I started this blog exactly a year ago hoping that I might be able to keep up the effort for perhaps 20. I surprised myself when I posted my 50th just over six months ago and now that I’ve made it for a year, I’m quite frankly flabbergasted.
As I’m short of time this week and am not sure when I’ll get to sit down at a computer again for more than a few minutes, I thought I’d write just a few words and show a small number of images that appeal to me. Some of them have appeared before and some, to use a golfing term “missed the cut”. And much as I am tempted to fulminate over that I regard as an annus terribilis in extremis, I think I’d be better served by not starting out on a rant.
As you might have noticed over the past year, most of my photographs come from the streets and parks of Tel Aviv and London. In fact, other than four days in Skye in the summer, I haven’t been anywhere else this year. Notwithstanding the impediments and limitations of my peripatetic perambulations, the streets and parks furnish me with enough material to keep me happy.
I’m not very keen on cats but I just admit that I am drawn to their eyes and their stares. And, unlike many other creatures that I choose to photograph, they are wonderful posers. They don’t move; they tend to stare you down thus giving you plenty of time to compose your picture and take several versions of it.
This was one of the first photographs I took when I began walking through the park and it adorns one wall of our living room. I was actually concentrating on the dripping tap. I wanted to create an image of dripping water and you can see this in the sharp focus of the drops emerging. I hadn’t noticed the bird at all — but it’s the out of focus bird with its tail at the same angle as the drops that makes it into a picture. Without the bird, it would simply have been another photograph.
Something similar is true of the plant in the picture below, which was photographed near the promontory of Sagres in southern Portugal , near the site which housed the navigational enterprises of Prince Henry the Navigator in the 15th century. The fields were full of these but it’s the cropping of the frame just as the plant is about to lose its bonnet which makes the picture.
The fish market in Catania in southeastern Sicily contains mostly fish of many species but the thing that really caught my eye was the porcine manicure parlour. Quite what it was doing in a fish market was beyond my ken but it made for a fascinating picture.
Another beguiling picture was provided by a wall along Constitution Hill in London, leading to Buckingham Palace. The wall and the barbed wire surround the palace grounds and without actually having a sign that reads “Keep Out”, the message is absolutely clear and couldn’t be clearer. Such subtlety is atypical of England!
Photographed at Dublin Zoo nearly half a century ago, this lad is a fair representation of myself these days. What with Brexit, Trump, Bibi and what is to follow, I fear, in 2017, there’s not much point in pretending to be happy !
I have a thing about the regimentation as portrayed by salt and pepper shakers and I often photograph them early in the mornings as the café and restaurant tables are being prepared for breakfast. The salt and pepper cellars are set out in groups before being distributed among the tables.
SuperJew was actually a poster that was doing the rounds immediately after the Six-Day War, which marks its golden anniversary in less than six months time. That is hard to believe in itself. The poster — unfortunately — might also be cynically regarded as a caricature of the perception of Israel’s government today on the part of its Prime Minister and members of his coalition.
Once again, when I had just started photographing and was younger and freer —I noticed this early one morning on Hampstead Heath in London and thought it made a pretty picture indeed.
… as does this image of a bicycle parked outside a shop near the Yarqon Park in Tel Aviv, one of the few instances where I’ve used Photoshop to enhance an image. And although it’s highly modified, I think I’ve managed to produce a pretty picture here.
Last winter or maybe it was the one before, I produced several pictures with a line of these rusted rings holding a rope outside one of the restaurants at Tel Aviv Port. This wasn’t the one I chose to print for another wall in the living room. Perhaps it should have been!
This woman who was standing on a street corner in St. Jean de Luz in southwestern France near the Spanish border was wearing a scarf with a coiffure to match. Totally unselfconscious about it all, she was quite happy to let me photograph her.
The Friday morning farmers’ market at Tel Aviv Port also presents me with a wealth of images. I could have selected artichokes or dates or olives but I decided that the cashew nuts and the corn cobs provide sufficiently striking pictures.
The two cup mugs by the Stephen Pearce pottery in Shanagarry in east County Cork provided the basis for this picture. Having taken the photograph of two mugs side by side and reflected on the kitchen worktop, I Photoshopped to give it the effect that you can see here. We were given two Shanagarry mugs (not these ones as this is a style that came along later) as an engagement gift nearly 51 years ago and these two mugs are still in use — joined by lots of other cups, mugs, saucers and plates.
The boats of the Yarqon stream are also things that cross the camera lenses on a fairly regular basis. There’s not much water in the “river” but the rowers and canoers and kayakers make good use of what there is all year round.
Finally, another photo from our living room wall, perhaps my favourite one of all.
I’d like to think that next year couldn’t be worse than our annus terribilis in extremis that is just coming to an end, but I wouldn’t or couldn’t be too sure about that!
Historical Geography: A British weighbridge at Tel Aviv Port
I wrote most of this post nearly eight years ago with a slightly revised version sitting on this blog for a couple of months but as a page rather than a post. I even put a link to that page on a post a couple of months ago and two or three people actually read it and to them I offer an apology for double-booking. I called it The Art of Blogging, which I thought was quite original, until I discovered this morning that there were already 25 pieces on the WordPress website with exactly the same title. Consequently, I’ve renamed it, abridged it and added some photographs to keep it in line with PhotoGeoGraphy, which is the name of this blog.
Blogging is fun because, as you might have noticed, I can just spill out whatever’s in or on my mind, either on awakening or before falling asleep or if I’m in a particularly good mood or the opposite. And there it is. Rather like Trump’s tweets only longer and less dangerous. It’s not hard to concoct a thousand words or so and as long as you haven’t been overly rude and insulting, it doesn’t matter who reads it, if anyone.
