Posts Tagged ‘Art’

My book of the week: talk about blasphemy!

Not great. My list seems so much more ambitious than I thought.  Some things I’ve done:

  • Because of a cold, for almost a week I drank endless cups and pots of herbal teas and infusions, meaning, I got plenty of water.  Now, not so much.
  • Sleep – still averaging 5-ish hours. Not good at all.  The discovery of late-night Star Trek TNG on this odd Christian cable TV channel has me mesmerized.  I love the show, it’s never on here, and I find it so incredibly strange that it’s METV that airs it.  I’m sure it’s a “recruiting tactic” – they’re also the only channel broadcasting American football, and quite a lot of it – rare and popular pastimes for certain populations.  I wonder if they actually know what they’re broadcasting – the futuristic Star Trek world is yes, quite an optimistic one, but the show regularly presents messages of tolerance (thinly veiled themes on gay rights and euthanasia come to mind) – basic respect for acceptance of the traditions and values of other cultures, whether or not we agree with them.  Things I feel that evangelicals clearly oppose.  It’s a very liberal show.  Squeezed between shows like the 700 Club, Harvest, and Christian rock shows, it’s so entirely bizarre for me, a firm and unwavering atheist, to watch.  This channel has these shows where a Christian “psychic” talks to spirits of dead family members in front of a studio audience.  There’s even a show geared to converting Jews, with a host who is a formerly-Jewish, now devout Christian evangelical, spinning the gospel for the “chosen people.”  Anthropology.  All I can say.  I’m happy for TNG.  Not sure it’s OK that I’m patronizing them.

    This kiss between Riker and the self-identified female “degenerate mutant” from a gender-less species.

  • I have, however, been seeing friends – twice per week is realistic, and as it’s emotionally quite pressing, it seems to be a high priority for me.
  • I went on a date. I thought it went very well, but I may have received the brush off.  Waiting.  It’s OK, life goes on.  The effort is important.
  • I read a whole novel in excellent speed – fantastic feeling. Though not really my cup of tea, I’d been putting off reading the cult-classic, Good Omens.  Was a nice way to pass the weekend.
  • Creativity and culture – I have made a concerted effort to stop and notice the art displayed in the windows of the galleries in my area, and I did actually attend a group exhibition opening a couple weeks ago.  I’ve been thinking about pulling out my clarinet – back in high school I wasn’t a bad player, and I did bring my excellent Buffet Festival with me when I moved to Israel.  AND I DID PAINT! Last week I got out a bunch of expensive Italian ink I purchased years ago, made lovingly with things like real gold flake, and I found a box of old thick “panda” oil pastels of my grandfather’s, a prominent Israeli artist until his death 11 years ago.  All shades of his favorite color – blue.  Here are some of the results, taken on a crappy camera phone.


    A sort of water-soaked inky gouache, and a pointillism landscape made with an incomplete set of crayola markers, inspired by the “International Naive and Primitive Art Gallery” near me. You can’t see the gold flake on the left, but it’s pretty cool up close. And yes, the inks came complete with a quill – very difficult to use, hence I abandoned it.

  • Bills – not being paid. Weird.  I have the money.  I can’t open the mail – it’s overwhelming. It’s quite urgent. And pressing on me.  Psychological oddity with me, also keeps me from cleaning my room for months.  Though I make a decent effort on the house, the kitchen, public things, some other tasks are near impossible to internalize.
  • I’ve been pretty successful at shutting the computer at night and not thinking of work, so I’m proud of myself in that respect.  I do need to move forward on expanding my professional goals.

So there is the update.  A rather mundane blog entry, but as I felt I needed to keep up the writing momentum, here it is in all its glorious dullness.

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To spice things up, here are some random and lovely things I see and photograph on my phone. Enjoy!

Fish tank in pet shop on Dizengoff. Conch looked like a toothy mouth.

Bottom of my coffee, lovely rich Arab coffee with rose water, after hummus

Crappiest coffee ever, at university, with a Sorrel flower I picked and nibbled

European clockwork organ-griding machine/theatre/music box. At Dizengoff fountain. Playing the entire soundtrack to Oklahoma!

