Tag Archives: home

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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summer time

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We usually have a short spring, and then a fairly long summer. And summer is my favorite time of year. Doesn’t matter, a heat wave or two. I can sit them out, inside. It’s rare that Jerusalem gets uncomfortably hot, because we’re on a mountain. And even when it does, since almost all the houses are made of stone, it stays quite cool inside… even when it’s terribly hot outside. And nowadays, just about everyone has air conditioning… so that makes it still easier. In the past, I didn’t care much for air conditioning. But I’ve been convinced.

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summer food

For me, an important part of summer is getting out early to take my morning walk… while it’s still relatively cool. Then I get a day’s work done, and still have time left to sit out on the balcony, where it’s always quite comfortable… or enjoy the light of day even in my salon till after eight at night. I have to admit, when people were still arguing here, about whether to have daylight savings time, I was against it.

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clothes hanging out to dry in the warm sun

For one thing, it’s nice for people who get up late in the day. But for people like me, it means getting up in the dark at the beginning and the end of the season, and there’s something discouraging about that. All the same, it’s very pleasant to sit with friends at the end of the day and enjoy the colors of the setting sun in late evening. And aside from the colors, which are at their best during this season, I also enjoy the fruits of the season; wave after wave of wonderful and tasty fruits.

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Nechama listening to a conversation between friends

I start out my day with a couple glasses of cucumber juice, which has proven to be a very healthy ingredient in my life. This was Chana’s idea, and it has proven better than any pill or medicine. I know a lot of you like to start the day with a glass of beer or coffee. But for me, drinking that cucumber juice feels as natural as a cat stretching himself, when waking up from sleep.

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And speaking of cats… you can see that all the animals in the neighborhood are affected and inspired by the coming of summer. Nachshon here, above, is playing panther, as he walks between the neighboring houses. As much as I care for him though, I’m hoping he doesn’t catch any of the local birds. But if he does, it’s all part of nature, and we have to accept that cats have their own way of looking at the world. We’re not going to convince them to be vegetarians. Why, even Nechama likes to have a light repast of herring in the afternoon.

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Noga feeding Nechama a herring

The children come by from time to time, each one with stories of the real world. The world that is constantly changing and challenging. They too have their ups and downs, and I take great pleasure in watching how well they deal with it all. I often have the feeling that they’re handling life’s challenges better than I did, and have reached a style of existence that I could only dream of at their age. Which is an exquisite feeling. It seems to me that since the computer became part of everyone’s life, I’ve been living in the ‘future’. But now, with waze, that feeling has been intensified.

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my son, Jonah

When Jonah was here this week, he spoke of the probability that cars would drive themselves within his lifetime. And that the person who would otherwise be driving the car could be enjoying a cup of coffee, and still working while on his way from one point to another. I thought of how much I used to enjoy driving when I was a young man. But that changed long ago. I think it was when they forced us to wear seat belts. And now with all the traffic jams, it’s become something of a pain. Not to speak of the difficulties of parking in the big city. Yes, having a car drive itself would definitely be an improvement. Less people killed and maimed on the highways too.

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cottage cheese is a popular summer food

So let me wish you all (at least those who live in the northern hemisphere), a joyful summer, with easy going long days; good reading and studies, and the pleasure of successful work. May you enjoy pleasant communication with human and animal neighbors. Listen to good music. See beautiful sights,

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the park behind my home

Image

After the Sabbath

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magnificently built

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The Talpiot neighborhood of Jerusalem was built as a garden suburb of Jerusalem starting in 1922. Its name comes from the ‘song of songs’, written by King Solomon, in which the female object of his love is described… ‘your neck is like the tower of David, built with turrets’. The image in Hebrew is that of someone or something magnificently built. I’m often reminded of the name when driving from there to my home in North Jerusalem. I pass the tower of David and embrace it in my thoughts as I maneuver through traffic.

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I first moved from the Buchari quarter to that neighborhood at the start of the 60s. At the time, there were a few artists who had already found homes there, alongside some of the illustrious citizens of our town. Our greatest author of modern times, Shai Agnon, Nobel prize winner, lived down the street from me, and attended the same synagogue. Just about everyone knew everyone else, and we would all meet one another at the local grocery store. There was only one then. Our fellow residents were clerks and teachers, and a few professors, as well as engineers and some businessmen. Religious and non religious lived together in an atmosphere of tolerance.

