Thursday, 30 June 2011

Time runs out in Tel Aviv

If we could only stop time.  That’s the strapline for Mayumana’s show Momentum.  And oh, by heck, how I wish we could.  On this trip there simply isn’t enough time. 
I’m overwhelmed. I have sensory overload; mental overstimulation and smile fatigue.  I went to bed at 2.30am last night yet am wide awake at 6am because my head is buzzing and my brain is fizzing (are those two separate things?  I dunno but they certainly feel like it right now).  This trip is unbelievably full-on – we are meeting so many people, getting so much information; it’s becoming hard to remember what I did two hours ago, let alone two days.

Don’t get me wrong – I love it.  It’s just I feel like I need to lie somewhere quiet and assimilate it for a little while.  Like two years. 

Haj Kahil Arabic restaurant
I’d hoped to blog my experiences and thoughts as I went along but it’s simply not possible.  I want to tell you more about Jerusalem, about the strangest things that happened there. I want to try to make sense of the stories I’m hearing about how it is to live in a country that is at odds with all its neighbours – and how not everyone sings from the same song-sheet on questions of politics.  And at some point I’ll try to go foodie on you all and show you some of the incredible food we’ve been eating.
But not now.

When I think back to yesterday there’s this kind of crazy incoherent swirling kaleidoscope in my head.  So for now I’ll throw up some pictures and a few random thoughts.  
 Everywhere we go we get photographed - or even, as in this case - filmed.  My jaw literally aches from smiling so much.  We have signed away every right known to humankind so have strong suspicions that we will end up as advertising fodder for all kinds of unfortunate enterprises.  As Sally said - 'We'll probably see ourselves ten foot high as poster girls for some kind of cystitis cream.'  Great. 
The view from our bus for Tel Aviv's 'White Night' - where the city simply parties the night away... Our bus driver is great but it's hard to forget the fact that we'd been in the country for all of half an hour when we ended up colliding with another car, maiming countless helpless kittens (joke).
 It's wild. The shops are open at 2am, the bars overflow into the streets, the malls host art shows and gigs and parties. It's crammed and crazy yet so easygoing and friendly.  Mind you, Monica made the mistake of getting too close to this guy and he decided he wanted to get very friendly with her!  

This woman felt I was under made-up and wanted to go nuclear on my eyelashes...
This guy - Pini Siluk - had an exhibition in Neve Tsedek, a shopping mall, with the most amazing images.  My pictures are crap so check out his website...
And this is Ruth Aharoni, one of the dancers/singers/musicians in Mayumana - simply stunning.  The show is all about Time, our perceptions of it.  
"Movement creates sound and once it's synchronised in time it becomes music."

Or, in the lyrics to one of the songs:

"Time went by and here I am again
Never thought I'd be standing on my head.
I had a dream last night I was standing on a cliff
I had a dream last  night, I was flying off that cliff
For time has caught me, and I'm floating in air
And there's that safety net I'm trying to repair
And there's those wings I'm trying to grow
So I can land on the ground now
Land on the ground
Time went by and here I am again."

So, it ain't the greatest poetry but you know, it's where I'm at.  Time.  Standing on my head seeing the world upside down.  

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Jerusalem is "complicated"

‘This is a complicated city,’ says Shai, head of the Biblical Zoo in Jerusalem. He gives a rueful shrug as if he knows full well this were the understatement of the year.  ‘And a zoo in Jerusalem is a very different thing from a zoo in London, Barcelona, Los Angeles.  I reckon I’m the only zoo director who starts off talking about human beings, rather than animals.’ 
A group of small children race past at a hundred miles an hour, giggling out loud.  A family steps aside sedately to let them pass.  Shai nods at them.  ‘I can tell by their dress that the family are Palestinian Muslims, the school children are orthodox Jews.  But, you see, this is the one place where everybody can come. Everyone who walks through the gates is welcome.’ 

It could sound corny anywhere else but he has a serious point.  This is possibly the only place in Jerusalem where religion and politics need not raise their heads (except, of course, we’re talking about it).  ‘It’s one of the very few places that orthodox Jews will come, for example, because their religious strictures count out most other cultural pursuits – museums, theatre and so forth.  Yet, because a zoo purely presents ‘God’s creation’ it is deemed suitable. 
‘Of course they don’t come to learn about conservation, about our breeding programmes, about our ecological pursuits..’  He pauses and grins… ‘Yet, hey, once they’re here…we hope we can raise some awareness.’
Shai loves to tell stories and his stories have messages.  He tells us about the zoo's disastrous attempts to get their flamingos breeding.  After trying every ingenious situation going (from oomphing their diet to placing mirrors around the lake to kid the birds into thinking their flock was larger) they realised, to their acute embarrassment that the reason their flock of 60 wasn’t producing eggs was quite simple: they had 60 male flamingos. 

Moral of the story?  Check your basic assumptions.

