right but is only there to mislead — was less than perfect at 7 o’clock in the morning, which was why it took me a couple of seconds to recognise him and why there was no picture. Anyway, I observed him crossing the pedestrian bridge near the sea and walk back eastward on the northern bank of the Yarqon.  


The carefully-coiffured Minister Akunis

So far, so good — but, as I say, no photographs.  Now, in Greek mythology, there is the story of Narcissus, a hunter known for his beauty but who scorned all those who loved him.  Nemesis, paying attention to this behaviour, drew Narcissus to a pool and on seeing his own reflection in the water, Narcissus fell in love with it, not realizing it was merely an image. (What else would a narcissist have done?)  Unable to leave the beauty of his reflection, he lost his will to live, staring at his reflection until he died.  Now, I’m not suggesting for one second that our Minister of Space (he supports Jewish settlements everywhere in the Land of Israel) is a narcissist but as he crossed the bridge over the entrance to the Daniel Rowing Club, just before Mandy’s restaurant (for British readers with longish memories, this is named after one Mandy Rice-Davies of Profumo fame, who came to live in Tel Aviv in 1966), he stopped and took a selfie and then walked a further couple of paces and took another— and then another and another and another.  I observed this from a distance a little too great for an 18-135mm lens and anyway was so dumbfounded by what I saw that I even forgot to photograph the action(s)!  But it certainly was interesting.  (It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see one of Mr. Akunis’ selfies on his well-stocked Facebook page.)  Actually, it only struck me later that the security services actually let this guy roam around the park alone without a minder.  Perhaps the minder was camouflaged?  Or perhaps, as Mr. Akunis — only a junior minister — is much less of a threat to Mr. Netanyahu than was Mr. Sa’ar so he matters less. 


Minister Akunis on the bridge, between selfies



… and after all that exercise, surely it’s time to offer the young man some refreshment


As a result of this encounter with a contemporary Narcissus, I decided to display a picture of wild daffodils, of which Mr. Wordsworth saw many in his beloved Lake District “beside the lake, beneath the trees, fluttering and dancing in the breeze”.  The botanical name for this common but pretty flower, the demeanour of which, unlike politicians, exhibits a natural humility is, as you all know, Narcissus pseudonarcissus.  A politician’s flower indeed!


Narcissus pseudonarcissus, (Daffodils)

And while on the subject of flowers, why not show a few more.  Their colours are often superb and they catch they eye.  They are always lovely to behold, don’t make a mess, don’t bark or bite or make inane speeches. Also, they don’t move, so that you have time to take the photo.  Then, if you’re lucky, you get a really nice picture.  

cyclamenFlowers Tel Avivflowerrosehollyhock



As I was writing this, Haifa, the city in which we lived for over 30 years, is in flames (as are other parts of the country).  A total of 70,000 people in the city have been evacuated from their homes for tonight at least.  This disaster is a result of a combination of factors — no rain since April, relative humidity of 5-10%, winds gusting up to 80km/h, careless people and, it would appear in some cases, pure arson.  The weather forecasters suggest that this weather will continue for the next few days before things get better.  Awful, really.


My good lady thinks that I was a little hard on poor young Mr. Akunis.  My off-the-cuff response was “I don’t think so.  Some people actually get paid for writing much worse.  I’m doing it for free!”



Balconies, Balderdash, Balagan

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Although it may not be immediately obvious, there is — or there may be — a rational connection between my messy workspace prior to its [approximately] once a month clearance and one of William Shakespeare’s most famous,  most re-enacted and most lampooned scenes, you know, the one from Romeo and Juliet, where she says “O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?” and from which many people associate balconies with romanticism, places at which young ladies are serenaded in the night and onto which young men climb in pursuit of true love.  In truth, balconies are much more humdrum and banal than the image raised by the Bard of Avon.

We didn’t have any balconies in suburban southwest Dublin and my first real encounter with one was 50 years ago when we rented an apartment in Jerusalem. Eating breakfast on a balcony was a totally new experience as being at home and “outside” in Ireland meant exactly that.  Though the garden was integral to the property, it was unequivocally beyond the dwelling and external; it was definitely not part of the house. “House and Garden”, a common enough phrase,  meant precisely that.  You might have sat in the garden but  you would hardly have had breakfast.  You might, perhaps, have taken afternoon tea with biscuits or cake after having cut the grass — and that usually meant in the back garden out of sight of passers-by.  And if  the neighbours were privy to back garden social activities, then it was because a prior tacit agreement had been reached. 


Cutting the grass in Ireland. September 1966

The balcony in Jerusalem proffered a circumstance that differed from that with which I was familiar, the most obvious being visibility. Though the balcony was an exterior part of the living space, it was also semi-public. Balcony-sitters could observe their surroundings but they could also be discerned by others but what others saw depended on distance and angle. By performing some household activities externally, bystanders and passers-by could be transformed into onlookers, casually observing events that might otherwise have been conducted inside, for being on a balcony means being en plein air.

