Spring Seasonal Festivities

This past week has been a fairly quiet one, so if it’s been so quiet, perhaps I really have nothing much to write about.  Come to think of it, that is more or less the same as I think each time when I sit down to post to this blog.  But then every time I sit down to post, I do manage to find something to write about —and often it’s rather like the newspapers or the 24/7 news programmes that blight our lives from one day to the next —all day— as they have to fill up their allocated space or allotted time whether or not they really have anything to report—because if they don’t then the listeners, the viewers and the readers might complain that they’re not getting their money’s worth!

This weekend, with Ramadan already in full flow, we are being entertained through the medium of the spring festivals of Passover and its offshoot, Easter.  With all three festivals determined by the lunar calendar, they are what used to be termed “movable feasts”, which, I suppose is why the Brits introduced the early and late spring Bank Holidays, so as to stabilise things, as it were, and allow the population to calculate more easily when they can officially have time off from work, not that that having time off work seems to be a major problem in this part of the world.

In general, festivals provide a means whereby groups attempt to maintain themselves culturally.  Essentially, they are cultural artefacts to be  “consumed”  but which are also accorded meaning through by being actively incorporated into people’s lives.  The word “festival” derives from the Latin festivitas, and is a word for a social gathering convened for the purpose of celebration or thanksgiving.  Festivals were originally part of a ritual nature and were associated with mythological, religious and ethnic traditions. Festivals are periodically recurrent, social occasions in which, through diverse forms and via a series of co-ordinated events, members of a community participate directly or indirectly and to various degrees, united by ethnic, linguistic, religious, historical bonds, and share a world view.  The symbolic meaning of the festival is closely related to overt values recognised by the community as essential to its ideology, social identity, historical continuity, and its physical survival which is ultimately what festival celebrates.

Historically, the most commonly observed Jewish festival practice is the annual Passover Seder, and a survey conducted by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research in London (of which I was once the Director of Research) some years ago found that a substantial majority (71%) of respondents attend a Seder meal every year, higher than the 63% who responded that they fast on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. While the survey didn’t inquire as to why attending a Seder was so routinely observed, the fact that it usually takes place in a home, involves a family meal and is as much a cultural and familial experience as it is a religious one, almost certainly contributes to its prevalence.

This year, the spring season festivities made themselves present in a somewhat unusual way.  My daughters, Shuli & Tami, with granddaughters Gali and Lily in tow, arrived for a short visit, among other things so that we could have Seder together.  They were due to arrivelate in the evening at Heathrow Terminal 5, so I called the taxi company that I have used almost exclusively on every trip to and from London since 1995, gave them the information on destination and time of arrival and received—for the first time—the response that no cabs were available.  Several further attempts with other taxi companies yielded a very similar response as did all my attempts to book online and the reason given in each case —”There’s  a shortage of drivers”.  I thought “Here we go again—Covid is being used an excuse once more” but then I remembered that many of the cab drivers I’ve used recently seem to hail from Pakistan, Algeria, Afghanistan, Malaysia, and so forth — all of which happen to be Muslim countries.  And it’s Ramadan!  So am I being politically incorrect and am I arriving at unjustified conclusions? Maybe — but I think my explanation might have some underlying logic.  At any rate, the four ladies turned up on time (more or less) in a cab driven by a Sri Lankan Buddhist!  And the following morning they departed with the rest of the family to go climbing and walking in the Brecon Beacons.

Anyway, back to Passover.  When I was young, it used to be my favourite Jewish festival but in retrospect, that was probably due to the aforementioned Seder night(s) which were always fairly uproarious family events, in between the “historical” readings of the Haggadah, a text that sets forth the order of the Seder and is read at the Seder table and which fulfils the commandment to “tell your children” the story from the Book of Exodus about God bringing the Children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt.

However, as I have become older, and in the words of some friends, quite quirky and in the words of others, just plain cynical, Passover (Pesach) no longer holds the same magical spell for me.  The biblical exhortation is pretty simple: In Exodus 12:15, it is written “For seven days you must eat unleavened bread. On the first day you are to remove the leaven from your houses. Whoever eats anything leavened from the first day through the seventh must be cut off from Israel.”  This enjoinder involved cleaning and clearing the house, changing all the dishes, pots and pans (i.e., only to use dishes, pots, pans, cutlery, &c. specifically for the week of Passover), sell any leavened products that may have been loitering in cupboards over the previous year (usually to a self-appointed cleric) and then on the morning before the Seder ritually burn anything that may have managed to escape your previous rigorous searches.