I find it’s rather like journalists writing for daily newspapers with the big difference that they get paid for their travails and I’m doing it without compensation. A born sceptic, I’ve long been suspicious of what’s printed in newspapers, even the self-designated quality ones. At home, my parents read the Daily Express, which was—and remains—a tabloid rag with fascist tendencies but the crosswords were eminently doable. However, before a major sporting event, my Dad would buy The Irish Times and on occasion, The Daily Telegraph, the ostensible purpose of these ‘extra-territorial’ journalistic escapades being to read the tips on who would win the race or match so that his fling at the betting shop might bear some fruit. When these newspapers entered the house, I discovered that in addition to the sports pages there was other stuff in them, a revelation that was extended and expanded at university when I discovered that the Common Room of the College Historical Society at Trinity College Dublin took all the newspapers worth reading.
In those far-off days, newspapers had foreign correspondents, most of whom were familiar with the places they wrote about. That doesn’t mean that they were necessarily objective and being human, they had their own biasses and prejudices. But these correspondents in far-flung lands usually had some of the local language and/or they had received as part of their formal education some grounding in the history and traditions of the place they were reporting from so they could communicate with the people and understood their cultures. Compared with today’s lot, they seemed pretty knowledgeable.
An egret poses. Tel Aviv Port, December 2016
In today’s world, many reporters have little of the local language and even less of the local lore but that is not something that prevents them from writing as if they were God’s personal emissaries and we, the people, complete ignoramuses. As far as they are concerned, they write with a divinely inspired authority. Of course, a problem is that this month’s China correspondent on one paper might receive a better offer from another rag and become the vegan food correspondent there.
These foibles of print media employees are magnified several times when it comes to television, a medium in which the sound bite and the close-up, a pithy comment or a small facial expression, convey to the unfortunate viewer meanings that extend far beyond simple reporting. Moreover, the shift in TV news towards being ratings-seeking entertainment rather than reportage, on speculation about what might become news rather than what is already news only adds to their excitement while it preys on our emotions.
Don’t misunderstand me. There are many good reporters and commentators in broadcast media but you have to learn to distinguish the chaff from the wheat (as well as a gaffe or the cheat). That’s sometimes hard to do when they all look and sound similar especially when the guy with the nice smile or the curly hair sounds much more assertive than an expert with a more erudite approach but who presents you with shades of grey rather than black and white. The same is true of the print media.
One of the problems with all the news media, of course, is the “deadline curse”. As an academic, I knew the positive side of a deadline; if there wasn’t one, then there were things never got done. However, academic deadlines tended to be few and far between and certainly didn’t appear in the diary every day. Reporters and correspondents on daily newspapers and newscasts often face a circadian deadline or one that is hebdomadal or somewhere in between. If a column of a thousand words has to appear in tomorrow’s newspaper and another three days later then these two columns will appear on the appointed days, come what may. In the same way, a newscast has to fill a specific time slot so it must contain several shortish items in order that they don’t lose viewers’ attention, thereby allowing them to zap to another channel to watch some grunting tattooed American wrestling hulk trying to overcome his Ukrainian opponent by breaking his skull or dislocating his shoulder (or at least going through the motions of such violence).
This means that if a correspondent has nothing of consequence to write or say, s/he still has to fill the allotted column space and the TV news producer still has to occupy his time slot, so programmes need on occasion to be padded out with stories about blind footballers on crutches scoring goals with an overhead kick or an arthritic alligator, having been fitted with special dentures by an crocodilian dental quack and thus finds it difficult to eat people any more.
Of course, the proof of the pudding, if not the people, is in the eating. When a newscast is abridged to accommodate an important sports event or to cover the arrival of the Queen of Sheba and her entourage, the cut is barely noticed. Newspapers sometimes appear after a holiday break with just half their usual number of pages and people heave a sigh of relief. Of course, they can’t do this too often because readers and viewers might think they weren’t getting value for their outlay on the rag or TV licence fee or cable TV rental!
It goes without saying that today, a problem faced by both print and broadcast media is that there is real competition. Not only can people read their favourite newspaper online but they can compare umpteen reports of the same story and compare ‘facts’ or non-facts; they can watch TV newscasts online, too, and the online editions of newspapers now present video clips of real events, too. The world of communication is a real mish-mash. They also have to compete with blogs, tweets and other stuff most of which make no pretence to circulate truth as news. I don’t mean competition from well-meaning amateurs like me but with real professionals who have no editorial policy to adhere to except their version of the truth or the untruth. And of course, you have to be able to find them amongst the myriad nutters putting out all sorts of rubbish but they are there and can be heard and read—and what is more frightening—believed.
Reading Power Station on a winter’s day. December 2016
Which brings me back to the joys of writing a blog. The bloggers’ guru, though most people wouldn’t know it and he would probably have been chuffed by the title, broadcast a radio log that spanned 58 years. BBC Radio put out Alistair Cooke’s Letter from America weekly between 1946 and 2004 and many of his pieces are journalistic treasures. Cooke was a journalist; a “reporter” is the way he referred to himself. In his little book, Six Men, (in which he writes about six men he knew personally in one way or another — Charlie Chaplin, Edward VIII, H.L. Mencken, Humphrey Bogart, Adlai Stevenson, and Bertrand Russell), he relates an anecdote related to Russell who, in 1950, was on a lecture tour of the United States. He summoned Cooke to the New York apartment in which he was staying (a summons from the Pope, as Cooke put it) and was informed as follows: “I asked you here, Cooke, because I wanted to tell you that whenever I read your pieces in the Guardian, I say to myself: ‘That is probably the way it happened.'”. For a reporter, a journalist, that should be the ultimate compliment—and the absolute antithesis of the false news that appears on blogs every day.