Of course, this begs the question as whether there is there a fundamental difference between a balcony and a window when it comes to infringement of privacy?  Can it be that a window-gazer is a voyeur but a balcony-onlooker is just a nosey but law-abiding citizen? Is the former prying while the latter is just being inquisitive? A moot point, indeed.  

Immediate neighbours, particularly those using their balconies in a similar way, can observe their neighbours from up close while being simultaneously observed and this contrasts with the activities of a bystander/onlooker.


Nahlat Shiv’a, Jerusalem. c.1967

Active or passive communication with one’s neighbours is the price of balcony living, the balcony being transitional space, part of the home (private space) but also part of the street (public space). Liminal spaces such as balconies, are characterized by an indistinctness and indeterminacy, a disorientation as to quite where you’re located. Just as liminality in the anthropological sense is a period of transition, in which normal limits to  self-understanding and behaviour are relaxed en route to something new, so is liminal space an area of transition. And the balcony is one of a group of transitional arrangements between internal living quarters and external surroundings, the others including patios, porches and verandahs, each subtly different from the others.

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A maze of balconies.  Tel Aviv


High high-rise balconies, Tel Aviv

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From olive grove to truck to balcony decoration.  Tel Aviv


Grand Canal, Venice


Barbican, London.


San Sebastian/Donostia, Spain.

In my innocence, I thought for many years that people making extensive use of balconies — the balcony being active living space — was really just a feature of warmer climates in which residents try to escape an oppressive heat inside a dwelling.  That may very well be the case but balconies are much more ubiquitous than that and can be found almost any place you care to look.  That they are, perhaps, used more in warmer than cooler climates is unsurprising but that does not mean that they are absent from more temperate climates and the fact that I hadn’t noticed that for many years is more a function of my failure to observe than anything else.  There is a balcony in the London flat, usually too cold or too wet to use and when absent for a length of time, squatters could arrive and make use of it, make a mess of it, deface it, et cetera — resulting in protective measures to be taken.


Absolute nonchalance — squatting, sitting, sh•tting.   We all voted Brexit AND Trump! Ha-ha!

 … and you’ll have to clean up the mess!

However, balconies can be put to other uses, too.  The police frequently use balconies as tools in anti-riot and anti-terrorist measures.  In Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List, there is a bourgeois villa with a balcony that was used routinely to dry washing on a clotheshorse. However, his Nazi commandant played God with his rifle on this, choosing who would live or die in the camp below him.  

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Mussolini and Hitler used balconies from which to address and stroke the fires of the multitudes beneath them. 



And, of course, popes and sovereigns appear on balconies to receive adulation from the assorted believers and subjects below.


Note the zucchetto: Not even a hint of a breeze


Notice the hats: Not even a trace of a zephyr

Now, to return to the mess on my desk.

There’s a lovely word in modern Hebrew that, I suppose, typifies me in some ways.  BalaGAN (with the emphasis on the last syllable lest it sound like an Irish townland) means, according the linguist Lewis Glinert “a disorderly, confusing, and/or overwhelming situation”.  It can be used in all sorts of contexts such as “This blog isn’t making any sense, it’ s a total balagan” or “Stan’s desk is a complete balagan” or “You have a Minister of Education and he’s replaced by a Minister of Re-education.  Consequently the children suffer because the educational system is an absolute balagan.”  

Glinert also tells us that etymologically, it comes from a Slavic language, as balagan in Polish means simply “mess” or “disorder”.  However, an article by Shoshana Kordova in the Israeli daily newspaper HaAretz in 2013 provided some interesting information.  What she wrote was: “Sure, English has words like “mess” and “messy” but they don’t fully capture the essence of balagan, which goes way beyond tidiness and its opposite.  [It] can mean confusion and chaos; it can be pluralized (balaganim) to mean problems or difficulties; and though it has a four-letter root rather than the [Hebrew] standard three letters, it can be turned into an adjective (mevulgan, meaning messy or disordered) or a verb (bilgen, meaning he created a balagan).”


Trellick Tower, Kensington (Arch. Ernö Goldfinger).  (… and his brutal compliments to James Bond).

So far, so good.  Then came the fascinating part.  Kordova wrote: “Yet for all its Israeliness, balagan does not have its roots in the Hebrew language.” …  “[It] comes from the Farsi word balakhaana, meaning “external room,” “upper room” or “balcony.”  From Farsi, the word migrated into Turkish and from there to Russian, where a wooden balagan became not just a storehouse or attic but, according to Hebrew language connoisseur Ruvik Rosenthal,  a venue for commedia dell’arte, starting in the 18th century.  But storehouse or attic it had been, which brings us back to “balcony”.  For the balcony (or the attic) used to be the balagan, a place on the outside of the living quarters or on the roof, where odds and ends were stored.  Its use as an external living or ornamental space attached to the house or apartment is an aestheticism that the Persians and Turks didn’t have in their respective ancient balagans.


