Gallants and Surfboards

There’s a small electrical goods shop not far from us that we’ve been using since we moved to Tel Aviv nearly 13 years ago, a father and son operation, the Gallantis.  These days, the father looks after the shop on some afternoons and on Fridays while the son does whatever his Friday thing is — sailing or surfing some some other aquacultural activity, I think.

When I first met him, he was 74 and had just returned from several weeks in Colorado riding out with Harley-Davidson bikers.  About three or four years ago, I asked him if he was still a Harley-Davidson biker and he told me that unfortunately, he’d had to give that up as it was no longer safe at his age., at which point he asked me to step outside the shop and behold something wondrous.  

Curious, I followed him out to where his Vespa motor scooter was parked on the footpath, at which point he produced a USB stick, which he connected to a sound system he had rigged up on the scooter.  He turned the ignition key and then switched on the sound. And just what was it that he had on the USB stick?  Well, the roar of a Harley-Davidson accelerating, that’s what it was!  Really!  Nothing like continuing to instill some fear into car drivers at the traffic lights just so that they should know who’s still in charge.

On Fridays, customers are invited to join him for a chat and something to eat or drink while he looks after the shop and sees that the business doesn’t go under.  Olives, sausage, cookies, sweets and more.  The bottle in the picture below, taken perhaps four or so years ago, looks like it contains orange juice but the label says it’s vodka and I can guess what it is that’s in it and from the looks of things, some of the precious liquid had already found its way into where it had already been well appreciated.


Anyway, one morning last week, I went into the shop to buy an electric fan heater for the bathroom.   I had the camera around my neck and Avi (Gallanti junior) was in the store. After I’d bought the heater and arranged for an electrician to come and attach it to the wall, he began to quiz me about the camera.  As it happened, I had a portrait lens on it and with the aperture wide open, it does a fairly good job in low light conditions so he asked me if he could see what it was capable of doing.  So I took two images and he seemed quite impressed.  Actually, so was I.  Because the light was poor and the lens aperture was wide open, I focussed on the eyes and as a result much of the rest of the face, warts and all, is slightly out of focus.

Avi Galante

A couple of hours later, heater installed, I called Avi to pay.  After the transaction had been completed, he asked me if I could do him a favour. Could I come back to the shop one afternoon or on a Friday morning and photograph his father for his family archive? There was only one special request and that was that there should be no artificial poses for the photographs; they should be as natural as possible.

So the following Friday morning, I duly went into the shop and explained his son’s request to the older Mr. Galanti, now 86 years of age.  He really couldn’t have cared less; he had three clients in the shop when I arrived and their needs had to be seen to.  Their “needs” included inviting them to eat some crackers and cheese and choose from a tot of whisky, vodka or limoncello.  He was an ideal subject as he went about his business and ignored me totally.

  Galante 4


Last week, winter let us know that it was here as we had a couple of days of near gale-force winds and all the electrical highlights that go with an Eastern Mediterranean storm — thunder and lightning and the rest, but at least in our area there were no electrical power outages, which is often the case.  With all the work that was done on the street from the beginning of last year until just a couple of months ago, the drainage system still can’t handle 20 minutes of heavy rain as the street transmogrifies intro a raging torrent and the park becomes a sodden muddy mess.

The day after the rain had ceased, I walked down to Tel Aviv Port along the banks of the Yarqon, which had filled with a rather dirty brown liquid. On reaching the port, the sea was rough (although I’ve seen in rougher on many occasions) but what was in evidence was its murky muddy brownness.  

Muddy seaMuddy sea 1

Muddy Sea 2

A liquid chocolate sea at Tel Aviv Port.  

While at the port on Friday morning, there is always something photogenic to record. Last Friday, it was large [not quite perfect] cauliflower …


… and a woman dressed in what I can only describe as Joseph’s Technicolor Peace Coat.

Peace Coat

One can never be quite sure what one is about to come across on the city streets.  The other day, I passed a small park off one of the small streets near home that I had never really noticed before and in it there was an installation by the Israeli sculptor, Yaacov Agam, entitled “Roots — Menorah”, which is a reminder of Jewish roots and Hanukkah, which was celebrated a fortnight ago. Agam is the highest-selling Israeli artist of all time, with pieces selling for up to almost $700,000.