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The neighborhood was beautiful. There was luxurious greenery to be seen between the houses that were built with great care. The walls of stone and the large trees kept us cool in the hot summer. But even with the calm and the beauty of the neighborhood, there were a number of disadvantages that helped keep the prices down. And it was thanks to those disadvantages that I was able to find an apartment that I could afford, surrounded by a lush garden, and shaded by a couple of large and grand trees. The neighborhood had been built at the southern end of the city. And the ceasefire line of 1948 cut through the neighborhood, with unfriendly Arabs living in close proximity. Shots would be fired occasionally across the border. And though they were relatively few and far between, they made some of our residents nervous. There were those who felt insecure.

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I was living with an Arab housemate at the time, and used to be amused by his indignation at such violent outbursts. He would shout over the orange trees that lined the border, in Arabic, ‘You are shooting at real human beings’. But the shots were sporadic, and the attacks were usually short lived… they would stop as suddenly as they had started whether he would yell or not. The other main disadvantage was that the neighborhood was quite a distance from the center of town, which meant that most of us had to take a bus to get downtown. Very few had private cars back in those days. I preferred to walk. I could usually get to the center of town in about 45 minutes, walking at a fast clip.

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I remember taking my bride to visit my home and its surroundings, for a visit. She had been living in a more upscale neighborhood on the west side of the city, largely populated by University professors, and situated close to the University. It too had been designed to be a garden neighborhood, the same year that my neighborhood had been established. But it was a bit more square in appearance, and one couldn’t help but sense the decorum that characterized her neighborhood. The streets and buildings were tidy, and fitted well together. In my neighborhood, almost every resident had made some change to his home. Trees and bushes seemed to grab any available space without heeding to plans or a grand design.

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If the town center was a bus ride away from her old neighborhood, she could visit the university or the national library by foot… just a short walk away. On the Sabbath, together in Talpiot, we would walk to a kibbutz situated just outside of the city, to the south. The city has grown a lot since then, and swallowed up that kibbutz as well. It is now part of the greater Jerusalem area. But it still has beautiful scenic views that a visitor may enjoy.

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Since then, the neighborhood has grown more than any of us could have guessed. It now has an industrial zone which contains many factories and workshops; motor garages, and bars, nightclubs, and banquet halls, as well as indoor shopping malls. There you’ll find restaurants, movie theaters, and a famous venue for musical performances called the ‘Yellow Submarine’. Over the years, new apartment buildings have been built around the old neighborhood, offering living quarters on a number of different economic levels.

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In the last week, I have accompanied Chana as she became reacquainted with the neighborhood. Yes she once lived here too. And now she has decided to move back to Jerusalem from her beautiful village outside of the city. The move back to the city means a smaller domicile. But she is practical and down to earth, and is handling her move in a manner much healthier than my own move just a few months ago. She has chosen a home on the eastern side of the neighborhood, where Rachel Ben-Zvi, wife of a former president of our country, established an agricultural training school for women, back in 1928. Now it is a very pleasant part of the neighborhood. The photos shown here were taken while walking around that area.

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in the vicinity

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Nechama in the park

When I was going through the rather lengthy process of moving from my old home to my new one, I shared my adventures with you my readers. It was a period of instability and upheaval. There were times when I could only describe my sense of loss, parting from my home of forty years, in poetry. Meantime, I have resituated in my new home, as described in a previous post https://thehumanpicture.wordpress.com/2014/02/28/up-on-the-hill/ . Slowly, I’ve adjusted to the new conditions, most of which are an improvement on what I was used to.

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Though most of the work had been done for me by my dear friends, I had to unpack my personal items, and decide where things would go in the new house. As a creature of habit, everything had its place in my old home, and I could just reach out my hand and find the scissors or the radio. But once in my new home, even after I decided that a certain item would go somewhere, I sometimes forgot the chosen place when I needed that same item a day or two later. Sometimes I forgot where I’d put something only 15 minutes earlier. It was a challenge.

