Wednesday, October 29, 2008


This is a call to arms.

The previous post was devoted entirely to urban design, but there is a far more important field of design: Sleepytime design.

Celestial Seasonings, the herbal tea company from Boulder, CO. changed the packaging of its most famous product. "Sleepytime" boxes used to feature an entire family of drowsy teddybears: Daddy bear asleep on the couch in front of the fireplace (this is what teddy bears watch instead of television), mommy bear walking two yawning kid bears to sleep. An astonishingly sugary text, addressed to "dearest one", described the virtues of napping often, if not always.

All of this is lost, lost forever! the new design features a single bear (daddy) and no schmalzy text, exept some shitty "quote of the day" style thing. I don't even like chamomile tea, and this product isn't available in Israel, but I am outraged. I feel like that bear - abandoned asleep beside an open flame, left to die a catastrophic death!

This is a call to all of my readers who appreciate ingenious, original packaging design - a dying art, trampled under the feet of overschooled marketing consultants - to take up arms against this injustice. Get your pitchforks and torches and march on Boulder. The factory is situated on Sleepytime Drive. This is the company's actual address, let's not give them rest until they do something to deserve it once more.

(and special thanks to my lovely friends who offered me tea and exposed this scandal).

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Second Empire

Of all the things I enjoyed in Budapest, I enjoyed Nagykörút the most. This grand boulevard is joy, it's what city should be: Uninterrupted architectural grace and grandour, happy crowds at nighttime, bustling fin de siecle cafes at daytime. At 5 kilometers, Nagykörút is longer than any of its other Second-Empire influenced counterparts in Paris, Madrid and Buenos Aires.

Today, on return, I received my invitation to vote in the coming Tel-Aviv municipal elections. currently the main issue is the massive investment in the city by real estate moguls, who are building residential skyscrapers. Those skyscrapers, at press time, are aimed exclusively at financially powerful buyers. The fondness shown towards such projects by the current regime is sharply criticised by its challengers. They claim that greed blinds our current mayor to environemntal perils and causes him to neglect weaker populations.

While seeing their point, I have two diffiulties with such criticism. One is that towers have merits. They prevent sprawl and add drama to the skyline. One such tower replaces a massive neighborhood of villas that would have otherwise devoured an orange grove on the city's outskirts. Of course the city should invest in its less well to do and younger residents, for their sake and also in order to keep itself vibrant. It must legistale appropriatly, encourage relevant investors and invest wisely and fairly of its own budget, but that should be done beside, not instead of, the current developments.

When Baron Housmann destroyed old Paris and invented the Nagykörút-style boulevard, he couldn't care less about the poor. Many families were evicted, and the spirit that later led to the formation of the Paris commune was born. Paris retained a stiff, mostly-for-the-rich heart but it's Paris, for God's sake, which isn't a bad thing. Other european cities that followed in its tracks are now similarly affluent and yes, vibrant.

Anyone who knows America's decaying cities, has to appreciate such a heart. Outside of New York, Boston and San Fransisco, the heart of the American city has decayed badly in the decades of suburbanization. The middle classes left for green pastures and the cities remained struggling, neglected, dodgy. America's Nagykörúts, imposing downtown avenues from Indianapolis to Salt Lake City, fell into dour disrepair that urban renewal projects can only partially undo, especially in downtowns that have become purely non-residential or inhabited only by populations that are socioeconomically weak. Take a walk around downtown Atlanta, even today, and you'll simply want to die. Atlanta is the Anti-Paris. What kind of a city does Tel-Aviv wish be?

Bad policy is bad policy, but the towers policy isn't nessecarily bad. It's flawed, it's disgustingly housmanian, but it may also be Housmanian in the good sense of the word. No new regime in city hall will be able to reverse this policy (building permissions have been awarded for the next decade, so any claim to "fight the towers" made by the current contenders is propaganda nonesense). let's hope whoever gets there will know how to work wisely with the current reality and make this city as grand and lovely as it can be.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Well, Well, Well

I'm in Budapest for work, but sometimes work gives you just what you need. I needed this streetscape.

I needed the baths.

I needed this language, which sounds like Finnish but reads like Martian.

I needed the river (the second broadest to pass through a European capital, after the Dnyepr at Kyev).

I needed to go out to the theater with beautiful women (here is Anna, our representative from of the Hungarian Tourist Office)

and to the circus with handsome men (My friend and occasional editor Sami).

