Yossi ben Yochanon from Jerusalem said: “Let your home be open wide to the multitudes. Let the poor be like children of your home. And don’t overemphasize light conversation with your spouse.”
The two predominant populations of Tel Aviv’s Florentin neighbourhood are artists and furniture-sellers.
There are considerable parallels in the culture and customs of both, with the important distinction that artists, on the whole, do not sell furniture.
A short stroll along Herzl Street reveals that quite a few of the furniture sellers don’t seem to be actively selling any furniture either. Instead, they are sitting outside, reclining on their own merchandise (sofas, easy chairs, chaises longue).
They are drinking Turkish coffee and engaging in loud conversations on topics including: local and international politics, where the best falafel can be bought, football, how hard it is to park in Tel Aviv.
On the street corners, under the shade of dusty, parched-looking trees, sempiternal games of backgammon are being hotly contested, whilst onlookers shout: instructions, insults, encouragement, opinions.
On my own street, there is a little coterie of elderly men who spend the day sitting on a bench, drinking “Malty” (an Israeli brand of root beer - like Marmite, you either love it or hate it), eating pitzukhim, and gossiping.
They are also the self-appointed guardians of the local rubbish bins: if you walk near them, they will watch you like hawks, and should you be so bold as to actually throw any rubbish into these bins, they will shout: “Excuse me, excuse me! That’s not your bin! Put your rubbish into another bin next time!”.
Above them, on the opposite side of the narrow street, is the home of a large Sephardic family whose most famous, or infamous, member is known only as Aviva-The-Crazy-One.
Poor Aviva’s only crime is an inability to talk quietly.
At the slightest provocation, she will start to yell and scream and bellow all kinds of insults and oaths. I have learned some of my juiciest Hebrew and Arabic profanities simply by sitting inside my apartment with the window open and listening to Aviva’s operatic shouting.
When Aviva starts one of her shouting matches, it prompts a chain reaction from the neighbours. First, the old men on the bench start up: Aviva, Aviva, quiet! Aviva, Aviva!
This has the effect of making Aviva shout even louder, this time at them: You be quiet, you be quiet, you profanity of a profanity! Profanity off!
Next, the Hasidic men from the neighbouring silver-polishing workshop start to troop outside, menorahs and polishing cloths in hand, to watch the unfolding spectacle.
After a while, the eldest and most Biblical-looking of them, a short white haired man with a most impressive beard and magnificent peyot, will say loudly: Aviva, what’s the matter? Why all the noise? Be calm…
At this point, the old backgammon-playing men turn on the Hasidic silver-polisher: What’s it your business? Such neighbours!
By this stage, the entire street has come out stand on their balconies and look down at the show, like opera-goers gazing on a performance of La Traviata from the safety of their plush boxes.
Meanwhile, Aviva continues to scream and shout.
At this juncture, the street theatre’s piece de resistance usually makes an entrance, stage right.
Known to us only as Megaphone Man, this character is a local (piss) artiste and musician and consequently feels the need to dress accordingly, in order that all who see him will realise instantly that he is eccentric and therefore must harbour a great talent.
Thus, wearing a large, red fez and a baggy patchwork suit (and looking not unlike the Pied Piper of Hamlin), Megaphone Man makes his presence known - using his loudspeaker system.
AVIVA! AVIVA! THIS IS YOUR NEIGHBOUR SPEAKING. I BEG YOU TO CALM DOWN. EVERYTHING IS OKAY AND YOU MUST BE HAPPY. HAPPINESS IS ESSENTIAL! PEACE IN THE MIDDLE EAST!
Winter in Tel Aviv.
زمستان در تل اويو
חורף בתל אביב
“Was waiting for my take out coffee in Starbucks opposite Sainsbury’s in O2 Centre in Finchley Road late on Monday afternoon. Had been absolutely soaked to skin earlier in downpour (happened to be in St James’s Park sans umbrella at time of downpour so was truly sodden) and not in mood to strike up conversation but was standing waiting for coffee with attractive guy who had ordered the same coffee as me. We had a non exchange about the two coffees that the barrista produced. I wish that I had spoken to you. In the highly unlikely event that you read this and you should feel so inclined please email.”
Craigslist - Missed Encounters
Lily feels herself a simulacrum: a copy without an original, a facsimile, pleasant but inauthentic. This was the way it felt as she walked through Cavendish Square at lunchtime that dream-bright summer’s day, past all the office workers, dressed alike in identikit suits, sat out on the grass eating their standard-issue Pret-a-Manger or Starbucks sandwiches, reading The Standard Lite and gossiping about reality TV.
That afternoon, she is to attend the second half of a workshop about creating a new brand identity for the company she works for, which is something to do with market research, but if she were asked to explain what she actually does, and why, she might run into difficulties Something to do with finding out what generic people (i.e. those who are deemed to fit nicely into something called a demographic), think about generic products or services. Credit cards, store cards, club cards. That sort of thing.
You buy these things, and they help you buy more things, so you can have all the things you want. As long as the things you want are shoes and clothes and mobile phones. Stuff.
Then you throw the stuff away and buy more of it.
The workshop is being run by a predictably trendy (trendy in predictable ways) young branding company called BrandVision! Or it might have been VisionBrand! (The name is something that combines the instantly forgettable with something really excruciatingly irritating).