Agam 1.jpg

As I’ve written before, I’m always amazed by what turns up on the streets everywhere — even when one is ultraconservative and patrols along almost the same route daily. Something always seems to turn up that either wasn’t there before or that you’ve never been observant enough to have noticed.

One day last week, I walked up to the eastern extremity of the Shlomtzion HaMalcah Street, to where it meets Weizmann Street and caught a glimpse of one of the more peculiar street animals I’ve come across in a long time.  I actually had to stare at it for quite a few seconds before I realized that it was a tree — or at least what was left of a tree, although looking at it again, what else could it possibly have been?

Tree eye

Then wandering along Pinkas Street and heading for home, I came across this [somewhat pathetic] plea stuck on to an electricity junction box near the Hungarian Embassy.  According to Google Translate, the Hungarian translates as “Free Worker, Free University”.  Either way, it’s a protest.  Given that Viktor Orbán, the Hungarian Prime Minister, was welcomed to Israel just a few months ago by his Israeli counterpart, the almost equally illiberal Bibi Netanyahu, I think the writers of this notice might have done a better job in protesting against government interference in Hungary’s instititions. 

Orban, listen!

And talking of Bibi—who yesterday called an election in April 2019, less than six weeks after he had explained to the nation why it would be dangerous to the country’s security and immoral to break up the coalition and call an election—this is one of the team members who stand on street corners day by day and attempt to give away Bibi’s Freebie, Yisrael HaYom (Israel Today).  Sometimes there are takers, mostly not.


And then passing a gift shop one morning in North Tel Aviv, I espied three members of the Zionist pantheon in the window—David Ben-Gurion, Theodore Herzl and Moshe Dayan.  No Bibi, though, from which I concluded that it order to become a dollied up plaster bust in a shop window, you first have to be dead.

Zionist pantheon

And just around the corner from the dolls, I came across someone on a street bench reading from something that wasn’t a smartphone or a newspaper.

The reader.jpg

I’m reading a book.  Remember them?

And I couldn’t resist [yet another] hydrant picture although they appear increasingly infrequently these days.  However, this one, next door to the building beside the local pharmacy struck me as different.  It was one of those hydrant pictures in which the caption flashed up in front of me before I’d even had a chance to click the shutter button.  It was a definitely a Jewish  hydrant!

Stiff-necked person

I’m a Jewish hydrant, representative of a stiff-necked people.  Yehuda HaMaccabi St., Tel Aviv

My neighbours seem finally to have understood that I usually go out mornings with my camera, so much so that if they see me without it, some of them ask me why or what’s happened.  The neighbour below lives up the street and frequently makes comments about me and the camera although I don’t think he’s ever actually seen a single picture that I’ve taken.  Daniel Versano is an Israeli businessman with interests in the The Netherlands, where he lived for many years and where he still visits frequently.  So I caught him the other day on camera while standing beside his car.  I pointed it as if to say that I hadn’t forgotten it this time and he cooperated with a pose of his own which, I suppose, said something about what he thinks of having his photograph taken.

These days, one of his principal claims to fame is that he is the real-life father-in-law of Wonder Woman.

Versano 1.jpg

Finally, walking through the park on Sunday morning, I thought it a tad chilly and I was wearing a cotton sweater with sleeveless jacket over it.  Coming past the rowing club, I noticed in the distance someone who didn’t seem to share my feelings about the weather and the chill.  She just come off the river after a hour paddling on a surfboard and as I had a telephoto lens on the camera, decided to click from a distance.


Then as I got closer, the photo seemed to become more interesting …

Galit 1

… or so I thought.

As I drew level with her, she turned to me and asked if I had just taken her photo a couple of minutes earlier from further away and I thought to myself “Here it goes, an admonition. Should I agree to delete the two previous images from the memory card or explain to her that once the photo had been taken in a public space, that was it done and dusted?”  So, I was somewhat surprised when her request was that simply if I could please send her the photos.  As I don’t usually carry a writing implement and paper with me when I go out (perhaps I should) and she certainly didn’t seem to have anywhere to put one comfortably, I agreed to send them to her by email or phone if she agreed to a third picture.  So and snapped again and she then provided me with her mobile number and her first name.  Half an hour later, the pictures were on their way to her smartphone.  

