Soundscapes of Palestine on the sea bounce through your earbuds, conjuring scenes from the Karmel Market; the old mayor sitting in a bustling coffee shop (my imagined version was in fes and suit jacket), the owner fiddling with the dial on the new radio as passersby lingered to hear the latest news broadcast by Radio Palestine.
It was nearing midnight in Yaffa’s present day, all the shops closed. This made it easier to imagine these old scenes, beautifully brought to life in the soundscapes that the folks of Echoing Yaffa put together.
The genius downloadable audio tour guides listeners step by step through a disappeared neighbourhood.
Yaffa’s old market, near where the tour starts, was easy to fall into; the intervening 70 years just hovering above the atmosphere as the tour describes bustling street scenes, names off the cafes and trading communities that filled the streets a few generations earlier.
When it came to wandering about what are today massive hotels, condo buildings, park spaces, and playgrounds by the sea, however, there was much more work to be done for both walkers and audioguides. How to bring forth a once bursting city block when all you see ahead of you is an empty lamp-lit park?
Some moments, however, bring Yaffa’s character-filled corners clearly to mind. As you walk past David Intercontinental –a massive hotel complex taking up almost an entire block–you are guided by voice and the sound of pattering footsteps through what was once the city’s brothels. Narrators read out letters of complaints from the neighbourhood’s former neighbours, tell stories from the mouth of the madams themselves. Voices quite literally accompany you through buildings that have not stood for decades, bringing bits of the spirit of the city alive as you tread its ground.
Can’t make it to Yaffa? There is a video tour as well. Take a look at the website.
Want to read more about that museum the tour mentions? the Decolonizing Art Architecture Residency folks have published a chapter on the three houses that are now all that remains of the neighbourhood of Manshyieeh. See a feature that mentions the houses on Page 14 of the inimitable Cairo Observer (someone sneakily uploaded the introductory chapter here, if you’re curious about the book, Architecture After Revolution)