Writer Evan Fallenberg is a fan of writing retreats. An author and translator based in Israel, he’s attended two in the US and one in Switzerland.
But he hadn’t planned on creating his own arts and residency center, until he bought and renovated a house of ancient stones in the seaside town of Acre.
“It’s old stones, high vaulted ceilings and near the sea on the train line,” said Fallenberg. “But who could ever think to afford something like this?”
Turns out that Acre real estate is relatively inexpensive, although the renovation and restoration of the Ottoman-era house in Acre’s Old City was costly. Now, after a year of work, Fallenberg is preparing his writer’s residence, called Arabesque, to be made available for several months of the year. During the rest of the year, Fallenberg and his son, Micha Fallenberg, will run literary events and a bed and breakfast out of the refurbished house.
He recently launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise money for hosting events and sponsoring writers and translators for the planned month-long residencies.
“Some governments provide funding for these kinds of residencies, but we’ll have to find another solution,” said Fallenberg.
The crowdfunding campaign is going well so far, including sponsors whom Fallenberg doesn’t know personally, he said.
“It’s cool because I’ve been pretty much alone with this project for such a long time,” he said.
His house project was inspired when an Israeli friend bought an apartment in Wadi Nisnas, an Arab neighborhood in Haifa. Fallenberg said it was the first time it dawned on him that “people can live where they want and the segregation” — Arabs in Arab neighborhoods and Jews in Jewish neighborhoods — “is pretty much self-imposed.”
Having lived in Bitan Aharon, a moshav north of Netanya, he was looking for something more urban and along the coast. He started searching in Acre, a mixed Arab-Jewish city with a somewhat ramshackle Old City overlooking the sea.
He ended up buying a 300-square-meter house, much of it existing from the Ottoman period, including a collection of bricks dating from Crusader times.
“I kept on asking, ‘How old is my house?'” said Fallenberg, who believes that parts of it existed when Napolean conquered Acre with a siege in 1799.
The purchase was relatively inexpensive, but the renovation and restoration have been pricey, said Fallenberg, because he is renovating every wall and floor according to landmark regulations and the city’s building code, in a somewhat unusual move for his part of town.
Many of the similar homes in Acre’s Old City have been renovated and altered over time, leaving little of the original detail, said Fallenberg.
“People lowered ceilings and put in linoleum and you can barely tell that it was a grand structure,” he said. “But even though this place was a disgusting wreck, you could see what’s possible here, and what it’s going to look like.”
Nearly three years after he purchased the house, Fallenberg’s new home is almost complete, and he’s starting to make plans for use of his 300 square meters.
“Right from the beginning, I knew that I didn’t need 300 square meters to myself,” said Fallenberg, who originally figured he would create a small apartment for himself, rent out another apartment and create a great room for the literary activities he’s long organized in his previous home.
He then realized he could carve out three apartments and create a bed and breakfast facility, which could also be used as a writing retreat.
And so, Arabesque was born. Fallenberg’s plan is to open it for several months out of the year for writers and translators creating works in literature, music, art (but not studio pieces) and food (he has a great new kitchen), in English, Hebrew and Arabic. Depending on the kind of funding he raises on Indiegogo, he is thinking about one month of the year dedicated to an Arabic immersion course, two to three months to artist residencies and managing the house as a B&B for the rest of the year.
“Reality and experience will ultimately determine how we operate,” said Fallenberg.
He’s also planning day-long seminars for institutes and corporations in his great room and courtyard, with Acre as his backdrop.
Part of the restoration in Arabesque, a new arts residency in Acre (Courtesy Elana Seger)
“It’s such a fabulous city, I’m crazy about it,” said Fallenberg.
He’s enjoying his new neighbors, Arab Muslims who have reached out to him and invited him over for coffee and meals. His construction team consisted of locals and neighbors, and his son and their Muslim neighbor will be the managers of Arabesque, while his neighbor’s mother will operate as the B&B house mother and handle some of the cooking and housework management.
“I was always bothered that I live in this country that I love, but have never done anything to make any change,” said Fallenberg. “This feels like I’m being part of Israel in a way that I never was before.”