Glorious Isolation/Insulation

I needed a change of scenery. After the trauma of the past two months, I’d had enough of being alone in the flat in Tel Aviv in temperatures of well over 30º C and 80% relative humidity every day, hearing daily news about thousands of people demonstrating outside the Prime Minister’s residences in Jerusalem and Caeasarea and on almost every bridge over every highway in Israel calling for his resignation (some hope!) and reports of him referring to people with views like mine as leftists, anarchists, people who are simply out to destroy Israeli democracy.

Really?! Are we that loathsome and repulsive and dangerous? My gut reaction is that the name-callers should look at their reflections in their mirrors each morning and examine them carefully. Israel, after all is in lockdown and if I read correctly a short while ago, the Prime Minister has told the people that the lockdown will last for a at least a month and probably much longer than that.  The hospitals are nearing a critical point with 800 seriously ill hospitalised; around 9,000 new cases of COVID-19 daily the government, apparently, bears no responsibility for the situation that has developed.  It’s all because of the people, it seems and it’s the law-abiding people who appear to be at fault.  Talk about irresponsibility.  To quote the 16th President of the United States of America, “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.” Time will tell.

At any rate, I’d had enough for the time being and initially booked a ticket to London with EasyJet for Friday September 25) so that I could spend Jewish New Year with my daughters and granddaughters in Tel Aviv and be there for Lily’s 8th birthday.  However, only two days after booking, I was informed by EasyJet that they had cancelled the flight. So it was back to the drawing board where I discovered that British Airways was still flying between Heathrow and Tel Aviv, so I booked for the same outward bound and return dates with BA only to be further informed the following day that they, too, had followed suit and cancelled Friday’s flight.

I was in a bit of a quandary as I really couldn’t make up my mind what to do. And then Shuli and Tami said to that I should I just go a week earlier than I’d planned. So, back to British Airways and I booked for the Thursday of the week before last. 

It wasn’t a particularly auspicious start to the trip. The taxi driver dropped me off at Ben-Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv where, in 33°C of heat and 80 percent relative humidity, people were lining up outside the airport terminal in bright sunshine, so as sheep tend to do, I joined the queue.

After several minutes an overbearing female official approached me, shouting: “Have you signed a declaration stating that you are not suffering from COVID-19?”  (At no time during the previous two or three weeks did I receive any indication that I was supposed to do this although a British Airways representative, who sounded as if she was at home in Mumbai or Bangalore, had said to me that I did not need a Covid test before flying.) Apparently, the airport authorities were happy enough to take people at their word.

Still, filling in a form was part of a game that had to be played out so the same officious official directed me towards three other lines (still outside the building but thankfully in partial shade) at the top of each was located a computer that would enable me to declare Covidlessness, and consequently, purity. One machine was being operated by a woman ostensibly helping an older (I have to be careful when I use the word elderly) couple to complete their requirement but this seemed to be a never-ending process and it turned out after about a quarter of an hour that it was going nowhere. It was suggested that I and others move to another queue but it turned out that the other two computers weren’t operating at all so after a little while later, I was directed to enter the terminal building where a green wristband with six digits was affixed to my right wrist and I was informed that it must not be removed until after I had boarded the aircraft and that I was permitted to proceed to check-in.

Unlike the usual chaos inside the terminal building the place was virtually empty. I proceeded to the departure area where it turned out that there were lots of people travelling that day but they were dressed as if they didn’t seem to be going where I was going on the grounds that most of them were dressed in shorts and tee-shirts. The noticeboard indicated but most of them were off to Greece, one of the few countries to which is Israelis can travel without being quarantined there or on return.  Chaos ensued on boarding the plane — lots of people with young children and other disabilities were herded on to the plane first and then it was time board.

I thought I’d been clever in choosing my seat, a window seat in the last row of the plane.  My assumption was that there would be little social distancing on the aircraft and that that seat would be the least likely place for many people to pass by throughout the journey. It was a reasonable assumption and the night before the flight I checked to see if the pair of seats beside me were still unoccupied and at 8 p.m. on the previous evening, they had not been taken. However, it was a mistaken assumption on my part because two young women parked themselves on the empty seats beside me just after I had settled in, thinking that I would be the solitary occupant of the row.  

