Israel – A final encounter.

By now you’ll know I am a bit of an experimenter! I am trying to find the best software to turn some of my photo books into flipbooks for viewing online. This one is from Yumpu. This is the free version. It was really easy to do but the view is very small and I don’t see a way of making it bigger. At present you can’t read the text in the stories but they are in this blog.

I had trouble loading it from my phone.

Sometimes this link works and sometimes it doesn’t! Not much of an experiment was it!

Yumpu fullscreen version

https://www.yumpu.com/s/17ZbnjNa3Dy0YtVR

I’d be pleased to know if any of you have found a better solution.

These photos were taken in January 2018 and are subject to copyright.

Through the back of a camera.

Photographers view life a little differently to other people. They can imagine it cordoned off into that small field of view at the back of a camera. Even smaller when it’s held up to your eye. It is for the most part, a solitary pursuit. Well at least the sort of photography I do is. I don’t do portraits but rather document the world around me. Landscape and urban. Big and small. Horizons and minutia.

I spend my photography time wandering the streets or road tripping in search of the things that catch my eye. I’d hate to be driving behind me when I’m on a road trip! I stop all the time, careening off the side of the road and doing illegal U turns all to capture that nice little view between trees or whatever it happens to be.

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I wander around cities all day. Sometimes standing around waiting for a person with the right coloured clothes to come into view in front of the wall art I have staked out. Or for the man at the fish shop to put the right size fish on the scales or the woman cooking the flat bread to turn it over with a bit of dramatic flair.

I sometimes deliberately go into the parts of town that are “not so nice” to get gritty street photos. It’s usually OK and I don’t feel unsafe.

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Usually.

Most of the time.

In January this year, while visiting my daughter, I was wandering the streets of Beer Sheva, Israel. It was Saturday, mid-afternoon, so everything was closed. It had been raining and the souk (market) had  puddles of water that were reflecting the grey clouds very nicely. The cracked pavements and general disorder of the place  all adding an ambient grunge.

As I was sizing things up and looking for angles, I noticed a man a few hundred metres off, walking in my direction. I didn’t think much of it. I was out in the open on a public street. There were other people around. I went around the corner in search of more puddles. He followed me. Perhaps he had business here. Judging by his dress he was not Jewish and therefore probably not observing Shabbat. I went around another corner. He followed me a again. I started to get worried. Was he going to steal my camera?

“Hallo” he called in a heavy Eastern Bloc accent.

“G’day mate” I replied and walked on.

“Are you Greek?”

“No mate, Australian” as I put another 10 metres between us. He was about 20 metres away.

I had been training.  He looked unfit. I figured I could outrun him even with my backpack

“Come with me”.

“Ahhh…. No!” I replied.

“Come to my house. I have house upstairs. It is warm.” he said pointing to one of the closed shops.

“No! Mate just leave me alone”

“I will give you money!”

He’ll give me money? He thinks I am a prostitute? Pffft ….I thought to myself. There’s a first time for everything!

With a final firm and loud NO I walked briskly back to the road and kept going without looking back. I took a circuitous route, so in case he had followed me, I was not leading him to where I was staying.

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I had obviously been in the very wrong neighbourhood, and my lack of local and cultural awareness must have put me in the ‘pick up’ zone. Apart from the proposition, he hadn’t try to close the gap I had put between us, so while his intention was not noble, I don’t think he intended me harm.

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Another learning experience, fellow travellers! Even when you are concentrating on that view through the small square, keep your eye on the big picture!

PS: I never did get any pictures of those puddles!

Give me a home among the gumtrees….

Australians know about travelling. We don’t hesitate to drive 100km to get to a friend’s house. It’s just what you do. We get on a plane and fly all day just to go on holidays.

“You came all this way?” people will ask you. We can’t get out of the country unless we do! It’s 4 hours from Sydney to Perth. It’s a 22 hour flight to Israel (plus layovers or waits at the airport).

Compared to Australia, Israel is a very small place. The total length from north to south is 424 kilometres.  My mum’s place is 635 km away and we still live in the same state. At its widest, Israel is 114 km – that’s only 2 km more than from my place in Wollongong to Penrith; one of Sydney’s western suburbs. At its narrowest point its only 15km across – I ran that far a few months ago in a fun run!

The total area of Israel is 20,770 km2 compared to 7,692,000 km2. More than 370 Israels would fit inside Australia. It’s nearly three times smaller than Tasmania.

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It may be small but compared to Australia, it’s crowded. The average population density is 385 people per km2 compared to 3.1 people per km2 in Australia. [2]

On one of my visits, I hired a car and drove with my daughter and her family from Tel Aviv up to Katzrin in the Golan Heights via Tsfat. It’s the very top of Israel; a little bit further and you’d need a passport!

Katzrin (Qatsrin) is 177 km north of Tel Aviv. When you look it up on Google Maps it’s surrounded by a whole bunch of dotted lines that chart the evolution of the border disputes between Israel and Syria. It is very close to both the Syrian and Lebanese borders. I have to admit I was a bit nervous about going there. My phone was definitely nervous with its frequent declaration of changing billing zones: “Welcome to Syria call costs are” … and then a few metres further “Welcome to Lebanon!” “Welcome to Israel…

After you have been in Israel for a while you get used to seeing soldiers. One of the first things I noticed about the soldiers in Katzrin, was how old they were.    They were real soldiers, not conscripts with training guns. They had real guns, they were not just doing their three years national service. The other thing I noticed was a large number of people who looked like they were from the Pacific Islands. They were little out of place, but it didn’t take long to figure out that they were the ones who were driving around in the UN jeeps. The Peace Keeping Observers.

