Istanbul, Munich, & the Isle of Capri

Maman (Bilbao).jpg

Louise Bourgeois’ Maman: Guggenheim, Bilbao (Bronze)

Sometimes, when I sit down to write this blog, it’s all in my head and I know more or less what I’m going to write.  I also know (again, more or less) what pictures I’m going to include (and one of the things about it is that each post must contain some images).  However, there are other times when I simply haven’t got a clue and although the blog is not an obsession, I tend to get a little edgy if I haven’t posted within a week.  And this is one of those occasions on which when I sat down on Monday, I had no idea whatsoever how it would start, where it would take me, and how I might finish.  

And here I am, a couple of days after I started it.  It will probably take me another day until I have something I’m sufficiently satisfied with to post but as I look over the first draft, I have surprised myself.  Nevertheless, I have to warn you, dear readers (that is, for those of you who bother to read the stuff and don’t go straight to the pictures), this one is considerably longer than usual and—more significantly—around a half of the wordage is not my own—but there’s a perfectly good reason for this.  

Moreover, although there are photographs interspersed throughout this post, they bear absolutely no relationship to the text other than that, for the most part, they prove that I am still around.  I don’t have any apology or even a reasonable explanation for this lack of coordination other than that I haven’t been to Turkey, Germany or anywhere else over the past week.


Thoughtfulness—The morning after the day before. Yarqon Park, Tel Aviv

Once upon a time, when I was young[er], I used to hear references to “the silly season” and I always thought it referred to those two or three weeks from the end of August to mid-September when the cricket season was ending and the soccer season had just begun.  Later on, I learned that in the British Isles and in some other places, the silly season is a period in the summer epitomised by the emergence of frivolous news stories in the media and that is also known in many languages as “cucumber time”.


Heron.  Yarqon Park, Tel Aviv

Well, what I’ve managed to judge as Jewish New Year 5778 rolled into view last week is that the silly season is not just rife at the end of the summer but seems to have extended so that it now covers the whole year. What with Mr. Trump’s tweets being ejaculated at all hours of the day and night whenever he has a thought that he thinks he should share with the world or as his ever fertile mind setting off sparks, with fake news everywhere, and with anybody and everybody posting this, that, and the other, it seems as if frivolousness is now a year-long, ongoing event.  Except that some of the frivolous news is not so nutty any more because though it may sound frivolous, it can be damned serious.

Reading, hearing and seeing the ever strident and increasingly inflammatory bombast—both physical and rhetorical—issuing back and forth from Pyongyang, Washington and Tehran, one might well wonder where all this might be leading.  I know that history seldom repeats itself exactly but there are parallels nonetheless.  

This last week, while I could have chosen to spend the best part of two days yo-yoing up and down in the synagogue, I surprised myself by electing to read two new novels: Three Daughters of Eve by the Turkish writer, Elif Shafak and Munich by the British author, Robert Harris.  I did also get out to view the exhibition of pieces by the sculptor Louise Bourgeois at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art although somehow, if you’ve been lucky enough to see her amazing installations such as at the Tate Modern Turbine Hall about a decade and a half ago or outside the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, a picture of which I took a couple of years ago (above), it was a little disappointing.

Louise Bourgeois, Tate

Louise Bourgeois’ Maman: Tate Modern London c.2000 (Bronze)


Twosome. (Louise Bourgeois at T-A Museum)


Louise Bourgeois @ T-A Museum (Homage to Danny Kaye’s tongue-twisters???)


Couples.  (Louise Bourgeois at T-A Museum)

Anyway.  To the books:


The first of these two great reads, Shafak’s Three Daughters of Eve, deals with the life of Nazperi Nalbantoğlu (known as Peri), a young Turkish woman who had spent two years at Oxford at the turn of the millennium before being forced to return home to Istanbul after a scandal involving a university don whose seminar on “Understanding God” she had attended there.  Throughout her childhood in Istanbul she had been a witness in and a victim of the conflict between her raki-drinking father who regarded both God and religion as unwanted pests and her superstitious mother, who had been turned on to God by a local imam.  One brother had been viciously tortured for his left-wing views while another younger brother is a devout.  

Arriving in Oxford, she is befriended by both a non-religious Iranian-born Moslem woman and a religious Egyptian-American, and becomes unwittingly part of an experiment by the professor who is interested in examining what happens to the three young women who together make up, in Shafak’s words, the sinner, the believer and the confused, when they share a house together.  On her return to Istanbul, she married Adnan, a self-made property developer 17 years older than her and had a child.  However, she remains in limbo, choked by being an educated woman in a highly patriarchal society and scorned by many for having been overexposed to non-Turkish views while in Britain.

In addition to the main characters and the flashing back and forth between the two years she spent at Oxford and an “over-eventful” day in Istanbul a decade and a half later, Shafak adds some spice to what it is like to be an educated woman in contemporary Turkey, a Turkey which has become increasingly dominated by a political party, once described as “moderately Islamist”, and which today has become increasingly so, a country which is ruled by a President once seen as a religious person embodying democratic principles but is now seen for what he is, a person with dictatorial tendencies and aspirations.

There is a two-page section in the book that exemplifies the enigma that is modern Turkey, which takes place at a sumptuous dinner party given by a wealthy acquaintance of her husband whose business ethics are, in understatement, shady. (pp. 131-133)


‘Frankly, I don’t believe in democracy,’ said an architect with a crew cut and perfectly groomed goatee. His firm had made huge profits from construction projects across the city. ‘Take Singapore, success without democracy. China. Same. It’s a fast-moving world. Decisions must be implemented like lightning. Europe wastes time with petty debates while Singapore gallops ahead. Why? Because they are focused. Democracy is a loss of time and money.’

‘Bravo,’ said an interior designer who was the architect’s fiancée and prospective third wife. ‘I always say, in the Muslim world democracy is redundant. Even in the West it’s a headache, let’s admit it, but around here, totally unsuitable!’

The businessman’s wife agreed. ‘Imagine, my son has a master’s degree in business. My husband employs thousands. But in our family, we have only three votes. Our driver’s brother in their village has eight children. I’m not sure if they’ve ever read a book in their life; they’ll have ten votes! In Europe, the public is educated. Democracy cannot harm. The Middle East is a different story! Granting an equal vote to the ignorant is like handing matches to a toddler. The house could burn down!’

Stroking the hair on his chin with the knuckle of his index finger, the architect said, ‘Well, I’m not suggesting we should abandon the ballot box. We couldn’t explain that to the West. A controlled democracy is just fine. A cadre of bureaucrats and technocrats under a smart, strong leader. So long as the person at the top knows what he’s doing, I’m fine with authority. How else will foreign investors come?’

Everyone turned and looked at the only foreigner at the table – an American hedge-fund manager visiting the city. He had been trying to follow the conversation with the help of sporadic translations whispered in his ear. Thrust into the spotlight, he fidgeted uncomfortably in his chair. ‘Nobody wants a destabilized region, for sure. You know what folks in Washington call the Middle East? The Muddle East! Sorry, guys, but it’s a mess.’ Some of the guests laughed, a few grimaced. Mess it was, but it was their mess. They could criticize it to their heart’s content, but not a rich American. Sensing the negative energy, the hedge-fund manager compressed his lips.

‘All the more reason to support my thesis,’ the architect said between mouthfuls of risotto. An apolitical man for many years, and though half Kurdish by blood, lately he displayed chauvinistic tendencies. ‘Well, the entire region is coming to the same realization,’ the bank CEO conceded. ‘After the Arab Spring fiasco, any sane person has to recognize the benefits of strong leadership and stability.’ ‘Democracy is passé! I know it might sound shocking to some, but so be it,’ said the architect, pleased that his views were gaining acceptance. ‘I’m all for benevolent dictatorship.’

‘The problem with democracy is it’s a luxury, like Beluga caviar,’ said a plastic surgeon who owned a clinic in Istanbul but lived in Stockholm. ‘In the Middle East, it’s unaffordable.’

‘Even Europe doesn’t believe in it any more,’ said the journalist, stabbing his fork into a piece of lamb. ‘The EU is in tatters.’

