Corona, boot-camp and chutzpah

At the end of last week, while walking down a street in North Tel Aviv, I was contemplating the plight of the 3,711 people locked up (quarantined, much the same thing, except that the origin of the word “quarantine” comes from the word meaning 40 [days]) in Yokohama on a luxury cruise liner, the Diamond Princess, after an 80-year-old passenger from Hong Kong had embarked in Yokohama, sailed one segment of the itinerary, and disembarked in Hong Kong, and was hospitalised after he tested positive for corona virus COVID-19.  As  I write, over 600 passengers tested positive for the virus and so far, Japan’s Ministry of Health has announced that two passengers had died after contracting the virus.

Of the total, there were 15 Israelis on the ship and television interviewers had a field day (or more a field fortnight or more) here.  Eleven of those were flown home last night where they will continue their dream vacation for another fortnight, this time in isolation at Tel Hashomer Hospital near Tel Aviv and one of those has already been diagnosed as a carrier; four other Israeli carriers have been hospitalised in Japan, including the husband of a couple interviewed almost every evening on Israel TV Channel 11 as they enjoyed one another’s company in isolation on the cruise ship.

What caught my eye while walking down the street as I was contemplating the Diamond Princess was the sign on the café/pub across the road.  Corona may have begun in China but according to the sign, it ends in Tel Aviv.  (For non-Hebrew readers, the name of the place is “The End of the Road”!

The End of the Way

The End of the Road. Tel Aviv

Then at the end of last week, we had the [extreme] pleasure of walking a couple of hundred metres down the street to the Israel Conservatory of Music to hear the Carmel Quartet of which Tami has been the cellist for about 20 years.  As the quartet’s regular violist, being an academic and doing what academics are occasionally wont to do (he’s currently on a sabbatical  at UC Berkeley), Shuli substituted.  There was a time when the twins performed together frequently; these days it’s an occasional thing so it was something we weren’t going to miss.  It was a nice programme, too—Mozart’s String Quartet No. 15 in D minor, K. 421, the second of the quartets that Mozart dedicated to Haydn and the only one in a minor key.  This was followed by Samuel Barber’s String Quartet in B minor, Op. 11, composed in 1935–36.  Barber arranged the second movement of the quartet for a string orchestra not long after he wrote the quartet and this movement is best known as Adagio for Strings.  There was certainly nothing lacking in the Carmel Quartet’s performance, which only underlined what a live performance can offer over a recording, especially a studio recording.  The concert was rounded out with Brahms’  Clarinet Quintet in B minor, Op. 115, with the clarinettist, Yigal Levin.

An added edge to the concert was provided by a knife. The first violinist had cut a finger (4th finger, left hand, for the really curious among you; it can be seen in the photo) earlier in the day preparing a meal for her children but after multiple applications of New Skin and plasters, it was decided that the show just had to go on.  Announcing this to the audience—and it was a full house with standing room only—the Music Director of the Chamber Music Center seemed a little stressed out but as happens on such occasions, the artists make an extra effort to make things appear as if nothing had happened and what actually transpired was music of the highest quality.

Carmel Quartet Barber

The Carmel Quartet—Rachel Ringelstein, Tali Goldberg, Shuli Waterman, Tami Waterman

Samuel Barber, String Quartet in B minor, Op. 11 performed by the Carmel Quartet, Israel Conservatory of Music, 15.02.2020

 

The other highlight of the week was the arrival of our London grandchildren with Dov to spend their half-term break from school with their grandparents, aunts and cousins.  Despite a slight language barrier, the cousins seem to get on pretty well and it was really  great (if a little noisy) having them around.  It was a holiday but they had “homework” to do during their break and I was truly astonished with their abilities to put together a PowerPoint presentation in no time at all—just as I was equally amazed last week to find that 7-year old Lily is getting along fine learning to use Word for schoolwork.

