Thursday, 15 September 2011

No 'elf and safety hats here during demolishment

Mahmud is next door. I know that he's called that because it's written in Hebrew above the window to his - I'm not sure what you can call it, 'digger,' caterpiller, large-yellow-machine-with- long-bit-that-has-huge-scoop-at-the-end so that it can scoop up a building and then place it on another pile of bricks in front of what used to be a block of flats. This thing pivots at 360 degrees and climbs junior mountains. It's a sight to behold. If it really does belong to Mahmud, then he's done really well because these things cost a shit-load of dosh. I remember a friend of mine here, back in the day when the Sinai and Sharm still belonged to Israel, he had an even bigger one of those things and it cost almost as much as a house. I can't see how this could have changed that much.

I'm happy that Mahmud has done so well and is working here in apartheid Tel Aviv. His friend across the road, waiting for Mahmud to finish scooping so that he could begin carting, almost threw a fit and ran behind another guy when he saw me walking the dog. The dog's not much bigger than a French Bulldog could be and, as I explained to him, while his other friend collapsed in mirth as he ran behind him, the dog doesn't bite! It's a cultural thing, you see. Even the Haredi girls do the same. If they see me walking the dog along the side of the religious beach, they scream and run for cover. It's hysterical.

So Mahmud and his pals were here because all of a sudden, without warning, they turned up two days ago and started to demolish the block of flats that is (or rather was) next door to us. I suppose that we should have guessed that something was about to happen because from one day to the next everyone had moved out and there were dead settees on the street, along with bed clothes, legless tables and garden chairs. Maybe they're going to renovate it, we thought. I saw a step-ladder in one of the bedrooms. Maybe simply painting it, although just a coat of paint would not have done it justice; it had generous holes in the walls and the trees were dying. Then, out of the blue, a noise of crashing bricks and cement and I looked out of the window and voila! our wall had been knocked into and debris lined the bushes and trees along the side of our building. So typical. No posters to say that this was going to happen, please close your windows. No Health and Safety notices on lamp posts along the street; no men wearing hard hats or the street being closed while various vans and lorries and general demolishing machines mend their way along to sit outside in a heap of dust.

Now we have what looks like the remnant of a small battle lying next to us and the dust drifts over in Arabian proportions, mixed with sand and dog hair. I had thought of getting the windows cleaned last week. Pleased that I didn't. I don't know whether I'll be able to until after the new building is up and who knows how long that will take. At least Mahmud and Co. will be off for the holidays. Here everything stops until 'after the Chagim.' There's some solace in that.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Tel Aviv Beach: No apartheid, no posturing pride

I think that Wednesday more than any day of the week is really Gay Day on the beach. I could be wrong. Every day is Gay Day! Around the cornerfrom me, at the end of Independence Park, is the beach. Across a major road, along which reside the British Embassy (now being renovated,) the Swiss Embassy and the Turkish Embassy. Last year there was a noisy demonstration outside of the Turkish Embassy after the Mavi Marmara fiasco. This year, notwithstanding the grandstanding by the Turkish Prime Minister, 'who cares about $10 million or $150 million worth of bilateral trade so long as we have our pride' Erdogan, no one is loitering. They still have their walls around the rather dilapidated building but no one is paying them attention. I think that everyone is rather contemptious of the Turkish government at the moment. Had the Palmer Report (that they themselves had inititated) exonerated them, then they would be shouting from the rooftops. As it is, they're just throwing their toys out of the pram and making lots of noises about law suits and flotillas and attacking southern Cyprus and continuing their massacres of the Kurds in northern Turkey and Iraq but as no one in the world gives a fig, they can get away with it.

Anyway. So the walk across the park, past the picnic tables and the childrens' playground and the adult open gym and the Hilton halls, where they host weddings and the like, the view is of the most magnificant blue Mediterranean Sea and the pristine sand. To the left, looking past the sea with its myriad yachts and swimmers and lifeguard huts and breakwaters, is the marina and the Gordon outdoor pool, surrounded by towering palm trees and the new Gordon gym. To the right is the dog beach, the segregated religious beach and Mezzizzim beach, leading up to the Port and the new baby 'Borough' Market.

But the Gay Beach is most definitely fun. There's a mixture of gay and straight; families; singles and the occasional dog that strays along and whose owner is then shouted at by the lifeguards who make it plain that the dog has his/her beach and this one is not for him. Many of the beachgoers are regulars, the same as for the swimmers at the Gordon municipal pool. They've been coming here for years (even before the new pool was developed.) They've established enduring friendships and have watched their kids grow up and have kids and the grandkids are now in the pool alongside them. At the Gay Beach there are a number too who have obviously been worshipping the sun for many years. Among them is 'Mrs. Brown.' We call her that because she's there every single day. She's probably even there during the winter months (or maybe she goes down to Eilat for her daily fill.) She's unusual because she's topless. She also wears a teeny, tiny thong. She's all one colour. The colour of the husk of a coconut. She's about 60 odd and her breasts are small droopy additions to her rather lumpy body. She stands on the sand and speaks to her pals. She goes into the water and gets wet. She lays herself down on her chair (she brings her own) and she goes walkabout, up and down the beach, catching the rays. She's quite a sight.

