14½ Months in the Life of a Street

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.

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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.

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The dateless announcement

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.

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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.

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The windows of our flat from across the street

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On our return to Tel Aviv.  June 2017

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The following day.  The scene from the living room window

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At least we had somewhere to put the car, which is more than most of the neighbours

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The mid-section of Shlomtzion Hamalkah Street, looking westward

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.

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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.

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Yes, indeed.  It seemed to be true.  Work was concluding and the noise would move  up the street in an eastward direction shortly.

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Neighbours were overjoyed but their joyousness was arrived at by a combination of overenthusiasm, overoptimism and innocence. 

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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.

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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!

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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.)

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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!

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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.


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By the end of November, things seemed to be progressing, but slowly.

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From #32 Shlomtzion HaMalkah Street, looking east

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.

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By mid-January, the Electric Corporation had arrived on the scene again to prepare the groundwork for subterranean cables.

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… 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.

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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.

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And by Wednesday evening, it seemed to be all over bar the shouting.

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By Thursday morning, all that remained on the street was one digger and the barriers but it was devoid of working men.

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Shlomtzion HaMalkah Street, looking westward from Weizmann Street

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.

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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.

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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!


Cats among the pigeons

“To throw [put; set] the cat among the pigeons” is a British idiom to describe a disturbance usually caused by revealing a controversial fact or secret” or to do something suddenly or unexpectedly which leaves the people worried or angry.  Ostensibly, its origins referred to a likely disturbance created by putting a cat inside a dovecot, brought about by the cat’s tendency to hunt and kill the birds, which is only made easier by their close proximity.  Today, it’s often used when someone says or does something that causes trouble or makes many people extremely angry.  More often, they do this by saying something that is true such as “Look at how much space the elephant is taking up in the room” or “The king has no clothes”.  You all know what I mean. Someone emerges from a meeting at which the details are supposed to be confidential and decides to tell the world the truth.  A person turns state’s evidence and incriminates people who previously thought they were above scrutiny.

At any rate, a few weeks ago, while walking to one of my favourite places, the dentist’s surgery, I thought I spotted several cats and pigeons in a park just a little way off the street and on entering, I saw that that was, indeed, the case.  However, I had no camera with me, I was already late and the camera on the phone didn’t do the scene justice so I just forgot about it—until the next visit to the dentist, that is.  As I needed to visit the post office en route to the dreaded chair (a visit to the post office in the morning might involve a 20-30 minute wait but then again, it might also go more quickly), I thought I might have some time to kill before the appointment this time, so this time, I took the camera with me.  As it happens, the post office business was over in under 5 minutes so I went into the park and witnessed a scene that is obviously not supposed to happen.  Here, chaos was not reigning.  Although the cats were set amongst the pigeons or the pigeons had been set among the cats, here they were, cats and pigeons, sharing not only their space but their food as well, in perfect harmony.  This, of course, is just something you’d expect from these peace-loving avian and feline citizens in this absolutely peaceful and harmonious part of the world in which I live.

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Love your neighbour as yourself

Pigeons and Cats

“Live and let live”, we say.


One day last week, walking down Nordau Boulevard in North Tel Aviv, I came across this woman doing nothing that seemed to be particularly unusual.  She was just standing between two parked cars while making herself sufficiently visible to a taxi driver who might be passing.  But no, there was something peculiar about where she was standing and how she was occupying the space and it turned out that she wasn’t interested in taxis at all and that I was mistakenly attributing innocence to her.  For such is the parking problem in this part of the world that was simply keeping the space she’d spotted for her husband (presumably) who had had to do a U-turn in order to park his car in the available space.


“I’m down here”, she instructs via telephone

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Mission accomplished—time to take a break.



A little but further down the street, I was reminded that although Tel Aviv is a future-oriented city, there’s still a lot of nostalgia about and the advertisement on the shared sherut taxi was evoking teenage memories from half a century ago.  It also prompted me to ask myself whether I should take my 5½ year old granddaughter to hear this 78-year old man who speaks English in an almost totally incomprehensible Liverpudlian accent perform next June and help her decide whether or not she really wants a drum set for her 6th birthday next September.  Then when prompted, I promptly decided “No” on both counts. 

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And while on the subject of music, it’s been a busy week.  We started off with one daughter in the Israel Chamber Project performing Janácek and Brahms and ended up with the other in the Carmel Quartet playing Bartók 5 and Beethoven Op. 135.

