Wednesday 21 June 2017

People Watching In Jerusalem

People watching has to be one of the most interesting activities associated with travel. It offers the opportunity to observe the daily life of locals and the reactions of visitors and can include moments of humour, poignancy and surprise. It's a bit like going to the theatre, only for free.

Jerusalem is one of my favourite cities and is possibly one of the most interesting places in the world to people watch. It is home to many communities, important to three major religions and attracts visitors from all over the world, some of whom come for reasons of faith, others to enjoy its world class museum and galleries and yet more come to see what all the fuss is about. On my recent visit I devoted lots of time watching the city's residents and visitors and capturing some of them in the photographs featured in this post. 

There are many places to people watch in Jerusalem, some of which I am very familiar with, whilst others, although not unknown to me, are places I had not previously spent much time in. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City, falls firmly into the latter category. Of course, I had visited there before but have never lingered and had not realised just how diverse its visitors and "residents" are. During the course of a couple of hours in the church itself and in the front courtyard, I saw a group of nuns from Singapore, Muslim tourists from India, Arab Christians, enormous numbers of Russian Orthodox pilgrims, a group from Moldova, Ethiopian Christians and Israeli Jews. 

People come for many reasons - to light candles, to kneel before the spot where Jesus is believed to have been buried, to admire the beauty of the church as a piece of architecture, to hear a tour guide talk about the tensions and squabbles between the different Christian groups that jealousy guard "their" part of the church, to take selfies or just to sit quietly for a time, lost in thought. Those squabbles can occasionally turn violent if one group feels another is trying to take over its area and there have been occasions when the Israeli police force have had to be called whilst the keys to the church are held by a Muslim family in order to avoid unseemly quarrels between the denominations.

Elsewhere in the Old City the narrow alleys of the shuk teem with merchants, shoppers, tourists and the occasional religious procession. On shabbat (Saturday), the shops and cafes of the Jewish Quarter are closed but the rest of the Old City is packed as locals shop for freshly made bread, spiced ground coffee, meat, fruit, vegetables and other provisions whilst the tourists search for souvenirs. There are also quiet alleys with few shops and it was in one such street that I met Hassan, an elderly shoe repairer. His shop is not much more than a narrow cupboard with shoes and materials piled up from floor to ceiling behind his tiny work space. He told me he had worked in the shop for eighty years but I suspect he meant he was 80 years of age - I do not speak Arabic, he does not speak English and I found his Hebrew hard to understand. One of his neighbours was selling t-shirts, or at least he was waiting to sell them and whilst waiting he sat reading the newspaper. I couldn't resist photographing him.

Ben Yehuda Street is a short walk from the Old City and one of the busiest streets in Jerusalem. Lined with cafes and souvenir shops it also attracts musicians of varying styles and ability. This is especially so on Friday mornings where it is not unusual to find superb musicians playing classical music, jazz and more recently, eastern instruments such as the kamancheh player pictured below.

The street runs into Kikar Zion, a square (or more correctly a circle) where there are weekly evening craft markets, where people sit and chat and where musicians come to play and entertain.  Of course, musicians can be seen in all of the world's cities but Jerusalem is a city of surprises and one evening I was surprised to see an Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jewish couple entertaining a large crowd - him on the drums and singing, her magnificent on electric violin and even singing a little. This was surprising for a number of reasons. First, Haredi women do not generally sing in public and certainly not in a public square (but of course, there are varying degrees of Orthodoxy within the community), but more even more surprising was their eclectic repertoire. Beginning with Israeli folk songs they continued with Queen's "I Want To Break Free", Toto's "Hold The Line" and finished with a rousing rendition of Michael Jackson's "Black or White". Their audience was equally eclectic with a mixture of secular and religious Jews, Arab teenagers and tourists from many countries. And just when I thought I'd seen it all, another Haredi man arrived and performed the famous bottle balancing trick which involved balancing five bottles on his lip before commencing to clap in time to the music and perform a careful jig! This is Jerusalem.