‘They behaved like a pussycat when Russia turned into a tiger in the Ukraine,’ said the architect, now in his pomp. ‘Like it or not, this is the century of tigers. Sure, they won’t love you if you’re a tiger. But they’ll fear you, and that’s what matters.’

‘Personally, I’m glad we weren’t allowed into the EU. Good riddance,’ mused the PR woman. ‘Otherwise we could have been like Greece.’ She gently pulled her earlobe, made a tsk-tsk sound, and knocked on the table twice. ‘The Greeks? They are hankering for the Ottomans to come back, they were happier when we ruled over them …’ remarked the architect with a chuckle, which he cut short when he noticed Peri’s expression. He turned to Adnan, with a wink. ‘I’m afraid your wife doesn’t like my jokes.’ At which Adnan, who had been listening with one hand under his chin, gave a smile – half sombre, half sympathetic.

‘I’m sure that’s not true.’ Peri’s eyes fell on the risotto congealed on her plate. She could have let the comments pass; a bit like other people’s cigar smoke, unwanted but tolerable to an extent. But she had promised herself, years ago, right after she left Oxford, never to be silent again. With a tight nod, she said to her husband, ‘But it is true, I don’t like this kind of talk. Democracy as black caviar, states like tigers …’ As this was the first time she had spoken in a while, all heads turned towards her and she returned their gaze. ‘You see, there’s no such thing as benevolent dictatorship.’ ‘Why not?’ asked the architect. ‘Because there’s no such thing as a small god. Once somebody starts playing God, sooner or later, things will get out of hand.’

Interestingly, Kurds in Iraq’s Kurdish region and disputed territories voted on Monday on the issue of whether or not to urge for independence from Baghdad.  Although this was a non-binding vote, it raised tensions and fears for instability in that a “yes” vote would be used by Kurdish leaders to pressure for negotiations with Iraq over statehood.  This is seen by Iraq as a threat to the country’s integrity and its President stated that if the referendum went ahead, Kurdistan “might disappear”.  However, it was not only Iraq  that opposed this vote as it was also opposed by Iran, Syria and Turkey, all of which have sizeable Kurdish minorities.

Ominously, President Erdoğan of Turkey has threatened military intervention in response to the vote, stressing that Kurdish independence was unacceptable to his country, that this was a “matter of survival” and that Turkey would also take political and economic measures against steps toward independence, suggesting that it might halt oil flows arriving through a pipeline from northern Iraq, depriving Iraqi Kurds of revenues. “We have the valve. The moment we shut the valve, that’s the end of it,” he said.  (He also has a valve controlling the flow of Syrian refugees into Europe!) Remember, as well, that he is president of a country in which if you were to be as foolhardy as to write “Armenian genocide”, you might find yourself in jail!  Iran, not to be left out, called the Kurdish vote “untimely and wrong” and held a military exercise in its northwestern Kurdish region to coincide with the voting.

Prophets, profits

Prophets profit.  Yordei HaSira Street, Tel Aviv


All of this relates to the Robert Harris novel I finished on Sunday night, which dealt with the four days in September 1938 when the then Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Neville Chamberlain, made the third of three visits to Germany to meet the German Führer in an attempt to avert Hitler’s plan to invade Czechoslovakia (the blue-eyed boy of Europe, as John Andrews, the person from whom I learned more about human geography than anyone else called it in a political geography course over 50 years ago).  This was part of Hitler’s aim to conquer all of Europe under the pretext of liberating the Sudetenland and freeing the German population there from Czechslovak rule.  

This is a meticulously researched novel based on a series of well-known factual events intertwined, as usual in Harris’ novels, in a masterly manner with a story of two fictional characters, one English, the other German, who had been friends at the same college in Oxford in the early 1930s but who had had no contact in seven years.  Each had subsequently become a civil servant working in their respective country’s Foreign Ministries and their paths crossed once again over those four days in Munich in 1938. It was fascinating to read the novel and then search for the main and secondary characters using search engines in an attempt to extract the facts from the fiction.  

Without attempting to reveal the story, the “Munich Agreement” is usually portrayed as an example of what happens when mealy-mouthed democratically elected politicians attempt to appease dictators and totalitarian regimes.  However, Harris, who produced a documentary, God Bless You, Mr Chamberlain, for the BBC in 1988 to mark the 50th anniversary of the Munich conference and who, in his own words, “ha[s] maintained a mild … obsession with the subject ever since”, paints Chamberlain in a slightly different light, a little smarter than many people give him credit for in that he [Chamberlain] saw it not simply as appeasement but as giving Britain an additional year to prepare for a war that almost everyone saw as inevitable.

Almost inevitably, too, as I was reading this novel, I was reminded of two essays published by the late British-American writer Christopher Hitchens—a not uncontroversial author in his lifetime—in Slate, one dating from 2005 and the other appearing five years later.  The essays (reprinted in Arguably a collection of Hitchens’ writingsdealt with North Korea, the totalitarian state par excellence, and re-reading them five years after I first read them made me think that even the Nazi régime was a kindergarten and the Mafia an infant crèche compared with the gangsters of Pyongyang.  The 2005 essay was entitled: Worse Than 1984. North Korea, slave state. The more recent of the two was entitled: A Nation of Racist Dwarfs—Kim Jong-il’s regime is even weirder and more despicable than you thought.

Let me quote you just a few sentences from the two articles and then we can decide which we prefer—the bluster emanating from the cellphone and mouth of the multi-faulted Donald Trump—with all the dangers it carries—and what comes out of North Korea, at least as portrayed by Hitchens.  And Hitchens was writing about North Korea under Kim Jong-il (#2 in the dynasty) rather than the pronouncedly more dangerous régime of Kim Jong-un that is in place today.)

Worse Than 1984 (2005)

How extraordinary it is…that it was only last week that an American president officially spoke the obvious truth about North Korea.…Mr. Bush … understated matters when he said that Kim Jong-il’s government runs “concentration camps.” It would be truer to say that the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea… is a concentration camp…a slave state.

… to call a country a slave state is to set another process in motion: that strange business that we might call the working of the American conscience.

It was rhetorically possible, in past epochs of ideological confrontation, for politicians to shout about the “slavery” of Nazism and of communism, and indeed of nations that were themselves “captive.” The element of exaggeration was pardonable, in that both systems used forced labor and also the threat of forced labor to coerce or to terrify others. But not even in the lowest moments of the Third Reich, or of the gulag, or of Mao’s “Great Leap Forward,” was there a time when all the subjects of the system were actually enslaved.

In North Korea, every person is property and is owned by a small and mad family with hereditary power. Every minute of every day, as far as regimentation can assure the fact, is spent in absolute subjection and serfdom. The private life has been entirely abolished. One tries to avoid cliché, and I did my best on a visit to this terrifying country in the year 2000, but George Orwell’s 1984 was published at about the time that Kim Il Sung set up his system, and it really is as if he got hold of an early copy of the novel and used it as a blueprint. (“Hmmm … good book. Let’s see if we can make it work.”)

… North Korea is rather worse than Orwell’s dystopia. … A recent nighttime photograph of the Korean peninsula from outer space shows something that no “free-world” propaganda could invent: a blaze of electric light all over the southern half, stopping exactly at the demilitarized zone and becoming an area of darkness in the north.

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The Korean Peninsula by night


… The situation is … worse than indentured servitude. The slave owner historically promises … at least to keep his slaves fed. In North Korea, this compact has been broken. It is a famine state as well as a slave state. … The survivors, especially the children, have been stunted and malformed. Even on a tightly controlled tour of the place … my robotic guides couldn’t prevent me from seeing people drinking from sewers and picking up individual grains of food from barren fields. …

… Kim Jong-il and his fellow slave masters are trying to dictate the pace of events by setting a timetable of nuclearization, based on a crash program wrung from their human property. But why should it be assumed that their failed state and society are permanent? Another timeline, oriented to liberation and regime change, is what the dynasty most fears. It should start to fear it more. Bravo to President Bush, anyway, for his bluntness.

