Thursday, January 31, 2008

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

All Good Dreamers Pass This Way Someday

There's a serious storm gathering. It'll snow in Jerusalem and the West Bank tonight. Currently the wind is tossing Jaffa's trees and occasinally a torrent of rain beats down on the balcony. I'm safely indoors, drinking sahlep and listening to Joni Mitchell

A recent post by Jerusalemite Blogger Rebecca consists of nothing but a statement that "A Case of you" by Mitchell is one of the most beautiful songs ever written. Rebecca's right, and the entire album "Blue", on which that song appears (as does this utter gem, don't miss it) makes for a wonderful rainy day companion. My friend Jake told me once that he's hooked on "Blue". I asked what song is his favorite. He said: at each point in life, there's another that fits.

At what point down the Blue track am I? I spent my childhood wishing "I had a river to skate away on" from mostly unsnowy Israel, spent my early twenties "On the lonely road" as in first track, being a "a singer in the park," as in the second. I kept away someone's "lonesome blues", until a warm land called me to return to it, as California called Mitchell. I left a loving but flawed relationship, as did the father in "Little Green", I even ended up following that by falling for more than one Canadian. "On the back of a cartoon coaster \ in the blue TV screen light \ I drew a map of Canada \ O Canada \ with your face sketched on it twice". I've actually done that.

So what happens at the end of Blue, once you've been through the rest of it? The final track begins with a bitter prophecy: "The last time I saw Richard was Detroit in 68 \ and he told me all romantics meet the same fate someday \ cynical and drunk and boring someone in a dark cafe." It ends with a rebellion: "I'm gonna blow this damn candle out \ don't want nobody coming to my table \ I got nothing to talk to nobody about \ All good dreamers pass this way someday \ Hiding behind bottles in dark cafes \ only a dark cocoon before I spread my wings and fly away \ only a cocoon, these dark cafe days."

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Best Thing to Do With the Evening

was to get on a sherut to Jerusalem and spend several hours sipping Guinness at the bar where Gilli works. That's it - no wailing wall, no holy sepulchre, nothing but the boozer, which happens to be directly across from the sherut station. I didn't do too much drinking, I mean, you know what state I'm in. Gilli, on the other hand, went hardcore.

And this was in celebration of good health... At least the whiskey is appropriately Irish.

The Jerusalem - Tel-Aviv lag of the trip back took 32 minutes (sherut drivers are insane). I ended up waiting nearly 30 minutes more for the Tel-Aviv city bus. Finally I got sick of it, took out my guitar and played "Oh Good Shepherd" to the great joy of an elderly woman and a yarmulka-sporting youngster. Then on the bus I got hit on by a truly beautiful woman. No complaints, se ya'll tomorrow.

Neither Death nor Maiden

It's time that I finally admitted it. I'm in love with a man.

The man is Schubert.

Last night, feeling a bit better, I went out to buy myself a piece of music as compensation for all the shit I've been through. The bus driver was listening to Ethiopean music, which at times sounded like straight zydaco, and at others (particularly on a certain Efram Tamru track) like something vaguely Asian. It was really good, but I needed my fix of Franz.

I made a mistake of asking to listen to an expensive recording of the "Death and the Maiden" quartet. A piece this popular has scores of cheap recordings available, but after listening to the sharp and deliberate takacs quartet, there was no return. These guys don't play the piece, they bite it and kick it and struggle it to the ground. Their "Death and the Maiden" is a lot more death than maiden.

There actually is no maiden in "Death and the Maiden". The piece is so named because the piano accompaniment of a song by that name is used as a theme for variations in the second movement. Death there is a aplenty. Schubert wrote the piece shortly after discovering the first symptoms of syphilis in his body. He was to die four years later at the age of 31, pretty much unknown.

On the other hand, it would be completely reasonable to state that he remains alive to this very day, so in a way there is no death in "Death and the Maiden" either. "So long as men can breath or eyes can see, so long lives this, and this gives life to thee" wrote Sheakspeare. Schubert's anger at his fate is an emotion preserved as lucidly and perfectly as a mosquito trapped in amber.

He had help. Beethoven is present everywhere in this piece. Schubert was a fan of Beethoven and during the year of the illness must have developed an interest in Beethoven's 5th symphony, with its "fate knocking at the door" motif. His quartet begins with fate literally slamming at the door, through it's a smaller, more modest, chamber-music door then Beethoven's symphonic gates.