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Israel Chamber Project, Brahms Sextet #2 (Rehearsal, Israel Conservatory, Tel Aviv)


Carmel Quartet, Bartók String Quartet #5.  (Israel Conservatory, Tel Aviv)


In the middle of last week, going to visit a friend, I got off the bus on King George Street (at the stop directly across the street from Likud headquarters which always seems deserted), I was confronted with the following view.  So what does one do when one has a camera to hand?  Why — you record the image of course.  There’s nothing particularly deep about the picture and it certainly has nothing to do with the people who work in the building across the road; it just reminded me of the inverse of many of the dance troupes that used to appear in theatres and on TV when I was young[er]. 

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Inverted Royalettes


The park and port supplied their usual quota of images this week. Exiting the market I came across this Friday morning regular, sniffing the flowers.  Normally, it’s in the company of a human as it noses at the vegetables but this time, it seemed to be on its own but nevertheless knew exactly where it was headed, probably to meet its human companions for a coffee and croissant somewhere close by.

Friday black dog

It’s a rather large dog, so large in fact, than one can envisage young children in its back pretending that it’s a pony.  Not so the canine (I assumed that it was a canine and not some sort of juvenile marsupial) below, which I caught on the phone camera just as we were returning home from the park the other day.  However, the owner didn’t seem at all amused when, having taken the photograph, I asked her if the beastie was genuine.

Tiny dog


And while on the subject of a dog’s life, I couldn’t quite make out what this couple were doing.  The dog looks as bored as hell; its owner, I can only assume, was trying to read  in the bright light what had appeared the tiny screen of her mobile phone (an assumption born of the simple fact that that’s what half the population seems to be doing at any given time).

A dog's life


Nor, for that matter, could I quite figure out what the couple below were busy at.  All I could think at the time I clicked the shutter button was “OMG!  That’s really not a particularly pretty sight”.



The Friday morning Farmers’ Market, always colourful, was even more vibrant than usual this week for some reason.

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Goats’ cheeses on display for tasting and purchase

Yummy yeast buns

Yummy yeast buns (my dietician disapproves heartily)


And at the olive seller’s, there were these olives, a type not often seen in Israel.  The bright green colour is simply stupendous, making them stand out immediately from everything else on sale.  They’re often described as dolce and come from Castelvetrano in western Sicily, from the olive variety nocerella del belice. In addition to their vivid colour, they have a buttery flesh and a mild flavour and apparently go well with sheep’s milk cheese and a crisp white wine.


Sicilian dates

Foaming at the mouth

I’m just dying to taste them;  just pop a few straight in!



Coming back from the dentist with whom I started this post, I came across these two items placed on the footpath and thought that it reminded me of how fleeting time is.  The grandchildren are now aged from almost 8 to 5½, and it seems like they were born only yesterday.  Tempus fugit, indeed!

Grown up too fast


Work on our street continues at its own leisurely pace.  Last week was the turn of the Israel Electric Corporation to put in place the cables and lampposts for new street lighting thereby holding up work on the footpaths and street surfacing that had been going along quite nicely up to that point.  Walking up the street one day last week, I encountered the contractor for this street work, a person who puts in an occasional appearance.  I asked him in my best unaccented Hebrew whether he and his team would be gone by the end of the month and he answered—as is the wont of those who somehow detect what is called here an “Anglo-Saxon” accent (if only they had any idea of who the Anglo-Saxons were they might not use the term)—in English: “Maybe — and maybe not”.  Wonderful news, indeed.

Just before I conclude this totally apolitical, rather humdrum and anodyne post, which contains mostly mundane pictures, this guy passed me by yesterday afternoon.  As soon as I saw him in the distance, a caption came to mind.  Purim, the Jewish holiday on which, among other things, some people tog out in fancy dress, started and ended over a fortnight ago.  And if he’d been thinking of dying his hair for St. Patrick’s Day, then he was a day late and anyway it seemed obvious—to me, at least—that he can’t distinguish blue from green because the colour should have resembled the Castelvetrano olives!

Bright blue


Oh, I started with pigeons so I’ll end with a crow.  Coming out of the park, I came across this snotty show-off bird that looked all for the world as if it were about to hijack a bicycle.  He (but not knowing much about the anatomy of crows, it could just as well have been a she) really looked as if he was serious about riding it off into the sunset…or wherever.