A Nation of Racist Dwarfs (2010)

Visiting North Korea some years ago, I was lucky to have a fairly genial “minder” who … guided me patiently around … explaining things away by means of a sort of denial mechanism and never seeming to lose interest in the gargantuan monuments to the world’s most hysterical and operatic leader-cult. One evening, as we tried to dine on some gristly bits of duck, he mentioned yet another reason why the day should not long be postponed when the whole peninsula was united under the beaming rule of the Dear Leader. The people of South Korea, he pointed out, were becoming mongrelized. They wedded foreigners—even black American soldiers, or so he’d heard to his evident disgust—and were losing their purity and distinction. …

… The whole idea of communism is dead in North Korea, and its most recent “Constitution,” “ratified” last April, has dropped all mention of the word. The analogies to Confucianism are glib, and such parallels with it as can be drawn are intended by the regime only for the consumption of outsiders. [There is] a persuasive case that we should instead regard the Kim Jong-il system as a phenomenon of the very extreme and pathological right. It is based on totalitarian “military first” mobilization, is maintained by slave labor, and instills an ideology of the most unapologetic racism and xenophobia. …

… Even in the days of communism, there were reports from Eastern Bloc and Cuban diplomats about the paranoid character of the system … and … its intense hatred of foreigners. … The United States and its partners make up in aid for the huge shortfall in North Korea’s food production, but there is not a hint of acknowledgement of this by the authorities, who tell their captive subjects that the bags of grain stenciled with the Stars and Stripes are tribute paid by a frightened America to the Dear Leader.

…many of the slogans employed and displayed by the North Korean state are borrowed directly—this really does count as some kind of irony—from the kamikaze ideology of Japanese imperialism. Every child is told every day of the wonderful possibility of death by immolation in the service of the motherland and taught not to fear the idea of war, not even a nuclear one.

The regime cannot rule by terror alone, and  … small wonder that each “negotiation” with it is more humiliating than the previous one. … we cannot expect it to bargain away its very raison d’être.…

… Here are the two most shattering facts about North Korea. First, when viewed by satellite photography at night, it is an area of unrelieved darkness. Barely a scintilla of light is visible even in the capital city. Second, a North Korean is on average six inches shorter than a South Korean. You may care to imagine how much surplus value has been wrung out of such a slave, and for how long, in order to feed and sustain the militarized crime family that completely owns both the country and its people.…

… Unlike previous racist dictatorships, the North Korean one has actually succeeded in producing a sort of new species. Starving and stunted dwarves, living in the dark, kept in perpetual ignorance and fear, brainwashed into the hatred of others, regimented and coerced and inculcated with a death cult: This horror show is in our future, and is so ghastly that our own darling leaders dare not face it and can only peep through their fingers at what is coming.

Should you wish to read the whole articles—and they’re short ones— you can do so from the following links:



Contemplation.  Tel Aviv Port


So I feel that we should bear in mind that when President Trump says that “Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself” and that Kim Jong-un could not survive an American attack and that the United States could (would?) totally destroy North Korea if forced to defend itself or its allies and that while the US has “great strength and patience,” its options could soon run out.  So we should be aware that he is referring to a leader, the son and grandson of leaders of the same country of the same depraved régime, all of whom hold other nations of the world in the utmost contempt and who care not a whit for the well-being of their own people. And if, as Hitchens quotes, “Every child is told every day of the wonderful possibility of death by immolation in the service of the motherland and taught not to fear the idea of war, not even a nuclear one.” then Trump’s words might be regarded in North Korea as coming from the mouth of God himself — except that neither the North Koreans nor Hitchens himself actually believed that (God, that is) could be possible.

And just for the sake of completion, here are two more totally unrelated images from the past week.

Pee-pee time

Heavy leakage in the offing.  Tel Aviv Port

Catching up

Contemplation plus.  Yarqon Park, Tel Aviv


Finally, if this post didn’t contain brevity, here’s some levity.  Just to prove that the relationship between Britain and Europe has not always been dominated by Brexit, I offer you a song with music and lyrics by Noel Coward, sung by Dame Felicity Lott with Graham Johnson at piano.  Just in case you can’t pick out all the words, I’ve included a link to the lyrics. 

A Bar on the Piccola Marina


Short & Sweet

It’s two-thirds of the way through September again and here in Israel we have entered a critical season—the season of “akharey ha-khagim” (אחרי החגים).  This translates quite simply into: “Don’t be a complete and utter idiot; there isn’t the slightest hope of me or of anyone else around here being able to do anything to alleviate, let alone solve, your problems just at the moment.  Come back when the holidays are over.” (If you survive them, that is).

For those of you unfamiliar with the Jewish calendar, Rosh HaShanah, the New Year, starts tomorrow (Wednesday) evening, September 20 and the holiday season continues, only partially abated, through  Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), which comes along a week later as it seems to do every year, rapidly followed by Succoth (the Feast of Tabernacles), four days after that.  And when you tag on the final day of the holiday season, which follows the last day of Succoth but which is technically a separate holiday, the festival fiesta period lasts for a total of 22 days (23 if you are [un]lucky enough to live outside Israel (the “[un]”, of course, depends upon your mood, your sanity and your general state of mind).  If you’re absolutely observant, that means a lot of being sequestered in both the synagogue and the home, where many festive meals are eaten and the consumption of antacid medicines rises accordingly.  

Yes, there are occasional breaks in the cloud, such as the period between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur (which this year means a whole five days without a break except for a minor fast day on the Sunday following the New Year, (the Fast of Gedalia, who was a principled governor of Judaea, murdered 26 centuries ago and therefore worthy of lament) and the intermediate days of Succoth (during which you never really know what’s open and what’s not).  No matter how you regard it, it’s a very long haul indeed.  

Eventually, of course, the situation returns to normal—or least as close as this country can ever be said to have a set of circumstances regarded as normal and people try to remember what it was they had been trying to get done a month earlier.  (For those of you familiar with the break at the end of the secular year when Christmas morphs into New Year, believe me, that is just a wan anaemic facsimile of what goes on here—child’s play, in comparison.

Related to all this is the work that has been going on outside our house since the end of May when contractors to Tel Aviv Municipality began work on a 160m stretch of street  replacing the subterranean infrastructure and about which you have been updated interminably over the past few weeks.  Lots of noise and dirt in the intervening 16 and a bit weeks.  Queries as to when the work is scheduled to be completed have met with shrugs of the shoulders (in other words, nobody really knows or if they do, they’re not about to divulge such delicate and classified information to an ordinary citizen like me for fear that I might leak it to my neighbours).  

Given the view from our living room window from last Friday afternoon until Monday morning, it looks as if it might never end.

The View from the Window.jpg

However, it was noticeable that yesterday, Monday, at 7 in the morning, if it wasn’t an army of workers that turned up then it was a veritable platoon in place of the usual half dozen or so.  They got down to the business of laying out paving stones that were to become footpaths at such a ferocious pace that I concluded that the contractor must have signed to complete the work by the eve of the New Year, i.e., tomorrow (Wednesday) afternoon, just as we reach the autumnal equinox after which fines kick in.  In contrast, however, today it looks as if I might be quite wrong on that score as well and that the contractor, too, has succumbed to the malady of “akharey ha-khagim”, as those people who were wielding mallets, hammers, saws and such things yesterday appear to have vanished from the scene entirely with the work as yet incomplete.

Laying pavement.jpg

In fact, after yesterday’s flurry of activity, leaving the house this morning at 06.40 and observing the scene in the street I was somehow reminded of the iconic image known as The Valley of the Shadow of Death, which was photographed by the British photographer, Roger Fenton (a former Primrose Hill resident it happens), during the Crimean War in 1856.

Valley of the Shadow of Death.png

Roger Fenton: The Valley of the Shadow of Death (1856)

Street of the Shadow of Sewage 1.jpg

The Street of the Shadow of Sewage Pipes

I guess that the street work will end sooner or later but at 15.00 hrs on Tuesday, it certainly looks as if it will be later rather than sooner.

