Friday, 3 July 2015

Picture Post 45 - A drawing by Josef Budko


I bought this drawing of a young Maghrebi Jew in one of my favourite Jerusalem shops - Trionfo in Dorot Rishonim that runs off the very busy Ben Yehuda pedestrian street. I have found many little treasures there over the years including books, postcards and posters, many of them related to the Bezalel School of Art and its golden era in the first few decades of the twentieth century. This simple pencil drawing on tissue paper is my latest acquisition, its delicate pencil lines capturing beautifully the expression of a child in contemplation.

Budko was born in Plonsk, Poland in 1888 and studied at the Vilnius School of Art (now in Lithuania), before moving on to Berlin in 1909. In the following year he began to study engraving at the educational wing of the Berlin Arts and Crafts Museum under the direction of another great artist - Hermann Struck. In the 1920's he began to shift his focus from crafts to painting. He emigrated to Eretz Israel in 1934 and spent his first few months at Kibbutz Ein Harod where he produced a number of prints focusing on the theme of Halutzim (the pioneers). There is a significant museum at Ein Harod which holds some of his work.

Moving on to Jerusalem he found the time to experiment with colour to capture the strong light and mood of the landscapes surrounding the city as well as working as the director of the Bezalel School for Arts and Crafts in Jerusalem. He held this post until his death in 1940. Budko also produced a significant portfolio of graphic material including woodcuts, etchings and drypoint works and illustrated the work of several stellar writers. Examples of this include Heinrich Heine's Psalms of 1919, Bialik's Babylonian Talmud (1924) and works of Sholem Asch, David Frischmann and Sholem Aleichem. He often integrated Jewish symbolism into his work and made use of Hebrew letters in his illustrations,  recalling his early life Eastern Europe, drawing on his experiences of that world to depict figures from the shtetl.  

Josef Budko does not have the profile that some of his Bezalel colleagues and contemporaries enjoy today but it is possible to see some of his work in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem and the Jewish Museum in Berlin is home to one of my favourite works of his - Two Women. 

Sunday, 28 June 2015

The Ocean Hotel - seaside art deco in Saltdean


Saltdean is a seaside town just five miles along the coast from Brighton. It may not attract the crowds of visitors that its larger neighbour receives, but it is home to a former hotel that once attracted thousands of guests every year. The Ocean Hotel opened in 1938 with over 300 rooms and a dining room that could seat up to 300 people. There was also a roof garden, a ballroom and a resident orchestra to entertain the guests as well as breathtaking views of both the sea and the South Downs. Such splendour attracted the rich and the famous. The Earl of Glamis attended the opening dinner and there are stories that both Dame Margot Fonteyn and Bette Davis stayed there!

Designed in the art deco style by Richard Jones it was supremely elegant and built at the top of a hill, it must have been very imposing in its day. Jones was also responsible for designing Saltdean Lido, another art deco building close by. The Lido is visible from the hotel but is currently closed and in poor shape, although it appears to be undergoing restoration. The hotel has fared slightly better but has been converted into an apartment building, albeit retaining the stunning white facade, elegant lobby and fabulous main staircase. The views from the building are not what they once were as the developer responsible for converting it to apartments has also built several new blocks of flats between the hotel and the sea, blocking much of it, but it is still possible to catch a glimpse of the sea from some parts of the building which is now called Grand Ocean.



It is no surprise that a luxury hotel was built in a small seaside town in the south of England during the 1930's. It is also no surprise that it was requisitioned during the Second World War for use by the Auxiliary Fire Service before becoming a fire service college opened by Herbert Morrison, the then Home Secretary. Slightly more surprising is that when the hotel was handed back to civilian use in 1952, the lease was acquired by Billy Butlin who turned it into one of his famous holiday camps, attracting families, honeymooners and other guests throughout the 1950's and 1960's until 1972 by which time the allure had begun to fade due to the availability of cheap holidays abroad. The Rank organisation purchased the building in 1972 and struggled on until 1999 when it was again sold to the Grand Hotel Group who sold it to a developer in 2005.

