Monday, July 24, 2017

Actual Touristy Stuff in Israel

When my aunt first told me she would be taking me to the "Bullet Museum," I didn't entirely know what she meant.

Actually, I entirely DIDN'T KNOW what she meant.  Thought she was talking about some dude name Bullitt who'd founded a museum.  Eh, whatever.  I'm not doing anything else today.

Bullet Museum.  AKA Bullet Factory.  AKA Ayalon Institute.  

Oversimplified history lesson:  Israel declared its independence in 1948, in the midst of, well, let's just say "tensions" with the Arab world.  There followed what Israelis refer to as their War of Independence (although Wikipedia would rather call it The 1948 Arab-Israeli War). 

Now, it's pretty obvious that militaries going to war need bullets, but when the British were controlling the place prior to independence, they prohibited the future-Israelis from owning guns or gun-making equipment.  Now, the folks who would eventually become Israel saw this as problematic, seeing full-blown war with the Arab world as somewhat inevitable.  So they needed a way to stockpile bullets without the British knowing it was happening.

Enter, in 1945, a clandestine, quite-literally-underground bullet factory.  Using equipment smuggled into the country in the 1930s (and hidden away for this eventuality).  The damn thing was built UNDER a Kibbutz, which served as a front for it (although about one-third of the Kibbutz population -- the ones who weren't actually working in the underground bullet factory -- did not know it was there).

About the size of a tennis court, made of reinforced concrete, totally underground -- with entrances hiding under the kibbutz bakery oven (to get the heavy equipment down there) and the kibbutz laundry (for the 45 workers).  It had all the risks of accidental explosion that come with any bullet factory, plus all the risks of arrest and punishment (including death) if caught making ammunition under the noses of the British, AND the added fun of spending 10 hours per day underground in a sunless bunker, with no A/C, incredibly loud machines, and breathing the chemical byproducts of bullet manufacture.

The tour starts with a short film.  Then you go into the laundry room and learn about how the kibbutz laundry ladies were so GOOD at doing laundry (as a cover) they actually ended up getting the cleaning business of some British soldiers.  Then your tour guide moves aside the (1940s era) commercial washing machine, revealing the ladder downstairs to where Walter White and Jesse Pinkman are mixing up the good stuff.

(I kid.)

Then you go into the bakery where they've (permanently) moved the oven aside and (bless 'em) added stairs, so you can make it down there in a somewhat more civilized manner.  And it's a bullet factory, with a row of the necessary machines side by side.

Even has its own indoor firing range for quality control.

I found the whole thing spectacularly interesting.  Even more that they had the plans ready for this thing (and the equipment in hand) as early as 1938 -- even though they didn't set about to build it until 1945 (when it only took a few weeks from groundbreaking to ready for business).  The foresight involved in this project, and how critical it was to surviving the early days of the war of independence, was truly impressive.

Now, my aunt had offered to take me to some other museums to see art and stuff, but, after years of museum-going, I've finally gotten it through my head that while, yes, there is SOME art which I quite like, I generally prefer artifacts to art.  Antiquities, especially.  So she changed plans somewhat and we next went to the Musuem Eretz Yisrael, which had all kinds of artifacts -- a room of just pottery, a room of just glass, one of copper, and so on.  (Also some more modern stuff -- an exhibit of art all made of paper by current Israeli artists.)  Very cool.  I particularly dug the pottery exhibit.  Mostly because with one tiny little display, it totally blew my mind on my (supposed) liberal college education.  

See, I took Art History 1A and 1B -- your standard History of Art survey course.  And it started with proto-geometric pot painting in Greece, and moved its way into a TON of pot-painting.  Proto-geometric, geometric, the occasional figure ... blink for a few hundred years and they're painting complex scenes of gods and goddesses in three colors on a curved surface.  And from Greek to Roman, and pots to walls.  And you think:  that's how it PROGRESSED.  You could draw a straight line from the proto-geometic stuff through the peak of pot-painting and, taken out far enough, that line would go right through the Renaissance.  And the line wouldn't be WRONG, exactly, either.

But.  In the museum's pottery room there was also some VERY EARLY pot painting from Kenya.  And when they started off in Kenya, they used a different style and different tools with their early geometric ceramic art, and I'm standing there in the middle of a museum in Tel Aviv faced with perfectly good evidence that the "History of Art" that I was taught was really just the "History of Western Art as We Know It" and there's whole other lines of art which didn't just MAGICALLY APPEAR in the 1980s when we started recognizing that African culture existed -- and, really, why did nobody bother to even mention, "Meanwhile, in Eastern Africa,..." every so often in Art History 1A?

After a stop in the museum gift shop (where I did not purchase the $350 Seder Plate because IT WAS $350 and also, I don't make Seders), we headed off to dinner in another section of Tel Aviv -- Sarona.

This is getting super long, so I'm just going to cut to the chase here:  Assuming you changed the language, you could plop Sarona down in any perfectly good First World Western Country and Millenials (or, at least, the ones with good jobs and disposable incomes) would flock to it.  People who shop at Whole Foods and eat avocado toast -- THOSE people would be totally happy at Sarona.  Our restaurant was "Farm to Table" and had Vegan options.  Put unusual things in the desserts.  (Our chocolate dessert had olive oil and sea salt, and a caramel mousse on the side and some sweet sesame thing on the other side.)  Also was pricey and EXTREMELY tasty.  I was not expecting to find this in Tel Aviv.  It was also not kosher.  I had pork.  Really, really good pork.

This was not the Israel I knew from 20 years ago.

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