Wednesday, November 30, 2005
* The rubbish trucks - huge beasts, real mammoths. They rule the market. Roaming the three main avenues, they suddenly charge at the one big skips, lift it up in the air, and swsallow its contents whole. It has a huge belly, and anything that goes into it is gone forever (to a landfill). After devouring the waste, they put the empty dumpster back on the ground , make a roaring belch, and move on. Don't mess with these creatures: they're dangerous when they're angry.
* New Covent Garden Market Authority people - these creatures drive in white vans with their genus printed on it. They are harmeless most of the time, but every once in a while become aggressive and territorial; they hunt the skippers (see below) and the Chinese ladies (ditto) and throw them out of the market. Observations so far (three years of field research) have not established a pattern in this behaviour, and it might be connected to the Thames tide and the position of the constellations. In their aggresive mode, they usually wear their security captain hats.
* Delivery vans - coming in, going out, always driving very fast. Mostly herbivores.
* Fork lifts - they drive around warehouses and the skips frantically, moving palletes, boxes of fruit and veg, and various rubbish. These species make a beeping noise when they reverse; their behaviour is erratic and they can be dangerous to pedestrians and cyclists, since they move so quickly.
* Market workers - from the suit-and-tie office people, through the warehouses workers, to the cleaners. Most of the time they ignore the people who skip in the market. Some are nice, and offer you good stuff that they're about to throw. Others can be mean, esp. to the Chinese ladies (see below). Other times they ask you: why are you coming here to take food from the rubbish? why don't you get a job?
* Skippers (latin name, Dumpsterus Diverus) - mostly scruffy looking squatters, punks and minks, who move around the market with bicycles, and collect wasted fruit and veg into their red bellies on their bikes (aka panniers). They do not operate in packs - usually come as one or two - but they seem to belong to some bigger clans, as they usually exchange information about good locations of food (similar behavoiur has been observed in bees).
* Chinese Ladies - they come on foot in groups of 2-4 to collect the wasted fruit and veg from the floor and around the skips, and they can be seen in the market most of the day. They are sometimes abused by the other animals (see market workers, Authority people), possibly on racist ground.
[p.s: I thought of making this into a computer game: the player would be a skipper, the aim being to collect as much food as possible before it is gone. More points for exotic fruit and veg (they travel longer to get to the market). A complicated algorithm would imitate the erratic and random behaviour of all the elements of the market (nice/nasty, lots of food/no food, etc).]
* * *
Today at the market, in season:
Frozen Lobsters, Canada (no i didn't take any)
Passion fruits, Egypt
Cherry tomatoes, Belgium
Bananas, Domincan Republic
Green Peppers, Spain
Green Beans, Maroco
Monday, November 28, 2005
Saturday, November 26, 2005
I soon realized that my keys were also missing. So I must have dropped my set of keys near the bike, and the kids simply used them to open the lock and cycle away (nothing remained behind, not even the usual witness of a murdered lock). I felt exceptionally stupid: had no one to blame but myself.
A bike is just an object, an earthly possession, a vehicle. It can be replaced, its loss is not a tragedy. Yet for me, my bike was also one of the few threads connecting my life in Jerusalem to my life in London: between my previous self, a straight kind-of-kid with conenventional politics, and my London incarnation as an anrachish-scholarly-squatter, urban scavenging mink. I was very attached to it. I decided to write about it here.
* * *
I bought it in a small bike shop in an ugly, marble floored Jerusalem mall, on a Saturday night. The shop owner was called Dov, a very Israeli name, but he had a strong American accent, a silver coloured short beard, and a 1960s music poster on the wall (joan baez, I think). I guessed he was an ex-hippie. It was obvious that he loved bikes. It was equally obvious he wasn't happy being there on Saturday night.
The bike, a hybrid, green GT (Outpost Trail) was on offer, and it had suspension on the front wheel. As I was getting some accessories for it, Dov received a phone call from his wife, saying his daughter has just given birth. He was very happy.
'My first grandson' he told me. He gave me a light reflector for free.
