The Hidden Dimension (4 cents)

It’s been many years since I have read Edward Hall’s The Hidden Dimension, a book written in the 1960s about human perception of space.  As I recall this extremely fascinating book, the premise was the perception of space was not a constant among people, but was highly influenced by culture.  The two examples that I recall best were (1) how close people are when they speak to each other (i.e., in some cultures, the speaker gets right in the face of the listener; while it others, this would be very rude and make the listener very uncomfortable), and (2) where private space lets off, and public space begins (i.e., in some cultures, in an office setting, the space directly outside of a private office, or even the space within the door jamb, but outside of the private office itself, is purely public space, so that a conversation ignoring the office denizen can take place, while in other cultures, it is unspeakbly rude to hold a conversation not including the person in the private office).

I think about Hall’s book fairly often, and that includes today, when I am thinking about the difference in space perception between the United States and Turkey.

In Washington, as I walked up Connecticut Avenue, I noticed how wide the sidewalks were.  I glanced at the windows in the stores on my right and as I passed a cosmetics store which had placed two small displays outside the door, I was startled, as if they had somehow invaded my public space (although it was not a very bothersome invasion).

Then, I recalled Istanbul, where every store spills out into the street.  Even where the sidewalks are very narrow, there can be large and multiple displays of wares on the sidewalks, or in the case of a restaurant, tables that go to the very edge of the street.  Who cares of pedestrians have to actually leave the sidewalks and go into the street in order to get from one block to the next?  Certainly not the Turks, as this is much the norm throughout the city.

Different perceptions of public and private space.   Different perceptions of who controls the space in front of a shop.   Neither perception is better or worse, I assume, although for me, today, the Turkish way, because it is exotic and unusual, seems by far the better.  But I would assume a visiting Turk might love the wide and unobstructed American sidewalks and, like me, be a little jarred, when two small cosmetic displays violate their public space.

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Tel Aviv

This posting is about the city of Tel Aviv. It is not about politics or religion, so don’t worry, you can read on without raising your blood pressure.

I have just returned from my fifth visit to Tel Aviv in the last nine years. On two of those trips to Israel, I have skipped Jerusalem. But I have never skipped Tel Aviv.

It is clear to me that those of you who have not been to Tel Aviv (or who have only been there for a day or two) wonder why I have found (to my surprise) Tel Aviv to be one of the most appealing and comfortable cities I have visited. Those (and especially those who are not Jewish) who have not been to Israel have a distorted view of the country. Often I have been asked why I would want to vacation in a war zone, where I am liable to be blown up at any minute. Once, I was asked what I wear in Israel, do I wear more “traditional” clothes when I am there (an intriguing question, I thought)? But never have I been asked “How do you like Tel Aviv?” or “What is Tel Aviv like?” After visiting anywhere else, these are the two questions you are most likely to hear.

A few basic facts.

First, Tel Aviv (or more correctly, Tel Aviv/Jaffa) itself is not a big city (less than 400,000) but it is the center of a metropolitan area of more than 3,250,000, and it has the feel of a large metropolitan city.

Second, Tel Aviv is the economic and, in most regards, cultural capital of Israel. It is (for the most part) highly prosperous and looks it.

Third, Tel Aviv is a very cosmopolitan city. It is a city where you could say with regard to most residents: “Funny, you don’t look Jewish”. And of course, many of them are not, but those who are come from so many places (Israel, Europe, the USSR, Iraq, Yemen, North African, Iran, Ethiopia, America and Australia to name a few) that they cannot be typed physically.

Fourth, Tel Aviv is primarily a secular city, in that the vast majority of its residents are not Orthodox Jews. But that does not mean that men and women in traditional dress, or men with knitted kippot (yamakahs) of various kinds, are not to be seen on a regular basis.

Fifth, Tel Aviv is well known as a mecca for the young, and so it is. But there are plenty of older (and indeed old) people there as well.

So what’s so nice and accommodating about it?

Of course, it is on the beach. By that, I don’t mean that it touches the sea; I mean that it has a broad beachfront that is miles long, and is virtually all public. And it is right downtown. And there is a beach front with several miles of first class hotels and hotel facilities, along with the usual restaurants and fast food outlets, and a boardwalk (not bounded by shops) that stretches the entire beach. The beach is there for sunning, sitting, swimming, running, frisbee, volleyball and dog walking. And it is in constant use.

And of course, it has its share of museums and cultural venues. The Tel Aviv art museum is a quality museum. The museum of the Diaspora, located on the campus of Tel Aviv University, may not be worth repetitive visits (I am not sure how often exhibits change), but it is clearly worth one or two long and fascinating visits. The Eretz Israel (Land of Israel) museum has displays in several buildings about the long history, art forms and crafts of this part of the world. The Palmach Museum (which I have not visited, but have heard much about) is a world class military museum. And there are more. There is also the home of the symphony orchestra and the Susanne Dallel Center, which is a home for theater and dance. There is the famous Habima and Cameri Theaters, and a theater complex in Jaffa, the traditional Arab section of the city. There are many urban parks (including the large Ha-yarkon Park and many smaller ones). There are homes of famous Israelis, such as the first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, and poet H. N. Bialik.

