Saturday, April 18, 2009

The 36 Hours City Challenge.

It was the camera: We happened to have it on us for 36 hours while hanging out in the city. Going over the images we discovered a rather rich day and a half. Suddenly we were proud.

Tel-Aviv, we learned anew, is lively, diverse and edgy. Is it the best city ever? I'm offering a challenge. Here are thirteen shots and a few words that describe 36 hours around this town. Give your city a similar showcase, either on a blog or a photo site, and post the link as a comment to this blog (anyone can).

The contestant who's city is chosen as coolest-looking, will receive a weekend for two of hospitality in Tel-Aviv, including a comfy place to stay, finest food, and the insider's tour. All non-winners will nevertheless become V.I.P.s with their local tourist boards.

Here are our 36 hours:

Thursday at 1:30 P.M. we met Nimrod for a shave at Rafi the barber's.

Rafi learned his art over in distant Uzbekistan. He delivers an old fashioned treat complete with a massage of the temples and a sudden release of the neck.

There was a festival of street art, mostly conceptual contemporary stuff, going on in one of the most derelict streets of the Southend. Mesilat Yesharim street, cuttting though the Shapira Burrough, received pleny of new wall painting (some of which betraying Tel-Aviv's left-leaning, pacifist and pro-compromise spirit).

There was a speaker's corner complete with a cardboard podium and a place where artworks can be exchanged for one another, There were video art works pojected in the local beauty parlors and bakeries, lots of pieces that communicated beautifully with the neighborhood's history and values, and the always intriguing performance work of Maya Pasternak.

All that and innovative cyclists too.

We went on from there to the launch of a new book by Yoav Ezra, a banker, a poet, and a Dustin Hoffman lookalike. Most members of the poetry crowd, ("The Little Prince scene") were present.

That night ended at home. We had a couch-surfer visit us and preferred cooked artichokes and vodka in the kitchen over the city's other offerings. The following day, however, going out was a must. Friends of Itka organized a massive street party in an area inhabited mostly by work immigrants and African refugees. They got 150 people to bring food to their potluck, so there was free food from the Philippines, Nepal, and Israel. There was a tango performance, some Eritrean hip-hop, and plenty of good atmosphere.

The tango was well received, have you noticed the copycats in the front row?

But if you want atmosphere in this city, you have to wait for night. This Friday night was a rooftop party at Zach's with plenty of the cheapest alcohol money can buy. This ending may not be classy, it's at least it's fittingly rock n'roll. If there's anything this city can be proud of it's its authentically grungy spirit. The way we make sense of the peeling concrete environment in which we live is to flow with it, and allow our hearts to peel as well. Somehow we ended up in the heart of the difficult Middle East. We see only one way to deal with that, and that is to say: anything goes. What do your cities have to show for themselves? Pray tell and bring the competition on.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Young Werther

My music is either a bunch of tunes put together to pass the time, or a priceless treasure of western folk, depending on whether you ask me or someone who needs a favor from me. It's now got its own MySpace page. Put together by Itka, and decorated with an oil painting by the inimitabler Beatriz Chachamovits. Israeli cult musician E. B. Dan allowed us into his pad one late night, to record a chiller version of the previously spunky tune "Sabresim" ("Prickly Pears"). Here's the result:

I owe something to these songs. They kept me alive while I traveled in my early 20s. I used to make my money busking. A nice summer day in a Scandinavian town would make me the equivalent of 150 Euros, enough to travel nicely and return home with a profit. Once in Turin, Italy, I got paid a live duck for my music. Somebody placed it in the case, then left. I stopped mid-song, unsure of what to do. When two girls came and adopted the cute bird, I sang them a serenade.

Many of these songs were written during that period and deal with the experience of travel in Europe. "Sabresim" the first on the myspace page, was written in Sardinia. Here's the little story about how it was born, perfect for reading when it plays in the background.

Upon arriving on the north coast, I stepped off the ferry, felt the heat of the day, saw prickly pear growing around, and realized that while still being far away, I was back at home. I had the number of a Sardinian girl I had met in London a few weeks previously and headed for her city of Sassari to see her.

Little Miss Sassari lived with her parents, and since there was no hostel in the town, I went to the nearby historical port town of Alghero and settled there for the week. Walled, peninsular Alghero is reminicient of Akko, and is peculiar in the Catalan dialect spoken by its people. It offered exotic Cazu Marzu (the revolting Sardinian cheese that contains live larvae) a nice seafront and a frequent bus to Sassari.

