My first day in Tel Aviv has been frustrating, signing things for the shippers, their demands for more money than we’d agreed, and unsuccessful apartment hunting. I’m back at my hotel, lying on the bed, wondering what the hell I’ve done, when my phone rings. It is a man called Shimon, who I have spoken to on Atraf, Israel’s Grindr, a few times. Do I want to meet him?
Yes, I want to meet him. It is my first evening in Tel Aviv and I’m on a date with a handsome and charming man I met on the internet. He takes my hand and pulls me towards M25, in Carmel Market. It is dark and passages are being hosed clean of the day’s debris. I really feel like I’m somewhere else, somewhere foreign, and having an adventure.
The restaurant is a scruffy hole-in-the-wall that many visitors to Tel Aviv, I’m sure, would rush by if they were to find themselves anywhere close. They would be making a mistake.
Restaurants here, I mean ‘good’ restaurants, are often expensive, pretentious and, to a Londoner, old-fashioned, but there would be a 3-hour queue outside M25 every night if it were in Dalston. It is busy, noisy and more fun than driving down Dizengoff at 130 kpm. (Like I’d ever do such a thing!)
There is a glass-fronted fridge holding T-bones and other big cuts of meat. In the kitchen flames flare, thrillingly. The short menu is in Hebrew on a board, which the waiter translates for me. There are a couple of salads, and the dressing on ours is the best I’ve had in Israel, where a squeeze of lemon is often all you’ll get. We aren’t here for the salad.
A glass of something Italian is poured, as dark and delicious as my companion. He hugs the owner, waiters, chefs, everyone. This is a good advert for him, wouldn’t you say. We talk easily, as plates of perfectly cooked meats, charred without, red within, are put in front of us. The waiter brings Arak shots.
It is Greek night, which means that a man turns the volume to 11 and sings Hellenic pop music into a microphone. It is enjoyably terrible. I am overwhelmed by it all; by the fun night, by a new friend, by all the feelings I can’t explain to myself, by leaving, by arriving. I know where I am, and I’m utterly lost. I do something I did a month earlier when I had lunch with Camilla, I rush away from the table, crying. I, too, am charred on the outside, rare on the inside.
I return and try to laugh it off, but tears fall again. I should be embarrassed, and I am, but I hope anyone would understand that the day after you leave your home in search of another is bound to be emotional.
A plate of chocolate mousse is placed in front of us, with two spoons. I taste it and I close my eyes and let its dark magic work through me. Everything’s going to be better than fine.
We walk back through the city holding hands, stopping at places where Shimon knows people, or just wants to see what’s going on. We’re drunk and happy, and howl into the night, like wolves in the forest.
Today’s word: hut-chuluh – the beginning – התחלה
See also: A moving story