I needed the forest.

I needed rooftops,

lots of rooftops,

lots and lots of rooftops.

but more then anything else, I needed autumn, and there's plenty of that here to go around.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Not a One-Dream-Man

I promised silence, but then this cloud started bursting. I was standing with my sad friend at the edge of the market and over the last in a sea of tin roofs we saw madness of light in the distance. A single cloud on the dark horizon was exploding with released electric charges.

My sad friend, over red wine at the Radio Rosco, silent, smoking "Camel".

A happy friend, on Gmail chat, telling me: "yuval, you are not a one-dream-man."

And then, today, this piece of music. It's a familiar, even banal Israeli song, expressing an aspiration for better days. Chava Alberstein is seen here singing it in the midst of the October 1973 war: the most traumatic event in Israel's history. The days were filled with death and Alberstein is clearly not in a typical emotional state.

Chocolate from the fridge, badly heated goulash in a downtown diner.

Meeting Mercedes Sosa at a Ramat Gan conference center - watery coffee and "kosher parve" desserts. My sad friend joined me as photographer. "I got pictures of her laughing," she says.

A good review of my book.

The plane waiting to take me to Budapest.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Drama Bum

Yuval (languidly): Over the years I made various attempts at writing for the stage. One of them "The girls of Tuam" was produced by now disbanded New York theatre group Blank Slate, as part of a young playwrights workshop series, which means it was only performed once in full. Another play was considered for production by a serious Israeli theatre, but only considered. A third piece failed to be accepted to the 2000 Akko theatre festival. In short, I'm not exactly Tennessee Williams.

Banco: Why make another attempt, then?

Yuval: Mostly because it's so much fun. Playwrighting is the closest a writer comes to acting. You actually have to read each replica aloud and hear what it sounds like. (a scene I wrote today featured a debate on masturbation and hummus, held in a crumbling Jerusalem hotel. I hope my apartment isn't tapped by the mental health authorities). The mechanics of the medium are fascinating and lets face it, some stories can only be told this way. Besides, you can do your casting while writing, and aim as high as you wish.

The downside of writing a play is that it is an ambitious endeavor that will surely steal energy from my blog. After the most prolific spell ever, I may partially vanish for a wee while. Alas, the show must get on.

Before I depart as air, here's a gift for the last Jewish holiday of the season. It's the finale from the first portion of Mike Oldfield's epic "Tubular Bells". Oldfield wrote and recorded it, playing every single instrument, when he was 19 years old. He is seen on this BBC live reenctment wearing a colorful tanktop, alternating between the Bass and acoustic guitar. Is it the most impressive symphonic attempt of our time? is it the slightly awkward swan song of authentic progressive rock? I say it's 1973.

Shake Your Money Maker

So, there's a band of crazy Russians at that club and a crazy Russian girl with red hair and a crazy Russian body and a face that's a legend straight out of Yereshov. The band plays Romanian Gypsy music, Bulgarian folk dances and Irish reels. I've long ago discovered that all music is more dancable if you just chant James Brown's odd little line as it plays:

Shake your money maker
Shake your money maker-

It fits every rhythm, but for Christ's sake, the Bulgarian bits don't need this. A combo that features a recorder, an electric bass and a violin, needs no help. Crazy Russian redhead needs no help. The friend who brought me over (equally redheaded and no less enchating, but happily married) hastens to vanish for my benefit, moving to the bar and chatting with a film expert. I once checked him out in a free for all rooftop evening, screening school projects of great directors.

Shake your money maker
Shake your money maker-

What is cool? It's you, crazy redhead, you are cool. It's Bulgaria's folk tradition. It's that bearded Russian man, blowing into the recorder super speedy. what is cool? Brothers and sisters of the pale forest, we are reestablishing cool. It's Tel-Aviv 2008. A night can end wherever. Tomorrows are irrelevant. Dreams are to be whispered. Shake it baby, shake it desert kingdom, shake it Cheburashka, minutes from the Med. Never mind making sense, it isn't morning yet.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Foot Fetish

This has got to be the best photo of me ever taken: no double chin, no dumb expression, for once I actually look grounded. Hint, my feet are the ones with tufts of hair above the toes.

There's much more to a photo of feet than straightforward podiatry. Everything that's beautiful in life is in this photo. The setting is right: plain tiles of a Tel-Avivian apartment with cheap candy sprinkeled over them for color, that's our eternal war with the mundane right there. The company is telling: all feet, besides mine, are feminine. Out of all things that are beautiful in life, men are responsible for 16.6% if we're lucky.