With me at the hostel were only three other guests: a sweet Swedish girl, traveling with her Italian boyfriend, and a pale German tourist, about twenty years of age, to whom I quickly came to refer as "Young Werther". Everything troubled him, most things scared him (he didn't try Casu Marzu), and it quickly came to my knowledge that he has fallen in love with the Swede and was feeling deeply tormented.

I soon decided to intervene, hoping to prevent a crisis. My own story with the Sassarian was fading out, nothing was keeping me in Alghero. I offered to Young Werther that we head out of town and explore more of the island. We took a bus to another pretty coastal spot: Bosa, a few score kilometers south, and headed to the local youth hostel to dispose of our gear. Turned out it was shut. Werther was all about going back to Alghero and its nordic charms, but I refused. "We'll sleep on the beach". I decided.

"What if it rains?"

That sense of home I had felt at the ferry port overtook me. "It won't rain," I promised. "This is my part of the world. I know it well enough to know it doesn't rain here in September. Now lts go into town and shop for dinner."

It was a Sunday and all the stores turned out to be shut. Young Werther freaked out. I pointed to the prickly pear growing by the crumbling citadel. "This is my part of the world" I told him, "and back home, when we're out of food, we just pick a stick, knock a few of these off the cactus, and peel them and eat them." In fact I've never previously picked a prickly pear, but oh hell. I was hungry and began enjoying being seen as the knowledgeable savage. We did somehow manage to pick the fruit and even peel it with minimum damage to our person. Inevitably, some thorns did end up on Werther's lips, but I comforted him: "Worry not, this is my part of the world. In two to three weeks you'l be rid of them all." (In reality, ten minutes is more like it).

At night we slept on the beach. Werther woke me up in a state of deep distress. "It's raining!" He said.

Rain drops were falling all over us, but I had no choice. "This is my part of the world," I said calmly. "It's September. It isn't raining. Go back to sleep."

And he did, and the rain stopped, and the first verse of the savage's love song to his home region was written the following day:

Not a dime, Mediterranean clime,
Cilia lives in a trailer
by the Sardinian coast
with the sun in a clay pot.
She has a good partner:
A Yellow Cocker Spaniel
She drinks Bacardi
and helps her puppy nurture a potbelly.
Night falls over her
blowing between her earrings
She says: that's fine
Marco's better than a jumper.
Ouch! ouch! prickly pear,
fingers full of thorns.
Here is what I say:
Figs are better anyway.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Interior Desire

Itka is moving in little by little. This means that we overcame a serious barrier: the Nanouchka barrier.

A few weeks ago, when we began talking of sharing a pad, our tastes in interior design clashed so hard we just dropped it. Itka said her favorite interior is that of the Nanouchka bar, near Herzl Street. We were there the other night. She danced madly on the bar (that's what Nanouchka is like past 2:00 AM). I couldn't get myself to dance. perhaps it was the shock of it all: the chandeliers, the heavy, violet, velvet curtains, the photo of Ariel Sharon in one corner and pink neon artwork in another.

"It looks like a whorehouse in Bucharest, 1973" I told her once we left, knowing full well what my apartment looks like: the lunch corner of Ikea employees at a Malmo warehouse, 2009. This place did benefit from a feminine hand in the past: that of Lin, who bought most of the furniture with me. My own life changed since, and the flat has been greatly bachlorified in the past two years. It needs different attention, I agree, but why the Nanouchka? Sure there can be worse Tel-Aviv bar design to admire. I'd never date Miss Mesa, but there's nothing wrong with the Cantina, right?

Nonetheless, we both decided to dare. Today Itka brought some of her stuff over in a duffel bag. From within she produced her fancy, purple belly dancing scarf, featuring three rows of silvery coins and tassels, and draped it over the TV set. Now I've got a belly dancing TV. It doesn't look half bad, to be honest. I'm living with a girl whose aesthetic sense is driven by humor and a sense of adventure, from her huge, vintage Dior glasses, to her choice of showing a no-budget, semi-pornographic vampire film at an upcoming cinema event she's curating. I can't imagine a greater improvement to my living conditions.