As far as I could ascertain, the plane was chockablock full .  Social distancing apparently is unheard-of on British Airways, its place taken by filling the aircraft and recouping fares. However, we were constantly reminded every few minutes or so that our masks had to cover both nose and mouth. Wearing a mask for 10½ hours on the trot is uncomfortable, to say the least. After just under five hours’ flying time, I was glad to depart the plane even though, sitting where I had been sitting,  I was the last passenger off. The saving grace was that as I entered at the baggage reclaim area, there it was, my case! I didn’t even have to wait to remove it from the carousel.  That had never happened before!

I imagined that some self-important immigration official would remind me that I was supposed to quarantine because prior to the trip I had had to fill out a lengthy online form from the British immigration authorities stating the address at which I would be residing for my first 14 days  and providing them all possible means of contacting me—telephone numbers and emails, and the details of someone whom they could contact if they failed to locate me (They may read this blog and perhaps have thought that I might have made for Primrose Hill to photograph trees and committed the unforgivable sin of not taking my phone with me.  But no such reminder was forthcoming. One was simply supposed to know that self-isolation was the done thing.

I arrived at the flat in London in double quick time. I think that the bemasked cab driver was none too happy about having to travel with another masked individual in his car — but how else could he make a living?  At any rate, we was silent throughout the journey.  The trip from Heathrow Terminal 5 to apartment building took just under 40 minutes, which, I think, was a record time.

I had made an order from Ocado, an online grocery store, to deliver provisions the following morning, and at 07.00 on the dot, there he was, unloading several bags outside the door of the flat. That exercise took about the deliveryman about two minutes, followed by a further 40 minutes of me sorting things out and putting things away. 

When I eventually reawakened, I vaguely remembered something about self-isolation but, as I age, it’s obvious that my hearing has deteriorated somewhat so it seems that I had misheard what I had heard and jumped up.  Obviously, that is not what the people meant and after 24 hours I felt so uncomfortable up there on the shelf in between the books and really unable to do anything, that in the end, I jumped down and tried to organise myself in a different manner. And  the thing is that I felt so sheepish about the whole thing. (This is what tends to happen when one can’t go outside to take photographs!)

Shelf isolation. London September 2020

And after that little escapade, I then began my fortnight of supercalifragilisticexpialidocious quarantine.

As I write, I am now on Isolation Day #12; it’s passed more quickly that I had expected although I have acute sympathy for all those people who have been kept in solitary confinement as punishment or for those afraid to leave their homes and have been inside for the most part over the past half year because anything more than a further week like this would leave me mentally unsound — although I am aware that there are some people who believe that that critical point had already passed some time ago. 

As I wrote above, one of the problems about being incarcerated is that I can’t go outside with the camera to photograph.  As a consequence, I have to make do with what’s at hand, so I’ve been scouring the flat as well as looking out the windows to see and imagine what I can see or to see what I can imagine I can see.

After a few days, you begin to go bananas …

Going bananas

         And after a few more days of lock-up you become completely browned off!

Browned off!
The thing is that when you start feeling that you’re going crazy, you do crazy things.  In this case, I initially thought that this was a slice of wholewheat bread until I picked it up and discovered that it was a cork coaster — definitely not for consumption.

But as it was early in the morning and I wasn’t completely awake and unable to distinguish between the real and the unreal,  I pounced on something else that seemed to be freshly baked bread only to discover that it, too, wasn’t bread but no more than an inedible sponge.

Eventually, though, I managed to locate the bread that I had been looking for and that I knew was there.

Eventually, you begin to see faces wherever you look … though why this bun is smiling at me as it’s about to be consumed is beyond my ken.

However, in addition to such friendly faces as the soon- to-be-vanished bun, I see scowls in the living room …

… toothless grins of inanity and insanity in the bathroom … 

… just black and white in the kitchen … 

… and tilting the camera upwards, all sorts of other strange and wonderful things.
Directly outside the living room, there’s a large tree with bark on the trunk of which has always fascinated me …
… but when the same tree is viewed a different way, I can seem very weird indeed!

