Tag Archives: city

it takes a village

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Always had this romantic love for the country… It was half a century ago, and I was on my way to visit a friend in a little village up north. I was used to buses that ran every few minutes, back in the city. Hadn’t occurred to me to check the bus schedule. So here I was, out in the country, after the big intercity bus had let me off… waiting… and no bus came by. I slipped my bag over my shoulder and started walking along the country road. What did it matter if it took me an hour… or even three. I was young, and the day was beautiful. I could walk.

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After I’d walked for about a half an hour, I heard the sound of a tractor coming down the road. It wasn’t moving fast, and you could hear it a long way off. I turned around and watched as it approached. Made the sign of the hitch hiker, and he slowed down to a stop. “Where you going?” he called out to me over the noise of the tractor. It was a big one, and it towered over me. I told him the name of the village I was headed towards. “I’m going to the same place,” he said. “But you’d have to sit on this dirty fender, and you’ve got your Sabbath suit on”. I’m not worried about that, I said, and with a smile, got up on the fender and rode the rest of the way. It was like visiting heaven. There was nothing I didn’t like about the place.

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bomb shelter

In the years that followed, I never got over the love I had for that beautiful piece of country. We even lived there for a while. But my darling wife couldn’t appreciate it the way I did, so we went back to the big city. That wasn’t hard for me, because I was part of Jerusalem too, as she was part of me. But there was something about living in the country that left me with a great longing for that kind of life.

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play car at the kindergarten

This was long before people started having ‘virtual’ experiences, and living the virtual life. But even back then, the difference was profound. I felt an intensity in the country life that made the colors more brilliant and the earth under my feet more immediate. There was an intimacy with nature that was always with me. I could listen to the plants growing… hear the flies as they flew in the air. I always had the feeling that it was a better place to bring up children. When you live in a village, you get to know a lot of people, all of whom are contributing something to the welfare of the general population.

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art

It isn’t as abstract as living in the city. You actually get to know people and the way they work… what they do all day. That’s the benefit of a real community. When you grow up with people you meet every day, you get a more realistic example of what can be gained in this life. You might get to know the garage mechanic and the barber, the horse trainer and the scholar. You see them working. You see a working man or woman on their feet from morning to night, and the farmer repairing fences. When you try helping with the chores for a neighbor or a professional in town, you get something of an idea of whether their work would interest you, whether you could really figure out the sort of problems that they have to deal with all the time.

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The photos here are from the same village… taken just a few years ago. Time moves a little slower there. The society I got to know there has changed a lot. But the village itself still carries traces of its past. And the people too, aren’t quite as up to date as we are in the city.

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street art, Nachlaot

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As I mentioned in my previous post, one of the features of that walk through the Nachlaot neighborhood of Jerusalem was the examination of the graffiti found there. I enjoy street art, and have grown more tolerant of the scribbles and the name inscriptions that are also included in the category. But I’ve noticed that even in those cases where I was really impressed by a painting appearing on a street wall, after a short while I tend to take it for granted, as I pass by again and again.

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But sometimes, the unexpected can spark a greater interest. That is, if a picture has been moved or changed, or one that I especially liked has disappeared or been blocked by some other structure. Then, there’s that chase after old friends. And part of the chase is always the discovery of new contributions unnoticed before. Many are difficult to photograph because of limited space in the small alleyways of our city.

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what is written on the side: “How can I ask for what I really want as if I were joking?”

There is a series of very special miniatures that I like… they are in a place exposed to harsh nature and may not last all that long. Another series of paintings I especially enjoy, have something to say in the way of morality and self criticism. They are on a wall that seems almost too public. I worry that they will soon be replaced by advertisements. I remember some biting messages that had a short public life before being painted over by someone who didn’t care much for what they said.

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On my walk last week there were the big paintings, colorful and full of life. And there were also some very modest ones that you could easily miss, if not looking for them. Some seemed like footnotes to those ‘in the know’. One of them said, ‘sex now’, and I suppose it was meant as a retort to the many banners of ‘peace now’ that can be seen around the country. The drawing under that title was unexpected, and wide open to interpretation.