Balcony = Balagan = Balcony???  Blimey!


The World Turned Upside Down

In the last post, I hinted that I might become the Man in the Moon although I doubted whether that would happen.  However, last night there was a full moon and the sky was relatively clear, so I went outside to photograph the real Man in the Moon.


The Man in the Moon.  Tel Aviv, November 13 2016.

When I decided to renew my activity with a camera nine years ago, I took an elementary course with Itzik Canetti, a fashion photographer in Tel Aviv, whose brother, as chance would have it, had taught my daughters chamber music in school.  The course met twice a week, midweek and on Fridays and included all the things you would expect from a basic course — outside, inside, natural light, studio light, night-time photography and the crème-de-la-crème (as far as Itzik was concerned) an evening of nude photography.  In my innocence, I asked if the nude photography evening also included a male model to which the irate response was simply “Not in my studio”.

When the fateful evening arrived, I informed she-who-must-be-obeyed that I thought I’d give it a miss, as I tend to be a little prudish.  The good lady surprised me — she does this from time to time — by informing me that I was going to finish the course without missing anything.  “You’ve paid for it, so you’re going!  No arguments!”.  So I turned up at the appointed hour along with the other dozen or so who were in the group.

The model was there, wearing a silk dressing gown, while Itzik explained the intricacies of the evening.  And then the dressing gown slipped off and she entered a state of trance while all the other budding photographers got down to work.  I was sort of mesmerised so I asked Itzik what I should do.  His advice was down-to-earth.  “You take a light reading over her right shoulder and then start photographing”.  I followed the instructions and by my count, I had taken almost 200 images in the couple of hours that followed.  The really interesting thing about it was when we met a week later to show what pictures had been taken and to discuss them, it turned out that (a) I had taken less than half the average for the group and (b) images taken by the male students differed in many ways from those taken by the women; in particular, the angles of view differed and thus the subject matters in focus.

A few weeks later, I met up with Itzik for a drink.  Just out of curiosity, I asked whether the model was a professional.  His response absolutely floored me.  He told me that she does it as a gig and that her day job was an intensive care nurse at a Haifa hospital.  I commented that if I were, heaven forbid, a patient in intensive care and knew what she did in order to supplement her meagre income, I would either have passed away on the spot or have been instantly returned to full health.  This would have depended, of course, on my state of mind at the time, in particular whether or not I had been hallucinating again!


My world turned upside down

At around the same time as I was “studying” photography, I was also walking the streets looking for appropriate subjects to shoot.  I like symmetry and find that my eye is drawn to objects such as buildings, window displays and whatever that exhibit regularity, which is how I came to photograph the façade of the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Tel Aviv.


Asymmetrical symmetry

Now, as you can see, I was mistaken this time around, because what seemed to me to be symmetry when I was taking the photo isn’t — there are three balconies on the right-hand side against five on the left-hand side.  It was only when I was looking at the photos then I got home that I realised that what had attracted me was the fact that each balcony was fitted out with two plastic chairs, most of which showed no signs of human use.  

However, as I looked more closely, what was really interesting was that there was just one solitary human figure on the 136 balconies.  


One solitary figure and lots of chairs

Nonetheless, she wasn’t sitting there soaking up the view and she didn’t seem to be in a position that might have suggested that she was reading a book, so I decided to have a closer look.   I imagine she thought that being up there on a balcony outside her hotel room was private enough.  Whether she would have continued with the activity on which she was concentrating so intensely had she realised that there was a paparazzo pensioner observing her is a moot point!


Really, that’s what she’s doing!

On the subject of Tel Aviv façades, some years ago I was asked by a colleague if I would take a photograph for the cover of a book of which he was the co-editor.  His American colleague has asked for something very specific.  Could I photograph the façade of the building at 11 Leonardo da Vinci Street in Tel Aviv?  

As it happened, a couple of days later, I was at a concert in a venue not far away so I used the interval to pop out and have have a look.  The following day, I was down for a photo shoot.  It was (and is) an amazing painted mural depicting Tel Aviv surrounding the entrance to the building and windows on each floor.  Bauhaus, the sea, Jaffa, the demonstration at Rabin Square to commemorate the assassination, cyclists, Theodor Herzl, gay parades, Reading Power Station, the high rises, Meir Dizengoff himself, a lot of what appears in this blog and and much much more are all there — and all on a schematic map of the city, too.  The book for which this mural forms the cover (and there are three other of my  images in it) — Tel-Aviv, the First Century: Visions, Designs, Actualities edited by Maoz Azaryahu and Ilan Troen — is pretty interesting, too, as indeed are there other published works by Azaryahu.