I have wanted to visit Saltdean for a long time and this weekend I finally managed to get there. The train from London to Brighton takes just under an hour and on arrival I took a taxi asking the driver to take me to Saltdean Lido from where I planned to walk to Grand Ocean. Imagine my surprise when I realised that instead, he had driven me to the car park of the Brighton branch of the Lidl supermarket. It must be my northern vowels, although he confessed never to have heard of the Lido despite assuring me he knew where I wanted to go when I got in. I got there in the end. I even managed to get a peep inside the lobby of Grand Ocean and to take photographs of the staircase, the old reception desk and some of the other remaining art deco features. It was strange to enter what must once have been a busy, bustling space full of happy holiday makers and Butlin's Redcoats and which is now quite  silent apart from the discrete comings and goings of the residents. The beautifully restored reception desk is now purely decorative and hasn't seen a guest since 1999. 




The lobby has been sympathetically restored with deco motifs on the lift doors, fish designs on the floor and the marble fountain, but the staircase is the main attraction, drawing us up into its spiral and showing off its interesting geometric shapes, with the steps being mirrored on the underside of the staircase. The lobby is pure 1930's art deco and has ben used to film an episode of Poirot. The crisp, white facade contrasts with the green railings, window frames and lettering on the external name board whilst the portholes continue the "ocean" theme. The pillars to each side of the main door  are clad in glass and act as lights for the entrance. One of them appears to be either damaged and in need of attention. The gardens at the front of the building have also been restored with a terraced waterfall and white stone walls. 

Its a pity that the hotel had to close. It was of its time and is now a bit off the beaten track for modern day tourists and visitors, but it isn't hard to imagine it in its heyday with thousands of visitors enjoying the sunshine and luxurious surroundings just a few minutes from the sea and the lido. Today, it is just a bit too far from Brighton and is unable to compete with the city's many hotels, their proximity to the railway and hundreds of shops, restaurants and bars. At least its still here and still in use - thanks in part to its Grade II listed status. I wonder what Billy Butlin would have thought of it all, not to mention Richard Jones whose masterpiece it was… 









Friday, 26 June 2015

A few days in Milan

I recently spent a few days in Milan. The focus of my visit was the Expo 2015 and I will post separately about that, but I also managed to fit in a quick look at the city including some of its more unusual sites!

No trip is complete for me without trying out a city's cafes and I managed to visit two historic establishments during my short stay in Milan. Cafe Campanari in Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is in the very centre of the city, just across form the Duomo (cathedral). Opened in 1915, the walls of the main room are covered in exquisitely coloured mosaics depicting exotic birds and flowers. Many patrons choose to stand at the bar to drink their expresso, admiring the mosaics which were the work of Angiolo d'Andrea. It's also cheaper to stand rather than to sit - although many tourists choose to park themselves just outside the cafe in the Galleria itself to receive table service, possibly missing the mosaics and the beautiful little curved wooden staircase in the smaller room. This cafe was once the haunt of  Verdi, Toscanini  and other major Italian cultural figures and still retains its original elegance.

Main bar, cafe Campanari
On the subject of elegance, Cova at Via Montenapoleone 8 is another of Milan's historical cafes. Founded in 1817 by Antonio Cova, an accomplished pastry chef and one of Napoleon's soldiers, its cakes and sweets attract both locals and tourists. The cafe also appears in a number of works of literature including Ernest Hemingway's  short story In Another Country  - "We all understood the Cova, where it was rich and warm and not too brightly lighted, and noisy and smoky at certain hours, and there were always girls at the tables and the illustrated papers on a rack on the wall. The girls at the Cova were very patriotic and I found that the most patriotic people in Italy were the cafe girls- and I believe they are still patriotic". Well the waiting staff are all men these days and we didn't discuss patriotism but they did bring me a rich, dark hot chocolate and an equally rich tiramisu - which is much more interesting!