Both door and slam fit my mood precisely today, and the takacs quartet's punk-rock take on them is perfect. Nothing is real in this world except for music. Take my word for it.

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Balcony

Still under the weather in every sense, I spent the day at home. By now boredom has driven me to shoot details of the world as seen from my balcony. This is what the boy in the bubble must feel like.

Here's a cute architectural detail across the street.

Here's an Orthodox church in Abu-Kabir.

Here's the lawn, overgrown with wildflowers

and here's yours truly, as reflected in the neighbors' window.

As evening neared, my dear friends Osnat and Flash came over with Osnat's dog Misha, and brought me some chicken soup. The balcony turned from a place of lonelyness to one of togetherness, and the photographer's hat moved to Osnat.

I served them tea with spearmint,

played them a new song I wrote on the guitar (it's about Jerusalem)

ate the soup they brought

and fell in love.

Finally it turned too cold and we moved inside. My friends did me a lot more good than all the medicine has done so far, though the camera and the balcony deserve some credit too.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


It's been quite a day around here. Residents of the Gaza Strip blew up holes in the wall separating them from Egypt and scores of them rushed into the northern Sinai to buy food. Egypt let them in, Israel and the U.S. protested. Of course some of them will return with guns, but that doesn't change the basic fact: a million and a half human beings are starving, while we're keeping them under siege, waiting for them to die, and hurrying up the process by bombing them from the air.

2008, 1.5 million human beings corralled by a wall in an area smaller that that of Queens, with no support and no hope. Anyone who criticizes them for getting weapons, has to prove to me that he or she too is corralled by a wall, is starved and being shot at. I will not take criticism or condemnation towards the Gazans from anyone who is not in a similar situation, since empathy seldom come naturally.

Of course I don't empathize with violence or fundamentalism, but the way Israel treats the strip there makes it looks like we are being payed by the Hammas to empower it. There's too much suffering going on one hour down the coast from where I am and it turns into violence and fundamentalism. How should we solve this? should we cut off their electricity? already tried that. Should we deny them access to food and fuel in the middle of winter? hmmm. tried that. Should we kill them at a rate of 19 a day? been there, done that. So how come Gaza isn't flowering into a kind, moderate, pro Israeli and affluent community?

Could it be that we are just dumber than pickled carrot?

Now to another war-front. I went to a second doctor yesterday, since things aren't getting any better. He gave me another diagnosis (some mystery virus) and sent me to a lab in Bat-Yam, south of the city, to give a blood sample.

I got there this morning at 9:00. The nurse was extremely hostile because the lab is open precisely till 9:00. She didn't use the needle to hurt me, bless her heart, but later called and told me that she can't find the name of the doctor who sent me on the computer, so she's "getting rid of the blood".

"What?!" I started, "Don't get rid of the blood! I'm ill! I can hardly make it out of home, I don't want to go to Bat-Yam again at nine in the morning, or I mean before nine."

"Stop lying!" she blurted.

"When did I ever lie to you?"

"Your doctor is not on the computer, I need to go home, I've wasted an hour on this already."

Following continued pleas, she ended up agreeing to keep the blood sample at the Bat-Yam clinic, "If you get results, good. If you don't, you don't." She said and hung up(!)

Don't blame Israeli chutzpa, she's Russian. Don't blame lack of experience, she's unflatteringly middle aged. I called again to ask her her name, at which point she claimed she already threw away the blood. I then called the manager of the clinic to place a complaint.

At least I have someone to complain to when I'm met with a lack of empathy. Sure, the nurse deserved empathy too. She wanted to go home, maybe her kid is ill, maybe she has an appointment for getting her nails done. Maybe I should have spared her and not placed a complaint, like the Hammas should refrain from shooting at Sderot, but the fact is, when you get unnecessarily provoked, are left at the mercy of an unemphatic stranger and your blood gets pointlessly spilt, you look for a way to retaliate. That's the way of the world.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

De Gregori

My beloved blog readers stand with me in health and illness, war and near-peace. What gift should I give them?

I can think of nothing better than the music of Francesco De Gregori. Sibelings Laura, Marco and Federico fallavolita introduced me to it in Florance over a decade ago. We'd sit in their modest kitchen, eating spaghetti and listening to his song about fat women who venture broken hearted to form their own, self respecting society.

"It's amazing," I told them, "You travel Europe, and people mostly dress the same and act the same, but food is still so georgraphically specific. Here we are in Italy, and every night we eat spaghetti."