Other than all this, with the exception of last Thursday, it’s been a relatively quiet week.  However, last Thursday, I had planned one of my increasingly infrequent visits to Haifa for a social event in my former department, which had been scheduled to have begun at noon.  I calculate that if I left Tel Aviv by 10.15, I would get there with plenty time to spare and manage to do a couple of other things while at the university.  So at about 10.00, I headed to the car only to find that as I exited the gate, there was a young man to my left, frantically waving his arms at the oncoming cars as if to inform them not to turn left into our street, where my car was parked.  

Being reasonably responsive to people who move their hands rapidly up and down and from side to side as if to signal something, I looked to my right to ascertain what the problem might be and discovered that one of the houses to the south of us, to which a floor was being added had booked a session with a cement mixer-pourer, and this vehicle was blocking the street.  Undaunted, I returned to the arm thresher to ask him if he wouldn’t mind flapping his arms approximately 70 metres further east so as to inform drivers a little earlier that the street was closed—and to permit me to drive the 70 metres so that I could escape in that direction (which was contra to the temporary one-way system installed while the roadworks were under way.  He agreed, but as he moved, I noticed that getting out of that street was impossible as it was blocked at the far end because—you guessed it—further municipal roadworks had required the excavation of a channel in order to replace pipes on that particular day.  So, I found myself blocked in three directions, two because of work by the Municipality and one by a private contractor.  As my ultralight wasn’t working and I couldn’t;t fly, I was well and truly grounded.  The blockage eventually cleared at 10.45 and I made Haifa with 10 minutes to spare.

En route to Haifa

As I say, other than that it was a quiet week.  Eventually, I suppose, summer will come to an end even if it doesn’t seem remotely like that at the moment.  There are days when the air is so humid as to create conditions that resemble chicken broth.  The photograph below on the promenade at Tel Aviv Port at a quarter to eight one morning last week looks as if it was taken after a rain shower but it was not.  Moreover, andas the sea on that morning was like a sheet of glass, I couldn’t even blame the waves for the heavy layer of moisture on the boards.  It was the effects of high humidity and condensation.

Humidity at the Port

And now that sunrise is at around half-past six, there are some really attractive ordinary street scenes by the time I head home around 08.00.

Early morning, Basel Street

Early morning sunshine, Basel Street, Tel Aviv

And the morning sun allows some attractive floral photographs, too.

Swan of Paradise

Bird of Paradise

Yet another sign that summer is coming to its end is the sight of bunches of ripe dates on the fully laden palm trees in the Yarqon Park, which is always a wonderfully attractive scene to behold.


And although it has nothing whatsoever to do with the seasons, it appears that the defunct hammerhead crane, a reminder of the days when Tel Aviv Port was a working port, is due to receive a new coat of paint.

Hammerhead crane

So all that remains for me to do for those of you who celebrate Jewish New Year is to wish for you that the coming year be a peaceful one and one in which we all enjoy good health.  And for those of you who don’t celebrate Jewish New Year for whatever reason, may the coming 12 months be peaceful and may you all enjoy good health, too.

P.S.  You may or may not have noticed that this post is clean.  In other words, I have refrained from expressing EVEN A SINGLE JAUNDICED POLITICAL VIEW.  And that’s even though the sight of two of my favourite politicians sitting together in New York on last night’s news bulletins was really as much as I could bear without screaming!

P.P.S.  Wednesday 20th September, 09.00.  For those of you reading this now, there was a lull in the work on the street yesterday at about 13.00 hrs and everybody was gone apart from the guard, whose job as far as I can fathom is to prevent people walking across freshly poured cement or falling into holes as yet unfilled.  I don’t think he finds his work particularly interesting but he manages to while away his time on Sudoku puzzles.  Today is quiet because all signs that the work is ongoing have vanished so we now can expect the hushed tranquility to continue until next Sunday while work is renewed towards aiming for a completion date, whenever that may be.



Quick click or no click at all?


“It ain’t so much a question of not knowin’ hut to do
I knowed what’s right an’ wrong since I’ve been teen.
I heared a lot of stories an’ I reckon they’re true
About how girls are put upon by men.
I know I mustn’t fall into the pit
But when I’ve got a cam’ra
I fergit!” (sometimes!)

after Oscar Hammerstein II, Oklahoma !

I haven’t often started a blog post with a song but here’e one.  In many ways, I feel for Ado Annie in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s 1943 hit musical Oklahoma!  She knows right from wrong but it’s just that she can’t stop herself when the opportunity arises. But what’s a street photographer supposed to do?  

I’m in a turrible fix
I always say “come on, let’s go”
Jist when I orta say nix!

My wife, who tries her hardest to keep me out of trouble, sometimes isn’t overly happy with some of my photographs of people, particularly if I find them in somewhat compromising situations.  And as we have an agreement that she reads this stuff before I post it, as she read an earlier draft of this one, her head was shaking so vigorously that I thought she was in danger of autodecapitation.  Appeals to immediate family for second opinions yielded no relief or sympathy whatsoever.  

At issue was a picture from last week when I was walking along the Tel Aviv waterfront south of the Marina and noticed a young woman on the beach.  She stood out from the crowd a little because of the way her body art seemed to be a perfect complement to her bikini and it was only when she came to rest and seemed at ease with herself on the sand that I decided that it was time to press the shutter button.  (My  principal transgression, it seems, was that my description of the coming to rest was far too graphic and sexist.  On re-reading, I plead guilty on all charges, understanding that I had once again been saved from myself!)  

These occasions present a problematic situation.  Should I or shouldn’t I?  Am I guilty of voyeurism or am I just trying just to record a pictorial geography of the mundane when I’m out in a public space with a camera?  In my view, all I’m doing is recording people and events that are so unremarkable that we would be likely to ignore them if we are not on the lookout for a photograph.  

Of course, not everything you see on the street or from the street presents you with a predicament.  Occasionally, people approach you, notice your camera and ask you to take a photograph of them and I do.  Nevertheless, because they’re never actually going to see my picture, I’m always at a loss to understand why they’re so keen that I photograph them.

Photo Request

Please, please photograph me!  Via Etnea, Catania, Sicily


Then there are others who don’t ask but don’t seem to mind you photographing them in the slightest …

Smoker portrait

Street Cleaner.  Tel Aviv Port


…  while others still might be irked by your presence but say nothing …


Walker.  Hampstead Heath


… and yet others actively encourage you.


Going shopping.  Edgware Road, London


Animals don’t usually object to being photographed and for the most part, their owners are more than happy to think that someone wants to record an image of their pet, so they encourage you with a smile.  

Ultimate shaggy dog picture.jpg

The ultimate shaggy dog.  Tel Aviv Port


Sometimes an animal that you choose to photograph isn’t a pet at all, let alone does it have an owner.  It’s just there, you come across it, observe it and think of what a wonderful picture you can make when you get it home to work on.


At Yarqon Park, Tel Aviv


Then there are the times when you see something absolutely innocent but your timing in opening the shutter provides you with an image of something that really wasn’t what it appears to have been at all.

Not so boring

At Yarqon Park, Tel Aviv


What all this this amounts to, as I have mentioned before, is as the American documentary photographer, Dorothea Lange, wrote: “A camera teaches you how to see without a camera”, meaning that even without a camera I now find myself seeing things, such as the images below, that I know I would have just unwittingly passed by before I began to photograph regularly.



Hand in hand.  Shaul HaMelekh Boulevard, Tel Aviv

Calisthenics 1

Up and over.  Tel Aviv Port

Calisthenics 0

Up, down, up, down, up down.  Tel Aviv Port


But life being as it is, many things are more complex than they appear on the surface; the world is made up of delightful things and other things more difficult to observe and comprehend.  And so it is with photographs:  it’s so easy to take a picture of two people holding hands or of someone smiling and enjoying themselves but it’s more difficult to take a picture of someone who obviously seems troubled or whose life is difficult.  But both poles are part of the environment in which we live so we would be perverting things if we were only to take the “easy” photographs, such as of the birds and the bees, or people exercising, or yet other things that remind you of something else entirely …

Gang of mynahs.jpg

A gang of mynahs plans trouble for the day.  Yarqon Park, Tel Aviv


Busy buzzy bee. Yarqon Park

Ménage à trois

Ménage à trois, Belsize Park

… such as the journey to work or of a person on park bench reading from her cellphone, at ease with her body art, her cigarette and her hairdo or of two men painting a crosswalk black and white or of a car window with so many parking tickets on it that the driver obviously felt that s/he would be covered by any eventuality—except for the facts that (a) the 10 hours that s/he had paid for is a far longer time period than permitted in the area and (b) the date and times are supposed to all be scratched at the time of arrival, not at succeeding hours so that either way, it wouldn’t have helped much  even if s/he was within the time limit proscribed and a parking  inspector had turned up and decided not to be nice.


