No, not those elections. I’m referring to the municipal elections held in Israel earlier this week. The newspapers are talking about "the Obama Effect", i.e. Change. In several municipalities and local councils, veterans of many years standing (in one case, as much as 35 years) were tossed out on their – um, ears – by the local electorate. In Jerusalem, the haredi (ultra-orthodox) incumbent mayor, Uri Lopoliansky, did not stand for re-election. In his place, the haredi community fielded Knesset Member Meir Porush. However, political infighting within the haredi community ensured the election of the secular candidate, Nir Barkat, because the Gur hassidim supported him, rather than vote for their arch-enemy Porush. This is A Good Thing for Jerusalem, as our new mayor-elect is, at least, a Zionist, which, unfortunately, large segments of the ultra-orthodox community are not.
It is pretty generally agreed amongst the ordinary citizens of Jerusalem, that one of the first things the new mayor has to do, is to deal with the general chaos on our roads caused by the building of the light railway, which was supposed to revolutionise Jerusalem’s transportation system. Originally billed as "Transport for the 21st Century", it was supposed to be finished in 2003. 2003 came and went and we were told it would all be ready by 2006. Er – no. City Hall was overly optimistic. 2006 came and went and the new deadline was supposed to be 2008. Hallo? Can anyone in City Hall hear me? It’s now November 2008. I’m not sure what the current target date is, but I can tell you one thing. Downtown Jerusalem looks like a major building site. For the past 8 years, life on our roads has been rendered hideous by the closure first of this street and then that, the rerouting of traffic, the allocation of certain lanes to public transport only (thus causing horrendous traffic jams in the remaining lanes) and by the digging up of motorways and sidewalks here, there and everywhere, in order to prepare the infrastructure for a light railway which hardly anybody wants and probably won’t use. One would have thought, would one not, that it would be possible to dig up each street once, lay the necessary electric cables, gas and phone lines, and then fill it in again, but no! That would be too easy. Apparently, there is some law which requires whoever digs up the road to fill it in again. Thus, everything has to be dig up and refilled, not once but two or three times.
At present, Jaffa Road, downtown Jerusalem’s main artery, stretching from the Central Bus Station to the Old City’s Jaffa Gate, resembles nothing so much as one gigantic trench. Jaffa Road is accessible to buses only and even pedestrians have a hard time of it, the pavements being narrow and the number of places where it is possible to cross the road being severely restricted. The noise is horrendous and those of us whose offices face the road are more or less obliged to keep our windows permanently closed, not just because of the noise but because of the dust. The traffic situation being what it is, I decided to walk to a doctor’s appointment on Wednesday evening. Gingerly picking my way through the rubble (well, maybe I’m exaggerating just the teeniest bit here, from sheer exasperation), I remembered that I need new shoes. (Jaffa Road has possibly the largest conglomeration of shoe shops in town.) I happened to pass a shop selling orthopaedic shoes and it was then that it occurred to me that maybe I should consider splashing out a bit and buying a pair. I spend a great deal of time on my feet, after all. I have to stand up when the judge enters, I stand up when he/she leaves, I have to stand when addressing the Court. Yet the orthopaedic shoes on offer are all pretty hideous – what I would describe as "granny shoes" – except that today’s grannies aren’t prepared to be fobbed off with ugly, clompy shoes. Today’s grannies see no reason why they should not be elegant, as well as comfortable – and neither do I. In fact, there is no reason why any woman should be forced to choose between comfort and elegance. When I appear in court, wearing an elegant suit, I need shoes that do it justice. Yet the health of one’s feet affects one’s whole body. Uncomfortable shoes are bad for the back and therefore for the neck and, consequently, can also cause headaches. As a result, one becomes bad-tempered and even one’s looks are affected.
I am reminded of the story of the King who had three daughters. A handsome prince came to visit their father’s court, to choose one of them for his bride. The two elder daughters were accredited beauties and were sure, therefore, that the prince would choose one of them, whereas the youngest had been accustomed all her life to hear herself compared unfavourably with her sisters. On the evening of the prince’s arrival, the King held a grand feast in the Great Hall of the castle. It was midwinter and, despite the roaring fire in the hearth, the Hall was cold and drafty. The two eldest princesses, who had dressed themselves up in their finest silken gowns, were almost frozen. In consequence, they looked pale and pinched and unattractive and their discomfort made them short-tempered and sharp-tongued. The youngest princess, however, was sensibly attired in thick woollen garments, and, being warm and comfortable, her cheeks were red and rosy, her eyes sparkling and her disposition cheerful. Of course, the prince chose her for his bride.
If you substitute shoes for dresses in this story, you will get my drift…