Ulla is here, on the bottom, representing old loves and sheer wonderfulness. Hadas, on whose birthday this was taken, is the arts, joie de vivre, originality and guts. Her toes are the ones decorated with what looks like little old fashioned locomotives. Y the spy's perfect red nail polish and slender sandal tan lines hint to the classical beauty we never cease to seek - and she's also the top name in adventure.

Noam, top left hand corner, is music, travel, cool attitude and ambition. The more I know of her, the longer this list becomes. Goni, top center, is for me Tel-Aviv and the sacred present moment: if not for her sensative lense, none of you would be staring now at 60 toes and reading my ode to them. I assure you that I appreciate other parts of the body as well, (especially the uvula, which helps English speakers memorize my name) and that we didn't eat the candy after this was shot.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Is Akko Burning?

Which is the most beautiful word in the Bible? It may very well be one attirbuted to the Lord of Hosts in Genesis 18, 21. He declares there that the sinning ways of Sodomites and Gommorah-folk has become known to him, and that he now intends to decend into these cities and determine "haketza'akata".

Haketza'akata - literally: "is it as she yelled", figuratively: are the disturbing rumors founded. In the King James translation: "altogether according to the cry of it". In the new American Standard bible: "entirely according to its outcry". No translation brings out any of the poetry of this cumbersome, lush word. The darkness of the outcry is lost.

A very dark outcry rises this week from the city of St. Jean D'acre, also called Akka and Akko. The capital of the second crusader kingdom became the site of major turbulance. The Jewish-Israeli and Palestinian-Israeli populations of the city clashed on the streets, houses were burned, vandalism performed, families evicted, and police presence hightened.

Four of us went north to see haketza'akata: Y the spy (not seen here as she is the photographer), Flashky, Renana and myself. We were joined by two Swiss tourists: Francesco and Sarah.

There was some smoke on the streets,

and indoors (somehow whenever I go there I end up with a photo like this one),

but altogether Akko was the very image of peace in the middle east. Haketza'akata? not exactly.

This should come as no surprise. Despite animosities in friction zones, the vendors of the old city's market are highly interested in the safety of visitors, as their livelyhood depends on tourism. This makes the cancallation of this year's Akko alternative theatre festival not only absurd but infuriating. It is an act that deeply hurts the old city's Arabic spaking population for no rational reason.

It was forseeable that this population would become the scapegoat of the current crisis. A simpleton driver, whose carelss Yom kippur trip to the ethnically mixed heart of town sparked the riots, was arrested despite not having broken any law. Arab families were evicted from the eastern neighborhoods after Jewish vandals burned houses there. How does that make sense?

It doesn't. Visiting Akko does. pack up an apetite for food and for salty air, hop on a fast train and come show solidarity. You may even catch some theatre: the festival is taking place in an underground, hushed way. Hang around the fortress gardens and you will catch word of performances or contact me for details. Bon voyage and peace be with you.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Equal Partners in the Mystery

Hummus, Akko, 1998

Hummus, Jaffa, 2008

Finnish actress Ullariikka Koskela, with whom I shared 6 months of fine romance ten years ago, came to visit Israel again. Hers is not just any other visit. Ulla served as the base for the character of Nina in my new novel "I'll Meet You Halfway" ("ניפגש באמצע הדרך").

At one point in the novel, the protagonist, Eyal, recognizes that Nina is not the love of his life. Rather, she is the mirror of his life, and his life is her life's mirror. This is true to Ulla and I. both of us went through seven-year-long relationships that ended with much pain, then through briefer relationships that concluded recently. Over the last week we did little but speak about love, conversations that left me feeling strangely calmer than I've ever been.

This is not to say all we did was yak. Ulla met friends,


and even other old flames, (here with downtown lover, in a shot I'll forever hold precious).

She enjoyed Israel's exoticness: watching people sell fruit in the nude,

and shop for fruit in the nude,

she saw wonders: from streets fully empty of cars on Yom Kippur,

to grown men flying kites.

Finally, thanks to the hype slowly generating around the book, she became a minor media celebrity. Not that she's not used to that, being one of Finland's busiest theatre actresses, with much television and film work under her belt. Ulla is an expert in improv theatre, something that comes to great use in Israel, even when one is off camera.