Meanwhile, I can stay in the living room and observe the wildlife in the garden from inside.

 

 

 

P.S.  If anyone notices that there is anything odd about the layout of this blog post, it’s because WordPress has changed the way in which I can compose and set up the post.  It takes some getting used to, so I suppose that learning it will give me something to do over the next few days!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Standard

London life

Screen Shot 2020-09-14 at 15.33.19

Self-portrait.  September 2020

This week, I have two stories that relate to my photo collection.  The first is a photo that I used when I posted to Facebook where some of the readers of this blog pick me up.  I didn’t use it in the post itself; it was just a “cover photo”  but it was a photo that got more “likes” than I usually get for things that I post.

Primrose Hill

It’s a picture of six trees near the southwestern corner of Primrose Hill, an extension of the Regent’s Park in London.  This particular photo was taken on a sunny morning in March of this year, the day before I returned to Israel on the last scheduled El Al passenger flight to leave Heathrow before the pandemic caused the cessation of flights by Israel’s national carrier.

I’m booked to return to London for a short visit in a few days’ time, apparently on the last scheduled flight to leave for Heathrow before a renewed lockdown in this part of the world.  In fact, I spent most of yesterday in what I can only describe as a state of high anxiety as in the morning it had been rumoured that the lockdown might start as early as Wednesday—the day after tomorrow, thereby leaving me stranded in the Holy Land.

My quandary was whether I would awake on Friday morning to start a month-long lockdown alone in a flat in the Promised Land, restricted to moving within a distance of  no more than 500m from home, or would I wake up alone in a flat in Belsize Park to begin a fortnight of quarantine there.

Two things emerged while I waited with some anxiety for a definitive answer one way or the other.  First, although such mundane matters as public health and the state of the economy are apparently on the minds of the politicians, it seems as if in political terms Israel is slowly approaching the Lebanese model whereby the politicians (whom I’ve said more than once represent nobody except themselves but I’m about to amend that) cater only to the narrow groups they purport to represent and to hell with the rest of them.  In other words, the Arab politicians, the ultra-Orthodox  Jewish lawmakers, the right-wing “modern religious” representatives, the secular legislators all look after the narrow interests of their followers but few of them tend to see the state of the forest because the the trees that they’re cultivating.

The second thing that struck me as I listened to three Israeli TV channels, occasionally switching to Sky or BBC to see what was happening elsewhere in the world, is that although the zigzagging of the politicians gives rise to confusion, the almost hysterical voices of the newsreaders, commentators, and pundits of various stripes only serve to amplify the bewilderment and pandemonium (no pun intended but the word chosen intentionally).

Finally, around 9 p.m., God’s chosen messenger (Bibi) broke ended the exasperation by informing us plebs that after many hours of intense discussion (and disagreements, apparently) that lockdown would start on Friday at 14,00 and end on October 11.  He then flew off to Washington to sign a Trump-brokered agreement with the United Arab Emirates and a declaration of something or other by the government of Bahrain.  His original plan was to fly in a private plane with wife and children, separated from the other members of the Israeli delegation, for fear that Israel’s Royal Family might contract Covid-19 from some more proletarian delegate,  However, this was scuppered in that it was generally agreed that this was a greed too many.

Primrose Hill

Anyway, to come back to the trees on Primrose Hill.  There’s something about them and  their association the hill that I find acutely attractive.  I think it’s got something to do with the curvature of the hill itself, which is somehow reflected in the curvature of the tree tops and, in this case, mimicked further by the cloud formation, all of which lends a particular elegance to the photo.

I’ve been photographing these trees on and off for several years now and on each trip to London, it’s almost the first thing I do.  It makes me realize that I’m there although this time, it looks as if I will have to wait a fortnight before that happens again.  Actually, I’m curious as to how they’ll look at the beginning of October because it’s a time of the year during which I’ve only been there once in 15 years.  The trees change their appearance with the tie of day, the weather and the seasons, among other things but not matter what, my eye is drawn to them over and again.

