Just like honey
Updated: Sep 6
Introduction: Let's take an excursion in Tel Aviv. A city that stands out from the crowd, which will reveal to you its unusual beauty, strength, and light.
I arrived in Israel at the beginning of April, after a primarily dramatic year when the world has turned upside down.
I can recall the conversation I had with a friend in the end of February 2020 before leaving Tel Aviv to Paris, after a winter's holiday. "I am not sure if it's a good idea to return to France." I shared with her my thoughts. Clouds of doubts were filling the air, creating a thick, gloomy fog that obscured the road's view ahead of me. The alarming news of the Coronavirus was becoming more and more oppressive.
"No, come on. I think the media exaggerates. They want us to panic. Don't change your plans, you'll see, it will be alright," she said with confidence, with her pretty British accent. The ex-Londoner who settled down in Israel kept her witty, dark humor, even though it has been years since she has moved from England. But this time, there was no trick behind her words.
She wasn't the only one. Nobody in my surrounding could have believed our reality will transform in such a radical way due to the pandemic.
My last story about Paris was a hymn of love to the Parisian autumn. It was back in 2019.
Walking at the end of October 2020 in the famous quarter "Le Marais" with the second lockdown, the romantic, lively, atmosphere, typical to this quarter belonged to another decade.
Without the cafés, restaurants, museums, venus open, Paris was like a naked person trying in vain to cover himself with some autumn leaves, he was still freezing. This magnificent city closed down was becoming, as time went by, a painful reality and not just a hallucination.
Not only Paris. Cities all over Europe were falling like paper cards into this void. As the number of Corona cases increases each day, everyone had to face the strange loneliness that this pandemic had imposed, followed by more and more restrictions.
In Israel, it was the same. For months the country faced extended lockdowns, till the government started to execute the new vaccination to all the population. Once it began, it was moving very fast. It was in a relentless rhythm, which brought very effective results.
I was following the changes from France and was so relieved to find out that I can come home after months of not seeing my family. Leaving Paris wounded and scared from the pandemic has become a necessity for me.
I also noticed that some people tried to avoid talking about the "Corona times" or if you want, "The corona side effects", as if discussing the miserable state the world has become will make them defenseless and weak.
Just like honey
What created my arrival to Tel Aviv so valuable this time? Were those abundant, spring-blooming trees in every street corner that made such a warm welcome? Or the simple fact of seeing my beloved family members after one year of separation?
I guess it's a combination of both of them.
Walking in the vibrant, energetic, and open Tel Aviv after this tremulous, austere year, I finally started to get all the vitamins I longed for. All my senses felt it. It was the right timing. Yes, time was on the scale, and it felt suddenly airy and light.
I had my first coffee outside, after fourteen days of quarantine.
It was in a small, cute place. It was enjoyable finally sitting, relaxing having my "first official coffee" after so many months, where I could only "take it away" in the cold Parisian winter. It was such a relief. It had reminded me of a story I read once in my childhood: a fairy tale about a man fighting with the strong wind and the storm. Covered just with a thin cloth. As the sun gradually warmed up the air, he was so thankful and happy, simply to be alive again.
I could see Tel Aviv differently.
It was odd and yet great to be able to get familiar with my native city again. As if I was meeting after such a long time, a dear friend that I have completely lost in touch with.
Even though construction works are everywhere because of the underground's fabrication, I focused mainly on the sight of the trees and was impressed by how flowery and green they were. Didn't I appreciate them as much before, or did I take them for granted?
Tel Aviv doesn't have the outstanding old classy buildings as Paris or London have, but it is renowned for its unique character. A fusion of Mediterranean and Bauhaus design.
Trendy architecture mixed with some roughness and toped by modernity.
It has a kind of carefree charm. Wandering in the south of Tel Aviv to the center, from Neve- Tzedek neighborhood, down to the long Allenby street and then to the narrow, lovely streets like Maze and Montefiore leading to remarkable Rothschild's Avenue. I felt like a tourist in my hometown.
This Tornado- the Corona, that has mercilessly damaged and paralyzed the cultural and social life, seemed suddenly so far away as if it was only a horrible dream.
I was savoring the warmth and the openness, immersing into the spring's sensations, letting its reassuring arms embracing me.
