Friday, August 28, 2009

Craig and Talal in Tel Aviv, Day 1

I have a blog entry for Simon that’s an installation of our ongoing argument about the Star Trek (the new movie) that was inspired while watching the sun rise above the Irish Sea from 30,000 feet. It’s good. But philosophy later. Let’s talk about the shit. Literally.

So we get to the apartment circa 3 am Tel Aviv time (that’s 5 pm PDT). Our landlady, Raya is off in Budapest settling her daughter in for a few years of academic study. We’re greeted by a lady named Ilam, her assistant. The apartment was very warm, so we cranked up the AC. It works, thanks be to God. It works really well, so well that I’m probably going to spend the next few weeks worrying about the electric bill. The apartment is actually bigger than Craig and I expected. All of that is the good news.

The bad news was that the toilet is clogged. We need to call her in the morning so she can make arrangements for the plumber. Apparently, Friday is a half-day off and Saturday is a full day off. I suspect that this may have something to do with the Sabbath beginning at sunset on Friday, but I am not certain. Well, the guy at the airport wanted to screw us on a deal for cellphones (praise God for Grace who provides us with the necessary tip-off), so until I figure out how to buy a local simcard from local telecom giant Cellcom, we have no phone. The apartment had no plunger. Through vague descriptions of what you do with the device, we discovered that a plunger is a called a plumba and purchased one for sixteen shekels. Our toilet has a very bizarrely shaped drain hole, which makes it difficult to get a proper seal using the plunger. Sadly, if fortunately, I have developed some expertise with a plunger and, by trial and sewage-soaked error, I managed to unplug it.

Craig has taken some lovely photos of our apartment. They follow.

I love the detail he got on the building number.

The problems below really aren't visible. The dirt doesn't show in the photos.

That toilet looks innocuous. Trust me. It's not.

Of course, I spent some time this morning focusing on the smelly mold in the kitchen, depicted below.

We bought a mold stain remover with bleach as a component. It’s cleaned up well. Craig is still sleeping. When he wakes, I’ll see if I can get him to get on a chair and reach the very top zone. I hope he sleeps until morning, though. It makes all the sense in the world that he’d get over jet lag faster than me. He can sleep twelve hours at a drop anytime. He wakes frequently, but falls back asleep just as easily. I wish I slept like him.

We desperately need to buy some bleach come Sunday. There are several surfaces I’d like to scrub. Everything shuts down come Friday afternoon. Fortunately, our supermarket was open. So we did get enough food to survive until Sunday.

The Aesthetics of Tel Aviv

We explored some yesterday. Tel Aviv is the most unusual city. It’s ugly in person, yet strangely photogenic. I can’t explain it. This view from the beach at the Hilton looks hideous. It’s an ugly factory abutting on the beach. Yes, I composed it to use space as effectively as possible. I did add that much to the image. But it never dawned on me the photo would be attractive. But surprise, it’s not that bad.

It's obviously not alluring, but it was ugly in real life. I'm having trouble sorting it out. Part of it may be an issue of light. The sea, while pretty in real life, appears with deeper, more beautiful color in these photos, I didn't doing anything special to the color in the pictures.

I do notice that the automatic setting is leaving the rocks and surf overexposed in several of the other photos I've taken today. I'm going to have to experiment with manual control. I have a beautiful sketch (somewhere) of a Bedouin tent pitched on the beach of the Mediterranean. I remember how jarring it was, the first time I saw it. Obviously, I grew up post-'67. There were no Palestinians on the beach in my Jordanian imaginary. I can't venture to make any comments about the Israeli imaginary, other than to note that again, class organization trumping tribal organization seems to be the rule. The people here all have recreational hobbies like fishing and windsurfing, something I don't see a lot of in the Arab world.

But to return to the topic at hand, perhaps Tel Aviv light has a photogenic quality. Georgetown light did, but Georgetown looks beautiful to the naked eye, too. I can’t explain Tel Aviv. The stores look grimy, crowded and nasty. But look at these photos Craig took while shopping.

Yeah, Craig has an artist’s eye (I love my Big Bear), but it’s not all just his eye. He’s finding these results unpredictable, too.

Part of it is a problem of maintenance. Like the apartment, the city as a whole is exceptionally poorly maintained. You can see how Labor Zionism shaped the ethos of the city. The bourgeois compulsion toward creating a perfectly commodified cityscape simply has no expression here. Buildings are run down and filthy. There are our apartment windows, taken from the outside. This grime is standard, at least here on Arlozorov Street.

Indeed, Craig wonders if we have any right to complain of the apartment’s filth. For all we know, this may be par for the course. The neighborhood has its share of blown-out buildings.

And façades can be terrible. Who dreamed up this monstrosity?

But there are people who share Craig’s sensibility and try to create little nooks of cozy beauty.