It may come as disppointment for those who read the novel, but we stayed in seperate beds the whole time, preferring to be buddies. This is not a friendship that will die out, and we can't afford to be threatening to each other's future significant others. Attach two mirrors to one another and nothing is visible, place them slightly apart and you will catch a glimpse of infinity.

Tishrei Full Moon

Through some strange fluke, channel 10 decided I am an expert on pirates and invited me to discuss the current Somali piracy crisis on their morning show. I did my best to appear learned. The producers called my appearance: "ingenious".

At noontime I went to the beach and watched a bulky man in his fifties, who can't swim and uses a boogie-board to stay afloat, hit with some success on my Finnish ex-lover from ten years ago, (she was intrigued by the boogie-board).

Then, at night, the most gorgeous girl I've seen since my highschool years walked out of a nightclub toilet, looked me straight in the eyes and said: "In life, everything gets sorted out." She then vanished, leaving only a name: Sivan.

My Finnish ex-lover from ten years ago believes that Sivan was a "spirit". I believe that nothing is impossible.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

It Don't Mean a Thing if it Ain't Got That Swing

When I was first visiting Finland in the 1990s, Marti Ahtisaari was the country's president. He lived, as do all Finnish presidents, in the shadow of the mighty U. K. Kekkonen - the country's mythical leader. The most you could say about the man then was that he was a fine president though by no means a Kekkonen.

Later Ahtisaari joined the U.N. and began to attract different attention, angry attention. I recall that every involvement in Israel - Palestine - Lebanon questions brought him a lot of bad press here. He was unyielding, critical, active, not exactly what you'd expect from a U.N. officer. We just wanted them to wear their blue caps and let us run our wars. Marti wasn't into that.

Ahtisaari was not very strongly involved in this region. Yesterday he was awarded the Novel peace prize, namely for achievements made in Kosovo, Namibia and Indonesia. I can only imagine how mean he had to be in those places, in order to reach achievements worthy of such honor. This is the way to make peace.

With your permission, I would like to take this opportunity and endorse a certain ticket in the coming U.S. elections. I'm doing so as an Israeli. In all the years the Republicans have been at the white house, nothing moved in Mid-East politics. The Bush administration "loved" Israel and "supported" Israel. Bullocks. The only way to support Israel is to be tough with it and force it to negotiate and make progress. Anyone who cuddles it will simply stall all potential developments in the region and perpetuate hostilities. The way to run foreign policy is to be tough with everyone equally. The current administration was highly imbalanced in this sense.

This isn't only true to the Neocons. Whenever there is a Democrat in the white house, be it Carter or Clinton, things move here. When the Republicans are in office, all comes to a halt. Sure everything may change, but in truth, I don't expect McCain to have wisely paraphrased Nietzsche's most controversial line: When goeth thee to make peace, do not forget thy whip.

Please, Americans, give us an Ahtisaari, a president who will be unyielding enough to change things for us and for you. Vote Obama/Biden.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008


Tonight, according to Jewish belief, the gates of heaven will open and human souls will come in in direct contact with the sumlibe.

I don't believe in heaven, but I believe in the gates of heaven. The last few days, featuring a visit from a unique character that marked my past, taught me again how labyrinthine life is. It's a succession of gates through which we move on, beginning with our mother's vegina and ending at the mouth of the grave. Do we pop through the gates of heaven once or twice a year in the proccess? possible.

Of war and peace the truth just twists
Its curfew gull just glides.
Upon four-legged forest clouds
The cowboy angel rides,
With his candle lit into the sun
Though its glow is waxed in black
All except when 'neath the trees of Eden.

Two columns of stone mark the entrance to Potsdam's garden of palaces. Hinges of green metal squeak before my elemntary school. A beautiful girl lives past huge, sweetly peeling European-like doors, a surprising sight on Sheinkin St. We walk into the traps: the highrises of mediocracy, the rim of the cigratte, the eyelid of pain widening to encompass us. finally, the only gate left is the nucturnal door of the fridge, a gate of heaven indeed, opening to kingdoms of light and consolation.

Then, the following morning, everything is a gate, the lense of a film projector, the nipple, responding to touch, the ringing phone, the keyboard - alive. suddenly everything is electric, heavy iron gates that once shut on your fingers slide open like airport doors or emergency-room doors. They can't be locked, can't be shut behind your back. You've stuck Witgenstein's ladder between the glass leaves, moving on now through the kitchen door, the actors' exit.

