Friday, April 08, 2005

Yaffa, Tel Aviv

We drove through the dark backstreets of Jaffa, in a commercial area; the metal grills of the shops were all rolled down and locked, and the streets were deserted. Except for this one: we parked the car and walked to a lit up Cafe, where tables and armchairs were placed outside. The air was warm. A small band, two violinists and a percussionist, were sitting in the alleyway, playing Persian music for the diners.
The music was slow and lyrical; it took me a few minutes before I got into it. There was a big table of middle aged men and women who were clearly enjoying it. I think they were celebrating something, maybe a birthday. In one song they all joined in and started singing. 'It's "Anur Anur"', said Yuvla, 'the Persian most popular song, something like Hava-Nagila. Anur means apple.' How do you know this? I asked. 'My aunt's persian.' A tall woman wearing pink boots came and sat down, on he own, at the table nearby. She took out a cigarette. "What do you think she's here for?" asked Yuvla. She was looking at the band, as if waiting for a cue. Then she was suddenly gone.
When she reappeared, we found the answer: she was the bellydancer. Wearing coloured veils and fake long blond plait, she danced beautifully; her delight was clearly visible. There was a shy smile on her lips, like a schoolboy who gave the right answer to a difficult question. She approached the big table, and the men started putting bank notes in her bra. They knew how to dance: in careful steps, jumping in and out, not anything I would know to imitate. A small gathering formed in the street, the chef came out, and people walking by stopped and watched. Some cars even stopped on the road, and the drivers pulled out their digital cameras; The deserted streets of shut down shops and metal grills gave the show a dreamlike feel.
A man and a woman were rummaging through the bin nearby, looking for bottles to recycle (they get paid one shekel for four bottles). The waiteress gave them all the glass bottles from the cafe, and they took them in their trolley. Many people make their living this way; they're out on the streets at night, pushing shopping trolleys around and looking for bottles.
"Come with me to Toronto" said one of the men from the big table to the bellydancer. "We're 250,000 Persians there".

It's half past eleven but the evening has just started; We leave to check out some bars. We start with a Minerva; yuvla tells me he's been there two weeks ago. "At first I thought this is heaven: so many girls" he says "but then I noticed something strange. None of the looked at my direction. I'm not talking about giving the eye, I'm just talking about general browsing. There was none of it. They were not interested in the least. So I called the bar girl.
What's the character of this place? I asked.
it's a bar, she says.
She wasn't making it easy, and I figured I would have to be more upfront.
Are you aiming for a specific crowd?
Well... it's popular with dykes, as you can see. But don't worry, everyone's welcome. No one would eat you alive. In fact, that much is guarantied."
When we get there, we find a notice on the door, "we are cross gender, gay, trans, straight, everybody". Inside, yuvla points the local celebrities to me; the DJ used to be a soap star, and the woman on the corner is a writer (one that I actually really like, Alona Kimhi). We drink one beer and decide to move on, but other places are not as nice. Everywhere's packed with people."It's Thursday night, that's how it's like" (the weekend here is Friday-Saturday) It doesn't feel like recession here, everybody's partying. It's too much for me.
I'm getting tired, so we decide to go home. When we get back to the car, we find a piece of paper on the windscreen, offering "medicinal massage, satisfaction guarntied..." Yuvla tells me about a nurse he was dating last year. "She dealt with a lot of geriatric patients, and they had to give them a catheter, so they wouldn't piss themselves. But these old men would get a hard on, instinctively. There was nothing they could do about it. And you can't give them catheter when they're like this. So she had to help them.
You mean...
Yes.
She jerked them off?
Exactly. Imagine these horny dirty old men, too demented to do anything, and they get a handjob from a nice girl with huge breasts in a nurse uniform. That's medical dedication for you.

* * *

On Friday evening, after we had lunch at the harbour of Tel-Aviv, Yuvla dropped me off at the central bus station. I wanted to catch a shuttle taxi to Jerusalem, but had no money. I was planning on using the cash machines, but the bus station was locked: it was almost six o'clock, and the Sabbath had already started. I asked someone about the cash machines.
Norhing around here. You'll have to walk to the old station, he said.
Slightly annoyed, I started walking in that direction. I soon forgot my annoyance. The street was like a crazy market, full of people, and all of them were immigrants, speaking so many languages. A whole world in one street. A cafe full with Ethiopian men. A phone shop with adverts in Thai. Many Chinese men, drinking beer and redbull, and smoking, holding their cigarettes crooked, like only Chinese do. Women from Central Asia selling clothes. A Romanian guy selling brick a brack: a computer with no screen. a watch, some clothes, and Russian dolls. Arabic music coming out of the shop selling fake dvds and cds. Not many Africans. I think many of them were deported over the last two years. People speaking Russian, some with Central Asian accent. Most of the women I saw were Philipino.
As I got closer closer to the old disused bus station the area became dodgier: sex shops, peep shows, places offering massage. Sex-workers stand outside some places, with high heels and silver-colour skirt. I passed by a place with no sign, but with 5 lights in different colours, and a red background. The door was half open. Through it I could see three men, cocky looking, and one woman sitting down to have lunch, in take away tins. She was dressed in skimpy clothes, and wearing make up. I looked curiously inside, but their looks back made me pick my pace quickly.
The streets nearby were quieter. Many houses were crumbling, with no glass in the windows. The ficus trees are taking over, trodding over fences and walls. The moist air of tel-aviv, the sea air, is giving its effect on the walls and paint... Do people live in these houses? I wasn't sure. There is something so beautiful about decaying urbanity, especially when it's so much alive. I wanted to move there.

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