Primrose Hill xii.2018

Leafless on a sunny December day

Primrose Hill ii.2017

Leafless on a dull February day

Trees i.2017

Leafless in January

Primrose Hill xi.2015

Still leaved on a foggy November morning

Primrose Hill v.2017

In full leaf on a May morning

Primrose Hill vii.2017

In full leaf in July

Primrose Hill viii.2015

In August during a dry summer

Primrose Hill ix.2016

By September, colours are starting to change

Trees x.2015

… and by October, they have

Looking through the images on the computer, I see that London has provided me with some interesting pictures over the years.

I presume that the one below is there to check up on whether or not I will abide by the self-isolation rules and stay inside for the fortnight …

CCTV reinforcment i.2017

… whereas the one below might be borrowed by local authorities to be used instead of a total lockdown or after total lockdown has come to its end.

No Exit

Some years ago, I came across this [most sensible] sign in a public park in South London …

Dogs

… and then I came across someone sitting by the river near the South Bank Centre who had obviously seen the same, or a similar, sign.

Dog 08.2014

Thinking about the United Kingdom and its problems in these troubled times, one is confronted with the spectre of Brexit and of a recalcitrant Prime Minister who seems intent on breaking international law to “benefit the country” in its negotiations with the EU or to further relegate the UK in the league of nations.

Brexiteers 08 2013

Brexiteers with swords at the ready to defend the motherland for Boris

And the third line of the sign below seems to indicate, this appears to be the Prime Minister’s way of thinking.  Mine is indicated by the upper two lines.

Bollocks viii:2018

Be vigilant

 

One of the plusses of being in an English-speaking country is that I don’t have to translate all the time and my eye is attracted to interesting words I come across almost immediately, words which raise questions as soon as I read them.

So please knock! v.2017

So what should I do?  Just knock?

People endow benches and what they write sometimes makes you stop and think, like this sign affixed to a bench on Primrose Hill.

Signage, Primrose Hill viii. 2015

And we are reminded of climate change and its consequences in many different ways.

Regent's Canal 8.2016

The greening of England.  The Regent’s Canal, London,  August 2016.

And like the trees on Primrose Hill, these windows on Boots Chemists on Oxford Street change with the light, the time of day, the seasons yet are always eye-catching — although you have to remember to look up in order to see them.

Boots windows i.2017

And parallel to Oxford Street, on 23 and 25 Brook Street are two blue plaques that remind us that music is forever — even if the musicians lived 200 years apart!

Music lives forever 2.2017

Finally, London can be very interesting for most people—but if you’re a dog driving around in a van then life can be quite humdrum.

Lockdown ii.2012 1

It’s a dog’s life!

And for those of you to whom it applies, have a great new year 5781.  One would sincerely hope that it has to be a better one than the one just coming to an end.  And to those of you to whom it doesn’t apply. take care of yourselves and by doing that, you’ll be taking care of everyone else as well.

Robin viii. 2015

On Hampstead Heath

Standard

A long hot summer

I was really going to try and make this post free of anything that could be contrived as being a political statement (and in this day and age, that requires some real effort) but events a few nights ago in the neighbourhood have prevented me from so doing.

Vogelman

I had just settled down to watch a recording from the previous evening of the first live concert from the 2020 BBC Proms (performed in a Royal Albert Hall free of an audience, of course) when an almighty din erupted from the street—shouting, screaming, police sirens, and more.  I paused the video and went over to the living room window to discover what was happening. However, other than seeing some of my neighbours with phones attempting to record what was going on, I was not much the wiser.  I could hear police sirens and the street had been blocked and there were voices uttering profanities into a microphone and loudspeakers blaring them out for all and sundry to hear.  Then I noticed several members of the Israel police take up positions close to the house directly opposite.  In retrospect, a police motorcycle had been parked there for an hour or so before but I didn’t put 2 and 2 together.

And then it suddenly dawned on me what must be going on.  One of my neighbours who lives in the house directly opposite, Uzi Vogelman, happens to be one of the 15 justices of Israel’s Supreme Court. A couple of months ago, three people, including a prominent anti-migrant activist, had been detained briefly on suspicion of spray-painting slogans against the Supreme Court outside the home of Chief Justice, the sprayed graffiti reading  “You’ve buried Zionism,” and  “The Supreme Court has destroyed south Tel Aviv.”