He then goes on to explain, ruefully, that even adding females into the mix hadn’t produced a rash of eggs.  Meanwhile another zoo, much less pristine and fabulous, had a superb breeding programme. ‘Maybe, just maybe perfect conditions, perfect facilities aren’t the most important thing,' he says.  'Maybe it’s something else – Love perhaps?’

He smiles and takes us to meet the Griffon vultures and tells the tale of the gay vultures – the pair of males which fell in love and built a nest together.  The zoo tried to split them up but then, realising they weren’t having any success, took pity on the star-crossed lovers and let them build their nest, even giving them first a dummy egg and then a newly hatched chick to raise.  ‘They were the best parents,’ says Shai. ‘Loving, attentive – and hey, guess what?  Their chick grew up totally naturally and went on to have chicks of her own – so gay parenting really doesn’t affect a child’s development!’  He grins rogueishly.

Moral of the story?  Be open-minded. 

Then, oh my, we go to meet the elephants.  As in really meet the elephants – up so close we could nigh-on hug them.  There was a moral here but, to be honest, I missed it as I was talking to Ofer, a journalist with the newspaper Ha'Aretz, who was telling me more about the political minefield that is life in Israel. But really, the lesson of elephants is,surely, quite simple.  Beauty, dignity, love.

In Tel Aviv, it was possible to ignore, if not forget, the huge conflicts surrounding this baby nation carved out of desert.  In Jerusalem it is impossible. Three major world religions jostle uneasily, their buildings and worshippers nudging right up against one another.  Bullet holes pit the ancient city gates.  And that most physical and redolent of boundaries – a wall – stretches out over the hills surrounding.  

Will there ever be peace; ever any kind of reconciliation, resolution?  Nobody I spoke to seemed very hopeful. 
I found myself thinking, as I walked away from the most famous wall of all, having poked my prayer into a tiny gap, how sad that we can’t learn from the lessons of the zoo. 

Check your assumptions
Be open-minded.
And, above all. Love.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Shadow and Structure: the Design Museum of Holon

I'm a bit beyond, I really am.  Am starting to hallucinate balloons with smiley faces.  This could be because there IS a balloon with a smiley face that bobs around the back of the bloggo-bus - or, then again...maybe it's because I got about two hours' sleep last night and we have been non-stop all day.

'Bet you're having a lovely rest.'
'Cor, great to be on holiday.'
'Lucky you, lazing on the beach.' 

So say my emails...but, um, no....  we've done so much today I can't even remember how it started. one point I definitely remember that we went to the Design Museum in Holon.  This was designed by Ron Arad and was something I had really wanted to see.  It didn't disappoint.  So, you know what?  I'm gonna let the pictures do the talking while I go get into the shower before we head off out for dinner...

Desperate measures - blogger escape bid
Eva and Monica sliding through the gaps

Exhibit images from the current exhibition: new olds: design between tradition and innovation

Fascinating stuff - just wish I could get my brain to talk to you about it....  maybe later.  :)

Monday, 27 June 2011

And then we started running

I’m here!’ Rosie texted as I was standing by the main entrance to Departures at Heathrow.
‘Er, where?’ I replied, looking around and seeing precisely no-one.
‘At the main entrance.’
I peered around again.  ‘Umm….’
‘Are you still wearing your hat?’ came back the next text.  Er, yup.  And the place was hardly crowded so I figured I was hard to miss.
‘Rosie, are you sure you’re at Terminal 1?’  Well, you never know.
I double-checked with the guy with the big gun.  He confirmed that, yes, I wasn’t going crazy.  I was in the right place.  So where the feck was Rosie?
‘Rosie. There’s a big yellow sign that says All Departures’ right?
‘Um, I’m in Arrivals.’
So that was fine.  She appeared; we went to check in and when the guy at security asked how we were related, Rosie told him we didn’t know each other which, had to be said, must have looked a little odd, given we were giggling like a couple of schoolgirl bezzy mates.  So I added, helpfully, that we had met before – just on the Internet and that did it – we were separated and I had to resort to my totally dippy - I’m so bloody stupid I couldn’t possibly be a terrorist - routine to get through.  

So, by the time we found Cafe Nero we were mildly hysterical and sat and jibbered.  Then Rosie said, ‘Um, what time’s our flight?’ And we looked at the clock and sort of did a bit of an ‘oh shit’ routine as we realised our flight was on its last call.  ‘It’s okay,’ I said, wandering off in a desultory fashion. ‘We’ll be fine. Anyhow no way am I ever running for another flight.’  And I told her about how I’d had to sprint through miles of Dubai airport once, dodging people trying to sell me gold.
‘Er…our gate is ten minutes away,’ said Rosie.
‘Damn.’  She took off at a run and I legged it after her but it’s tough to run in high heels with a monster heavy bag so I had to stop and wriggle out of my slingbacks and then sprint after her giving my bare feet a free reflexology treatment on the moving walkway. 
‘Sally will be sitting cool as a cucumber on the plane with a gin and tonic,’ said Rosie as we gasped our way onto the plane.  ‘She’ll be laughing her head off at us.’

