Tuesday, November 13, 2012

National Streets

Street names are culturally specific.  Some countries treat their streets as long strips of asphalt while others give them much more historical significance.

The United States as a rule shows little imagination but some practicality in naming its streets.  The most common names are trees (oak, elm, pin, etc), numbers, and letters.  The city of Portland, Oregon in its downtown area has all of its streets going north/south (to the best of my memory) named in alphabetical order according to the first letter, i.e. words beginning of a, b, c, etc.  It makes finding addresses much simpler.  The only real bit of history in most U.S. cities is the use of presidents, but it doesn’t go much farther than the founding fathers and a few exceptional ones, specifically Washington, Madison, Adams, Lincoln, Jefferson, and Roosevelt. 

A French city map is a history lesson, especially Paris.  Anybody who is anybody in French history has a street, however small it may be, named after him or her.  There is almost always a small plaque stating a few biographical bits and pieces about the person.  The older city has medieval names whose origins are often completely lost, such as Rue de Mauvais Fils (The street of bad boys).  The distinction between ancient and modern Paris is sometimesmarked by the word “Faubourg” added  to a street name somewhere along its length, as in Rue St. Denis and Rue Faubourg St. Denis. All in all, for the interested explorer, its turns every stroll in Paris into a wonderful look into the past.

Modern Israel tends to name streets after history and nature.  No Israeli municipality is complete without a Rehov Ben Gurion, Jabotinsky, Herzl, and Trumpeldor.  I live in a neighborhood whose streets are all military campaigns (most of which the younger generation has never hear of).  Ironically, it is bordered by a street called Derech Hashalom, meaning “The Way of Peace.” Fortunately, most residential streets are given the sweet sounding names of trees, birds, and flowers, such as Alon (Oak), Dukifat (hoopoe), and Harzit (chrysanthemum).  In many cities, such as Jerusalem and Zefat, the names of various rabbis and righteous people are noted.  By contrast, in many Arab villages, there are many “anonymous” streets, which I suppose adds challenge to the postal carrier’s job.

Of course, there is a joke about the high regard that Americans have for the late Israeli Prime Minister, Menachem Begin.  Almost every freeway in the United States is named Begin freeway.

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