Sheffi Paz, an anti-migrant activist, has been campaigning for years against the housing of African migrants, mainly from Sudan and Eritrea, in her south Tel Aviv neighbourhood.  In addition to having been arrested for that disturbance, she admitted that she had plastered stickers with the slogan “Jewish blood isn’t cheap” in and around the mailbox of Mr. Vogelman, an act that prompted him to file a complaint with the police. The slogan,  “Jewish blood isn’t cheap” is commonly used by right-wing activists and was an apparent reference to a recent case in which Vogelman, who holds, it seems, liberal views, was part of a court panel that had rejected the demolition of the home of a Palestinian suspect in the killing of yeshiva student in the West Bank last year. Paz’s stickers, marked with reminders of her organization, the “South Tel Aviv Liberation Front”, apparently referred to Supreme Court rulings that had prevented the government from removing migrants from the neighborhood where local residents claim they are a source of violent crime, including rape (although a recent incident of gang rape in a hotel in the southern resort city of Eilat suggests that you don’e have to be black or living in south Tel Aviv to perpetrate rape!)

Uzi Vogelman was one of the judges involved in these rulings, which prompted Paz to say that “We have a lengthy history involving Uzi Vogelman.  It took me some time to find his address, otherwise I would have done it long ago.”  Whereas the almost automatic revanchist reaction of Israel’s right-wing government towards solving the migrant problem was to threaten the migrants with repatriation or just expulsion, the Supreme Court prevented this by stating that a solution must be found that is in line with international norms . 

Immediately following this threatening act against Mr. Vogelman, there’s been a discreet police presence in our neighbourhood, and this became apparent and not so discreet at the first hint of trouble the other night.  I don’t know how many people were involved  in the demo but it was very, very noisy.  However, I can only imagine that there were far fewer people than those who appear close to the Prime Minister’s residences most evenings in Jerusalem and Caesarea, so I imagine what Mr. Netanyahu and his family members must be going through nightly.  My heart bleeds for them and long may it last—but it’s a shame that their unfortunate neighbours have to suffer, too.

The following morning, the footpaths and car windscreens were littered with the poster that appears above and it transpires that the demo was organized by an Israeli NGO, Im Tirtzu, whose stated mission is “to renew Zionist discourse, Zionist thinking and Zionist ideology to ensure the future of the Jewish nation and the State of Israel.”  Whereas some people maintain that Im Tirtzu is an important Zionist movement, there are others who believe that it bears similarities to fascist groups.  Whatever the case, Im Tirtzu has  wide support within the Israeli government, which suggests the latter view is closer to the truth.  Just before the demonstration and the noise faded away about 10.30 p.m., the chant taken up by the mob was “Vogelman is corrupt”, which was repeated over and again.  Given that the Prime Minister of Israel is on trial in three separate cases involving corruption, that he has taken to slandering the judicial system in general, is taking aim at the Supreme Court in particular, and that the government supports Im Tirtzu, one begins to wonder …

*********************

It’s been a long hot summer and there’s still more of it to run.  The flowers outside the house are showing the effects of dehydration, it seems …

Long hot summer

… as does the house below a couple of streets away.  It’s been blistering for a few years already but recently, it seems to have taken a turn for the worse and looks like it needs more than a little work on it!

Paint - 1

************

Out walking in the park one day last week, I took this photograph of parakeets in flight and posted it to Facebook because I thought it was a nice picture.

Green green

I received some “likes” and comment but nobody asked how I managed to catch them all in flight.  A little more astuteness might have provided the answer for it appears as if all the little green birdies are flying in the same direction, away from the photographer with his camera.  And that’s because I had espied these winged creatures happily pecking away between the blades of grass as if nothing untoward might happen to them.  But that didn’t make a particularly dynamic picture and then while I had the camera in hand and the focus more or less right, I decided to shout “Boo!” and four seconds later, the result that is the upper picture of the two was taken.  A little cruel on my part, perhaps, but worth it nevertheless.