11 Leonardo da Vinci Street, Tel Aviv

Looking at urban landscapes, we tend to concentrate on the larger images — streets, parks, vistas and so on.  What we have to remember as we wander round and observe things is also to keep an eye open for the smaller items that go to make up the urban landscape.  The six images that follow illustrate this point.  

The door knocker, resembling something Inca or Aztec is part of the scene in Hampstead “village” in northwest London,  It’s one of several examples from the area.  


The barbed wire, telling us what it thinks of the world, was photographed in the eastern part of the Yarqon Park in Tel Aviv/Ramat Gan.  


The “eating tree” caught my eye in Jerusalem, near the old railway station in 1966/67 when I wasn’t taking photography too seriously.  Nevertheless, the idea that people construct objects and that nature takes over is something that one sees over and again wherever you walk.  


The fourth photograph is this set is something one sees all over British cities, especially in buildings that date from the late 18th and the 19th centuries, near the front doors of houses.  I’ve always noticed them and until a few years ago, when I summoned up the courage to ask (I say “summoned up the courage” because these things are so ubiquitous that I was afraid to manifest my ignorance) and discovered that they are boot-scrapers, designed to aid people entering a house to scrape mud off their boots before going in.  Obviously, they became obsolete once modernism declared that streets be paved.  

London Hampstead

Finally, in this group of pictures is something so mundane as to be almost completely invisible.  One is often advised when walking along streets not to concentrate all the time on what you see at ground level but to look upward towards the roofs and it’s true that there is often some very interesting stuff up there.  However, I’ve yet to hear someone tell me that I should keep my eyes down.  Yet, a street along which I often walk, Lawn Road, in Belsize Park in London, yielded something interesting a couple of years ago that I hadn’t notice before.  One side of the street — which, incidentally, leads to the wonderful Bauhaus Isokon Building, is paved with bricks.  All of the bricks present blank faces.  Then, one day, head down, I discovered that they had been manufactured by a brickworks in Bexhill in Kent, which had gone out of business some time in the 1950s but which had operated for about 80 years.  I suppose that this indicated that the there had been no maintenance work on the footpath for well over half a century.

Lawn Road.jpg


Occasionally, when I don’t feel like going out, I find things to photograph at home.  Fifty years ago, we received an engagement gift of two mugs from the Stephen Pearce pottery in Shanagarry, County Cork, Ireland.  (Incidentally, we still use these mugs.)  Over the years, we’ve added and broken several piece — cups, mugs, plates — in both of the styles that the pottery makes.  Occasionally, I photograph them and play around with the images because I just find that they yield very satisfying pictures, as the example below illustrates.



The Man in the Moon

“Maybe he’ll turn out to be one of the best presidents America has ever had”, she said, as I drove her last night to do some baby-sitting. To which my immediately reactive response was “and maybe I’ll become the Man in the Moon”.  

My wife is a perpetual optimist and I am her polar opposite, which is part of the reason we’ve endured — OMG, I meant enjoyed — half a century together.  I’ve always thought that to be an optimist must involve so many disappointing  moments that it’s not worth the effort; on the other hand, when one is a pessimist occasionally there are  pleasant surprises!  How’s that for a way of approaching life?  

Well, who knows what will be?  Reality is different to reality TV as I’m sure he’ll discover as soon as he settles into the job.  The issues are real, not ersatz; factual, not make-believe.  Having said that, I think that in order to get things done, more than the average number of political promises made in an election campaign might have to be broken.  I suppose one positive way of looking at the recent campaign from my jaundiced viewpoint is that if McCain had won in 2008 then it might have been Sarah Palin as President-elect of the United States of America rather than who is.  Given that all the polls got the result so wrong, I can only suppose that the real President-elect’s predilection for ignoring facts and saying that there’s no need for experts will have been reinforced.

As Irving Berlin wrote in 1938 (and just change “Bless” to “Save”):

God Bless America, 
Land that I love. 
Stand beside her, and guide her 
Thru the night with a light from above. 
From the mountains, to the prairies, 
To the oceans, white with foam 
God bless America, My home sweet home.

Anyway, enough of American political post-mortems.  That’s it till 2020 (now I’m being an optimist to even contemplate that this blog will run until then or that I might!).

So let’s take it easy this time round just with some photographs, most of which haven’t seen the light of day for some years, if ever.  There’s no particular order or relationships among the pictures — they’re just things that caught my eye at the time I took them.


