Hot air balloon, Kibbutz Ruhama, March 2011 (Baz Ratner)
Hot air balloon, Kibbutz Ruhama, March 2011 Photo by Baz Ratner
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In the well-known opening scene of Ian McEwan's novel "Enduring Love," a hot air balloon goes out of control before the eyes of a man and a woman who are picnicking in an open field on a cloudless spring day. The man rushes to help, along with others, but the wind propels the balloon forward; the rescuers, who are holding onto the basket of the balloon, manage to detach in time, apart from one who is carried aloft by the wind and falls fatally from the air. It is a peculiar but not improbable accident. Concrete but also symbolic. A warning sign, and the onset of a disaster. But the photograph by Baz Ratner, which shows the collecting and packing of a hot air balloon that has just landed in a field next to Kibbutz Ruhama, bears an idyllic character. There is no danger and no pressure. The photograph was taken on March 3 during the Darom Adom (Red South ) Festival, sponsored by the Sha'ar Hanegev Regional Council. It depicts a minor occurrence that follows the central event, now concluded. Amid expanses of green and blue, tall grasses are wind-waved as in Monet's painting of the woman with a parasol. The sky does not burden the land, but fills the space that envelops the verdant hill with crystalline matter, and the wind that blows across the face of the earth whips the hair of the figure on the right - maybe a woman, maybe a man - who holds a fan. It's a wind generator for pumping air into the balloon, which, now deflated, is not visible in the photograph. Despite the ventilator and the wild hair and the green movement, it is not the wind that is the salient subject of this photograph, but the basket on the left. This is an attribute that attests, metonymously, to the existence of the whole, a giants' basket which, like all enlarged objects, makes people look amazingly small and cute and gives rise to thoughts about the colossal being who left it behind. The basket is lying on its side. Resting. It's all over now.

Hot air balloons are a fantasy. An embodiment of the wish to fly. They are innocent, childlike and adventurous. That is the reason McEwan chose to hurl one of them out of control and it's also the reason the organizers of the Darom Adom Festival ordered a whole fly-over of them. They are detached from the north-south class division. They are intended for everyone. They possess grandeur of spirit. They are universal. And this photograph, too, could have been taken anywhere. Not even the well-known piercing Israeli light gives away the place. In this photograph the remoteness, oblivion and fearfulness of the south do not exist. In this image there are no boundaries and fences and barriers, no expropriation of land and water, no aridity and permanent housing forced on nomads, or whole areas that have perforce become garbage dumps. It's a photograph of a green surface and blue matter and a person in the wind and a large fan and a prone basket. Looking at it, the viewer just smiles.