Still on the subject of food, Milan has some great places to eat. Eataly is a fresh food emporium spread over three floors in Piazza XXV Aprile where the products are divided according to theme and region. Shoppers can walk from floor to floor taking in the colours and aromas of cheeses, herbs, vegetables, fruits and sweets as well as browsing the tubs and jars of olives, olive oil, balsamic vinegar and preserves. If all of this makes you hungry, there are also themed eateries on each floor. I enjoyed a lunchtime plate of "lasagnette" - a thin flat pasta similar to lasagne and filled with pumpkin, herbs, tomato and garlic. Delicious. Previously a theatre, the store continues to supply entertainment in the form of cookery demonstrations with the chance to taste and occasional live music on the upper floor.

Eataly, fabulous food on three floors
Milan is a great city for architecture fans, with buildings from various historical periods and in many different styles, dating from the 13th century or earlier right up to some ultra modern developments. Perhaps the most well known of Milan's buildings is its cathedral - the Duomo. Work began on the building in 1386 and although much of it dates from then, it wasn't finally completed until 1965! The third largest church in the world after St. Peter's in Rome and Seville's Cathedral, it is a huge structure, dominating the city's main square. I visited on the evening of my arrival when the majority of the crowds had dispersed and I was able to take the lift to the roof top and wander through its terraces, enjoying the views of the city. The interior is also worth a visit with its 52 pillars, five aisles and  striking stained glass windows made in the 19th century by the Giovanni Battista Bernini and his two sons who were amongst the first to use the then new technique of enamel decoration.

The Duomo
The church of San Maurizio at Corso Magenta 15, dates from the 16th century and is adjacent to a former monastery, now an archaeological museum. The exterior of the church is very ordinary but step inside to see some of Italy's most beautiful frescos as every surface is covered with biblical scenes or highly colourful decorative detail. The artists included Bernardino Luini who trained with da Vinci, Luini's brother Aurelio and Venetian artist Simone Peterzano who taught Caravaggio. The church is divided into two parts with a smaller hall and series of tiny chapels entered from the main street, behind which stands a much larger hall and chapels accessed by stepping through a low and narrow doorway. This was a real treat as not only was I able to enjoy more paintings and decorative details there, but a string quartet was rehearsing too. it was one of those unexpected moments that can make travel such a joy. 

Detail, Church of San Maurizio
E1/ E2 building, Piazza Gae Aulenti
It will be no surprise that Milan is rich in historical and religious architecture, but I wonder how many people know about its cutting edge modern district in Piazza Gae Aulenti. Modern architecture - sometimes I love it, sometimes I don't. In this case I love it. The main elements of the Piazza include the Unicredit Tower, designed by Cesar Pelli and at 231 metres high, Italy's tallest building and the E1/ E2 building which for me at least, is a take on modernism with its beautiful white lines, extensive use of glass and curvaceous facade. The E1/E2 building is a favourite of mine for another reason too - it houses a branch of Grom who sell what is arguably the best coffee ice cream in the world. A cup with one scoop of coffee and another of Madagascan vanilla ice cream was not cheap, but cor blimey was it worth it. Trust the italians to combine great architecture with great ice cream. Lovely. 

Unicredit Tower, Piazza Gae Aulenti
The space at the centre of the piazza is used for a range of activities. On the day I visited a youth basketball tournament was taking place. The piazza leads to another landmark building -  the Bosco Verticale, or in English, the vertical forest, two high rise buildings of 18 and 26 stories respectively. Even from a distance it is possible to see its green mantle provided by the 5,000 varieties of shrubs and 15,000 types of perennials being grown on every balcony. There are also almond, cherry, ash and alder trees, vines and many kinds of flowers selected for each balcony dependant on its level of exposure to the sun. This is all managed through a centralised irrigation system and more than  1200 ladybirds released onto the building to fight aphids! The design was the work of Studio Boeri, and architect Stefan Boeri.

Bosco Verticale/ Vertical Forest
Fans of modern architecture might also like to visit the new Museum of Culture in Via Tortona. I managed a quick visit here on my first evening. To tie in with the Expo, the museum was staging Mondi i Milano, an exhibition about earlier Milanese expos including those from the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries when the world was very different and European powers were keen to show off their colonial possessions. I have to say the art produced to promote those events, the original catalogues and the ornate pavilions was extremely beautiful. But, why oh why was the catalogue not available in English and why were there no postcards or posters available for sale from the exhibition? Back to the architecture. The museum was designed by British architect David Chipperfield.  The star of the show is the covered plaza reached by a flight of stairs which opens onto a surprising curvilinear space clad in sating glass through which natural light floods. I went in the early evening, hence the eerie green effect in the photograph below.