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There was a period when my personal space extended only as far as the clothing I was wearing. If an object was in one of my pockets, I knew where it was. Otherwise I wasn’t sure. Little by little that personal space began to extend to facilities within the home. There was a closet with three shelves where I put some things that were essential… I knew it was a temporary solution, but my wallet and my credit cards, my camera, eye glasses, cell phone, and flashlight went there. And the external hard disc, reserve batteries, a tape measure, my car keys, a prayer book, and a few other indispensable items. After a week or two I began to get the feel of the house. I noticed that my cat, Nechama, was quicker at finding her bearings than I was.

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checking out the area, Nechama

The process hasn’t been completed yet. The desktop computer hasn’t yet been returned to full service. My scanner and printer are still under wraps. But I am beginning to feel more at ease at home, and have begun an acquaintanceship with the neighborhood. In my old neighborhood, there was a path that led from the back of the house to a forest nature reserve where I would occasionally meet with wild animals. Nechama and I used to like taking walks in nature.

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one of the lawns of the park behind our home

Our new home is adjacent to a well groomed park. And though it is pleasant, with benches to sit on, grass lawns, and bushes bearing a variety of flowers, I worried that it might be too civilized for Nechama. Aside from that, there is more traffic on the street where I now live, and this too had me worried. I thought Nechama might not be able to perceive the dangers of our new environment; might get lost once I gave her back her independence. But she was anxious to be free, so we did venture out together. She met other cats in the neighborhood, and already has three new friends, with which she maintains social intercourse. One of them even gained entrance to our home through an open door from the balcony and sampled my supper before I managed to convince him to depart. Her friends come by quite often. They call to her from outside the cat flap. Sometimes she is willing to go out and join them. But other times she prefers to converse with them by way of the window; she inside, and her visitors on the balcony.

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with one of her new friends

The closest grocery is farther from home than the grocery was at my previous residence. Getting there means going down a hill, and then a climb on my way back. I found myself without smokes one morning this week, and decided to walk there to buy cigarettes. Nechama wanted to accompany me, but I thought it too far for her to go, and was worried by the fact that we’d have to cross a few streets. I told her that she would have to wait for me. She expressed the opinion that I was too square, and unaware of the full extent of her capacities. She made it quite clear that she thought I was becoming a despot. What rot!

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the commercial center

Ignoring her arguments, and with some elegant foot play, I managed to open the front door and squeeze out of the house, while at the same time preventing her from leaving with me. After closing the door, I listened to her analysis of the situation from inside the apartment, and honestly, I was embarrassed by the way she was taking it. She seemed on the verge of hysteria. But I was resolute. I locked the front door and proceeded to the commercial center to buy cigarettes.

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it seemed almost too civilized for us

The walk down the hill was quite enjoyable. I had my camera with me, and took a few photos so that I could show you what it looks like. Aside from a pleasant lane, there are also a few places where one can use a public stairway to descend from one street to the next. On the way back, I noticed that it had gotten a little warmer. But even so, decided to take the stairway in order to save myself the distance that I would have had to traverse, had I followed the switchbacks of the road. By the time I was nearing the house, I looked forward to sitting on the balcony with Nechama, and having a cool drink of soda with freshly squeezed lemon juice while she would enjoy some cold milk.

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the park is surrounded by residential homes

But then as I climbed the steps from the street to my apartment, you can imagine my surprise at seeing Nechama waiting for me in a flower bed by the side of the highest steps. She was sitting erect, and her eyes following me as I ascended. Presently, she joined me and accompanied me to the front door. It was clear that she had used the cat flap to exit the house and get on the balcony. From there she’d hopped over the balcony’s parapet to the park, and then taken the footpath to exit the park; walked down the street and up the stairs to wait for me near our front door. She was telling me in no uncertain terms that she already knew the lay of the land… and could go wherever she pleased.