I had a niggling feeling of discomfort. What was I doing less than 15 km from the Syrian border while there was a fair bit of activity going on?

I was sight-seeing and hiking that’s what! We had come “all” this way to take a walk through the Giliboon Nature Reserve, a popular walking destination for locals, just a few kilometres out of the town of Kaztrin.

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We began the trek by walking past mine fields; (ummm… ok… we’ll just stay on this side of the fence shall we) and then carried on to bombed out concrete bunkers that remained after the Six Day War between Syria and Israel. The bullet holes and graffiti competing for my attention with imported gum trees making the whole scene slightly surreal by reminding me of home.

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The grey sky threatened rain and the smell of eucalyptus hung in the cold air. The track spread out to reveal an ancient Talmudic Village –The Dvora Village. The age of the village is disputed, but some estimates put it at 5000 years and although the basalt stones lay around in unorganized piles after many earthquakes, there was enough order to get the sense of a once thriving settlement. A grind stone here, a drying oven there.  Cattle wander about, picking their way carefully through the rocks, timid and curious at the same time.

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The colours were great. A low, dark, foreboding sky with bright yellow lichen clinging to the stones.  We stopped and balanced on the rocks to eat a snack and I remarked that if we were in Australia, all this would be fenced off; either to protect the site or to protect the tourists. Here, the only hint of regulation was a single chain across a doorway and a rusty sign that said something along the lines of “Don’t climb the wall, it will probably fall and you’ll get hurt.”

The loop track is only 4 km but as we slowly slushed our way through mud, our shoes became weighed down by several kilograms of sticky black clay. We made fun of our pancaked boots[1] as they grew to gigantic proportions. We passed waterfalls, land crabs and native cyclamens growing in the crevices.

The metal ladders and carved footholds added a level of difficulty to the walk, especially with a baby in a backpack. The most intriguing sight took my scientific mind a while to work out. At first, I thought I was staring at a strange geological formation until I realised it was a rock covered in thousands of pieces of chewing gum!

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by gum!

In summer, the pools at the base of the Dvora Falls are popular swimming holes. We didn’t swim on this dreary January day but I marvelled at how peaceful it was despite the remnants of past wars all around us.

It was quiet.

Strangely quiet and it registered that there were no birds calling. No raucous cockatoos, no twittering blue wrens. I guess the birds had flown south and I made one more mental note of how different my daughter’s adopted home was to my own.

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[1] but forgot to take photos!

[2] just as a point of interest Israel is the 35th most populated country on a list of 233 and Australia 227th. The most populated is Monaco at 25,718 people per km2!! But that’s getting a bit close too a Pinterest vortex!

A lazy day on the Promenade.

First time visitors to Israel may be surprised to learn that things pretty much close down on Friday afternoon through to Saturday evening. While not all Israelis are observant Jews, the retail trade for the most part keeps Shabbat. You will, however, find many restaurants and cafes open. Just don’t expect to do any shopping or use public transport[1]. Think of Sydney in the late 1960’s when you had to rush up to Woollies before 12 on a Saturday!

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The roads are quiet with less traffic and the din of traffic abates. The streets are less hectic, and everything is slow and peaceful. It might be quiet but if you are into people watching head down to the Shlomo Lahat Promenade which snakes along the Mediterranean coast for a few kilometres from Tel Aviv Port down to Old Jaffa in the south. There is a good choice of eateries and plastic lounge seats on the sand where you can enjoy a beer or glass of wine.

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I spent almost an entire day walking along the Promenade last week and had a great time! I enjoyed classical music, dancing, singing and watching people exercise outdoors.

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A sting trio played a mix of show tunes and classical tunes.

Joggers and power walkers pound down the pavement dodging bike riders. There is a dedicated bike track,although in some of the more narrow sections, it  gets a bit tight so you need to keep an eye out.

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untitled (1 of 1)Surfboards and paddle boards are available for hire, but for an Aussie, the surf was not much to write home about. Speaking of surfing, the sand on the beach is pretty good. Pale gold- grey and small grain size so comfortable on the feet but NOT squeaky! There were people out surfing (in wet suits) but no swimmers. According to the signs, swimming is prohibited.

The Leonardo Art /Hotel building (a disused shopping mall??) which straddles a road has some interesting street art.

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This face had stuck on googly eyes! Never seen that before

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The dancing was fascinating.  Tel Aviv’s answer to boot scooting. A large group of more than 100 people dancing in a circle to traditional folk tunes. I asked a woman in the crowd and she told me it happens every Saturday. Some come alone, some in groups or with their partner.

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There is exercise equipment, a swimming pool and plenty of space for beach volley ball (mostly younger people) or a version of noisy tennis with hard rackets and a small ball (Mostly older people).

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These photos show some of the fun from that day. I would give it a 10 out of 10 for a cheap day out depending on how much you stop and eat and drink. Allow yourself three hours at least. Not so great on a cold, windy wet day but you could visit the Museums that are open if the weather is nasty!

[1] Have a look at this blog post for a summary of what is an isn’t open on Shabbat. It was written in April 2017 but seems a good summary based on my own experience. http://tlvxp.com/eng/shabbat

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