Monday, April 23, 2007

Yin And Yang

Israel is a country of contradictions. On the one hand it is at the forefront of technological innovation, and on the other it is tethered to ancient rites and traditions dating back to the bronze age. It is a melting pot of people from all over the world who are welcomed into society with open arms, and yet there are mountains of mistrust and misunderstanding with its closest neighbours. And despite being one of only two countries to have been founded on the basis of religion (the other is Pakistan), the founding fathers were intellectual secularists. And nowhere is this dichotomy more apparent than when comparing Jerusalem to Tel Aviv.

Jerusalem may be the larger of the two and the (disputed) capital, but Tel Aviv is the commercial and cultural powerhouse of the country. The atmosphere of the two cities is also palpably different. Jerusalem is rather cold and drab, and the religiousness of the place permeates the air. Hasidic Jews, with their austere hats and suits (and ankle-length skirts and headscarves for the women) form a large part of the community. The buildings are usually grey or dull yellow and there isn't much greenery in the centre of town. Tel Aviv, however, is colourful and airy, with wide, tree-lined boulevards, bright houses and nary a yarmulke in sight. For people in Tel Aviv Jerusalem is far too serious and they would rather concentrate on enjoying life: sipping a coffee in a streetside cafe, lazing on the beach, relaxing in the parks, taking the dog for a walk, and, the old favourite, shopping, are all favourite pastimes of Avivians. The burdens of history and convention do not weigh on the city as it is less than 100 years old, and yet in spite of that it has plenty of character, being dubbed the "White City" for its Bauhaus architecture. Although I'm not necessarily a fan of the style, often finding it rather boxy and utilitarian, the eclectic houses (no two are alike), with their vertical lines and simple curves, combine well together giving the downtown area a homely feel.

I've been staying here with Alex, a friendly guy I met whilst in Dahab and he has been kind enough to not only give me a place to stay but has shown me around a bit as well. A couple of days ago we even went rock-climbing and I realised two things: firstly I have no muscles in my arms, and secondly I have a lot of room for improvement as far as climbing goes, something I will have to work on when I finally return home. Anyway, last night was the start of Independence Day here in Israel (traditionally Jewish days start and end at sunset), marking Independence from British rule, and it was celebrated with fireworks, plenty of flag-waving, spraying people with foam, hitting them on the head with hammers (of the inflatable variety) and general merry-making in the streets. The eve of Independence Day in Israel is followed by "National Barbecue Day". OK, that's not the official name, but that's what Alex and his housemates call the day after when Israelis all over the country gather together at their homes, in parks, or on the beach and have a barbie. So I was roped into staying with Alex an co. for a relaxing afternoon of eating and chatting on their roof, watching the pretty Judean hills spread out below us. I must say goodbye to Alex tomorrow before I start overstaying my welcome and putting down roots thanks to his overwhelming hospitality

3 comments:

Kangaroo said...

Hei Erik,

hehe, yes I am blogging again. Evil, evil....I hope, I can keep it up though, as my city is not the most interesting place in the world.
Yes, I changed access to my other blog, but I might open it again. The reason why I changed it is just because...well....not so important reasons. The other day I was just very surprised when one of my students came to me telling me that I was in China...Thus, I assume that they have got the link too (don't ask me, wherefrom). I wasn't sure whether I want my students to read the blog, but actually I think, I do not really care...What do you think?

And, by the way: you have been travelling for two years now, right? What the hell did I do wrong that I wouldn't have the money to do the same thing? At least not now...

In two months I will be back in Thailand, yeah me. And I just checked Statravel. They have ridiculously cheap flights to China over Christmas. I am thinking about going there for about two weeks (500 Euros return only...)...

Well...I will see. However, good to hear from you :)

Take care,
Sabine

Ex-Shammickite said...

I really enjoyed all the contrasts of Israel when I was there. So many different cultures, languages, religions, customs. No wonder it's such a hotbed of dissent and conflict. I'm enjoying your posts, I like your colourful descriptions and observations. Keep it up (as the actress said to the bishop....)

Kangaroo said...

Israel sounds interesting - one more country on the list....
The funny thing about travelling is that the list of "countries to visit" gets longer not shorter the more you have seen...

Oh, thanks for the compliment - actually, I find it a bit hard to write humorous posts in English as this is not my mother tongue. In German I just write what comes into my mind, whenever I am in a crazy mood (so basically any time). But in English, I do not have the broad vocabulary with all the subtle differences in style, tone, humor etc...

I do not know how much you understand in German, but you should try to read Centi's posts (in my Linklist) - her writings are excellent! She is a star!

With regard to you I can only say that I am impressed about your cultural, historical and general knowledge...And your language sounds quite sophisticated. Reading your blog reminds me that I should vary my language a lot more...