Author Archives: ShimonZ

yesterday

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almond blossoms at the top of the little hill where I live in Jerusalem

When I came into this world, it was hell on earth. My earliest memories are of nightmare qualities. My parents, who were orthodox Jews, were married by ‘arrangement’. and complemented each other in a strange and unexpected manner. My father didn’t really want to bring any children into this world, but my mother wouldn’t hear of such a plan. It was either marriage with children or no marriage and he agreed. In an attempt to offer me some consolation, he suggested that I read history, and this I did. It gave me a wider perspective of human affairs. My mother, on the other hand, told me of the good in the world. She tried to share with me what she loved about life. She was an incurable optimist.

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Nechama my cat does not believe in religion or any ideology. she looks at life from the ground up. she has an exaggerated faith in me. but when we’re taking a walk together and she sees a dog in the area, she hides behind a bush or up in the tree. she doesn’t rely on me to save her.

As a young man I started my learning with the study of religion, and from there I continued to mechanics, science and engineering. This was simply because Jewish people could not feel safe in any country. They had been driven out of one country after another and been forced to adjust to endless changes in language and cultures. The study of engineering or mechanics would allow me to feed myself and my family regardless of where I might have to go to find shelter. But after securing a professional base, I found myself drawn to philosophy. As I would read the thoughts of different philosophers, I was convinced almost every time, identifying with the thinker, and adopting his point of view until I came across the next which I would adopt too. I was naive and trusting when reading these volumes by intelligent rational people… well, some of them were rational. Eventually, I came to existentialism, and this was more or less where that search ended. I tried to live the present. Not to reach out in hope and prayer for the future… not to entertain fantasies about what could happen, and what I wanted to happen. And not to look back… because in my case, I couldn’t even take a peek without inadvertently seeing images of a blood drenched inferno, being beaten up, and tortured by fear.

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she’s an old one eyed cat, but she hasn’t run to fat. she watches the birds on the hill without disclosing her opinions

For most of my life, I continued on this path. And as I’ve mentioned many times in this journal, my life became better and better. To the point where after sixty some years, dying quietly on the floor of my college office after a heart attack, I argued with an ambulance paramedic who wanted to take me to the hospital, saying that I had a good life, and just wanted to be taken home, which was a good place in which to say good bye to the world. Circumstances outwitted me, and I was eventually taken to the hospital where I was saved, but that is a story for another time.

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this is wild mustard that grows freely in the fields at this season, and can be included in a sandwich without industrial additives

What I wanted to say, though, was that for most of my life I preferred to focus on the present. But as I grew old, I realized that in many cases that which was most precious to me, was not the contemporary favorite. It was not just that I’d grown old and was no longer able to keep up, and so waxed nostalgic about what had been popular when I was younger. In my youth I had enjoyed Vivaldi and Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and Schubert. I had read philosophical speculations that were sometimes two and three thousand years old, and back again up till the present day. In the pursuit of happiness I had the advantage of checking out anything and everything that had been studied before me. And then… sometime after my retirement, I became entranced by the desire to keep ‘up to date’… and was disappointed.

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more almond blossoms at the same place

technology is a straight line; the arts, philosophy, and music are part of a timeless blossoming of the human spirit. there is no before and after in art.

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As we all know, there is nobility in ‘art for art’s sake, or studying for the sake of knowledge. One discerns music by taste. The reason to play is for the sake of enjoyment…of the player or the listener; either or both. But in the case of technology, there is constant forward motion and progress is judged by practicality. Technology started before recorded history, before the invention of the wheel, before the invention of scissors and pliers or the discover of the uses of fire. And we moved a step forward every time we encountered a practical way to get results that were even better than what we were getting before. There was a long period of time when man was learning how to harness the power of water moving in a river to perform jobs that people had previously been doing by hand. And then there was the steam engine, and then the internal combustion engine. And while these major industrial miracles were being celebrated, there were hundreds and thousands ‘little’ miracles that added to man’s ability to impose his will on nature.