Galit 2

Having done that, I decided to carry out a little experiment.  What can you find out about a person you’ve never met before just on the basis of a given name and a phone number—nothing more?  Within less three minutes, I had discovered that Galit Danin is a psychotherapist who lives in Tel Aviv with practices in both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. At that point, I thought of becoming a little depressed and booking myself in for an appointment.  On second thoughts, however, I don’t think it would have worked!

As a postscript, for those of you who enjoy music, one of the compensations of not having been able to travel together to London last month was that we were able to walk 250m down the street to hear a performance by the countertenor, Andreas Scholl.  And then two days later, we went to hear both Tami and Shuli perform in a wonderfully fresh arrangement by Ilan Rechtman of the Saint Saëns Cello Concerto for cello and string nonet at Tel Aviv Museum.  Enjoy!

And with that, I complete Post #171 of this blog, which I began three years ago this week, hoping that I might have enough material for just 20!

And to those of you to whom it applies, Season’s Greetings.

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From Hanukkah to Canaletto

I start this post in a way I haven’t done before—with a postscript.  In my last post, written a fortnight ago, on December 1, I described the work of the eruv repairers in Tel Aviv’s Yarqon Park.  The eruv checkers and repairers are a pair of men who regularly check some wires strung along the length of the park.  These wires magically transform a public space (the park) into a private one (the park), thereby enabling Sabbath observers to do things, such as carry objects or push prams, that they would otherwise be prohibited from doing if the area were still a public space.  Although someone like me would regard this sort of action as imaginary or even magical, I have no objections to it whatsoever as it does not impinge upon the lives of other people who do not feel its need or who may be totally ignorant of its being there at all.

However, what bugged me as I was writing the piece was that I knew that I had photographed them somewhere in the park before but because of the mishmash that is my photo collection, I was not able to find the images at the time.  However, last week, while making my first serious attempt to thin the collection by going through the photos one by one, I came across not one but three images of the eruv-checkers and repairers hard at work, photos which I had taken in June 2017 and March 2018, respectively, and here they are.



Last week was Hanukkah (Chanukah, or the Festival of Lights), which commemorates a group of Jewish rebel warriors, the Maccabees, who successfully took control of Judaea, then a part of the Seleucid Empire ruled by one, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, an antisemitic tyrant of old (and unfortunately, only one of many, through the ages).  According to the Talmud and tradition, unadulterated and undefiled pure olive oil with the seal of the High Priest was needed for the menorah (candelabrum) in the Temple when it was purified after its desecration by Antiochus and the lights in the menorah were required to burn throughout the night, every night. Tradition has it that just one flask was found with sufficient oil to burn for a single day, yet, miraculously, it burned for eight, just the time needed to prepare a fresh supply of oil for for the Temple menorah. Hanukkah is thus an eight-day festival to celebrate this miracle.  

I’m not greatly into Jewish festivals but I do like Hanukkah if only because it commemorates a Jewish victory (of which there are few in history).  However, some scholars spoil the fun by viewing the Maccabees as a rather thuggish outfit and the rebellion against the Seleucids more as part of a Jewish civil war between traditional Jews and Hellenized Jews — and if that doesn’t ring some bells and drag up some parallels with modern times, then I don’t know what does.


It’s customary to give gifts at Hannukah and this year I received a gift of a break in London.  So, at the beginning of last week, off I went for an eight-day breather.  

Chanukah 2018

Even alone in London, I managed Hanukkah (right down to the very last candle)


I think I slept through much of the first few days, so zombied had I been when I set out.   Nevertheless, it was nice to be back.  

A few phone calls to friends on arrival and I was set up for the week — just so long as I could stay awake.  Lunch with one friend on the first day there in cavernous café-cum-restaurant near King’s Cross Station for which we booked a table for 13.30, expecting the place to clear of yuppies by just after 2 o’clock.  It serves Mittel-European-inspired dishes all day long across two floors and on its vast heated terraces and has a capacity of several hundred who all seemed to be engaged in non-stop chat at full volume.  The noise in the downstairs café was pure white noise and I thought to myself that there’s no way it would be possible to have an intelligent two-way conversation without using sign language, in which I am not fluent, above that din.  Upstairs in the restaurant it was a little less clamorous and it only quietened down about an hour later.