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Mind you, exiting the pigeon-cat park, I was reminded that cats in Tel Aviv seem to get on quite well with birds, as this photo from a few years ago, which has appeared here before, beautifully illustrates.

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Peaceful Coexistence


Finally, I spent last Wednesday cutting up over 300 images of fire hydrants so that I could lay them all out on a table in order to ascertain which “faces” might go with which other “faces”.  (I know, it’s extremely low-tech but it used to work with paragraphs in academic papers, so why not with images, too?).

One of the hazards of photographing hydrants is that not only do you identify “faces” in hydrant population but you start seeing faces in all sorts of inanimate objects wherever you look.  

Anyway, I had all these images arranged into little piles according to category and decided I’d better try stapling them together to stop them getting mixed up again when the stapler jammed.  I turned the stapler upside down to attempt to remove the recalcitrant piece of wire and took off my glasses to help me see what I was doing.  And guess who I found grinning at me?

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Penknives, photos and Enlightenment

The other day, my daughter-in-law posted the following on Facebook: 

“How is a boy supposed to make himself a bow and arrow, complete with sharpened point and feathers on the shaft, without a decent penknife?  My 7 year old, desperate for his first proper penknife to build dens with, suddenly has a change of heart when he is told at school that the police will arrest him if he has a penknife.  A penknife is a tool. To build dens, to carve wood, to cut string and to build bows and arrows. Just as my parents gave me, I can’t wait to give my son his first tool for the outdoors.”

There were one or two comments to the post before I decided to write something, a something that, as it happens, was misinterpreted by both the poster and her husband (my son) and for which I was reprimanded online and verbally by both parents.

So, the following day, I decided that an explanation was in order and I wrote as follows:

“I posted a comment yesterday, which [was] removed because [its content was misunderstood]. So let me clarify so that there be no further misunderstandings. I think that there might have been some misinterpretation yesterday (re penknives, etc.).  My comment about AK-47s and M-16s wasn’t flippant. The reason I commented at all was because I thought that a society that considers that a 7-year old using a penknife under parental supervision might be a threat to society must be irrational. The fact that [my grandson] might have heard that he could be arrested for possessing a penknife only underlines the absurdity — and if he heard it from a friend at school who possibly heard it from a parent, then that only underscores the absurdity. It’s the nanny-state gone mad.

I contrasted it with a different—and considerably more dangerous—absurdity in that there is a country somewhere in the world where providing an 8-year old with a firearm is considered by many citizens there to be simply providing him or her with what the Constitution permits him by right.  And this the same country in which the same sort of people suggest that the “solution” to school pupils slaughtering their colleagues is to require teachers to come to class armed. That’s totally inane and insane.”

Sometimes, I think that the world has gone completely mad.  Yes, there are gangs and there are knives that are used to maim and kill.  But we are talking about an almost 8-year old whose parents are teaching him (and his sister) to appreciate the outdoors.  This is a child who, almost a year ago, when asked what he would like as a gift for his 7th birthday, responded with a request to climb Mount Snowdon, which they did as a family the following month. (They subsequently climbed it again, in the snow and ice, last month.)  If this isn’t just the sort of thing that parents are supposed to do, then what is?

Tal & Maya

This year, he asked for a Swiss Army penknife to use on camping trips, under parental supervision.  He had chosen the model he said would like and his parents and two sets of grandparents agreed to split the cost three ways.  He was so excited about the prospect  that he’s been chattering about it for months.  And then he’s told at school that the police could arrest him for being an inquisitive and productive 8-year old, so much so that he was afraid to bring the implement of his choice into his possession even though he really wanted it.

I find it interesting how people misread, misinterpret or just plain ignore laws and guidelines and turn the environment in which we live into a Land of Don’ts without understanding what they’re doing and saying.  

It reminds me of an incident a couple of years ago in which I photographed two teenagers sitting opposite me on the London Underground, one of whom kept glancing to his right at an overexposed (not in the photographic sense) and well-endowed young woman who was, to state it quite simply, enjoying herself by egging him on.  The photo was taken in a public space (public transport being, by definition, a public space).  Within an hour of posting, someone had written to me:

“[I d]on’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!” 