Green green 1

Walking home yesterday morning, I found myself walking behind a semi-masked man and his poodle.  There were two things about them that drew me to this picture.  One was the stark contrast between the man with his shaven head and his immaculately coiffured canine.  The other thought that passed through the addled mind of a confirmed cynic was that this picture could easily symbolize the Israeli (or British) Prime Ministers in the company of any one of their ministers.  The faux seriousness of the owner and the friskiness and willingness to obey of the faithful canine? Might I not be correct?

Poodle - 1

 

************

And then one day last week I found myself going through my collections of 42,000+ photos in a futile search for two that I was sure I had taken a couple of years ago but apparently hadn’t.  (You must understand that, like everything else in my possession — papers of various kinds, books, CDs and the like—I start to classify and then usually come the conclusion sorting and filing are absolutely mind-numbing tasks.  The end result is usually partial classification so that whereas I did find several photos taken around the time that I had thought I had taken the ones I was looking for, I didn’t find what I was looking for, probably because I had taken them and then junked them when I reckoned they weren’t up to scratch.

Anyway, what transpired was that I was forced to look at lots of images that I hadn’t seen for a long time and I present some of them here.  The first one resulted, coincidentally, from a question posed by my almost 8-year old granddaughter, Lily, a couple of weeks ago.  She wanted to know if a tuna is a larger fish than a salmon; after all, they both come out of tins that are more or less the same size but as she’s seen a side of salmon, she understood that people must do something to it to get it — and the tuna — into something as small as a tin.

Fortunately, I spent three days just over eight years ago in the fish market in Syracuse, Sicily.  Whereas on the first day, the whole fish was hanging by a hook, the picture below shows the work as it progressed on the second day, on which the fish butcher has not yet got to the stage of cutting steaks, which only occurred on the third day.  So Lily was able to appreciate that a tuna is, indeed, a larger fish than a salmon!

Tuna 1

Then, while going through the photographs, my eye was drawn to this one below so I stopped and looked.  In truth, I couldn’t remember taking it and couldn’t figure out what sort of animal this was …

Biscuits 1

… until I looked at some adjoining pictures and discovered that it was nothing more than a biscuit with eyes and that I’d played around with it!

Biscuits 2

Biscuits

And while looking though the pictures, I realized that I haven’t hung any new pictures on the walls of the flat for several years now as a result of which I’ve ordered four prints for the living room and the bedroom.

The first is “Puppy”, an installation by Jeff Koons outside the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.  Puppy comprises flowers that grow in an unequal and anarchic way and how s/he appears changes with the seasons and the flowering of the plants of which it is comprised.  This is Puppy as s/he appeared in mid-May 2015.

Koons' puppy

And on that same visit to Bilbao one could not but take a photograph of the Museum itself, designed by Frank Gehry as a ship, in recognition of Bilbao’s history as a port.  Although most photographs are taken from the side of the museum which faces the street, the guidebook told me that the best view was from the other side of the river.  So I crossed to the other side and on the way back, I realized that the best view was actually from the bridge that straddles the river (and which, incidentally, was a physical impediment in the planning of the whole Guggenheim project.)  I just thought that the office block behind the museum, which provided the “funnel” to Gehry’s “ship”, made it into a much better picture that it otherwise would have been.

Gehry's ship 1

The third picture that I ordered was of a sculpture of an “iron baby” by Antony Gormley in the forecourt of the Royal Academy of Arts last December.  I almost missed it, it was so small there, lying on the ground.  The most amazing thing about it was that so many people seemed to treat it as if it was a real baby and were on their hands and knees to stroke it and pet it.  Maybe they thought it was cold; after all, it was December.

Gormley Baby

Finally,  I decided to print a picture I took a couple of years ago on Hampstead Heath in London.  As I walked towards the tree, I was fascinated by the spread of the bare branches so I took several pictures.  However, the colours of the original seemed a little too dull to warrant printing or even posting.  So I decided to spruce the tree up a little (no pun intended; it isn’t that kind of tree) and this is what resulted and it will occupy some blank wall space in the living room.

Heath tree

Finally, just around the corner, there’s a house where one of the residents cut through a tree in order to create sufficient width to park his/her car.  I thought it was worth a picture!

Cut tree

Standard