She gets an ache in her teeth (it sets them on edge) whenever she hears the name (and she has heard it a lot already over the course of the morning), an ache which worsens perceptibly every time she sees the name written down on the business cards that have been left, together with a small notepad, a branded (obviously) pencil, and a colourless glass of water, at each place in the conference room.
The name is also featured heavily in the series of PowerPoint slides that have been displayed on a large white screen. Predictably, and thus tediously, the name is in a “quirky” font, clearly designed to give the impression that BrandVision! is a fun and a happening place to be, a place for young people who like to wear brightly coloured, designer ties and style their hair in a deliberately dishevelled way. The exclamation mark is slightly larger than the rest of the text, and is embossed in gold.
Why is that?
The morning session seemed to feature only self-praise of BrandVision! together with self-aggrandizement of the predictably-named Myles and Zed, the “creative team” who “thought the agency into being”. Zed is an excitable, bubbly 30 something with deliberately disheveled hair and a brightly colored tie. His job title, is inexplicably, Driver of Ideas. Lily listened listlessly as Zed explained, in a barely controlled voice, that “..the exclamation mark represents the excitement that VisionBrand! feel when we breathe life into your brand!”.
Zed makes it sound as if the brand is a cadaver, perhaps the victim of an accident, or a golem that can be given or restored to life by his coffee-scented exhalations. And - at least according to Zed - you can’t take part in the re-branding of a brand until you’ve understood branding - until you’ve branded yourself. Thus, the afternoon session was going to feature an “interactive, participatory creative session” during which everyone would come up with a personal mission statement: everyone would brand themselves.
“Literally”, enthused Zed.
(“Isn’t branding what they do to cattle?” thought Lily anxiously.)
“Among the knowledge that he possesses: pi to 11 digits, the names of the current communist countries, at least 28 past U.S. presidents—including the first six and last six, who Larry David, Kofi Annan, Steven Soderbergh, Donovan McNabb, and Warren Buffett are, the significance of the Magna Carta, three mythic allusions, working use of literary devices, what CFC stands for, where Darfur is, the difference between Bach and Chopin, and four Impressionist painters…He gets along with different types of people. He is able to converse with anyone from the homeless person on the corner to a Hungarian immigrant to Method Man to the CFO of an oil company sitting next to the head of the Sierra Club.”
The Perfect Man (from Craigslist’s “Missed Encounters”)
She’s thirty-six and her dream is to be a beautiful bride, a fairy-tale princess in a frothy pearly white frock. Or maybe cream. It all depended.
In her mind’s eye she can see how the photos would look framed on the mantelpiece in the lounge of the large detached Barratt mock-Tudor home: she would be smiling in soft-glow focus, perhaps on a tropical beach.
In this imagined photo, she is blonder but most importantly she is thinner. The bridegroom (whose personality is not important) would be called Luke or Jake, would perhaps be American (California), would have his own PR firm, designer stubble and a crumpled cream linen suit. He would take her for mini-breaks to New York and Paris, where he would propose.
You might think her fantasies and dreams were just lifted straight from Sex And The City or the chick-lit novels which litter her flat like large, pastel confetti lumps, but that’s how she actually thinks. When she wakes up in the morning (just before she switches on the television to catch twenty minutes of the morning chat-and-gossip show, where celebrities come in to the studio and sit on a big sofa and talk about their health problems to a glamorous-looking celebrity doctor and Agony Uncle) she actually thinks: OK! Today maybe I’ll meet The One.
Then she dresses carefully and applies her signature scent (the magazines say you have to create your personal brand so people can remember you. Otherwise you’re instantly forgettable).
She isn’t dating anyone right now, though.
She hasn’t dated anyone for six months.
She has high standards: after all, you have to respect yourself.
The last man she dated was too fat. He wore jeans and watched football on telly and didn’t work in PR. And he was called Kevin, not Jake or Luke or Josh. After four months, he hadn’t bought her a single piece of jewelry. So he had to go.
In moments of doubt she thinks: is there really someone for everyone, a The One, a knight in shining armour, a soulmate?
If there is a The One for everyone then what about those people who marry and get divorced and meet someone else? Do they have two The Ones? Is that fair? Has some greedy woman stolen my The One?
(Last week she bumped into an old school-friend Beth in Sainsbury’s. Beth had a new haircut and a new husband called Geoffrey. She said the new husband Geoffrey was The One for her. Beth had said that about her old husband Martin too but then Martin turned out to like horse-racing a bit too much and lost a lot of money and then Beth met this Geoffrey in the office and they went for a drink and that’s when she realised that he was The One. So Beth dumped her first The One (Martin) and when the divorce came through she married her second The One (Geoffrey). The first The One (Martin) was tall and blond and the second The One (Geoffrey) is tall and blond as well, so at least that’s consistent.)
How come Beth got to have two The Ones? And does that mean that someone else (i.e. her) might not have one The One at all?
But then she thinks, maybe one day she will just be walking down the street or shopping in Sainsbury’s or sitting in Starbucks sipping a skinny soya latte and she will look up and see him, The One will just walk in, walk into her life and sweep her off her feet and then (finally then) her life, her real life, will begin.
Camels and villas in Abu Kaff, a newly recognized Bedouin village in the Negev desert.
Surfing on Charles Clore beach, just south of Jaffa Old City.