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the same corner where we looked at post modern sculptures on that rainy day

The industrial revolution was perhaps the first time that major customs and conventions were replaced and changed in order to placate the demands of technological progress. After that came the electrical era, and we are now at the very start of the digital age. It is hard to guess just exactly where we’ll go. But I keep in mind that the god of technology is efficiency, whereas the god of art, music and philosophy is reflected in the infinite variations of human sensitivity, empathy, emotions, and the questioning of our own existence.

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Purim Pics 2 (’18)

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I must be out of step with the universe these days… I told you about starting to work on one post, and then being distracted… and when I came back to finish it, I found myself writing another… which isn’t finished yet. Can you imagine, I have a number of unfinished posts languishing in a folder on my computer… begging to see the light of day. This led to last Friday when I spent a few hours downtown, thinking it might amuse you to see us amusing ourselves… I’d written about Purim a number of times, and didn’t want to repeat myself… but thought a few pics would be good. And took more than just a few, most of which I haven’t yet examined myself.

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And then this morning found myself traveling to the north of Israel by bus and train bringing back memories of half a century ago… (as an unexpected side effect of deciding I was too old to drive, I’ve been seeing more, and thinking more… even staring into space more, though a lot of good that does me); and if we’re talking about thoughts worth the telling, or sights worth the shooting, what about the dignity of that post called Purim Pics 1. If I were to interrupt that series by sending you shots of wild cyclamen… without even going to Purim Pics 2… would that be ridiculous? And if it was, would it matter? A typical Purim dilemma.

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And then I opened the Hebrew Paper on the train coming here, and saw an article about Stephen Hawking suggesting that he might know what happened before the big bang. No, don’t tell me it was the little bang. And it wasn’t. According to this article, he has no difficulty describing the nature of things 13.8 billion years ago. In case you were wondering about that, he assures us that time didn’t exist then, and the entire universe was about the size of a very dense atom. Hawking tells us that because the equations can’t explain what happened before the expansion, the universe materialized out of nothing. One of the talkbacks at the bottom of this article asked him if nothing existed before the big bang, would he be kind enough to make a shoelace. ‘Cause one of his (the reader’s) shoelaces tore as he was reading the article.

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That’s kind of what Purim is about. It’s the occasion where we remember that we take a lot of artificial and inauspicious things very seriously… and so doing, miss what’s really going on. I hate to remind myself, but some of us have trouble remembering what was in a book we read thirteen months ago. So now we’re going to entertain a theory on what happened 13 billion years ago?!

Purim Pics 1 (’18)

A few pictures from Shushan Purim in Jerusalem 2018
This action was close to the city hall, around the Safra plaza.

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rainy day

 

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at the bottom of the stairs coming out from my apartment

For some time now, I’ve been planning to take a walk in the rain. But every time it rains, I find an excuse not to do so on that day. I do enjoy a nice clear sunny day, with a few clouds in the blue sky, that’s what I like best. That’s when I wink at the camera. And though I remember that I have enjoyed walking in the rain… and despite actually feeling the need of the ground to get that rain, and am happy to see it come down; for some reason or other, it always seems most appropriate to watch it from the windows of my salon. This last week though, hearing of the cold front in Europe, and imagining the snow piled high in cities usually known for their moderate weather, the urge to take a walk in the rain couldn’t be contained.

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And so, off I went one morning this week, to enjoy the wintry mood of my neighborhood. It looks like we aren’t going to get any snow this year. We are blessed with snow some winters, but this is the latest that it has snowed in my memory, and if it doesn’t snow till the Purim holiday, I figure we’re going to miss it this year. Maybe it was exhausted over Europe.

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Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve started a number of posts, each time interrupted by some unexpected event. I would put the half written article aside, and by the time I sat down to write again, I’d be thinking of something else, and start writing a different post. And so it went till now. Knowing that today was Purim, and I would go downtown to see how the young folks were celebrating, I decided to take a few pictures from my recent ‘walk in the rain’ and publish that before missing another Friday. Wouldn’t want you thinking that I’d forgotten my virtual friends.

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These shots were taken down at the corner, the first little commercial center I reach when I come down from my home on the hill, to see a bit of the neighborhood or buy few household necessities for day to day living. The sculpture you see has been recently added to our environment here. I consider it post modern sculpture, because it is devoid of pretension, and only asks to remind me of certain images in the most abstract way. The colors seem to have been chosen in the lightest of moods. I look at these images, sometimes seated on a bench opposite them, and they impress me as doodles in mid air, meant mainly for my amusement.