But what I like best about Tel Aviv is its overall feel and personality. The large central portion of the city contains the world’s largest selection of Bauhaus and modernist residential buildings. Tel Aviv is a UNESCO World Heritage site because of its 1920s-1930s architecture, and its urban layout, which provides for a series of long, undulating commercial streets, connected by smaller residential street, with four story white concrete apartment buildings of modernist architecture, with balconies, windows designed to keep out the sun and bring in the breezes, and trees and flowering plants all around. Strict architectural controls and incentives exist to preserve and protect these buildings and neighborhoods.

The commercial streets have their own charm. Generally, you find retail establishments on the ground floor with a variety of residential, hotel or commercial uses above. Some of these buildings are in perfect repair, while others show the ravages of time and some look abandoned above the first floor. But this abandonment does not affect the retail usage, and does not affect the street life.

And, outside the areas of the “white city”, Tel Aviv is a high rise city, with many buildings of 30 to 40 stories, most of which happen to be of exquisite architectural design, like the Azraeli Center, which includes three high rise buildings, one square, one round and one triangular, of otherwise identical design.

Tel Aviv is a cafe city. On virtually every block, you will find cafes flowing out into the streets, serving coffee and pastries and light meals and full meals. It is an ice cream city, and a snack bar city, and a falafel city. It is a restaurant (fancy and otherwise; kosher and non-kosher) city. And it is a club city, with a reputation as the “city that never sleeps” (but that IS for the young).

And it is a shopping city. Women’s designer clothing boutiques abound. Men’s stores, children’s stores, book stores, toy stores, souvenir shops, galleries, Judaica shops. In the hundreds (perhaps the thousands), and all looking like they do a good business.

It is a city of outdoor markets. The large flea market in Jaffa, the enormous Carmel market (daily, with both food and clothing), the Friday craft market. It is a city of districts (the unique historic Jaffa district with its Arab architecture; the restored district of Neve Tzedek, the city’s original Jewish district now about 100 years old; areas where every shop sells fabrics, areas where every shop sells household goods, areas where every shop sells inexpensive clothing and others where the clothing is ultra expensive.

It is a city where, if you speak English, you will not have a problem. Street signs are in English as well as Hebrew and because English is a required language in the schools, all young people and most older ones can converse to some level. It is only the recent emigrees who have had no English (like those from the Soviet Union).

I am not sure if it would be different if I were not Jewish. Perhaps so, not that I think there is anything particularly Jewish about the city itself, but maybe I would note the lack of something that I would miss. And, it may be that one short visit does not do it; that you need to return a few times. And of course, who knows what I will think after visit no. 6.

Catching Up

We have been too busy since we returned on Saturday from California. But now, I have a little time, so I will try to catch you up.

First, California (from our limited vantage point) is a mess. We flew to Burbank, which looked OK, but as we drove to Palm Springs on routes 5, 60, and 10, things looked pretty awful. The roads are in bad shape. We stopped in Pomona; it looks like it is falling apart. Even Palm Springs looks like it has lost many of its upscale shops, has gained retail vacancies, and looks down at the heels.

Second, in spite of all of that, as you go south from Palm Springs in the Coachella Valley, the towns of Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert and Indian Wells look just fine.

Third, we had two very good meals in the desert, the first one at St. Germain and the second one at LG Steakhouse (LG = Leon Greenberg it appears). I had delicious Lake Superior whitefish at the first dinner, and salmon at the second. We also had a couple of good simple lunches, one at a small Mexican fast food restaurant called Senor Baja in Upland CA, and one at the Paris Cafe, a not fast food French fast food-looking restaurant in Palm Desert. We also had two dinners at Outback Steakhouse in Burbank. The first (we had salmon and tilapia) was excellent (we were surprised), but when we returned the night before we flew from the Burbank Airport, it proved that you cannot go home again (although for me the sour apple martinis made it all worthwhile). We had one dinner at the Renaissance Esmarelda in Indian Wells (where we stayed); it was more than adequate, and the breakfasts there were first class.

The Marriott Courtyard in Burbank is a fine place to stay if you fly into Burbank (the airport itself is a treat, a carry back to the 1950s, with the baggage collection room outdoors, and the rental cars a little hop, skip and jump away), even though you cannot walk or easily drive to first class restaurants. The Esmarelda was (as always) also a fine place to stay, although I blew it. When we checked in, we were told that because we were such loyal Marriott Rewards members, we were being given an upgraded room on the best floor. “Terrific, as long as we have a mountain view,” I said. I was told that we had a pool view, and I asked to be switched. The room we got had a mountain view, but was certainly not upgraded.