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she waited for me at the top of the stairs

I told her that I was impressed… but. And she said, no ‘buts’ about it. I was thinking, sometimes we think we know all about something… but there is more that we don’t know… But I didn’t know how to explain it to her. We still have our differences on this particular subject.

a new chapter

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Those of my readers who follow me regularly have read of my odyssey from my old home, staying with a dear friend, and then in rented apartments, till I finally moved into my new home as described in last week’s blog post. I shared with you my agony and my bliss… sometimes the blues, and sometimes the wonder of a youngster who looks around him and is amazed by the beauty and the endless possibilities of the world around him. Being uprooted from my old world was painful. But coming face to face with new environments and conditions taught me to appreciate what I had taken for granted. And I discovered I was more flexible than I had thought. And that as long as I was alive, I could learn new things, and new ways of dealing with life. As rooted as I was in old habits, I discovered that even habits could change.

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Though I worked in a number of fields, most of my career was spent as a professional photographer. Towards the turn of the century, everything I had known about my profession changed, as we moved from film to digital photography. It wasn’t easy. I had to learn new skills and acquire new tools. But somehow I managed to learn the new system.

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Now, moving into my new home, I’ve had a similar experience. Not so much, in having to learn new skills and standards. For I, like everyone around me, have made many adjustments as our world changed over the years. But in moving into my new home, I came face to face with all that had changed over the years. I see those changes reflected in the physical reality of my living space.

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Two of my great passions have been the written word and music. The first recordings I bought were 78rpm records. After some years, the 33rpm records made their appearance, and then there were ‘long playing records’ and stereo. The quality of the recording improved in stages, and each time, I bought the latest devices so as to appreciate the added element in recorded music. I had a very fine record player which allowed for minute adjustments of the weight of the ‘needle’ on the groove of the record, so as to avoid excessive wear on the vinyl. Because after a while, one could always hear the sound of the needle in the groove, and sometimes there were bumps and scratches on the record that spoiled the purity of the sound. It was for that reason that I was so excited when the stereo reel to reel tape recorder became available in electronic stores, and backed up my favorite recordings with copies on tape. A few years later, the cassette player became the player of choice. Eventually, many of my favorite pieces were recorded again on to cassettes, joined by original recordings which were sold in cassette versions. This system was replaced by the CD, and over a number of years I bought several CD players as well as a sizable collection of discs.

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With the advent of the digital age, it became possible to transfer recorded music to digital files, and to play them on the computer or on an MP3 player. A few years ago, I started converting many of the records, and taped recordings to digital files. Today, I listen either to internet radio, or to recordings that have been converted to digital files. But in my old home, I still had an extensive collection of records, reel to reel tapes, and recorded music cassettes, as well as the instruments made for playing these old recordings. That old record player with diamond needle whose weight could be adjusted still stood on the top of a music chest in my old home, within which were stored musical recordings on a number of different media. No sign of any of that in my new home.

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The walls of my old living room used to be covered with book cases and shelves, bearing more books than I ever counted. It was a great pleasure for me to access many of my favorite books at a moment’s notice, and to reread a thought or piece of information. I remembered the place of each book on the many shelves around me. The books are still with me. They have been moved to my new library. But they are no longer as crucial as they once were. Because now I often read digital reproductions of books on my computer or Kindle, and when I want to review a quote or a poem, they are often available on the internet, and it’s even faster to find them on the computer than it is to locate the book and bring it to the table.

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This week, Chana and I visited an old barn in the northern negev, where books have been donated and collected from people in the area. We met two very charming people who are doing their best to organize these treasures of a previous generation. A visitor may buy any of the books for ten shekels, regardless of size or topic. The price is between one seventh to one thirtieth the original price of the books, but there are not that many customers. We heard the young man singing as he worked. The young woman, Adi is her name, offered to help us find any particular book we might be looking for. We told her we were just looking. I saw many books I have read and loved… and some I have never encountered. I didn’t expect to buy any. But as it happened, I did buy two: ‘The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’ which had impressed me greatly as a young man, and ‘Prey’, a delightful book by Michael Crichton, which I gave to Chana as a present. I was touched but not saddened by the great array of books. For though they told of the conclusion of an age, I knew they had been replaced by a fine new method of enjoying the written word.