Shuk Machaneh Yehuda is one of Jerusalem's best known tourist attractions but it is also the place where many of the city's residents go to buy their fruit, vegetables, spices, bread, coffee, meat, fish and household items. During the day the shuk (market) is packed wth shoppers whilst in the evening when most of the stalls have closed, it transforms into a busy social area with restaurants, cafes and bars. It's also a great place to watch and photograph people. Some of the stallholders will happily pose for pictures as they are used to the tourists, some of whom visit in specially guided "tasting" tours, but I prefer to try to get candid "street" pictures such as the three below. The first one shows customers considering bread and biscuits at one of the evening stalls - I liked the look of concentration on each of the shoppers' faces. This second shot took me ages to get. It was taken on a Friday morning when crowds of people were waiting to buy from the stall so I had to wait for a gap in the crowd and for the pancake to be in midair before shooting with a burst. It was worth waiting though. I took the third picture because I liked the style of the elderly gentleman with his snazzy purple trousers, contrasting shirt and kippah worn at a jaunty angle. He looked to be about 70 years of age but was still turning heads with his "look".

The man in purple made me think about the many different styles of dress that can be seen in Jerusalem. Some of them are dictated by the religion of the wearer and of course there are many variations of dress within each faith. The pictures below show some of the city's many styles as well as a few more favourites of mine from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre - I especially liked the lady in green taking a picture with her pink covered telephone.

First time visitors to Jerusalem who are interested in street photography or regular visitors who want to experience a new side of the city might be interested in taking an Israel Photography Tour either privately or in a small group. The tours include lots of great opportunities for photographing the real Jerusalem as well as the opportunity for technical tips and advice. More details here.

You might also like Jaffa - The People in the Shuk

You can see more pictures from Israel here.

Sunday 11 June 2017

Tel Aviv - Five Favourite Bauhaus Buildings

There are approximately 4000 Bauhaus buildings in Tel-Aviv. Most of them were built during the 1930's and many were the work of Jewish architects forced from Europe due to the rise of fascism in Germany and Austria and growing anti-semitism across the continent. These white concrete structures led to Tel-Aviv becoming known as the White City and to its securing UNESCO World Heritage Status in 2003.

Over several decades many of the buildings have fallen into a poor state of repair but in recent years a significant amount of restoration has taken place, precipitated to a large extent by the UNESCO award but also by the commitment of architects and activists and the growing interest of the city's inhabitants. It was this built heritage that first drew me to Tel-Aviv and although I have been visiting for many years now, my fascination with the architecture (and the city generally) has not diminished. I have photographed hundreds of Bauhaus buildings over the years and have written about several of them previously. This is the first in a series of posts highlighting some of my favourites. 

Shimon Levi House, 56 Lavandah
Lavandah Street is in the extreme east of the city, some distance from the commercial heart and close to the run down area around the main bus station. It is not the most obvious place to look for architectural treasures but it is where you will find the Shimon Levi House sometimes known as the ship due to its nautical appearance. Designed by Arieh Cohen and built from 1934-35 it is today somewhat stranded, surrounded by extremely busy roads. It is a long, narrow apartment block which originally stood on a sandstone hill that had to be excavated when an approach to the central bus station became necessary. This left the building on a podium supported by retaining walls.

Despite having seen better days, the house retains a striking presence on this extremely busy corner. There are several other Bauhaus buildings in the neighbourhood, one or two of which have recently been restored. It is to be hoped that the Shimon Levi house can benefit from similar help before much longer.

Former Ha'aretz Print Works, 56 Mazeh
56 Mazeh Street was built in 1934 as the print works of the Ha'aretz newspaper. Father and son architects Joseph and Ze'ev Berlin designed the building which stands in an otherwise residential street. The newspaper ceased use of the premises many years ago but the current commercial users have retained the beautiful facade with its glazed stairwell, narrow open railed balcony and steel framed windows. Originally the facade also featured the newspaper's name in stylised Hebrew lettering but this was almost certainly removed when ownership changed. A modern block, sympathetically designed, now sits behind the old print works. The Berlins designed many of Tel-Aviv's Bauhaus buildings either together or working separately. Joseph Berlin, Ze'ev's father also worked in the earlier eclectic style and examples of his work in this genre can still be seen around the city.

Poliashuk House, 1 Nahalat Binyamin
The Poliashuk House at 1 Nahalat Binyamin stands on one of Tel-Aviv's most prominent corners at the junction of Allenby and King George streets and adjacent to the Shuk HaCarmel. Built in 1934 and designed by Salomon Liakowsky and Jacob Ornstein, it was allowed to deteriorate for many years but has recently been restored, the graffiti removed and a boutique hotel opened in the upper levels. Yehuda Poliashuk, the orignal owner filled the building with 50 offices and 15 shops including the famous Naalei Pil (Elephant shoe shop) which was particularly popular with children as it gave balloons and yo-yos to its young customers. During the period of the British Mandate, it also housed the clandestine printing shop of the Etzel, which produced newspapers and flyers agitating for independence from Britain.