Cooke only defaulted once on his weekly deadline, towards the end of his very long life by which time the lung cancer from which he had been suffering meant that he was only able to talk with great difficulty. His formula was a gem of compactness and erudition. His slot was 15 minutes and each ‘letter’ occupied 13½ to 14 minutes. The opening was a short pithy statement about something topical; the middle section, which usually occupied the bulk of each broadcast, was another topic loosely—but never artificially—joined to the opening. The epilogue, as it were, reverted to the opening and was linked logically to the middle section. Reading and listening to these pieces decades on is a pleasure. It was a well-practised art, honed to perfection—a model for all bloggers to emulate.
Now, I said at the outset that I’d add some photographs to this post and I have. Below are three with just a short comment for your consideration.
As an amateur photographer with no aspirations to become a professional but with a hope of approaching a professional standard, to comment on how I create a photograph might be thought of as a bit of chutzpah. After I’ve seen the object or scene I want to record and after I’ve composed it in the viewfinder and opened and closed the shutter, there remains the fun part—editing. Although people often say to me “Was that one Photoshopped?” I have to admit that I very rarely use Photoshop. My editing software of choice is Capture One, produced by a PhaseOne, a Danish company. This has everything I need — and an awful lot more. I occasionally use two further pieces of software — Photomatix and Photosketcher — for special effects. And this is the point. When I photograph, I see what I see in colour but even as I click the shutter, I know that what I am recording would look far better, say, in black and white, or otherwise enhanced. And the strange thing is that I seem to be able to perceive how it should be altered as I am looking through the viewfinder.
I’m including three versions of a picture I took last week on a stormy day at Tel Aviv Port by way of an example to illustrate how an “image” can be translated into a “real picture”. In this case, I knew that it would look better in black and white but it was only when I started to edit the image at home that I started to see different black and white possibilities. The colours in the first version are fairly true but the picture as a whole seems somewhat flat; it doesn’t convey the feeling of the stormy conditions. Desaturating the colours (i.e., removing them in this case) and increasing the contrast a little improves matters. However, I think that the third picture in the series—which is not quite as black and white as it might seem at first glance—makes the viewer sense the conditions much more vividly even though it is the one that is furthest from the “truth”.
You might think otherwise, of course and feel free to tell me.
The first part of this post is going to be something of a diatribe, I fear. Now not only should I not compose a piece that might be interpreted as a rather forceful and bitter verbal attack against people or things that get my goat but if I’m going to rant, I should keep it short. In fact, I shouldn’t put it in writing at all because putting things in writing is not terribly wise. Regrettably, wisdom is not one of my strong points and I am about to fail miserably on all these counts. So, having been notified — warned, in fact — in the first two sentences as to what is to come, then, as they say on TV when presenting the soccer results, if you don’t want to know the results, you should look away. In other words, scroll down to the photographs, which await your perusal and which have absolutely nothing to do with the tirade except to get me out of the house each morning to cool off.
About 20 years ago, there was a British TV series called Grumpy Old Men, where several older males kvetched about any of issues of modern life that irritated them, from the proliferation of excessive road signs to unnecessary and overly-loud mobile phone conversations—anything that came into their addled minds, in fact. I believe with all my heart and soul that I belong to this select group of people by right, by nature, and by whatever else it might take to join this exclusive club. And, if you bother to read the texts that accompany the images in these posts, you’ve probably already cottoned on to the fact that I am one of these — a natural grump, even a frump (a word that was not originally restricted to female usage but meant a mocking speech or action and later (in the plural), plain ill humour). Of course, that grump and frump both rhyme with Trump is purely coincidental.
Of course, crotchetiness and cantankerousness oftentimes go hand in hand with humour, which is one of the reasons I behave in this way. If I took all my crustiness seriously, I would have become a curmudgeon aeons ago and nobody would bother to talk to me any more (or fewer people than already do would have less to say to me even than they do now!). In fact, I imagine that much of the grumpiness that was demonstrated in Grumpy Old Men turns up daily in pubs or cafés or restaurants, not to mention over breakfast with one’s spouse. (She would probably say “and at every meal and in between meals as well”.) As I don’t go pubbing and am too old for clubbing, I wouldn’t know quite what goes on in such venues. I do know that when our first grandchild turned up 6½ years ago and I was asked by his parents how I would like to be known (a totally misplaced pontifical or regal analogy — perhaps even a gross faux pas), I responded off the cuff with a simple “Grump-pa”. However, as with so many other choices I make concerning family, I was instantly overruled — just like the chair umpire in a tennis match might overrule an obviously errant call by a line judge (before Hawkeye, that is) and have settled for Saba, the Hebrew for Granddad.
So far, so good. Now starts the crabby part. So if you don’t really want to read what’s making me mad these days, then just scroll down to the pictures, most of which are at the end this time although there are also some in transit!
However, now that I’m ready to vent my spleen, I have a serious problem. It’s Sunday morning and I’m doing a five-hour babysitting stint for a very sweet 4-year old with an upset tummy and thus no kindergarten and whose mother is in rehearsal for an upcoming series of concerts with her quartet. Lily keeps popping into my workroom to check up on me and spends a lot of her time smiling, looking out the window and saying things like: “It’s such a beautiful day. It makes me think about all the lovely things in the world.” (really!). This is making it impossible for me to work myself up into an appropriate level of indignation — righteous or otherwise. Quel dommage!