Now that I’m older and more disbelieving, I’ve come to the conclusion that if the rabbis had had to do all the cleaning and clearing themselves rather than leave it to their wives and daughters, they would have been much more clement in their restrictions!  This year, my skepticism and cynicism were given an extra dose when last week a friend gave me a couple of slices of a cheesecake she had made and left it for me in an aluminium foil container.  Looking at the container and the inscription on the bottom, which says that it has been approved for Passover use, I assumed that it had contained something kosher for Passover use before it was used to contain the cheesecake, so I called her as was in formed: “No. It was new”.  The foil container had been approved for Passover use by the Haredi (Strictly Orthodox) rabbinical court and I assume that that court’s approval came at a premium.  So much for the simple and seemingly straightforward “For seven days you must eat unleavened bread”!!!!!!!

 

By now, I have aroused within myself a possibly dangerous state of apoplexy, so enough is enough and it’s time for some pictures!

Last weekend, I joined my London family on a visit to the area being redeveloped around the old Battersea Power Station.  The kids were looking forward to using the fancy playground that had been advertised in the newspapers as being opened the day we went — only to discover that due to “technical hitches” that wouldn’t happen until the middle of the following week (notwithstanding the fact that the website contains a statement from the Mayor of Wandsworth, the borough in which the power station is located that the playground opened on March 25 2022!

Unopened playground, Battersea Power Station

From the 1930s through to the 1980s, Battersea Power Station was a working Power Station, which at its peak, was producing about 20% of London’s power, supplying electricity to both the Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace. Rather like the former Bankside Power Station, which was converted into the Tate Modern Art Gallery approximately 25 years ago, the Battersea Station is undergoing extensive redevelopment as a residential and commercial centre.  At the moment, it’s a work in progress but looks as if it will be something more than spectacular when completed, with residential complexes designed by both Norman Foster and Frank Gehry.

Battersea Power Station in redevelopment (1)

 

Battersea Power Station in redevelopment (2)

One sees all sorts of strange things while wandering around.  I felt that I perhaps I should tell this guy that Mecca isn’t in that particular direction only to discover that my son was photographing the ripples in the water!

A good time had been had by all! Battersea Power Station

My grandson, Tal, asked me if he could borrow my camera while we walked about so as any grandfather might do, his wish was granted.  And then I discovered that he has an eye for a photograph!

 

He even spotted the bath on the top floor of one of the residential buildings and after I showed him how to operate the zoom on the camera, this was the picture that resulted.

 

There was even a message from Mr. Putin as we ambled along.

And then at the end of the week, I went to Dov’s place and spent a couple of hours with Tal and Maya and cameras for although I thought that Tal had a good eye for a picture, I also thought that it might be a good idea to explain to both of them how a camera works.  I’m not sure I succeeded as well as I would have liked but I did get through to them partially.

At the end of the session, I asked each of them to take photographs of things they found interesting in the house and then to explain to me why they took the photos.

Maya explained to me that she photographed the mess in her wardrobe because of all the different colours she saw, which I thought was a fair enough explanation.

Tal then had Maya throw up some balloons left over from his birthday party a few days earlier and as they fell, he snapped this picture in which the pink balloon (which is inside the house) looks as if it’s a second ball outside in the garden.

He also photographed Pia, their dog, because he liked the way her ear was positioned — also an interesting observation, I thought.

His final effort, piano keyboard, was a tour de force.  Good imagination and implementation!

But after an hour or more listening to granddad drone on about cameras and photography, it was time to let off some steam.

Meanwhile, in another location, while taking time off from reading a book, I looked up and thought I saw a face looking out of the window…

… and looking upwards, I saw something else that caught my eye.

Finally, just when I thought I was done with photographs for the week, I went for a walk on Primrose Hill.  As I was walking up to the summit, I heard what I thought was a bird behind me — but it wasn’t the usual tweet of a small bird.  And then I heard the squawk again and turned around as saw a man with a parrot balanced on each shoulder while he chatted away on his phone.  I should have taken the photo there and then but wasn’t sure what his reaction might be so I waited until he had passed me by and it was only then that I realised that he wouldn’t have minded at all because he was doing it all for show.

Parrots on Primrose Hill

Finally, as if to compete with the parrots’ colours, this gentleman emerged from a bright red Bentley saloon, climbed to the top of the hill and took photographs of a couple he may or may not have known with the City of London as a backdrop and then returned to his Bentley and drove off!

 

Happy Pesach, Easter, Ramadan and whatever!

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London calling — again!