"That's not because we're Italians," Laura explained, "it's because we're students. We're poor."

De Gregori was a fave with all students I met in Italy, including two gay students (both guys, but not a couple) who gave me a lift one night near Bologna and took me to their school-town of Pisa. One of them tried his best to seduce me with the sweetness of this other man's singing voice. I played it mean and stayed a few days in the flat with no intention of yielding to the courtship. Women have done this to me since and now I know better.

Granted, De Gregori himself is rather inattractive. I think most gay Pisan men would prefer him as a recorded voice, but at least in this clip of his song "nothing to understand" he is surrounded by beauty. There, if anyone ever needed it, is a testement to the power of generous eye-liner use. Count this fashion tip as another gift.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Of Beauty and Tonsillitis

On a map of London, Richmond park is a big green hole. Comfortably sprawled in the suburban expanse, it dwarfs Hyde park, Kensington Graden, Regent Park and Even Hampstead Heath.

When I lived in London with Ulla, we saw that great big green hole, previously the king's deer hunting grounds, on our A-Z city atlas, picked a fine Sunday and took the tube there. We made it into the park but never entered the forest. I felt weak and opted for picnicking under a large oak very near the gates.

It was not a pleasent picnick. I was dazed, leaning against the trunk, barely reaching for the wine and cherries. We went home early. I was whiny that night and the following morning woke up miserable. Britain's much criticized NHS recieved this tourist with open doors. I was diagnosed with Tonsillitis and given a perscription for antibiotics, which must have been a bit illegal, considering I hadn't even brought a passport.

That was in 1997. Eleven years later, I'm down with Tonsillitis once more. For two days I was not able to post, nor work, nor wash the dishes. Now that I'm back at the computer, it's funny what comes up on my mind: it's that huge oak, and Ulla, it's the mystery of a life I might have lived ages ago or might have invented, (me? London? what the hell?), it's the memory of being nearly in tears or maybe literally in tears when walking out of that ugly concrete NHS clinic, because some doctor cared enough for my miserable face to risk her professional standing for me.

If I'm hit with this dumb illness ten years from now, what will I remember of this time? From here, the memories don't seem like they would justify nostalgia. In addition to the throat infection, my sink is clogged and my computer is giving me hellish problems. I need to do the laundry soon (fever makes you sweat!) and the house is cold, bummer upon bummer.

But maybe - maybe I'll remember my friend Vizan, who's just rushed here to lend me his heat diffuser, or my friend Hadas Reshef, who's been calling on and off to see how I am, or my dear and old friend, the 4th symphony by Brahms, that I've been listening to on repeat for two days, or the gathering clouds over Jaffa, promising a rainy day tomorrow.

It hadn't rained in London that entire autumn. Would you believe that? Soon big drops will thump against the palm trees outside, rendering illness meaningful, even beautiful. Perhaps next time those damn germs catch up with me, Jaffa will be my magical past, a peculiar dream of kebabs, croaking geese at night and fireworks, perhaps I'll miss my current singleness, this unwarmable apartment or even these penicillin blues. A romantic is always an optimist, because he knows everything will be painted in pretty colors someday.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Nearly Solo

"Tmuna" theatre, situated at a delightfully derelict industrial wasteland in eastern Tel-Aviv, is offering a series entitled "Nearly Solo". It is devoted to musical duos. Last night Osnat, Maya, their friends and I cought Asaf Avidan (vocals, guitar) and Hadas Kleinman (cello). The combination was good enough that I forgive Avidan for singing in English - which usually causes me to shun Israeli musicians.

Hell, I'm a fool for the cello. Anything that sounds well with a cello, is good music to me. Here, for like-minded people, is the beginning of Schubert's last work: his powerful and mysterious quintet in C. The ensamble features two Celli instead of two violas. It's a simple twist (Franz's own idea) that produces sublime textures. I used to think of this interpertation as aggressive, now I think of it as sharp. Enjoy.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Do Arabs Bleed?

On his excellent blog in Hebrew, Roy "Chicky" Arad points out this day's main headline of Yediot Aharonot, Israel's largest daily:

"Fire in Gaza, Blood in Sderot"

Yesterday, a volunteer from Ecuador (I've previously written Uruguay, my mistake) died at a kibbutz near Sderot from Hammas fire. The killing was tragic and indeed newsworthy - partially because of its rareness. While life in Israel's southwest has become stressful and difficult, there are seldom any victims from fire shot out of the Gaza strip. Simultaneously, In the past three days, about twenty Palestinians were killed in the besieged, impoverished and completely vulnerable Strip from IDF fire. Judging by the headline, Chicky deducts that they died without shedding any blood. How neat!