* * *
I was working at a software company in an industrial park in Jerusalem at the time. It was just at the end of the dot.com bubble; people were still talking about getting rich. Most people at work had a brand new car, from leasing agencies. They lived in an air-conditioned world, from the car, through the lift, to the company open-desk offices; talked about ski-holidays and pretended to be living in Palo Alto California.
After my 1976 VW beetle was stolen, I started cycling to work. I would go through the Sepharadic neighbourhood of the Shuk, the Fruit and Veg market,, and then through the poor ultra-orthodox neighbourhoods. Getting to work was 15 minutes downhill; coming back, after 11 hours of work, was 40 minutes uphill. But I didn't care, because I was going home. I used to cycle through one alleyway where born-again Jews were praying the evening prayer outside a synagogue. 'Come on, stop and join us' they would say. 'Hmm, don't think so, thanks'.
All through my programming days, I was trying to keep sane, to hold my grip on reality in the sickly virtual world of money and code, of florescent lights and American corporate speech. Cycling helped me: it was sweaty and sweet, hard and satisfying.
* * *
When S and I moved to London, getting bike was one of the first things I did. For a while I was using Nasim's watermelon-coloured bike (red, green and black stripes). And then a crappy Raleigh bike. When I realized I was going to stay in London for a few years, I decided to bring my Jerusalem bike over. On my next visit home, I asked it back from my brother. It was sitting in his balcony in Tel Aviv.
Shame, he said, I just fixed a flat tyre.
Tel Aviv, London Gatwick, Blackfriars, Tower Bridge, and on the DLR to Limehouse. It felt like a new beginning. We were getting evicted in five weeks.
* * *
In my life in London, a bike is not just a means of transport. It's a means of survival. It's how I brought home everything I would find on the streets: woolly blankets, shelves, electric heaters, laser printers, rags, clothes... you can carry so much on a bike. And of course, food. Fruit and veg from the market; packed sushi and sandwiches I'd skip on the way home; sacks of organic bread, thrown away by posh restaurants; and stuff I bought from the Co-Op, like 25 kg sacks of oats, for me and my housemates (at one point there were 23 of them).
It took me wherever I wanted to go in London: to college, to the British Library, to cinemas and squat parties. It waited for me patiently until I was ready to go back home. It was my steadfast green horse, day and night, rain or sunshine. No need to wait for the bus, no money spent on the tube. My faithful bike helped me come to terms with London; it helped me feel safe to roam and expore the city; it made me feel at home, even when I was getting evicted and had nowhere to go.
* * *
I'd like to say that I treated it well. But that would be a lie. Unfortunately I always had friends/housemates who were rickshaw riders or bike geeks and could fix it for me when I needed, so I was lazy about taking care of it myself. Still, I cleaned it and oiled it every once in a while. The last time was just two weeks ago.
Also, I didn't go on long travels with it. Didn't take it to exotic places. One day trip in Norfolk, that's all. I feel a bit bad; but then, it travelled all across South London and the East End.
I went to the stolen bike market in Brick Lane on Sunday, and to local bike shops around the Elephant, but couldn't see it anywhere. I hope it wasn't slaughtered for its parts. And somehow I hope I'd still see it someday. Not too many GT bikes in London.
Thursday, November 24, 2005
Immerse yourself in the (bustling) markets, visit the holy sites, and then follow the Baedeker guidebook for a relaxing afternoon stroll:
"From Yafa Gate we may pay a visit to the Lepers Hospital. We descend the second street to the left, and reach in 5 min. a Greek cafe shaded by a large tree on the right. We pass some houses and tombs on the right, beyond which we ascend three steps, pass through an iron door, and traverse the garden of the hospital. This establishment was fitted up in 1867, and is presided over by a German custodian. The disease is not at all infectious, but the seclusion of the patients is necessary to prevent them from marrying and thus perpetuating the evil. Hideously repulsive leprous beggars are still met with on the Yafa road, as many of them, particularly the Jews, have a greate repugnance to being lodged in the hospital; but it is hoped that most of them will in time be thus secluded, as there is no other effectual mode of eradicating this loathsome and generally incurable disease. The malady being hereditary, the children of leprous persons are almost always attacked with it in later life. In 1873 there were thirteen patients in the hospital.