I'm sealing today's post with a bit of music. It's been a while since I've posted a good song, so you deserve a fine one. Never mind the bollocks, Here are Sid Vicious, Johnny Rotten, the invisible Malcolm Mclaren, Elizabeth II and your parents. Enjoy.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Sea and Bottle

Ok, so I published a new book, and it's free for all: a web-book. Sure I would have loved to see "The Sea and Bottle" nicely bound and being all book-like, but in Israel today, actually letting a publishing house publish and market your book, is financial suicide.

Consider: I put several months into writing the skeleton of "I'll Meet You Halfway", then a few weeks into marketing it to the publishing houses. It went through a year and a half of editing, with no less than three editors in two publishing houses working on it along with me. When it got published I took a month off my other obligations and pushed it, visiting bookstores, trying to get radio and newspaper coverage for it.

It's been six months since the book was published, its hayday on the stands is now past. I was notified this week by my "Zmora-Bitan", Israel's most prominent publishing house, that I will be paid 4311 Shqels (About 1,200$ U.S.) in royalties for the sales of these six months. devide this into two years of work and you will find that I made about 40$ a month. It's fiscally wiser to give the book away for free than to publish it, at least you avoid the massive loss. It's actually wisest never to write at all.

This isn't only my problem. Books in Israel are marketed in away that deeply hurts the authors, even when they sign what they consider to be good contracts. "I'll Meet You Halfway" was not once sold for its original price. it was on sale since the moment it came out. I have some difficulties with how it was promoted, but the major issue is the sales technique.

There's only one reason to still compose books in Hebrew, and that is to use them as Molotov cocktails against a corrupt establishment. Mind you, the book market in Israel is incredibly alive. A lot of money exchanges hands here over literature, but only certain hands, and those aren't the hands that write. The current system, which features agressive marketing schemes, unhealthy mergers between presses and bookstore chains and ploys aimed at controlling more shelf space, is killing Hebrew literature.

"The Sea and Bottle" is a diptych, opening with a set of maritime associations and leading to the tale of my family's near demise in the Holocaust. Its publication is an act of protest.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

La Strada

30 kilometer's east of Paris is a place called Bussy St. Georges. It looks like this:

Bussy St. Georges, one of the world's most artificial suburbs, happens to be precious to freewheeling ramblers, the kind who would never pick it as a place of residence. This is because right next to this peaceful, cookie-cutter nowhere, runs the freeway. On it is the first convenient service station for hitch-hiking east. Old habits die hard and since the mid Nineties, when I thumbed my way down Europe's highways, hitch-hiking has been my sport. All I need is a nice day in late March, an equally adventurous partner, and a coveniant station. There it is, in the distance.

How does one get there? How does a couple, traveling with two suitcases weighing 49 kilos in total, two backpacks and a guitar get there? It takes making a quick tactical plan, then climbing down.

then schlepping the goods to the pumps.

Sounds difficult? it was, but it was worth it too. As soon as we hit the station, and I mean instantly, we were approached by Bertrand, a French businessman in the scaffolding industry. Bertrand was on his way to Austria on business. He asked if we would be his chauffeurs. Would we mind driving him to Germany while he works and naps in the back?

No problem, Bertrand, just hand us the keys to the Mercedes.

We were delighted. Our flight was to leave the following evening from Frankfurt airport. A direct lift (well, not quite a lift) across the border was a gift. Add to this the lack of speed limit on the German highways, (Itka just loved going over 200 kph) and the German dinner to which Bertrand treated us when our roads parted by Mannheim, and you have two happy campers.

This was the easy lag of the trip. The gas station in Mannheim turned out to be a tougher nut than the one in Bussy St. Georges. We had to roll our stuff through the dark countryside to get across the freeway and head back north (Bertrand's route took us a tad too far south),

then got a lift with a Greek truck driver who spoke little English or German and ended up on the wrong road,

then got trapped in a derelict station in the Rheinland, where I tried to amuse us by attempting to pick out a goofy toy dragon, chosen by Itka, out of one of these impossible machines. Didn't work, and our hitching luck ran out. By 1:00 AM we were still there and decided to take a cab to the nearest town: Bingen on the Rhine.

We got a nice hotel in Bingen, but still enjoyed a nap the following day, in the shadow of the old castle in Oberwesel. Even the mixture of rough travel and easygoing travel can be exhausting. It's baffling, how I made it through five years of penniless travel during my early twenties. I did it, though, and it benefited me in two ways:

1. I know where the pretty places are.

2. I really appreciate boar done in truffles and a perfect Riesling, served in a castle overlooking the Rhine, now the I can have it.