When the desert and the cities sing

In a unique box set, author Lin Arison invites readers to explore the vibrancy of contemporary Israel in many areas.

The contents in the treasure box (photo credit: CHRONICLE BOOKS)
The contents in the treasure box
(photo credit: CHRONICLE BOOKS)
When Lin Arison wanted to create something that would convey the Israel she has come to know and love, a place where “innovation is in the air,” she had to think, well, out of the box.
The fruits of her creative labor, a unique project called The Desert and the Cities Sing: Discovering Today’s Israel, is an actual box, a “box of treasures,” as Arison put it in a recent interview at her Herzliya apartment.
She envisioned a hybrid work that would convey the vibrancy of contemporary Israel in many areas – the arts, cuisine, wine, science, technology, design and more.
Her collaborators, Diana C.Stoll, with whom she wrote the three of the four books in the package, and the project’s designer, Michelle Dunn Marsh, joined her for the interview.
Arison knew she would need an “unconventional package for a project designed to illuminate a country with an unconventional history.” She had already starting writing Solutions from the Land (about agriculture and land-based solutions to ecological problems), and with Stoll she wrote Innovation (on Israeli innovation in many sectors, including technology, humanitarian aid, education, medicine and more); Art and Design (on the flowering of the Israeli art scene, with chapters on fine arts, film, literature, architecture, dance, music, fashion and more); and Eat, Sleep, Play, an informed and opinionated guide to the best of Israel’s cuisine, hotels, leisure activities – even where to people-watch.
She is especially enthusiastic about a section of Solutions from the Land in which, inspired and guided by her son Michael, an organic farmer, she explored research into biochar, a method of replenishing soil with carbon, making it richer and more fertile, and which could possibly be a tool in fighting global warming. The book and a film based on it that is part of the project include an interview with the founder of the Israel Biochar Researchers Network, Dr. Ellen Graber, a senior researcher at the Volcani Center.
Arison, who is passionate about Israel and wanted the project to appeal to everyone, resisted the obvious choice, to combine these four relatively short books into one long one.
“I didn’t want to squeeze it all between two covers,” she says.
“I knew it would have to be a sensual experience. I wanted you to be able to taste it and smell it and see it.”
And mindful of the younger generation and its fondness for the Internet, she knew she had to make use of the kind of media that would draw them in.
Playing with various formats and ideas – “At one point we were thinking of including a bottle of wine” – she worked with Stoll, Marsh and photographer Neil Folberg and created, in addition to the four books, three movies on DVD based on the books, a portfolio of 25 photographs of Israeli landscapes by Folberg, a flash drive featuring animations about Israel’s innovations, a limited-edition scarf by fashion designers Frau Blau and a map of the country. Arison added a DVD of the Oscar-winning documentary short she produced, Strangers No More, by Karen Goodman and Kirk Simon, about a school in Tel Aviv where the children of foreign workers study alongside Israelis. There is also a website, which is constantly being updated.
“I put all the samples in a box by my bed,” as she tried to figure out exactly what form the project should take. And then it came to her: “One morning I got up and said, ‘It has to be a box.’” Finding a publisher that would create and distribute this unusual box of treasures was a tall order, but eventually Arison and her collaborators settled on Chronicle Books (for information on ordering, see the link at the end of the article).
It is also available at independent bookstores around the US and Israel. Arison and Stoll are traveling the world promoting the project, and it was recently launched at an event at the 92nd Street Y in New York.
Arison, the widow of Israeli entrepreneur Ted Arison, best known for founding Carnival Cruise Lines in the US, came to know Israel through her late husband. His presence hovers over the conversation, and she blinked back tears as she spoke of his death in 1999 and the impact it had on her.
“Ted never expected me to stay in Israel,” says Arison, who divides her time between Israel and Miami. Her apartment is still filled with the artwork her late husband loved, and she and Ted were intensely involved in supporting the arts around the world. Together they founded the National YoungArts Foundation in 1981, and the New World Symphony Orchestra in 1987, with artistic director Michael Tilson Thomas, in the US. “I’ve always had a soft spot for artists,” she says. She is also the co-author (with Stoll) of Feast for the Senses: A Musical Odyssey in Umbria (2010), which was selected for the J. P.
Morgan Summer Reading List in 2010. Her previous publications include A Love Story in Mediterranean Israel (2002) and Travels with Van Gogh and the Impressionists (2007).
Writing the books in the box was a way for her to work through her grief over Ted’s death, she says. “It was a way of getting past the loss.”
She hopes that the box and its treasures will give people “a taste for Israel” and will inspire them to come and see the country for themselves.
To order The Desert and the Cities Sing, go to the Chronicle Books site at http://www.chroniclebooks.com/titles/the-desert-and-the-cities-sing-discovering-today-s-israel.html .
The project website is www.desertandcities.com.