Kiddos in the park - 1

WATERBABIES: L to R: Lily 7 1/2, Tal almost 10 , Gali almost 9, Maya 8 1/2

Messing about on the river - 1

Messing about on the river

Farewell breakfast - 1

A farewell breakfast of forbidden food

 

Meanwhile, Daisy had arrived in the Shuli/Tami households about three months ago when they adopted her from a home for abandoned dogs and fell in love with her at once.  However, it was clear from the start that she had had a troubled background and had probably experienced abuse, or as my daughters put it, she hadn’t received the love and warmth that is the entitlement of a canine pet. Her communication with other dogs had been thrown into complete disarray and taking her for walks was, apparently, a nightmare.  Life for Daisy, as the saying has it, had gone to the dogs.

However, all of that was put right after a three-week stint in a doggy boot camp, where she was taught doggedly that she is not the top dog in charge of the household and has to take orders. I even doggysat for a while last week (a notable event in the Waterman family) and she was as good as gold.  But enough of all this dogged doggerel.

Daisy

I did manage to get out with the camera on and off during the week Dov and the kids were here and there’s more than a touch of spring in the air.

Spring is in the air

As usual, the birds in the park and along the river provide me with material for photographs, like the cormorant skimming the top of the river but never touching it until, it lands.

Cormorant

Or the egret looking pretty glum and serious as it contemplates who to vote for in next week’s election, the third in 11 months!

Egret

And even the gastropods on the street, which fall within my remit, are not all that slow to catch on that this might not be the last election and the situation of interim governments could continue this way for years yet!

Snail

I’ve seen all sorts of groups in the park but I really had no idea what this bunch below were doing and which specific caste of exercise groups they belonged to.  Somehow, though, it reminded me of 60 years ago on a cold Saturday night in Dublin when for the first time, I went into town to see a film on my own and waiting for a bus on D’Olier Street at pub closing time, a group of people emerged into the street in the form of a circle just as if they were about to dance a hora.

Apparently, each of these individuals was contributing in part to the stability of this human circle.  Then, as they were positioned on the footpath, one of them shouted that he was able to stand on his own two feet and broke away from the circle, falling backwards.  At this point, the rest of this improvised circle of acquaintances collapsed on to the pavement from which a cloud of alcohol-scented steam arose.  (I didn’t have a camera then but was more than relieved when I was able to board a bus home!)

Back to back

As usual, the Friday morning farmers’ market at Tel Aviv Port is a source of colour and shapes.  My eye is constantly attracted to artichokes.  I can only imagine that it’s got something to do with the arrangement of the bracts for I really can’t stand artichokes, which I think is one of the silliest foodstuffs (along with pomegranates) that I know.

Artichoke

Laffa & goodies

Roasted vegetables

Finally, as I’ve said already, there are elections here again next week.  If the egret above can’t make up its mind which party list to choose, neither can I and as I usually do, I’ll probably make up my mind as I enter the polling booth.  There are nine or 10 parties with a chance of picking up enough votes to send their people into the Knesset.  If I don’t know which lot I will support, I have already eliminated seven that I can’t support at all so at least my choice is now down to one out of two or three.

Bibi .v. Gantz

LHS “Concerned about Israel” (straight?)/RHS “Concerned about himself” (April 2020 Trial) (crooked?)

And while on the subject of politics …

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines chutzpah as “supreme self-confidence”. However, for the uninitiated, chutzpah is really far more than supreme self-confidence.  In Yiddish, it’s the word for audacity, for guts—but it is as often as not used with a negative connotation. Leo Rosten, in his wonderful Joys of Yiddish, gives the classic definition: “Chutzpah is that quality enshrined in a man who, having killed his mother and father, throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan.”

So here are two examples of chutzpah as they appeared in last Tuesday’s edition of Haaretz.  The first appeared under the headline: “Netanyahu Corruption Trial to Begin March 17, Two Weeks After Israel Election”. It read: “The trial would thus begin the day after the new Knesset is sworn in, which occurs two weeks after an election. The timing is likely to complicate Netanyahu’s potential coalition negotiations after two failed attempts within a year to form a government. … The prime minister’s defense may request that his arraignment be postponed and demand additional evidence, which would delay trial proceedings until the request is accepted or denied. The defense team is expected to request that Netanyahu be exempt from appearing in court, arguing that requiring him to participate would intervene with his work”… (!!!).

Now that’s chutzpah!