But these are all “easy” pictures — ones that don’t create any awkward situations.  However, what should we do when we see a person who on the face of it doesn’t appear to be enjoying life as I pass by?  Am I supposed to ignore the situation just because it isn’t pretty?  Perhaps the person concerned really is at ease with him/herself and it’s just I, as photographer, who reads something unfavourable into the image?

Drag on a fag

Taking a break.  Ibn Gvirol Street, Tel Aviv


There are, of course, legal restrictions on photography but it seems to me that these constitute a rather grey area. For instance, in most Western countries and contrary to what many people seem to think, there are no laws forbidding photography of individuals—even of children.  However, if a photographer becomes persistent or aggressive towards a specific individual, then s/he may be in danger of being accused of harassment.  Then there are places in which there may be restrictions photographing in certain places if the images are going to be used for commercial purposes and permission from the appropriate authority has not been approved.

Basically, it seems that if you’re in a public place you are free to take photographs of individuals or private property without restriction.  As an example, if you’re in the street, you can take photographs of people, say, inside a café and if the owner of a private space has given permission, there aren’t any restrictions either.  Some people seem to think that taking photographs of people on trains and buses might be questionable but trains and buses are defined as public transport and so, by definition, are public spaces.  

With regard to children, the British Protection of Children Act 1978 restricts the “making or possessing pornography” or what looks like pornography of under-18 year-olds. However, there is no law that prohibits photographing children in public spaces.  And although people have a right to privacy, people also have the right of freedom of expression, so there’s a grey area there, too.  However, if I were confronted by someone bearing arms or by an angry mob heading in my direction, I think I would think twice about declaring my right to freedom of expression and hide the camera.

Like most things in life, you have to act sensibly and in moderation.  Even though photographing private property from within the public domain is not illegal, you have to use common sense.  Not long after I began writing this blog, I posted a photograph of two young teenage males who had been sitting opposite me on the London Underground one afternoon.  One of them was eying a young woman sitting a few metres to his right and she had spotted them and was quite discernibly playing up to his interest and I had  thought it was amusing to watch.

No sooner had I posted, I received an email which read:  “… [I] don’t think that you can take pics without permission of the subject, certainly not of under-age children which will label you as a paedophile!”  So, not wishing to be labelled a paedophile, I did what any self-respecting person might do and consulted a lawyer, in  this case, one whom I’ve known for many years, with over 20 years’ experience in libel law, reputation management, privacy, and IP law,  and who—in his own words—is “down to earth, reliable and [gives] imaginative advice”, who explained to me as follows:

“Assuming your blog shows a representative sample of the type/genres of photos which you have taken, the chances of the police checking out your computer, looking at your thousands of photos and branding you a paedophile are approx 0%. … There are two areas of law which may have a bearing in this: Data Protection and Privacy.  In relation to the former, you have an “artistic” defence. [In regards the latter] for a privacy action to succeed, firstly you would need the boys to see the picture, then to decide to take offence and claim you had infringed their privacy (quite hard in a public place) and then to launch a claim, which is speculative and extremely likely to fail.  Having said all that, if your blog starts attracting thousands of hits, I’d keep the pics of kids to a minimum unless you have their consent.”  

Given that street photography features unmediated chance encounters and random incidents in public spaces, issues of what’s kosher and what’s improper are important.  And although it may be called “street photography”, it doesn’t necessarily mean that a street or an urban environment need be present.  Moreover, although people usually feature directly in street photography, there are many occasions when an image created might have no people at all and might just contain an object or environment where the image simply projects an obviously human character—an overflowing garbage can, three cars parked so close together that the one in the middle can’t get out, and so forth.

What it says to me, then, is to be judicious.  Be prudent.  Don’t be stupid.  I try!  The advice I give myself is simply to use whatever common sense I might possess.  On the one hand, if someone—even in a public space—indicates that s/he does not want to have their photograph taken, then I will desist immediately; there’s little point in doing otherwise.  I’m neither a papparazzo nor someone wishing to profit from the image.  On the other hand, if I’ve already taken a photograph by the time the subject spots me and requests that I refrain, then I won’t take any more but also won’t delete what I have taken—unless that person asks me specifically to do so, something that hasn’t happened yet and if it did, I might then have a dilemma.

I present another kind of dilemma in the series of photos below of a young person, perhaps no more than in his mid-20s.  I have seen him and photographed him on several occasions over the past two years, usually early in the morning asleep at one or other end of the footbridge, in a sheltered corner, at the western end of the Yarqon Park in Tel Aviv.  

This week, I found him on the bridge itself (below).

Homeless on the bridge 2

Each time I see him, as I take these photos, I wonder whether I should just pass by (as everyone else seems to do, either ignoring him, looking at him but obviously imagining him to be invisible or staring and uttering muted sounds of disapproval), photograph him (a professional reaction) or tap him on the shoulder and ask him if there’s any way I could be of help (a moral reaction).  He doesn’t seem to be starving; he doesn’t seem to be clean.  

And the homeless come in a variety of shapes and sizes.  The man photographed below (he’s one of two, as far as I can ascertain) can be seen somewhere in our neighbourhood in Tel Aviv on most days, with what seems to be his full complement of earthly belongings perched and hanging precariously on a single supermarket buggy. 

Homeless en suite 2Homeless en suite 1Homeless en suite 0

There are more quandaries in these pictures than I care to mention or even think about but they are all part of the environments that I photograph.  Were I to stick just with attractive buildings and nondescript people, I certainly wouldn’t be anywhere near accurately recording the geography of the mundane.  Perhaps if I were to engage them in conversation—something at which I’m singularly inept—there would be less likelihood of people interpreting these pictures as voyeuristic images.  I’ll have to work on it.  

I might add that all this is being written in an age when almost everyone is or can be a photographer.  On September 11, Apple celebrated the 10th anniversary of the first iPhone and since that time, a phone camera has become something utterly ubiquitous and practically invisible.  The selfie is the ultimate expression on this newfound freedom to photograph and nobody pays much attention to the millions of people wandering the streets snapping away at will.  And it’s probably just as trite to say that these people operating smartphone cameras give little thought to the niceties or the legalities of what they are photographing.  


Meanwhile, the outward appearance of our street is taking shape outside the front gate, 15 weeks after work began on a stretch of street less than 200m in length.  Given that they’ve been working just five days a week, between 6 and 8 hours a day and have lost six days for one Jewish holiday and two Muslim ones, one wonders how they would have managed had they decided that it was worth their while paying for the work to be done 24/7?  Three weeks? Four?  And I suppose that after the Jewish New Year and other assorted holidays, they will continue their slow march up to the eastern end of the street, a distance of a further 250m.  Well into 2018, I guess!

Shlomtzion, 7.30qm. 12:09:2017.jpg

And as I started with a song relevant to street photographers, I’ll end with one, too! (Lyrics & music by and voice of Cole Porter)

Oh?  And the picture that caused the furore?





Diverse Drivers


Who needs a car?

One of the pleasanter things about coming back to Tel Aviv is to discover that your absence has been noticed by some people.  I found myself being greeted as a long lost acquaintance not only by the greengrocer, the fishmonger, and the pharmacist but by people I don’t know at all but who, it turns out, are in the park most days about the same time as myself.  It’s a nice feeling to think that your absence has been noticed even if you, personally, haven’t really been missed. (N.B. There is a delicate difference between noticing an absence and missing a presence!)