I've repremended Yediot Aharonot for their wording once before. The newspaper is printed at about 600,000 copies each day and is responsible for Israel's most popular news website. Its approach to human life at one time reflects that of the mainstream Israeli and influences it. Scores of red blooded human beings read this headline without seeing anything the matter with it.

I can say in my defence that I haven't seen the paper today, though perhaps I too have become desensitized. Chicky, a poet, a performance artist, an editor, a Tel-Aviv social catalyst and a former Eurovision star, is no mainstream Israeli. His way of looking at things is original and deliberate.

Make a sharp u-turn from the headlines and look at the sentence that opened his previous blog post: "Real swinging isn't when the guy is switched with another guy and the wife with somebody else's wife. It's when the entire couple is replaced by another couple, preferably forever." This was followed by a poem about the pleasantness of meeting a vacationing urban hot-dog vendor, then by another, dealing with checkbook stubs.

Apparently none of this goofy surrealism has anything to do with people dying and bleeding in Gaza and in Sderot, but it does. Someone who doesn't take swinging, hot-dog vendors or checkbook stubs for granted will not take cheap "fire vs. blood" talk for granted and will not be easily fed fascist manipulations. By voicing cynical boubt, he's reclaiming humanity and performing a service. Chicky informed me today. no thanks to Yedioth editor Shilo De-Beer.

Democracy is dependent on wacky artists and thinking people who look at things twice. They are so much more valuable to it then newspaper editors with little or no universal values and human integrity.

Monday, January 14, 2008

It's Cold

It's been exeedingly frigid in Israel for a week now. The cold even claimed several lives. We're surviving thanks to ear warmers bought somewhere far far away from this strip of Middle Eastern soil, and we're hoping the camels of the region have made similarly smart purchases.

In honor of the decent winter, here are photos of a few area cities in the snow. All are from Google, enjoy.






Of these cities, only Istanbul is at sea level and it does get snow every so often. I think in Lebanon, in Syria and even in Southern Turkey snow seldom falls on the coast. I did find one more photo of a snowy-coastal Middle Eastern city. This only happened once in recorded history, in 1950, and was thankfully documented.


Thursday, January 10, 2008

One Fine Day at the Lab

I'm writing this from a planetary science laboratory in Tel Aviv University, where I'm being the guest of a scientist friend. currently this friend is playing "Danny Boy" on the Kazoo behind me. Two other scientists present are discussing South Park while playing mock tennis with a fly swatter and a miniature Kinder surprise egg. On the wall hangs a magical clock, blessed by a rabbi. The research team claims that it's worked miracles with infertile women. Any wonder we haven't yet uncovered the mysteries of the universe?

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Hadera, The Final Frontier

The town of Hadera, forty kilometers up the coast from Tel-Aviv, has such a solid reputation as a shithole, that when writing my book about cities in Israel I promptly skipped it (though I did mention it on my blog before, right here). Alas, the publishing house pulled me by the ear and forced me to board the train headed there. Alon waited for me at the train station, his camera prepared to immortalize dullness.

Five hours later we were at the far end of a 2,400 meter long wharf sticking out into the windy Mediterranean. Beneath us were jellyfish over one meter in diameter. We've just been inside a smokestack 300 meters tall, currently the tallest structure in the Middle East. The wind was insane. We were feeling just fine.

That wharf is a coal terminal for the local power plant. I'm not mad about coal-powered power plants, but in terrorism-prone Israel, nuclear is scary, and until they get their act together and harness the sun and wind, coal is somehow acceptable. In terms of Hadera tourism, it's a serious treasure.

Not that Hadera lacks anything. It's got an historic clifftop-Bauhaus-mansion-coffee-shop, a park pond full of fish so precious that a guard has to be placed there to protect them, and an outdoor market offering the biggest strawberries I've ever seen (certainly in January). Once more I learn that prejudice towards places is similar to racism and makes about as much sense.

P.S. The real final frontier is as always Jaffa. There's a stray horse, a beautiful white Arabian, hanging around my neighborhood for about a week now. On my walk back home from the pub tonight it followed me part of the way. Cute as can be!