Truth to tell, there’s so much these days to be grumpy about, I’m not quite sure where to begin. For a start, I suppose the first mistake I make, repeated each morning, is waking up to the news at 6 a.m. Most days, that puts me in fighting mood. I used to think, naïvely, that the choice of newsreader might be a reflection of the gravity or the levity of what is about to be presented — but no, forsooth, it’s random. And even when there is no really serious stuff to report, we might be informed on awakening that some drunken teenager has stabbed his brother to death by mistake or about the latest unnecessary deaths in a traffic accident. When was the last time — be honest with yourselves, dear readers —that you heard a news broadcast begin with something like “Twenty people were apprehended by a policewoman on Dizengoff Street last night for laughing but when they tried to explain to her why they were so cheerful, she burst out in chortling paroxysms of cachinnation herself.”? At about 6.30, mid-breakfast, the newspaper arrives and this acts as a sort of a top-up shot. By 7, it’s news time again after which I’m ready to take on the world. (In London, the BBC Breakfast show, which also comes on air at 6 is so anodyne it’s not worth comment.)
For most of the time, I live in a country which, if you were to believe the blather presented as news for hours on end on all the domestic TV channels, is made up of corrupt officials and sexual perverts and offenders. It’s bad enough that we have a former president serving seven years for rape, a former Prime Minister having a couple of years off in jail for bribery and a Minister of the Interior who did 22 months for taking bribes while serving in the that position two decades ago but has returned to politics — nay, to the same position he occupied when his crimes were committed — after the period during which he was prohibited from serving expired. Yes — Israel has a judicial system that works and which the politicians have not [yet] managed to strangle or emasculate but it shouldn’t have to work so hard and so often!
Israel is a wonderful example of a tail wagging a dog. A central component of the right-wing governing coalition is a party that purportedly represents the settler movement of the Wild West (Bank) and those who lend them moral or immoral support. Mr. Bennett, the leader of this party (The Jewish Home), Minister of Re-Education, every now and then threatens to jump ship unless his demands are met and on most occasions they are. His latest scheme for control of minds is to examine the extent to which university lecturers insert politics into their classes. As ex-officio Chairman of the Council for Higher Education, he claims to have received many complaints about a situation of overlap between academic and political activity and sees it as his mission to prevent a situation in which students or professors suffer rejection, silencing, exclusion or discrimination due to their identity or personal worldviews, including their political opinions!
Well, I wonder who these letters might have come from and perhaps it would be worth a word in Mr. Bennett’s ear to remind him that his proposal will operate in more one direction. But, as is the case with the Prime Minister himself and the Minister for Kulturkampf and Sport, Mrs. Regev — and other members of the government — Mr. Bennett would dearly like to control what people are allowed to hear, to see, to read and even to think. (Why politicians everywhere seem to be of the opinion that they know what’s best about everything and for everyone is beyond my ken. They don’t even know what’s best for themselves.)
Anyway for months, the Israeli press has been concerned with Amona, an Israeli outpost in the central West Bank, founded in 1995 on privately owned Palestinian land and on which about 50 families live. Twelve years ago, nine permanent homes were constructed there, all built illegally on privately owned and registered Palestinian land. Since then, there have been several attempts to demolish the buildings and force the settlers off the land and in 2014 an Israeli court awarded cash recompense to six Palestinian owners affected by the Amona settlement, ruling that the State was to pay a further sum in damages if it failed to remove the settlers by 2015. Later that year, the Israeli Supreme Court ordered the state to evacuate and completely demolish the settlement within two years, stating that it would make no difference if some of the land had been legally purchased since the settlement had been established. Over two years later, following appeals by the government to delay the action, the settlement is finally due to be abandoned and abolished next week. And it will be — finally.
However, in an act of collective dementia, the Knesset voted last week to support a bill to legalize unauthorized West Bank outposts. If finally approved, the bill would legalize Israeli settlement homes built on private Palestinian land — but not Amona because the Supreme Court has ruled that the evacuation must take place by December 25. The government’s response to all of this, of course, will be to try to change the character of the Supreme Court so that the politicians (those who know best what’s good for us) will be able to determine who does and who doesn’t become a Supreme Court justice in the future.
But, as I suggested at the start of this little paroxysm of mine, if the tail wags the dog and you stick your nose into the tail end of the dog, eventually things begin to stink. Come to think of it, Amona (all that’s missing from the name is an “i” and an “m”) also stinks.
And when the dog’s tail finds that it has wagged a bit too much, it can suffer almost irreparable damage .
Rastafarian dog, bandaged tail, trousered leg. Yarqon Park, Tel Aviv
Sometimes, I think that Netanyahu, Bennett and Regev and their cohorts are leading us either into a deep pit or a dark yawning cave, a situation in which everyone understands that going in is dangerous but nobody can really see where it will eventually lead—if anywhere—and whether, if the going gets bad, there’s any way out. Their model for action is not to create a Putinesque scenario — something that wouldn’t work all that well in Israel — but an Erdogani one, in which all sorts of troublemakers such as journalists, academics or recalcitrant government officials are effectively silenced one way or another. And there are even reports that Mr. Netanyahu thinks that he might become a Trumpeteer — and simply pack the government ministries and agencies with his friends. [Maybe that might be termed Strumpetism.] I suppose that if Bibi were to alter his coiffure from slicked down silver to peroxide blond blow-dried then we’d know for sure that we’re in deeper shit than we already are!