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Aside from the pizza parlor, a very good hamburger restaurant and an Iraqi bakery on the corner itself, there is also a supermarket, a liquor store and a snack bar just around the corner not seen in these pictures here. When in the need for basics, this is where I go. We’ve had a few new stores open for business but then close down after a short time, unable to find a constituency here I suppose, and I’m always sorry to see them leave. It would be nice if I had the widest variety of choices close to home, because I really prefer to go shopping on foot.

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But when I do want to go the distance, there is no shortage of public transportation. We’re close to the light train, and have a number of city buses that can take me to any destination I might choose. I have given up driving. and though there are some disadvantages, I feel as if I’ve been relieved of a great weight. Even so, the end result is that I travel less.

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I was on my way to the promenade park where I like to meet with my hyrax friends. But I really didn’t expect to see any there. They don’t usually appear in the rain. I did see one, eyeing me from behind a bush. I suppose he was one of the watchman who come and check out a site before the whole tribe shows up. He seemed even more reticent than they usually are. We’ll have to put off our meeting till the next sunny day. Still, I did manage to get a few winter pictures to share with you. I’ll attach them to another post. And who knows, maybe I’ll get around to finishing up one of those posts I started.

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And today, Friday, it’s Purim, the holiday of masks. We’ve had good luck and the weather forecast promises a sunny day. The children… and a few of the braver adults will be able to walk around in costume. I might get a few shots of that. Sending you all my very best wishes from Jerusalem.

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P.S. Just got back from downtown. Lots of fun. So I’m adding this picture for Mary, who complained that I never have people in my pictures. This should be seen as an apology, and compensation of sorts. Boy, were there a lot of people at the center of town today! And now I’m off to get ready for the holy Sabbath, my friends. There is more to come…

corner Jaffa & King George

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love

art factory

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one of the many almond trees we saw blossoming

Thursday was one of those unpleasant winter days in Jerusalem. Dark clouds hung over the city as the temperature rose to a high of 24° by mid day. Noga and I had gone out to look at the newly blossomed almond trees, despite the weather, and by noon, we were looking for a place to have a couple of beers, and maybe something to eat. She suggested we visit the factory, a local art project organized in an abandoned old house, in the middle of Jerusalem. It seemed a good place to take a break. Empty House is a cooperative of idealistic young artists who wish to offer space in which to work to other artists, and also to contribute something to the contemporary scene in our city.

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the kitchen and restaurant at the factory

As to the front yard, had it been intended as a vegetable garden… to go with the vegetarian restaurant inside, or was it an artistic statement without having to rely on history? in any case, there’s an abandoned hole in the middle of the front yard amidst the bushes, and a few garden tools thrown in. Next to the hole, you can find the bottom half of the gardener sticking straight out of the ground, fully clothed, as if the ground had half swallowed him.

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don’t despair, dear gardeners

The fence that borders the courtyard has a naive ‘back to nature’ theme punctuated by the bicycle parts that landed on the chain link fence above the more traditional stone. And peeking through, across the narrow alley that separates between the houses, we can see the building style typical of our city; houses built of stone, metal shutters. It’s already part of the past. But they’ll last a long time till they’re replaced.

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In the central room there’s a sort of fountain… maybe a goldfish aquarium…. for the fish are certainly there… where once stood a statue of a fully dressed woman, looking to the side, her hands in her pocket, her hair piled over her head… sadly, only her legs remain. But we have the consolation of watching the goldfish swim around as we await our lunch. There are two choices: yellow curry rice with cabbage and cauliflower and rice with beans. We ordered both of the plates on the menu, and the food was satisfactory.

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Along the hallway, between the kitchen/restaurant and the main room, I found a very interesting white board with a great number of illustrations of the artistic caliber you might find in an ancient cave. But if the art was a bit amateurish, it should stand forever as a testament to freedom of expression. Up on top towards the left, you may recognize the flag of Israel. But instead of the star of David in the center, it has the symbol of the shekel, which is the basic currency of our country. To the right of that is “the factory” which is the name of the venue. And under that is the picture of an ambulance, police, and fire department coming from right to left. On the left is the hand holding the sling shot, and under that are the numbers you call for ambulance, police or firemen and after that, ‘cultural terror attack’, with a question mark after that.

