Well, it’s over. Or, more correctly, it’s almost over. They’ve gone. They vanished some time last Thursday afternoon. I’m referring to the men who, like it or not, have been a part of the street scene for the past 14 months.
Shlomtzion HaMalkah (Queen Salome Alexandra) Street is an east-west street in North Tel Aviv that runs for 550 metres between Miriam HaHashmonait (Miriam the Hasmonean) Street in the west, near the main Ibn Gvirol drag and Weizmann Street at its eastern end, just south of the Yarqon stream, that stretch of slowly moving water that purports to be a river. There are five streets that abut it running north-south, one of which, Brandeis Street, cuts it. We live on the corner of one of these streets and have been close-up witnesses to most of the goings-on.
These street people have been around for the past year because Tel Aviv Municipality had decided that the time was ripe to upgrade and/or replace the infrastructure—drainage, sewage, water supply, electricity. And they’ve finally gone—no more loud voices starting at 7 in the morning and going on until the afternoon. No more tractors and bulldozers and diggers. No more being penned in. Yet although they’ve gone, the work is not quite finished because the Israel Electric Corporation has been working seemingly out of sync with the Municipality, and the former has responsibility for electricity cables and street lighting. In addition, they are supposed to remove overhead cables and put them underground, which they’ve done at the extremities of the street but not along our stretch—yet. Estimates (i.e., guesses) as to when this might happen range from “in coming weeks” through “in the coming months” to “some time in the next five years”. And this morning, there were still two gentlemen at the far end of the street finishing work on a footpath.
But to all intents and purposes, they’ve gone—almost completely vanished. Off to drive other people crazy in a different part of this city or another one.
The work has taken 14½ months because in addition to working for about eight hours a day, they have not worked on the two sabbath days (Muslim Fridays and Jewish Saturdays). Nor did they work on Jewish and Muslim holy days. I suppose that, theoretically, had they worked 24/7, the work could have been completed by last summer but had they done so, no doubt angry letters from neighbours would have been received at City Hall, so you can’t win.
The last time we experienced something like this was about 15 years ago when we were living in a flat in a late-19th century mansion block in Belsize Park in Inner Northwest London and the brickwork on the exterior walls needed repointing. That meant scaffolding along the front of the building the length of the street. Drawing the curtains in the living room in the morning meant waving to men walking backwards and forwards across the window speaking variants of English in mostly Central European accents—as well as in the mother-tongues themselves. I suppose that after Brexit, the scaffolding will be occupied by men speaking English in equally incomprehensible Cockney, Patter, Scouse, or worse still, Geordie—but at least true Brits.
Here, in Tel Aviv, the work started at the western end of the street and was completed in three sections. I didn’t pay much attention at first because we rarely use that end of the street. I looked at the noticeboard in mid-January 2017 and thought to myself that the end product, obviously modelled on some computer monitor somewhere within the Municipality building looked like quite an improvement and was to be welcomed. (Ominously, here was no estimate of a completion date on the board—that appeared later and was subsequently altered more than once.) Innocence, such innocence, for I had not the slightest inkling as to quite what was in store for us.
I didn’t pass that way for another three months by which time the first section was nearing completion so I had no idea what had gone on between mid-January and the end of April. Obviously, as the image below illustrates, it really wasn’t terribly interesting. What I did notice was that there were several parking places along Miriam HaHashmonait Street perpendicular to Shlomtzion Street which had been designated for disabled parking that hadn’t been there before so I assumed that that had something to do with the roadworks, prompting a call to the Municipality to inquire how to go about ensuring that such was available when they got as far as out stretch of the street.
At the start of May, the Municipality notified us that work on our section of the street, the shortest of the three, would start on May 29. A week before the due date, we left for a fortnight in the UK, little comprehending what was about to befall us. And a few days before our return, the well-meaning neighbour who lives directly across the street from us thought that a picture of the situation would put us in the right frame of mind to deal with things on our return.
Throughout June and the first half of July, the street was hollowed out. Sewage and drainage channels were dug; pipes were laid; the dust was unbelievable and the noise from men and machinery constant and persistent. And then we left for six weeks in mid-July only to return at the end of August to find that the scene as viewed from the living room seemed to be very similar to what we had been able to observe six weeks earlier.
However, a week later, something seemed to be taking shape. What looked to be the edges of a footpath and a street route was appearing out of the mess just 3½ months after the work had started. Wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles.
Yes, indeed. It seemed to be true. Work was concluding and the noise would move up the street in an eastward direction shortly.
Neighbours were overjoyed but their joyousness was arrived at by a combination of overenthusiasm, overoptimism and innocence.