Taken quite aback, I contacted a privacy lawyer I have known for 18,845 days (i.e.. since his birth) who responded:

“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 approximately 0%. They also don’t have the time or funds and it would never be investigated. It isn’t really a police matter in the first place.

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.  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.”

So I breathed a little more easily again.  But, as it is with photographs so it is with penknives.  There are laws and regulations and practices about lots of things about which most people—including myself—are ignorant in the sense that we don’t know or  about which we have some sort of preconceived notion as to what it should be and behave accordingly.  

In simple words, if used wisely and sensibly, things that could be or could become dangerous are nothing of the sort.  But that doesn’t stop people thinking that they know.  (In this regard, I’m reading Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, which sort of puts things in perspective and makes you feel that the world, with all its faults, is a better place to live in now that it was in the past.)


And now the mundane matters of the past week.  I bit my tongue very hard and decided to refrain from making any comments about the antics of Israel’s Prime Minister who was on an officially sanctioned vacation that segregate him and his worries at home.  Sort of reminded me of a quote attributed to Winston Churchill, in which he described the leader of the Labour Party, Clement Attlee, his deputy in the wartime government and who subsequently defeated him in the first post-war General Election in 1945, as “a modest little man, who has much to be modest about”.  Bibi, with all his bluster, must be a worried man, who has a lot to be worried about.

Churchill, alongside George Bernard Shaw and a few others, competes for pole position in the pantheon of quotes, especially put-downs.  One of my favourites is when a man named William Paling, an opposition Labour Member of Parliament, called him a “dirty dog,” Churchill is reported to have responded: “May I remind the honourable member what dogs, dirty or otherwise, do to palings?”.  (For those of you unfamiliar with the word, a paling is defined as a fence made from pointed wooden or metal posts.)

This, in turn, prompted me to think that dogs also do the same sort of things to hydrants, as exemplified in the photograph below.  (I would add, especially for those of you reading this who are not native English speakers, that the caption should be read with the English language in mind—accent doesn’t matter—for Dutch, Flemish, German or Israeli Hebrew won’t do it.  And then, when you’ve read it, you might need to read it again, aloud, and then think about it for a moment or two before the meaning sinks in.)


Inside a hydrant: H2O — Outside a hydrant: K9P


Meanwhile, spring is in the air in Tel Aviv.  The trees and flowers are reminding us of this and there have been several days already when the temperature has climbed into the mid-20s Centigrade.  And the cormorants seem to have abandoned their perches on top of the eucalyptus trees along the river where they have been ensconced since last November and left them to the stewardship of a solitary crow from which roost it can choose the victims to aim for more clearly.  It’s early this year and some might yet return for a short stay but it’s a good indicator that winter is almost over.

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Spring is here and the herons, gulls and crows along with other avian creatures are out and about in the parks enjoying the good weather.

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However, not everybody is convinced that it’s springtime. 

25ºC in the shade!

 08.00 hrs and it’s already 25ºC—but in Moscow, it’s winter…and that’s all that matters 

Not far from where the woman above was asking for money (yes!!!), and I’m crossing Ibn Gvirol Street at the junction with Nordau Boulevard.  This young woman found herself to be in an awkward position in that I had my camera at the ready and she had, literally, nowhere to go in order to avoid being caught.  So she made the most of things by smiling for the camera (not everyone does).  Actually, what attracted me was not only the face and the smile, which came after I had pointed the camera, but the gear that comes with the Vespa.  Not so much the leather jacket and the crash helmet but the mobile phone holder, which presumably held a mobile phone with a hidden bluetooth-connected earpiece so that not a single call is missed — unlike yours truly who carries the phone in his pocket and invariably misses at least one call on each outing.

@ a pedestrian crossing

You got me!

When I’m out walking, consciously or otherwise, I’m on the lookout for something interesting and in this case, the wall sign suggested that perhaps the financial crash was not yet over.

Financial crash

Financial crash


Then, on Thursday morning, I encountered one of those things that affects me in two ways.  

Cruelty 1

Oh where, oh where, has my automobile gone?

On the one hand, the offending car had been parked where parking was prohibited thereby blocking the flow of traffic.  On the other hand, I sympathised with the feelings of the car’s owner who had left it there, probably the evening prior, only to discover when s/he turned up to drive off to wherever that getting to wherever was going to take a little longer than s/he had anticipated.  