There seems to be an almost naïve perception by some and a deeply cynical cognisance by others that the test of a democracy is met when free elections are held, resulting in the formation of a government. Free elections are only the beginning of democracy and not the end. It’s all the rest of it — toleration and tolerance of Others, of minorities in general, of equal freedoms for all citizens that form the real test. That the Nazis came to power as a result of a free election did not make Germany a democracy. When the coalition chief whip in Israel says “I’d rather the Arabs won’t go to the polls in droves [as Netanyahu stated in a video on election day last year, exhorting Jewish voters to come out and cast their votes] and won’t come to the polls at all.” (then “clarifying” it by saying that all political parties everywhere hope that nobody will vote for competing parties!!!), this is political sardonicism at its worst. (And this is the same man who told us a few weeks back that Rabin’s assassination 21 years ago was not a political act!)
Of course, these goings-on in Israel are only reminders of what’s going on in the rest of the world. The Brexit vote in the UK in June and then the election of Trump in the United States a month ago seems to have given some legitimacy and a lot of hope to cabals of populists and nationalists, gangs of nativists and isolationists the world over. It appears that many people have little sense of history or little understanding of what their actions might imply.
The world has tried extreme nationalism before and it doesn’t work. And as a Jewish person, this can only be worrying because even though the sights are currently focussed on Muslims or Moroccans or Mexicans, the “J” people are never far behind. The BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement in Western countries, which began as a campaign to increase economic and political pressure on Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian lands and acknowledge the right of return of refugees has become, through its anti-zionism and promotion of the delegitimisation of Israel, plainly antisemitic. Amongst other things, it has made life very difficult for Jewish students on campuses in the USA and UK (and probably elsewhere, too), not because they support Israel but simply because they are Jewish. What do you know?!
Things, as I’ve hinted, are not much better in Israel and those — even those without a socialist bone in their bodies — who have been painted and tainted with the fuzzy and imprecise description “Leftist” (i.e., those disagreeing with the government view on what is euphemistically referred to as the “Peace” “process”) have become suspect. We are not yet traitors but we’re heading in that direction.
The world has tried populism before, as well, and that doesn’t work too well either. In many ways, populism is as dangerous as nationalism, because the populists get people all worked up by what is wrong with the present system under which they are governed without much concrete, if anything, to offer in its place, least of all sensible policies. You only have to look to The Five Star Movement in Italy led by the comedian and blogger Beppe Grillo — who claims to have no interest in becoming a politician — which managed last week to work people up into enough of a frenzy so as to dislodge Renzi.
Of course, none of these issues are within my control to change and even the one that I do have a part in (participating in Israeli elections) only comes around once every few years and anyway it’s not much more than an advisory role that we voters play. All we do is express a preference out of which we suggest which politicians talk to which politicians to form a government. And I’m not entirely naïve and appreciate that I grew up in a period of relative peace and tranquility in relatively liberal democracies. I also recognise that liberal democracies — like nation states — are relatively recent inventions and that nothing lasts forever. However, understanding that things evolve and otherwise change doesn’t necessarily make me overjoyed.
And there are so many other more mundane things over which I have no influence at all but which bother me. Why, for instance, has Manchester United not done better having spent buckets of money on players over the past couple of years? (They won at home this week for the first time in 2½ months!) Why are England’s cricketers performing so poorly in the Subcontinent this winter? Why do people think that Scotch tastes better than Irish (whisky .v. whiskey)? Why don’t my scones taste like Karen Etgar’s even though I use her recipe? Why can’t I play the piano like a Rubinstein, a Peterson or even a Kleiderman? And so forth, et cetera,ad absurdum,ad infinitum, ad nauseam.
And, N.B., I’ve stayed well clear of the Deity and those in this world who interpret its word and intentions, as I have avoided mentioning religion in general, because had I started on that particular subject, this post would never end and I might be sentenced to damnation in the furthermost reaches of Hell.
Now, after this little philippic, I feel a bit more at ease and for those of you who skipped the text and came straight here:
One of the ways I manage to relieve pressure and stop thinking that the world is sinking into some kind of abyss is to get out with the camera, every day if possible. In the short time that I spend each morning (usually in the morning) looking for and taking photos, I manage to put “current affairs” on a back burner. So here are a few images from the last 10 days, which I haven’t posted yet, along with some comments.
A week ago, we were called up for active duty. As the Carmel Quartet was to perform Brahms’ First Piano Quartet at a concert broadcast live from the Jerusalem Theatre the following day and as the pianist had never performed it and the violist hadn’t for more than a decade, they needed an audience for a run through at the Israel Conservatory of Music about 350m away. So with a friend, we sat through the 40 minutes as an audience — but almost inside the ensemble, so close were we to the action. I was told “no photos while we’re playing” and I obeyed even though the camera has an electronic shutter rendering it absolutely clickless. The following day, we were in Jerusalem for the public performance and pretty good it was, too.
Brahms, Op. 25. Carmel Quartet and Yoni Farhi (piano) in rehearsal
Brahms, Op. 25. Carmel Quartet and Yoni Farhi (piano) in performance
When I started photographing in Tel Aviv eight years ago, I “discovered” the population of fire hydrants. In the first few months, I took hundreds of pictures of these individuals, which the face recognition part of the editing software that I was using then identified them as faces. Initially, there were all sorts of these “people” with expressions and then it tailed off as patterns repeated themselves. However, every now and then, something I haven’t seen before turns up (and with one exception early on, I only photograph hydrants in situ and never alter or create anything). Last week, I managed to photograph a hydrant motorcyclist and another one that was actually working, doing one of the jobs it was designed to do!