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One of the most interesting series I’ve encountered here might have been produced by three separate artists. As they appeared, I imagined two artists adding their works to the original inscription, though it could have been produced by the same artist who came back to the scene and added yet another and then another. All of the illustrations speak of a longing for Jerusalem by the Jews of the diaspora.

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There are these closed metal boxes that one finds all around the city, containing electric meters and connections of sorts. It is common to find paintings on their sides. Sometimes it’s a very abstract composition of form and color, and sometimes a picture of a butterfly or bird. It seems a lot of work was invested into this rendition of the inside of a refrigerator filled with drinks.

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this image was etched into the wall

a fence worth looking at

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As I have mentioned previously, Hebrew is a conceptual language. It is built on a great many roots which are found in all verbs. When the same root is found in different words they reflect a conceptual relationship. For instance, the words: writing, dictation, correspondence, letter, and reporter all have a common root. The very nature of the language hints at certain values which are part of our culture. And so, it’s interesting to find that the root of the word ‘definition’ is the same as that for ‘fence’.

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A fence, we learn, gives definition to an area. Which goes together well with a saying I’ve heard in English, ‘a fence makes good neighbors’. This fence was found in one of the two industrial neighborhoods of Jerusalem, Talpiot and Givat Shaul. Both of them accommodate factories and workshops. And since there are workers there, they also have restaurants and simple eateries, shopping centers and stores. And because no one sleeps there at night, you’ll find night clubs there too, so people can enjoy themselves as noisily as they care to, at all hours. And where there are fences, they are meant to hide an unsightly industrial property or designed to keep people from wandering into a construction sight.

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I was visiting some clients in Talpiot when I first noticed this fence. It was made of sheet metal that had been put up between posts in the ground, and was painted in three colors with black lines. Turned out that a few businessmen had put together the money to buy paint, and some students from the Bezalel Art Institute in our fair city had volunteered to decorate the fence. The unpretentious stick figures fit in nicely with the many examples of graffiti found in the area. The paintings have a somewhat humorous, minimalist approach. And in my eyes, it’s art.

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As for fences, their very existence is something of a provocation. One wants to trespass or transcend. But if they’re designed well, they might seem like the skin that surrounds and protects our bodies. Though Jerusalem was a walled city in ancient times, there are relatively few fences within the city. The housing is fairly dense, yet here and there are open spaces, which provide that very important taste of nature in the city. I hope to do a post very soon on some of those public spaces here.

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You can see the set of the fence pictures here:

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a dog’s life in Nachlaot

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A Dog’s Life in Nachlaot

This picture is an old one. It was one of my earliest in color. And one of the first that I scanned to a digital file. It had to be printed just right to get the effect that I wanted. I remember the first time I published it on the internet. I had scanned it on my desktop, and then looked at it on my laptop… and it was different. I was forced to reset the gamma on my screen in order to properly appreciate the picture. I was discovering the disadvantages of looking at art on a computer. Some images are easily appreciated… and others are tricky. A print is a little easier. You make the print, and pass it around, or it’s hanging on the wall, and everyone sees pretty much the same thing. But when looking at the same image on a digital device, every screen tells a slightly different story. Though really, even a print can cause problems. There are certain difficult pictures that have to be seen in just the right light to get their message across. A tungsten lamp brings out the warm shades of the picture. Fluorescent light will emphasize green. And now with the new ‘economic’ light bulbs, the color spectrum is completely different. A fine printer will shade his print in such a way that it looks best in sunlight, though preferably not in direct sunlight. I used to show my work to customers in my studio near a window, with a translucent curtain across the window.

For me, this image is a reminder of what Jerusalem was like when it was still a small town. Even as late as the sixties, most of us were poor, but we didn’t feel poor. A refrigerator was a rare luxury item then. People had ice boxes. Every morning, you’d hear the ice man making his rounds with horse and wagon, shouting, ice… ice… ice… And we would come out of our homes with a ceramic covered metal tray, and buy a chunk of ice. When I moved to another neighborhood, there was another ice man who had a three wheeled motorcycle with which he pulled the wagon. I remember buying a record player back in those days. Since I already had a radio, they sold me just the deck, which then connected to the amplifier and the loudspeakers of the radio. It cost less that way.

