Wednesday, May 29, 2013

I Am... Puzzled by Modern Art

So, being temporarily retired, how do I spend my time? My mother spends her time volunteering and helping friends who need an inordinate amount of aid (aka free labor). My dad spends a lot of time glued to the computer, editing and writing. Well I'm not really what is known as a “people person,” and I get antsy sitting in front of the computer for too long. So what do I do? Go to Tel Aviv obviously. What does Tel Aviv have that Jerusalem doesn't, you ask? A beach, an antique market, African refugees, complete and utter slums, humidity, people who won't throw rocks at you for wandering into their neighborhood (in other words, people who are way more chillaxed than Jerusalemites), innumerable art galleries, and 16 shekel coffee (as opposed to the 10 shekel Jerusalem coffee which is just as tasty). Most importantly, the entire city is a photo-op. I like to take my camera and just wander around capturing the architecture, and the singularly remarkable creature know as the “Tel-Avivian.”
I've been to Tel Aviv a few times in recent months. Once, my mother and I went to help Tina pack up for her move to the yuppy section of North Tel Aviv (no refugees there). Once, my father and I spent the afternoon wandering around, photographing before meeting up with the rest of the family for dinner as a celebratory double birthday (Tina's and David's) and anniversary (also Tina's and David's) dinner. We'd made plans to go to a fancy Yemenite restaurant, but a certain someone who shall remain nameless, 'cough' 'cough' mom, didn't think to make reservations, so we had falafel instead. Just kidding, we found another nice meat restaurant not too far away and were welcomed in with open arms. Probably because it was completely empty. Like, Yom Kippur empty. I don't know why, since the food was pretty good. My mother turned to the waitress, and asked “why is this place so empty?” Whereupon Tina and I made a pact never to take her out again since she can't be trusted in polite society. Although I'm probably exaggerating by calling Israelis “polite society,” but we will certainly never take her to visit the queen. Unless the queen is mostly deaf, seeing as she's about 200 years old, in which case it's probably ok. Unless my mother starts making faces at her.
One day, I took a solitary day trip to wander around photographing, and then meet up with a friend for dinner. I started in Yaffo, and then walked up the beach towards central Tel Aviv. In case you're wondering, this is the reason I'm so tan. I had plans to meet my friend at a restaurant across the street from the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. So I figured I'd take the opportunity and spend a few hours there. I can usually find at least a few interesting exhibitions; they have a variety of styles of art. This visit however, mostly left me scratching my head. I've never really been a fan of contemporary art, mostly because people use different mediums to express their political views. If I wanted to know about people's political views, I'd read the newspaper. I like art, because I like to look at pretty things, or things that are at least interesting. If a piece of art reminds me of the two elephants in a bathtub joke, then I give it two thumbs down. If it's something I could do, but wouldn't because it would be a waste of paint, then I am forced to give it no stars.
The main exhibition was actually a collection of different exhibits by an artist named Douglas Gordon. The exhibition was very creatively called “I Am Also... Douglas Gordon.” This is the first exhibition I've seen which has an ellipsis in the title. Points for that at least. The best word I could use to describe his work would be “randomness.”
The first exhibit, which I shall from now on refer to as exhibit one, was a collection of photographs. The collection filled about three rooms and packed the walls. I happen to like photography, but it seemed to me to be a mass of random photographs. There were pictures of food on plates, and hands, feet in shoes, and things that to this day, I have no idea what they are. Maybe bugs. Or internal organs. Impossible to say really. There was a dead piano on the floor in the middle of the first room. It had obviously been picked clean by vultures and only the skeleton of this poor piano was left. It is unclear to me why there was a piano corpse on the floor; I would obviously have considered it evidence in a police investigation. Moving on...
There were quite a few video installations as well. You had to go through a heavy black curtain into a completely dark room. The only source of light was from the video itself. I was curious, so I walked into the first one. I almost fell over the security guard's chair on the way in it was so dark. I honestly don't even remember what the video was about because I was so intent on not walking into anyone or anything and feeling for the wall. Another one I went into appeared to be a soccer game. I didn't last too long in that one either. The last one wasn't a video. It was actually just a paragraph on the wall which was illuminated for 30 seconds before returning to darkness. I came in while it was still dark and when it finally lit up I let out a strangled “gaaaa!” because there was suddenly a really tall guy standing 2 feet away from me. I gave an embarrassed cough, and commenced reading. It was something vaguely philosophical and when the light went out again, the tall guy and I made our way back to where we remembered the curtain being. That was the last time I was walking through a black curtain again, so I moved on to the next installation. It was a bunch of random videos, from a burning piano (now I understand about the piano corpse), to a guy drawing on himself with red markers, to an elephant walking. Actually you could only see the elephant's feet (which were admittedly pretty cute).
In addition, the walls of the new section of the museum were covered in non-sequiters. As if someone had opened up a private letter or instant message and taken out sentences and then written them in really big letters on the wall. Not the first time I've seen such a thing but just as strange the second or third time around. As a child, I was always encouraged not to write on the walls, but now I see that my artistic essence was being stifled. I will probably have to sue my parents for the loss of possible future earnings from art installations by discouraging artistic expression on the walls. These exhibits were also... Douglas Gordon.
The next exhibit I would like to mention was a series of collages by John Stezaker, which he called “One on One.” It was basically a bunch of old photographs, altered in some way so as to create “a channel of cultural resistance to the sweeping unification of the image flux in the media; an attempt to reconstruct that which was lost to the gaze in a visual culture founded entirely on excess, flickering, and flattening.” At least according to the Tel Aviv museum. In other words, he took old photographs and stuck postcards over the faces. I kid you not. If I did that, my parents would be furious with me for defacing (pun intended) the old family photos. They will almost certainly be hearing from my lawyer any day now. I could have been a famous artist too.
The cherry on the cake was the last exhibit, called “Host and Guest.” It was described as:
A program of nine exhibitions and events with over 30 international artists and thinkers examining the theme of hospitality. The complex obligations, tensions and generosity between hosts and guests are explored through painting, photography, video, installations, performance and public discussions, touching on philosophy, politics and more.