The patients in this hospital present a spectacle of human misery in one of its most frightful phases, and the visitor will not fail to sympathise with the benevolent efforts that are being made to alleviate their suffering to the utmost, and to prevent the farther spread of the scourge.
Karl Baedeker, Jerusalem and its Surrounding, Leipzig 1873.
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
Monday, November 21, 2005
Friday, November 18, 2005
[An exchange of letters between the British Military governor of Jerusalem, and HM Consul in Port Said]
To: H.M. Consul, Port Said
I am sending down under escort of a British officer of the Palestine Police Mr H.H Shaw who is being sent away from
Subject: - Mr. H.H. Shaw
Mr Henry Shaw lived in
I have the honour to forward for your information copies of correspondence between this office and the Governor of Jerusalem on the subject of Mr. H.H Shaw who was expelled from Jerusaelm and sent to me under escort.
I did not gather that Mr Shaw’s offence was any greater than having threatened to “knock someone’s profanely qualified face in” when both parties were somewhat under the influence of liquor. In any case the procedure of his expulsion seemed to me most irregular. Mr Shaw struck me as an amiable and somewhat vacuous young man, but by no means vicious and very far from criminal. He reported to me that some of his effects were seized by order of the Governor of Jerusalem and sold to pay the expenses of his expulsion. He was made to pay his own railway fare, the balanced being handed over to his excort to turn over to me, and I then returned it to Mr Shaw.
Mr Shaw Cabled home to his parents for money to go home with and has now left
Thursday, November 17, 2005
Wednesday, November 16, 2005
Like anyone growing up in an urban, western/ized envionement, you used to get fruit and veg from the supermarket, or the market, or the corner shop. You bought things according to what was necessary (for a dish you wanted to make); according to how much things cost, and how much money you had. According to what was in season. Sometimes you would see something exciting and splurge. But most often you would go with a list, on a note or in your head.
The Wholesale Market is different: you get what you find, in the skips, in crates next to the skips, in bins, on the floor. Since it's never possible to tell what you will find, planning is useless. Sometimes you think of yourself as a postmodern hunter-gatherer; yes, skipping is something between hunting and gathering, since it's not just about collecting food, but also about avoiding the security, knowing where to look and when.
Usually you find too much. Crates of pears, mountains of parsley, boxes of pink grapefruit. They can be expensive or cheap items, it doesn't matter, because they are all thrown away. You get excited: you want to take as much as you can. You want more. You were taught never to waste food; you were brought up to consume carefuly, because money doesn't grow on trees. But here you are overwhelmed with abundance, which will soon be sucked by the rubbish truck and gone forever. So take it, quick, now. The greed-god is hungry, and it's all for free.
Taking too much is unwise. Lingering in the Market is risky; the security may find you and take everything that you had found. Overloading your bike is dangerous. And what are you going to do with all these fruit and veg? you promise to yourself to preserve them as pickle, jam and conserves, but know you don't have time, most likely they will simply rot.
The Market - and skipping in general - is a challenge in greed, an excercise. Can you forget the world of money and exchange, and take stuff according to what you really need and want?
* * *
In season today: yellow peppers, tomatoes, artichokes, plastic packed baby spinach leaves, basil, parsley, mango, raspberries, pears, watermelons.
Countries of origin: Brazil, Spain, England
I didn't take the watermelons, although I really like them. It seems WRONG to eat watermelon in England, in Novmeber. The whole point about watermelons are that they are cooling and refreshing. No need for coolness here at the moment.
Saturday, November 12, 2005
2. 4th November(a) Guy Fawks day, going back to my reqautted old squat and finding my old room thoroughly polishized /punkified. The uneasy haunted passing through the spaces once painfully inhibited. So much is just the same: the bikes cramped in the hall. The dread of art-toss-housemates (only his bike was there). A cycle ride there, up the Rye, to the sounds of London's philharmonic fireworks orchestra; and back, when it's all dying down, madness over, time for winter. Early November is a turning point.
And in between: a bonfire, in the back yard of the Villas; we burnt the deck-chairs Michael skipped last year.