Gratifying as this may be, it only partially neutralises the corrosive effects of listening to the news, whether it’s broadcast from Israel or anywhere else in the world for that matter.  News from this country since we arrived back in Tel Aviv a week ago seems to have centred around the ever-increasing circles of advisers and aides of the Prime Minister and other ministers, suspected of bribery, corruption and other misdeeds and wrongdoing.  And it appears that this coterie of seemingly unsavoury individuals also includes an ex-minister, whose morals—or lack of them—I had always suspected not least for the fact that during his 20-year political career, which ended a decade ago, he had managed to belong to five different political parties.  This sort of suggests that he never really represented anybody or anything but himself and the images of Mr. Sandberg smiling in court the other day might only have been nerves but strongly suggested that he was amused by the fact that he had managed to get away with things for so long.  Of course, as I wrote a few weeks ago, they might all be as innocent as newborn babies and it’s just that the police and political system are both controlled  by leftist quislings determined to bring down the government.  (And in case anyone is of the opinion that I think that Opposition politicians are any better, I don’t.  It just means that the Israeli electorate, in its infinite wisdom, has not bestowed upon them adequate opportunities over the past four decades to display their prowess in that regard!)

Meanwhile, back in Blighty, people are still being told that “Brexit is Brexit” and that if they wait until Britain is independent once more, released from the shackles of the European Union and its bureaucrats, then they will recognise the benefits to be enjoyed by their newly regained emancipation and the folly of those who recommended remaining—even if it means impoverishing the country in the process.  But, as they say, time is a great healer.  From politics of the Continent to political incontinence—or something like that.

I’ll say nothing about Hurricane Irma wreaking destruction of all in its path as it makes land from the Atlantic to continental USA or of the large earth tremor centred on North Korea last week or of the rhetoric of the two disturbed men involved in last weekend’s rather rowdy discourse, Donald the Chirrupping Trumpeter and Young’un Kim, while the rest of the world waits apprehensively and watches ineffectually.

Now to business.

Whenever I return to Tel Aviv after a few weeks in London, someone inevitably asks me whether I notice any difference between the behaviour of drivers here and there.  Funny, I never really think that the state of driving or the roads is really worth mentioning but having encountered the query once more, I suppose I should say something.

First of all, though, I have to comment on the state of the little bit of Britain I spent a few weeks in.  This time around, London seemed like a cross between a large construction site and a city undergoing major changes to its road system. It just seemed as if everywhere you travelled, there were route diversions, streets in varying states of repair and disrepair, scaffolding covering at least one building on each section of each street and so forth.  Although the Ministry for Transport issued a Third Revised Edition of the Code of Practice for the Co-ordination of Street Works and Works for Road Purposes and Related Matters in August 2009 to make the New Roads and Street Works Act of 1991 effective, one is nevertheless left wondering if anyone had ever bothered to read it.

Driver's distraction

Pretty much a diversion, I think.  Nordau Boulevard, Tel Aviv

As to the differences between driving in Britain and Israel, the axiom from which all comparisons derives is that the Brits, being a phlegmatic and sanguine people—unemotional and, until Brexit, generally optimistic—are, as a consequence, thoughtful and considerate of others. Thus, and as a further consequence, they are careful and mindful drivers.  Israelis, on the other hand, are an easily excitable and a readily depressible bunch and they reflect these characteristics in their driving.  That being the case, they are prone to getting themselves into driving situations which either lead to literally dreadful heart-stopping accidents or figuratively heart-stopping near-accidents.

I’m not absolutely convinced that these stereotypical views of Israeli and British drivers are accurate but there is more than an element of truthfulness in them.  At the same time, there are enough instances in which drivers in both places do not behave as predicted for one to question the validity of the axiom.

Pavement parking

Parking’s a problem everywhere, it seems

Doing her job

Just doing her duty.  Nordau Boulevard, Tel Aviv

This reminds me of a radio programme I listened to many years ago while driving (what else?) from Haifa to Tel Aviv in the days when the BBC had a World Service and that service broadcast on Medium Wave and which you could listen to it in the car.  

The conversation involved an Italian correspondent based in London and a British one based in Rome.  Each was asked in which country driving conditions were more dangerous.  Counterintuitively, the Italian and British correspondents both agreed that despite the Italian tendency to regard every thoroughfare as a racetrack, things were potentially more hazardous in Britain.  Italians don’t like the rules and they drive fast because they don’t have time, so the argument went.  There are so many cars and the roads are so crowded that they constantly break the rules.  Though in other countries, such as Germany, people tend to drive faster than, Italy’s problem was that the rules were constantly flouted.  

However, the reason driving conditions were perceived to be  more dangerous in Britain was because British drivers expect other drivers to observe the highway code and as a consequence, they are usually taken completely by surprise if another driver contravenes those rules.  In contrast, Italian drivers expect everyone to transgress so that they are constantly on their guard against untoward practices.  Contrary to common-sense explanations, then, the outcome, of course, is that accidents are likelier in Britain and more likely to be serious than in Italy—although I’m not sure the statistics would bear that out.   

Substitute Israel for Italy and you get a partial answer to that question I’m often asked… 

Special %22show%22 Ibn Gvirol

Too long at a red light and he’ll read you Psalms. Ibn Gvirol/Jabotinsky junction, Tel Aviv


Of course, there are some fundamental differences between driving in Israel and driving in Britain.  For a start, they drive on different sides of the road, though this is definitely more obvious from the British perspective than from the Israeli, except when it comes for looking for somewhere to park a car.  Many British drivers have no compunctions about gliding across to the right-hand side of the road to face the oncoming traffic if they see an available space to plonk their car for a short time.  On the other hand, many Israeli drivers will ignore one-way street signs if they can save themselves a trip around the block and if they estimate the distance covered by the infringement to be under 100m. and they can’t see any oncoming traffic when they set out on their potentially perilous peregrination.

(The choice of the left-hand side or right-hand side was an arbitrary decision taken way back deep in the history of automobiles, even earlier.  Basically, with the exception of Japan, Thailand, Indonesia and Surinam, and one or two smaller places, all the right-hand drive countries (i.e., those that drive of the left-hand side of the road) are former British colonies.)

I know London like the back of my paw

Who’s a laid back driver, then?

Nevertheless, despite a British presence for three decades, Israel has left-hand drive cars, the British apparently using Palestine as a testing ground for something (it also got decimal coinage and the metric system from them) but deciding against adopting it in the homeland, rather as they landed Ireland with a proportional voting system but retained the manifestly distortional and non-proportional “first-past-the-post” system for themselves. 

1 car = 10 bikes

One car = Room for 10  bicycles


Normally, I have no difficulty adjusting when travelling between countries though in the ‘old days’ when we drove cars with manual gears (stick-shift for some ex-colonials) the first day or two back home (wherever that happened to be) involved the occasional search for a ghost gearstick  before one remembered where one was.  


The convoy.  Yarqon Park, Tel Aviv


But I think the main difference between driving in the UK and in Israel is not that the Brits are better drivers but that the rules of the road are enforced more rigorously.  That’s not to say that there aren’t infringements of the rules that are overlooked, including by the police.

And there are real differences, too. In Israel, on approaching a zebra crossing and if considering stopping (a cultural thing, you understand) to let a zebra cross, one keeps an eye or two on the rear view mirror and activates the eye in the back of one’s head to see how close the following car is; too close and the unfortunate zebra will have to wait as you sail through to avoid a rear-end collision.  In Britain, stopping for pedestrians at a zebra crossing is the norm, almost as natural as breathing; one just has to see a wayfarer approaching a crossing and one grinds or slides to a halt.  Interestingly, Israelis in the UK quite readily adapt to this piece of British driving etiquette.


He thought he’d make it but changed his mind


On the other hand, British drivers customarily do something that no self-respecting Israeli driver would ever consider acceptable practice.  In Tel Aviv, when one approaches a junction with traffic lights, if you enter the junction as the light is just changing to amber, you proceed into the junction; if it’s already amber and about to change to red you stop.  Not so in London, as I found to my detriment some years ago.  Proceed through an amber light and just as the lights change from amber to red when go through the crossing or turn the corner, look in your rear-view mirror and count how many cars are coming after you: 1, 2, 3, sometimes even 4.  Try that in Israel and you would probably lose your licence if caught.

Cocktail Car

It must be a mirage!