Detail, Museum of Culture
Detail, Casa Galimberti
Regular readers will know of my passion for art deco and modernism as well as for art nouveau architecture. I have already posted about art nouveau masterpiece Casa Galimberti here but can't resist including another picture of it above. 

The city also has some modernist and art deco treasures. Villa Necchi Campiglio was built between 1932 and 1935 for the family of the same name and designed by Piero Portaluppi. It was the home of industrialist Angelo Campiglio and his wife Gina Necchi of the famous sewing machine brand family It has been open to the public since 2011. Sadly it wasn't open on the day I visited as it was being used for a photo shoot for Todd shoes. I was able to snatch a look at the exterior from the adjoining cafe but couldn't get close enough to properly admire the copper door or to see  the collection of paintings by Morandi, Sironi and de Chirico. The Necchi-Campiglios wanted for nothing and the house includes an early intercom system, tennis courts and a heated swimming pool. They counted the nobility amongst their friends including members of the Spanish and Savoy royal families. The gardens reminded me of Giorgio Bassani's book The Garden of the Garden of the Finzi-Continis, set in 1930's Italy. I was very disappointed not to get inside. I'll have to go again.

Villa Necchi Campiglio
Cinema Anteo
I also spotted a great modernist cinema, Cinema Anteo at Via Milazzo 9. I have so far been unable to find any details of the building such as the identity of the architect or the date built, so if anyone reading knows, please post the details in the comments box below! More Milanese modernism in a later post.

So, that's cafes, coffee, a museum and architecture, which leaves shopping and jazz! Milan is a shoppers paradise. There are many design shops selling stylish items for the home, well made clothes, Italian food and drink. This was a very short trip so no time for real shopping but I did browse the book shops in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, which are just about hanging on to their place between the high end and expensive designer shops as well as making a quick visit to Corso Como 10 which doubles as the name and address of this concept store. Here, you can find contemporary fashion for men and women, household items by leading Italian designers, posters and postcards and a large selection of art books. There is also a gallery which was exhibiting photographs from the Futurist movement when I visited and a very smart cafe/ restaurant in the green and peaceful courtyard garden. Great for browsing and looking at lovely things even if you don't want to buy.

Galleria Vittorio Emauele II
And finally jazz. Milan is one of a number of cities around the world that has a branch of New York's famous Blue Note Club. There is room for a few hundred seated and standing room by the bar.   Seating is not allocated in advance, so its good to turn up early if you want to sit near the front. Standard club food is on offer. The programme is impressive with a mixture of local and international artists. On the night I went, Brazilian vocalist Rosalia de Souza treated us to a number of songs from the Jobim songbook as well as some more contemporary compositions. She played one good long set and had great support from her quartet. The club has a friendly and welcoming atmosphere.

There is much to see and do in Milan. its possible to pack a lot into a couple of days if you plan carefully and make clever use of the clean, modern and very efficient metro system, but I have the feeling I've only scratched the surface. I'd like to see more.

Detail, entrance to Corso Como 10

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Picture post 44 - Casa Galimberti, Milan's art nouveau masterpiece


Via Marcello Malpighi is a quiet street in Milan's Porta Venezia neighbourhood. It is also home to a stunning art nouveau building - Casa Galimberti, built between 1903 and 1905 and designed by architect Giovanni Battista Bossi. The building occupies a corner spot and has elegant balconies, stonework floral motifs and even the fall pipes have small decorative features. But all of this is upstaged by the riot of colour that covers the rest of the exterior. Almost every part of the upper levels is covered in hand painted tiles depicting idyllic scenes, beautiful women, trees, plants, flowers and fruits. The effect is mesmerising. The female figures rival those of Klimt and the Vienna Secession and no doubt impressed the many visitors the city received for the 1906 Expo when Milan showed its new found confidence to a worldwide audience. What could have been more ostentatious than Casa Galimberti?