up on the hill

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When I was just a little chap… before I’d learned to drive or read the newspaper… I had a visit from Moses Ben Amram, our beloved teacher, forever famous for writing those wonderful best sellers, the holy bible and the book of Job. He said, Shimon, my boy, you’re about to go out there… and have the most wonderful life. He told me all the secrets of life on this earth, and how to recognize sanctity in the midst of banality, how to please god… and the very best recipe for chicken soup with matza balls. But I wasn’t impressed by any of that. I said, ‘I’d prefer to stay right here, dear teacher’, and curled up in my mother’s womb, determined never to leave. He pressed his index finger against my upper lip, and said, ‘don’t tell a soul’. I’ve had a depression on my upper lip ever since…

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That’s the way I’ve been all my life; trying to appreciate what I have, and not looking over the fence, envious of my neighbor’s greener grass. I’ll smoke my own grass, thank you. And so, when my dearest friends came to the conclusion that my neighborhood had lost its youthful charm, and that my home, having embraced me in warmth and security for the last 40 years, no longer suited me, … and offered to find me a better place to live, I said, ‘No thanks, guys. No place could possibly be better than this. I’m surrounded by my books and memories, live on the ground floor so that my cat can come in and out without an elevator, and everyone in Jerusalem knows exactly where to find me’.

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checking out the scene from the edge of the balcony, Nechama

But you know, I can tell a story… and I can sing a song… I can even photograph a picture… But I’m just no good at arguing. And when these friends started arguing with me, and proving without a doubt that they were only pressing for my own good… I just gave up, and wrote a couple of poems about how life sucks. What do we have friends for, I wondered… if not to listen to their advice? So my old home was sold, and a new home was found… snails were hired to drag my books and furniture from the old home to the new… and meantime, I went off… to find refuge in the country, and then back in the alleys of my city… moving from one place to the next, inhaling the dust deposits on the curtains of rented rooms, and rediscovering the magic of life as I smelled roses in the company of village cats outside of Jerusalem. It was a learning experience. It was almost like getting reborn.

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looking up at me from the back yard

The process started at the beginning of October, and this week, the last week of February, I moved into my new home, joining my beloved cat Nechama who seems to be suffering from post traumatic stress disorder as she drinks tomato juice through a straw and avoids meat and fish. She barely recognized me when I first arrived. I tried to reason with her. ‘I was as much a victim as you were’, I told her. ‘I couldn’t take you with me… I stayed in a house with a dog!’

‘You think that’s bad?’, she countered. ‘I had to live with children!’ She knows that I too am unable to withstand the assault on my nerves of the screeches and shouts of happy children…

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she likes to relax while I work

So here I am at the top of a hill, with a living room that is surrounded on three sides by big beautiful windows… work tables in every room, music easily available, a library separate from the living room, where guests may entertain me, a large refrigerator in the kitchen, and air conditioners that have been designed to warm me up in winter, as well as to cool me off in summer. My old cuckoo clock, once attacked and defeated by a previous cat of mine, has been repaired, and now cuckoos on the hour. Looking out the window in the right direction, I can even discern when there’s a traffic jam on the freeway that leads to my neighborhood, and plan my exits wisely. I would never have thought of such comforts, and am overwhelmed by the upgrade of the quality of my life. I don’t believe I deserve all of this. I keep thinking it must be some terrible mistake. But I can’t wait for spring, so that I’ll be able to take advantage of my new balcony, which is roomy and surrounded by flower pots under the blue skies of Jerusalem.

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my neighbors, seen from the stairway up to my apartment

Nechama has already learned to use her cat door… to traipse through the cat door and out to the balcony. With one graceful leap, she is able to land on the hillside behind our home, and to visit the park, with me or without me. And being an existentialist cat, she’s already halfway to forgiving me for deserting her, and busy smelling the plants the trees, the grass and the flowers in our new surroundings. She doesn’t smile… and her eyes look piercing… but it does seem that she’s happy. I’ve been smoking as much as I can, drinking whisky, and listening to music, as I try out the speakers in each room. There are a few boxes of my things that haven’t been unpacked yet, and I use this readily available excuse to complain to my friends. I don’t want them to get too smug thinking they were right and I was wrong.

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guarding the groceries that have just been delivered

What do I know about life? Was there anything more important about this move than the many lessons I learned along the way? I am grateful for the kindness. Overwhelmed by my good luck. This evening I will welcome the Sabbath surrounded by dear friends, and a wise cat who turns from time to time… sometimes to look out, and other times, to look in.