Tag Archives: Stories

Summer Travels 2011…(21) – Tel Aviv. Just waiting.

So I’m in Tel Aviv. And I’ve been walking. And writing. In the wake of the attacks near Eilat, things have escalated. Israel bombed the Palestinian-controlled Gaza, from which it believes the attacks originated, within hours of the shootings on the bus near the Egyptian border. There have been further incidents, including the shooting of Egyptian border police by Israeli forces, and rocket attacks of the city of Be’er Sheva, where I was headed just a few days ago.

Tel Aviv still exists in its bubble, but with its own tensions. Protestors camp out on Rothschild Boulevard, despite some calls that civil protest should abate in the wake of the terror attacks in the south in order that the country may pull together. However, the homeless and debt-ridden persist. As one tour-guide put it, “they’re looking for peace now, they’re so tired…after all the free performances, late into the night, from celebrities looking to support them, they just want to sleep!”. Its a different world here from that which exists, also on the glistening shores of the Mediterranean, just a few tens of kilometers further south.

So here’s a photograph of what I wrote when I walked, and a video…the tension is getting to me, and becoming harder to escape.

On a cheerier note, this film is about to come out, and shows in glorious aerial detail many of the places I have visited…

I’m off to try and lift my mood. Checked into a private room for tonight, at some expense…I cant go on without sleep. Especially with the anticipation of Ben Gurion airport’s notoriously stringent security checks tomorrow before I fly out. In a nod to the archi-tourist inside me, I hope to head for a Mario Botta designed synagogue at the Tel Aviv University campus tomorrow, hopefully to be reminded that beautiful places and spaces can lift the soul…

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Summer Travels 2011…(18) – Final Crit…

Its a mixed bag as we walk back from the bus stop after the final crit…I have the tang of tear gas in my eyes as it wafts on the breeze from an incident just outside the Old City, and the usual euphoric weariness that accompanies the passing of hours post-crit…

But it seemed to go OK. We gave a good account of ourselves, mostly through Marcelo, with whom I’ve been working this past week. From an urban planners point of view on ‘urban management’, we presented an analysis of existing land legal structure (i.e. ownership), and ‘urban tools’ for development, which included methods such as ‘saleable development rights’ for empowering individual landowners to negotiate with developers and the municipality. For me, its been an interesting exercise in meta-design – we didnt actually design anything beyond a road layout – and one that I hope will inform the way any masterplan is carried out on the ground. Ive always believed that designers dont pay enough attention to the way these things actually affect the built reality of places, and so despite the frustration, I’m glad we took the time to try to communicate some of it.

However, our ‘presentation’ was pushed to the periphery of proceedings this evening, scheduled for the final half hour before sundown – and therefore, before the breaking of today’s Ramadan fast. Considering the fact that the majority of our jury was muslim, and that designers don’t know how to keep to time, it was no surprise that we began late, and that we were cut off by the canon from the old city signalling time to eat…our audience evaporated as the traditional feast was brought out, and despite some attempts to resume later, we suffered from a greatly diminished attendance.

Tucking in to the Ramadan feast...

The ‘cool group’ – having this evening acquired the moniker “new romantics” – faced tough criticism from the predominantly planning-savvy jury, and their work seemed to be misunderstood. I thought it had some real value myself – and my problem with these people has always been the exclusivity of their operations within the wider design team rather than anything based on their design methodology. The videos will certainly make some interesting watching when I upload them…

Romatics crit...

The ‘hardcore urbanists’ faced similar problems of communication, with a number of local architects and planners on the jury expressing their opinion that whilst the project was an ‘interesting research’, it simply “will not work here in this context”. “This is not the netherlands”, said one jury member.

'Hardcore Urbanists' crit...

The general feeling – although I put a lot of it down to politeness – was that IPCC are pleased with the output of the study, its diversity of focus particularly, but disappointed that we couldn’t bring it together under one body of work. I’ve said this all along, and so it is with some satisfaction that I hear my thoughts echoed – although ultimately with frustration and disappointment. They seem to expect us to work at this this week…but my sentiment – as I suspect is shared by the majority here – is that IPCC have another thing coming.

Marcelo presenting our work on urban management strategy. We pinned up outside 'for a change of scene'...

..and continued after the Ramadan feast, in the dark, to a greatly reduced audience...

Just off out, either to a bar in West Jerusalem, or for some beers on my rooftop, and then tomorrow to Masada and the Dead Sea…looking forward to it very very much!

