Concrete and Sea Air
We seemed to have slept late with Arthur finally getting up around 1:00 p.m. We were tired, but wanted to make good on a day in Tel Aviv. I was here 40 years ago, but things seem to have changed. We walked up Rothschild Ave to have lunch at a delightful hotel. I was only adventurous with a “Moroccan Cigar”, but Arthur had Seniyeh: smoked ground meat, bulgar, charred tomatoes, tahini, spiced paprika, smoked eggplant. Apparently it was quite good.
We continued walking up Rothschild to Dizengoff Avenue, which is sort of a commercial strip. It’s always fun to see material and commercial culture on the way.
Interesting buildings on the way, but of note are several “Bauhaus” buildings. I don’t think they flow directly out of that school, but were certainly influenced by it, such as the Cinema Esther, and many other buildings. When I was here a long time ago, our guide suggested that we could have some time in Tel Aviv or in Caesarea Maritima. We, of course, shouted Caesarea Maritima. “We can go to Miami any day,” one of us said. Miami and its “art deco” buildings bear a great deal of resemblance to Tel Aviv.
We go to the “Bauhaus Center” at no. 99, and spend some time with books and photographs. Especially interesting to me is a book on Architecture in Palestine during the British Mandate, making me realize how little I know about that period. Arthur is reading Eugene Rogan’s book, The Fall of the Ottomans, which has a chapter noting what leads up to the mandate. I’ll have to read that and find other materials that can complete whatever I do know about the period and the place. I’m finding that my assumptions about Israel and Palestine are neither helpful nor accurate. Some have been formed by my religious up bringing, and others by my embarrassment at Germany’s behavior during the Nazi period. What I am realizing now is that my tour of Israel in 1975 as a guest of the Israeli government was filled with not a little propaganda, and that I have not gone to test the assumptions driven by that experience.
We continue down to the beach. What was once a section of low-rise buildings is gradually being replaced by huge hotels. The city government is rebuilding the whole beachfront, and it was all awash with tourists and bathers.
At dinner this evening, at a sidewalk humus restaurant, Arthur asked for a card, and got one. It was all in Hebrew. Earlier in the day he commented on how there was much more Hebrew than he expected, rendering signs and street directions unintelligible. It is one thing to see words which one doesn’t understand, but at least in an alphabet that allows you to pronounce the word. I am having difficulties with modernized Hebrew writing. Some is completely not understandable, others I can at least sound out and make a stab at understanding. At dinner, our first waitress spoke very little English but made a good effort at serving us. She did, however, send over a young woman who spoke English, was born in L.A., and has lived in Israel off and on. She represented my faulty assumption, that Israel was largely populated by European immigrants, such as our driver from the airport who was from Russia and has lived here for 25 years. Unknown to me are the majority (?) who were born here and helped form the culture here.
So my assumption that Israel is virtually another part of Europe is false and doesn’t work. Having gotten rid of that assumption, it becomes a more interesting place. It is mid-eastern, with all the cultural joys of that history.
Tel Aviv is, however, a bit shabby. A lot of the “Bauhaus” buildings are simply crumbling, and some are being restored with care. There is graffiti to rival anything else in the world. What was here is coming down to make place for Las Vegas style high rises and hotels. They won’t last long. The steady salt air breeze seems to make for a difficult time for concrete buildings with iron rebar. Also, the buildings seem to follow a pattern that we first saw in Turkey: concrete risers and floors, filled in with masonry. Once the stucco that covers them begins to crumble they are in danger of degrading as well.
Walking through the Carmel Market after our dinner of humus and falafel, we come upon other buildings that have been carefully maintained. Indeed as we go on to Rothschild again we see marvelously kept new and old buildings – lots of tony restaurants – and banks.
We have had very little time here, but the time we have had has proved to be enlightening and challenging. Now it is time for tonic and lemon, peanuts and sleep.