Tag Archives: graffiti

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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national trauma week

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autumn leaves in winter

We have a saying here, when someone tells us something that is no longer relevant. We say, ‘that’s as interesting as last year’s snow’. But this week, despite a rather aggravated case of political heebie jeebies, with national politicians changing parties after each fresh edition of an opinion poll. All of a sudden… under a blue sky of momentary sunny weather in the midst of winter, normal, rational men and women lost all interest in anything but the weather. It started slowly at first… If I remember correctly, last weekend, there were a couple of comments made… you know… ‘such beautiful autumn weather, and next week it’ll probably snow’. The sort of idle talk you might hear as someone reluctantly looks for something, and then gazes through the window at the colorful leaves left on a tree.

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rosehips

But later there were solid rumors. Not just the ‘I heard Jake say’, but those rumors that make you stop and take stock: the report that the assistant director of the Jerusalem sanitation department demanded all snow removal machines be checked to see if they had a full tank of gas in their tanks. It only took a few hours until every news item had to find its place in line on national news behind the weather report.

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mini graffiti found on a schoolyard fence

By evening, when the weather appeared at the top of the Channel 1 news roundup, it was in fact reported that the coming snow fall, this week, might exceed that of last year. Immediately after that hit the airways, a silence moved through private homes from the Negev desert to Mount Hermon. Around the country, fathers looked at mothers, mothers looked at children. And children rolled their eyes heavenward; our version of the ‘gasp heard around the world’.

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I like to keep warm with some hot kube soup in winter

Now, those readers who live somewhere outside of Israel may not remember last year’s snow. I think most of us Israelis would find that completely excusable. After all, we’re a very small country, and we always have one kind of trouble or another. Why should our little troubles interest the big boys on the international stage of events? Of course you don’t remember. But there isn’t a cat over the age of two in Jerusalem, or a man, woman or child in all of Israel over the age of five, who can’t recall all the details of last year’s snowfall.

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and how wonderful that artichokes have come into season…

Needless to say that it snowed last year. And it could be that the clever fellow in charge of keeping the snow removal equipment ready for action, had heard that the price of benzene was about to go down, and wanted to impress his superiors that he was the sort who knew how to save a penny. Of course, if it had just been that, the whole incident would probably be forgotten by now. But it got kind of cold, and everyone turned on their electric heaters at the same time. And then when the electricity failed, everyone called their closest friends to see if it had happened to them too. That paralyzed the cell phone system. And then, when a few hundred cars got stuck on the main highway to Jerusalem because of ice and snow, with bob sleds and skis sticking out of a wide variety of hybrid passenger cars, the truckers bringing food to the supermarkets were unable to think of anything better to do than take a nap on that cot they have behind the driver’s cabin.

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one of my neighbors keeps all of his emergency equipment out on the balcony

Not only were all the shelves in the supermarket left vacant, but those who insisted on buying those items left behind in the mad rush to stay supplied, were further frustrated when they got to the cash register. Because all the communication lines were down, and it was impossible to check whether credit cards were stolen, or invalid because of pathological buying habits on the part of the consumer. And so, the clerks were asking for real money! As a loyal Israeli, I hate to say it, but that meter plus snowstorm last year led to confusion, chaos, and then out and out pandemonium, as my fellow citizens began to realize that they couldn’t go on with their everyday lives in the middle of a snow storm.

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what could be better for an evening meal than Portobello mushrooms

And now, just the memory of what happened last year, was enough to give rise to an aftershock, a year later. Of course, it’s easy to laugh at others. So I feel an obligation to disclose my own share of disquiet. Remember the tablet I bought recently, in an attempt to be just as up to date as all the kids? And how I went out of my mind trying to peck out messages with two fingers instead of ten? That was after trying to write an article describing my impressions of the ‘ever growing gap between rich and poor’ on my smartphone, and discovered too late that the phone was so small I couldn’t find it after putting it aside for dinner, and then had trouble reading what I myself had written on its small screen.