Bossi was an accomplished architect, having designed a number of tombs in Milan's Cimitero Monumentale for wealthy families as well as several other impressive houses across the city.  He was also a professor of architectural design and co-editor of the journal Italian Architecture. Numerous artisans worked on the decorative features. The tiles were the work of the Ceramic Society of Lombardy whilst the floral elements of the pictures were by a Signor Pinzauti and the figures by Umberto Brambilia. Local ironworkers, Arcari and Ajay of nearby Via Magenta were responsible for the wrought iron details. Casa Galimberti still serves its original functions with shops and cafes on the ground floor and four flats per floor over each of the four upper levels.

The building is perhaps Milan's finest example of Liberty Style - Italy's version of art nouveau, which shares many of the features of Vienna's Secessionism, Riga's Jugendstil and the many other schools of this most decorative style. The city boasts architectural treasures of many styles and from many periods, but this beautiful apartment building is easily my favourite.






 

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

An art deco lobby, Bauhaus balconies and history on every corner - a little square in Tel Aviv

Lobby, Pashkovsky House, 4 Ruth Street
My recent visit to Tel Aviv coincided with the city's Open House weekend. One of the events I attended took place in Shulamit Square, a quiet corner just a short walk away from the frenetic Dizengoff Street where Shlomit Gross from the famous Bauhaus Center explained why some of Tel Aviv's buildings still have shutters, ceramic tiles and other features that were manufactured in Germany in the 1930's.

Following the election of the Nazi regime in 1933, many Jews left Germany for Tel Aviv and although denied the right to bring currency out of the country, they were allowed to retain some of the value of their property by purchasing German goods that were then exported to Eretz Israel. This arrangement was formalised through what was known as the Transfer Agreement concluded between the Jewish Agency the German government and the British Mandatory authorities who then controlled the country. Once the goods arrived the immigrants were paid for the items they had purchased before leaving Europe and so held on to some of their former assets. The remainder of their belongings were lost to them, stolen from them back in Europe.
Glass bricks, Pashkovsky House lobby
Wood and marble, Pashkovsky House lobby
Although this arrangement meant that at least some of the Jews forced out of Germany were able to retain some of their assets, the scheme did not meet with universal approval. Some Jewish groups were vehemently opposed to the agreement, preferring to support an international boycott of German goods. The lead Jewish negotiator for the scheme was Haim Arlozorov, a leading light on the left wing of Jewish politics in the 1920's and 30's. Shortly after returning from negotiations in Germany in June 1933, he was assassinated whilst walking on Tel Aviv's beach. There were many theories about the identity of his killers, including that they may be political opponents of the Transfer Agreement. No proof of this was ever exposed and no lasting convictions secured.

Back to the imported goods. Many were re-purchased for use in the construction industry and during the Saturday morning tour I was able to admire the art deco lobby of number 4 Ruth Street which links to the square. The Pashkovsky House was built in 1939 and designed by architect Robert Hoff. The exterior of this apartment building stands on stilts overlooking the square and is quite ordinary. However, the lobby is spectacular with its extensive use of dark and light marble for the floor and the staircase. The lines of the staircase are exquisite with round edged steps at ground floor level and a curved stairwell. There is also a curved wall in the lobby made from glass bricks and marvellously detailed wooden mailboxes on the exterior wall - one for each flat and a space for the name tag although the boxes seem not to be in use now. The lobby retains a sense of style and grandeur but is in need of restoration  let's hope this is forthcoming soon.

Round edged steps, Pashkovsky House lobby
The Pashkovsky House is not the only treat in this little square. Next door at 3 Yael Street stands the Dunkelblum House, designed by Oskar Kaufmann and built in 1935. Theatrical in style with sweeping symmetrical staircases that lead visitors from the street to ground floor level at the front of the building the house also has half-oval balconies on the western elevation. These are extremely unusual as are the small windows to the side of the facade which seem slightly at odds with the overall modernist design of the building. I especially like those balconies and the simple but stylish metalwork on the lower balcony that looks on to Shulamit Square.