It reminded me of a situation many years ago in London when I went to a theatre in the West End with my sister-in-law and she had decided to drive into town.  She parked her car in a spot that was clearly marked as No Parking and when I pointed this out to her, her response was something along the lines of “They don’t bother with things like that in the evenings”.  

Two hours later, on emerging—no car.  We ask someone what we should do and we are told that there’s a police station at Marble Arch underground car park that will locate the whereabouts of the missing vehicle (pre-mobile phone and Internet days).  Taxi to Marble Arch.  Walk down a long, long ramp. Locate the police desk. One man with one computer.  “Your car”, he tells us “is located in a car pound somewhere behind King’s Cross Station.”  Another taxi.  We locate the place where stray automobiles are put. There are tens, possibly hundreds, of cars that had been illegally parked around town now sequestered within this eerily floodlit compound.  And it’s at this stage in the proceedings that we become members of a bizarre group, united by a surreal camaraderie.  Each group member is vocally conveying a willingness to part with £75 (or whatever the amount was and it wasn’t inconsiderable) as rapidly as possible—and definitely before the keepers of the pound decide to close it for the night—in order to avoid the necessity of having to return the following day and restart the process of releasing the miserable jalopy.

And, inevitably, to end up … work on the street continues at its own leisurely pace.  This week and last, footpaths are being laid on the last section of the street, brick by brick.    The Israel Electric Corporation still has to turn up to install street lighting and the contractor still has to lay the permanent surface along the whole length of the street, which should really be fun when the attempt is made to clear the street of automobiles!    We will soon have completed 15 months of upheaval, 10 of those outside our living room.  By my reckoning—and it’s been my reckoning all along—they might be finished in time for the Passover holiday that arrives at the end of this month.  We’ll see.  And if and when it does eventually end, I shall post a pictorial chronicle of the disruption. 

Getting there


Running, partying and ageing rock stars

Every now and then someone reacts to something I’ve written or a picture I’ve shown in a post on this blog.  Some write to me by email, others leave a comment.  Some make serious comments; others write one-liners containing just a single word; others still make “smart” remarks.   I even have one reader who comments regularly on almost each and every post; his comments are always apposite and he often suggests softly but firmly that I should  read or otherwise get hold of material relevant to something I’ve written and which usually augments my meagre knowledge of many of the things I write about and for which I am truly grateful. 

So it was that the other day my dear wife was on the phone (Really? you might well ask) to an old friend who, towards the conclusion of their heart-to-heart, asked to speak with me. So I took the receiver and it turns out, somewhat to my surprise, that she’s a regular reader of this blog and has been meaning to call me for ages to tell me how much she enjoys it.  What she actually said was that she  looks forward to each post, waits for it in great anticipation (I can just visualise her searching daily through her congested Inbox, looking for the magic email address) and then when she clicks the link, she reads it and re-reads it until her iPad battery runs down or whatever and waits for the next one to arrive. Or something like that.

Well! Talk about surprises. Those few minutes in which I hardly uttered a single word truly made my day so much so that I felt somewhat like I imagine an ageing rock star feels when surrounded by once-upon-a-time-way-back-then teenagers who have turned up at his farewell concert and scream themselves hoarse (that is, if the cigarette smoke, booze and just ageing haven’t already accomplished that in the intervening years).  Talk about an inflated ego!  


One inflated ego


Well, rock star I never was, nor had I any desire to be — but ageing, yes.  And aged?  Well, there are some days when I no longer feel like I’m 40-something.  

Screen Shot 2018-03-03 at 22.36.03.png

Anyway, with all that excitement to finish the week off, I’d almost forgotten that Tel Aviv celebrated two festivals during the past week.  Both can be classified as minor festivals—but each for an entirely different reason.  So I record each of these, after this short break for the usual crop of park avian images.

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The first of these mini-festivals occurred on the last Friday of February and is known as the Tel Aviv Marathon. For most of the almost 40,000 runners who participated, it’s not a race but just a day of fun.   Sponsored by Samsung, the company that advertises its Smartphone as something more than you actually need, it consists of a series of runs,  including a full marathon, a half marathon, a 10km and a 5km run, in addition to a 42km hand-cycle race for paraplegics (or as they are euphemistically referred to: “people with special needs”.  The day is described as “full of action, with participants seeing some of the greatest sites in the city.”  The hype would have it that it’s the biggest sporting event in Israel.