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and here I am taking the above picture, captured by Chana

So now, equipped with a rather addictive tablet that I had learned to use after infinite suffering… and despite the fact that its batteries are able to keep it functioning for nine hours without recharge… I stopped using it altogether so that it would remain fully charged when the electricity failed in the upcoming snow storm. That is to say, I too was taken in by the mass hysteria, and willing to make any sacrifice to avoid the consequences of last year’s snow!

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one of my friends recently complained after seeing my dining room table on the blog without its customary bottle of whisky. So here you are, two bottles, and my tablet squeezed in, on the bottom right.

Dare I mention that the anti-climax was more than a little disappointing? A special train shuttle had been scheduled to ferry tourists from the ‘House of the Rising Sun’ village to Jerusalem every 20 minutes after the highways would all be frozen. The cellular companies invested heavily in new equipment to avoid the embarrassment of a breakdown in service. And drivers were asked to abandon the public avenues and thoroughfares so that emergency vehicles could administer to those incapacitated by the storm. All the supermarkets increased their wares by seven fold, and the customers did not disappoint. The sale of gas heaters would have topped all peaks of the last ten years had not department stores run out of those heaters to sell. We whipped ourselves into a frenzy… and then… nothing went wrong. Each of us felt whipped by the cruelty of nature. There was snow. But then there was rain that washed it away. All the preparations seemed wasted. It was a disaster.

work at something you love

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… to Janne with love…

work at something you love
’cause work wasn’t meant to be a picnic
isn’t just highs and deep realizations…
but drudgery and pettiness, and remaining true
through the worthless moments…
going back to hoe another rut again
under the hot sun, breathing the gray fog
carrying meaningless loads… of something
that should have been thrown away last year
being kind to complaining animals
who think they have it coming to them,
straining at the ropes… barking through the fence…
remembering that those old tiles on the footpath
were going to be replaced long ago
looking at the salesman’s catalogues, thinking…
what’s the minimum that I can buy
to keep this old farm still going
and avoiding the glamour, and the color,
and the promised miracles…
getting up when you’re still tired
keeping on when it looks like hope is gone…
the horse has blinders, but you just have purpose
and a fading commitment that doesn’t make sense
if you love your work…
if it doesn’t come out right the first time… or the second…
who’s counting… when it’s been all day…
rubbing in that old stain… till you’re carried away
the doctor heals the sick… and there are more sick
from here to the end of life, than we could imagine…
facing sad eyed misery, again and again…
from the road cleaner to the laundry man
to the cook in the hash house who’s fried more eggs
than there are flies round the garbage can.
from the man on the assembly line to the boss himself
there are excuses and embarrassments and expectations
mistakes and retakes and going through the motions…

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so love your work and await the sublime
which makes up for what happened that other time…

Einstein in Tel Aviv

Yesterday, a reblogged post on LensScaper’s fine blog, lead me to Michael Fiveson, who had posted a beautiful graffiti image of Albert Einstein http://m5son.wordpress.com/2013/05/23/einstein/, and this in turn reminded me of a trip I took to the Tel Aviv University a few years ago… and how pleased I’d been at the time, to discover a street named after the great genius. And it was on that fine street, that I found the first graffiti portrait of him I’d ever seen.

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a portrait of Einstein drawn by Doron Wiener

The four lines that Mike had written under his photograph of a graffiti portrait of Einstein, brought a wave of thoughts and memories. Mike mentioned that he shared a birthday with the great man. And while I don’t have much faith in astrology, I was able to understand and share his pleasure at having been born on the same day. He also mentioned that he would have felt lucky to be either a chauffeur or a friend of the noted physicist, and this reminded me of two friends of mine, who had actually offered their services as a driver to men they regarded as heroes. The first had been a full professor and had visited our greatest writer, here in Jerusalem… just to get to know him. Upon hearing that he was about to take the bus to the center of town, he volunteered to drive him, and after they had both enjoyed the trip together, my friend offered to drive for the writer, whenever he might need transportation. Back in those days, a car was quite a luxury, and the writer accepted his offer, and my friend learned a lot from the time spent in his company. Some years later, I heard a similar story from another friend, who offered his services as a chauffer to a much loved Rabbi we both knew; a man whose company alone was a precious gift. This friend had the pleasure of driving the Rabbi all over the country.