And there was some aesthetic sensibility, for example in the creation of street signs. Here is one for Ben-Yehuda Street:

I find these trilingual signs quite charming. The street is named for the guy who revived Hebrew from the dead. Hebrew died circa 500 BC. That’s roughly contemporaneous with the founding of the Roman Republic to help you contextualize. This guy, through force of will, brought it back from the dead and now a few million people speak it as naturally as if it were, say… Arabic. Sorry. I couldn’t resist.

Michael Dewar, a new friend in Portland I made through my goddaughter Michelle, is an old Tel Aviv hand who has helped Craig and me with much practical advice. He reminded me of Theodor Herzl’s slogan from AltneulandIf you will it, it is no fairy tale! I think of that phrase a lot while I’m here. Michael sent me the German phrase translated into Arabic (إن أردتم فهذه ليست أسطورة) and I had to scramble to figure it out at first, as it didn’t seem to be an Arabic idiom he picked up while in the Peace Corps in Madaba. While the translation with literally accurate, if one were to translate its emotional impact on the Arabs rather than the literal words, it would have to read as a wry Though we do not will it, it is nonetheless no fairy tale. I mean, here I am.

Yes, sure enough, the fairy tale became real. But the word real has so many meanings. In the process of becoming real, it feels as if Tel Aviv has none of the positive qualities of a fairy tale. It's all too real and not in that Arab political sense, either. It’s just not at all enchanting. It’s not that it lacks charm, but it’s in little things like the street signs. Like an unexpected photo taken by your partner of you trying to figure out which carton of milk to buy.

NOTE TO NEIL: Yes, that is my old Packers cap. But I wore my new Yankees cap to the gym everyday last week, which won me a snarky comment from the gym owner and a few glances from other clients, including a guy in Red Sox cap. Rest assured, the Yankees cap will make it into the rotation regularly on this trip.


Kirk said...

If you're going to wear that Yankees cap regularly you might as well get used to comments and funny looks, they have the distinction of having one of the largest fan bases in all of sports and at the same time being one of the most widely hated teams around the country. Red Sox and Mets fans may hate the Yankees most passionately but I've met quite a few fans of other teams all over the country who completely loathe the evil empire. My brother-in-law in Dallas even once thought Rangers fans hated the Yankees most of all until I took him to a Red Sox game at Fenway (actually my sister paid for all of us) and he got to witness the famous "Yankees suck" chant over and over again throughout the game even though we were playing Detroit that night. He even bought a "Yankees suck" t-shirt outside the park.

Cuphound said...

> If you're going to wear
> that Yankees cap regularly

You say that like there's going to be some doubt, there...

> Red Sox and Mets fans may
> hate the Yankees most
> passionately but I've met
> quite a few fans of other
> teams all over the country
> who completely loathe the
> evil empire.

Whoa. Where has the Kirkles Sporting Dispassion gone? You said "Evil Empire" that time like you really meant it... :P

> and he got to witness the
> famous "Yankees suck" chant
> over and over again
> throughout the game even
> though we were playing
> Detroit that night.

You see, that's the turn-off with Red Sox. Red Sox fans don't really love the Red Sox. They just hate the Yankees.

That reeks of Nietzsche's ressentiment, the definition of self based solely on the rejection of the other and the creation of self as the diametrical opposite.

I'm pretty sure the only thing I like about the Red Sox is my old buddy Kirk. Well, there are those pictures of Papelbon with the champagne bottle. Those were pretty hot...

Kirk said...

>You see, that's the turn-off with >Red Sox. Red Sox fans don't >really love the Red Sox. They >just hate the Yankees.

Red Sox fans love their team passionately and most hate the Yankees with equal passion. Not that I expect you to do this but if you watch the twin documentaries "Still, We Believe" and "Faith Rewarded" which follow real super-fans through the course of the 2003 (when the Sox lost in the playoffs to the Yankees in typical excruciating fashion) and 2004 (when the Sox won the World Series) seasons you'll get a better sense of what Red Sox fans are like. Even the movie "Fever Pitch" represents some (not all) aspects of Red Sox fanhood very well and actually includes some of the fans from the documentaries as the people who sit around Drew Barrymore and Jimmy Fallon in the stands during the game scenes. I always crack up during the scene when one of the women yells to Johnny Damon while he is heading up to bat that he has the best ass in baseball.

Just think of how you feel about the Bears...just because you hate the Bears with a passion doesn't mean you don't love the Packers.

Cuphound said...

Brother, I should have become a Yankees fan years ago. Anything that forces up this much true feeling past the facade of Kirkles Sporting Dispassion is a great thing.

I'm so proud that you're my friend.

And I'll definitely watch both documentaries as soon as I can haul my sorry ass back across the Atlantic.

Kirk said...

Ha! That's ironic on several levels, that you becoming a fan of my favorite team's rival brings out the passion but also that I find myself defending Red Sox fans to you, the very same Red Sox fans I've complained to you about for years because I find some of them annoying as hell too. I would guess most if not all of whatever negative things you know about the Red Sox and their fans probably came from me.

By the way, Keriann blew up when she found out you became a Yankees fan. Hell hath no fury, brother.