Except.  Sally’s seat was ominously empty.  So we did what all sensible bloggers do in this situation – we checked Twitter.

Turned out Sally had hit security big time and was having her laptop and camera swabbed.  

Anyhow.  We all made it by the skin of our teeth.   It was becoming a bit surreal.  I watched Black Swan and got severely confused when what Rosie swore was lemon mousse turned out to be humus.  Then we arrived at Tel Aviv and were love-bombed delightfully by blogger Susie and Adi from Kinetis…and we were greeted at the airport by balloons and the lovely Susie and Adi.  Then we got in a mini-bus and flew out into the night and into Tel Aviv, munching on falafel flavoured snacks (oh yes!) and laughing and I was just over the moon as deserts and camels are definitely on the cards.   
And then some nutter hit our bus and just merrily drove off…so we had to chase him to let him know that his car looked like it had been gauged by dinosaurs.  

Anyhow.  We’re all fine and I’m in my hotel room surrounded by snacks and chocolate (we ain’t gonna starve, that’s for sure).  And it’s really rather fab… But I just have this feeling…it’s going to be one of those trips!

Saturday, 25 June 2011

I'm leaving - on a jet-plane

I tell you, this Israel trip could not have come at a better time.  I need to be outside my head for a while, I really do.  I need a change of scene.  I’m like some old cranky computer that needs a major reboot.  I suppose it’s running away really.  But then again, I’m going to one of the spiritual homes of Kabbalah, how exciting is that? 

My brother introduced me to Kabbalah when I was in my early twenties.  I spent a year in the US, part of it writing a novel (but let’s not dwell on that, eh? I literally wince at the memory of it – yeah, that bad).  But the house was on Cape Ann, on top of a cliff overlooking the sea.  I can still feel the warmth of the sun, still see the diamond-glinting on waves as dawn broke. 
My body clock was still on UK time so I woke early every day and sat with a mug of coffee on my balcony just drinking in the sound of the gulls and the sight of the occasional small boat, pulling up lobster pots.  It was heaven – a supremely happy time of extreme simplicity.  I had just what I could fit into my small case.  When I wasn’t writing, I prowled through my brother’s books and his record collection.  I developed a love of Bach and early church music and started studying Kabbalah. 
Here, at last, it seemed, was a map, a glyph of life, the universe, everything.  You could take every religion, mythology, every item of faith, every aspect of creation, science and spirituality, magic and mathematics, and find a place for them on the Tree of Life.  It was like a multi-dimensional labyrinth, a glass bead game – both an intellectual challenge and a song to the heart.  I fell hook, line and sinker – and it remains the basis of my spirituality to this day. 

Anyhow, this wasn’t supposed to be a rant or a sermon.  I must also say that I don’t belong to any groups and I don’t tie bits of string round my wrist or drink overpriced water endorsed by Madonna – and I’m truly saddened that people are profiting from what should be a totally free resource.  But hey…ain’t it ever thus?
So.  Anyhow. Israel. I’m flying out on Monday – and I just can’t wait.  My brazen attempt at getting new clothes via blogging failed dismally.  However, I took advantage of the sales and have cobbled together a sort of wardrobe (mainly in tones of black, it has to be said).  I am packing my bruised and battered soul and heading for the sun.  It will be good for me to be with people; to have some light-heartedness and hopefully some inspiration.  I know how lucky I am to have such an opportunity.  Many people just have to battle on in the stranglehold of everyday life.  So it’s a huge grateful thank-you to Kinetis for inviting me. 
I’d love to be able to tell you our itinerary but they’re being all mysterious about it… Apparently my plea for desert and camels is being taken into consideration…But really, who cares?  We’re staying in a hotel a few minutes from the beach in Tel Aviv – and, by heck, what a beach!

Above all I’m really looking forward to meeting my fellow travellers – the UK bloggers Rosie and Sally – and Spanish bloggers Monica and Eva.  I took Spanish A level (and got a flipping A grade too) but, alas, the years have sucked it out of me.  Never mind – when the spirit is willing, the communication will follow. 
We're also meeting up with the lovely Susie...I love her blog and suspect she's a bit of a kindred spirit...
Stop press:  Oh my.  You remember how I put out a pitiful plea to Figleaves?  Which – after some initial flirtation on Twitter - they stoically ignored, of course.  Well… my bestest baddest friend (she of the flat in London and the Saudi sheiks and the ayurvedic rib-bruising massages) only went and sent me a care package from the place… and I now possess a swimsuit that shows off WAY too much cleavage and a seriously posh bra and knickers set… So, if I get caught in cross-fire or am mown down by a runaway Segway at least I’ll be showing a flash of purple lace as they cart me into an ambulance…