How Tel Aviv fell for a giant duck
FOR THE LAST couple of weeks, a giant inflatable yellow duck has been perched on the rooftop of Tel Aviv city hall. It is the supersized, instantly recognisable image of the famous comic strip creation of the late, much-loved artist Dudu Geva — and has caught Tel Aviv’s imagination in a big way. Just how much became clear when a municipality labourer accidentally pulled the plug on the 10metre-long avian effigy. The enormous bird shrank immediately.
“Hundreds of concerned citizens called us,” recalls Aharon Geva, 20, one of the project’s initiators and Dudu’s son. “The clerks from City Hall phoned too. It took them quite a while to realise that it was just a human error which took a minute to fix.”
This, of course, could only be the unfortunate fate of the Barvaz (duck, in Hebrew), a comic protagonist that ever since its creation in the late 1970s has been a perpetual victim of municipal bureaucracy, capitalistic greed and the general misuse of power.
When Dudu offered a few years ago to stage the yellow image over the city’s main plaza as a part of “a plan for the Barvazitation of Tel Aviv” — an ironic scheme aimed at mocking the exploitation of the city’s public space by commercial bodies — he was instantly rejected by the town’s authorities. It was only three years ago, after the artist’s sudden death from a heart attack, aged 55, that the municipality approved a one-month staging of the balloon just above the mayor’s offices.
The modest “triumph of the underdog”, as Aharon puts it, brought thou- sands to the duck’s launch ceremony and to the after-party at one of the town’s hottest clubs. Indeed, the cartoon portrays not only Dudu’s personality — a naïve-yet-sarcastic loser who consciously struggles against all odds — the Barvaz also reflects the self-image of many in this town: half-ridiculous, half-charming; stymied by a reality that never ends well.
The re-inflation was a somewhat shaky victory. As the bird started to refill with air, its original cheery sitting position changed and it found itself bending over the roof, gazing, astounded, at a vulgar “Family Festival” organised by a bank down below in Rabin Square. Children and parents, too busy with a deafening disco, did not even look up into the horrified eyes of the free-spirited old duck.
Today, back in its normal sitting position, the Duck is again inspiring Tel Avivians. Einat Geffen, a City Hall employee, is enjoying a sunny lunch break in the square. “The duck symbolises the openness of this city and its young spirit,” she muses. A few metres away, Eli, a seven-year-old boy, dares to contradict his mother’s determination that the duck is “silly”. “He’s actually pretty cool,” the boy insists.
Nearby, 30-something Noam, an “exhausted” peace activist, says he had just texted a colleague of his: “As long as giant ducks sit on the City Hall’s roof, we still have some hope”.
“Not necessarily,” texted the friend in reply. “The Barvaz may have climbed all the way up only in order to jump down.”