Just Above Sunset
June 11, 2006 - Moving South, Changing Culture

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After a long absence, a new column from Our Man in Tel-Aviv - Sylvain Ubersfeld. And it seems he's moved, but not that far away. South Tel-Aviv, explained here, with six cool photos. They follow the text.

Tel-Aviv: May 31st 2006


Tired of the continuous attacks of the cockroaches hiding behind my refrigerator in the apartment of Ramat Aviv, I have escaped from North Tel Aviv and moved to a different place.  The reputable American firm I work for had asked a relocation company to help me finding a more suitable place. It took ten visits in ugly concrete buildings to finally find the right place - a five-year-old modern building located in the corner of Daniel street and Hakovshim, in South Tel -Aviv !


South Tel-Aviv!  I still can't believe it!  Expatriates usually choose the quiet and rich area of North Tel-Aviv to settle and enjoy the several country clubs catering to the rich and famous (especially the rich).  Expatriates usually choose to shop in the Ramat-Aviv shopping center where one can find international luxury items ranging from Ralph Lauren polo to Gucci bags and Stern watches. I chose to go in the opposite direction, towards the south, and I only realize now that I have changed culture and life style!


I have become a "drommi" (from the word Drom:South ), an inhabitant of the select south Tel Aviv community!


The south of Tel-Aviv is where the culture is, near Neve-Tzedek, a small village inside the big town, a remote location where artists' workshops are located in derelict houses but are displaying artifacts at unaffordable prices.  The south of Tel-Aviv is where freedom has taken over.  There is such a spirit of freedom there that it has become a dangerous area for religiously minded people.  Not because they will fear being assaulted, but simply because they would probably see signs of sin every hundred meters - homosexual bars, nearly naked female bodies returning from the sea shore 100 meters away.  Not far from my apartment, in a street which I will not name, there is even a building catering to the swinging community of Tel-Aviv.  Interesting details were found on the English web page of Yedihyot Araronot http://www.ynetnews.com/home/0,7340,L-3083,00.html  (the Latest News, a reputable newspaper) a few weeks ago - indeed South Tel-Aviv inhabitants are hedonists .


My new residence faces the beach.


Instead of being senior citizens pulling their cats or dogs on a leash and discussing pension issues while going down the elevator, my new neighbors are young urban professionals. They smile, they talk to me when our paths cross.  From my two terraces located on the 7th and 8th floor, I can now see the ocean and the sandy beach whereas before I could only observe with melancholy the urban horizon of central Tel-Aviv.  On the other side of the building lays the bus station of Carmelit, close to Carmel market where fresh fruit and vegetables are on display everyday but Shabbat, and where one can also find contraband vodka, counterfeit cigarettes, fake Levi’s jean made in the territories, Philippi no foodstuffs, socks sold in bunches of 10 pairs for 10 shekel, hot pita bread, hummus, halva, candies.


When the sun gets higher in the sky, the entire area gets extremely hot and the smells erupt like volcano fumes - human and cat urine, sewers, rotten food, dust, exhaust gas but for some reason, I have already integrated all of those in my memory of smells and my nose does not get the least offended.  It stinks for sure, but to me, it stinks good.  


Along the seashore lays the "Taielet," a mile and half long promenade paced by Tel-Avivians on a daily basis - those Tel-Avivians who are not earning income from eight to three that is . Along the road to Jaffa, located a few hundred yards from my apartment, the old horse draws his cart full of scrap metal walks at a regular pace towards the small Arab town without even looking at the sea shore or the swimmers.


The evening ritual which I can now enjoy is sitting on the terrace, watching the sun drown in the see and drink a pastis (French version of the middle-eastern Arak, an anis drink mixed with water) while enjoying my new status of south Tel-Aviv resident.  The building across from my balcony includes large terraces on the top, most of them built with rooftop gardens and verandahs, where some suspicious green plants, possibly of South American origin, enjoy the Israeli sun and produce wonderful harvests which can be smoked in the seclusion of a sun-baked open space.  If I bow over the lower balcony, I can see the Mosque, just across from the Dolphinarium.


My neighbors ride bicycles most of the time, they read progressive newspapers, they drink beer, they surf, they enjoy life and smoke weird plants of south American origin which  generates a certain well being and make them keep a smiling face at all times.  My neighbors love life!


As a result of my changing culture from bourgeois Ramat Aviv to urban South Tel-Aviv, I now walk bare feet in my apartment!  To adjust to the new community, I have changed my clothes from "conservative business" to black jeans and black T-shirt.  I have cut my hair short, grown a designer's beard - anything goes to adjust to this new environment!  As a result of traveling south, I fell in love with the smelly dirty South Tel-Aviv.  Instead of waking up to the barking of stray or domesticated dogs, I wake up to the sound of waves, and my early mornings are illuminated with the jade color of the sea and the light purple of dawn.


In between derelict building, "schnorrers" of Russian origin (professional beggars, a part of the Jewish history amongst centuries) hold out their hand for vodka money, but they are a part of the landscape and I have grown accustomed to them.  The streets leading to the beach are covered with a thin layer of sand, the pavement is cracked, but who cares?  I never look at the pavement - my eyes are focused on the horizon, where the color of the sea meets the color of the sky!


I thought I was a bourgeois.  I am becoming a beach bum who eventually smokes his water pipe on the beach and drinks beer just like Israelis do.  I thought I would not be able to live anywhere else besides posh Ramat Aviv, and I found out that until last week, I was living in a cultural darkness.  Living in South Tel–Aviv may affect you approach to life, but rest assured that it is not dangerous. The risks are limited - getting your bicycle stolen?  Slipping on a piece of rotten fruit close to Carmel market?  Getting attacked by a hungry stray cat? No,


The biggest risk is not a possible terrorist attack - it is simply to get addicted to the beach, to South Tel-Aviv, and to never ever want to return to Europe.

South Tel-Aviv, May 31, 2006

South Tel-Aviv, May 31, 2006

South Tel-Aviv, May 31, 2006

South Tel-Aviv, May 31, 2006

South Tel-Aviv, May 31, 2006

South Tel-Aviv, May 31, 2006

Photos and Text, Copyright 2006 - Sylvain Ubersfeld

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Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik

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