Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Silent but Alive

There's something particularly disheartening about a blog in a state of coma. The blog is not a product of its author so much as it is "an author" in itself: the speaking voice of an online persona that is only partially related to a real one. When such a voice dies out, the persona is dead.

Did the hectic day to day, Facebook and the growing willingness to pay for my writing kill Mr. Everywhere? I hope not, and yet find myself uninspired even now to write more. Did I run out of stuff to tell? It feels more as though there's too much to tell. Some of it is told in the articles Itka and I now write as a team for Haaretz (those periodically get translated into English, is in this case) All else will be told in good time.

In the meantime, there are nearly two years' worth of archives here for newcomers and frequent fliers alike to explore, trips to diverse destinations: Amman, Budapest, Ashdod... political reflections worthy of an investigation by the shin bet, some amateur photography and yes, the occasional love story. Enjoy them all.

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.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

A Farewell to Charms

Today is our last day in Paris, last call for mignon of pork in vanilla sauce, for late night cigarellos consumed in the cold breeze of Rue Timbaud, for the "bling!" the Metro pass makes when passed over the scanner, for hanging with trombone players, cinema maniacs, Amnesty activists, Albanian vagabonds and sharply dressed gay dancers from Cameroon. for spending hours on hours vintage shopping (or sipping Calvados at a cafe while the other is spending hours on hours vintage shopping, depending which one of us you are), for getting a nice flame in the fireplace, for those bloody rooftops I love so much.

You can be pretty sure I'm not going to spend this day blogging.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


Normally it's exceedingly easy to find lifts to Paris on the Dover-Calais ferry. This time it was impossible. No one was going our way, or if they did, their cars were packed, or they didn't want to pick up hitchers. We were pretty sure we'd have to put the 82 Euros into the train, which is bit depressing at this point in our low budget trip. Only the high speed TGV trains run between Paris and Calais and the prices are unreasonable.

Then, as we were being embraced by the concrete jetty arms of the continent, somebody said yes. They were two dark skinned men, Londoners on their way directly to Paris. On their dashboard was nestled a little, multi-armed Hindu god. Itka and I began a Hebrew guessing game, spelling terms that would betray our topic.

"It's pretty obvious which subcontinent they're from," she said.

"Yes, but they could also be from S-r-i L-a-n-k-a, for example, or B-e-n-g-l-a D-e-s-h. Though most people from S-r-i L-a-n-k-a are Buddhists, and people from B-e-n-g-l-a D-e-s-h are usually Muslim and don't really look like this. By their looks I would guess that they're T-a-m-i-l-s."

"That's good. I've always been a fan of t-i-g-e-r-s."

The car deck was opened and we disembarked into the French night. The driver and his friend needed some help navigating onto the relevant autoroute, so we began chatting and actually asked them where they were from.

"Sri Lanka," said the driver, "You know Tamil Tigers?"

"It's my favorite guerrilla army," Itka told them.

"We are Tamil Tigers," said the other man, and, perhaps in order to sound not in the least threatening, added: "You should know that Tamil Tigers are always serious, Tamil Tigers never smoke, never drink." in a split second Tamil Tigers also stopped being Itka's favorite guerrilla army. Sic transit gloria mundi. She later admitted she anyway favored them mostly thanks to their sexy name.

The pair handed us a CD of militant Tiger songs. On the cover was an image of the Tigers' mustachioed leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, in camouflage gear. They then played it for us - Indian Music with a snare drum.

These fellows were no simple fans. They were hardcore. The way the man at the shotgun said "we are Tamil Tigers" made it clear that being Tigers and caring for their organization was, if not their 9 to 5, at least a major occupation for both. The LTTE, mind you, is considered a terrorist organization in both Britain and France. During the 20th century, the Tigers have carried more suicide bombings than all Islamic terrorist groups combined. problem is that their foes, the Sri Lankan government and army, are not any better, and they are recognized as a sovereign state. "I'm very sorry about what your people are going through right now," I said, "I know most of the north was taken over and the press is not allowed to enter and report, there must be slaughters going on."

"Yes," said the driver, "but we kill more than 200 Sri Lankan soldiers each day."

Outside, along the nocturnal highway, signs were advertising historical attractions in the region, mostly pretty castles. We stopped at a service station and were treated to two cans of Red Bull by the driver and his friend. It was hard to believe, while traveling this excellent highway, that Northen Sri Lanka even exists, but it's almost equally hard to believe that when in Southern Sri Lanka. I remember having a pleasant "Lion" beer at a beach-front cafe in Rathgama, just south of Colombo. With me was a Dutch journalist who made it across the lines. He showed me photos of another world, a funerary world, one in which our ferry from Dover somehow briefly docked.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Promised England

Here's where we spent yesterday: at "the Jungle", a makeshift migrant slum in the forest near Calais France. It is there that nearly a thousend migrants, from Afganistan, Eritrea and elsewhere await a chance to enter the land of their dreams: The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The Jungle is an obcenely harsh place, a landmark of a government's disregard for human wellbeing and dignity. Our reportage from there is to be published in Haaretz and should prove the most meaningful piece of the French month's output, but that's not what I want to tell you about. I'd like to tell you about these people's paradise.

With our decent passports, it took us ten minutes to hitch a lift to the Dover ferry. within 90 minutes we were across the Channel. It did look good, that England.

after several pints of Kentish bitter at a family owned pub, crowded with dogs and children, it looked even better.

so good, in fact, that we decided to stay the night and walked over the fields and pastures that grace the clifftop to the town of Deal. Here we found yet another pub, The king's head, it offered cheap rooms, good atmosphere and a cardiologically disasterous breakfast.

However, stepping out of the King's Head this morning we realized how mislead all these immigrants are. England is no El Dorado. In fact, it is a grim chip-shop freezer of a country looking something like what you see below. A morning walk down Deal's pier was simply punishing. Can we get used to English weather? Is the Jungle preferable? We'll spend another day of good ale and healthy chat and let you know.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Terry poison

It's only normal, sometimes your living room becomes a dressing room for the world's sexiest electro-pop band.

and your study becomes where they jam pre-show.

Terry Poison, Israel's finest export product, came to perform at la Fleche D'or, a Parisian music club, just down the street from where we're staying. Since Itka used to be their production manager, their guitar player, Anna, became our house guest for two nights, and the little house on rue Florian served as venue for the pre-show toast. From there it was only a few steps to the club.

It's situated in an old railway station on Paris's now defunct Petite Sainture line, and is the kind of place where people play limbo with each-other's legs.

and where a pretzel dry, solidly dressed punk act can draw cries of praise even from the Terry Poison crew. That was the warm up act. We were waiting for the madness to come.

I like clubbing but seldom get to witness the scene behind the scenes.

Did this time,

and went crazy when my lovely friends came on stage to shake the city of Paris. This being our neighborhood haunt, Itka and I have been to the Fleche D'or several times since hitting Paris, we never saw it go wild like this. Our compatriots, our pals, our wild women are the hardest rocking act on both bank of the Seine. I disown Schubert as my favorite musician, it's time to burn the old station down.