In the picture, you can see that the houses were nicely built, from stone. They had the beauty of simple structures, tastefully constructed. But then, as families grew bigger, folks added rooms, and used whatever materials were most readily available. They used sheet metal to make the walls, and wood to make the seams. There were quite a few balconies made of wood. Since then, this neighborhood has been ‘gentrified’. The houses have been enlarged and look quite elegant. The prices have gone sky high too.

But the strange thing about our rich lives, is that people are less satisfied now than they were then. These days, people have nice cars, and more toys than they have time to play with; huge flat screens, and the latest appliances from Japan, China, or the States. And of course, everyone has a refrigerator. It goes without saying. But a lot of people are dissatisfied. Some folks don’t even know their neighbor’s name. In those days of minimal possessions, we were happier. We made do with very little. There was no television, but people would congregate and sing together. In our neighborhood, in the summer, most of the neighbors would bring chairs and tables outside on Saturday nights, and we’d listen to the radio together. There were some specially talented individuals who’d amuse all of us with their stories or songs.

There was one neighbor, known for his noodle cake, and another, for her punch… and two brothers who used to make dry wine. We were very proud of their wine, though all we did was drink it. And it didn’t have a name… we just called it ‘dry’ to differentiate it from the sweet kiddush wine. There was this guy who had a truck, which he parked near his home at the end of the work day. Sometimes, on a holiday, he’d load up some of his neighbors on the truck, all of us sitting on pillows, and we’d go to the sea shore, and marvel at the power of nature… When someone got into trouble, everyone around who could, tried to help.

And there were dogs that you’d see here and there, back then. But much fewer than we see today. We knew they were man’s best friend… but they were a rarity. There were those who felt uncomfortable in their presence. Jerusalem was cat town then as it is now. With affluence, we’ve had an increase in the popularity of dogs.

an evening excursion

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I’d been working hard all day Monday, and was just about to take a walk with Nechama in the park behind our home, when Noga came, and was happy to join us. It was the first day the temperature had gone down a bit, after a week long heat wave. An opportunity to stretch my legs and release the tensions of work. As we walked around the park, I felt lighter and freer. What a pleasure. Fortunately, we didn’t run into any dogs along the way. Nechama doesn’t care much for dogs, and usually hides behind bushes or climbs the nearest tree if we meet a neighbor walking his or her dog. Turns out, this new neighborhood I live in has a sizable population of dogs… most of whom are attached by leash to their human friends. But this time it was an easy walk for all concerned.

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Then, as we got to the edge of the park, Nechama decided to take a shortcut back to the house. Noga and I remained on our own, looking out at the beautiful scenery in the late afternoon. A cool breeze blew. We watched the local ‘light train’ as it came into the station, a bit down the hill. Noga said, ‘you know, we could just get on that train, and continue our walk downtown, if you’re in the mood for it’.

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Well, the idea hadn’t occurred to me, but we had no plans. And the days are still long. It sounded like a good idea. The ‘light train’ is a relatively new addition to our lives in Jerusalem, and it really does make transportation easier. I said sure. And down we went to the station. The train goes by every ten minutes or so. We knew we wouldn’t have long to wait, and we didn’t. It was all very easy. We caught the next train downtown. We found two seats together. It was quite pleasant. Noga asked me if I’d ever taken pictures inside the train, and I told her yes. I’d even posted a few in earlier blog posts.

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Ben Yehudah Str.

The train took us to Jaffa street, and from there we made our way to Zion square, which brought back many memories. But things have changed in the last few years. Jaffa street, which was always the main thoroughfare through town, is no longer open to motor vehicles. Only the train operates on that street, and the side walks have been widened to accommodate pedestrians. It doesn’t resemble the street we knew and visited for so many years. Ben Yehudah str., another important avenue has also been closed to vehicular traffic. It is completely reserved for pedestrians. Which is actually a good thing, because those streets which are still accessible to cars are so overloaded that one often moves at a slower pace than a horse’s gait, and it’s irritating.

