Day 11 - Tel Aviv
On the way to Tel Aviv, there's a chubby kid on an electric bike cruising along the motorway with his mate riding on the back wheel. Electric bikes are apparently super popular here. You can buy them at the 7-11. One of our driver's two lawyers has one. I don't ask why our driver needs two lawyers.
I've had enough to looking at at these cities and towns from the backseat of a car. I want to be outside, walking for hours, stopping wherever takes my fancy without the hassle of finding parks or people tooting or the driver shouting out his window for directions. Unfortunately, public transport isn't a strength in Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Nor would I personally feel particularly safe. A car is a necessary evil.
We're headed to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. Our driver doesn't know where it is so he's winding down the windows and hollering at people standing on the street or at the driver of the neighbouring care while both cars are speeding along the road. Dude doesn't need a map. The citizens of Tel Aviv are his map. Except what appeared to work like a charm elsewhere (Jerusalem, Jericho, Bethlehem), doesn't quite come off in the more upscale Tel Aviv. People look, frankly, startled. I've actually got a map on my phone to the museum but this way is just more amusing.
We find it. It's open! I shout, "Art doesn't close for anyone!" The Tel Aviv Art Museum is air-conditioned. It's all sharp edges, Bauhaus curves, tricky architecture, slices of vista, and gleaming marble floors. Every bit of it is named after the people who paid for it. Rob says maybe he'll sponsor a door handle and get it named after him.
There's free Wi-Fi, there's a cafe with passable coffee, sandwiches and chocolate croissants as big as your face. It takes credit. The bathrooms are spotless and the people aren't shouting or crying or kissing the floor. So I like my creature comforts. Sue me. Women are in little sundresses, fancy floral rompers; in other words, appropriately dressed for the weather. I see women's arms, legs, shoulders out in public for the first time. I want to clap. No long skirt and t-shirt for me here.
We blast through the modern art wing. It's filled with works by contemporary Israeli artists in different mediums. I like the interesting take on jewellery by Attai Chen. They look like things you'd find in a scrapheap, all twisted and gnarled, but people, it's arty jewellery not scrapheap stuff. There's also the skull of a tiny rat, edged in gold, with a gold tooth. It's a brooch. If anything, it would make a good conversation starter at parties.
Iva Kafri's installation takes up a whole room. It looks like what would happen if you locked kids in a room with a bunch of foil, paper, cellophane, crayons and some ladders to reach the ceiling and said, Do whatever you want. It's a whimsical and friendly 3D life-size collage. My favourite exhibit is David Nipo. There's paintings of him in his workshop, stark desert landscapes, simple jugs of water near a window. I like the way he paints like he's a photographer, all natural light, chiaroscuro and photo-realism. I like his still-lifes and the precise way he paints, like he's an Israeli Vermeer.
At the cafe, I drink my first coffee made out of an actual coffee machine. I suspect that it's a cheaty automatic coffee machine where you press one button and the coffee and milk streams out. The guy draws a smiley face on the foam with hot chocolate. Rob says in Wellington, the guy would be kicked out of the city for that poor effort.
After lunch, there's no point in pretending I came here for anything but to pay homage to my spiritual leaders, the Impressionists and post-Impressionists. On the way to the gallery which is in the older wing of the museum, we're waylaid by a dark room filled with peepholes into delightful miniatures of shop interiors and living spaces from places and eras around the world. I think back on a childhood without a dollhouse. I want to gather every teeny tiny thing in there and take it home with me to play with. My favourite miniature is a scene, puzzlingly called, "Gay Nineties". I find out later that it is, in fact, a legitimate time period in the 1890s. Rob's favourite is a curio shop in Ye Olde England.
The museum closes in forty-five minutes and I still haven't found my chapel. We hurry through a large room of blue and white Delft tiles and porcelain. There's a Delft toilet. Kids run around and play in a room full of Warhol paintings.
Finally, we're there. We had to go through the Dutch Quarter, the Italian quarter, and the Pop Art Quarter but we're finally there. There's a couple of Monets, including one of his famous waterlilies and also apple blossoms, a smattering of Renoirs, and a really pretty one by Matisse when he was still painting pleasant, colourful things from the balcony of his Nice apartment, as opposed to wrestling with large bits of coloured paper to produce his cutouts.
What is interesting is five big works by Chagall, including two with his classic violin-playing goat and one of men praying at the Western Wall. Merrill-Lynch gave the museum a donation to undertake a conservation project to restore these five paintings that they just happened to casually have lying around in their back room. I wonder if Te Papa back home are hoarding any Chagalls that a bank would pay them to put out.
After paying the right amount of homage and having a nosey in the museum gift shop, the place is closing down. We're back in the car and back to Jerusalem. We drive through a low-income neighbourhood with rundown Bauhaus apartments, paint peeling on the curves and punched out windows on the stairwells. I spot a lot of Filipinos and a King of Pork restaurant. Our driver is raving about Chinese food and Italian food. He likes Chinese food better than Arab food. He says the best pizza he ever had was in Chicago at a mafia restaurant. Back in Jerusalem, we hit up Jafar Sweets again for hard kanafeh and sweet, cheesy borek. We drink it with lemonade in the warm afternoon sun.