Sunday, October 27, 2013

Haifa, Israel: The Best Seat in the House of the Holy Land?

There's an episode of the TV sitcom How I Met Your Mother ("Hooked," the one with Carrie Underwood) in which Barney offers an interesting throwaway theory: Average girls turn gorgeous and beautiful ones are even hotter when they travel in packs.

He uses the examples of nurses, flight attendants and pharmaceutical reps, all former or current "hot chick" professions in Barney's lustful estimation. I haven't seen enough herds of pharmaceutical reps to draw any conclusions about them, but I've spent enough time in airport terminals and BNH Hospital in Bangkok to wholly agree with Barney about flight attendants and nurses.

Though it's not exactly a profession (unless we're talking surfers, who are even sexier by the dozen), I'd add shirtless guys on the beach to the hotter-in-groups list. During the hours I spent running along the Mediterranean in Tel Aviv, I lost my breath so many times over one torso-baring guy after another, many of whom I might not have noticed had I jogged by them individually in a part of town where they weren't surrounded by similarly built and under-attired men.

I should say here that I'm speaking from a purely aesthetic angle. In a bar or in a club, I'm generally more likely to be drawn to someone who's dancing on his own, and looking slightly out of place while he's at it, than I would be to the life of the party, the one who's encircled by other hotties. They may all look even better than they would solo, but I wouldn't necessarily want to meet any of them. The beautiful stranger or jukebox hero off to the side, away from the action, holding his own on his own, might not have the safety of numbers to prop up his strictly aesthetic appeal, but his positioning (alone, off to the side) would likely make him all the more desirable (to me).

It's the human angle to location, location, location, an everything-looks-better-in-the-right-setting sister theory to Barney's (which is all about location -- in a group) that has long been applied to hotels and homes and the cities they're in. Haifa, Israel's third-largest metropolitan area and its unofficial northern capital, might very well be the perfect application of the latter. When you fall smack dab between a mountain (in Haifa's case, Carmel) and the Mediterranean Sea, you really can't lose. It's like snagging the best seat in first class.

If Haifa were in a fully reclining position at the front of an aircraft, it would be dressed way down in a t-shirt and jeans and wearing no make-up. From an architectural/visual standpoint, compared to the far more polished Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, Israel's first and second cities, respectively, Haifa is a fixer upper that, at the very least, could use a fresh coat of paint.

Litter-strewn sidewalks give it the look of being in recovery from last night's party, which is ironic, given Haifa's reputation as the major Israeli city with the strong worth ethic. Jerusalem prays, Tel Aviv plays, Haifa works, they say.

No, Haifa isn't exactly a looker. But look away from the somewhat shabby buildings before you while walking east on, say, Haziyyonut Avenue toward the Hadar district, and turn to the right, toward the communities dotting Mount Carmel above, or turn to the left, toward the Mediterranean below, and you'll be looking at two of the country's most spectacular views.

Haifa is not without its remarkable architecture (any medium-sized city would kill to have structures as spectacular as the Shrine of the Bab in the Baha'i Gardens and the futuristic government office building in Qiryat HaMemshala Park as part of its skyline), but Haifa's most stunning aspect is the nature surrounding it, and the nature that it's built upon, not the city itself. It's a natural beauty who wears an off-the-rack dress, flats and a casual ponytail to the ball.

If Haifa were relocated to the flat interior of a country -- say, where St. Louis is now -- I wouldn't even be writing about it. It probably wouldn't turn anyone's head. But in its prime location location location, on the slopes of Mount Carmel, overlooking the Mediterranean, I can stop looking at it.

Five Great Views in Haifa's Baha'i Gardens (aka the Hanging Gardens of Haifa)

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