In other words, photographs of sad looking Arabs, obviously having been displaced by the evil Israeli occupiers (among other photographs and installations; let it not be said that the exhibition constituted only sad looking Arabs). There were also more rooms with black curtains but I wasn't going to do that again. As much as I love walking into walls, a black eye and broken nose for the sake of art is going a bit far.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Living the Good Life

As expected, the woman from MDA did not call me on Sunday to inform me whether or not I had passed the test. I was pretty sure I had passed, but it's nice to have confirmation regardless. Since I didn't know the woman's name or have a working phone number for the Jerusalem office, I just proceeded as if I had passed the test and tried to call up the original number I had, for a 'Michal' at the central MDA course office. Again no answer. I tried again a few hours later. Obviously they work Israeli bank hours, which is whenever they feel like it. I'm convinced that the banks make up their own holidays and then spend the day in Eilat. Which, to be fair, is what I would do if people were giving me their money.
I tried again the next day and someone actually answered the phone. I was so surprised I almost dropped it. But I quickly recovered and told them I wanted to continue with the registration. They told me that not enough people had signed up for the course (or in other words had succeeded in getting someone to answer the damn phone!) and there was a good chance that they were going to push it off a few weeks. They told me to call back Sunday (suuuure) to check. The course was supposed to be starting that Monday and they wanted me to wait until the day before to check. I asked what time I should call on Sunday, and they said, “all day.”
Apparently though, they had a surprise holiday pop up because no one answered the phone on Sunday either. Surprise! I finally sent an email to the first person I'd been in touch with asking if the course had in fact been pushed off, and informing her that I had no idea whether I'd passed the Hebrew test or not. I left my phone number and said if she wanted me to sign up she should call me. That was me giving up on all the craziness that Magen David Adom had to offer. The ball's in your court now, inefficient and hopelessly incompetent people. Not sure I want to play with you though. I'm afraid you'd drop the ball and then trip over your own shoelaces.
This 'Michal' actually did email me back (albeit it a week later) to inform me that the course had been pushed off and that I had passed the test. She gave me the new dates and let me know that the course lasted half a year. Which would be nice if that didn't overlap with next semester. The original date had been perfect- the course would have ended in September, before the start of the semester. Alas, such is life when the world is run by fools.

So what have I been doing in my spare time? Good question. Working twice a week at the vets' office, going to the gym, lots of computer games and t.v. shows, going out to photograph every once in a while, and taking the occasional trip out of the Jerusalem area. In other words, doing all the things I wasn't able to do in my self-invoked library imprisonment. Life is good.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