The building itself was originally designed as the first purpose-built gym in England and is a Grade II-listed building and was built in 1864 for the German Gymnastics Society. The food was OK, the service great and the conversation engaging even above the racket from below. The only off-putting thing occurred when I went to use the lavatory facilities on leaving, with German marching music (well, it might have been Bavarian folk-dance music) coming from the loudspeakers while I went about my ablutions.  

A nice start to the week and as I was in town, I decided to get any shopping that needed to be done over and done with there and then.  And so it was before I returned home, tried to read, and collapsed into bed for the night before the ungodly hour of 21.30.

The following day, I arranged to meet another old friend at The National Gallery to see an exhibition of drawings and paintings by a pair of brothers-in-law, Andrea Mantegna, famed for his brilliant compositional innovation and Giovanni Bellini, equally famous for his atmospheric, natural landscapes. ‘Mantegna and Bellini’ was billed as a story of art, family, rivalry, and personality.  Bellini’s career flourished in Venice and Mantegna’s in Mantua.  The draughtsmanship and the colours were amazing; the subject matter of so many of the paintings—from the Virgin birth to J on the cross— turned me on a little less so than the physical side of the art. 

However, armed with my camera, and alighting the bus (which took an age to get there — an hour rather than 25 minutes, mainly because London seems to be a hybrid between giant roadworks and an equally giant building site) on Charing Cross Road and traversing the north side of Trafalgar Square, I noticed something that I found amusing.

Standing upright outside the National Gallery was a large menorah, put in place by Chabad (a.k.a. Lubavitch, Habad and Chabad-Lubavitch), an Orthodox Jewish hassidic movement.  Whatever your religious beliefs (or non-beliefs, as the case may be) one can’t help but admire Chabad, in particular for its outreach work. Operating on the principle, as I understand it, that even a single soul saved is worth the effort, these people tirelessly try to show non-observant Jews what they’re missing — and even if you don’t accept their beliefs, the very fact that you might listen to them and participate in events they organize makes them happy, if not entirely satisfied. Rather than close themselves off from the rest of the world as is the case with so many Strictly Orthodox Jewish sects, Chabad avidly seeks to engage with the rest the world.  (For further reading, I suggest Howard Jacobson’s Roots Schmoots—Journeys Among Jews, Chapter 6, Crêpe-hanging, Penguin edition (1993), pp. 126—153.). 

On emerging from the first of my two visits to the National Gallery, (the photo below was taken on the second), the weather had turned miserable.  It was raining and the wind was blowing, yet the Chabad show, under cover between the menorah and the gallery was just getting under way and singing and performing for quite some crowd.

Chanukah, Trafalgar Sq.,

The Menorah at the National Gallery, Trafalgar Square

What I had noticed and that which amused me was the sight of Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson, (1st Viscount Nelson and 1st Duke of Bronté) celebrating both Hanukkah and Christmas at one and the same time.  I’m not sure that the designers of this menorah had paid much attention to its geometrical properties but from some angles, it appeared to resemble an icon that had might have some connection with Christmas — or is it Easter? Multi-culti Britain, indeed.

Horatio celebrates Hanukkah

Lord Nelson surveying Hanukkah-cum-Xmas, Trafalgar Square

The following day, I went to meet someone at The Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead to join them for a light lunch.  I turned left as I exited our building and walked the length of the street.  Just before I reached the junction of Parkhill Road and Fleet Road , I noticed in the distance what appeared to me to be a couple walking two large dogs.  There was nothing remarkable about this as there’s a man who I see in the park in Tel Aviv who walks two very large dogs (at a very slow pace) most mornings.  However, the closer I got to this foursome, the more the “dogs” seemed extraordinarily large until I realized that they weren’t dogs at all but something else entirely.  My initial reaction, for some peculiar reason, was Don Quixote and Sancho Panza but that was just an onomatopoeic reminder that these were not dogs at all but donkeys (Donkey shot, for those that missed the sonic association).  And then the evil thought crossed my mind that perhaps they were just asses that answer to the names of “Boris” and “Jacob”!

