Monday, 2 February 2015

Things I have remembered today

That I love maps!
I love studying them. I love the detail they give you. I love the way in which they allow you to get a sense of the lay of the land (quite literally!) I love following them as I discover new places… and I especially love maps for bus routes when visiting new places. I have also been reminded of my own rule to get hold of a decent bus map when visiting a new city or town. I’m sorry to tell you folks, maps on your phone/tablet are just not the same. When you are in a foreign land and you don’t want to eat up data – nothing will take the place of a paper map (that gets rain soaked, frayed around the edges and slightly torn at the creases after four or five days usage... I love it!) and what have I failed to do on arriving here... pick up a decent bus map... it's almost been a disaster.

That I love discovering new places
One of the things I really love to do when visiting a new place, cities especially, is to go on a bus ride from one side of town to the other. It’s a great way to get a feel for the different districts and suburbs. I like to notice the people and where they get on and off, as well as what they are wearing and what they are reading (or not). I like to notice the architecture and the way in which different parts of town change, quite literally, from one side of a junction to the other. I noticed this quite some years ago when I visited America, first New York and then San Francisco (clang, there’s are two place-name-drops!) Quite literally, you would pass from one side of the road to the other and the visible difference in poverty and wealth were so marked it was hard to believe your eyes. I’ve heard of communities being cut in two by train tracks or large roads but these are negligible when compared with the apparent, blatant even, societal change for no good reason than a set of traffic lights.

That I need to take water seriously
In the place I am staying in Jerusalem, the drains for the sinks and baths are under the floors rather than on the outside of the building. (I assume it is because the bathrooms are at the back of the building and there is a long corridor behind them. It sounds plausible, so I am going with it!) When you can hear the sound of water draining away beneath your feet, you take it more seriously. ‘Is the plug not in the plughole properly?’ ‘Doesn’t it fit?’ ‘Listen to how much water I am wasting as I run the tap and wait for the hot water to arrive.’ Now I’m someone who doesn’t bother with water on my toothbrush before brushing my teeth (believe me, you don’t need it) so there is no chance of me leaving leave the tap running whilst I brush my teeth, but I will own up to letting the bathroom tap run on as I wait for the hot water to come through. If I’m in the kitchen I use the water for the plants – but there are no plants upstairs… Today however, as I have listened to water running away beneath my feet (in a land where I also happen to know water is a previous commodity), I am reminded to take this commodity rather more seriously.

That I love being surprised art
At the Israel Museum there is an Art Garden (such a brilliant idea – a bit like Sculpture Parks but not so far out of town… possibly) There is an eclectic mix of sculptures and ‘installations’ – two of which particularly caught my eye: Equinox and Space that Sees. The first you come to is what looks essentially like a window inserted into the ground – and it is. However, it is above a large space carved out of the ground and the idea is that the sun (of there is any) causes a block of light to travel around inside the room – and the placement of this block of light will be determined by time of day, time of year and indeed, whether there is any sunlight at all. There is an additional catch – but I’ll leave you to discover it if ever your travel there! The second installation also plays with light being held in space – or not. I have to confess that when I first saw it I did wonder what to make of it. It is a large square white block and I assumed it was a large empty space that you couldn’t see into but that you were meant to infer that you 'knew' there was space inside it and that was enough. However, on walking away I noticed a small sign that indicated you had to follow the path around the corner. If you do so, you discover the way into the form – and it is not entirely what you might expect at all! The white square above ground has no roof and opens up to the sky. I was on my own and sky was a stunning cerulean blue and so I spent ages just looking up at this wonderful sight… wonderful and surprising and delightful all in one.

That people are kind and generous to you if try to speak their language
Travel to Calais or Boulogne and the French are quite rightly disdainful of the English who cannot be bothered to even attempt to speak French to them. Some of them are quite ride and I don’t blame them. I have very little Hebrew (make that very, very little Hebrew!) but, amongst other things, I can say Hello, Good morning/evening, Thank you and… shekel! I have found here in Israel that, if I say Shalom and then apologise for not being able to speak Hebrew, people are genuinely happy to try to assist me in my endeavours. In France, a very long time ago I had to ask for the head to be removed from some fish – the person spoke no English what-so-ever, and my French was slightly less dodgy than it is now – but with a ‘pas de tĂȘte’ accompanied by appropriate hand gestures (which made me feel like someone out of the French Revolution) it was mission accomplished. The man in the museum today to whom I said Shalom and Boker tov (and then had to assure it was still morning) came up to me later to say Good Afternoon and teach me how to say it too. Result! A new word for the vocab… and with that Laila tov to you all!

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