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 Altneuland—If 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.