Wednesday 26 October 2011

Hugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble and Yossi

Did you hear of the racehorse named Wanwan? Or his mate Tutu?
Here’s a little ditty about them:
11 was a racehorse
22 was 12
1111 race
Which demonstrates nothing in particular, but introduces today’s topic of Names.
As Shakespeare put it over 400 years ago:
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
Would Rapunzel agree? Would Puccini have written Nessun Dorma if that was so?
* * *
Let’s try an exercise. Have you ever been to Banyas? Or the Flour Cave? Yes to both maybe, if you’re in Israel and fairly well traveled (it’s only a small country). But have you ever been to Savidor Central? Now that may sound familiar.... it rings a bell... I'm sure I've heard it before... Give up, where is it?

Well, it’s Israel Railways' name for Arlozoroff station in Tel Aviv. Everyone else calls it Arlozoroff, it’s on Arlozoroff Street, it’s next to the bus station which the locals also call Arlozoroff. (Well even the bus station isn’t technically called Arlozoroff bus station. Egged, the major bus company, calls it Terminal 2000, as if anyone traveling there 11 years ago died on the journey.) In fact the only ones who don’t call the train station Arlozoroff are some oldtimers-- who still refer to it as Train North (רכבת צפון) to differentiate it from the other station down south, which makes it wonderfully confusing, as ‘North’ becomes an alternative name for ‘Central’--and Israel Railways, who insist on naming the station after Menachem Savidor, who I’m sure was a superb chairman of the railways over 40 years ago, but, in all due respect, is not known by anyone travelling to and from Tel Aviv today.
And the same goes for Hashalom Station, which is another very popular stop in Tel Aviv and which everyone else, other than the railway company, calls Azrieli, the name of the large office/shopping complex that sits atop the station. (I’ve been wondering how long it would take to get atop into a blog. You just don’t see that word around enough these days.)
Now the considerate Jerusalem council has placed large signs all over its city telling you the name of each suburb. This is incredibly helpful to the residents of Jerusalem, who uptill now had only vague ideas of where they lived, and were completely lost if they had to rely on the kindness of others to send them in the right direction after their customary wild drinking bout downtown lasting way into the early hours of the... well way past 9 in the evening, anyway. Now helpful passersby can rely on the useful signs when the drunkard in question asks “Could you point me the way home? I live in Rasco, thanks”.
Only there too one can be confused. Some of the signposts give you two names, the official one, Like So, and the other one (Like So). That’s because there are official names of areas, say Manchat, which no one uses, and the popular names, which in this case is Malcha. And given that the sign, as with every roadsign, is in Hebrew, English and Arabic, it makes for a busy board.

But I’m not pointing all this out just for the fun of it. (If I wanted to do something just for the fun of it, I'd be sitting in the Prime Minister's Office planning the athletes' village for when Israel hosts the Olympics). No, I'm pointing this name business out because it can be misleading, and it could certainly make a difference to people not familiar with the area.

Recently some buses in Tel Aviv were equipped with a recorded information system. As the bus pulls up at each stop, a well spoken lady announces over the loudspeaker the name of the street, the address, even, in some cases, “the courthouse” or some such useful tidbit of info. This is indeed an applaudable step, and well worth an extra vote or two for the mayor. Only what was the bus company thinking when it chose to name, and record, one such bus stop by its street name: “Al Parshat Drachim”? I doubt you could find three people in Tel Aviv who know where that is. And that’s not surprising, either. It’s not a terribly long or famous street. Oddly it has no buildings on it, no shops, no houses, no bars, no football stadium, not even a kiosk. In fact no one would ever have read an address containing Al Parshat Drachim. But Dan, the bus company, somehow thinks that that’s what will help those passengers who need to alight at this stop. And where exactly is this bus stop? It is the stop opposite Arlozoroff, sorry Savidor, sorry Terminal 2000,... er um.. I mean, you know, it’s the stop you want to get off to catch a bus or train at the major transport hub of the country’s largest metropolis. You’d think that a bus that announces “Arlozoroff train and bus station” would be more helpful. 
Go figure.