And then, on the same page, under the headline: “Former Prime Minister Olmert Asks Rivlin to Expunge His Criminal Record” appeared the following: “Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who was convicted on corruption charges in 2012, petitioned President Reuven Rivlin last week to expunge his criminal record. … Olmert submitted the request through his attorneys.  … The lawyers argued for leniency based on Olmert’s contribution to the state, mainly during his tenure as prime minister. Expunging one’s criminal record removes the stain of moral turpitude placed on elected officials for seven years. … Olmert has expressed a desire to return to public life in private conversations with political figures in recent months. … .”

Now that’s Chutzpah, too!

Two-faced, both of them — not that they’re alone in the world!

BIBI

A two-faced politician—sadly, one of many thousands on the loose throughout the world!

 

 

 

 

 

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A winter election this time!

Breakfast, Nordau Blvd

Nordau Boulevard, Tel Aviv.  Breakfast time, Winter 2020

It’s been a quiet week, really.  Nothing too much of interest happening.  There’s a general election coming up again in a fortnight’s time in the country in which I live but you’d be forgiven if you thought there was no such thing in the offing.  Except for a couple of large posters of a potential prime minister and a possible PM-maker (should he decide this time around to do something positive) along the Ayalon Freeway in Tel Aviv and an ad for some probable also-rans on the backs of buses and vans, there’s hardly an inkling that anything is supposed to take pace on March 2.

It’s not surprising, really.  This will be the third time Israeli voters are undertaking this exercise in less that 11 months.  To say that people are apathetic might be going a bit too far because most of us understand why it’s happening again but I fail to recognise anything resembling enthusiasm among the voters.  The last time I left the polling station, on September 17, as my ID card was returned to me, I wished the young people checking the voters’ lists  all the best and told them I’d see them again in the Spring—only half-jokingly.  This time round, I suppose I’ll tell them—only half jokingly—that I’ll see them again in August-September after two or three more months of non-negotiation on the part of the politicians and another two- or three-month reprieve for the serving Prime Minister.

The Israeli electoral system is a mess.  There was a time as an active academic when I was interested in electoral reform and I wrote about this a year ago before the first round of voting that got us nowhere.  If I didn’t think that electoral reform was the epitome of an “academic” topic, I might have stuck with it.  Or if I had in my persona some germ of activism, I might have gone on making a nuisance of myself by not giving up and telling people why the current system is so awful and what we could do to make it better.  But we’re stuck with it.  The people are not apathetic just unaware that there are other electoral systems out there in the wider world that would serve them better.  The politicians, for their part, don’t want to countenance any change at all because they feel comfortable with the system that exists and know how to work it.

The main problem is that Israel’s elected politicians represent nobody but themselves and their buddies in their respective parties.  There are no constituencies or electoral districts; the country as a whole is just a single electoral district.  In order to get elected, an individual candidate has to be placed high enough on the list of candidates that the parties present to the Electoral Commission.  That means that each of them has to be active within his own party and is beholden only to the party members.

Voters—people like me—get to choose a list of people, most of whom are unknowns to the electorate at large.  We can’t even express any preference by promoting or demoting this or that candidate on the list that we choose as is possible in some other countries that operate a list system.  Not only that but one’s vote has to be cast at a polling station designated by the address that appears on one’s ID card.  There is no absentee vote; no postal vote.  If you can’t be there on the day and the predetermined place, you can’t cast a vote; it’s as simple as that—unless you are either a diplomat or a member of merchant marine serving out of Israel on election day.

What this means is that the 120 members of the Knesset are in no way individually beholden to any recognizable group of voters in any specific geographical area.  The system, so I once read, was adopted and adapted from the one used by a newly independent Poland after the First World War and was used to elect the people representing the Jews of Palestine opposite with the British authorities.  In that sense, it served the people well in that it gave the British to understand that there were many views among the Jewish population. It was then adopted when Israel became independent without any change and so it has remained.  The only thing that has changed is the quota, the minimum number of votes needed to gain representation in the Knesset.  This currently stands at 3¼% of the valid votes, giving the smallest parties in he Knesset four sets out of 120.  (The quota for many years stood at 1% and the plethora of parties then was even more indecent than it is today.) 