The MDA mission

After a year and a half of intense study I decided to take a break from school. That's my version anyway and I'm sticking to it. I needed some time to figure things out so I notified school that I was leaving the biology/chemistry program. They didn't look too upset. I was kind of hoping for some tears and begging on their part, but alas, they accepted my decision with dignity.
My mother advised me (nagged me until I agreed, since the only other option was matricide) to go to a career counselor. We chatted for an hour and a half, and I learned new things about myself. For example, I don't like helping people. I try to avoid that as much as possible. Also I have no interests beyond music, cooking, and animals. My favorite thing in the world is listening to music while cooking animals. The only thing I can really see myself studying and making a career out of is science (not the physics kind- transverse waves make me dizzy). Actually, I knew all this stuff about myself already but I got confirmation so hopefully my mother will stop nagging me about taking career tests for a while. If not, matricide is back on the table. In any case, we concluded that I should continue studying science.
After a bit of back and forth with my adviser, the secretary of the biology department, the secretary of the... um, honestly I don't know what she's the secretary of. All I know is that whenever I need anything involving forms I'm told to go to her. So, yes, a bit of back and forth with her, plus one of the professors I had last semester (I don't know in what capacity. I was told to go to the conference room on Wednesday between 1:00 and 2:00 pm to talk to him so I did). When I say back and forth, I mostly mean unanswered emails, and running around to various different people who send me to various other people just to get me out of their office. After talking to my ex-professor, I think it was decided that I could switch my major from biology and chemistry to just biology. I think. He told me to be in touch with the secretary closer to the beginning of the semester. Right, cuz that's easy. Sure, just bombard her with emails until I get tired of being ignored and finally storm into her office, explain the entire thing all over again because she has no idea what I'm talking about and has to send an email or call the professor to clarify, who happens to be incommunicado in the Bahamas, and finally get a response two days before the semester starts. Sure, easy as cake mix.
In the meantime, I have lots of free time. Time enough to reacquaint myself with sunlight and vitamin D. I decided to do something I've never had time to do and enroll in an EMT course with Magen David Adom. I found an email address on their website for the central teaching center, so I sent an email hoping that it actually went somewhere and patiently waited for a response. I got an answer back that their was a course starting in Jerusalem on April 22nd. The course lasts 5 months and takes place two evenings a week. Ok, but how do I sign up? I got a reply a few days later- you have to sign up by phone.
The reply came a few days before Passover so I figured I'd better get on it before they left for vacation. I called them 2 days before, no answer. I called them a day before, no answer. So I waited until after Passover to call them. Eventually I got through to someone. She explained how everything works and that any non-native speaker has to pass a Hebrew test first. I sighed and asked her how I set one of these tests up. She gave me the number of the MDA center in Jerusalem and told me to call them to set up a test. Which would have been easy if the extension I kept getting sent to worked. But of course it didn't work. I wonder if they change their numbers without changing the extension on purpose, or if afterwards they just can't figure out why no one's calling them anymore. I can totally picture them getting fed up with the phone ringing and screwing with the extension to send all calls to Mars. Well, won't they be surprised if someone answers and I'm the one who discovers extraterrestrial life. After many failed attempts at contact I called back the central teaching center to tell them that they were all idiots and that I wouldn't take the course if they paid me. Well, that's what I wanted to say anyway. What I actually said was that no one was answering at the number they gave me, so they transferred me directly to the central MDA office (the one on Earth) and someone answered. Three minutes later I had an appointment to take the test that Thursday at 5:00. Which just goes to show how helpful people are forced to be when you finally track them down.
That Thursday at ten to 5:00, I was wandering around the general area trying to find the MDA building. I called my friend first who had taken me there on a blood donating excursion some years before (yes, that's her idea of a fun outing. I know, but she doesn't drink, so what can you do?). She couldn't remember exactly where it was, so I called my mother who didn't know exactly where it was either so I finally asked some lady walking by and she directed me to the building. It was down a side street I'd never have found by myself, and the only two points of ingress that were visible were locked. By now it was 5:00 on the dot and I was starting to get a bit anxious. There was a call button on the wall, so I pressed it. Several times. After no response I went to the other door and tried the call button again. I'm not really sure why, now that I think about it since both call buttons probably go to the same place.
I spotted an ambulance coming out of a driveway, so I followed the driveway around the side of the building where a bunch of people in MDA uniforms were standing around. I told them I was there to take a test and asked where I was supposed to go. After a brief chat in which they asked me why I had to take a Hebrew test if I obviously spoke Hebrew, and I shrugged and answered bureaucracy, they gave me the code to the nearby entrance so I could get into the building. I know, they gave me the code to the building! What ever happened to state secrets and the such? Can you imagine Obama going, “the pizza guy wants the code to the nuclear warheads? Sure, why not.” Not that this is exactly the same thing, but still, you don't want just anyone wandering around a medical facility. In any case, they couldn't exactly remember which floor it was on so I just took the elevator and got off at every floor until I found one with actual human beings on it. I finally got off on the last floor and wandered around til I found a guy behind a desk who pointed me down the hall. I got there and walked into a room full of people who just looked at me and pointed to the unmarked room next door.
I walked in and they said to me, “Congratulations, you have just completed your first mission. Welcome to the Mossad.” Well, that's what I expected them to say anyway. Instead, they just looked at me and went, “yes?” As if I hadn't just achieved a miracle of epic proportions by just finding the right room in the first place. They gave me a 10 page test, and I was done 20 minutes later. The woman who collected my test told me she'd call on Sunday to let me know if I passed.