This whole quarter of the center and south of Tel- Aviv, is unrecognizable. Once had a totally other structure: functional, and rather neglected. Only in the last 25 years it has been renovated and polished. It stands now, proudly in all its splendor.
Tel-Aviv is a wondrous city. From one that was built on sands - it has prospered so much over the years and doesn't stop evolving.
I loved walking in the long and preserved Montefiore street, there are some nice coffee shops and in the middle, you can spot the remarkably renovated Montefiore Hotel
It is not the first time I am strolling in Nachalat Benyamin, the long pedestrian street famous for the Carmel market. right beside it, and the various cloth shops. I have been there many times. It is like I have rediscovered it with the Corona crises. It looked cozy and welcoming.
I stopped to buy a hat cause the sun was relatively hot. (In Israel, the spring can navigate between pleasurable temperatures up to quite a high one)
One of the must-do things for a tourist is eating a decent plate of hummus in one of the "Hummsiot" spread all over town.
I have found a cozy Hummusia in Lilienblum street. I ordered my preferable dish: An Israeli salad. Chopped vegetables, boiled egg, chickpeas, all that covered by tahini sauce.
The owner of the restaurant, whose name is Shai was exceptionally generous and friendly. He listened carefully to my instructions.
"Please, no black paper or paprika."
It was relatively late, three pm, I sat outside eating the super tasty salad and the lovely baked pita bread, enjoying the food and the shadow.
Shai said to me that it is only maybe a month that the street is busy again since the reopening of the restaurants. Before it was lifeless and in an appalling state during the lockdown.
"I landed roughly two weeks ago from Paris, which is still shut down and sad"
"Oh yes." signed Shy. "Do you know how many tourists from Europe used to visit my restaurant? They adore hummus and shakshuka. Many from Germany and the UK were regular customers here. There are no more tourists," He added morosely.
"They will come back," I encouraged him." Once the lockdown will be lifted and travels will be permitted."
Suddenly his eyes lightened with a cheery smile.
"You said you arrived about two weeks ago. It is just recently that the lockdown in Israel ended. You came just like the bee that knows where to seek for its honey."
We laughed. It did cross my mind; I felt that time in Tel- Aviv was now a cure: sweet and comforting as the famous orange, yellowish nectar.
We were chatting about how joyful is to see the city waking up again. I could not help thinking during our conversation.
If there were not all those heavy political, conflictual issues, Israel is dealing with from its creation, it could have been just honey without the sting of the bee.
The sun continued to send its radiating rays when I left the restaurant and walked all along Rothschild's Avenue.
The well-being gratitude feeling was accompanying me.
Strolling at my leisure, I had listened to some random playlist with Spotify when I heard the melodic tune, right from the 80's "Just like honey" by "The Jesus and Mary chains."
I was walking to the stylish Neighborhood Neve Tzedek. There is something very exceptional about it. Maybe it's the blending between the old Middle East spirit and the Western innovation. Over the years, a lot of Investment was done but stayed loyal to its picturesque - village heart. You take a break from the hectic Tel Aviv and start to slow down.
It is nice to walk nonchalantly near the painted quaint houses, the blossom trees and stop for a coffee or an ice cream. I would recommend going to the ice cream place- Anita. Its location is also attractive. In the angle of Shabazi street, Their artisanal ice cream is particularly delicious and fresh. ( it can melt down all your worries, at least while you are savoring it).
When I returned to Allenby street I was glad to perceive that the second-hand books store Halper's books - Allenby 87 in the courtyard, wasn't swept away with the corona stream.
It holds a huge choice of good books, in both English and Hebrew at a reasonable price.
It is inadmissible to see a book shop closed down. Especially a vintage one. They become unfortunately rarer to find.
The Parisian touch in Tel- Aviv
Tel- Aviv is quite diverse. You wouldn't imagine but one of the most magical places is a hidden square towards the end of Bialik street- Bialik square.
It is named after one of the most prestigious Israeli's poets who lived nearby the square,
and his exquisite house is open for visitors.
Beginning of the afternoon there weren't many people hanging out there. I felt a kind of a Parisian ambiance in that pretty and elegant place. The white house in the middle used to be the town hall of the city. I was walking in Bialik street and was contemplating with wonder the beautiful buildings.