What is entirely lacking in Israel’s political system is something which engenders a minimum of humility in the elected members, something that reminds them that as individuals, rather than as members hidden behind a party leader and concealed within the blanket of a party list, to get re-elected they have to show to a specific electorate that they are worthy or re-election.  They can be as corrupt as they want but as long as they’re hidden inside a list and the voters can’t “push” them down the list, all they have to do is keep on good terms with their party colleagues.

Sadly, no such reform is likely to occur in the foreseeable future and in its absence, we will continue with the charade that we are electing people who represent us rather than just a party that sort of reflects our views. It’s sham really, in this day and age!

While it’s been quiet around Israel despite the upcoming election, politicians have been busy elsewhere.  The President of the United States, emboldened by his recent acquittal in the trial by the U.S. Senate, is now apparently attempting to take over his country’s justice system.  The British Prime Minister and his principal adviser has gone through Round One of cleansing the government of people whose absolute loyalty cannot be counted upon.  And Sinn Féin almost became the largest party in Ireland after that country’s general election last weekend, prompting me to think that Gerry Adams might finally do some good and be made Minister for Improvement of Community Relations!

So now it’s time to clean things up a little.

Cleaning windows

There’s a touch of spring in the air in Tel Aviv. The last couple of weeks have seen a couple of warm and sunny days around 20ºC.  I have no doubt that there’ll be a couple of more storms blowing through before spring eventually lands but the best part of the winter is probably over.

Not that winter in this part of the world is winter as other people know it.  The gentleman in the photograph below drinking his gin and tonic on his deck in Syracuse, NY, reading about the The Age of Decadence is enjoying a decent day in what looks to me like a proper winter.

Gin & Tonic

The previous week, he sent me a picture from his summer camp near Thousand Islands, looking out across Lake Ontario towards Canada.  He wrote me that he and his wife have come to enjoy the winters.  When he took the photo, there were ice floes and it was utterly silent. There were also a flotilla of ducks out there in the lake.  Well, best of luck John and Patricia but I can’t say that I really miss snow and ice.

ducks

The placidness of Lake Ontario in the winter contrasts with the “action” on the Mediterranean during the same week as seen from Tel Aviv Port.

Divers swimmers

Swimming in the Med

The Med at T-A Port

Not, of course, that you need to compare between continents to observe differences.  In the two photographs below, it’s clear that there quite a difference that just a single day can make.

Difference a day makes 1Difference a day makes 2

The wind was so strong one day last week that I photographed the Yarqon stream below looking towards the north bank.  The sea (i.e., downstream) is to the west, looking left, but the water is apparently flowing towards the right, i.e., upstream.  The river is so shallow and the wind was so strong that this apparent counterflow could be observed.

Upstream flow

Not that this made any difference to the ladies engaged in calisthenics on the south bank of the river.

quite

And as for calisthenics, the slightly overweight I also engage in it once a week.  I haven’t quite figured out whether it’s a 21st century version of some ancient Chinese torture or European mediaeval torture but the stretching it involves seems to be doing me some good!

Torture 2020 style

A springlike day brought the birds out in force.

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The cormorant, however, spotted a fish somewhere down there and by the time I clicked the shutter button, it was down and out.

Cormorant spots a fish

It also brought out the people.  This was, apparently, a lesson in kick-boxing as is evident from the angle at which the gloves are being held.

High kicks

Friday morning, as usual, brings out the best of colours at the Farmers’ Market in Tel Aviv Port.

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Walking up Ibn Gvirol Street the other day, in front of the sign advertising the Tel Aviv Marathon in a fortnight’s time, this interesting image passed in front of the camera.  Note his headgear and his footgear and the fact that he’s not riding his machine on the footpath.

Scooting for God

In the warm weather the other day, I couldn’t figure out whether she was taking it all off or putting it all on but she stood there, apparently immobile, for long enough for me to size it up and take the photo.

Put it on—Take it off

And in the Port, once again, I noticed again the difference a day can make.  One day he’s there and another he’s not.

Here one day

Gone the next

And while I’m not thinking about what to write in this week’s blog post, I’ve been busy drafting a memory book, responding to the suggestion of a colleague from Colorado.  It’s tentatively entitled: Maps to Photographs: Inadequate musings of a journeyman academic, 1945-2020.  I never thought I would do it or could do it—and I have yet to read through the 90,000 words I’ve written.  I’ve given the first four chapters a quick read through and I think it’s not bad.  I’ll give it a critical reading in a couple of week’s time, after the election. Nevertheless, it’s more than likely that I’ll end up like the chap below.