This was the first time I noticed his limp, which is probably the cause of the abandonemnt. I reported this to the city's veterinarian service, which has a 24 hour hotline, and asked them to keep me informed on where he's taken to and how he's being treated. They promised they will, let's hope they stay true to their word.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008


A rainy morning's visit to Moon River's blog proved to be a fine idea. Less a blog than than a gallery of art, its line of curating is at once erratic and coherent. Recent acquisitions include offerings by Aubry Beardsley's pen and Jordi Savall's baton, both sharp. On this morning, however, I relate most strongly to this. Trust me, click on it.

Moon River has a special interest in art that involves maps. I'm thinking of my Bostonian friend Mark Schafer who used to put together "imaginary maps". One such work hangs in my kitchen. It's a convincing combination of two world maps that makes Latvia easily accessible to Australians, etc. Another piece of his I find online is more rainy-day-like.

There's something Ane Brun's clip and this piece by Schafer have in common: a deliberate darkness that goes well with the way the city looks today. Beardsley and Savall deliver it too. I'm an expert on bright daylight, perhaps somewhat unsexily so. This kind of beauty and this kind of weather both help me somber-up nicely.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Furthest South

If the trip to Israel's northern tip was fun, the one to its southern extreme is paradise. The Mariinsky (previously Kirov) opera house is visiting Eilat for a three day desert musical fest, which I'm covering for a newspaper.

Maestro Velary Gregiyev, The fest's chief star, is to classical music today what Dylan is to popular music. Speaking to this man is like listening to a Mahler symphony, listening to him conduct a Mahler symphony is like looking out the window of a posh hotel room at the Kingdom of Jordan, its city of Aqaba nestled beneath massive mountains (image provided).

Provided are also a few studies I made during one concert of musical instruments and women's heads. Brass and the glockenspiel are first, then harp and cello and finally percussion. BTW, I never photoshop nor even crop. All images here are presented as they were taken. Hope you enjoy.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Furthest North

When the year 2007 began, I was in Istanbul. A group of travelers managed to drag me with them from there to a mountaintop in Bulgaria. It's a long and pretty crazy story, I'll just mention that they brought up the idea one hour before their 14 hour train to Sofia departed. Thankfully, I was game.

This year may have begun a little less dramatically, but there's a parallel. I was sitting at home last night, working peacefully, when the text message came: "Yuval, Maya and I are dying to get out of town. Be our tour guide. -Osnat". Resistance was futile ("Spontaneity, Yuval! Spontaneity!") nor did I never end up being the tour guide. My Friends picked the destination: mountaintop Kibbutz Misgav Am, a three hour drive from the city. It is Israel's northernmost point.

Today, a real winter morning found me in a room full of Hindu texts and little stickers saying "Aum Sweet Aum". it belongs to a friend of a friend of my travel companions, who was kind enough to put me up for the night.

Outside, past the ceder trees, the lawns populated by lazy kibbutz cats and the many bomb shelter entrances, waited a magnificent view of the Golan heights topped with snow-capped Mt. Hermon, and also of southern Syria and Lebanon, where cars drive slowly along village roads I will probably never walk. Pretty towns hug the Lebanese hills, sticking mosque minarets at the cold sky. A Hizbullah flag was waving on a nearby hill, not far from a U.N. base. Today visibility is limited, but at night the lights spread all the way to the Phoenician coast and the Damascus Plateau.

What's crazier is that tomorrow I have to be in Eilat for work. That's eight hours away from here by car and in Israeli terms - infinitely far. Never before have I crossed my country from one end to the other in 24 hours. I can't wait to be shocked by the climate change - stark, rocky desert instead of freezing, green hills. In Eilat there's a classical music festival waiting to be covered and a hotel to stay in, no more cats named Shakti nor climbing to the rooftops of old fortresses in the middle of the night, in wool hats and scarves. I can only hope to be just as much of a pushover in 2009.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

New Year's Eve

Six parties. Six parties! 3 Nahlat Binyamin St., 3 Zalman Shneyor St. (at Paul's), the Gymnasia, 5 Peretz Hayut St., Rothscield on shadal, 99 Allenby St. (Radio Rosko - where everyone ended up at 3 in the morning: Vizan, Ya'elle Kayam and Itamar, Sharon, Chicky, Yossi Atiya, Amanda, Maya, Helene and Uri, Sivan, Nimrod the youngster, even Rana).

One surprise kiss.

The city danced with me.

This is how life should be and this is how life is.