Kaufamann was born in a small town in Hungary (now in Romania) and studied and worked in Berlin before leaving for Tel Aviv in September 1933. He was responsible for designing a number of theatres, including Habima, the equivalent of Israel's national theatre and also a cinema in Haifa. Work began to dry up for him in the late 1930's and amazingly, he returned to Europe where he somehow managed to survive the war and then go on working in Hungary.

Detail, Dunkelblum House, 3 Yael Street
Facade, Dunkelblum House, 3 Yael Street

Corner view, Dunkelblum House, 3 Yael Street
These two apartment buildings stand next door to each other at the junction of Ruth and Yael streets. Just across the road from the Dunkelblum House at 8 Yael Street is another notable site, not for its architecture, but because of what happened there in 1942 when the Lehi movement led by Avraham Stern assassinated two British policemen, one of whom was Jewish during a series of violent confrontations with the Mandatory authorities. Tel Aviv. Stern was in tern shot dead by a Briths policeman just a few weeks later. Sometimes I think that every inch of this city has a story attached to it. And if all of this isn't enough, there is even history in the names of these streets - Ruth and Yael - both important female figures from the Bible. All this in a couple of quiet streets…

Friday, 12 June 2015

Redcar - how I remember it.

Laurel and Hardy keep watch from the Regent Cinema
Redcar is my home town. I was born there and spent the first 20 years of my life living, studying and working there. I have happy childhood memories of the town including visits to the paddling pool on the "stray"(the grassy area that runs adjacent to the coast), being taken to the boating lake with its rowing boats and ice cream vendors, and speaking of ice cream, there was also our annual visit to Pacitto's ice cream parlour - to which we will return and to which I have returned.

As I grew a little older I would play tennis with the other kids from my street in Locke Park or Zetland Park, frequent Tony's Records, a small shop adjacent to the bus station, packed with the latest dance music, and secretly continue to buy coconut ice and chocolate cherry cocktail sweets from Maynards sweet shop on the High Street. The High Street was very different then and boasted bakeries, a couple of wet fish shops, old fashioned butchers, a couple of "boutiques" - I can remember Apache opposite the old Swan Hotel but not the name of the other trendy little shop opposite the bus station - and of course Marks and Spencer, Woolworth and several other dependables.



I finally moved away from Teesside in 1984 and until 18 months ago rarely visited. Some family matters have meant that I have spent a lot more time there recently and of course, there have been many changes. Tony's, Maynards, Marks and Spencer, Woolworth, Apache and the other boutique, the Swan Hotel and several other shops have gone as have a number of pubs to be replaced for the most part by charity shops, pound shops, catalogue shops and at least one pawnbrokers. In recent weeks the old general post office has also closed with a counter service being squeezed into WH Smith to compensate.

During my childhood, Redcar was to some extent dependant on what we then called holiday makers and day trippers and what would now be referred to as tourism. Its a seaside town and people used to come from Bradford, Leeds, Sheffield and other northern cities and towns to spend a cheap and cheerful week by the seaside in a caravan. And when they'd had enough of the beach there were a couple of cinemas, a few places offering live music (the famed Redcar Jazz Club in the Coatham Hotel, also long gone- although I was too young ever to have been there), some rough and ready night spots (including the legendary Top Deck which I wasn't young enough to attend!), the aforementioned parks, an indoor swimming baths, a library, a Lifeboat Museum and inevitably a seafront filled with trashy seaside amusements. Much of this is also long gone.

I am certain that I remember things as being better than they really were but Redcar does seem only a shadow of what it once was. Of course, recession always hits the north-east very hard and many of the former major employers including British Steel and ICI no longer provide jobs for the thousands that once worked there. But when times are hard, its wise to make the most of what you have and Redcar still has a cinema (which many towns of this size no longer have), it has a great new leisure centre (albeit replacing a swimming baths closed and demolished in the late 1990's, leaving the site derelict, good parks, its Lifeboat Museum, and for goodness sake - the beach! You can get a good coffee in the library cafe (although I have to admit the new library seems very pedestrian and uninspiring - and it closes on Saturday afternoons) and Pacitto's is still there too.