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Summer Travels 2011 (15) – Ramadan begins…

Following the roar of the canon, a deathly silence falls over the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem as the fast is broken on the second day of Ramadan. The usually bustling area of Damascus Gate is for the most part empty, whilst those that are here have mouths full from picnic feasts in the streets and on shop counters. If you hang around long enough, you’ll be invited to join them in their grateful celebration. After an hour or so, children take to the streets and firecrackers echo around the buildings of the Old City; the furore of daily life returns and will last until the Ramadan canon roars again at 4am, this time to signal the beginning of the next day’s fast. Many Muslims here simply translate their day to night in order to cope with Jerusalem’s oppressive heat and the religious duty not to partake of food or water during daylight hours.

The Palestinian Sanduqa family is by tradition responsible for firing the Ramadan cannon from the cemetery on Salah-Al-Din Street since the tradition began during Ottoman rule in the early 20th century. Recently, an Israeli mayor of Jerusalem allowed the recommencement of the firing, some say in an attempt to assuage the political heat resulting from the continuation of Municipality-ordered demolition of Palestinian homes in areas such as Silwan, near to the Old City, and Sheikh Jarrah. Personally, the explosion at 4am this morning to signal the beginning of the first day’s fast had me reaching for my mobile and its speed-dial to the British Consulate, such was my proximity to the canons home here in East Jerusalem…

Jerusalem's Ramadan Canon...

Another dull day at the office…I’m just waiting for the end on Sunday. But I did post a parcel home with some bottle of Taybeh and some Somak spices in…

The 'office' at the end of the road - a difficult journey to work in a difficult place with difficult people...(please consider this a generalization based on my exhausted patience...there are some pretty cool people too)

In the meantime, for those of you wondering about the history of Jerusalem as a contested city, liberal Israeli organisation B’Tselem has a useful page here.

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Summer Travels 2011…(14) – Tunneling under the city…

In a bid to ward off frustration at the office, I’ve started trying to do one interesting thing each day. Today I went to the City of David, to the south of Jerusalem’s Old City…this is often considered as the original inhabited city of the area. On the way, I passed s Star of David made from Re-Bar is perhaps a fitting symbol for the struggle being fought here….

Star of David made from re-bar adorns a shop frontage as we pass from the Christian quarter into the Jewish quarter of the Old City

The City of David is a contentious area right now, as it sits next to the ‘slum’ of Silwan, a primarily Palestinian neighbourhood. Israel is accused of ‘land-grabbing’ by claiming parts of this neighbourhood for ‘archaeological importance’, evicting Palestinians and then bringing in Jews to live in the renovated homes. Its growing importance as a tourist site, with the associated income generated, only adds to the bad feeling surrounding this issue…

Silwan on the facing hill, an outpost of the City of David at the bottom right

But it is a pretty interesting tourist site… the excavations themselves look like something off a Diploma architecture students drawing board (or CAD screen), and the Hezekiah Tunnel is a pretty exciting experience…
The tunnel was dug underneath the City of David in Jerusalem, and is mentioned in the bible (2 Kings 20:20)
Leading from the Gihon Spring to the Pool of Siloam, it was designed as an aqueduct to provide Jerusalem with water during an impending siege by the Assyrians. The curving tunnel is 533 m long, and by using a 30 cm (0.6‰) gradient altitude difference between each end, conveyed water along its length from the spring to the pool. According to an inscription, the tunnel was excavated by two teams, one starting at each end of the tunnel and then meeting in the middle. This achievement in itself in almost incomprehensible when you’re walking in the tunnel – the difficult feat of making two teams digging from opposite ends meet far underground is now understood to have been accomplished by directing the two teams from above using sounds generated by hammering on the solid karst through which the tunnelers were digging.

The excavation chamber...

And we had a good splash when we got out…

Splash.

And then I went to the office and produced some layouts for the work we’ve been doing. This is the limit of my capacity currently…I feel no ownership of anything the ‘studio’ has produced in its varied and seemingly incongruous ways, and therefore feel like I can only throw myself at publishing work.

It is, however, the first day of Ramadan…where muslims do not eat or drink during daylight hours, for the entire month. Because of the heat here, many muslims have simply re-orientated their day, sleeping during the worst heat, and then conducting daily business after they have broken fast in the evening. Unfortunately for me, this means that my peaceful new home is no surrounded by a bustling neighbourhood right when I need to sleep (including fireworks). Ah well, I should consider it a dose of culture I guess!