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the choir in good spirits

We chose to walk down Yoel Moshe Solomon, ‘cause I’d heard that they’d decorated the street. There were colorful umbrellas above, and I’d been looking forward to seeing them. It was getting a bit dark though, by the time we got there. We’d spent a bit of time in a department store first, looking for an electric grater, which we didn’t find. I had doubts that I’d be able to photograph the umbrellas that I’d read about. All the same, I gave it a try.

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that man could sing

The shops and restaurants looked pretty much the same as they’d always been. We saw quite a few people enjoying the evening. Locals and tourists. Most of the shops were open. I thought I might want to visit a record store I remembered on Hillel street. I was careful to use the words music discs instead of records when I told my plan to Noga. But even so, I was out of date. She explained that the store had closed quite some time ago. People don’t buy a lot of records anymore. But she did tell me of one place that had survived. You still can buy a disc there.

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Noga reads me the menu

Cats’ corner was still there, though, at the bottom of Yoel Moshe Solomon, and I did see a few cats there. But all the little booths where you could once buy jewelry and hookah pipes, and incense, and colorful clothing from the far east had disappeared. It looked like they were building something new there. The cats had grown a bit shy. We continued up Hillel and then down through Ben Yehudah. Aside from meeting some people we know, we also had the pleasure of listening to an impromptu performance of a choral group in the middle of the pedestrian mall. While going up Hillel str., I noticed that the building that used to house the video store had been converted to a restaurant and music venue.

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Jerusalem’s Port

The place is called Jerusalem’s Port. Jerusalem, a landlocked city, has a water complex. We often dream of having a stretch of beach. Tel Aviv went to the trouble of calling one of their stretches of beach, ‘Jerusalem Beach’, in our honor. And now it seems we’ve gone one step further and invented our own port. There were posters on the wall describing different performances scheduled for the coming weeks.

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It turned out that there would be a performance of flamenco music and dancing that very evening. We decided to go. It was only after I’d bought the tickets that I realized the performers were Israelis. That was a bit of a let down. I’ve always enjoyed flamenco music. But the idea of Israelis playing flamenco music, and dancing… I just couldn’t imagine how that might sound…

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As it turned out, though, I was too much of a pessimist. The music was fantastic. There were two men, each of them playing guitars. And two women who danced some of the time. One of the men sang as well. Not all of the time. But he was electric. His voice pierced through any reserve I might have had. When we left, a few hours later, in the middle of the night… the music stayed with us in our heads. The dancing was good too. I’m not really a connoisseur of dance, but what I saw impressed me. The food was good too. The only problem I had, was that I had to take advantage of the few breaks, to go outside and have myself a smoke. Can you imagine that? A performance hall where they don’t let you smoke. It almost makes a person prefer listening to a record… but then… records have gone out of style, I heard.

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boats in the harbor

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sometimes in a line, or side by side
we give the semblance of order, the hint of pride
in early summer when the weather is fine
and new paint is added, and rot cut away
lines are repaired and wood is well varnished
there are flashes of pride, and adventure before us
and the water needs only, to keep us afloat
as songs from the radio fill the air with romance
leisurely, after the work of sanding and cutting,
when relaxing on a deck chair in the long afternoon,
there might be a beer or two, or a tug at the bottle,
a wisp of smoke in the air for relaxation
as if there was nothing to do
rubbing shoulders all the while with reliance

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out here, don’t you know, we’re an adjunct of the city
we’re the homes of those who can get away
instead of green gardens and seasonal flowers
we’ve got the sea as our backyard, to bring joy to the day.
the power company provides our electric connection
the cell phone rings with cheery calls from friends
apparently well connected, all our needs supplied
dinners may be served in scenic surroundings
or eaten in privacy while we’re seated inside

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there’s some of us here, who’ll never go out to sea
they’ll find consolation in the sights and the smells,
the purr of the motors, the songs of the wind…
the groans of the swell, the roars of the waves
the wimpers of the wood, the salt in the air
and the security of being moored to the wharf
just a step from the land, tethered as always
out of harms way