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Double Acts

 

Double act 1

A double act

I try — I really do although some people won’t believe me — to keep my political feelings out of this blog as much as possible but some weeks are so politically volatile that it’s impossible.  So, if you feel that your views differ from mine to such an extent that you might feel antagonised — or even ill — reading the first part of this post, then scroll down to the photographs, which are colourful yet benign.

Hat or hairpiece

And yet another! (Hat, hair, or hairpiece?)

 

Other than the fact that last week started off with my 75th birthday, I was presented with a birthday present that I could have refused but just couldn’t bring myself to turn down. When I think of all the wonderful double acts that the world has produced — The Two Ronnies, Laurel & Hardy, Abbott & Costello, Morecambe & Wise, Fred & Ginger, Bilko & Doberman, Marks & Spencer, Peaches & Cream—and which have provided so much pleasure to millions over the years, we were treated last week in the evening to half an hour with a new comedy duo on the block who specialise in black humour—Impeached & Indicted.

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In case you’re confused, Impeached is on the left-hand side of the picture and Indicted is on the right-hand side.

Impeached and Indicted

In case you’re confused, Impeached is on the left of the picture and Indicted is on the right.

It was quite a performance.  Impeached made a speech using his rather limited vocabulary and Indicted listened intently; Indicted stood there and even though he knew the tune he was about to hear, he couldn’t hide his joy.  Everything he ever wanted he had been handed by a golden pate (Sorry: that should read on a golden plate).  Both Impeached and Indicted had brought their own cheerleaders to watch their stand-up extravaganza and cheer is what they did.  They whooped and they hooted and they hollered; they shrieked hosannas and alleluias.  A most wonderful show if ever there was one!  

Indicted’s perpetually smug smirk was more sweeping than ever.  However, there were two things that were missing.  One was half a metre of drool hanging out of the sides of his mouth.  Not that drooling is as irritating to onlookers or as embarrassing to the droolers themselves as it was once thought to be. In some quarters today, it’s even considered fashionable.  After all, the Scottish actor and comedian, Billy Connolly, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease has said “There’s a little surprise every month and this month’s surprise is drooling. I find it makes you so attractive to people. Women particularly. They say ‘I love a man with a shiny chin!’”  The second missing object was a ruler to measure the length of Indicted’s tongue because I reckoned he’d need a long one for all the arse-licking that was to follow Impeached’s welcome words.  Am I being cynical?  I don’t really think so because I really don’t know how to be a cynic; it’s honestly not part of my nature.  Yes, I admit that I’m a little sceptical about things from time to time but that’s the extent of it.

The show must go on
Another double act — you can’t have one without the other!

Anyway, to return to Impeached & Indicted.  What was the content of their spectacular little pageant?  A Bantustan in the Land of Israel, it seems.  Even the South Africans all those years ago didn’t have the chutzpah to pretend that the partially self-governing areas they set aside for specific indigenous African peoples, the so-called Bantu homelands, were independent states.  In Washington D.C. last week, Impeached & Indicted begged to differ.  If the Palestinians would only behave themselves and be prepared to accept the money that Impeached & Co. was offering them, they might one day have their own state. 

But why would the Palestinians be satisfied with what Impeached & Co. were offering them?  Maybe they should consult with the Kurds who’ve been waiting over a century, at times patiently and at other times less so, for one of theirs as well.  If they ask the Kurds, maybe they can show them the way.  Who knows?

And then later in the week we were treated to another spectacle when the U.S. Senate decided to put an early end to Impeached’s trial by deciding not to call witnesses.  A trial without any witnesses.  Sounds like a dreadfully determined decision from some dystopic piece of fiction.

And then to cap the week, we witnessed Brexit, that act of English hara-kiri that the people voted for 3½ years before.  The scene of tens of thousands of people waving Union flags and singing Rule Britannia or whatever, with Nigellus Porridge gloating over his success in saving the British people from their own folly and Boris preaching about a new dawn was more than my little mind could take as I enter my 76th year.

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