Last Thursday found me in the Carmel Market where I needed to replenish my stock of coffee beans. For 40 years, I have been buying coffee (Kenya Peaberry) from the same blender and roaster in Haifa and when we moved to Tel Aviv a decade ago, at first, I used to pop downtown to the port area, where he was located. After a couple of years, I seemed to be going to Haifa less frequently so about seven years ago, I inquired as to whether the Haifa roaster supplied shops in Tel Aviv and was given the name of a place 10 minutes away by bus, where I bought coffee until they went out of business about eight months ago. But there was one other place, in the Carmel Market, that they supplied with coffee and where I have moved (finding out in the process that the price I had been paying for over six years was about 40% higher than I’m paying now!). On my way out of the market, I spotted these freshly baked pretzels being readied for display and sale and decided to record the image.
And then there was the usual colourful display at the Farmers’ Market at Tel Aviv Port — there’s never an occasion when it doesn’t provide something worthwhile.
Later that morning, I went to meet a friend I haven’t seen for a while for coffee. Normally, I take the bus if I’m not walking but I left late and ended up riding a sherut taxi. These are shared vehicles, seating 10 people, that run along fixed bus routes (more or less). You can board or disembark anywhere along the route and not just at a bus stop and the price (for underage people, i.e., under 65) has now been reduced to match the bus fare (we oldies pay half fare on the buses) so that we end up with useless coinage as change. Anyway, one of the characteristics of the sherut is that you can either pay on entering or take your seat and pass your fare via the other passengers to the driver who returns you your change in similar fashion. This results in a series of hand movements that is, I think, possibly unique to Tel Aviv.
The following day, I was down on my hands and knees, getting stares from passers-by, trying to get this shot of the promenade at Tel Aviv port, replete with a couple of promenaders.
Finally, today (Sunday) there was a change in the weather, apparently in preparation for the next winter storm (meteorological event) that is about to hit us this evening and tomorrow and Tuesday. This morning was less cold than the past two days and the sky appeared quite different, vide the Reading Power Station and the Mediterranean looking due west from Tel Aviv port.
As I wrote somewhere in the past year, I’m basically likeable and essentially happy — just increasingly frustrated. And that being the case, I wouldn’t take me too seriously if I were you!
And as they [used to] say in California [all those years ago], “Have a nice day”.
The other evening, I was looking for a photograph that I took a long time ago and that I recall scanning from a slide a few years back. (The one above of the ancestral home in the West of Ireland is not the one I was searching for.) As the cataloguing of my images is shockingly deficient — almost non-existent to tell the truth — this exercise took quite a while. While looking through the pictures, I realised that some of them weren’t at all bad and made me wonder what might have happened had I decided five decades ago that I wanted to be a photographer rather than a geographer. Actually, the thought never crossed my mind at the time and I don’t think that Trinity College Dublin offered any course of studies like that then. (They do now within an MPhil degree in something called Textual and Visual Studies.) And anyway, if I had thought of something like that way back when, I probably would have ended up being an academic studying photography rather than a photographer with a real job.
That said, I did photograph from time to time — mostly in transparency format because slides were the things you tended to use in the classroom. The subject matters from that period were more often than not either family or something vaguely to do with landscapes. From time to time, I became a little more adventurous and photographed objects for what I perceived to be their aesthetic qualities or because something interesting or appealing caught my eye. And, as tends to happen with me today, this is oftentimes accompanied by a mentally noted caption at click time.
In those far away days, you had to be much more selective when taking a photograph than with today’s digital cameras. For a start, 35mm film cost money and the developing and printing cost even more — and 50 years ago, there was less surplus cash around for luxuries like photography. As a consequence, I might find that I would take one or two photos and hoped that when they were developed they might turn out as interesting as they seemed at the time the shutter opened and closed. Today, in contrast, it is so much easier to fire off a burst of exposures and then to choose the one that seems best or simply to discard them if you’re displeased with what you’ve done at no cost other than the initial outlay for a memory card and the electricity used for charging the camera battery.
The first image below is one that I used for years in my Introduction to Human Geography classes to illustrate the concept of scale. It was taken in the summer of 1972 when we were travelling from Los Angeles where we had lived for two years to Haifa, where we were to be stationed for the following three decades or so. We were staying with friends in Salt Lake City and on one of the days there, we were driven to Bingham Canyon copper mine. (I’ve shown this picture and several others that appear here on this blog before but this time, I’m adding some words of explanation.)
Normally, I showed two slides in sequence — this one and one which preceded it of the Roman amphitheatre at Caesarea and then asked students to describe and explain the differences between the two. On first glance, almost all would say that they were two amphitheatres but that there was something unfamiliar about this one. And then they would stare at the screen again until some bright spark would hit on the fact that although it had the shape of an amphitheatre it must be something else. Then I would ask them to count the number of goods cars on the trains in the photo and all of a sudden the penny dropped and the concept of scale became clear (to some of them, I hope). (By the way, there are about 70 goods cars in the frame.)
The second image illustrates the North American system of land division very clearly. I was on a flight from Winnipeg to Calgary in spring 1974, en route to a conference in Seattle and to visit some friends in Edmonton, arriving a day later than expected because of rotating strike of firefighters at Canadian airports, involving me in a convoluted trip that went Tel Aviv — London — Ottawa (where I camped overnight in the terminal) — Winnipeg — Calgary — Edmonton rather than the more more straightforward route that I thought I had purchased. There had been a very rapid melt of snow that year, resulting in considerable flooding so when we flew out of Winnipeg, the pilot circled twice to “allow those interested to have a good look and take photographs”. This, for a geographer, was just pure gold.
The following summer, 1975, the first of two drought years in the United Kingdom, we were in Cornwall and the surreal landscape of hills and mountains, waste from the Cornish clay mining industry created a landscape the like of which I had never seen before.