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but those of us who’ll venture out…
setting sail with intention to return
but well aware that there’s no fair retreat
knowing in the depth of our souls
that life starts with the first centimeter
of release from the moorings
as we slip away from the fetters
and the garbage of idleness
putting our faith on the body of the water,
the solitude of the deep blue sea

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our trust in the stars above
even when they remain unperceived
behind clouds in the black of night.
they are there as they were
yesterday and a thousand years ago
the presence of the sea too, is constant and won’t be tamed
arm wrestling playfully, then she’ll shake, rattle and roll
till even the most practiced sailor will heave
and clench the rail with all his might
no flattery will subdue her, no love will overcome…
alone on the water, we’ll navigate our course
no promise, no assurance, no insurance will deliver us
as we rely on judgment and experience night and day

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metal will buckle and planks will decay
paint will bubble over unforgiving rust
a single mistake may never be forgiven
and a blink in the night, might never be forgotten.
there are fewer fish in the sea, and they remain unseen
and the moods that seemed casual at first
could be later acknowledged with a scream

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good times for sure, the highs intoxicate
but happiness, you know isn’t forever after
no maps or charts to guarantee the temper of mood
or the luck of a voyage between here and the horizon
the personality of the sea knows no surety
the crew relies on one another, the captain on god
and when the captain sails alone
his face etched with resolution…
is one of his eyes waiting for a nod?

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you land lovers above
have the choice, just as we do here
whether to stick with the crowd,
in an ever lasting hug
or live this life the best that you can
on your own, despite the fear

all photos from the Jaffa harbor

an ecological park

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Ariel Sharon… we called him Arik, was a legend in his own lifetime. He was born in the village of Malal, here in Israel, in 1928. He became a central figure in the army when the modern state of Israel came into being, and proved himself a fearless hero and a leader of men. His father was an agronomist. He was a farmer. He had a big farm, and put a lot of work into it, but was always willing to ‘serve the people’. During the 1973 war, after we were attacked on the day of atonement, he went back to the army, though at the time he was already successfully involved in politics. He turned the tide of the war by crossing the Suez Canal and breaching the Egyptian forces on their side.

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He retired from the army with the rank of Major General. Though successful in politics and a hero too, he wasn’t liked by all. He was often involved in controversy. The first real protest movement here against government policy occurred while he was Minister of Defense. In his long career, he served as Minister of Industry and Trade, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Minister of Defense. In 2001 he was elected Prime Minister and held the office till 2006. While Prime Minister, he visited the garbage disposal site at Hiriah, near Tel Aviv, and decided to turn one of the ugliest sites in the country into a park.

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When he proposed the project, there were scoffers. But the park did come into being. Not only is it the largest park in the middle east, but its unique ecological character stands as an example to the young. The project demonstrates our ability to change a contaminated site into a place of beauty, relying completely on natural means.

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In 2005, he visited the mountain of garbage in Hiriah, just outside of Tel Aviv, where garbage had piled up for years, and suggested that the mountain be turned into a park. The original garbage pit had become a mountain of garbage. It’s still a mountain. But a pleasant one now. The emphasis is on the use of natural processes to improve the environment.

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There is a pond in middle of the park. It is the visible part of a complex underground water storage pool. A system of four more underground pools is located at the top of the mountain and these pools collect rainwater. Water overflows from the upper pools into the pond at the heart of the mountain.

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The depth of the pond varies and reaches eight feet at its deepest point. Around the pond is constructed wetland. This method helps maintain water quality by flushing the water through a system that uses both filters and water plants to purify the water. Schools of fish were also introduced to the pond to feed on mosquito larvae and other bugs, thus maintaining biological pest control. The pond is an ecological water project which serves as a natural habitat for a variety of wildlife species, including water fowl, amphibians and water insects.

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School children come to visit the park, and are given guided tours in which they learn about nature’s ways of cleaning itself, and how plants and fish and other life forms help purify the water. There are lawns and flower beds, and little rivers that cross the park making it a very pleasant place to visit. The man whose name was tied to bloody battles and fierce controversy is remembered today as a lover of nature. The park is now called the Ariel Sharon Park.

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