Thursday, October 31, 2013

Ghost signs from the Levant

A week of my recent overseas trip was spent in Israel seeing family. The country isn't big on bricks or painted signage but I did find some ghost signs here and there. It hardly needs to be said, but this part of the world is intensely layered, with ghosts lingering both from recent times and various points over the last few thousand years.

Firstly, Tel Aviv/Jaffa. In  Tel Aviv's older southern areas and the nearby ancient port city of Jaffa, some of the complexity comes through. This signs tells a story of this jeweller's identity as a Sephardic Jew with Mediterranean/North African/Arab roots (like my father). And like my dad's family, it seems to reveal a history of living in France, which many Sephardim did after being booted out of Arab countries in the 1950s and 1960s:

Other signs point to the displacement and marginalisation of Palestinian culture and language. These ones are in Jaffa (which still has a sizeable Arab population, but not like it once was):

There are hints of the British Mandate period (mostly between the world wars), when the Brits tried to run this very unruly part of the world:

And references to a much earlier, Biblical time:

But mostly, the local signs reveal a history as an emerging, hard-scrabble nation fighting to make ends meet through improvisation. Here, the Hebrew language is brought back to life, but Arabic (which many Sephardim spoke as a first language before the 1948 war) is relegated to invisibility:

In Jerusalem's Old City, overt religiosity is a major theme:

At the 6th Station of the Cross on the Via Delorosa
As is the religion of commerce:

There are many traces of pilgrims over the centuries, such as in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre:

The crosses are Crusader-era pilgrims, so I'm told

And just to finish things off: the former film powerhouse, Kodak, overlooking the much older landscape of the Via Delorosa:

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

French ghost signs

Just back and disoriented after a three-week trip to other countries, including a week or so in Paris and Lyon.

Here then are the ghost signs I stumbled on in those parts. What's interesting is that in the four to five days we spent in Paris - which involved us walking around so much we were physical wrecks by the end of each day - few signs revealed themselves. Why? The Paris Is Invisible blog says it well:

"What is clear though is why there are so few examples in Paris. Hand painted adverts need brick to survive! Paris, with its neat stone facades, limited blank wall space and the obligatory sandblasting of buildings could not expect to keep many traces. "

This makes owners told me that doing anything to buildings in the Arrondissements of inner Paris is a bureaucratic nightmare. Inner Paris is under heavy protection, including the height restrictions that have been around for hundreds of years.

Any large wall signs I did find were invariably in the poorer, less cared-for parts of the city - particularly the north. In fact, I saw quite a few from inside the taxi taking us from Charles De Gaulle airport through the industrial outer north - but alas not long enough to be able to take pics.

Of the signs I did spy, only a few seemed to signal the mass painted product advertising you can see in other countries. Instead many were small in scale, intricate and advertised shops on boards or lintels. These were often beautifully painted, with fine detail.

Anyway here are some pics including ones in Paris and a few in Lyon and Annecy. For more on French ghost signs, Sam Roberts has a good roundup on his site, via his "France" tag:

Nicest fire hydrant sign I've ever seen.

A beauty. Wish my zoom was Montmartre/Pigalle where we were staying

An outstanding couple...the top one has a 1930s date on it. Obviously the locals think so too - this is the first ghost sign I've ever seen protected like this. 

Now out of Paris on train to Lyon...snapped what I could.

That's not a cassette tape - it's my iPhone case. 

The next few are in Lyon

Taken from above - signage of a different order, in the ruins of Roman Lyon. Stelae marking the achievements of dead notables were placed throughout the city (see below ) 

Beautiful deco sign...unfortunately taken at night

Train, in the rain, on the way to Annecy

Annecy: not a ghost sign, but an actual recent painted ad in the covered walkways of the brilliant old city

Ghost coat of arms in the old city


And Annecy...

..and back to Paris. The rest are from the capital. 

Same sign, different sides, night and day.

An uncovering.
In a covered arcade

Not a ghost sign, but one of many fabulous mosaic signs

Ghostly form, ghostly representation

Couldn't quite get a good angle on this one


Jewish ghost sign in Le Marais

Two kinds of ghost signs: the one below and the more sobering one above, a memorial to victims of the Nazis

More mosaic...for a closed public toilet

Still operating

Look above the new gold lettering

Spied by chance in a covered driveway...see the next two too.

Painted in the 1930...somethings

Advertising a shop that has been there since 1846

The perils of vinyl lettering