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 almost always something 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.
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.
… 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!)
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 The Economist 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.”
By the way, The Economist’s Israel correspondent also writes regularly for HaAretz.