Tel Aviv, Israel
Tuesday, July 14th, 1998 https://adamkhan.net/rambles/the-fresh-jewels-of-spring-mound
el Aviv (literally Spring Mound, as in Tel-Makor, fictional setting of James Michener’s famous The Source) is a new city, yet it began as an extension of Jaffa, which, according to Hebrew myth, is the world’s oldest; it’s here that Noah’s son Yefet came to settle after the Flood. Jaffa is also the port where Jonah left on his adventure with the whale. Today, in the refurbished Jewish part of what remains primarily an Arab town, a big round one sits outside the Ilana Gur Museum, formerly the sculptor’s house and now an uppercrust tourist attraction. This friendly leviathan looks like he was very much in on a game set up by a benign, loving, playful creator and father.
A Jerusalem sculpture of the same subject would not be quite so bubbly; Tel Aviv is a fair city. Despite cranes and traffic problems, the air doesn’t seem polluted, and the coast, from Jaffa in the south to the Reading power station in the north, is golden and replete with restaurants, public showers, lifeguards. As people ski in Aspen in the middle of the work day, so people swim here. Business streets end only where the sand begins. The American embassy, for instance, is on the promenade.
Tel Aviv is too young and fresh to have much truck with taste, and the area’s natural contours are still happily discernable. The northern border is demarcated by the Yarkon River, which starts in the hills around Petach Tikva about five miles east of the city. As it reaches Tel Aviv, its banks become Hayarkon Park. This is the home turf of the tzfoni, the northerner or uptowner, jogging or speedwalking along its civilized paths. A national environmental institute has its headquarters here, complete with well-kept flower gardens. Next to it, a disconnected electricity pylon has been deftly rechristened as sculpture.
Spirit of the North
Wednesday, June 10th, 2015; Tel Aviv, Israel
Israel’s population is gravitating towards Tel Aviv and its environs; it was after all intended to be the country’s main city – the ever-practical Labor Zionists weren’t sure they’d get Jerusalem – and streets such as Rothschild Boulevard, where the state was declared, are clearly designed to be elegant if not grand (more tree-lined Vienna than grand-avenued Paris). The boulevard’s island is so long it’s a park, and it culminates at Mann Auditorium, Israel’s national cultural complex, which happens to be home to another landmark Tel Aviv sculpture.
In some respects Tel Aviv is an easy-going place. You can drink on the street, piss practically anywhere, and park on the sidewalk. Nobody minds. In fact, if you drive anything fancy, you are obliged to park somewhere particularly visible and obtrusive. The police appear not to know what they are doing, and yet order is maintained. When the audience of the gay community’s annual Wigstock festival spilled onto a main street, blocking traffic for about an hour, the police announced through the megaphone, “We love you, we respect you.” The only beating was by the crowd, which tore apart a fellow who drove into the melee and foolishly climbed out of his car to fagbash. I watched the scene from a hill; two American tourists were amazed that the police were so gentle. Things aren’t quite the same in Jaffa. Perhaps the country still hasn’t learned the lesson of the Rabin assassination: that the sources of trouble aren’t always where you assume them to be.
In others ways, Tel Aviv is less relaxed. In fact, for in-line skaters and bikers it’s a downright nightmare; such activities are generally considered here to be for children in parks. So they get honked and harassed, particular on blades. “Damn you, son of a bitch,” the taxi-driver shouts at the in-line skater (me). “Don’t you have anything better to do with your life?”
Leaving Nevei Tzedek
Wednesday, April 12th, 2017; Tel Aviv, Israel
The rest of Israel, meanwhile, is turning car crazy, with entire towns going up in the middle of nowhere and the obvious consequence of strip-mall nation. Tel Aviv is sufficiently dense that a car is completely unnecessary (but as of publication there are no monuments to the Tel Aviv taxi-driver). Quality of life is fundamentally enhanced here by two simple principles: trees are everywhere, and so are apartments. There seems to be no street in Tel Aviv that people don’t live on, and so there are few desolate areas. It’s also small enough that you can cross town on foot.
Which I regularly do on Friday afternoons – from the north, where I live, to the former Dolphinarium in the south, now a couple of bars and a car wash. (The economy isn’t necessarily bad here, but entrepreneurial ventures such as this usually fail, due to both low managerial standards and local conservatism, which is suspicious of anything you can’t order grilled on a skewer.) On the beach here, twentysomething locals who have spent time in India (and many of the more sophisticated young Tel Avivis have) gather with drums to bring in the Sabbath as the sun sets over the Mediterranean. This ritual, with Scandinavians and Yemenites dancing side-by-side, dogs playing, perhaps a lone woman in a white dress standing on the rocks gazing out to sea, is a living monument to the potential of this fresh town.