Important News From Israel

I'm currently staying in a ridiculously beautiful studio apartment in the ridiculously beautiful Old Jaffa, and just down the block there's a coffee shop I've been working from called Alberto. And look what they do to their coffee-ice-cubes ahhhh!

In real news though, my flight back home to Boston is currently scheduled for tomorrow at midnight; but it's possible we'll be able to extend my stay for another week to wrap up some work. Will I need my passport in 24 hours, yay or nay? Stay tuned!

Update: I'll be heading back to Boston tonight, and will tie up some loose ends from there over the next couple of weeks. Super excited to share all of the stories I was able to witness and document with this amazing team.

Self Portrait / Love Story With Sandwich

True story: I was enjoying this tuna sandwich so much, I wanted to take a picture of it. This moment, right here; the smell of bread burning still in the air, the warm sun, flowers on the table inside, everything quiet. It was 4pm and I hadn't eaten yet. I thought maybe this was the best sandwich I had ever made in my entire life.

S. Y. Agnon Reading at Tmol Shilshom

A couple of hours after I first arrived in Jerusalem I was in the Shuk, and thirty minutes after I'd entered the Shuk it was pouring rain and a lovely Italian reporter I'd just met was ushering me into a cab. We were headed to the bookstore-café Tmol Shilshom, where the host of Israel Story was performing a reading of the satirist S. Y. Agnon's work.

Oh, did I happen to mention that the parents of one of my best friends and favorite people in Boston were there as well?

"I had no idea you'd be at this event!" I exclaimed to her stepmother, flying into her arms.

"Be at this event? I am this event," she responded. True story. To the left of Mishy, up front, is professor Sidra Ezrahi.

First Night in Jerusalem

You know when you're experiencing something, and right in the middle of that moment — it could be hours long or a millisecond — you can feel it being stamped indelibly on your brain? Like suddenly the drowsy court stenographer in your mind jolts awake, shakes herself, and begins furiously typing, and even as you observe the events unfolding you can already hear their narration — that same narration you will hear years from now whenever something pulls you back, again, again, to this nascent memory?

That is how I felt in the airplane when the clouds parted and I first looked down upon Israel, real Israel-not-just-in-books, and it is also how I felt as we ascended the hills into Jerusalem. The melting chocolate peanut butter cup in my hands. The windows down, the smell of rain in the air, and across verdant valleys and winding roads, shimmering beige fortresses peaked out of the clouds. I felt like the crane vending machine of time had suddenly plucked me up by the head, moved me haltingly toward scratched plexiglass, and dropped me right into this strange and ancient place. Where was I. When was I. What child had won me now.

Pictured: early morning view from the balcony of the fourth floor loft I'm staying for the week.

A Walk to the Tel Aviv Museum of Modern Art

Hoo! It's been nonstop sleepless action since I got to the beautiful city of Jerusalem, but before I get too behind, here are some more images from Saturday morning's walk to the Museum of Modern Art (including one interior shot, black & white). The hot air was completely unmoving that day, and I walked by multiple cabbies napping in their cars.

CULTURE SHOCK: pay phones are everywhere, and appear to be in regular use.

As the Storm Rolled In

I worked from a cafe this afternoon and lost track of the hour — by the time I was walking home it was dark, and the rain that had threatened the thick heat all day was just beginning to fall. Lightning filled the sky, and a wind came off the sea, bringing sand with it. The palm trees threw their shaggy heads about like dancing noodle air puppets, and women ran through the streets, laughing as they held their skirts against their thighs. I love the electricty in the air when the weather is like this; it's maybe my favorite time to shoot.

Pictured: tuxedo street cat on abandoned mattress in the yard. Flag in the wind above a storefront/residence. Rug store, closed for the night. Sentinel dog at the cell phone store. White kitty awaits mani/pedi at the spa.

Culture Shock For Nerds

"Tel Aviv is beautiful and all," someone told me the other day, "but if it didn't have the sea, it would be nothing."

As far as I can tell, most signs in this city telling you not to do something are purely decorative. People park their cars (and even drive if traffic seems bad enough) on the sidewalk. They swim far beyond painstakingly multi-lingual no-swimming notices (sometimes even for contaminated water — dozens of families lugging naked children seem to especially congregate beneath those signs). They move barricades. Earlier today I was halfway down a steep cliff staircase that was seeming more and more like my likeliest cause of death, when I saw the bottom and realized it was taped off and boarded up; I'd have to either ascend nightmare staircase again, or hop a chainlink fence. Someone had removed whatever warning or tape had existed up top. As it happened, I needed to wait at the bottom anyway, because a whole family had congregated and were working to bend the fence so that they could push through and climb up.

It's never malicious, or even mischievious. "Eh, or not," everyone seems to shrug — men, women, children, the elderly. I am immediately enchanted, every time. I want to follow them back to their lockers, watch them lean Jordan-Catalano style against the wall. "So you want to get out of here, or whatever?" they'd ask, and I'd pretend like it wasn't a big deal, but totally, totally.

A Walk to Jaffa

Burying Dad: kids playing in the sand on today's walk to Jaffa. (I didn't know it, but I was becoming quite sunburned at the time.)

The entire walk is along the coast of the Mediterranean, so I walked six miles today barefoot along fine sand and crushed seashells, the cuffs of my jeans slowly soaking up to my knees. I walked past the Dolphinarium and around the clock tower (under construction). I talked to an old Italian man in lederhosen about Greece and gathered pamphlets about walking tours/museums/potential propaganda.

When I exited the tourist center, the air was heaving mournfully with song, Arabic words floating down from invisible speakers. The alleyways were empty. The sun blazed overhead. I thought "I don't know what this is, but it's pretty much exactly how the Middle East is portrayed in movies." Where was the song coming from? Was it a prayer? I turned a corner and dozens of pidgeons took flight into the sky, the beating of their wings momentarily obscuring the melody; by the time they were gone, the song had ended.

Danger: Crumbling Brutalism

Since meetings today wrapped up just before sunset, I decided to drop off my laptop and wander back out toward the beach, heading away from the Port this time to see where that direction led me. I clambered on some lighthouse rocks, took some boring photos of sailboats and skylines to pass the time, and then boom, the light hit this hotel just right.

"Ta da, done for the day!" I cheerfully announced to myself. Extra credit: take a different route back to the apartment? I saw that immediately to my left was a large concrete staircase, vaguely in the direction of home. Probably there would be some kind of amazing view of the Mediterranean involved. I bounded up each step, propelled by joie de vivre.

When I reached the top I staggered, feeling like I had just landed in another planet.

It was a massive open plaza of concrete, with an even massiver building of squared passageways looming over it. Bloated concrete mushroom umbrellas dotted the landscape. Despite its busy walkways and occasional open stores, something about it put me on edge and made my heart hurt at the same time. The active storefronts contrasted with the vast cold, dense emptiness like a suddenly wandering eyeball on a dead body. Where was I?

Turns out I was at Atarim Square, built in 1971 to house over 200 businesses but "nowadays, considered one of the most unsuccessful projects built in Tel Aviv."

Another funny thing about this space: I thought I had been in it much longer than I actually was, and when I got home I couldn't believe that so few of my images were from Atarim — apparently my eyes took more photos than my shutter finger did. Spiral staircases to nowhere; deep wells in the cement leading to dimly flickering parking garages. Graffiti and infinite passageways into darkness, all very appropriately set to the muted echo soundtrack to Nightmare, a haunted horror maze attraction that's taken residence just downstairs.

Yeah, I left before the sun set. Who even needs ghost actors and projected monsters when you have pillars of concrete?