Sunday, September 29, 2013

7 Random Thoughts on My First 7 Days in Tel Aviv

1. Tel Aviv is not a conventionally picturesque city, its Bauhaus-dominated architectural plan has seen to that. Emphasizing functional over decorative and vintage over modern, Israel's largest metropolis is like the classic but slightly worn sofa in your childhood living room, the comfortable beige one that showed its age and its layers of dirt, only without all the knick-knacks crowding the spaces around it. Tel Aviv is nothing if not uncluttered.

There's a certain genteel beauty, though, in its austere, all-white (and slightly off-white) color scheme, and as urban landscapes go, a body of water (in this case, the Mediterranean Sea to the west) is second only to a mountain range as the perfect accessory. It's also the tidiest city I've been in since I left Dubai, which means the streets are free of the litter and piles of garbage that, from a visual perspective, somewhat marred my Roman experience. Here I don't get the urge to take to the streets with a broom and a dust pan.

2. Every city has its cranky contingent (and in Tel Aviv, it seems to be male and over 50, in general), but I've never been surrounded by so many friendly, helpful people in one bustling metropolis. From the guy who showed me how to open the plastic bags at the 24/7 supermarket on Ben Yehuda, to the young lady who works at the cafe next to my apartment who opened my canned pineapples because my rental here, like the one in Berlin, comes with everything but a can opener, to my model-pretty neighbor whose rental doesn't have a can opener either, everyone is so cheerful here.

But there's one bone that I'm almost certain I'm going to have to pick before I go: Reminding me that it's customary to tip in Tel Aviv -- as the bartender at Cabina on Tel Aviv Beach under the Crowne Plaza Hotel did last night after having the gall to charge me the New Israeli Shekel equivalent of $10 for a beer -- will almost ensure that you don't get one. If you're going to have the nerve to be so tacky, at least do it with a smile so that I can pretend you're being ironic.

3. Which brings me to Tel Aviv's famously fabulous nightlife. On a scale from 1 to 10, I'd give the bars and clubs here a 5. They're disappointingly average. Maybe I'm just past the age where hot spots will excite me or be one of the main reasons why I fall in love with a city. As I've seen it so far, the bars and clubs in Tel Aviv are pretty much just where you meet the people with whom you'll have the real fun later, roaming the busy streets of Tel Aviv before sunrise. That I love it here anyway is either a testament to how much I've changed since the days when a Friday or Saturday night in was the end of the world (way back before 2am felt like 5am), a testament to Tel Aviv's multi-dimensional appeal, or a testament to both.

The Tel Aviv movida -- which, as my friend Rob pointed out on my very first night in town -- seems to be situated partly in the area around Allenby and Rothschild, and it's far more happening and interesting than any scene I've yet to see indoors after dark. And unlike in Rome, where street food is no longer an option after midnight, there's an abundance of round-the-clock eateries and convenience stores, ensuring that you'll never have to go home hungry at 5am (the real 5am) after several after-hours spent roaming the city streets.

4. Why pay 300 NIS ($84) to work out at Pure Gym for two weeks when you can use the free workout equipment in the paved outdoor mini-gym near Gordon Beach after running along the Mediterranean for one hour? At that rate, I suppose you can afford to hire one administrative employee who can tell you the monthly rate and one who can tell you the weekly rate but none who can tell you both. Memo to self: Remember to ask one of the myriad hot guys running around with fat-free torsos how they do it. Surely I'm not the only one who thinks $40 a week is way too expensive for the honor of throwing your body around in cramped quarters with outdated workout equipment and a bunch of sweaty, smelly people.

5. Or maybe, like everyone else in Tel Aviv, they do it on credit. I've never seen so many people paying with credit cards everywhere for everything in my life, which is the opposite of how the majority of business is transacted in Berlin and Rome. I haven't yet decided if this is a good or bad thing. I'll let you know when I get my next MasterCard bill.

6. I'll probably never get used to reading right to left or how the printed Hebrew word looks like it's upside down, but after one Shabbat in Israel, I'm already accustomed to the weekly weekday routine, which begins on Sunday (their manic Monday) and ends on Thursday. Thankfully, Shabbat Saturday in Tel Aviv pretty much felt like Sunday in any other city, which I've been told is not how it goes down in Jerusalem.

In the words of a new acquaintance, a 24-year-old from Galilee who studies in Jerusalem and was here for three days, Shabbat there "feels like The Day After Tomorrow -- you really have to experience it." Jake Gyllenhaal aside, I didn't love anything about The Day After Tomorrow, but if my new acquaintance is right, when Jerusalem shuts down next Saturday, maybe he can be my Jake.

7. When he said goodbye to me on the corner of Mapu and Yehuda, he did it with a big hug and an even bigger kiss, onlookers be damned -- not that anyone gave us a second look, or even a first one. Damn, I love this city!
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