Well, after over seven weeks in Tel Aviv where winter reigned for much of the time and Covid-19 for a large part of it, I find myself back in London where we endured more than a week of real spring weather — sort of as if the world had been turned upside down, something about which we have been made painfully aware, what with climate change, Covid, Brexit, Ukraine and all the rest.

One listens to the news for a few minutes in the morning and it seems as if nothing much has changed — war (or is it just a special military operation?) in Ukraine, exploding figures for new Covid infections, garden parties in 10 Downing Street once more, babies and mothers dying unnecessarily in Shrewsbury, ordinary people being murdered on the streets of Israel’s cities (something that hardly gets a mention here in the UK), etc., etc.  So what’s new?

But spring is spring and we should be grateful for small mercies, which brings me back to Professor Lehrer again and makes me glad that I’m not a pigeon!

It’s quite amazing, though.  It seems there’s no escaping the war in Ukraine short of turning off the radio and TV, giving the newspapers and magazines a permanent miss and being determined not to use a smartphone, the weapon that has become the principal vehicle for the transmission of notifications on social media, in particular “fake news”, “alternative facts” and other falsehoods.  Looking at the images that appear on the television screen and elsewhere, all I can think of that life for the 4 million or so people who have fled their country to seek refuge elsewhere is a life in hell.  I find that this combination of round-the-clock news and the images that accompany it emotionally disturbing, to say the least, and I can’t even begin to comprehend what people are going through in this, Putin’s war.  The more I see and hear, the more I begin to think that this man is not just a run-of-the-mill bog-standard dictator but a combination of the worst of Stalin and Hitler and an individual who personifies the Russian paranoia of being surrounded by enemies better than anyone else.  Last week’s Economist newspaper contained a briefing that attempted to explain this and it made for chilling reading indeed—and is more than worth a cursory glance.

The New Russian Cult of War

One gets the feeling that a single wrong move of the part of any one involved in this conflict could bring about irreparable damage — disaster, in fact. Which, as you might have guessed, brings me back to Tom Lehrer — and although the song was written nearly 60 years ago and contains in its lyrics a couple of references to the time in which it was written, most of it is still relevant — even apt — to what is going on today.

What I find particularly scary is that with control of the media within Russia, so many Russian citizens appear to have little idea of what is really taking place and believe everything they’re told by the state-controlled media—as outlined in the Economist briefing. And all this reminds me of the lyrics of another Lehrer song that famously satirized the alleged amorality of the German rocket scientist Wernher von Braun who developed the V1 and V2 rockets that terrorised parts of southern England at the end of WWII. Over 1400 were launched at Britain, with more than 500 striking London, each one causing vast devastation, and killing  almost 3,000 people and injuring almost 7,000 more. Von Braun worked for Nazi Germany before turning his expertise in rocketry to serve the United States, his work satirised by Lehrer in the lyric “‘Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down? That’s not my department,’ says Wernher von Braun.”   (The story of the V2 was recounted in V2, a recent novel by that wonderful storyteller,  Robert Harris.).

Unlike the unfortunates who lost their lives in England nearly eight decades ago to V1s and V2s, the same cannot be said in regard to today’s Ukrainian citizens facing bombardment from Putin’s rockets, which far from not being his department is absolutely his department as they are aimed at, guided towards, and enventually destroy, civilian targets throughout the country.

BUT ENOUGH!

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So here I am again in a city I enjoy being in although I only really ventured out on my own for the first time a couple of days ago for although I was officially “cleared” of Covid three weeks ago, I have not yet  returned to a situation that I would regard as “normal”—whatever that might mean.

So what’s been going on now that I’m here?  Well, for a start, I’ve been enjoying the blossom on the trees and in the gardens and this year, it seems to be more colourful than usual.

Magnolia blossom, London NW3

 

Almond blossom, London NW3

 

Daffodils, London NW3

 

Daffodils, London NW3

 

 

One of my granddaughters loves pictures of squirrels — although why anybody thinks that these bushy-tailed rodents are “sweet” is beyond me as I regard them as vermin, rather in the same that I regard pigeons as winged vermin (as, apparently, do some others).

However, I [generally] do what’s requested of me or what I’m told and every now and then, I take the camera out and look out the windows to see if there are any around.  I watched these two one day last week as they gadded about but then I realised that perhaps as it was a warm spring day, it was more serious than the usual kind of joyful squirrel-play.

On my first walking day out a week ago, I ventured around the corner to Primrose Hill.  It was a misty morning and although I’ve been photographing Primrose Hill in various lighting conditions, at different seasons and at different times of the day, I don’t recollect ever having seen it like this before.