Further down towards Jaffa, there's another stretch of beach that's recently been redeveloped. It's just after the Dolphinarium where, in June 2001, an Islamic Jihad terrorist suicide bomber blew himself up outside and murdered twenty-one Russian teenagers who were waiting to enter the nightclub. Another 120 kids were wounded. The building is still there but it's unused and there's a small monument erected in front on which is written in Russian and Hebrew the names of all the kids who perished. A very poignant sight. Just past here the beach is frequented by many Orthodox Jews and Muslim and Christian Arab Israelis. Their kids play together at the swings and roundabouts. There are many picnics and lots of cookouts and the smells are divine on a summer evening. Zatar and humus and techina and large, flat pitta bread; challas and hard boiled eggs and crackers and cheese. Everyone munches along and the runners and cyclists and bounding dogs pay them no attention. Nor do they pay attention to the gays on the Gay Beach or anyone else especially. Everyone does their own thing. Perhaps someone from the Turkish Embassy should pay a visit. Go across the road and check out the beach and the tayelet and just see how everyone gets along. No pride involved.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

A flavour of Kikar Hamedina, Tel Aviv - a demo

It was one of those evenings in Tel Aviv that only Londoners can dream of. Hot, sultry and sweaty but an aroma of lavender and wild thyme, aftershave and perfume hung on a gentle breeze. The moon, at one third, shone brightly, as the moon does, and the helicopters above circled the square, obliterating from time to time the stars and gleaming satellites.

They say that there were about 400,000 people there. I tried to establish some kind of arithmetical modus of counting - Pompey, the Emirates, Wembley. Initially it was maybe one or two Wemblies. I guess it was more. As I stood at the corner of the square and Jabotinsky Street, wave upon wave of demonstrators arrived en masse, singing, chanting, playing drums, shouting slogans, while others in the crowd surrounding me clapped and wooped and waved their arms at them. There was an amazing feeling of oneness when entire groups arrived with their banners and matching t-shirts. I suppose that it must have felt like this during the Russian Revolution, before the Cossaks arrived. Of course no Cossaks were expected last night, although I was somewhat concerned that some idiot could have planted a bomb or decided to camouflage himself as one of the people. But that didn't happen. Fortunately.

How do you compare a demonstration like this to anything in the UK or Greece or France, when the 'populace' as it were, are agitating? Not one window smashed. Not one mugging or knifing or any kind of looting. No arson. No 'kettling.' In fact very little police presence, apart from those who were checking for bombs hidden among the undergrowth or behind lamposts or bicycles that were chained up to the railings surrounding the flowers and bushes. There was the occasional police car and I looked up above the flats, to the roofs, searching for the odd police sniper but couldn't see anything that resembled this kind of activity. Some of the police carried green fluorescent flashlights - but then so did the kids and adults.

The meeting was being held in possibly the best part of Tel Aviv - a comparison would be Knightsbridge in London. All the shops were there; Gucci and YSL, Prada and Ralph Lauren, even Zadig and Voltaire. It had closed down in Hampstead but was obviously doing better here. None of the stores had been shuttered for the event. There were no cameras to catch any kind of miscreant because, generally, there are none. Such is liberty.

It was a meeting of babies and buggies and balloons and young couples on bikes and the middle-aged with tummies and men with grey pony tails and women, tanned and svelt, holding expensive leather handbags and I-phones and I-Pads. This is Israel, after all! Dogs of all shapes and sizes and picnic baskets and music in the square, a la Glastonbury or Woodstock. Israeli hip-hop competing with simply amazing drums and cymbals from the crowd who were jumping and jiving and simply enjoying the whole beat. A little boy in a Rooney t-shirt and an older man sporting 'Have Another Beer.' It was truly good natured and, notwithstanding that it was a demonstration against discrepancies in wages, entrepreneurs were there selling their bottled water and beigeleh and the ubiquitous ice cream seller, 'Hello, Artic, mishmish, chocolate!' Portaloos dotted the roads leading up the square where people waited in line and queues were forming at ATMs. I wondered why. What was there to spend at a demo?

So many banners, cardboard signs, slogans and so many agendas. Gilad Shalit featured prominently. TV journalists and young women with the latest digital cameras slung around their shoulders, hanging from branches in young trees, trying to get the best shot.

Will it make a difference? There are about 7 million Israelis. 400,000 crowded into a square in Tel Aviv last night. The government has established a committee to address their concerns. There's no more that can be done. This was the crux of their agenda. Let's hope that the tents and general debris that has been left behind over this hot summer can now be cleared up and life can continue.