Monday, January 24, 2011

Alleyway deeds and got a steed

Good Morning!

Today was spent doing camera errands and looking for a bike, both of which are scads more fun in a foreign country. Drumming up the courage to interrupt some grumpy old mechanic so you can barter over the merits of interchangable chainrings is something I excel at. Also having an excuse to duck into extremely sketchy dead ends and alleyways is always fun.

So far the candidates are: a too small KHS MTB with rack mounts, front fork, and knobby tires for $100, a too small cannondale MTB (!)missing its front shifter and with some crappy components for $100, or a perfect-sized Mid-80's MTB with XT components for... drumroll, $60. The only problem is its seat post is stuck at bottom height. Finding this bike was my favorite, as it resulted from talking to the locals and finding out about a 'very cheap bike shop behind a gas station.' I round said corner after half an hour of walking and see man in a kefffeyh (shorthand for Palestinian solidarity, perhaps with a specific Fatah connotation) and a veiled old woman sitting with a grizzled group of Arabs in a derelict courtyard. The bike shop is like all Israeli (and Egyptian) bike shops, a single indescribably dingy garage bay filled with bikes on hooks which spill out into the pavement (or in this case, dirt) broken Arabic and no-handed trackstands ensue, both of which startled the folks, it was clear. As did my declaration that I was biking to Nablus. Without fail everywhere I go people find the distances in their lives absolutely unimaginable without motorized transport. When I said I was planning on biking there in 5 days (a very arbitrary estimate) there were literally ripples of incredulity. After a stint of google maps I discovered my admirable feat was going to be all of 35 miles. Come on, guys.

I managed to work out a deal: If the bike seller could un-stick the seat post before tomorrow I'd come back and pick up the bike.

The awed/worried reaction could also be attributed to the obvious socio-political conflict we're all so aware of, but I doubt it. Like any area of strife daily life very much continues at a normal pace, Tel Aviv feels safer than most places I've been. For those of us in the lucky position of mutability there is little danger in the West Bank as well. For average Israelis, however, it might as well be Mars. I haven't had too many conversations about it yet, but having an Israeli passport bars one from entering the west bank, an absurd concept in an area with the footprint of the Bay Area. Though like the locals of that cosmopolitan comparison, the people here seem to try to make up with culture what they lack in national real estate. Israel is a very cool place, so briefly into it I can already see why someone with a different take from mine on the politics of the situation would never want to leave.

Next my hunt took me to the markets of Jaffa, where purveyors of sundry linens and knicknacks rub shoulders with shops selling, inexplicably, tons of beautifully crafted antique film-light rigs with wooden poles and pounded brass carapaces. Coming out of a shop that had, side-by side, a shoddily-mother-of-pearl-inlaid mandolin ($100) and an African chamber-less instrument with 2 strings and demon-headed resonating base ($45) I was approached by a smiling young man with glasses.

"Excuse me!" He said, can I ask you something?"
"Sure" I think at this point he's trying to drag me into his shop. "But not about linens. About bicycles!"
He laughs. "I'm an artist. A photographer. You have a look of someone I'd like to photograph. Can I tell you more about it."
So now I'm over thinking he's trying to sell me something, and into thinking he's trying to pick me up. I humor him for a few moments before his friends wander over, a cute red-bearded fellow with a rather excellent flat-bar road bike and a good-looking pixie-ish girl with baggy pants. It turns out:
1) The fellow, Daniel, is actually telling the truth and doesn't want to pick me up. We're shootin' some photos Tuesday.
2) His friend Yoav is on couchsurfing, lives in a loft and wants to host me tomorrow.
3) His friend Tal invited me to go volunteer with refugee kids for the evening at an outdoor library. So I did.

She's a great person, Tal, we immediately had some good conversations about performance art, queer identity, and our relationship as individuals to our nations. Dere she is:

She told me the scoop on this park (Ha Tinkva?) we were headed to. Apparently Eritrian and Sudanese refugees flood into Israel all the time, seeking to become nationally recognized refugees but in reality being held in limbo as 'asylum seekers' that supposedly cannot work and are initially detained for several months before getting shipped to Tel Aviv. This is another moment of odd parallel stories for Israel, where any Jew in the world can expatriate to the country but in the treatment of other asylum-seekers it becomes obvious that the state being sought is still very much a Jewish one. But apparently the very park where we stood was a focal point to this whole international conundrum, as the majority of the new asylum-seekers end up at the central bus station a block away and sleep homeless here until they find apartments and illegal work. Indeed, over the course of volunteering there one night several timid class-style packs of Israelis crept into the park and observed and discussed the goings-on ethnographically, apparently the general vibe the place holds in the Israeli concept is that of the ghetto: dangerous, scary, you just don't go there.

Happily oblivious to this fact, I was busing myself helping to run a open-air library.

It was patronized by hyperactive polyglot round-headed children, who would jabber at me in English, Arabic, and Hebrew. There were books in all three of those languages, and we generally had a blast trying to keep them entertained. They didn't seem to naturally have the reverence for books that I somehow picked up living in a bookstore with a literature-crazy mother, I cringed as battered, ancient, spanish translations of 'Le Petit Prince' went flying around the park, spines ripping apart. After considerable despair at the mayhem (which included a game where three or so 6 year olds would climb to the top of the book stacks, yell at me, and then leap-attack my head when I gave them attention) I resorted to juggling, climbing, and finally leading a rag-tag gang of kids to the jungle gym nearby to do some proper horsing around. We had to displace a couple deflated loafing types that were huddling conspiratorially in the playground, the contrast of these little kids horsing around and infringing on the claimed space of drug-dealer-esque setups was pretty surreal, especially when you'd look up and think, "I hope someone's looking after these guys" and you realize it's pretty much just the lurkers and you taking up that job. This guy pretty much sums up the energy level for the night:

After dark, thoroughly tired out, I walked back to the hostel and made an olive-filled bachelor stew before chatting and writing the night away. Day 2 down, dig it.

Day 3 turned bike theory into a reality. After Arab guys weren't able to un-stick the seatpost (with a hammer, chisel, and a pipe-wrench, no less) I abandoned option A and went back to the first bike I found. After tinkering on it for a whole day I landed it for $125, which is steep for me but whatever. Witness! The ITS (Israeli Turn Sandwich) Refusnik:
That's right. True Temper, suckas. Yeah!

Many readers will soon quake in fear as together we conquer spans that only sound impressive in meters. Stay tuned! Piecing together ol' Refusnik was made especially fun by the to-and-fro scavenging I'd go on to abandoned bikes in the area when it was in need of a part, much to the entertainment of the shop owner, Elian. He's a downhill biker and his shop was different than most, by the end of the day he offered me a job! :) If only I was learning Hebrew...

Later I went to a nightclub on my new steed with the owner of the hostel. The experience was complete with an unmarked door, descent 2 stories, a security pat-down, and an ex-soviet-style bouncer whose neck was wider than my whole body, a pit-bull of a man with bulging veins on his forehead and a shaved head. He looked like he bashed his face through brick walls for breakfast. Other than that the club was boring as hell.

Here are assorted piccies from the day:

Cutting out comics to give to kids as gifts.

Thu-thu-thats all for now, see ya.


Luke Williams said...

Davey, I stayed late at work to read this, couldn't stop. I'm sure your writing won't continue to be so frequent as you get busier, but keep it this good, okay?

W.L. Emsworth said...

"I resorted to juggling, climbing, and finally leading a rag-tag gang of kids to the jungle gym nearby to do some proper horsing around."

I secretly knew you were still a kid at heart.