Following the restoration it is possible to get some idea of the original grandeur as it retains  its art deco portholes, roof top terrace and pergola and streamline design including that beautiful curved corner. The exterior is covered in beige ceramic tiles rather than the more usual concrete and there is a plaque on the Nahalat Binyamin facade, bearing the date of construction ad the architects' names. If you want to see inside you can book into the Poli House boutique hotel or perhaps just have a drink in the hotel bar. Other buildings further along Nahalat Binyamin are now being restored although the street is still a long way from its original splendour.

Jacobson's Buildings, 28 Levontin
Jacobson's Building at 28 Levontin has also been recently restored. Originally designed as an office block with shops on the ground floor, in practice it has always included residential units. Occupying a large corner site, it comprises three sections in a horseshoe shape. The southern facade has both protruding and recessed balconies whilst the corner stairwell has a fabulous semi-glazed "ladder" to admit light and complements the narrow windows on the adjacent curved wing. The doorway and the lobby have several art deco features although I have only ever been able to peep at these from the street! Designed by Emanuel Halbrecht and completed in 1937, the restoration and extension took place in 2012 under the supervision of Nitza Smuk architects. The works included increasing the number of apartments and changing their arrangement, installation of security rooms and lifts as well as the authentic restoration of the commercial elements on the ground floor.

Levontin Street lies in the once forgotten but now rediscovered and edgy, artsy Florentin neighbourhood. On my recent visit I noticed that a couple of Bauhaus buildings on the adjoining Mikveh Israel street are now being restored and that works on a Yehuda Magidovitch designed eclectic style building on Levontin itself are almost complete. Perhaps these works were stimulated by the success of Jacobson's Building.

94-96 Dizengoff
And speaking of Yehuda Magidovitch, my final choice for this post is one of his works - 94-96 Dizengoff. It is one of several structures surrounding Kikar (circle) Dizengoff - a spectacular, properly planned circle, which was constructed in the 1930's and which lies at the heart of the city. The original design proposed commercial units on the ground floor of all buildings in the circle with public functions on the first floor. The overall design displays some of Le Corbusier's principles including horizontal ribbon openings, pilotis, a smooth facade and roof gardens. Extensive works are currently being carried out to restore the original centre of the circle with grassed areas replacing a very hard and not much loved raised concrete walkway constructed in 1978.

The preservation and extension works were carried out by Bar Orian architects in 2014 and included reconstruction of the apron balconies, horizontal windows and white plaster. Two new floors were added following the original design together with a further floor, set back from the facade and not visible from the street. Several new shops have opened on the ground floor including my favourite Tel-Aviv cafe - Nahat which is small but beautiful, with great coffee, friendly staff and the best cheesecake in the city. Great architecture, coffee and cake - what else could you want?

You might also like Bauhaus Revival on Rothschild

Friday 2 June 2017

Jaffa - the people in the Shuk

Jaffa's Shuk HaPishpishim (fleamarket) is one of Tel-Aviv-Yafo's most popular attractions. It is also one of my favourite places in Israel. Full of shops and stalls selling antiques, carpets, clothes, bric-a-brac, food and drink, it's a great place for strolling and browsing. I love looking at the items for sale, occasionally picking up a bargain and regularly stopping for a drink or a snack. But the thing I enjoy most of all is watching the people that make this place so special - the merchants, the shoppers and on Friday, the musicians and entertainers. I recently spent a week in Jaffa, visiting the shuk every day and getting to know some of the people who work there. Several of them agreed to pose for photographs whilst I captured others in more candid shots. This post features just a few of my favourites.

The merchants

Along Oleh Zion Street, there are several shops selling carpets, rugs and other handmade floor and furniture coverings. These are not just any old carpets but beautifully crafted pieces from Turkey, Persia (Iran), Afghanistan and Uzbekistan. Many of them are antique and were made up to 100 years ago. The merchants are happy to show their wares to visitors and serious shoppers will be treated to Turkish coffee and long discussions before coming to a decision to purchase. The shop owners are not only merchants - they are also craftsmen who can be seen sitting outside their shops repairing carpets whilst waiting for customers. 

