Thursday, August 28, 2014

Goldilocks at the Hemingway House

My studio in the attic used to be a maid's room but is now furnished by
 Thomasville of Oakbrook, featuring their safari-style Hemingway
Collection of furniture and décor. I have to say I'm more in love
with the Victorian-style sofa to the right.

I felt like Goldilocks yesterday moving into my studio at the Hemingway Birthplace Home. I knew nobody would be there when I arrived early in the morning as the house does not open for tours until 1 p.m. I have my own key, and so I let myself in. I had been shown the house and my space before, so I knew where everything was, and yet it was mighty odd to have the house, which is really a museum, albeit a livable one, to myself.

I could, for example, sit on any of the armchairs in the gloriously Victorian parlor. (I didn't.)

I could sit on the sofa in the turret of Father Hemingway's bedroom (I did!), listen to the soft neighborhood noises outside (someone mowing a lawn, traffic trundling by), and marvel at the fact that nobody outside knew I was inside.

I could hang out in the nursery right next to Mrs. Hemingway's room where Hemingway was born.

I had time to discover sweet details like the imprint on this closet door lock in the one bathroom that I also get to use. Speaking of, in the afternoon, when I emerged from the bathroom, I found one of the museum volunteers waiting for me in the hallway. "I'd heard steps and I just wanted to make sure it's you," he greeted me quite friendly but with arms crossed. I was Goldilocks after all!

Back up into the attic! This is the narrow attic staircase, and I just love that art deco wallpaper!

PS: I am planning, by the way, to launch a newsletter as part of my residency. I was thinking to call it "Notes from the Attic" or "Notes from Hemingway's Attic," but then I found that the very first writer to work up there, novelist William Hazelgrove, has been using "Hemingway's Attic" already for his blog and a just released book on how to survive as a writer. How about "The Woman in the Attic?" Any other ideas? Let me know in the comments, please.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Tel Aviv Street Scenes

Since I'm still preoccupied with my daughter being in Israel, I thought I'd share some of my photos taken while walking around or sitting in cafés in Tel Aviv, providing a snapshot of everyday life. Here, somebody's junk simply sat on the sidewalk, including a sofa.

I did peek behind a fence to snap this construction site; I found it charming in its own way with the pots and pans to fix lunch for the workers.

Recycling happens on the street. These bins for plastic bottles are found on all major streets and are often accompanied by another trash can for paper. I haven't made up my mind yet whether I find these bins hideous, because sometimes they come across as kind of cool.

In Tel Aviv, laundry isn't strung along sidewalks as it is in Shanghai, but still, laundry is hung out to dry in the heat. Why run a dryer when the outside pretty much is one?

Cafés are huge in Tel Aviv. From above: the antique furnishings in a café I hung out at while my daughter dealt with army paperwork; a sidewalk café close to where we stayed, and the beach café where we watched World Cup games.

Being a desert country, the vegetation is so different there! How about a cactus for balcony planting? And those bougainvillea trees! I would love to have one; I love that color, but sadly that plant would not survive Chicago frost. Even though Tel Aviv was planned as a garden city and features lots of greenery between buildings, there's one thing that's almost nonexistent: lawns. Green grass simply doesn't make it.

"Our" rooftop deck

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Tel Aviv Bauhaus

Tel Aviv is on my mind right now as my daughter is enlisting in the Israeli Defense Forces today. When this post appears, she is already in her uniform.

I've shared the experience of living with air raids in Tel Aviv this summer, but I haven't yet shared some of the nicer aspects of the "White City," such as the unique Bauhaus architecture, which is where the term "White City" comes from.

With me being an architecture buff, our first order of business during my stay in Tel Aviv, after dealing with all the army paperwork, was taking a Bauhaus walking tour. They are only offered on Fridays by the Bauhaus Center, which was a few blocks from the apartment building where we were staying, which was also a Bauhaus building.

Bauhaus building where we were staying: classic blazing
white plaster siding, rounded corners and rounded balconies,
and a "steampipe" central staircase

When I booked that apartment, I thought it would be cool to stay in a Bauhaus building, and it was, but given that it was built in the 1930s, it also has some issues, such as no bomb shelter (which turned out to matter a whole lot this summer!), and old wiring, which also mattered a lot as the fuse on one of our air conditioners was blowing all the time. Not fun when it's 100F outside...

The first few buildings one comes to on the tour feature those ship-like qualities characteristic of Bauhaus buildings, bulls eye windows, funky slim white railing balconies, central staircases similar to a steamship's central smoke stack. Sadly, they are also characteristically in bad repair, as now, with the Bauhaus district being a World Heritage UNESCO site, it has become prohibitively expensive for owners to restore the buildings.

Our tour guide said that if you ask Tel Aviv residents what Bauhaus buildings are, they will say, "those with the round balconies." They are not wrong about that.

However, Bauhaus buildings also feature stark geometric shapes, such as this window column. 

Some are beautifully restored, such as this one, but we were also told that the preservation prescriptions sometimes create ridiculous situations. Here the original plaster had to be used, imported from Italy because back in the 1930s/40s immigrants used whatever materials they could bring to build, but that plaster was not suitable for the climate and promptly fell off after a year, just like it had back in the day.

On the very same street stands this Bauhaus building in complete disrepair as no one is willing to foot the bill for its restoration. It's a photographer's dream, though, with all that rich decaying detail.

Dizengoff Square, one of the central spots in the city is surrounded by Bauhaus buildings that have been lovingly restored, such as this one, which now houses the Hotel Cinema. On Fridays, an open air market takes place on Dizengoff Square where hip fashion designers sell their wares. Lots of colors and lots of skirts and dresses; Israeli women typically are not seen in shorts. 

Right next to the Hotel Cinema, a fun sculpture installation: a conversation across two Bauhaus balconies.