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Well, it’s too late to offer such services to Einstein, but it is a great pleasure for me to discover that graffiti artists have paid tribute to his genius even in far away cities. When he died, he left all his papers to the Hebrew University here in Jerusalem, and I had the great pleasure of reading parts of his journals, written with beautiful penmanship in green ink on white paper. Like others, I fell in love with his personality without any connection to his accomplishments in physics and mathematics. I am unaware of any street that bears his name here in Jerusalem, but I did find Einstein street in Tel Aviv, and I offer you a picture of the street sign, topped with an advertisement for BurgerRanch and CocaCola. I like the picture because it brings together the banal and the sublime, and reminds us that we’re all part of the same package.

a strange graffiti

We take culture pretty much for granted. It has been with us for a long time. Ever since man turned from gathering wild fruit and roots, and hunting wild animals, and started growing his own food. The word culture is similar to cultivation, as in agriculture. It was only a few hundred years ago, in the 18th century, that it began to be used as a description of human social behavior. For as we progressed in the establishment of society, we have adopted a series of disciplines regarding human behavior that resembles in many ways our method of raising food. If once we were satisfied with a vegetable patch in the back yard, or a farm that a family, together, could operate, we now have huge farms operated by large companies using heavy technology. And parallel to that, our young move from one class to another absorbing education for 12 years, and then are expected to continue to higher education for a few more years in order to merit some worthwhile employment.

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a field of cultured sunflowers

But at the same time, there are other forms of culture growing around us, and influencing our consciousness. If Vincent van Gogh revolutionized the expectations of the art world, I believe that today, graffiti is doing the same thing. And it is no surprise that so many people reject it and are disgusted with the way it has insulted our vision of civic order. I was reminded of this when walking through an old neighborhood in Jerusalem. The neighborhood of Mamila had deteriorated to the point where many of the houses were abandoned, and no one wanted to live there anymore. At that stage, the city decided on a gentrification process which turned the ruins into an attractive hub of activity. I have some interesting photos of the old neighborhood, and might post them separately one of these days. The place is completely different today. And all the graffiti is long gone.

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Mamila nowadays

In some ways, the graffiti found in our city has an international flavor. You can see the sort of artwork, and lettering that you might see in other major cities of the world. Some are satisfied just to leave their name or initials. Others paint rather intricate and artistic murals, and it is not rare to find English words and lettering. But you can also find messages unique to our language and culture. I like the human touch. It reminds me in a way, of wild animals who urinate where they’ve been to leave their mark. But it can be more than that. Sometimes it’s a comment on what’s happening in this world. It can be a political statement. And some folks actually try to amuse us. But at it’s best, it’s art.

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The most common graffiti found in Israel, is a written line in memory of a much loved Chassidic rabbi, Rabbi Nachman. He died in 1810, but he is remembered very fondly by a lot of people to this day. The line is a series of combinations of the letters of his name. Some believe there is mystical importance to these variations.

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the famous line written on a deserted building

He was a charismatic rabbi, with a following and students too. He told stories that were parables about the human condition, and preached happiness as the path to serving God. He was the great grandson of the founder of Hassidism, and believed that one should converse with the creator as you would with a close friend. He visited the holy land for a couple of years but lived most of his life in Russia and the Ukraine. Many books have been written explaining his famous stories, and studying the depths of his philosophy. His followers are recognizable in our country by their very large white skullcaps, and their long earlocks.

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another version of the famous line

When he heard of the terrible pogrom in the city of Uman, his heart filled with grief. When I die, he said to his friends, I want to be buried with the Jews of Uman who were slaughtered for no reason by bloodthirsty bullies. Some people still go to visit his grave… especially on the Jewish New Year, and on the day of Atonement. But many more people celebrate his philosophy, and remind themselves and the people around them that the way to God is happiness. I remember once, during the entifada, when we were suffering a lot of terrorist attacks here in Jerusalem, and many had witnessed body parts and blood splashed across the streets of our beloved city… A lot of people were walking around depressed. Tourists had stopped coming to visit our town. And then, one day, I saw this van pull up to a major intersection, the Zion square, and a number of young men got out with musical instruments in their hands. A few of them set up in the middle of the square and started playing this happy music, and a couple of guys got on the top of the van and started dancing and singing. People just happening by, like myself, drew near to observe the spectacle.