Now, we’re a corner house and we were to learn that notwithstanding the fact that the surface map shows two streets, the subterranean map indicated that about 50 meters of our north-south street adjoining Shlomtzion was actually one and the same and that that, too, needed to be excavated and filled in. So we lost our prized parking spot and had to behave for a little over a week like the rest of the neighbours and drive about to find somewhere to park the automobile. Moreover, neighbours on this small quiet street came out to gaze in wonderment at what was happening.
One neighbour who had just moved into the street after a year and a half of work on the house they had recently acquired found on this quiet urban street a large digger at work outside her gate, with men emerging from but a manhole! Well where else would men have emerged from? You tell me!
A couple of months later, the same neighbour posted notices on the lampposts around the area that her pet cat, Mitzi, had gone missing and as she was new to the neighbourhood, she might have been—well—well and truly lost. Being me, I couldn’t contain the bright flare of cynicism that flashed into my mind with the macabre thought that the hapless Mitzi might have unfortunately dropped into one of the many manholes along the street and was caterwauling her way through the sewers of North Tel Aviv in search of her comfortable basket in her comfortable home.
Throughout this temporary occupation, we became used to exchanging pleasantries with the workers and with the older lads employed as “guards”. (It turned out that we are older than these older lads by a few years.)
The job of the guards, apparently, was to move barriers and such like when required and to ensure that nobody fell into a hole or ditch, a task for which they were not always entirely successful. They ate and drank on site, day after day. None of them spoke much Hebrew and it’s over 50 years since I spoke any Russian. However, the smoked a lot of cigarettes and did get through a large number of word games in Russian over the year they were with us. I discovered the location of a single portaloo (chemical toilet) that served the whole team in the corner of a public parking lot but I’m not sure they would have wanted to have been in hurry had they needed to use it quickly!
The temp below was parked for a few days outside our gate onto Stricker Street and his main claim to fame and to being mentioned at all in this story is that he announced to me that it was forbidden to photograph the work (not that he didn’t want me to photograph him but that photography was forbidden—proscribed). So I took abundant pleasure in telling him that I heartily disagreed with his take on things.
By the end of November, things seemed to be progressing, but slowly.
And then, at the end of December and early January in what has been an unusually warm and dry winter, the rains came, making us nostalgic for the dust.
By mid-January, the Electric Corporation had arrived on the scene again to prepare the groundwork for subterranean cables.
… and work continued for another few weeks until the eclectic Israeli Electric Corporation arrived again last week to install new street lights and remove the old ones. We were beginning to feel once more that the end was nigh but having been disappointed before, my hopes weren’t raised too high.
It seemed like things might end before the Passover holiday at the end of the month and then it seemed as if it might drag on until later. Then, on Wednesday afternoon, there was a flurry of activity in the street just below the living room window, the likes of which hadn’t been experienced all year.
And by Wednesday evening, it seemed to be all over bar the shouting.
By Thursday morning, all that remained on the street was one digger and the barriers but it was devoid of working men.
And by Friday morning, it seems as if one of the neighbours had agreed that the work was over as he could now park again on the (newly laid) footpaths.
Returning from my morning walk on Friday morning along Stricker Street, I couldn’t help looking at the new street signs that had been put up. From where I was standing, traffic is one-way towards me (i.e., they come from Shlomtzion Street, i.e., from the left). Shlomtzion is one-way along its entire length, as is indicated by the arrow to the right of the picture. Yet, the Municipality workers who had turned up to erect the new street signs placed two no entry signs on either side of the corner of the two streets. To what purpose? Perhaps they are bespoke signs requested by the four neighbours in the house looking towards us. Hardly likely, as they have been here at least as long as us and longer and know that they have no right turn out of their car park. A mystery, indeed.
On Friday afternoon, we were able to drive the length of Shlomtzion Street for the first time in nearly a year and a quarter—only to turn right and run into the roadworks on Weizmann Street. What a surprise!
As I said at the outset, the work is nearly done. There contractor didn’t underwrite a street party so that the neighbours could celebrate together, which was hardly a surprise. So we now await the return of the Eclectic Corporation to wire us up to the underground cables they’ve laid, ridding us of the unsightly overhead wires. Then, and only then, will the street receive its permanent asphalt surface.
I only hope they manage to do it before the infrastructure needs changing again. As the inimitable Henry Hall of BBC Dance Band fame of the 1930s might have said:
Here’s to the next time
And a merry meeting;
Here’s to the next time,
We send you all our greeting.
Set it to music,
Sing it to rhyme;
Now, all together,
Here’s to the next time!