Many of these craftsmen were born in Iran, learning their skills there at a young age and coming to Israel after the Khomeini regime was established in 1979. There were once 100,000 Jews in Iran, with major communities in Isfahan, Shiraz and Teheran with a history going back to the sixth century BCE. Today there are probably no more than 10,000 Jews living there. The two men pictured at work were both born in Iran and have shops on Oleh Zion Street. I was struck by Shalomo's expression, clearly delighting in his work and by Reuven's chic style with his hat and scarf. Both continued to work as they told me their stories.

The shuk has changed significantly in recent years with fewer of the older merchants and more and more modern boutique shops selling a range of products including soaps, candles, furnishings and food items. I like both styles. The mix is very appealing and attracts a most eclectic audience but it will be a terrible shame if the older more serendipitous concerns disappear all together.

I met Mikhail in the Greek Market, just north of Oleh Zion. He has a small shop there selling antiques and vintage items. His collection includes hanukkiot, siddurim (prayer books) with silvered Bezalel School of Art designed covers, small sculptures and a range of old household items. We got talking when I asked him about a tiny, blackened metal item that turned out to be a small cooker, more than 80 years old.  Mikhail told me he was born in Afghanistan and came to Israel as a child about 60 years ago. He was very happy for me to take his picture and reminded me several times to come and see him again when I next visit the shuk. I liked his kind, open face and those bright eyes that remain the eyes of a much younger person. I asked him about his beautiful kippah with it's bright colours and decorative detail. He told me it came from Afghanistan along with the family.

The shoppers

The shuk attracts many kinds of people. Some come to buy expensive items from the modern shops. Others come to the real "flea" section at the back of the market. This is a browser's paradise with goods spread haphazardly over stalls or on sheets on the floor. In this part of the shuk you can find just about anything - vinyl records, Russian military pin badges, books, second (third, fourth, fifth) hand clothing in great heaps, shoes, hats, electrical goods and glass or metal items. The stall holders here are diverse as are the shoppers who include religious Jews, Arabs, Africans, Chinese, Filipinos and tourists from all over the world. You might even see one of the more established stall holders in here searching for items that they will later sell from their own shop.

One of the things I enjoy most here is watching the faces of the serious browsers as they hunt, pounce or consider whether they will make a purchase or not. Then of course comes the discussion about price. The man looking at the books and discs is deep in thought, having a "buy or not to buy moment". I wonder if he went ahead with a purchase.

On first site, I thought that the man with the guitar was one of the many musicians and entertainers who sometimes turn up in the shuk. Then I realised that he was trying the instrument out before deciding whether or not to buy it. As with our other pensive shopper, he appears deep in thought and somehow aloof from all around him. I really like his very cool shirt. Speaking of fashion, I also spotted a rather fabulous lady wearing leopard skin print, leafing through a book.  She had picked it up from a chaotic pile of "stuff" that includes bags, clothes, more books, an old radio and one of those revolving electric fans. A veritable department store.

The entertainers 

Friday is my favourite day at the shuk. As well as the regular shops, traders and cafes, there are extra street stalls in the Greek Market where local artists and artisans sell their work. It is also the day when singers, musicians and other entertainers come along to perform. One of my favourites is a musician who plays the kamancheh, an Iranian stringed instrument, sometimes accompanied by two other players. Their traditional Persian music is hauntingly beautiful, always attracts a crowd and on at least one occasion provoked loud ululation  from a female passerby!

Others include the wonderful mime artist who puts on an amusing, witty and sometimes sad performance to a variety of songs ranging from French chansons to modern pop music. Elegantly dressed in trousers with braces (called suspenders in North America but definitely not in the UK!) he fits in very nicely to the surroundings of the Greek market and could easily have come directly from Saloniki. Just a few steps away from him you can see another kind of street theatre as a young woman produces enormous bubbles by soaking a hoop in detergent and then letting the wind catch it. As a child I loved those small bottles of bubbles we would be given from time to time so this is a real throwback for me. And clearly not just for me as she gathers quite a crowd of adults (and children) taking pictures or trying to catch or burst the bubbles.

Then there are the people passing through, stopping to chat with friends or just enjoying the atmosphere like those in the pictures below. Watching people must be the best free entertainment there is. I can't wait to return before the end of the year...

Shuk HaPishpishim is open from Sunday - Friday. Most of the shops and stalls are closed on Saturday for shabbat although several of the restaurants are open.

Read more about the Fleamarket here.