I thought that the image below might have appeared in the blog once before, so I looked back to check it out and it was in one of the early ones, about nine months ago. Then, I wrote that it was a stormy day and I wanted to see what the sea looked like in such weather.  The sea was pretty rough and the sky a dark grey but the early morning sun appeared for just a couple of minutes, lighting up the waves battering the coast from the west; then it became dull again.  It makes a picture not just because of the contrast between the sky and the white foam but because this still picture is so full of movement — sea, waves battering the coast, foam rising, gulls wheeling around.  For nine years, I’ve this picture has been a benchmark.  The sea’s been wilder, the sky inkier, the waves higher and the foam whiter — but never in this combination, which is what makes it seem dynamic.


The sea at Tel Aviv Port.  February 1 2008

The rest of the morning was dull and grey and as I looked around me on the promenade, it looked as if the sea had vomited up the contents of a particularly awful meal the night before.  That didn’t deter the angler although I never thought, not even for a second, that he was actually expecting any fish to bite.  Angling at Tel Aviv Port is nothing more than a postgraduate course in reflective and reflexive philosophy, i.e., navel contemplation.

picturephotograph Tel Aviv

The promenade, Tel Aviv Port, looking south.  February 1 2008

picturephotograph Tel Aviv

The promenade, Tel Aviv Port, looking north.  February 1 2008


These young ladies — there are four of them although for years I only noticed three —were photographed on our honeymoon in the West of Ireland 50 years ago.  Looking at the three faces that are visible, I’ve always had a sneaking suspicion that the nun nearest the camera might not have remained part of the sisterhood for long.



When we lived in London for a five-year period from 2000 until 2006, I would usually take a 15-minute walk from the flat to Swiss Cottage Station to catch a bus into the West End.  At one time, it was quite common to encounter the daily outing of horses and riders, early in the morning, as they moved between the Army’s Mill Hill barracks to the Regent’s Park Barracks in Albany Street. They varied their route but in our neck of the woods, you could hear the clip-clop anywhere between Hampstead and Regent’s Park — along Hampstead High Street or Fitzjohn’s Avenue, down Haverstock Hill, across Primrose Hill Road, and even down the Finchley Road, a main traffic artery, and not even at a canter — with the traffic following along at their pace.

One morning, just as I approached the Tube station at Swiss Cottage, a much inebriated man emerged into the bright sunlight.  Standing up straight was somewhat difficult for him, as was focussing.  On observing him and listening to him, the gentleman concerned was obviously from John Bull’s Other Island (the one just to the west of Britain).  As he emerged, he  looked to his right and squinted into the sunlight in the direction of Finchley Road Station.  What he saw, as he tried to focus both his eyes and his mind were 90 horses coming down the road.  He kept blinking his eyes as if he had emerged into some hallucinatory landscape and then he said, very audibly, “Bejayzuz! It’s the Indians. They’re coming this way!”  I thought I would choke with laughter.  (I might have added a ‘begorrah’ but that would have been hamming it and it also would be falsifying the facts!)

Primrose Hill

Army horses and riders, Primrose Hill Road, London NW3


Army horses and riders at South End Road, NW3


When our first grandchild was born and his parents took him home, I did what all grandfathers are wont to do and photographed the proud parents and their offspring.  Only this one was a little different but I thought that is symbolised everything.


Dov, Keren & Tal, aged 3 days.  Tufnell Park, April 2010

Finally, while on family matters, one of the perks of having professional musicians in the family is that you not only get to hear them but also to photograph them in action.  Usually, they’re playing but the photograph below was special.  The Aviv Quartet played a lot of Shostakovich and in 2007, they performed all 15 Shostakovich quartets over 10 days at the Verbier Festival.  Among the concerts we were lucky enough to hear was a performance of the 9th quartet, in the presence of the person to whom it was dedicated, the composer’s third wife, Irina Supinskaya.  This was a piece they had performed many, many times but in Shuli’s words, it was more stressful than usual this time round when the dedicatee was sitting 2 meters from the end of your nose.


Irina Shostakovich, w/ The Aviv Quartet (Shuli Waterman, Evgenia Epshtein, Sergei Ostrovsky & Rachel Mercer).  Verbier, July 2007


Play it Safer: Drink the Wine and Chew the Wafer


A couple of weeks ago, I promised no more politics.  Ha-ha! Big joke! Try as I might, it’s difficult to escape from politicians, Israeli or American even for a few minutes.  

I thought I might have managed to achieve this  this morning by arriving at the doctor’s surgery at 7.30 and having half an hour to kill in the waiting room while a dozen other coughers and sneezers, ageing wheezers and creaky old geezers made their way in and out.  But, as is the practice in Israel, the flat TV monitor attached to the wall was on full blast and in the hour and five minutes I had to wait, I was subjected to the voice of Trump several times … Hillary’s guilty and she knows it Hillary’s guilty and she knows it … &c., &c.