Flowers. But you knew that. A new friend is a florist - this is a centerpiece of hers, a display to try to sell her services to couples getting married.

Have some Humos, fool! Nope - I'll order the Humos Grinding Granules.

Cool, huh? It's a hanging sculpture in old Jaffa, with a real orange tree inside.

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Philadelphia has a pretty awesome mayor named Nutter.  Nutty.

You know what’s really nütty? The Mütter Museum.

Not for the weak-stomached, this is honestly one of the most fascinating museums I have been to.  A collection of oddities like no other, the museum which is part of the Philadelphia College of Physicians began with a large donation of specimens by none other than Dr Mütter himself.  What used to be a great learning ground for would-be doctors, this 19th century fascination could today be viewed merely as a carnival freak show if it weren’t for the very thoughtful curation.

Eng and Chang

And a freak show it definitely starts out as.  You walk in and you’re immediately drawn to jar upon jar of diseased feet and hands and tongues and tumors in jars.  Then you see enlarged intestines the size of a boa constrictor.  More conjoined twins than you think are possible (most in fetus-form).  The actual post-mortem plaster cast of Chang and Eng, the original Siamese twins, AND the liver that joined them together.  You see pocked syphilitic skulls.  You see John Wilkes Booth’s foot.  It just goes on and on and on.  Of particular interest to me:

  • Human leather.  You got it.  And this wasn’t actually an oddity of the era.  A 19th century fad, some people had the skins of their deceased loved ones tanned and then used the leather (most often) to bind books.  There was a book displayed, bound in human leather, that was actually an anatomy book!  There was an elegant human leather wallet.  At the end of the case was a long long strip of the leather, and when you looked closely, you could see it was a whole human leg.  Inscribed upon it was the name of the deceased, dates, etc.
  • Soap woman.  An odd phenomenon.  Natural human mummification that takes place in particularly humid climates.  There is a process by which we are broken down into a soap-related substance.  When this mummification takes places, it’s only partial.  It’s extremely rare that it’s complete.  And here was one full naturally-created mummy.  A woman.  Who when x-rayed was found to be around 40, had a congenital childhood disease, had a broken jaw (took place shortly before or after death), and had two four-holed buttons at her wrists.
  • Hundreds of skulls, categorized by country, gender, age, and cause of death.  Amazing!  The more I looked at them, the more differences I started seeing.  When you look at bones, you think, heck, they’re just bones, white, pretty much the same.  But these skulls.  The eye sockets are shaped and angled differently.  Eyebrow ridges are different sizes and angles.  The “faces” even have expressions.  They started resembling Commedia del’Arte masks.  Seriously
  • Heart of Gold

    The gift shop.  No kidding.  This has got to be to coolest museum gift shop ever.  You can buy stuffed plush anatomically-correct hearts.  There are soaps and candles in the shapes of skulls and hearts.  There is even a soap, clear glycerin, with tiny little conjoined-twin-fetuses inside it.  Ewww!  I bought a key chain shaped like a nose, and when you squeeze it, snot bubbles out of it!  I also got a magnet set that looks like a paper doll dress-up game – except it’s of all the organs, and they’re very real-looking.  Amazing stuff.  Fine jewelry – little gold (real) hearts.  Fine hand-made (real teeth-mark) patterned ceramics.  Go visit.

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Tree House Books

One minute I’m half asleep on a tiny 6 am commuter flight, the next minute I’m weed-whacking in the back lot of a non-profit children’s bookstore on the north side of Philadelphia.  En route, somehow, I experienced a tiny Vietnamese hoagie shop where I drank one of the sweetest coffees of my life (gotta love Southeast Asians’ fascination with condensed milk), got an interesting tour of an entire south to north strip of the city (Broad Street) in bumper to bumper rush hour traffic, and visited a priceless African American doll museum.