And there are other subtle differences.  Double flash your headlights in the UK towards an oncoming car and you are telling him: “My dear chap, just come straight on through while I wait for you.  Take your time; I won’t budge until you’re past me.”  Double flash in Israel and you are saying “Listen here, mate! This is my road! Don’t even think of moving until I come through; better still, clear off altogether!”  Also in the UK there is an unwritten rule whereby drivers allow one car to filter through from a side street into the main traffic flow; in Israel, see a car trying to join the traffic from a side street and you accelerate just to make sure the driver doesn’t make it.  The UK has box junctions at major urban intersections, loudly painted in a yellow criss-cross, their purpose to keep intersections clear of traffic.  You don’t enter a box junction unless you see that there is a clear exit.  There used to be some box junctions in Israel, too, and they looked the same as in Britain but their purpose seems to have been decorative or to see how many cars could fit simultaneously into a given space!  Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, as King Mongkut of Siam  (a.k.a. Yup Brynner) in The King and I, said.

On vacation

Driver on vacation.  Nordau Boulevard, Tel Aviv


Of course, there are good drivers and bad drivers in both Israel and the UK.  Not all British drivers are well-mannered, thoughtful or friendly (look at the number of cases of what they euphemistically call ‘road rage’) and not all Israeli drivers regard their car as a  lethal weapon.

Towing Ibn Gvirol

Surprise, surprise!  Ibn Gvirol Street, Tel Aviv


As I’ve already said, part of the British tendency to abide by the rules of the road is that there is more effective policing.  There are more police and police cars.  And there is more effective use of speed cameras and other means of surveillance, including CCTV cameras.  Britain is now reputed to have more CCTV cameras operating than all the other European states combined and walking around the streets of London, it’s not difficult to believe this.  This is part of Britain’s transformation into a police state by stealth, a place where movement, purchases, communications are increasingly monitored if needs be.  (An everyday example of this is illustrated by thee fact that it is becoming more difficult to travel by public transport in London just by paying cash.  You are encouraged to buy an electronic card with which you purchase credit for journeys on the Underground and bus and use by touching an electronic reader as you enter and exit each station.)


Spies in the wall(1)

Spy cameras, built into the architecture.  City of London


All of this is recorded, of course and all this monitoring is done in the name of fighting crime and terrorism, which, given the experience of the past few months are very real threats.  But, as Henry Porter brought to light in his very alarming 2009 novel The Dying Light ( it is just a small step for a cabal of corrupt politicians to decide to extend this in order to spy on every citizen in the country.

But that, as they say, is a whole other story.

A footpath appears.JPG

Meanwhile, a road surface and footpath are taking shape outside the house.  It looks like things might be completed by the onset of Jewish New Year, which falls a fortnight from today.  If so, then the racket that has been going on outside since May 28 may finally be coming to an end, while they move eastward to the next section of the street, which includes a public car park and a primary school, to cause upheaval to the lives of the unfortunates (unfortunates, in the short term, that is) there.

Finally, I couldn’t resist putting in this picture of a dentist’s dream mouth, photographed yesterday at the local fishmonger.


Grouper:  Didi Dag, Fishmonger’s, Ibn Gvirol Street, Tel Aviv



Le retour à la Terre Sainte

I begin this post on August 31, which means that I have been married (to the same woman, I might add) for 18,627 days, something that neither of us fully believes or appreciates—but calendars being calendars, it must be true.

We arrived back in Tel Aviv just after midnight yesterday after an utterly routine flight from London Heathrow with Israel’s national carrier, El Al.  Some people I know are dumbfounded that we [still] fly El Al (and they make a point of emphasising the word “still” as if to make it clear that they used to do this themselves before they came to their senses).  There are times when I wonder why we are so conservative in this respect when we could choose to fly with British Airways (whose prices are even more exorbitant than El Al’s).  We could also be daring and travel to Luton, bring our own sandwiches and travel between the two cities with EasyJet.  We could just as easily be really daring and break our journey in Istanbul and fly with Turkish Airways except for the fact I might say the wrong thing to the wrong person about the President of the Turkish Republic and end up in more trouble than I had bargained for. 

So we flew with El Al, as usual.  Other things besides, El Al’s flight is at a convenient time so that there’s no getting up on the middle of the night for a taxi to the airport.  It’s just a regular morning that gives you time to re-pack everything after you’d thought that it was all ready to go the night before—and then to add the odd few bits and pieces that have discovered lying about and which need to be taken back, too, or not as the case may be. But we do it anyhow.

An hour’s drive to Terminal 4, passing Grenfell Tower en route where there seemed to be activity that I hadn’t noticed a few days before — a crane, an exterior hoist with people going up and down.  Then, we arrive safely at the Terminal and the process of pre-boarding begins.  It’s no big deal and it’s relatively smooth but again, the questions about the mobility scooter that are asked each and every time.  How much does it weigh? (c. 29 kg all told); how much does the battery weigh? (c.3.5 kg); is it a Lithium battery?yes, that’s why it weighs 3.5 kg and not 8+); you have to take the battery on to the plane (yes, I’ve done this before, many times).  And then we wave goodbye to the cases and hope that we see them at the other end.

A couple of hours later, having successfully negotiated the cattle yard that is Heathrow Security (I’ve discovered that shoving anything I’d been carrying separately into the same piece of hand baggage prior to entering the cattle yard expedites matters, as does remembering where you put the laptop, the iPad, the phones, the Kindle.  I also learned a couple of years ago to my chagrin that a MacMini computer qualifies as a laptop even though it has no keyboard and no screen!) we enter another holding area to await boarding —this time a little longer than usual, as the incoming plane arrived an hour late.  

And then it’s on to the plane itself.  Now, for anybody to hasn’t had the pleasure of flying with El Al, it’s an experience, one that you get used to over time. There’s usually a rumpus over who has put hand baggage in a locker not directly over their seat (well, there are some advantages to travelling with a mobility aid, such as early boarding), an event repeated along the length of the aircraft.  Then, when everyone is finally seated (or you think they are but you’d be wrong) there are always a couple of gentlemen in frock coats and yarmulkas who discover to their acute displeasure that they have been allocated a seat beside a woman.  And that individual, perish the thought, might just be ritually impure (I leave the definition of that either to your learned knowledge or your fertile imagination), something that is so unclean as to be practically ineffable.  And so, we all wait until some generous souls offer to change their seats so that the plane can finally start taxiing and we get under way.


The truth is, that in the last few days in London, as fate would have it, I was being prepared for the return journey to you-know-where.  In the first instance, summer agreed to make a reprise appearance but it was more likely a coda.  For two days, we enjoyed sunshine and temperatures in the upper 20s Celsius so as to get us acclimatised for what would probably greet us in Tel Aviv.  

Then there was an incident that occurred last Friday as I was walking through Mayfair to meet my 31-year old niece who recently received a good degree in History from Birkbeck College.  As I am inclined to do, I walk along with my right index finger on the camera’s shutter button just in case, when I espied the two guys below.  I also noticed that the one on the right had what I immediately recognised as religious paraphernalia in his left hand.  

Yu Zhouish???.jpg

Now you have to understand that what I am about to describe took about two or three seconds in real time—no more.  I had already taken the photograph when, as we passed one another in the street, the bearded one said to me in what sounded like Israeli-accented English: “You Zhouish??”.  I don’t take very kindly of those who ask a cold question of people they have never met anything that pertains to religious adherence or sexual orientation.  Despite the fact that I may look Jewish (whatever that is supposed to mean) unless you’re carrying out a social survey, you don’t ask such questions unless you’ve explained the nature of the work you’re doing to the person concerned and they agree to answer and even then you have to be careful.  

Given that he was carrying a bag on his left arm, I assumed that the next question would likely have been one of two: (a) Have you laid tefillin this morning? (in other words, have you put on phylacteries? (they being a small leather box containing Hebrew texts on vellum that are worn by Jewish men at morning prayer as a reminder that they should observe Jewish law) or (b) We need someone to make up a minyan (a quorum of ten Jewish males over the age of 13 required for traditional Jewish public worship).  We need you, will you come?  