This idyllic Irish image, photographed in 1966, is something that one is less likely to observe today. The man with the fancy headgear is presumably en route home, having been up the hill to cut turf (peat), which is then placed in two baskets astride the donkey. Nothing is posed here; it was just someone going about his everyday business.
The two following photographs are from Jerusalem in 1967, a few months after I arrived to work on my doctorate. The first is of children doing what children do, playing in the street — except that here, the street is in the Mamilla neighbourhood of Jerusalem. The wall at the end of the street marked the end of Israel at that time. Beyond the wall is No-Man’s Land, which stood between West Jerusalem (Israel) and the Old City, at that time part of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. The picture was taken in March 1967. Three months later, the Six-Day War broke out and within days of the end of hostilities, the bulldozers were sent in to raze any traces of the walls that separated the two parts of the city and that is when I took the second photograph.
The next picture is from 1971/2 somewhere in California, en route from Los Angeles to San Francisco or vice-versa. I guess I must have been parked by the side of the road and had the camera in my hand (I can’t really imagine that I was operating the camera while driving) when a truck trundled past and I shot this image. It must have happened in a very short period of time and once again, it had to have been the sign that caught my eye. Could they really have been shipping women in cubicles from one part of the state to another? Was such a thing permitted in those Dark Ages in California?
I can’t remember where this one was taken but I do remember thinking as I clicked the shutter button that a caption came to me on the spot: “Urgent Board Meeting: The Future of the Nudist Colony is in Doubt”!
Enter a caption
Photographed near the old railway station in Jerusalem 50 years ago, I have always called this one “The End of the Line”. It is quite obvious to all and sundry what one of the lines is; the other one might need observing more closely and thinking about!
And this is another one for which I can’t recall the provenance either (although I could probably find out if I wanted to waste another hour or two or three or four). However, it, too, has a caption — “Love in a tree”. It needs rotating 90º to the left to see how it was originally photographed but I always think that it looks better this way around.
Symmetry — or at least regularity — always appeals to me aesthetically, this image from a Cotswold village some time in the 1980s.
And a second image (I posted another one last week) of my first meeting with New York in September 1969. This is the one that many immigrants would have seen on arriving in the United States over a century ago.
And in conclusion I suppose that I should present at least a couple of images from the past week, just to show that I haven’t been totally inactive. There’s a building site around the corner from the house and the other day, I struck up a conversation with the crane operator — and then photographed him on his journey to work the following day.
It’s December already and I can’t really believe it. I started this blog almost a year ago as something of a challenge to myself: Could I keep it up for 20 posts before either I became cheesed off with it or I ran out of ideas. Yet here I am, nearly 100,000 words and about 1,500 pictures later and I’m still at it. I’m flabbergasted.
The screaming headline in Friday’s edition of HaAretz, Israel’s liberal newspaper not known for its friendliness towards right-wing causes in general and the Netanyahu cabal in particular read that the current Mrs. Netanyahu had been interrogated by police over misuse of public funds in the so-called Prime Minister’s Residence affair.The questioning lasted over 11 hours. In this affair, Saraleh is suspected of using public funds from the PM’s residence in Jerusalem for private family entertainment expenses, paying expenses for a live-in caregiver for her father from the same budget and asking a Likud party activist to do work at the family house in Caesarea on weekends when his fees were higher. Sara is reported to have said in response: “I reiterate there will be nothing because there is nothing” to the allegations. If these words were uttered calmly, it was perhaps because Mrs. Netanyahu might have been fatigued, a result of her ordeal, for up till now, she’s been portrayed as a rather highly-strung individual.
Anyway, politics aside, winter has finally arrived in Tel Aviv. It was marked a few days ago by the arrival in the local park by the cormorants. Heralding the onset of winter, these large birds came late this year, like the rain itself. But once there, they inhabit the uppermost branches of the trees on the northern bank of the stream and generally manage to keep the crows at bay. True to form, a couple of days after their coming, along came the rain. One forgets from year to year how intense the rainfall can be in this part of the world. Within 10 minutes of sharp heavy rain, the drainage system in this city can’t cope and what had been streets at 9 o’clock have become veritable torrents by 09.15.
A thing that never fails to amaze me is that as I walk more or less the same route each morning (I’m stuck-in-the-mud) with slight variations (unadventurous), there is almostalwayssomething new to see, things that I’d never noticed before. I’ve been particularly conservative over the past 10 days or so while fires burned in the hills in the rest of the country and we waited for winter to arrive. I walked a strictly undemanding and run-of-the-mill North Tel Aviv route comprising park, port, Dizengoff Street, and Nordau Boulevard or Basel Street, and then home. All in all, about an hour and a half, including “imaging stops”. Occasionally, I strayed further south but that was the exception rather than the rule.
It was on one of those southerly digressions that I came across two street signs that irked me. I have this thing about inconsistencies and text errors such as when I come across a menu in which the dishes in their original language are also translated into English. Somehow, I expect that the owners of the restaurant or café translate the dishes accurately, another instance of how my expectations lag behind reality. I assume that today they use Google Translate rather than their brains and that only adds to the hilarity. One example is provided by chicken liver. Liver is ‘kaved’ in Hebrew, which is similar to the word ‘kavod’, which means respect. The menu said “chicken liver” in Hebrew but this came out in English as “respect chicken”, which could have been interpreted as a backhanded exhortation to become vegetarian.
Anyway, last week, I decided to walk to the Carmel Market in south central Tel Aviv, a 4 km walk, and found myself on King George V Street (yes, the British Mandate has not been entirely obliterated). Deciding that rather than go to the market, I’d head back north, I photographed the street sign below.