African American Folkart Dolls

All this before noon. We rounded off the day with a spectacular dinner at Osteria (one of the chefs there was recently awarded a James Beard Award) – memorable for me (amongst so much fun stuff) was the stinging nettle ravioli and a bottle of Tuscan Vin Santo.

Vin Santo - eaten traditionally with hard nutty biscotti

And it’s typical of my adventures with the close friend I’m visiting.  Previous adventures include flying to Atlantic City in a motor glider to visit for an hour, just because (I played ski ball); in London somehow getting into Gunther Von Hagen’s Bodyworlds with press passes before the show got huge worldwide; and getting stuck in downtown Nazareth traffic during a crowded market day with an armed (M-16), jumpy, off-duty, teenage (Israeli) soldier (my sister) in the back seat screaming at us to get the hell out of there.  You get the idea.  Never a dull moment.

On the recommendation of another friend, today we snagged tickets last minute (reservations in advance required) to the Barnes Foundation,

Inside the Barnes

an extraordinary collection of mostly impressionist and post-impressionist art (dominated by Renoir and Cezanne with Picasso, Van Gogh, Courbet, Manet, Matisse, Seurat, Miro, Modigliani, and a couple others I can’t recall at the moment), some Renaissance and pre-Renaissance religious paintings, and an array of traditional African art works (masks, sculptures).

An exclusive, private collection, much of which was never allowed to be reproduced (we’re talking hundreds of works that could have been displayed in the Musee D’Orsay or similar for the last century and weren’t), the works are soon going to be separated and dismantled for the first time ever.  I don’t know the details, but apparently somehow the foundation wasn’t managed well, the city wanted to take over, there was a very long court battle, and I think a building is now being built in the city center for these works of art.

Too bad.

The Barnes Foundation is special.  It’s in an old mansion house with the grounds to prove it in Philadelphia’s famed Main Line.  Dr Albert Barnes who made his fortune in medicine and pharmaceuticals was devoted to art and education, created his foundation in 1922, made John Dewey (a close friend) the first director of education, purchased the 12-acre property, and commissioned the building for his new organization.  Barnes personally arranged the hanging for every work of art on the walls.  His wife Laura was devoted to the grounds, the arboretum, horticulture, and to this day there is an impressive formal garden, exotic trees and ferns from around the world, and a quaint pond and tea house tucked away on a corner of the property.

Tomorrow, the Mutter Museum.  Medical oddities.  Yes.  I’m psyched. This is what the museum highlights from the collection:

  • The plaster cast of the torso of world-famous Siamese Twins, Chang & Eng, and their conjoined livers
  • Joseph Hyrtl’s collection of skulls
  • Preserved body of the “Soap Lady”
  • Collection of 2,000 objects extracted from people’s throats
  • Cancerous growth removed from President Grover Cleveland
  • Tallest skeleton on display in North America

Nothin’ beats Philadelphia Freedom.

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It dawned on me recently that I don’t live in Israel.  I don’t even live in Tel Aviv.  I live on the Dizengoff corridor, and that’s about it.  With regular forays into the Rothschild realm, and occasional ganders into arty-yuppie-land, Neve Tzedek, I sometimes take peeks at the sea on weekends.  Basically, I enjoy strong coffees in various cafes around the city, about which I know a great deal. On Fridays I run wine tastings at Tel Aviv’s best wine shops, and when I’m in good spirits, on Saturday nights I hop between posh wine bars and local pubs. My yoga studio is three blocks away.  My new gym is 5 blocks away.  The longest trip of the week I make is a ghastly 20 minute bus ride to my therapist, followed by another 10 minute bus ride to my meditation class, followed by one 10 minute bus and one 5 minute bus home.  That’s my marathon day.  And I never have to leave the borders of Tel Aviv.

