Location: Tel Aviv, Israel
A rainy start to the day decides it for me - it's art gallery time. It's a twenty-minute walk to the Tel Aviv Art Museum, and I manage to make it between showers.
After paying seven quid, which seems like a lot compared to all the free art in London, I wander through some not very interesting new work, before finding myself in front of some amazing stuff - the range here is phenomenal, with a selection of most of my favourite artists (only Rothko and Vermeer were unrepresented). Some fabulous Bonnards, a few Chagalls, and, wonder of wonders, a stunning 'Water Lily Pond' by Monet.
What made it even more special was that the gallery was virtually empty, so that, instead of having to navigate hordes of tourists and school-kids to get more than five seconds or so in front of a painting, I was able to spend twenty minutes with this one - sublime. I couldn't stop looking at it, from close up - so close I could almost smell the oil - and from far. If ever I think my favourite artist might be Bonnard, or Miró, or Rothko, well it's times like this when I remember - Monet was the superlative artist of all time.
The space in the gallery made it possible to compare his art with Renoir, and see why Renoir was close but no cigar (in fact, by comparison with Monet, he wasn't even one of those roll-ups that prisoners make out of dog ends), and with Chagall and Bonnard, and to see how influenced they both must have been by Monet. In fact, at Tate Modern in London, there is a huge 'Water Lilies' on one wall, and a Rothko on the next, and it's pretty clear to me that Rothko's stunning panels of colour were also inspired by Monet.
A mediocre and expensive (of course) lunch in the gallery café, and then a stroll around some of the experimental Israeli art of the 1970s - some of it was surprising and very good, and highly original. And, then, back for a last lingering look at the 'Water Lily Pond' before it was time to go.
Next stop, the 'cool' Shenkin - a street full of designer shops, and a record shop - time for an hour's nerdiness of shuffling through LPs and finding nothing to buy, but enjoying the space, and the cool dub playing in the shop, nevertheless.
I've often thought that Tel Aviv reminds me, a lot, of Brighton, and today really felt like this - it's small enough to get around, slightly shabby, and a bit provincial in feel, compared to London, with bohemian pretensions. Shenkin is like one of those pedestrian streets in Brighton. And, of course, they're both seaside towns.
As it got dark, I headed to the beach for sunset. Not a great sunset, but still a lovely end to the day - listening to the waves, watching a few people swimming in the cold evening sea, and watching the 'planes coming in from across the Med.
And, even though it's 'Winter' here, it's still warm enough to sit outside and eat a supper of 'Arabic salad', which means come chopped cucumber and tomato with a small piece of Feta cheese - £15 including water and chai.
Free wi-fi and cigar smoke, though.
Location: Jerusalem, Israel
Being in Israel always makes me question my identity - I have a lot of connections with this place, and plenty of family here, and, yet, I speak very little Hebrew - and nowhere more so than Jerusalem, where I get to taste three parts of my blend, Arabic, Jewish, and Christian, all jumbled up together in one fascinating, if at times bewildering, onslaught.
I always head straight for the old city when I come here, although the long-ish walk from the central bus station is rather uninspiring. You wouldn't think you were in the cradle of history here, but in a rather boring and ugly anywheresville.
Suddenly you come across the New Gate (Bab-el-Jalid), and you step through leaving behind the drabness, and enter another world. From plastic Father Christmases in the Christian quarter, to Arabic merchants trying to flog you Chanukah candle-holders, you're in a hodge-podge of everything. And I love it.
At the Wailing Wall, I encounter the prettiest soldiers I have ever seen (see the pictures) - young girls of barely 18 or 19, who giggle and laugh with each other while never losing grip of their rifles - made even more disturbing by their closeness to the people praying devoutly at the Wall. From entrance to the Wall you can also see the Dome on the Rock - one of the holiest places in Islam, which makes the whole scene even more striking.
And, then, wandering back, via the Christian Quarter, I find myself sitting in silent reflection in one of the lovely old churches, wandering around its basement looking at the gorgeous icon paintings.
Even though I am probably more Jewish than anything else (although one of the Charedim at the Wall reminded me that I am really "Meester Feefty Feefty' because only my father was Jewish), I always gravitate towards the Arab Quarter, which is where I feel most connected. Although my Arabic is very very basic, it's still a million times better than my Hebrew, and I can ask for coffee and be polite in Arabic, and I find myself a perfect (really superb) Turkish coffee and sit watching the American tourists try and make sense of all the noise and lack of order.
Chaotic and noisy it may be, but it's all wonderfully familiar, especially when I stumble out of Damascus gate into the very Arabic part of Jerusalem, and watch the shop-keepers going about their business loudly, and see young men cooking and selling fresh kebab on the street with makeshift ovens, and old women selling herbs on the pavement.
Amazing. Even though I've been here several times, it always hits me, and fills me with wonder and questioning.