We were able to take three short hikes at three different places, which in fact were quite different from each other. First, we went to Indian Canyons, which is beautiful. There are miles and miles of trails, of course, and we could only choose one very close to the parking lot. It took us down a hill into a tropical, pine treed oasis/valley, with a stream running through it (the water was quite high due to recent, rare rains) and which required a turn around after about a mile because the steam was too quick to ford. Remember ‘Into the Wild”?

Secondly, we went to Santa Rosa (near Palm Desert; Indian Canyons is near Palm Springs), where the trail was much dryer.

Thirdly, we drove the 40 miles to Juniper Tree National Park, which we drove through (beautiful) and stopped at Hidden Valley, a one mile circular trail that goes into a secluded valley which has a wider variety of leafy plants and trees not found elsewhere in the large park.

For each of these walks, the weather, to our surprise, was beautiful. Deep blue, cloudless sky. Temperatures in the low 60s. Just wonderful.

Oh, yes, we did go for a conference and, aside from my speech (which went quite well), I only attended one session and the board meeting. That was just about right, I thought. Our dinners were with friends and clients; there were a lot of them there.

I only read one book on the trip, Romain Gary’s “The Roots of Heaven”. I started James Baker’s “Work Hard, Study, and Keep Out of Politics”, which I am continuing to read at home.

After we returned, in addition to seeing Damn Yankees (and having cousins Fred, Fran and Eileen for brunch), we attended the wonderful roast of Ari Roth at Theater J, with some of the best local actors speaking and performing, and where Hannah and the rest of the cast sang quite well. And tonight, we went to Glen Echo Park to see Little Red and the Renegades play at the Mardi Gras dance.

OK, you are now caught up.

A Few Notes About Florida (4 cents)

First, US Air did very well. The two flights (Reagan to Ft. Lauderdale and back) left and arrived on time; the pilots seem to know what they were doing; the crew was efficient.

Second, the view from my cousin Gerry’s 7th floor apartment in the Sabal Pointe Condominium on Ocean Avenue in Boca Raton is still as nice as always. Gerry and my cousin Judy, who drove up from South Dade County, look good and we had a fantastic dinner at Trattoria Romano on Palmetto Parkway in Boca Raton. We should have eaten there each night. Basically, a crowded, upscale seafood restaurant, Edie’s snapper and my pompano were both first class +.

Third, distances are always longer than you expect on the South Florida coast. We drove Ft. Lauderdale to Boca, Boca to Jupiter, Jupiter to Palm Beach, Palm Beach to Jupiter, Jupiter to Hobe Sound, Jupiter to Palm Beach, Palm Beach to Jupiter, Jupiter to Boca, Boca to Jupiter, Jupiter to Ft. Lauderdale. Total distance (with short side trips): about 400 miles.

Fourth, the remainder of our food was mixed at best. Edie thought that our Sunday night dinner at Jaffy’s in Jupiter was top quality; my sword fish was only swo-swo. We had two Latino lunches, at Jalisco in Delray Beach, and Havana just north of Boca; both were ordinary (we had eaten at Havana a few years ago, we realized after we went into the restaurant; it was ordinary then as well). The food at the Colony Hotel in Palm Beach was disappointing, as was half of the food at the Jupiter Resort and Spa (the other half was pretty good). The sandwiches we had at Harry & Natives were OK, but the atmosphere there is quirky, which is nice for a change, since everything else is so manicured. Our room at Jupiter was quite nice – they only need to add a better view.

Fourth, there really are a lot of old people in Florida. Many more, proportionately than here. I don’t like that. Even though most of them seem older than me. Being in rooms where the average age looks to be 80 does not make me think of myself as young. It makes me think that perhaps I am in a room with contemporaries.

Fifth, Florida radio is really bad. And, if they have any newspapers, other than USA Today, we sure didn’t see them.

Sixth, Edie got to tour the Flagler Museum in Palm Beach and take a walking tour of the business district. If she only had a blog………

Seventh, we went to the Nature Conservancy’s Blowing Rock Park, walked the beach, saw the sea grapes and the restoration work being done. Interesting, and very pleasant, but if you missed it, you wouldn’t have missed anything, I don’t think. Certainly not when compared to similar places we had gone to in Hawaii.

Eighth, the pharmacy business must be very big in Florida. The way we have Starbucks here, that is how they have CVS and Walgreens.

Ninth, the weather was 80+ and sunny two days, coldish (about 60) and gray one day, cool and overly windy (you could not stay outside for long) one day, and nice (but with a few showers) one day. Every day was better than any day we missed up here.

Tenth, read one book and parts of two others. The book I read was Somerset Maugham’s “The Painted Veil”. Highly recommended. The book I started and put aside was Andre Malraux’s “The Temptation of the West”. The book I started and hope to finish is Dennis Ross’ “Statecraft”.

Eleventh, saw a movie, “Atonement”. I liked the atmosphere it created and its pace; I thought it was extremely well acted. But I thought that the story line is overrated.

Twelfth, we were in Florida for a board meeting and symposium sponsored by Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. The symposium was fascinating; hopefully, I will find time to report on it later.