…Gabbay, on Bograshov, at the end of the road where I lived, makes fine felafel. At the counter is a row of additions you can spoon into small styrofoam dishes to eat with your meal. I was partial to the pickled cucumber, and the pickled carrots, like fiery, golden coins, and, especially, the fragments of pitta, deep fried and covered in zatar. I would urge you towards trying the last of those with a soup, especially the Moroccan, if it’s on the menu. It may be the best thing I ate all year.
The place is not in any way fancy, but it is always a pleasure, even when the other customers jostle for attention as you’re trying to order. It’s a good place to learn the assertiveness you need in Israel, and, possibly, in life.
But the moment I most love there is in the morning, when everyone is setting up, everything is coming together, including the men behind the counter, who spontaneously begin singing, loudly, joyously, in harmony with each other and the radio. They stop as suddenly as they began, and laugh at themselves, at what they’ve just done. I will miss that.
…there are plants in flower every day of the year. In May and June the city seems to be made from the incredible red blossom on trees I don’t know the name of. The fruiting lemon and orange trees outside my front door gave me pleasure every day, as did seeing people scrumping for lemons. I would swoon with the aroma from the orange blossom in March. In my street there were papaya, date, pomegranate, bougainvillea, datura and frangipani. And, if I was very lucky, I’d see two bright green parrots clinging to a pebble-dashed wall and squawking as noisily as toddlers.
…on weekends, at the beach in front of the Sheraton, you will find young men, occasionally young women, dressed in little, exercising. They stand on one hand, then pirouette, more slowly than you can imagine, to the other. It is something between yoga and showing off. They are strong and beautiful, and talk quietly to each other before starting again. I will miss this, as I will miss the trio of elderly men busking with string instruments further along the boardwalk, also on Saturday morning, playing Bach and Mozart. I still find it hard to believe I lived two blocks from the beach for a year.
…Saturday morning at Liselotte, on the corner of Reines and Frischman, less busy than on Friday, eating a breakfast of profertjes, bite-sized pancakes, with fruit, yogurt and honey.
…sitting at a café in Basel, an arboreal, smart part of the city, between Diezengoff, and Ibn Gabirol. There is a hospital in the main square, so the quiet, always relative in Tel Aviv, is sometimes broken by sirens. Drinking a cold beer and watching people go about their life, as day turns to night, is always a pleasure.
…Saturday evening, at the Olive Korner, Marcel has just brought the first glass of rosé with ice, cos rosé im kerach, and I’d hear the hiss of bus doors opening, a sign that Shabbat is over, things are open again.
…lunch at the Nahat, chatting to the waiters, to the other customers, and to Dan, the owner. He chooses the people to work there well. I ask for a single-shot flat white, and the (smiling! friendly! charming!) waiter/ess will ask which of four varieties of bean I’d like, and describe the character of each. They are roasted in the café, and the aroma is dizzying. So many of the things I’ll miss most start with sitting outside a café.
…riding on an air conditioned bus in high summer, hoping the journey will take longer than is possible, the one time I wished for a traffic jam, enjoying, for however brief a moment, icy, over-air-conditioned comfort. Likewise sitting in the Chan cinema on an August afternoon, and feeling chilly from the air con. Of course, the moment I leave I’m hit by the heat, like a hammer.
…Diezengoff on a spring day, the light dappled from the trees lining the street, the scent from the fruit stands sweetly perfuming the air. And at night, in autumn, the bats flying from tree to tree, drunk on fermented fruit.
…strangers asking questions that even old friends wouldn’t.
…people walking barefoot away from the beach, along Bograshov, wearing a wetsuit and carrying a surfboard, their hair still dripping from the sea.
…a walk, from the Habima, the length of Rothschild, possibly the most civilised street in the city, then through Neve Tzedek, stop for an ice cream at Anita, then to the beach.
…the new(-ish) extension to the Museum of Modern Art, made from odd angles and concrete. Finding the (many) hidden pleasures in the permanent collection.
…oh, how could I leave this out: On typical summer day, 35C with 92% humidity, I’d be melting. I’d jump into the Gordon Pool without testing it with my toe, and be shocked by how deliciously cold the water is. I’d swim slowly up and down for a few lengths, then stand in the shallow end, my favourite place in the city, my elbows on the edge, close my eyes, and point my face at the sun. I’d feel hot and cold at the same time, and it is the very best I will feel all year.
…paddling at the sea’s edge, tiny fish the colour of wet sand swim around my toes. The water, even in October, is as warm as a baby’s bath.
…on Yom Kippur everything is closed: the kiosks, Tiv Tam, beach cafés, even the Olive Korner. There are no cars on the roads, and no cars means no car horns. Many people are out on their bikes, though, and for once not riding on the pavement. You can skip down the centre of Diezengoff, and I did.
…on Yom Hashoah, the day Israel remembers the Second World War, a siren sounds at eleven, and everything stops for two minutes. People stand quietly, in thought, even cars on the motorway pull over to the side.
…I didn’t wear socks for at least nine of the twelve months I lived in Tel Aviv. I hate socks. Socks are the enemy.
…going about my day and remembering that I have, somehow, found myself living in another country, so unlike the one I grew up in. I’d ask myself, How did I get here? How did this happen? then remember, and forget again, and carry on like everything was normal, which of course it was.
…being amazed that I had friends in this foreign place. And that some of them came from other foreign places. Moving country is not for the feint of heart.
…the people, of course, are the best part of anything. Yael, Leal, Dan, Din, Ben, Rotem, Marcel, Raz, Shlomit, Nathan, Alberto, Aaron, Megan, Joonatan, Alvin, Ludmilla, and, ok, Rufina, and Saarit too, everyone from the Ulpan, almost everyone I met, everyone at the Olive Korner, oh, I’m welling up.
I will miss all this, and more, and there isn’t much point in saying what I won’t miss.
Today’s word: huh-chee tov – the best – הכי טוב