There was nothing out of the ordinary here. The English was simply a transliteration of the Hebrew. But then about 200-300 meters up the street, I encountered another street sign — on the same street. Nothing untoward here either except that Tel Aviv Municipality obviously doesn’t employ proof readers (or perhaps such a species doesn’t really exist). Can’t they make up their collective minds how they would like to display the sign in English? Or couldn’t they care less—or more, for that matter? And while on the same subject, although I don’t read Arabic, I notice a slight difference there, too.
Another sign that got to me last week was this one, in Tel Aviv port. The English is clear enough but, simply stated, it is not a translation of the Hebrew, which reads “The Government of the Land of Israel Pavilion”, which suggests that someone might have had something else in mind. An oversight perhaps but a glaring one nevertheless.
And you don’t really have to have words on a sign in order to mislead. This sign, which I noticed at the beginning of the week, is one familiar to all (and to those of us from Ireland, all that is missing are the three words “Fír ag obair” (Men at Work)). Well, that’s what the sign says and would have us believe. However, the men in the picture obviously had other ideas!
Then, in the local fishmonger’s I saw the following sign proudly displayed. What attracted my attention was less the sign itself but the four words in English at the bottom: “Is under our supervision”. Now, I’ve been shopping in this place for a decade and never seen anyone remotely resembling what Howard Jacobson, a prize-winning British novelist described on a visit to a New York kosher-style deli as a: “… wizened little watchdog from the Beth Din [Jewish rabbinical court] sitting in a corner … hovering like a chaperon over the promiscuity of your digestive system, spoiling your appetite, and making you feel that eating is not a pleasure but a penance, a mortification of the duodenum which you misperform at your peril.” No, the sign in the fishmonger’s is no more or no less an official certificate to proclaim that the ransom has been paid.
Although I seem to have been preoccupied with signs this past week, this is not really the case. As is usual, the birds in the park have been in place just waiting for me to come along and snap their pictures — even if I don’t know all their names.
Sweet pickings, mate. They’ll never notice!
We done nuffin’ wrong, Guv. Just passing by. Honest! Tra-la-lah!
And then there was another species of bird I hadn’t come across before
Of course, there are lots of other things to observe in the park as you saunter through. This cyclist is wearing a new kind of protective gear to keep him safe from all sorts of accidents and other evils. I hope for his sake that it worked and that the wind didn’t catch his sails on that particular day.
Then, exiting the park last week, I came face to face with a face that I have photographed several times over the past few years. He is normally seen seated in one of the many cafés between Dizengoff Square in central Tel Aviv and the northern end of Dizengoff Street, a couple of kilometres further north, drawing heavily on a cigarette. Seeing him actually moving, in the flesh, as it were, came as something of a shock — but only for a couple of seconds — and illustrated the oft-repeated maxim that I heard from my mother as a child: “Smoking will stunt your growth”. Not that I ever wanted to.
Five years ago
… and it apparently does more than stunt growth, too — although from the packets for sale in the Carmel Market and on a bench in the Yarqon Park, the absence of any Hebrew warning might suggest that such awful things couldn’t happen to such a (fool)hardy bunch as the Israelis, as well.
And only a couple of hundred meters from where I snapped with cigarette-sucking gentleman walking to his chimney, I came across another piece of kitsch art, a mural that reminded me of my childhood and youth. (BTW, the horse and cart are part of the mural just in case you were thinking that someone had imported them from the Emerald Isle!)
Somewhere in the Emerald Isle: The corner of Dizengoff and HaYarqon Streets, Tel Aviv
But to return to political issues before signing off on this post. Bibi Netanyahu and the president-elect of the United States, Donald Trump, have several things in common and a couple of things in which they differ. Donald, for instance, rather dislikes establishment politicians whereas Bibi is establishment politico par excellence. However, both are backed by Sheldon Adelson, a multi-billionaire, a funder of right-wing politicians in the U.S. such as Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney, and in Israel (such as Bibi and Bibi) and funds the daily freebie Hebrew newspaper, Israel Today. Both Donald and Bibi have been married three times although I think that the former’s aesthetic choice was rather different to Bibi’s. Just as Sara has shaken up the Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem, Melania should shake up the White House a bit, I would imagine, though in a different way — that is if the presidential couple decide they should move to DC at all, given that the Donald dislikes it so intensely. (And I think that the White House might have a full concert grand which might make Melania a bit more comfortable when entertaining foreign dignitaries. Perhaps they might rename America’s capital after James Plunkett’s novel set in 1913 Dublin, Strumpet City.)
Despite Sara Netanyahu’s woes, this week’s edition of TheEconomist tells us us that “these should be the best of times for Binyamin Netanyahu. At no point in the Israeli prime minister’s almost 11 years in office has he enjoyed such supremacy at home, coupled with an absence of any serious difficulties or pressure from abroad.” The article ends with a rider, though. “There are other nuisances bothering the prime minister. Nearly every other week a new scandal erupts, often involving an aide or a family member. … his personal lawyer and adviser … also works for the local representatives of the German shipyard building submarines for the Israeli navy [and he] has been fending off accusations that his support for buying more subs is connected to this link … the attorney-general has ordered a probe. [His] response has been to go on … a crusade against the Israeli media. His office has begun … attacking reporters for being “radical leftists”.… Hoping to win a fifth election, Mr Netanyahu… may feel that vilifying the media is the way to success.”
Not much hope of this eventuality, I suppose
By the way, TheEconomist’s Israel correspondent also writes regularly for HaAretz.