Friday, May 09, 2008

Tel Aviv Snapshots

It's the sound of a violin orchestra, playing an upwards scale, long note after note, like in a murder mystery film, a crescendo whose climax is never reached. As usual with sounds, I cannot tell from where it is coming, but it repeats again and again, throughout the morning, the same sequence. Sitting in the balcony feels like a Fellini film.

He came with the flat, and his name is Fairuz. At first I was a bit taken aback by this naming of a grey male cat after the Arab world's ageing Diva, whose bell-sound voice singing 'the flower of cities' always comes to mind when I see Jerusalem's Old City after a long absence. His gender is wrong, I muttered when introduced.

But then I relaxed. We are all allowed some gender bending, and it is undeniable: his eyes are a very beautiful turquoise.

The ceramic floor tiles are the jewel in the crown of this 1930s block of flats. Very typical of old Tel Aviv, they are neither Berlin modernism nor Levant Orientalism, but somehow fit both, that strange melange that is the spirit of this city. The tiles come in two types: mustard yellow with black lines, like tiger skin, and white-black-red-green geometric patterns in the long corridor, a beautiful vista stretching before those who keep their toilet door open as they sit to contemplate.

In the morning the sunshine comes through the kitchen window and warms a patch of tiles in front of the sink; the right moment to wash the dishes.

We eat on small plastic table mats, to protect the wooden table from our olive-oil addiction. The usual resident of the flat bought these plastic mats in Nepal: one shows Katmandu sights, and the other features the royal family, King, Queen and three prnces, all slain in the 2001 palace attack defined in Wikipedia as a case of Fratricide, patricide, sororicide, regicide, matricide, mass murder, massacre, and suicide attack.

It is unnerving to put one's plate on murdered royals. Not even the Bolsheviks did that with Tsar Niccolai's family, I think. I find myself hyptonised by the concealed smile of her royal highness beautiful princess Shruti, and the uncanny innocence of her brother the boy prince Nirajan. Why we haven't put them away yet, this decor pieces of aristocratic horror, I do not quite know.

The kitchen's ceiling is disintegrating: little white pieces of paint and wall find their way to the stove, landing in our rice and lentils dishes, our chard and peppers stir-fry. I try to remember to keep the lid on; I like this decaying city, but not as part of my dinner.

For Tel Aviv, crumbling is a way of life. No matter how many layers of paint, how many plans of conservation and revival, the humid sea air will prevail. This is a city of fantasies, always have been - Art Deco orientalist palaces, Bauhous socialist blocks of flats, and nowadays millioners' tower blocks; but the moist breeze breathes salt on all of them, and Tel Aviv crumbles, immediately, continuously.


At 10:50 AM, Blogger Niki said...

Hey Mink-

I have to add this link to my blogroll now that you are out of london. I wanted to be really pretentious and ask if you could write the name of your blog in hebrew for me so i could have a hebrew language link on my blogroll, but i guess that doesn't make sense since your blog is in English.

Anyway, hope you are well and glad to see you are posting regularly.

At 1:32 AM, Blogger mink said...

ok niki so i decided to go for the trilingual heading format - although it's going to stay in English.

We recently visited (Jewish) friends whose 8 year-old daughter goes to a Jewish-Arab school. She can speak both languages but can't understand English, and constantly demanded that we stop "talking secrets".

I told her F. can't speak Hebrew or Arabic. She said F. should start with Arabic because it's easier. The only difficult thing, she said, was getting the rolling R pronounciation right.


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