Adding to my insular lifestyle, I don’t typically read Israeli newspapers, and I have somehow managed to keep up with the basics by listening in on bus and taxi drivers’ radios here and there.  When I walk by a kiosk, I take a look at the headlines and then walk off.  Once in a blue moon I’ll pick up the International Herald Tribune…but mostly because it has the New York Times’ arts & leisure section which contains the crossword puzzle I miss so much ’cause doesn’t it feel so much better to complete it on paper with pen instead of on a computer screen.  For news, I read the BBC online, I surf the Huffington Post a few times a week, and I click on interesting links my friends post on Facebook and Twitter.

Pathetic, isn’t it?  It’s difficult and embarrassing to admit.  It’s beyond stagnant.  It’s positively vegetative.  Me! Me! I used to work in PR and read/skimmed half a dozen papers every day.  I saved searches on Yahoo news, BBC, AP, AFP, Reuters, CNN, NBC, ABC, even Fox, and more. Local, national, international.   I LIKED reading newspapers, even as a child.  I liked the feel in my hands, I liked to be in the know.  I felt it was important.  And it really was.  It still is.

What happened to me?  Did the news become too painful?  Did I slowly succumb to life as a numb couch potato?  Did I choose the easy way out without even knowing it?  Being proactive is difficult.  For me, reading the news, taking in all the pain (along with the joy and innovation and intrigue), many times leads to action.  It’s hard to really know about the injustice in the world and sit idly by.

Better to not read the news.  Ignorance is bliss, right?

Not really.  Because I know in many ways I’ve been a bump on a log.  Sure, I work hard.  I try to improve myself through yoga and meditation and running in place like a hamster.  I read great books, the greatest books.  I think big thoughts.  I write creative little sketches.  I play with words.

But I haven’t been participating in anything.  Is the daily grind of trying to make a living (which in itself isn’t easy) to blame?  Is social networking partially to blame?  The immediacy of the medium makes it all seem more important than it is.  And it’s addictive, too.  Talking talking talking.  Links links links.  When I could be out learning how to sail, or participating in a knitting group, or better yet, helping people who are suffering by, who knows, teaching, building, cooking, writing…etc, etc.

I don’t live here.  I have thoughts of “going back.” But if I haven’t really tried, how do I really know I don’t like it here.  The politics are worse than in any place I’ve ever been.  Maybe even Russia.  Well, maybe not Russia.  People die here needlessly every day.  There is a violent uprising in Jerusalem right now, a 45-minute drive away, and I’m sitting here typing in my sunny beautiful living room eating a ripe avocado and gourmet French cheese.  What gives?

Passover is in two weeks.  A holiday commemorating the Israelites emancipation from Egyptian slavery.  Every year I think about the people who are still enslaved today.  In Israel we’ve got refugees, asylum seekers, and yes, lots of illegals, all fleeing terrible conditions in Africa, coming across the porous Egyptian border every day.  As a nation we grumble angrily, curse them coming, and mostly don’t offer any kind welcome.  And here I am, uselessly trapped in my own tiny little silver-spoon world, despite the “financial difficulties” I still face.

My Passover resolution: free myself by helping others.  And to put down the sci fi for a moment and read a newspaper each and every day.

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Tel Aviv Beauties

I took a very, very long stroll on Friday afternoon after my lovely croque-y brunch.  How long?  I walked from the very north to the very south of Tel Aviv.  Here are some snapshots. This city is so pretty.  In the right light.

The Mediterranean from the Namal - the port of Tel Aviv - north of the city

Fisherman at the Namal - great mix of swank cafes, clubs, and everyday life

Orange "tus tus" (motor scooter) in Neve Tzedek

Oh-so-fragrant blooming jasmine in Florentine

Mustard Bug in Florentine

Tel Aviv's awesome graffiti - some of the best I've ever seen

Cafe on Washington Boulevard in Florentine

Colorful gate of what looks like a former synagogue on Shlush Street in Neve Tzedek

In Florentine - what I think is an ancient taxi - but doesn't it look like a hearse?

Derekh Yafo/Eilat - ancient electric tower - always wondered what it was all about

Last of all - a rather distorted photo of me - I suppose, a self-portrait. This is on Derekh Eilat, near border of Tel Aviv and Yafo - frame and miror shops line the street for blocks

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