And, on the bus back, I sit surrounded by more Israeli soldiers, young men this time, slumbering with their hands still on their rifles.
Location: Tel Aviv, Israel
Back in Israel after a three year gap.
Smooth, if hungover, journey out of the 5.30 am December rain out of London into misty hazy Tel Aviv on a sleepy late Shabat afternoon.
Renting a basement flat just off Ben Gurion Street, which in the morning light turns out to be rather dark, but I can just about see blue skies if I look up through the window and between the tall-buildings.
Spent most of yesterday evening with my cousins and their folks, ended up talking until midnight with cousin Rach, and then sloping back to my flat in the still almost balmy night, past late-night shops and fruit-sellers.
Off to do chores (get SIMM card, food, bearings, that kind of thing, this morning).
Wow - Tel Aviv has suddenly got VERY expensive. Last time I was here (Christmas 2005), I thought it was very cheap compared to the UK, but now, with the pound worth about 25% less in shekels, and with prices having gone up by about the same amount, it's at least as expensive as London - a fiver for a packet of cornflakes - a fiver (that's nearly $8 if you're American)!?!? What happened???
Browsing other shops reveals the same - mid-range, unexciting shoes at nearly £100, a mid-range main course at £8 plus. The only thing that seems reasonably priced is travel - an hour bus ride from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is about £6.
Location: London, UK
'Beautiful' is an odd word to describe a gig, isn't it?
But that was the only word that I could use to describe Leonard Cohen's gig at O2 last night.
From the moment he walked on stage and doffed his hat to the standing ovation he received, to the last (of many) encores, this man had a presence and beauty about him that was simply a delight to behold. He was deeply tender, tender with his band, with his songs, and with his audience. And strong and wry, too.
Every song was treated with affection and reverence, and often with humour - sometimes he'd laugh at some of his lyrics, in much the way a kindly grand-father (he is 74) might when telling a story.
'Suzanne' almost moved me to tears (and that's never happened at any gig I've been to), and 'Hallelujah' received another standing ovation - in fact, there were probably eight standing ovations for this man's return to London. When he sang the line "I was born with the gift of a golden voice" in Tower of Song, you could hear the humour in him, and the delight in the audience. And, when he sang "And if you want a doctor, I'll examine every inch of you" in 'I'm Your Man', he made it sound like one of the dirtiest and sexiest lines ever, despite his age and immaculate appearance as a kindly old gentleman.
He only started performing again after years as a Buddhist monk because his ex-manager shafted him financially and he ended up losing millions. He has said in the past that he stopped performing before because he got too nervous, but he seemed to love every minute of last night's three hour set. He repeatedly thanked his band, and the audience, and never let up on his spiritedness.
He's now added extra dates in November, so, if you get the chance, then go and see him. This wasn't merely a musical show, it was almost a religious experience (and I say that as a generally deeply cynical atheist).
Utterly extra-ordinary. Quite beautiful.
Location: London, UK
Went to see Gong last night, along with a load of 50-60 year old hippies who put on their 'Camember Electrique) t-shirts and crawled out of the woodwork (probably Penge and Dartford) to see the first show Gong have done with Steve Hillage for over thirty years.
I wasn't expecting much, to be honest. I've got one Gong LP, and had seen Daevid Allen do a rather dull droning session in Glastonbury maybe 20 years ago.
He is 70 now, and his co-founder Gilli Smyth is probably 75, and he came on stage in a mad white suit with a silly hat (which he replaced with an even sillier hat and suit after about an hour), looking benevolent and wizard-like. Then he went straight into being a crazy hippie, and did a bloody good job of it. Leaping about all over the stage, intoning crazy chants about "I am you, and you are me", smiling at everyone, in front of a back-drop of psychedelic slide-shows, with ethereal voice contributions from Gilli Smyth that sounded just as strong as they did on records that were made 40 years ago, although in-between her singing sections, she looked like what she was, a 75 year old woman.
Absolutely amazing - it felt more like an event than a gig, and I'm delighted to have been there.
Location: London, UK
I'm still not ever going to buy any of his records, but Bruce Springsteen did put on a good show last night.
I hardly knew any of the songs, and didn't like a lot of the songs he played (and he managed to do a boring version of one of the few songs of his that I know and like 'Born to Run'), but you have to hand it to the man - he has an amazing amount of energy for someone who will be 60 next year, playing for 2 1/2 hours at relentless pace.
Not only that, but he clearly enjoyed himself, and has a great gift for connecting with his audience, pressing hands and singing directly to a few of the girls in the front from time to time, and looking as if he meant it too.
But rock'n'roll, it ain't.
Not by a long way - the gig was at Emirates (first time I've seen a stadium gig, I think), and most of the audience were over 50, sober, and dressed like accountants on a day off, which they probably were.
Everything was just too polished, too contained. Apart from his energy which was what made the gig worth the ticket price.