Wednesday 5 October 2011

And you don't look a day over 5760, kayn ein hora

The Jewish New Year 5772 began this week. It's a time of internal reflection, according to our belief, of repentance, of resolutions, if you must, and looking ahead. Is it a time of jokes? Well only if it's completely relevant such as this one….
A man died and went to heaven, but at the pearly gates, there seemed to be some holdup. St. Peter (ok, so it's not ENTIRELY in keeping with the Jewish tradition, but I'm allowed some license here, folks) was flicking and flicking through his book, struggling to find the man's name. Finally he found it. "You see," St. Peter explained," you haven't been all that bad, but you haven't been all that good either. Now if you can tell me about some good deed you did that could tip the balance…" (You see, I knew there was a connection with our Ten Days of Repentance somewhere).
"Indeed, there was" replied the surprisingly well spoken recently deceased. "I was once driving along the highway, when I saw at the side of the road a gang of punks picking on a young woman, defenseless and alone. So I stopped the car, and called out. Immediately the gang turned around, and began to congregate around me. As the leader – a big brute of a fellow – came right up to me, I told him to leave the woman alone, and, just to make sure the message got through, I pulled his chain that went from his nose to his ear."
St. Peter was impressed. "When did this happen?" he asked.
"Oh about a couple of minutes ago," came the answer.
(Thanks to a friend of a friend for that one).

Now someone described my blog as "moaning". That is not true. Other people moan, you grumble, I make constructive criticism.
And just to prove it, here, in honour of 5772, for my family and friends, for my followers and fans, for my muses and consultants, and in honour of the State of Israel, I have prepared just a sample list of the wonders and joys that we should be grateful for here in Israel. So we thank Him for:
۞ The good weather, the rain in its season, and the sun and humidity in its season too, for desert coolers, when absolutely necessary, but most of all for the sea breeze which comes as far as my living room even in August. ۞ For the Bauhaus school of the arts, and for that extraordinary timing, which saw the school close in 1933, sending freshly trained architects and designers to the flourishing new city of Tel Aviv-on-Sea, and which resulted in the densest collection of Bauhaus style buildings in the world. ۞ For the unsung heroes and citizens of Israel that make this country what it is, that have made deserts bloom, the sun produce hot water, and through sheer collective willpower have managed to drive down the price of cottage cheese by up to 10%. ۞ For the wonderful taxi drivers, who continue to put in a full day's work even if their meters are broken, but especially for the taxi driver who drops you off after a 40 minute journey to some wedding hall out in the sticks, but insists on not being paid until the return journey. This is a driver who does not know you from Adam, does not have your phone number, but he'll back later, on trust, to take you back home. ۞ For the truly beautiful Israelis. It's a pleasure to be allowed to ogle them, gratis. An ogle a day keeps the doctor away. ۞ For falafel, shwarma, for humous fool, and me'urav yerushalmi (that's a greasy mishmash of last year's favourite bits of meat, slowly cooked over a warm match, served in a damp towel). ۞ For Eliezer Ben Yehuda who took a comatose Biblical Hebrew and made it living again.  ۞For a society so relatively free of crime, that the elderly can walk the streets and sit on park benches at night, without fear.  ۞ For the 300,000 who turned out to protest in favor of social justice in Tel Aviv's Kikar Hamedina, the heart of the city's upper-class, luxury goods shopping circle, and yet did not lay a finger on even one shop window. ۞ For the outstanding Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, and Zubin Mehta, its Indian conductor who can even charm his audience with ein bischen of Yiddish.  ۞ For the best fresh fruit and vegetables, sold in vibrant outdoor markets. ۞ For Jerusalem's light rail system, which has eventually become a reality. For those waiting for the moshiach, apparently he's arriving on the Tel Aviv light rail, so keep praying. ۞ For the beaches, and for the mysterious workings of His hand above (or plate tectonics, depending on how you look at it) for pointing our coast exactly west so that we, who manage to get there after a day in the office, can feast our eyes on a beautiful sunset over the Mediterranean Sea.