The hype also tells us that price (sic) (prize) for any runner who breaks the marathon record of 2:07:59 is $40,000.  Actually, as far as I could ascertain, the men’s course record is 2:10:30, set in the 2015 race by William Yegon of Kenya and the course record for an Israeli man is 2:27:25, set in 2017 edition by one, Marhu Teferi.  (The world record for a marathon is 2:02:57, set by Dennis Kimetto of Kenya on September 28, 2014, at the Berlin Marathon.)

I know I’m a stick-in-the-mud, but the T-A Marathon is just one of several annual events—the round-the-city bicycle ride (see Post #125 from last October), the Night Run in June being others) when the streets are closed from the day before the event until after it’s over.  Too bad if you need to go shopping, see the doctor, or have a cab pick you up to bring you to the airport, something which happened us some years ago during the bicycle run (we actually made it, thanks to a taxi driver who took it upon himself to remove the police barriers).  The instructions from the Municipality are to turn on Waze to find out how to get from A to Z (or from א to ת, to be more precise).  Waze is supposed to be updated daily to take into consideration all kinds of traffic irregularities but I’m not sure if it works for pedestrians, too.  


A run for all, ages 1 — 100.  Ibn Gvirol Street, Tel Aviv Marathon, 2018

However, the marathon is small stuff. The real day of traffic über-upheaval in this city is, believe it nor not, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, for many Jews, the holiest day of the year.  Not so, alas, for seculars in Tel Aviv.  This is a day on which the Municipality doesn’t close off any streets and on which, in theory, all streets are open to traffic.  However, it is a day on which children of all ages, including those who are parents and grandparents, seems to interpret as a day on which bicycles can be ridden anywhere.  And anywhere means not just in parks or on quiet side streets—or on the footpaths as on any normal day—but on main roads, including freeways.  Were you, for whatever reason, to venture out in a car on Yom Kippur onto the streets of Tel Aviv, you would run a very grave risk of being stoned (in the literal, rather than the addictive, sense) not by some religious people angry at the desecration of the holiness of the day (they appear to have become inured to profanation and sacrilege of this kind) but by wrathful seculars, angry over the violation of their day of fun.  Weird — but there you have it.  

The second minor festival to hit us this week was Purim, which is defined by my online dictionary as “a lesser Jewish festival held in spring on the 14th day of [the Hebrew month of Adar (or on the 15th if you happen to live in a city that was a walled city 2,500 years ago and are aware of this curiosity.  In Israel, it seems to last a whole week or more but that’s another story.) It commemorates the defeat of a plot to massacre the Jews as recorded in the book of Esther” … from the Hebrew, the plural form of pūr, explained in the Book of Esther (3:7, 9:24) as meaning a lot’ (as in a person’s luck or destiny in life).  The allusion is to the casting of lots by one Haman, (the Evil), the main antagonist in the Book of Esther and who was for a time the favoured vizier of King Ahashuerus, a.k.a. Xerxes I, of the Persian Empire, in regards the day to be chosen for this intended massacre.  

Purim is probably my favourite festival in the Jewish calendar and for several reasons.  First of all, the deity is not mentioned in the Book of Esther.  In fact, He doesn’t even get a look in.  Second, it’s a Jewish success story, of which in the long history of the Jewish people there haven’t been many.  Third, unlike most Jewish festivals, there are no restrictions as to what you can do—you can eat and drink, sleep or travel, make merry, &c., &c., without being reprimanded by the agents of the Almighty on Earth for having transgressed.  Fourth, there is a particularly unJewish custom of being encouraged to consume alcohol on Purim, the source of which is in a passage from the Talmudic tractate Megillah (7b) in which one Abba ben Joseph bar Ḥama—usually referred to as Rava who lived in Babylonia, (c. 280 – 352 CE) stated:  “A person is obligated to drink on Purim until he does not know the difference between “cursed be Haman” and “blessed be Mordechai.”   Although the rabbis differ over the implementation of this practicepossibly on whether it should be carried out under the influence of whiskey or gin, the concept of becoming intoxicated on Purim is legitimate under Jewish legal precedent.  So sláinte and cheers to Rava for taking such a liberal attitude to the one of life’s pleasantries.