G.S.North said...

Lifelong Yankees fan here. The thing about Yankees-Red Sox is that while Sox fans hate the Yanks as much as they love their team, Yankees fans don't really feel much of anything about the Red Sox (or any other team, for that matter). We acknowledge that they are our closest competition geographically, and generally talent-wise as well, at least in recent years. But we never doubt our team's ability to triumph. In New York, a Yankees-Red Sox series is greeted with excitement, but almost none of the visceral emotion one finds in Boston. A friend of mine who is a born-and-bred New Yorker relocated to Boston for work, and commented on the phenomenon. I told him, "Well, *of course* they're more bitter and intense about it. It's kind of like being in the West Bank - you're living with the losers."

Cuphound said...

Craig is disgusted that I've written this beautiful post with photographs about my trip and all my friends want to talk about is baseball...

I, of course, expected this and couldn't possibly be offended!

Kirk, be sure to tell Keriann about all the years you didn't try to help me like baseball. If you're to be allowed to come out and play with me in the future, we're going to need some full disclosure. If my baseball identity is a tragedy, you are one of its root causes.

Neil went out and bought me a hat and talked strategy for hours. He's even nominally interested in taking a martial art with me so we can come visit your ass at Fenway. You gotta admit the guy gives a shit.

I'm just sayin'.

Gretchen, you've illustrated my new hope. Being and Arab, a Democrat and a queer, it would be nice to have an identity that has a winning edge.

Craig and I woke up at 5 am! Progress in conquering jet lag is being made!

איתי Itai said...

Yes! Tel Aviv is, in my eyes, absolutely ugly, regardless of the light. The history of the city is interesting, esp. when accompanied by early photographs. You get a sense of the pastel Cubism of the city which, today, boasts the largest concentration of Bauhaus architecture in the world.

"And the evening and the morning were the first day"
By Jewish reckoning, every day begins in the evening and ends the next evening. The Jewish Sabbath, שבת, is from Friday at sunset and for the next 25 hours or so (in order not to rush the Sabbath on her way). One lights Shabbat candles, the last creative act of the week, about 20 minutes before sunset and, technically, it is Shabbat from that moment. In some cities and towns, a siren sounds a warning that the Sabbath is fast approaching. (You and Craig MUST spend a Shabbat in Jerusalem!). Since there is so much to do to get ready on Friday and since a one-day Shabbat only gives Israelis a one day weekend, much of Friday is 'recruited' to the cause!

There were, of course, Palestinians living along the coast - and still are. Jaffa, for instance. By now, you'll have seen the mosque between Tel Aviv and Jaffa. It used to be directly on the beach, but dry land was recovered along a section of the coast there. I went to ulpan at Kibbutz Ma'agan Mikhael, just a bit north of Caesaria. Near neighbors are the inhabitants of Faradis الفراديس who have traditionally been coast dwellers.

There is a famous, funny photo of David Ben-Gurion standing on his head on a Herzliya beach. I don't know if that put the beach further into the Israeli psyche. It did, however, help promote the work of Moshe Feldenkrais. Ben-Gurion went to him with serious, reoccurring back problems. The Feldenkrais technique saved his spine to the point he could pose for photos on his head!

Tel Aviv University, where you're working, was built on the ruins of a village called 'Sheikh Munis.' The university's Green House בית הירוק was the home of the Sheikh. Today, it is a place for fancy, catered meals and even weddings.

Although Hebrew as a mother tongue died out following the Bar Kokhba Revolt (132-36 CE), it continued to be actively studied and used. So, it is partially a misnomer that Hebrew was a "dead language" until Ben-Yehuda (who wrote a lot of his famous dictionary in NY!). Hebrew is the only language I know of that had ceased to be a spoken language by native speakers and has enjoyed such a renaissance. This "miracle" is partly due to the simple fact that the language, though not a spoken medium perhaps, was in constant use by Jews (and others) for prayer, study, scholarship.

Following Arlozorov Street from your flat to the sea, you cross Ibn Gvirol Street . Solomon Ibn Gvirol, (1021 - 1058 CE), lived in Andalusia, composed poetry in Hebrew and Arabic and, as a philosopher, was instrumental in reintroducing Plato to Europe. Hebrew was widely studied in medieval universities, and from the 19th and early 20th centuries in Europe, the language of a new, secular literature. In the U.S., when Ezra Stiles became president of Yale in 1778, he wrote his inagural address in Hebrew and made Hebrew a mandatory subject for all Yale students. From 1783, (almost 100 years before Ben Yehuda was born), a secular periodical, written in Hebrew, המאסף Hameassef was published.

Where will you and Craig spend راس السنه Rosh Hashanah?

Cuphound said...

Thanks, by the by, for that wonderful epistle, Michael!

Craig and I spent Rosh ha-Shana touring with a tour company. We did the Galilee on Saturday and the coast between Caesaria and Haifa on Saturday. Pictures forthcoming.