Thursday, July 22, 2010

Tel Aviv-Yafo

Aside my commutes to the work site in Rehovot, I have pretty much been in Tel Aviv for my entire stay here in Israel this time. My first night was simply a struggle to stay awake until after Mass. I had dinner at a restaurant in Old Jaffa in the square close to the plaza in front of St. Peter's Church. I took this photo of a minnaret from my table in the restaurant. If you look at some of my earlier photos, you'll see other perspectives on this tower.

Here is a shot of the same minnaret with the beaches of Tel Aviv in the background.

While I waited for Mass, the folk choir practiced in the plaza. The Mass I attended is usually attended by the Filipino Catholics in Jaffa. They tend toward a more worship charismatic style, but they are quite conservative. They hand out shawls to women who approach the Eucharist with bare shoulders or clothing they consider to be insufficiently modest. Many of the hymns they sang were in Tagalog, although the priest celebrated Mass in English.

I had scheduled a day tour to the Dead Sea and Masada, but the tour company (which will remain nameless) didn't get my reservation (even though it was five days prior to the tour through their web site). I understand, though, that Masada is absurdly hot at this time of year (40-45 C). Most people go very early in the day. My colleagues suggested I go during the winter months. So instead of running off to Masada and bathing in the Dead Sea, I took a four-hour walk in central Tel Aviv.

The first notable sites just outside of my hotel are related to the conflicts here. Across from the hotel on the beach is the Dolphinarium. I've posted about this club and the bombing that shut it down. The victims were mostly teen-aged immigrants from the former Soviet Union. It's still unchanged from what I can tell.

The Hassan Bek mosque is across the street. No picture, but I've posted that one before. My colleague here told me the back story about the person who built the mosque, a former police chief from Jaffa (Yafo) who had a less than stellar reputation.

I walked south toward Old Jaffa to see the Etzel House, a small museum dedicated to the IZL, an early defensive organization sort of like a militia. It was also known as the Irgun. It took part in some actions that were clearly terrorist (King David bombing), while others were bungled affairs that seem to have been exploited for propaganda (Deir Yassin). Menachem Begin was a leader in this organization at one time. The IZL was later folded into the IDF. The museum has some interesting stories about the War of Independence and the conflicts before. There's no pretty story to tell about Palestine prior to partition.

This building would've been on the outskirts of Jaffa in a no-man's land between Jaffa and Tel Aviv during the War of Independence.

I walked about two miles north and found another grim landmark. Mike's Place is a blues club just of the beach. It's notable for two reasons. First, it sits next door to a nondescript concrete building with no obvious markings which happens to be the US embassy. Second, it was the target of a bombing in 2003, just short of two years after the Dolphinarium bombing. My colleague tells me that some of his friends were injured in that attack.

One of the best things about launching out on an unstructured walking tour is that your come across oddities that catch your eye. As I was walking along HaYarkon street, I noticed this interesting stratification of the rock on the side of the road next to the sidewalk. All along the street, the earth looks this way. I can just imagine how long each strata took to be formed and how quickly the layers of ages were breached to build the road and sidewalk.

I made my way east and came across block after block with hedgerows of these flowering shrubs. Don't know what they are, but I like them.

Another interesting aspect of travel is seeing how differently societies deal with common threats. In the U.S., it's still common to see wooden utility poles. In Israel, the utility lines are held up by steel towers marked by very clear warnings.

About 10 feet up, these towers have a ring of length spikes that stick out and slightly downward. I think they're trying to discourage climbers, but I may be wrong.

I'm also struck by how different building standards are from country to country. Here's another image featuring a utility tower but of a scaffolding next to a condominium under construction. I don't think OSHA would ever let this project proceed.

By this time in my walk, I had circled around Carmel Market and HaKarmel heading back to the hotel. I saw this print, which I seem to recall seeing on previous visits.

Three blocks later, and I was back at the hotel with sore feet and a fairly good sunburn. Tel Aviv like most of Israel is an interesting study of juxtaposition--beauty next to decay; ancient grandeur next to modernity.
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