Friday, October 23, 2009

Tel Aviv: first impressions

… and we all know how often these are false and/or incomplete. Google tells me I have an hour before I have to walk to Savtadotty's weekly soup salon, so I will jot down my thoughts without any pretense at putting them into a sensible framework.

It is really odd being in a place where I cannot read the alphabet. This was brought home when I was texting with Savtadotty, trying to describe where I was. How to tell someone the name of a cafe, when you cannot even begin to pronounce that name let alone repeat the letters that your keyboard doesn't possess? Fortunately, all service-industry people speak at least one European language. I am obviously foreign here, twice I have been addressed in English before I had spoken a word. (My pale-as-the-belly-of-a-dead-fish skin might just be a clue.)

This is a marvellously exciting and active city, I haven't seen this much bustle anywhere but midtown Manhattan. I was quite lucky to get a hotel right in the middle of downtown. (My first impression of the hotel was deeply negative, but I am coming to terms with it. Is it acceptable? eh, sure. Would I recommend it? no.)

Pedestrians and drivers are impatient, pushing and honking at the slightest perceived delay, but they are also surprisingly law-abiding. Almost nobody jaywalks, and absolutely nobody crosses a street in the middle of the block rather than at a corner.

Very dry air, at first surprising given the presence of the sea less than six hundred metres away as the crow flies; but then again, this is the Middle East, and just a few kilometres in the other direction is what I would not hesitate to call "desert."

Rules about societality and communication are subtly and not-so-subtly different to Europe. Israelis love their cellphones, you see people cycling along with a phone jammed between cheek and shoulder. It's common and apparently accepted for two people to sit together at a cafe, both talking on their cellphones and occasionally speaking to each other. Internet access seems paradoxically to be both omnipresent and difficult, one often sees people standing on the street or in malls* with their laptops precariously balanced on one splayed hand, doing e-mail or some such thing. Why don't they sit in a cafe or do it at home? A mystery.

I sat outdoors last night at a cafe in Dizengoff, eating an endive and avocado salad with sweetish lime dressing and carraway/cumin/seasalt/whole-wheat bread, and did an hour or so of peoplewatching. There was a nearly-all-male celebration (birthday party?) happening indoors at the cafe, at a pair of very long tables; since smoking appears to be prohibited in every cafe I've seen (coincidence or a general ban?) the guests kept walking out to the curb in half-dozens, to stand and smoke. One of them spoke for a good dozen minutes to the male of a couple who were sitting near me — without either of them acknowledging the female other half in any way! He stood right beside her, his thigh nearly rubbing her elbow (Israelis don't seem to need much social space), and did not even glance at her. She played along, apparently content to be silent and still all that time. What to make of this? In Germany, for me to speak to a friend for so long without introducing you, would be understood as an insult.

There seems to be little consumption of alcohol here. I asked in the cafe for a local beer, and was told that they didn't have any (ambiguous: is there no local beer, or do they not stock it?)**, and looking around the only alcohol I could see was the champagne that the celebrants were consuming (they typically drank one glass and then switched to cola or water). The club-type place across the street, next to the walk-in botox clinic that was open for business at 10:30 pm, was probably serving alcohol, but I didn't bother to go and find out.

Weather is marvellous, high twenties (mid-eighties to the Americans) and clear skies.

Time to go. Shabbat shalom, my dears — and fancy my being in Israel to say that!

* I went to the Dizengoff Center to look for the Friday food court thingy that Lisa wrote about in her Tel Aviv City Guide (great book, I would recommend it even if she weren't a friend.)

** Savtadotty pointed out that this was probably a misunderstanding, as there are several breweries in Israel: the waiter probably thought I wanted a particular brand of beer named "Local."

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Blogger JoeinVegas said...

World traveler - I too like big cities and people watching. Hope you aren't thinking about work projects back home (see, made you think)

October 23, 2009 at 7:08:00 p.m. GMT+2  
Blogger Dale said...

Thanks for this! The sort of things I always want to know about places, and that people somehow never manage to tell you.

October 23, 2009 at 9:27:00 p.m. GMT+2  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Welcome to Israel!
Consider yourself lucky to have some dry air in Tel Aviv. It can be very humid during summer time and that's no fun at all.

I am following you on Twitter too now. Looks like you're in my area today (Caesaria) have fun!

October 24, 2009 at 9:33:00 a.m. GMT+2  
Anonymous Israeli Mom said...

Not sure why my previous comment went through without the name/URL thing... I'm IsraeliMom on my blog and on twitter.

October 24, 2009 at 9:34:00 a.m. GMT+2  

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