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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!