Where to? To prisons of love? To the open, unfenced pastures of strangely lasting youth? On the eve of this Yom Kippur my key chain seems wonderfully heavy. Pitkhu li sha'arei sham'im, avo bam, ode yah, with the help of Bob Dylan, who else?

At dawn my lover comes to me
And tells me of her dreams,
With no attempts to shovel the glimpse
Into the ditch of what each one means.
At times I think there are no words
But these to tell what's true
And there are no truths outside the gates of Eden

Friday, October 3, 2008

A Slight Shudder of the Wing

You may think I'm not giving Berlin a break, but it's Berlin that's haunting me. This week I got offered to write a guide book to the city (still negotiating - this may or may not happen). Five Tel-Avivian souls I hold dear are in Berlin right now, two for the Leonard Cohen concert, one on a study trip and two more just for the hell of it. I'm communicating with Berlin more than with any other foreign city, and to be honest, I miss it quite a bit.

The most powerful Berlin moment I've had in recent days was truly random and seemingly minor: looking for music online, I ran into an independent clip put together for a Radiohead song. It's made up entirely of imagery from the Wim Wenders film "Wings of Desire".

Watch it. You'll be amazed. Wings of Desire was no Werner Herzog experiment. It's nearly a Hollywood film, with Peter "Colombo" Falk in one of the key roles, but this is poetry. Wenders based his vision on Rilke's poetry, Peter Handke coauthored the screenplay, Nick Cave offered music ( Radiohead haven't yet formed back in 1987). The cinematography of the aging Henri Alekan, also responsible for Cocteau's La Belle et la Bête, is uncompromising. It's difficult to watch another film after seeing this, including all other Wenders flics, not to mention the unworthy remake with Nicholas Cage flying in for Bruno Ganz.

This is a film about giving up power and liberty for love, an act that is portrayed as being at once unavoidable, sublime and completely tragic. Ganz is an angel who hovers over the city, reading people's thoughts and comforting them when possible. He falls for a trapeze artist and chooses to become human for her, thus trapping himself both in mortal, non-mind-reading flesh, and in isolated West Berlin of the Eighties.

Like much of the art I truly admire, the film's ultimate statement is "C'est la vie". The only comfort for the constant compromises we must make and losses we must endure is how impossibly beautiful life is, in a pure aesthetical sense: a tiny music box found on the street, a puddle of rain, a room full of globes, a pair of fake, feathery wings, a pang of love. It's worth it, I'm telling you. It's a good deal.

Thursday, October 2, 2008


On my way to meet a friend at 61 Hakishon Street, I wound up at 31 Hakishon Street by mistake. The building was empty at night and the quiet street engulfed by the smell of baking pastries. I've lived by this bakery for brief months in the late 90s, right around the corner from Hakishon, taking in the unglorious days and nights of northern Florentine. This is the unhip part of Tel-Aviv's densest neighborhood: A wholesale garment district by day, a gritty albeit scentful wasteland by night.

Could a lonely wind chime hanging over a concrete balcony save this neighborhood's soul? Does it have a soul? Hakishon St., named after Israel's most polluted river, was built before Tel-Aviv adopted the garden city concept and kept its structures seperated by green passages. A long corridor of shabby bauhaus treasures, it reminds me of Havana de Cuba as it appears on the cover of the "Buena Vista" album. But no one shakes an ass on this street nor lights a homammade cigar. This is cuba by looks, not by spirit.

Yes, but when that sweet smell came, it brought back everything that happened to me on this random Tel-Avivian street: The pretty girl on whose door I knocked here one night (She opened up but I was 18 and she was older and I didn't quite know how to go about it), The night on which I walked here with Lin and we witnessed twenty cats having a convention, just at the spot on which, another night, I bumped into Vera and she was madly wasted and I felt sorry for our fucked up generation. The smell brought back the rain falling over a car bringing Yoel back from the airport - he returned from India to a flat where Ronen and I were playing Brahms and Duran Duran intermittently on the vynil record player. I cut my long hair that same night for the first time since highschool, have been feeling slightly naked ever since.

I've been seeing myself in Jerusalem's stone and in Europe's highway gas stations, at times giving people an address on the moon, to illustrate my lostness. I've been calling myself a Jaffoite for over a year now. It's all pointless. In a whiff of cheap, darkening, sugary dough, Tel-Aviv reminded me that I'm her own, hugging me to its filthy, magical bosom.