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On a small side-street in the heart of Jaffa's lively flea market, one Israeli artisan has found a place to call home. "Everyone told me that the shuk is the wrong place for artistic work," says Yafit Golan as she wipes the dust from a newly-finished, oval table. "But I knew this was the place for my soul, and I can't imagine being anywhere else."
The antique yellow table before her, adorned with an orange sun motif, was a custom order. "I dreamt about what color to put in this table," she says, patting the shiny surface like an old friend. "That's how much I think about my work, but I love what I do, so it's fun."
Along with an eclectic collection of crystal lampshades, antique furniture, porcelain lamps and second-hand items, Golan also makes mosaics of her own that she sells in the shop, "Shibutzim ba-Shuk." The name, which literally translates as "Assignments or Settings in the Market," actually evolved from a phonetic mistake.
"When I first moved in, I wanted to call the shop 'Shiputzim ba-Shuk,' which means 'Renovations in the Market,'" says Golan, "but the Arabs couldn't pronounce it and they kept saying 'Shibutzim' instead of 'Shiputzim,' so I decided to adopt their pronunciation and now, for me it also references 'mashbetzet,' or 'incorporate' too. These are the details that make being here special, and what makes the experience authentic."
As Golan points out tables, cabinets, lamps, bowls, jewelry boxes and even decorative mannequins covered with her signature mosaic patterns, a toothless elderly woman across the street chants, "flip-flops for ten! Flip flops for ten!" wildly waving a pair of white plastic thongs through the air above her head.
"This is why I love this place," says Golan, glancing at the woman across the street who sometimes comes over to sit in a chair or drink a glass of water. "The people here have little money and hearts of lions. You could do an anthropological study of great interest."
Golan, who grew up in Kiryat Shmona and worked in computers for nine years in a comfortable, air-conditioned office in Tel Aviv, explains that one day a few years ago, she woke up and knew that it was time for a change. "I got a divorce and then I went to India to sit on a beach and think, and when I returned, I knew I wanted a shop in the shuk," she says, giving her pink cotton T-shirt a tug. "I needed something for the soul."
But Golan also knew that sitting in a shop waiting for people to buy odds and ends would be too boring, so she decided to make things of her own during opening hours. Always attracted to the mosaics she had seen on her travels through India and Morocco, she decided to take a course in mosaics and try her hand at original designs.
After she finished the class, Golan's teacher recommended that she implement her talent for colors into one of-a-kind mosaics.
"Each one of my pieces is different because they are all on different objects, but they always emerge in circular patterns," says Golan. "I don't know why, but I never make squares."
The mosaic process starts with antiques that have surfaces adaptable for mosaics. Golan usually buys these items somewhere in Jaffa's sprawling flea market, where she says great deals abound for the discriminating eye. "I like to recycle things from the market, and I buy Limoges and expensive antiques here really cheaply all the time," says Golan. "If you look, you can find super deals."
Then, the search for tiles begins. "People bring me antique, spare tiles all the time that come from all over the world," says Golan. "It's one of the things that make my mosaics different. I only use unique ceramics." Some of the tiles are ordered from a man in Hebron who brings Golan Armenian tiles, and some she buys herself in the market.
The hardest part of the work is breaking the tiles, one by one, into pieces that are the right size. "I can sit for hours watching TV and breaking tiles with special metal tongs," Golan says. "I find the repetition relaxing and therapeutic."
Once the tiles have been selected and broken into pieces, Golan glues them onto the surface in swirling, round patterns. Last, she uses colored grout between each piece, both to add tint and make the surface smooth.
The process is labor intensive, but Golan has help from her friends in the market. They come and go in a steady stream, dropping off something useful and usually staying for a drink. Behind her, a small pile of old rags that a seller brought her this morning for cleaning the grout is heaped into a corner. "People are constantly bringing me things," she says, "even the ones without two pennies to rub together."
Golan says it is hard to know exactly how a mosaic is going to look until after the grout dries and the dust is rubbed away. "That is my favorite part of the process, when the colors and patterns emerge," says Golan. "It's like opening a gift."
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