Either way, I was having none of it, so I looked at them and said “That’s really none of your business, is it?” and walked on.  Chutzpah, indeed, on my part — not to mention on theirs!  Two or three seconds, I said; might have been four or five.  Actually, as soon as I spoke, I knew that I was wrong but not for the reasons you might think.  For from their worldview, saving wayward Jews (their definition of waywardness may not actually tally with mine) from the evils of secularism, modernism and other evils is their business.  Of course, they might have been going to ask me if I knew a good Jewish joke or would like to hear the one about the Reform rabbi, the Buddhist monk and the Hindu guru, but somehow I doubt that.

After that little episode I spotted the woman below reading the parking suspension notice  with an expression on her face that said that it couldn’t possibly apply to her (or at least that’s how I read it). She looked and then looked again before walking away from her parked car.   However, when I looked at it, it did read that parking had been suspended.

Parking IS suspended

Following lunch with Hadassi in Fitzrovia, I headed back to Belsize Park on the Northern Line where, sitting opposite me, I managed to photograph the epitome of a Tube traveller experiencing pure Nirvana.  

Tube boredom

So, I was heading back to Israel, indeed.  Israel, the land of miracles!  On this trip, a supernatural phenomenon actually happened after we landed at Ben-Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv.  Clearing immigration, we found the baggage carousel for LY316 from London Heathrow with around 300 ratty travellers anxious to drag a suitcase weighing over 20 kg off the conveyor belt at first glimpse, hardly caring about the grievous bodily harm that might be done to other ratty travellers in the process. Then, wonder of wonders, the miracle happened.  

I had just parked the baggage trolley and left it under the watchful eye of my spouse of 51 years, when I turned around and spotted a couple of suitcases, separated from all the others, which I immediately recognised as OURS—AND THEY WERE TOGETHER!  Unheard of!  There’s a first time for everything, they say.  No hanging around for that wretched last piece of baggage to make its appearance. It was here, with its fellow suitcase, easily identified by the Trinity College Dublin bow-tie attached to its handle.  A few minutes later, we were in a taxi and on our way home.

When we left six weeks earlier, the section of the street on which we live was in some disarray as the water, drainage, sewage, electricity and lighting infrastructure was being replaced — a major undertaking.  The day before we left, I inquired as to the expected date of completion; the response I received was that they hoped that the work would be completed by the end of July.  So imagine my surprise when at the end of August the taxi attempted to make a right turn into the street only to find that it was still blocked.  The driver made a detour around the neighbourhood until we found the ingress and we were home.  The following morning, I made further inquiries re completion and the latest information is that the Municipality now hopes it will be done by mid-September.

However, there are signs that it might be coming to an end.  Up the street, about 100m away from the house on the other side of the north-south street, there are indications that the semblance of a road and footpath are taking shape.  Who knows what might happen next?

Shlomtzion, up the street

After the usual zombie day following my return to Israel, I returned to the Yarqon Park the next morning to survey the situation.  Not too much had changed — and why would it have after just 42 days away?

The first thing I saw on leaving the house was that the bike that has been chained to the signpost outside the gate for the past year and about which I had complained a few weeks before leaving after it had become abundantly clear that it had been abandoned by its owner was still in situ. I was informed at the time that it might take up to six weeks to remove but eight weeks have gone by and nada.  Something to do on Sunday morning, I guess.

Bike still there

About two years ago, stories were rife about the red palm weevil, an insect that kills palm trees and had infested private gardens and parks in Tel Aviv and elsewhere.  The Municipality decided to do battle with these little beasties in public spaces.  The beetle lays its eggs on palm leaves and the larvae burrow into the tree trunk and eat through to the crown and the best way to prevent the pest from spreading is by spraying the top of the tree where the palm fronds emerge from the trunk.  In the public spaces dealt with under the municipality’s aegis, infected trees were decapitated — actually cut down to knee height.  So yesterday, I noticed that while we were away, the stumps had been turned into flower pot stands.  Not quite Regent’s Park’s flower beds but a welcome sight nonetheless.

Yarqon Park—From beetles to flowers

On reaching the sea, I saw this piece of copper sculpture or maybe it’s bronze.  It looked sort of interesting and then I saw the notice above the dinosaur’s tail, which reads that the object is for sale.  I’m sure that the grandchildren would love it but I couldn’t figure out a way of getting it up the stairs (it wouldn’t fit in the elevator) without taking it apart.  And then I couldn’t be sure that it would be allowed to sit in the living room.

Dinosaur for sale

Other than that, things seemed quite normal. There are always one or two people in deep contemplation while looking out at the sea and others in equally deep introspection while staring at their cellphones.


We're all the same

And as I had found on Primrose Hill a few weeks ago when I spotted a pram specifically designed for wheeling a small canine around the park rather than have it exercise, I observed yet another novel way for taking a dog for a walk as I walked along Nordau Boulevard. (The dog seemed quite bored by it all whereas she, as is to be expected, was engaged in a conversation.)

Walking the dog

And as I crossed Ben-Yehuda Street, I snapped this scene, which is soooooo Israeli—the unshaven taxi driver, the earring, the earpiece so that he can have a phone conversation without the passengers having to hear the other side (how thoughtful!), the left-hand holding the cigarette so as not to disturb the passengers.  I was definitely back in Tel Aviv.


Soooo Israeli

Of course, the real reason for returning to Israel before September 1 was that the third of our grandchildren started school today (Friday). (She is 6, which is when kids in Israel start school; the Londoners started at 4+.)  As she’s already reading and writing, she’s ready for it and seemed happy enough setting off this morning.

Gali School 1

It actually reminded me of starting school in Downpatrick, County Down, 68 years ago.  What I remembered of that is that having been brought to school on the second day, I was reluctant to enter as I had been there the day before and nobody had explained to me that schooling is a lifetime experience.  A dozen years ago, I happened to be in Downpatrick again for the first time in over 40 years, en route from the Giants’ Causeway to Dublin and  I was curious to see the religious denomination of the school that I had attended for a year before (at which time, I assume that my mother presented my father with an ultimatum) moving to Dublin.  So it turned out that I would have been a Presbyterian Jew had I remained.

Stanley School

I capped my first full day back and our 51st wedding anniversary by watching the news on Israel Channel 1 television—a mistake if ever there was one.  I learned that on Monday, Israel’s Supreme Court had ruled that unlimited detention of asylum seekers may not be used in order to force deportation and that an asylum seeker’s consent to leave because of fear of internment is not true consent and cannot be used for deportation to a third country, in this case, Rwanda and Uganda. It also ruled that anyone refusing to leave voluntarily can be detained for no longer than 60 days.  In response, Prime Minister Netanyahu visited south Tel Aviv neighbourhoods where many asylum seekers live, the first such visit in years accompanied by a bevy of ministers, stating that: “We will return south Tel Aviv to the citizens of Israel; they are not refugees, but infiltrators looking for work …”If needed, we will amend the law or change the agreements with the African countries, or both.”  Wonderful news.  Our Prime Minister’s paranoias have come to full fruition in the past few months as he perceives himself to be surrounded by enemies (the print and broadcast media) who are out to bring him down.  His nationalist rhetoric has been bared of any semblance of trying to embrace those who disagree with him and because they disagree, they are tantamount to being turncoats.  Sound familiar?

I should have turned the TV off there and then but didn’t.  As a consequence, I was treated to a surreal interview between Geulah Evven, a highly experienced and very professional current affairs presenter and the current Minister of Education, Naftali Bennett, who is leader of the Jewish Home party, a far-right wing outfit to the right of Netanyahu’s Likud, to mark the eve of the new school year.  It wasn’t unusual for the Education Minister to be quizzed on educational matters.  It isn’t even unusual for the leader of a coalition party to be asked questions about the behaviour of the Prime Minister, in this case Netanyahu’s crass remarks about the press and other things at a Likud party rally the night before.  What made the interview so bizarre was that Ms. Evven is married to a man who had formerly been Education Minister and who, after having resigned from government a couple of years ago following a disagreement with Netanyahu, sees himself and is seen by many others as a contender for leadership of Likud if and when the incumbent goes or is forced to go.

At this point, I elected to switch over to Mezzo and listen to some music, the first decent decision of the evening.