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it is an important ‘good deed’ to be happy always

I was reminded of them again when visiting Eish Kodesh, that beautiful little village where I went for Passover. Because on the refrigerator of the apartment where I was staying, was a post card that had been handed out in honor of some wedding… of people I don’t know. The message on the card says: It is an important ‘good deed’ to be happy always. And underneath, it tells us that this is a souvenir from the wedding of Tamar and Nachshon Shacham.

graffiti

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Cities have been with us since the start of history. And as a city boy, I have always had an interest in checking them out, seeing what they could provide; studying their personalities, and comparing the different cities I have known. I’ve also been very interested in the changes in city life because of technology. And the attitudes of people to cities. It was fascinating for me to read of the so called ‘best’ cities of the world, especially since my own city wasn’t even on the list, and most of the best were cities that I’d never gotten to know. Though I did spend some time in Zurich, which was rated no. 2. London, by the way was in 53rd place. I think that what made them ‘best’ was that they were the most comfortable to live in.

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It’s obvious to me, that subjective opinions aren’t worth much, so I won’t bother comparing my beloved home town to other cities. But I will say that while traveling around the world a bit, I did encounter some cities I especially liked, and two that made a very strong impression on me, and neither of those cities were mentioned in the top ten either. But then, looking into the matter I found one list of the most ‘liveable cities’ and another of the cities with the highest ‘quality of living’. So that was a reminder that different people look for different things. Not to speak of the difference between list makers. And if what you like most is listening to open air jazz concerts… or smoking in a bar… your choice of the most liveable city might be different from what is on the Mercer list.

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Often, I fantasize about what my perfect city would be like. And my fantasies were given a push this week, when I heard that according to a recent census, for the first time in the history of the world, there are more people living in cities than in the country. Well, I have a lot of affection and love for the country too… but that is another story. I thought it wouldn’t take long now, till the majority of mankind was living in cities. We keep multiplying, and city living is more efficient than other methods of providing dwelling places for large numbers of people. On the other hand, there’s not much of the feeling of community when you’re stuck in a traffic jam on the freeway.

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So what are we looking for in a city? Let’s try to be rational and objective. There are cities that make it next to impossible for the poor to live there, because they think the poor are an eyesore. And there are cities that are so concerned about the energy crisis, that they force people to cut down tall and beautiful trees because those trees cast shadows on solar panels which convert sunlight to electricity. Actually I get a kick out of hearing such stories, so if my readers know more, I would love to hear them. But aside from the humor, it seems about time that we put a lot of thinking and energy into planning cities that are truly integral with human needs. Many years ago, my son in law was studying architecture. And during his interview, before being accepted, a professor at the school told him, You know, if a doctor makes a mistake, and the patient dies… everyone is sorry. But they put the poor patient in the ground, and go on with living life. But if an architect designs a building with some serious mistakes, people might suffer for a hundred or more years; both those living in the building, and those who see it every day.

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a modest mermaid in Jerusalem

One of the many subjects we encounter, when thinking about what a city should be like, is that of graffiti. There are many cities that see it as a nuisance, and either forbid it, or try to confine it. I can understand why some people dislike it. Unlike the museums, a budding young artist doesn’t have to be approved by a committee before he can show his work. And some louts enjoy painting vulgarities on the sides of buildings… and sometimes even on the works of others. But I enjoy it. I find the pictures and the words more stimulating and thought provoking than the aesthetic regularity of continuous walls. And I think there is a sense of community in seeing what everyone (who cares) wishes to put on the city street. Sometimes it’s an adornment, and sometimes it’s a challenge. But I, for one, will vote for free graffiti.