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Summer Travels 2011…(13) – When Plans Don’t Work, Jericho and Jerusalem

So this weekend has been a bit of a mishmash…I’d originally intended to travel to Sebastiya, near Nablus, and then on to Jenin and back to Ramallah for a party at the Taybeh Brewery (West Bank Christian Palestinians…)…but none of that happened due to various divergencies of planning, so I took the opportunity to chill at the new flat, and make some excursions closer to home.

Saturday saw me venture to the Museum On The Seam here in Jerusalem. Straddeling the Green Line (border between Israel and Jordan before the 1967 war), the bombed out former Arab villa now serves as a major Israeli contemporary art institution, exhibiting work that deals with reality of the socio-political situation here in this part of the Middle East. My personal opinion was that there was a lot of wank, but also some interesting pieces, particularly those that looked beyond the immediate situation and related to the wider world as well as to the particulars or the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Museum on the Seam - blast damage from its role as a border crossing between Israel and Jordan

Some of the work in the Museum of the Seam

After taking some time to relax, and think about where I want to travel after this workshop is over, I headed to Jericho with Marcelo. This 10,000 year old city is proported to be the worlds oldest continually inhabited city, although the ‘ruins’ leave a lot to be desired – the city has been sacked and rebuilt so many times that very little remains of the original fabric. None the less, it still made an interesting change from Jersualem, not least because of the heat! Jericho was about ten degrees hotter that Jerusalem, sitting at about 44centigrade today. It was also incredibly dry – at one point I thought the hot desert wind blowing in as we waited for our Service Taxi back to Jerusalem was causing a skin to form on my eyeballs….

We approached Jericho via Al’Eizariya, home to an Al-Quds (Arabic for ‘The Holy’, the name given to Jerusalem by Palestinians) University campus and site of recent contentious house demolitions by Israel. Al’Eizariya is also holds a strange legal status, being one of the suburbs of Jerusalem as an Occupied City. The Israeli Occupation has confiscated large amounts of land, for both a settlement and for the construction of bizarrely planned route of the Separation Barrier, which has created an enclave around the suburb, to which Israel controls routes in and out despite it being technically in the West Bank and under Palestinian Authority control. The activism of the university students manifests itself on any vertical surface available, whilst homes look cautiously over the Wall into the West Bank, fearful of demolition teams issuing from the city behind…

It doesn’t cost much to get to Jericho…about £4, but you certainly get your money’s worth if to equate it to altitude traveled…Jericho, near the Dead Sea, is one of the lowest points on Earth. Indeed we passed a layby on the highway claiming to be exactly equitable to to neighbouring Mediterranean, less than 100 miles away.

After the underwhelming Old City ruins at Tal-Es-Sultan, we headed to the Monastery of the Quarantil, on the Mount Of Temptation – built to mark the spot where Jesus is said to have fasted for 40days and 40nights before resisting temptation by the Devil. The stunning cable car ride was only topped by the Monastery itself, perched on the cliff face 200 or 300m up.

Monstery of the Quarantil

View over Jericho from the Monastery of the Quarantil

After sheltering from the heat – which had become almost unbearable by this time – we headed back into town and gorged ourselves on barbequed meats, pitta and hummus in a friendly Jericho restaurant before finding ourselves a Service Taxi back to Jerusalem. It was at this point- with the scorching desert breeze cooking my eyeballs – that I was reminded of the sporadic way public transport works in this country. Service’s don’t leave until they are full and we were waiting what seemed like an age, attempting conversation on broken english and pidgin arabic, before we were finally allowed to set off…

Stuffing my face in Jericho...

Back, and after a refreshing shower, I felt like exploring Jerusalem on foot as the sun set. I’ve been reading Amos Oz’s ‘In The Land Of Israel’, which I bought from a Palestinian book shop in Bethlehem. Its opening paragraph reads like this:

In the Geulah quarter of Jerusalem, on Rabbi Meier Street, imprinted on one of tehmetal sewer covers is the English inscription “City of Westminster” – a reminder of the British Mandate in Palestine, The grocery store that was here forty years ago is still here. A new man sits there and studies Scriptures. It is after the High Holy Days: in Geulah, in Achvah, in Kerem Avraham, and in Mekor Baruch, the tatters of the flimsy booths built for the Feat of Tabernacles are still visible in the yards. Thei rgreenery has faded and turned grey. There is a chill in the air. From porch to proch, teh entire width of the alleyways, stretch laundry lines with white and coloured clothes: these are the eternal morning blossoms of teh neighbourhood in which I grew up. The Kings of Israel Street, which was once Heulah Street, throbs with pious Jews in black garb, bearded, bespectacled, chattering in Yiddish, tumultuous, in a hurry, scented with the heavy aroma of Eastern Eurpoean Ashkenazi cooking. An ultraorthodox woman, young, very pretty, pushes a twon-baby carriage full of plastic net shopping bags with bread, vegetables, canned goods, fish wrapped in newspaper, bottles of wine, cooking oil, soft drinks. Her hair is modestly covered but her fingers are richly adorned with rings. She stops to chat with another woman in one of teh courtyards in a mixture of Yiddish, Hebrew and English…a Brooklyn accent in a figure from Lodz or Krakow

Oz was writing in 1993, and whilst I was disappointed to find Rabbi Meier Street now devoid of a sewer-related connection to my own heritage, I found the rest of the neighborhood pretty much as Oz described – a leafy, friendly-sounding (and gridded, I have to say, with regard to recent events on the Studio) neighbourhood, echoing with the sounds of families nearing the end of Shabbat (its Saturday today, and this highly Jewish are is pretty much shut down as families celebrate and spend time with each other): young couples walk dogs or push prams, whilst older parents use the use the cool of the evening to exercise their offspring after a day of family torture. Adolescent young men and pretty girls take to the streets, heading for the post-Shabbat get-together at freinds’ houses or down-town bars. Occasionally, a Yeshiva school can be seen, copies of the Torah strewn before the more studious. Until now, I have not felt empathy like this for a people, using the chance they have been granted to live the life they want to lead, free from oppression and persecution that has haunted the Jews for thousands of years. I’d like to know, however, how aware these happy families are, in their safe, green neighbourhood, of the things we have seen on the other side of the city and Separation Barrier. The video below is of my wanderings…

(VIDEO…coming soon)

With my wanderings complete, I sit weary at my laptop, hoping to get all this down before it escapes my memory, and looking towards the closing weeks of the studio with something resembling apathy…with any luck, something exciting will happen.

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Sam

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Summer Travels 2011…(12) – Sensemaking

I made the following two videos a while ago, but have only just managed to upload them since moving into my new flat. They should go some way towards making sense of the situation I’ve found myself in in Jerusalem.

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Summer Travels 2011…(11) – My New Flat and The Football

Ive moved out of the hotel and into a new flat in the Old City of Jerusalem! Which makes me an official Jerusalemite…

Living space....I actually have some living space!

Flatmate Rob from Canada...

Bedroom - not much, but actually comfier and quieter than the hotel...

The view from my roof 🙂

I’m right near the Damascus Gate, in a muslim neighbourhood that is one of the busiest bits of the old city. The same building is home to Rob, Marcelo, Dorota and Juana from the workshop, so we have almost a satellite studio from the house in Ras Al Amoud. This place is a world away from the hotel – so much more interesting and lively, and best of all, homely. I was beginning to feel pretty claustrophobic cooped up as a perpetual visitor, and so its great to actually have some living space and feel part of the city.

Yesterday’s post about the work in the studio can be found here, in which I talked about going to the football….well it turned out to be a pretty exciting game! Palestine drew 2-2 with Thailand, after having held the lead twice, including scoring the first goal inside 7minutes. The atmosphere was pretty exciting, this being only Palestine’s second competitive match on home soil since FIFA became one of the first international organisations to recognize them as a nation…

The 12,000 seater Faisal Al Husseini International Stadium...

What was particularly striking was the mix of people in the crowd. We met whole youth teams that had traveled from places like Hebron and Nablus, and groups of women, one of 9 sisters, who turned out in identical dress to support their national team. All ages, of both sexes, mixed in the stands.

A couple of videos below should give a feel of during and after the game, which took place in Palestine’s national stadium, jammed right up against the separation barrier in Al Ram, south of Ramallah and – if the wall came down – around 10minutes drive from Jerusalem.

So this morning is a lazy day…its so nice to have somewhere to chill out after a month of heat and dust and politics – both on the scale of nations and of individuals. This afternoon I think I might head to Sebastiya, near Nablus, and on to the Taybeh Brewery – the only brewery in the West Bank. I may then head to Jenin tomorrow…

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