Beat Diaspora: Beats, Buses, Bricks

an omnivorous take on music of the beat-based variety and the urban spaces that nurture it

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Mediterranean Modernism

The other side of the Israeli urban equation from Jerusalem is its seaside counterpart: Tel Aviv, the image of Israeli modernity, cosmopolitanism, secularism, and according to some, political apathy. It is all of these, and more. The city was founded in 1909 on the beach just outside of Yaffo, an ancient port city, by secular Zionists looking for an ordered, gridded urbanism outside of Yaffo's dense chaos. Tel Aviv grew to swallow Yaffo (the city's official name is Tel Aviv-Yaffo), then sprouted skyscrapers, financial centers, Bauhaus and Art Deco architecture, museums, cafés, record stores, and now, nearly a century later, shows evidence of global city formation.

Airplanes -- that great symbol of modernity (Brasilia isn't shaped like one for nothing) -- fly over its Mediterranean shores heading for Ben-Gurion Airport, hub of El Al, the flagship Israeli carrier.

On Friday night while the Shabbat masses gather at the Western Wall, Tel Aviv's clubs are just heating up, while on the right block you'll find Hebrew stencil graffiti.

"Zionism = Real Estate"
Who said Tel Aviveans weren't political?

And the all-important rave flyer. Tel Aviv: hub of the Israeli psy-trance scene, one node on that vast global psy-trance network . . . global city indeed.

I didn't make it to one of the famed mesibot desert parties, and truthfully there was only a little trance at the club I did make it to, a friend's cousin's birthday party or some such affair. But it was bumping out of car windows and in the stalls at the market at the end of Shenkin Street.

Shulman - New Paradigm

Consider this the chill out room track, then. From Shulman's Soundscapes and Modern Tales.

I had too little time in Tel Aviv; it's hard to resist a Mediterranean city. But in the brief chance I did have, I found quite striking the duality between it and Jerusalem. One which I linked to the dichotomy between São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. In what, as friends rightly pointed out, was probably the first time Jerusalem has ever been compared to Rio, I likened the axis Tel Aviv/São Paulo - Jerusalem/Rio. The basic distinction is between cosmopolitanism and particularism. The universal ease with which Tel Aviveans or Paulistas see themselves on a map with Milan, New York, London, Barcelona, Miami vs. the local customs, traditions, mores, dress that are hard to slip into. I love Rio, but I will probably always feel like an outsider, not the least because of skin tone. Likewise in Jerusalem, if you are not in liturgical rhythms, you will feel out of place. Both, too, engender more tourism, another distinction that separates you from the city. But people circulate into, out of, and within São Paulo and Tel Aviv on such a rapid basis that it's easy to slide in, hop on the metrô or go to the beach (and yes, Rio and Tel Aviv share a beach, but Rio's has its own rigid code where it's easy to feel like an outsider), and find that you don't stand out.

That kind of cosmopolitanism is seductive (and expensive -- I always spend more money in São Paulo and than I do in Rio; likewise a stroll down Shenkin cost me more before I knew it than any promenade in Jerusalem), but ultimately I try to resist it. There's a challenge in not being able to fit in, and an enjoyment that comes from enduring that regardless -- picking up the language, the music, whatever it takes to at least have an exchange, even if it would be 10x easier to become a carioca than a paulista, a Tel Avivean than a Jerusalemite.

At the same time, the cosmopolitanism of global cities brings with the interstices of culture -- gaps that allow for the constant innovation, creative use of space, and readaptation in cities like London, New York, and Berlin. Or Tel Aviv, as in DJ C's loft party. When I go back to Israel, I think I'll be spending more time by the sea.

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