Hotel Toledo: Three Love Songs, video and stories
February 6-March 6, 2001
In the video Hotel Toledo: Three Love Songs exhibited in the central room of the gallery, I inserted images and sounds recorded from the TV in an Amman hotel room in January 1999.
The video journey begins with the heavy, almost colonial presence of the history of western avant-garde art, via a program broadcast on Arte channel. Accompanied by the voice of a French-speaking broadcaster, I roam around the room with the camera. The hotel's design and name, Hotel Toledo, allude to Andalusia's days of glory. Later that night I zap to a blocked colorful screen with the inscription "Jerusalem," accompanied by the song "Oh Carol" broadcast on the Voice of Israel. On a Friday night in Amman, "Jerusalem" is rendered meaningless, as it drowns in the blind and narcissist mix of this American song (ironically, the singer, Neil Sedaka - namely Tsedaka, a prevalent Hebrew last name meaning charity, generosity - is actually Lebanese in origin). During my search for the voice of Lebanese singer Fairuz, who was singing at that very moment in Amman, I stumble upon an Egyptian singer (Najat al-Saghira), performing a song from a movie in a music request program on an Arab channel I can't identify. The journey reaches its sudden, satisfying ending a minute before the battery runs out; on a Spanish channel, a singer (Remedios Amaya) is performing a song in a flamenco competition. She is accompanied by a small band that provides a great backup, like a 'community' in a world where this word is gradually losing its meaning. The gypsy flamenco song 'recalls' the voices of the Jews and Muslims who were its predecessors in Andalusia. The voice of Remedios Amaya is so real, that it seems to remedy the imagined Andalus space in which I physically sit. The appearance of her face, hands, voice, the look of her backup singers, hint at the possibility of relationship, of true conveyance and continuum.
The video The General's Angry Daughter (first featured in the show Sister: Mizrahi Women Artists in Israel, curated by Shula Keshet and Rita Mendes-Flohr), was projected on a carpet in a narrow corridor, close to the windows. I shot the video inside a changing room in a Parisian boutique.
In the central space, which functioned as a basic living room, I piled copies of two 'short stories' in which I tried to describe the reality dimensions that collided and connected in each of these photographic acts.
The gypsy flamenco song 'recalls' the voices of the Jews and Muslims who were its predecessors in Andalusia, thus hinting at the possibility of interrelations, of true conveyance and continuum.
[ready-made text 1]
Friday night in Amman. Fairuz was going to give her second concert and we were literally lamenting the fact that we could not go again (the price of a ticket was about $100, a preposterous price for the majority of Palestinians living in the city and in the refugee camps around it). My friends, Shai and Sigalit, went out to town after her, but in vain. I stayed in our room in Hotel Toledo to look for her there.
1. We gathered on the day of the show, Thursday, 7 a.m., on Yefet Street in Jaffa. The tent of the homeless Sawaf family, in the public garden across the road, looked somewhat rosy in the utopian splendor of the moment. We made our way across Tel Aviv with Arab music playing in the background. We arrived at the border crossing. We crossed the border. We arrived in Amman. Hotel Toledo.
2. The day after the show, Friday at noon, we went on a bus trip. We arrived at hot springs on the mountainside. We sat in the warm water and talked. On the bus ride back, Shai kept saying how awesome it was to see the Dead Sea from the other side.
3. On Saturday we roamed around downtown Amman to gather some last experiences. And souvenirs too. In one of the clothes stores, Shai and I talked to the shopkeeper. I eyed a green, grayish, thin ghalabia (traditional Arabic gown). To his question we answered that we were from Tel Aviv. "I am also from Jaffa," he said. I ended up buying nothing. On the way out Shai told me: he had such a sad look in his eyes.
4. Downtown, we caught a taxi to the hotel. The driver looked like a member of the Muslim Brothers organization. In silent revenge, he overcharged us.
5. On the bus ride back, a minute before the border crossing to Israel, late afternoon on Saturday: Ali, who sat in front of me, got a phone call on his mobile. It was Y.R. Morad who called to coordinate a photoshoot for the next day (at the time, all three of us worked for the same newspaper). I took Ali's phone and said: Morad, we went to a Fairuz concert. I gave him the details and he was stunned. Why didn't you tell me? he asked. I was sorry I hadn't thought about it. I lied a little and said the show was on Friday night. "Oh well," he said, disappointed; it sounded as though for him, this wouldn't have been considered desecration of the Sabbath.
[ready-made text 2]
I owe a great debt of thanks to my friend, director A.W., for letting me in on his discourse, a Jewish discourse, at times radical, about Zionism and the State of Israel. One afternoon I skipped work on his film pretending to be ill, and went to walk around the city, in Paris. I went into BHV (Bazaar de l'Hotel de Ville) where, on the entrance level, I accidentally came across the most beautiful bras I had ever seen. One of them, a green one, almost made me cry with excitement. They were expensive and I couldn't afford them, but I immediately started planning what I would do with them. For the remaining month and half I was there, I couldn't stop thinking about how I would photograph the bras (at the time, I had just finished writing an extensive article about flesh, fashion and film for the catalogue of an exhibition at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem - an essay that was commissioned and later rejected.) On account of that discourse I went to see some amazing films that dealt with the subjects I was exploring: fashion, politics, ethics. A film by photographer William Klein about the world of fashion, Stanley Donen's "Funny Face", and Robert Wise's "West Side Story". I remember one morning in particular, which started out like any other, but turned into a special one. Due to preparations for my director-employer's son's briss (circumcision), I had the day off. I went out to a nearby pub not far from the marketplace, carrying a script written by my Palestinian friend A.S. which I was assigned to translate (from English to Hebrew). I sat down to read, laughing, happy with the moment, and then went out to the market to buy flowers for the new mother. I went back to the apartment where the briss was to take place; acquaintances came in, mainly Jewish, and on the table were refreshments from Rue de Rosier. I got a little lost, until an intriguing, radiant, striking woman came in, with her daughter who was dark-skinned like herself (later I found out she was the mother of four). A writer. Shoshana. Shoshana was born in Tunis and came to Paris after a stopover in Israel, after 1967. We stood in the small kitchen. I asked her: Why did you leave Israel? She answered: "I had a feeling I would not find love there." Then she asked me: "Did you hear that the US bombed Iraq tonight?" The briss ceremony had already begun and I went into the next room to cry. It was the study, and I stood and cried in front of all the books, saying to myself with dramatic self-indulgence: "I'm not going back in there," wanting to call my Palestinian friend and tell him: "you are my true ally now". But I never had the chance to tell him.