I’m in Israel for a long vacation, unfurling at the edges of summer. I arrived straight into my family and the birth of my newest little nephew, and I dove headfirst into all of it. Now I’m spending a week, solo, in an apartment with the most glorious view, high above the streets of Tel Aviv.
I’ve never lived alone. I went from my parents’ home to university dorms to strings of apartments with Yaki (Los Angeles, Jerusalem, Beersheba, Jerusalem, Beersheba, Brooklyn). I thought I might feel scared, or anxious, or nervous, or lonely, or uncomfortable, but it feels expansive. My soul feels like it’s unfolding, opening up, spreading out: it can take as much space as it wants.
I’m reading Eat, Pray, Love. A little late, but somehow the timing feels right, in terms of wanderings, and other things that aren’t yet ripe for discussion. Also, it’s summer, and I’m by the beach, which dictates a particular category of reading material. There’s a particular passage that I’ve been thinking about:
“Every city has a single word that defines it, that identifies most people who live there. If you could read people’s thoughts as they were passing you on the streets of any given place, you would discover that most of them are thinking the same thought. Whatever that majority thought might be- that is the word of the city. And if your personal word does not match the word of the city, then you don’t really belong there” (102).
So, for example, Gilbert claims that in Rome the word is “sex”, in New York it’s “achieve”, in Los Angeles: “success”. Maybe that’s why although I love New York- its big beautiful buildings of steel, its roughness and eccentricity, its charm, the feeling that in its streets everything, everyone belongs, the vast park sprawled out in the thick of it- I could walk through its streets admiring its beauty, its muscular, pulsing power, without it crawling beneath my skin and gripping at my heart. My word hasn’t been “achieve”. It still isn’t. And why Los Angeles, the city of my birth, has never called to me: “success” isn’t my word, either. And can this- a single word, echoing softly off century-old buildings, cobblestone streets, the whites of eyes- explain why Paris seems to hold the entire world in thrall? Is there anyone whose word isn’t “romance”, at some point in life, for even the most fleeting period of time?
I wonder what Tel Aviv’s word is: Freedom? Independence? Pleasure?
In Israel, Tel Aviv is known as Sin City, and I’ve never felt drawn by it before. It pulls youth like a magnet, for its wild, permissive nightlife. Irreverent and hedonistic; the long stretch of beach hypnotizing in its glimmering splendor. People in bathing suits, carrying beach bags, their hair sun-drenched and tousled, shoulders and legs bare, tanned; an endless parade of unapologetic pleasure. I never spent much time here while living in Israel. A fun afternoon here and there, a day shopping, a fancy dinner; a few times a year, nothing more. But now that I’m here for a week, in an apartment high above its winding streets and mismatched roofs, its breathtaking shoreline- I’m swept away by its beauty.
I walk softly in its streets, snaking gently into the ocean, shaded with trees, grape vines dangling low over alleys, marble plaques detailing the history of homes, poems and air-raid shelter signs hanging from poles, huge bougainvillea cascading down the fronts of houses, clusters of people walking about as if they don’t have a care in the world. Decay clawing mercilessly at walls, walls peeling, mismatched, painted all sorts of colors, rust creeping stealthily over fences, and in the midst of this: meticulously restored houses, their edges round and white, wealth rising in tall glass-covered buildings scratching at the sky, wealth dangling from wrists. The streets dirty, water from AC units pooling in corners, dust blowing off construction sites; construction sites everywhere. The ocean breathes heavily on my face, on the back of my neck, warm and salty and intimate, and I want to take pictures of all of it.
Recipe: Neve Tsedek
Begin with breakfast or lunch at Dallal. If you’re nice, they might offer you a “tourist voucher” for drinks for two. (In which case, you’ll make your way back here in the late afternoon.) Meander around Neve Tsedek’s winding streets, stopping for gelato at Anita. End your day as early or as late as you wish, with tapas and wine in Vicky Cristina’s sprawling courtyard, under the shade of an enormous, ancient rubber tree.
(Pictured above: Breakfast for one at Dallal (58 nis/ $15); Gelato in Bittersweet Chocolate; tomato + feta salad, ceviche, tuna tartar with avocado)
Anita “La Mamma del Gelato”
Vicky Cristina (Wine & Tapas Bar)