A nice lady with an artistic appearance showed me a particular building where she lives, quite an old and protected one, surrounded by nurtured trees. It is good to notice that the past treasures are still here, besides the very apparent modern skyscrapers. ( There is a tendency to build many of them in the city)
This street captures the time as it used to be. There is something soft and tender about it, Two blocks away you can visit the museum of the talented painter Reuven Rubin, who lived a period of his life in Paris and was inspired by the great Matisse.
Another good place is Café and Bakery Shroitman In another pretty street Ge'ula . You cross the street and it is right after the corner, Alenby- Ge'ula. It is trendy and there is a good breeze from the sea, which you perceive in the horizon. No big hotel hides its view.
The place's specialty are various choices of baked fresh bread and cakes, they serve a very good coffee. The atmosphere is pleasant and relaxing.
The Israelis have discovered long ago the French specialty such as the crunchy croissant, the baguette sandwich, or the brioche. But even though there were bakeries that sold the French products, nothing is like the real thing, so why not bringing some Parisian taste and feel to Tel- Aviv.
The famous bakery Maison Kayser was opened in a few places in Tel Aviv. In Rothchild's avenue, under the French Institut, but I was thrilled to find one just in front of the sea, in the port. So I have the aroma of the baked croissant and the passionate blue horizon all in one package.
Saturday afternoon We went with the particular, comfortable bus 706 (a special service on the weekend cause there are no buses on Saturday) that takes you all the way, from Northern Tel - Aviv till Jaffa. The stop was just right by the clock tower in Jaffa's center.
If one wants to feel the mystical, biblical atmosphere associated with Israel, it is not only found in Jerusalem or the Dead -Sea. The very ancient district Jaffa has all the right ingredients for the spirituality flair.
It was relatively hot, and we went inside the alleys near the flea market. Many young people were dancing in one of the streets to some oriental- Hebrew music.
They seemed to celebrate freedom. (from last Sunday the masks are not obligatory outside) A nice lady from a hotel's reception nearby indicated to us a Café less crowded and noisy close by.
I had a kind of "Berlin déjà vu" in that Café Niso -No'am st 5, surrounded by art street paintings on the wall. Funky music was playing inside the Café. Basically, it's like you are sitting in the middle of the road, In this small pedestrian lane.
"What is the "house tea"? ( written in the menu) I asked the waiter.
"It's a green tea with slices of lemon, ginger, and honey."
I have opted for that choice, to change from my regular coffee order.
It was relaxing to sit there, in the shade, drinking a healthy tea, listening to the rhythmical tunes.
We continued our pleasant walking in that spring lighted day in the historical part of Jaffa, until we have reached the astonishing extended garden on the hill "Gan Hapisgah", overlooking the biggest church in Jaffa right by the sea,
Saint Peter's church. The landscape was remarkably impressive and I soaked completely in that spectacular sight.
The mystical atmosphere of Jaffa lays in the fact that it has three populations living there together: Israelis, Arabs, and Christians. This integration in this preserved ancient area has created its own special identity, each culture has contributed its own spices.
The oriental scents are quite dominating, adding to the exotic experience when one is walking around in Jaffa.
If the pita bread (in all its variation) was the incontestable queen of the town, with a bakery like" Abulafia".Surprisingly I found that the new desert trend is the "Cnafeh": the sweet Arabic pastry. I saw it everywhere, and there were long queues near the bakeries which sell them.
My friend had to go, and I decided to stroll on the promenade starting in Jaffa until Tel Aviv's port, right in the north.
Plenty of people were walking, jogging, doing various kinds of sport. Late afternoon and the sun was rather fiery in the clear sky.
While I was advancing, it was time for the sunset. The sky was painted in pink, orange shades
The scenery was inspiring.
All of a sudden I heard a call that interfered with the tranquility. " An important message. Swimming in the sea without a lifeguard is dangerous. Please get out of the water."
It seemed that the boisterous crowd on the beach was frozen for a moment, and then it returned to life again.
I was sitting on a bench In front of the sea and continued to absorb the panoramic landscape.
From a distance, it was glittering in grey-blue. As the sun approached slowly to the sea, it was pouring into the dark secretive water, some golden drops of honey.
Text and photos