I knew Friday would be hot, not the blistering August kind but the over-crowded, wall-to-wall people, on-the-brink-of-Israeli-summer kind. Dressed in a long-sleeved blouse and light weight khaki pants, I slathered sunscreen on my exposed body parts, filled up my water bottle and put my SPF straw hat near the door to get ready for a day out and about in the heat.
Around 10:15am, I called the girls downstairs to make sure they had taken similar sun protection precautions when, minutes later, our playmates, Amy with her daughter Ally, buzzed at the front gate. They were visiting from Michigan, and we had reserved the day for the five of us girls to meander around the artists’ market called Nachalat Binyamin and then eat at Shuk HaCarmel in Tel Aviv.
Amy and I go way back but only see each other every few years. We first met in the fall of 1989 when I was living with Philippe in in his run-down rental apartment in Haifa, and she was living with her then boyfriend on his nearby kibbutz. Both Americans in our early twenties, we were learning Hebrew, figuring out our next professional steps, light and in love. She came to our wedding and we went to hers. She visited me in the hospital when Benjamin was born, and I visited her after Ally’s birth. A year later, we left Israel and a year after that, they left. Since then we have seen each other in San Francisco and New York City; Friday was the first time we were in Israel, where our friendship started, together.
Since Amy and I had spent most of our time in Haifa all those years ago, neither one of us knew Tel Aviv well. Now that I live 20 minutes north of the city that never sleeps, I make an effort to explore and walk the streets to get more acquainted. I want to know the best falafel stand, the address for a fish pedicure and how to get to the Levinsky spice market. And, thus far, 10 months after our arrival, I have the perfect one-day plan for tourists.
The three girls and I sped off in our car while Amy followed in hers. We wound our way through Herziliya, onto the Ayalon highway, down Rokeach Boulevard alongside the water and finally parked in the southernmost municipal parking lot, a few hundred feet from the entrance to Jaffa. As soon as we stepped out of the car, Amy applauded my ability to navigate through small and narrow streets, on the freeway and around the aggressive drivers. She couldn’t believe I knew my way, which made me realize how much I have learned and how far I have come since September.
From there, we headed to Shabazi, the main street of Neve Tzedek, one of the two oldest neighborhoods in the city, in and out of chic boutiques like Ayala Bar jewelry and ceramic co-ops to admire the goods and enjoy the AC. Toward the top of Shabazi, I spotted the one and only person I know who lives nearby who had invited me to her house to interview me for a writing project. Without thinking, I called out the woman’s name to say hi and had a moment of “I live here; I know people here.” I’m not sure who was more impressed, Amy or me.
We turned left and walked a few long blocks toward the entrance to the artists’ market. I told Amy that the girls and I had recently gone on a free Saturday morning Bauhaus Architecture walking tour to learn about the movement and to try and see the city’s beauty. When I look at its buildings, both commercial and residential, single dwellings and apartments, I see old and tattered, a mish-mosh of construction with no real style or uniformed look. But since Tel Aviv is the closest big city to me and a place people call beautiful, I want to try to see and appreciate it too.
Once in Nachalat Binyamin, the Tuesday/Friday arts and crafts fair established in 1987, we slowed down our pace, eyeing the creations of recycled wallets and lemon-scented soaps and beaded jewelry. We touched items, bought gifts and talked. At one point, Amy told me we got the award for best sight-seeing day in Israel.
At the other end of the market, we hit the intersection of Allenby and Sheinkin and the top end of one of Israel’s most well-known shuks, HaCarmel. Packed with people doing their last minute shopping before Shabbat, we took a breath and headed in, single file, holding our purses close to our bodies. The girls stopped to try on sunglasses while Amy bought t-shirts, and all the while, we felt pangs of hunger. All we wanted was a place where we could sit and eat and cool off, a tall order in a narrow, partly covered, overly crowded market. Finally, much to Simone’s chagrin, we settled on a shishkebab/fries in pita place, new since my last visit. Each time I go there is a new stall—gourmet cheese, high-end olive oil, coffee, chocolate.
By the time we got up from the table, it was almost 3pm and we decided to part ways. The girls and I headed down the shuk to make our purchases and toward the car, while Amy and Ally went up and out, on to their next stop. All in all, our time together was a success, an ideal itinerary.