Don Quixote

For one of the things it was impossible to avoid last week in the UK was listening to the tragic farce currently playing out on all radio and TV channels and in every other medium that deals with current affairs, known under the name of Brexit.  Mrs. May, the Prime Minister is, by all and any standards a battler.  However, last week as she battled through a scheduled five-day parliamentary debate, she reminded me of a blindfolded amateur featherweight boxer in the ring with Muhammad Ali and two Muhammad Ali clones, as someone still somehow standing and throwing punches while her opponents try and come at her from all angles to beat her brains out.  She’s still standing but somehow you know she’s been KO’d and any more is just painful to watch.  On ascending the steps to the main entrance of the hospital a few minutes after meeting the asses and their handlers, the chap at the bottom was holding what looked like newspapers but the the heading “What’s the problem?  Brexit now! Just leave!” and was asking passers-by what they thought of Brexit. I shan’t say how I answered him as it’s not fit to print—but it starts with a “B”, has a pair of “L” in the middle and ends with “KS”.

Brexit bollocks

Actually, there was a way to escape hearing and seeing news about Brexit and that was to plonk yourself into an armchair in front of the TV and watch the UK Snooker Championship and believe me, watching Ronnie O’Sullivan is a far more satisfying experience to listening to Mrs. May, Boris and all the rest of them talk and talk and talk about Brexit.  Watching Ronnie when he’s in full flow controlling, the cue ball so that it ends its journey around the table exactly where he wants it to be, is like seeing Roger Federer ballet dance his way around the tennis court or Lionel Messi cut a swathe through the opposition on the soccer pitch.  A joy to watch—and for once, I could see the lot without anyone saying to me “Isn’t that enough already?”

It took me a few days to finally get out of the house to climb to the top of Primrose Hill, for only after I do this am I able to convince myself that I really am in London.  This time, my six favourite trees had been stripped bare of their leaves…

5 Trees, Primrose

…the view from the hill across London early in the morning was, as usual, magnificent …

London skyline from Primrose Hill

… and the early morning sun cast a very, very long shadow of the photographer across the hill.  (Yes, that IS me in the picture slightly right of centre, from the two legs all the way to the trees!)

Stanley Longshadow

The rest of the week was taken up with seeing family and visiting the National Gallery for a second time, this time to see the Impressionist collection from the Courtauld Gallery whose temporary closure meant that some of its Impressionist collection could be displayed alongside the National Gallery’s own collection and, to coin a phrase, not only was it an Impressionist exhibition but an impressive Impressionist exhibition.  It seemed like everything was there — Monet, Manet, Seurat, Sisley, van Gogh, Cézanne, Pissarro and more.  Van Gogh’s sunflowers and Seurat’s pointillistic paintings were the highlights for me this time and I’m always on a high when I see these objects and feel privileged at being able to do so. 

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Looking for an exit (not all the entrances and exits were open), I suddenly found myself standing in front of a large Canaletto painting of Venice and looking around the room in which I found myself, there were several of these masterpieces.  Canaletto is another artist at whose work I can gaze for ages, reminding me that many years ago, en route to Logan Airport in Boston after a conference, I decided to visit the Museum of Fine Arts, which had several Canalettos and as a result, almost missed the plane home so engrossed was I.

Canaletto, Venice

After the National Gallery, I took a bus to The Jewish Museum in Camden in which there was an exhibition of photographs (and more) by Roman Vishniac in Roman Vishniac Rediscovered.  Vishniac is best known for photographing the culture of  Jews in Central and Eastern Europe before the Second World War and the Holocaust but this exhibition, in two parts with perhaps a 25% overlap (the other part was in the Photographer’s Gallery in the West End, which I managed to get to the day before returning) showed that he did far more than that. He received a camera and a microscope on his 7th birthday and became a street photographer in pre-war Berlin (and Paris and London) and a successful portrait photographer in New York after the war.  The photographs for which he is (justly) famous represent only a small portion of his ouevre and both parts of this exhibition are worth going well out of your way to view as they contain many prints from negatives that have only recently been discovered and recovered.   He taught courses on the history and philosophy of photography in New York and in later life devoted much time to his other love, biology, combining photography and biology with some incredible photomicroscopic images, some of which are also part of the exhibition.

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Like the work of Dorothea Lange, who was a successful portrait photographer in San Francisco before her photographs for the Farm Security Administration (FSA) in 1930s America humanized the consequences of the Great Depression and had considerable influence not only on the development of documentary photography but on the plight of the people she photographed, several of Vishniac’s images simply reduced me to tears.

So perfect were the images in this exhibition in every way that I left wondering why on earth I bother to take any photographs at all.

And then that was it.  LY316 back to Tel Aviv and home again—as exhausted as I was when I started the week but for different reasons!

Happy Xmas