3. 4th of November(b) all the crazy bangs, sometimes- not too often - take me back to that night, in Tel Aviv, when real fires were shot, shortly after I left the square. It's been ten years now. Words I would use in this context: disillusionment, nostalgia, loss. Never really admired Rabin, but in some strange way I liked him: he was rude, impatient, real. The years since have made me very critical about his policies, and about the Oslo process (a neo-liberal peace, a ne0liberal disaster). But at the time, it felt like regicide, like petricide. In London, the fireworks remind me how there's nothing nice or entertaining about the sound of expolsions.
4. Dirthole playing in Whitechappel, next door to where my liver was recently chopped. They kicked ass.
Limes (Mexico, Brazil)
Beautiful™ Figs (Turkey)
Custard apple, aka Anona (Granada)
Spring Onions (Egypt)
Courgettes, Cauliflower (Country of origin unknown)
All made their way, across mountains, oceans and highways to South London, where they are gracefully chucked in the bin.
Before I started going to the Wholesale Fruit and Veg Market, the terms globalizaion, or free market, conveyed for me a sense of a levelled world, in which transport, communication and commerce go in all directions, to reach all corners of the world, and bind them into a web of constant buzz and flow.
During my repeated visits to the market, I soon realized that like any spider web, the globalized web has its centrepoints; points of power and control. Ultimately, a web is a way to make dinner for one party; somebody is doing the eating, while others are being eaten. The system has its metropolitans and the provinces, its rulers and ruled. It is about hierarchy: the flow is going everywhere, from everywhere, it's frantic and crazy. But there is a clear and one-sided logic to it all. Look in the bins atthe Wholesale Market, and you will understand it: No one in Egypt and Mexico will be eating parsnips for Christmas (they don't know what they're missing).
With figs and cusard apples, I find it difficult enough to get them home unsquashed; importing them from the other side of the world - just seems so stupid. No wonder so much is thrown out. Such levels of excess and waste make sense only in terms of crude profit (figs are sold 2 for a pound).
One day, of course, everybody will be rich and happy; after we win the War on Terror, and we'll have peace and capitalism, everybody will have money to import whatever they want. And so the good people of Granda could import english turnips - just to chuck them in the bin.
Friday, November 11, 2005
Tuesday, November 08, 2005
"We saw that computers, connected together, had the capacity
to create an environment which human beings could and did inhabit ...
The people who share this awareness are natives of the future.
People who have a hard time with it may always be immigrants."
(J.P.Barlow, a hippie geek, addressing CIA conference, 1992).
How optimistic: that there can be such a thing, natives of the future.
Where we are, and more so where we're going, we are always immigrants.
Friday, November 04, 2005
after a shor break, we come back with..
1. Hava Kanasna, or warrior pose 2 (from a yoga postures poster)
2. Bayonet charging instruction
3. In case of fire, pull out hose and open nozzle
4. Supermatist painting: Beat the Whites with the Red Circle (El Lissitzky, 1919)
Wednesday, November 02, 2005
Wild Mushrooms (this week I got just in time to save some). Imported by air - don't know from which country.
Pears - Italian
Herbs - Israeli mint, Essex organic basil
Halloween pumpkin s
Speciality items: okra (first time I see it in the market! I love it. Alas too manky), curry leaves
I was chucked out by the security, went back, got chucked again when i was picking stuff from the floor. Second time i got a bit bummed. The security car followed me to make sure i get out of the market, so I cycled very very slowly. It felt a bit like VIP police escort. I tried to enjoy it.
mink's market skipping strategies (a) never go into the skips. Too dangerous, and it pisses the market workers off (b) don't argue with the guards. what's the point? The guards are protecting the criminal waste of fresh fruit and veg. It's their job to make sure tons of fruit and veg go to a landfill, every day. Of course it doesn't make sense. I'm sure they know it. But their job is the lawful and logical extension of the system of waste in which we live, the fossil-fueled free-trading global suicidal extravaganza
Tuesday, November 01, 2005
two men, not far from Euston.
A: I should say I'm am quite concerned by this.
B: Of course.
A: How long do you think it would take me to reach my toes?
B: How old are you?
A: Fifty four.
B: Then I would say three months.
A: Only three months? that's extrordinary.
B: It's easier than you think.
A: Even six months of daily practice would seem short to me.