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Yesterday and today we’ve had rain. The temperature has gone down to normal for winter. The air has been cleaned. And in the very same area of town that we visited on Thursday, we had an entirely different adventure just yesterday…. but knowing how easily the past is forgotten, I wanted to jot this down before it was lost in the past…

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in memory of Ursula K. LeGuin

I first came across science fiction in the 50s when studying in America. Came across those inexpensive SF magazines and paper back books with appealing covers enjoyed by a relatively small circle of readers. They offered conjecture as to the future; a future in which technology would offer solutions to many of the hardships associated with sustaining material existence. And they seemed to ask what would concern us in the era that seemed then to be just around the corner. What would have to be dealt with when we were freed of our day to day burdens that were then such a large part of maintaining our existence.

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Ursula K. LeGuin started publishing after I had left America, but she continued in the tradition of those writers and thinkers of the 50s and 60s. She challenged us to change our thinking as to the purpose and the content of human life. In her honor, I would like to re-examine one of her classic stories; a story translated to Hebrew and published in the newspaper here after she passed away a little more than a week ago. The story is called, ‘The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas’. It can be downloaded for free from the internet.

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It’s a short story which presents a version of Utopia. It describes a small city. No emphasis is put on technological inventions. Because the people there live simply. But she stresses, the people themselves are not simple. They are sophisticated and intelligent. They are happy. They have no king and no army. They have no cars because they don’t need them. There is music and sporting competition. She describes a festival, the first day of summer, and it is joyful. The one negative aspect of this utopia is an idiot child who is kept in a dirty basement, all alone and neglected. Her description of the conditions of this child’s living space are dismal and repulsive. But the young are taught that this is what has to be. That the happy lives they live are dependent on the misery of this one child.

She also tells of the those who leave the city. She doesn’t tell us much about them. Just that they leave. They leave alone, and we don’t know where they go. They seem sure of themselves. There is the suggestion in the story that they leave because they cannot bear to live in a city where even one person is treated so cruelly. It is of that I wish to speak, the people who walk away from Omelas.

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I have written in the past about my experience in kibbutz. I wanted to try living there after I had studied a bit about communism and socialism, and thought this would be an opportunity to see if the theories could be realized in real life. At the time, the Soviet Union was a cruel dictatorship, and I didn’t want to believe that this was the inevitable outcome of establishing a communist society. While on kibbutz, I fell in love with the society. But I also saw its faults. I left because my dear wife just didn’t appreciate this ideal as I did. I don’t regret that I have lived the rest of my life back here in Jerusalem. I consider myself blessed. Still the experience has stayed with me.

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My example of the paradox of ‘life in utopia’ is less dramatic than the story of Omelas. My work was being part of a team there that grew bananas. There was a fellow on the team that used to bum cigarettes off of me. As members of the commune, we both had all of our needs supplied. “to each according to his needs, from each according to his abilities”. Once a week, I would find as many packs as I used to smoke then, in the same compartment where my newly laundered clothes would be delivered. No charge. Yet day after day, sometimes saying he had run out, and most often just asking if I had a spare cig’, he would ask for one of mine. I never asked him why. But I wondered. Could be he was trying to stop smoking… or was it his way of making friendly contact? No big deal, but it made me a bit uncomfortable.

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Often, what makes everyone happy, will make someone unhappy. Everyone wants to listen to music, but one fellow prefers silence. Everyone wants a nice green lawn in front of his home, but one fellow wants the grass to grow wild, to grow knee high around his house. Sometimes the happiness of the majority can be like a poke in the eye of a small minority. That’s the way it is among people. Even the best society can’t be perfect because human beings aren’t perfect. And no matter how good, there will always be someone looking for the faults; unhappy because of the imperfections. We’re not all built the same way, neither physically, emotionally or mentally. Ask yourselves, is it possible to build a society, even with no expenses spared… even with great consideration and respect towards all… in which one person won’t stand up and yell, “you’re all a bunch of happy idiots”? And isn’t that person an unhappy individual?