The Book of Esther, which is read twice in synagogues on Purim, is a relatively simple story.  King Ahashuerus has been showing off his wealth to all the high and mighty males in his kingdom and holds a feast at the end of this period of pretentiousness and display.  On the seventh day of eating and drinking, he commands his queen—Vashti—in pure Harvey Weinstein style—to appear before one and all, wearing just her crown, i.e. starkers.  Vashti, a proto-feminist, says to her old man in classical Persian: “Screw You”, whereupon his principal adviser suggests he rid himself of such an impertinent vixen lest she encourage other women to say no to their husbands, too.  Deed done, the king feels lonely and within a short time, seems to be in need of a female body close by him.

So the king orders a beauty contest, bringing virgins from all the 127 provinces in the kingdom, dips them in oil and perfume for a year and parades them up and down in order to choose a new queen—which reminds me that the 45th President of the United States once owned the Miss Universe Beauty Pageant.  Mordechai, as assimilated Jew (read: Marduk) who is close to the king, has brought up an orphaned relative (cousin / niece / daughter / wife???) called Hadassah, whose assimilated name is Esther (read: Astarte).  Contract the year into a single sentence and king falls for Esther who becomes Queen. While close to the king, Mordechai discovered a plot to assassinate the king but because of his alertness, the plot failed and this was duly recorded in the royal chronicle.

Now, Mordechai discovers a dangerous rival—Haman the Agagite—and the king has decreed that all should kowtow to Haman—or whatever the Persian equivalent of kowtowing was.  Mordi refused and Haman took über-umbrage and decided that a proto-Holocaust was in order.  Getting wind of this, Mordechai the politician-statesman sets his operative (cousin / niece / daughter / wife???) to work.  Queen Esther enters the king’s quarters uninvited and requests the company of both the king and Haman to a kaffeeklatsch at her place.  King says “yes” and Haman is overjoyed that she has paid attention to him, too.  

Meanwhile, the king is an insomniac and there being no 24/7 news channels in those days has his people read from his diary whereupon he discovers that Mordechai has saved his life but has not been rewarded.  Just after this, Haman appears to ask the King’s permission to hang Mordechai but—bad timing, I mean really bad timing—before he manages this, the king asks him what should be done for the man that the King wishes to honour.  Not being a modest man and thereby assuming that he is to be the honouree, he recommends that the man be dressed in the King’s robes and led around on the King’s horse, with a herald screaming “Oyez, Oyez! See how the King honours a man he wishes to reward!”.  

However, to his horror, the King instructs Haman to honour Mordechai. Haman suddenly feels extremely queasy and in short, they go to Esther’s party—whereupon the queen reveals her Jewishness and spills all the coffee beans and and much more.  

Douze points, Mordechai.

Haman is overwrought with grief and fear and his wife tells him that, indeed, he has every reason to feel terror-stricken, as she had suggested that he build a 20 m pole (or is it a gallows?) on which to skewer or hang  Mordechai and being she-who-must-be-obeyed, he did.  On hearing Esther’s story and that of Mordechai’s impending fate, the king orders that Haman and his ten sons be either disemboweled or hanged (depending on whether it was a gallows as we know it or a form of skewer) or put to death by whatever gory means was common in those far-off days.  It’s hardly terribly relevant today.  

But Mordechai was an astute politician.  After the demise of the Haman proto-dynasty, he put together a working coalition and rode around the streets of Susa, the capital, on a four-legged white limo and smoked cigars of the best Afghan hashish while Esther drank expensive Persian sparkling wine. And the king said that there was nothing whatsoever illegal about Mordechai’s acquisition of power.

So, as old Bill Shakespeare put it 400 years ago, all’s well that end’s well, thus the merriment and jollification, the exhortations to intoxication of this minor festival.  There’s also a tradition of fancy dress for Purim, a sort of Jewish Halloween without the trick or treat, such that perfectly normal people can be seen walking around the streets in all sorts of outfits, thinking nothing of it whatsoever.

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This general amity is also  illustrated by the good deed tradition of “mishloach manot” in which Jews were encouraged in the Book of Esther to send food to one another and gifts to the poor” (9:22) and many do send food gifts to friends, neighbours, and relatives, which marks such a change from everyday life, as Tom Lehrer, in a slightly different context reminded us many years later.

Clayderman lookalike

Clayderman for a day — Purim 2018