And then last Saturday night here in Tel Aviv a large crowd gathered in Rabin Square, south of the Tel Aviv Municipality building to mark the 21st anniversary of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.  This year, the rally was organised by the Labour Party, the first time it had not been a government-sponsored event.  That same weekend, the chair of the governing coalition stated in an interview that Rabin’s assassination had not been a political act; it was just another murder—no politician perpetrated it, [just] a person who “wanted to stop certain processes”.  In gross understatement, quite outrageous, not that it seemed to bother anyone the starboard side of Israeli political ship.  Meanwhile, the Knesset not long ago observed a minute’s silence to commemorate the murder by Palestinian terrorists 15 years ago of Rechavam Ze’evi, a right-wing minister who just happened to espouse “transfer”, (in other words, ethnic cleansing, or ridding Greater Israel of all Arabs!)  To top it all, a recent report by an experienced TV investigative  journalist suggested that the same Ze’evi killed unarmed Bedouins, conspired in an attempted murder of a reporter, and raped a soldier under his command.  So there, it’s a lovely world we live in.

People who don’t hold “right-wing” views (so-called Leftists) are increasingly regarded, if not quite yet as traitors then certainly as people whose loyalty is suspect.  Does this sound familiar?  What we are experiencing is a combination of an Israeli version of Trumpism and some piecemeal Erdoganism.  (The Prime Minister—the same person who failed to calm the mobs prior to the Rabin assassination two decades ago— holds both the Foreign Affairs and the Communication portfolios.) 

I actually thought I might leave posting another piece until after November 8, by which time the result of the U.S. presidential election should be known and we should be able either to breathe a sigh of relief and hope that America will be able to continue to lead the West or whether we should start worrying deeply about America closing itself off with walls and other barriers while an abusive, impulsive New York builder places his finger on the nuclear button.

However, whichever way I would have started such a piece I would probably have gotten it wrong.  I might said that President-elect Clinton, in a bipartisan burst of beneficence, had offered the post of Secretary of the Treasury or at least Director of the Inland Revenue Service to Donald Trump in recognition of services rendered.  Or perhaps, the post of Ambassador to Mexico where, with his construction experience and diplomatic nous, he would be able to oversee wall-building.  Or perhaps both, so as to ensure that the Mexicans paid.  Or, it might have started by saying that President-elect Trump, in a fit of bipartisan bigheartedness or pig-headedness had offered the post of Justice Secretary or Director of the Federal Prison Service or the FBI to Crooked Hillary, given her past legal training and recent criminal behaviour.  In the end, as Tom Lehrer put it 50 years ago, I decided to play it safer, to “drink the wine and chew the wafer”.  

Anyway, we should soon know whether the West is being led by an old hand who understands how the world works—even if she’s stained—or by a cowboy who really doesn’t have a clue.  Oh, well!  Americans — what can we do?  Oh, and by the way, Mother Theresa says that Brexit is still Brexit, be what May.

So these past 10 days or so, it’s been back to walking around Tel Aviv, which I find much more interesting and relaxing than listening to, reading about and watching the news unfold and change—or not, as the case may be.  (BTW, all the photos bar one are from the past week.)

Conservatory Tree.jpg

Surrender.  (Louis Marshall Street, Tel Aviv)


Beyond the Fringe.  (Allenby Street, Tel Aviv)


Path to Enlightenment (a).  (Allenby Street, Tel Aviv)


Path to Enlightenment (b) Red light? Read some Psalms to save your soul.  (Ibn Gvirol St., Tel Aviv)


Daniel Day-Lewis in the role of a crow? My Left Foot?  Who knows?  (Yarqon Park, Tel Aviv)


Pomegranate.  Ripe to Eat.  (Farmers’ Market, Tel Aviv Port)


Forecourt, Israel Conservatory of Music, Tel Aviv


The most hirsute fruit.  (Pinkas Street, Tel Aviv)


The most hirsute jogger.  (Tel Aviv Port)

Finally, this week I also did something I haven’t done for years; I travelled to Haifa twice in the same week. The first trip was a visit to the widow of a colleague from the university who had passed away the week before last after a long illness.  Michael Saltman was the one person in a 44-year association with the university with whom I could converse on the same wavelength, with no interference, no need for translation or interpretation — and straight talker and an honest person.  He was an anthropologist, a graduate of City of London School, the Universities of London and Cambridge.  We could talk politics (we didn’t always agree—we usually didn’t agree), we could talk cricket, we could laugh at the same silly British jokes and understand what was silly about them.  When I was a fresh Dean of Social Sciences nearly 25 years ago, I told my secretary that she should block out one hour from the diary every Monday morning and make sure that I wasn’t disturbed.  She was somewhat perplexed and wanted to know why so I told her I had important business to attend to with a friend.  Every Monday, Michael would arrive at 10.30, the whiskey was poured, the Times Crossword appeared (we never managed to complete one) and an hour was well spent before returning to the serious business of administration.