Primrose Hill, London NW3

And while on the way there, I observed something that seemed to represent optimum use of a balcony — chairs, bike, drying area, repository for plants, etc.

Optimum balcony use. London NW3

We Rent Everything/Anything. Belsize Park, London NW3

Then, last weekend I accompanied some friends for a walk along the Grand Union Canal, which runs between London and Birmingham.  We didn’t walk all the way to the Midlands but stuck to a strip in and around Paddington, where there were all sorts on interesting things on view.

My eye, as some of you may have already noticed is drawn to signs — street signs, road signs and the like.  So one of the first things that I chanced to see was the sign below, to which my cynical self, probably from watching too much news on the TV, equated with young Russian soldiers sent by Mr. Putin to besiege and capture the Ukrainian capital.

Having reached the canal, we encountered these two gentlemen preparing to sunbathe and generally have a good time.  I managed to count four bottles of wine and as I didn’t spot any guests, I could only presume that it was all for two and two for all.

And then we found ourselves in an area called “Little Venice” although it really beats me as to why …

… because it didn’t conjure up in my mind anything resembling Venice other than the canal, of course.

It was certainly missing some of the glamour of the Grand Canal.

A couple of days ago, I ventured into town to visit the National Gallery, ostensibly to view Gainsborough’s Blue Boy, which left me somewhat underwhelmed.  However, in the adjoining room were four pictures of Venice by Canaletto, which more than made up for the disappointment of the Blue Boy.  The amount of detail that Canaletto manages to get into his paintings always astounds me.  It has whetted by appetite to view the Canalettos that are currently being exhibited — for 6 months — at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, (Canaletto’s Venice Revisited)part of the collection from Woburn Abbey, which formed the largest single commission that the artist had ever received.  It’s a show that “reassesses Canaletto at the height of his career, and looks beyond the broad views for which he is renowned by examining t closely the features that bring his Venice to life.”  Something to look forward to, indeed.

 

And while at the National Gallery, I thought that this was definitely photographable although I was later tapped on the shoulder and informed that I am not permitted to take a photograph with children in it.

And on exiting the gallery, I passed this bust and wondered who he might be … but I was not left wondering for long for the plaque told me that it is John Paul Getty Jr himself.  It was commissioned by the National Gallery to acknowledge his £50 million donation. Not bad!

On and beside the canal, there were all sorts of activities (besides drinking four bottles of wine directly from the bottles, of course).  This pair adjusted their poses several times over the 10-15 minutes I was observing them …

… and this lot were obviously enjoying their brunch (the person on the right was steering the vessel).

 

Zero horsepower!

 

How many cricket bats would one willow produce?

 

The permanent residents

And then there were the things that just caught my eye.  For instance, en route to the canal we passed this edifice, constructed to memorialise Hotmail, which was launched in 1996 and acquired by Microsoft in 1997 for an estimated $400 million.  Also not bad for the founders Sabeer Bhatia and Jack Smith the founders of Hotmail!

Hotmail!

The Hotmail box contrasted with one on England’s Lane, NW3, which was obvious rather cold as it’s wearing a designer tea cosy or pillbox (postbox???) hat.

And while on the subject of postboxes, one frustrated resident on Primrose Gardens NW3 was obviously so exasperated with the postman (or does it have to be postperson these days?) that he had to leave strict instructions.

Signs of the times, England’s Lane. NW3

And to finish up with a couple of signs that I photographed on the Tube en route to The National Gallery.

Sometimes I wonder how brainless people can be—for instance, the designer of this sign.  This one prompted the following question to enter my cynical mind:  How is one to know whether, when, and how staring is intrusive and sexually harassing. I write this because until I saw this sign directly opposite me as the Tube jangled down to Leicester Square,  I had just assumed that my staring was brought about by the fact that sitting on the Tube simply causes boredom.  Now I learn that I could be reported to Transport for London’s Sexual Harassment Line just for staring, with goodness knows what punishment to be meted out to me as a result.

The second sign, on the way home, was equally thoughtless (or so I thought) and it prompted me to think that if not all disabilities are visible, then what would I see when I look up and the person I’m looking at had an invisible disability!  Right?!

Meanwhile, Horatio keeps his [one] eye on events.

Admiral Lord Nelson (in stone). Trafalgar Square, London.

And the sun during the spring “heatwave” was affecting his eyes! (with thanks to Nira Querfurth)

Finally, just as I started this post this morning and was writing about spring, I looked out the window and this is what I saw — snow!

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