The Regent Cinema
The new leisure centre
I said we would return to Pacitto's. Our annual visit was one of the highlights of the year. My mam would have a cup of coffee - very sophisticated then -  and I would have an ice cream gloriously named a cherry temptation, clean white vanilla ice cream with maraschino cherries on top and the tiniest bit of syrup. The ice cream was served in a silver coloured goblet style dish and we sat on whicker chairs at glass and chrome tables. Very Italian and a very big treat. I returned in 2013 for the first time in at least 30 years with my own daughter and grandchildren. You can still get a cherry temptation but today its served as a huge glass of synthetic tasting stuff full of gooey stuff. A bit disappointing. It wouldn't be hard to bring the old quality back in Pacitto's and it wouldn't be that hard to emphasise what the town still has to attract people. The Council might want to consider what nearby Saltburn has done to revitalise itself with quality eating places and encouraging small scale cultural activity to bring life back to the town. Anyone from the Council reading this?
Pacitto's - never mind the lemon top, bring back the cherry temptation!
You might also like Saltburn- a Victorian town rejuvenated and Picture Post 41- Middlesbrough's Iconic Transporter Bridge

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Picture post 43 - Haifa's Shuk HaTalpiot - a neglected beauty


Haifa's Shuk HaTalpiot is one of the most vibrant parts of the city. Located at the junction of Sirkin and Lunz in the Hadar neighbourhood, the streets filled with stall after stall of colourful and aromatic fresh vegetables, fruit, olives, cheeses and spices. There are also butchers and fishmongers and stalls selling household goods of all kinds from bedding to kitchen utensils, clothing to electrical goods.

Every day (except Tuesday afternoon and Shabbat) thousands of shoppers come to the Shuk for great locally grown produce at very competitive prices. Many of the customers are from the large Orthodox community that lives in the area around Herzl and Nordau streets, but all communities come here and Arabic, Russian, French and English can be heard here as well as Hebrew. Even a few tourists manage to find their way here. On my recent visit I took away a large box of cherries for a mere 20 shekels, tasted other fruits, sniffed at the colourful spices and would have happily stocked up if I had been staying longer. There is something about the atmosphere that gives you the urge to buy! 

Whilst there are many open air stalls, the best part of the market is surely the basement level of the old shuk building. Descending from the street, the first thing that struck me was the riot of colour from the produce and the cacophony of sound from competing stall holders trying to attract custom. The place is packed to bursting with stalls, shoppers and the sounds and smells of this very "Haifan" experience. The produce is terrific but this building that once housed all of the market is now in very poor condition, giving only a hint of its original glory. 




Designed by Moshe Gerstel, this huge structure was built between 1939 and 1940, just following the Arab riots of 1936-39. A competition was held to design a large market hall that would not only serve the mainly Jewish population of the Hadar district but located on the border with the Wadi Salib neighbourhood, it would form a line of defence against possible attack. Gerstel's winning design  included a central space with a coloured glass roof slab above a horseshoe shaped hall, flooding the building with natural light. The exterior design was stark but included decorative fins over the main entrance, separated by a glass ladder which admitted even more light. The stalls were to be arranged across three upper galleries as well as on the ground floor and in the basement.



Whilst the basement remains in use, the only other part of the building still operational is the ground floor which has a few very low quality stalls and a small cafe. The upper levels are sealed off and the view down to the basement is blocked with hoardings. Many of the windows have been broken and feral cats roam around the ground floor and beyond. Thankfully netting has been put in to prevent pigeons causing further damage but the whole structure is in a sorry state and its future looks precarious unless urgent action is taken. Friends in Haifa told me that in recent years the city administration has been discussing the future of Gerstel's building and how to save it. That has to be good news. Slow but sure efforts are being made to revive other long neglected parts of the city including the port area, but the authorities need to act quickly with the shuk or the city will lose an important part of its heritage. If it sing needed for the market, surely the authorities can work with Haifa's vibrant cultural sector or its world class universities to bring it back into some other sustainable use? And in the meantime how about promoting the shuk a bit more to tourists? It doesn't get a mention in any of the mainstream guide books for Israel.