The second visit was for a reception at the geography department to mark the completion of four years in office by the outgoing Chair, Lea Wittenberg, whose main research interest is the effects of forest fires on vegetation-soil erosion dynamics in the Mediterranean.  She moved from floods to fire, as it were.  It was interesting, as is each of my increasingly infrequent visits to the institution with which I have been associated since 1972.  It reminded me of a conversation about 15 years ago when I had lunch with a friend at the London School of Economics.   As we chatted, Derek told me that he’d visited his old department at LSE a few weeks prior and that on the day he was there, he recognised nobody and nobody knew him.  I was incredulous for he had had, after all, worked there for 40 years and had occupied many senior positions at the School.  He assured me that it was true and that if I was lucky, i.e., if I lasted that long, I would experience the same thing.  Well, it hasn’t quite happened yet — but I’m getting there!


Professor Lea Wittenberg.  (Haifa, November 2016)


Social Levity and Political Correctness

A few days ago in some parts of the world, Hallowe’en was celebrated.  Hallowe’en falls on October 31, the day before All Saints’ Day and has its origins, some think, in pagan Celtic harvest festivals.  One of the characteristics of festivals is that things get turned upside down and people act in ways they might not normally do — all in a festive spirit of jollity and fun.  In the United States, Hallowe’en is associated with “trick-or-treating” where children go round from house to house in fancy dress and hold the residents up to ransom.  Unless they receive some sort of treat, they won’t go away — or worse.

I told you it was funny!.jpg

Some adults get into the spirit of things, too.  Take, for instance, the visit of Vladimir Putin’s personal emissary, Ivan (Slava) Western, in his capacity of Commissar for Soviet Levity, to the Maxwell School of Citizenship at Syracuse University in New York.  Western arrived to celebrate the American “Hallowe’en” tradition in a spirit of fraternal internationalism and was greeted by William Sullivan, the Maxwell School’s assistant dean for external relations (see photos below by Matt Coulter, SOVFOTO).

Slava Western.jpg


Playboy of the Western World. (Hallowe’en 2016).

Now, there’s no connection whatsoever between the photograph of Professor John Western, (distinguished author of Outcast Cape Town, A Passage to England (Barbadians in London), and Cosmopolitan Europe (Strasbourg) and other light classics) and the image which follows it although I admit there may be some superficial resemblances.  

A couple of days before I received the images of Comrade Western, my younger sister shared a video clip with her Facebook friends, a 5-minute monologue by Dave Allen, an irreverent Irish comedian who made a name for himself in the UK and elsewhere between the 1960s and 1990s.  

He had little respect for “men of the cloth” or politicians, which was what made him attractive to me.  He came from a respectable family; his father, Cullen O’Mahony, had been the general manager of the Irish Times but that made no difference whatsoever.  

He was one of those comedians who believed that if you are going to be offensive, you might as well offend everyone just so as to make it clear that you really don’t have anything in particular against any specific group of individuals. He never minced his words. In  Ireland, he was always a tad controversial. His contempt for the Catholic Church made him unpopular amongst some Irish Catholics, while his scorn for Ian Paisley, a Protestant Ulster demagogue cum cleric cum politician, made him unpopular in Northern Ireland, too.

As his obituary in 2005 in The Guardian stated:

“At the height of his career [he] was Britain’s most controversial comedian, regularly provoking outrage and indignation in a society that got upset more often – and more easily – than it does today. … he introduced a laid-back, satirical, personal, storytelling style, … with a mixture of elaborate sketches and intimate, sit-down comedy.  … Behind the calm façade, as he paused to sip his whiskey, or flick cigarette ash off his immaculate suit, he was quietly, humorously furious about political hypocrisy, the church domination of Ireland, and, in fact, all forms of authoritarianism. His stance, at its best wholly uncompromising, made him a godfather of comedy, and won him the admiration of a later generation of stand-ups.”

I bought a Dave Allen DVD many years ago and watch it from time to time. I usually have to do this on my own as my dear wife isn’t too keen on him.  My late mother, who had a sharp tongue, which became sharper as she got older, would have used the term “tzucht” to describe him.  Tzucht was a Yiddishism that I always thought meant “filth” — it was always used in that context — and although I never heard her use it in the case of Dave Allen, he would have been placed in the same category as the Scottish comedian and actor Billy Connolly, who I also quite enjoy though he’s a bit cruder than Dave Allen was.  The appearance of Connolly on the TV would cause her to switch it off immediately, while audibly uttering the “tzucht” expletive.  

