Nautilus

Making Time Machines From Taxi Meters

This article is part of Nautilus’ month-long exploration of the science and art of time. Read the introduction here.

Growing up in Israel in the 1970s, my household was a place where time and languages were constantly shuffled. Three generations of my family, speaking English, Hebrew, or Arabic, co-mingled and co-existed. Throughout my childhood, we visited two cities weekly, “The City of Gold” (Jerusalem) and “White City” (Tel Aviv). The cities are just 40 miles apart but worlds away. The buildings, monuments, and markets of Jerusalem are a repository of 4,000 years of history, while Tel Aviv is a 20th-century modernist city birthed from the Bauhaus art school. When I was a child, the car ride between those two cities was an excursion, and time seemed to fold in on itself as I moved between two concurrent realities, spanning four millennia in less than an hour.

At an early age, my grandfather planted the seed of nonlinear time in me with a passage from Ecclesiastes: “What is, it already was, and what will be, it already is.” He used this biblical passage to explain the absence of a chronological order in the Torah, and also as an aphorism that reflected his embrace of time—informed by a lifetime of experience and studying sacred text—as a continuous, simultaneous entity. It’s an idea, along with many others from him, that took root in my life and work.

I suspect my conversations with my grandfather resembled the ones he had with my mother 40 years prior. And while one might call this history repeating itself, I think of it as a series of moments that existed outside of time where my mother and I intersected, collectively rather than simultaneously. Our lives would intersect again across time in an unexpected way. Two decades after my mother passed away, I discovered a trove of her teenage love letters, which would inspire my first museum exhibition, Missives , which I’ll come back to later.

The view of an obedient

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