Condé Nast Traveler says Viva Tel Aviv

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

There's a huge article in the June edition of Conde Nast Traveler dedicated to Tel Aviv. We've picked out some interesting bits, or you can read the full article here.

Tel Aviv is a city of paradoxes, which makes for a productive creative tension. The first is that it is the center of modern Hebrew culture, where a new national identity was forged, but it's also extremely internationally minded. Most young people speak English and travel as often and as far as they can. Perhaps it's because Tel Aviv faces the ocean, and the west. And also because Israel's Arab neighbors either don't allow Israelis in or are considered too dangerous to visit. When the neighborhood is out of bounds, the wider world seems much more approachable. "Somehow the distance from here to New York or Berlin seems shorter than to Jerusalem or Haifa," says my dinner companion Shlomzion Kenan. A novelist and former book critic for the daily newspapers Ha'aretz and Yediot Aharonot, Shlomzion is a veteran of the Tel Aviv literary scene. Her sister, Rona Kenan, is one of Israel's best-known singers. "Tel Aviv is less nationalistic and more of a melting pot. It's a really international city, a place where cultures meet and evolve."


The second paradox is that Tel Aviv was founded by ascetic Zionist pioneers but is now one of the world's most pleasure-seeking cities. In its early years, there were plenty of cafés serving coffee and cakes to German and Austrian immigrants, sweating in their suits, pining for Berlin and Vienna, but few luxury restaurants. For a long time after the establishment of the state in 1948, there was little food culture. Meat and even fresh eggs were an expensive treat. Israel was virtually a one-party quasi-Socialist state. Bourgeois pleasures were frowned upon. Meals were fuel, taken quickly. No longer, I discover the next day at Orna and Ella, a restaurant on Sheinkin Street, the hub of The Bubble and Tel Aviv's hip, sexy heart. Outside the window, a parade of tanned, pierced beauties of both sexes stroll by. "Israel is a young country—we're not like France or Italy, where food is part of the culture and they are very proud of it. Dealing with food, and the joy of food, was considered something bad," says gastro journalist Keren Tsur, over Orna and Ella's legendary sweet potato pancakes.


The center of modern Jaffa is Clock Tower Square, the heart of a multimillion-dollar renovation program launched by the Tel Aviv municipality. The improvements are steadily rippling out: Just a few years ago, the shops flanking the square were empty or derelict. As property prices soar in Tel Aviv, young couples are moving to Jaffa. The shops in Clock Tower Square now house tony boutiques and antiques vendors. The flea market is packed with tourists browsing everything from 1930s furniture to Oriental carpets. Tel Aviv municipal bureaucrats may be overkeen on skyscrapers, but they have also realized that Jaffa is an asset. "I hear the buildings talking to me," says Eyal Ziv, the architect in charge of renovation, with a laugh. "One after another, they ask me to restore them." Eyal grew up in Old Jaffa and has a rare passion for his work. "Restoration is like a coral reef. We start with a centerpiece building, and it spreads out around it. This is not just about buildings—it's about people. You have to go with the vibrations, work with them and not against them. I listen to what the people want and also what the area says to me." What was once a Turkish prison is becoming a luxury hotel, and the old train station, long unused, is being renovated with space for artists. The run-down port is being transformed into a hip seafront district.

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