Just before I sat down to write this piece, I thought I’d better check the meaning of the word, which I assumed came from the German zucht.  To my horror, I couldn’t find any translation of the word in Yiddish or German that yielded “filth”.  All I could get was the German word which means “breeding”.  Then, after several supplementary searches, I discovered that it was a Yiddish relexification, in other words, using words drawn from another language without changing the grammatical structure but changing the meaning.  In this case, Yiddish had borrowed the word from German, giving the word exactly the opposite meaning, i.e., “lack of breeding”.  In other words, filth.

Incidentally, the Dave Allen sketch above is funny but not his funniest.  For that, I will always prefer this one:

And, of course, I could fill this whole blog up with songs and sketches — so why not give you another few through this blog to keep you happy while I search through my photos to find some that might go with this piece.  You might be familiar with some of these songs but I think they’re always worth savouring again and if you haven’t heard them before, well … .  Non-native English speakers might have to concentrate hard on the words but it’s worth it; the same applies to non-Brit native English speakers some of who might have difficulty not so much with the words but with their meaning, which comes along with the humour (or is it humor?).

Anyway, yesterday morning, I went out early for a walk before the rain came down.  As I crossed to the other side of the street, I noticed a small car that had the following logo emblazoned on its bonnet/hood, which caused me simultaneously to burst out laughing and click the camera shutter.


I might need to add some words of explanation for readers who do not understand Hebrew or who are unfamiliar with English colloquialisms or who have a weak sense of humour.  Bali may very well be an island in Indonesia but in informal Hebrew, it means “I’d like some…”, such as “Ba-li lishtot — I feel like a drink.“.  “Shag”, in English, has several different meanings.  It can mean a carpet or rug with a long, rough pile as in “a wall-to-wall shag carpet”.  It can also mean “a coarse kind of cut tobacco”, which is what I think the advertisement here actually might have been really referring to, “to chase or catch [a ball] for practice”, “a western European and Mediterranean cormorant”, and is also “an American dance from the 1930s and ’40s”.  

A further major definition of “shag” in my dictionary is: “an act of sexual intercourse” and as my mind often works faster in some situations than in others, I immediately put 2 + 2 together and got 4 but as soon as I did, I needed to add another 1 or 2 because I was reminded of yet another song by Dillie Keane of the British satirical cabaret act, Fascinating Aïda.  (You may have to listen to it more than just once to locate the connections with the photograph and some of the definitions above but I should warn you that if you get upset at things that are just a little risqué or blue, SKIP IT!)  

(Incidentally, there are several video clips in this post.  They’re optional, of course, and they take time to watch — so, as usual, it’s up to you.)

These days, there’s so much building going on in and around North Tel Aviv that on-street parking has become even more of a problem than it normally is, making walking around the streets become even more hazardous than usual.  Add to the footpaths crowded with parked cars and bicycles, cyclists who as often as not travel on one-way streets in the wrong direction or read their text messages while cycling, dog-walkers who hog the whole of the footpath and regard you as a trespasser if you try to sidle past, or how to negotiate parked motor scooters, it’s easy to work out that simple pedestrians are amongst the groups most discriminated against  in this country — or in this city at least. 

New Israeli driverTricycle w:children

Cello cyclistDogs in the streetWrong way


More than expected: To the left, Etgar Keret, an Israeli writer known for his very short stories

Finally, although I’ve jumped around more than I had expected when I sat down to compose this piece, I return to Dave Allen, who started it off.  His comedy persona was based on a his own feud with authoritarianism of all kinds. Unfortunately, authoritarianism — the enforcement or advocacy of strict obedience to authority at the expense of personal freedom — is something that appeals not only to spiritual leaders but also to  a good many politicians in democratic societies, too.  There’s a feeling that only they can possibly know what’s good for the individual and for society — and if the people don’t like it, then too bad.  

One of the consequences of authoritarianism is that people are not sure what to say or how to say what they mean.  In other words, they tend to be “politically correct”.  Political correctness, of course, not only stems from fear of authority but also makes its presence felt in open societies, too, emanating from an excessive desire, in some places an overly intemperate inclination, not to offend.  In recent years, this has been sadly carried to some absurd extremes. (I am reminded of one meeting 15 years ago when I was working at the Institute for Jewish Policy Research in London on a questionnaire for a large survey of Jewish households in Leeds.  We had been discussing the questions to be asked with representatives of the company conducting the survey, one of whom took exception to my use of the word “poor” in one of the questions. “People don’t want to think of themselves as ‘poor'”, she said.  “So what should we use, then?”, I said, ” ‘Needy’? ‘Poverty-stricken’? ‘Disadvantaged’? ‘Penurious?’, ‘Badly off’? ‘Underprivileged’? ‘Financially challenged?'” and so forth.  It took several hours before I was able to convince her that this was the word in the English language which best expressed what I wanted to say!  She relented.  ‘Poor’ was included in the question and we got on with business.)

So listen to this song from the late Victoria Wood.

… and this is just a bonus!tongue