There are few “Welcome to our country!” moments more auspicious — and, well, welcome — than being singled out by a handsome guy moments after exiting the aircraft. Unfortunately, my Don Johanan was an airport official, and none of the 20 questions that followed included “What are you doing later?” By the time he got to “What do you do?” and asked me to present my “journalist card,” my exasperation was evident.
“I’ve never been asked that one before,” I answered, sighing and rolling my eyes. “I don’t have one, but feel free to Google me.”
“You seem to be a little upset. Is everything ok?” I was as disarmed by his genuine concern as I initially had been by his good looks. Despite his frustrating line of questioning (Is there a law against going to Palestine? Isn’t that where Bethlehem is?), he was incredibly friendly. Frankly, though, if I had wanted to be questioned by a beautiful stranger, I would have gotten on Grindr. All I wanted to do at that particular moment was get to Customs before all of my fellow passengers, most of whom were proceeding without delay, did. I’d heard the horror stories about the rigorous line of questioning there, but not en route.
“No, I’m okay. It’s just that I’ve been traveling all day, and I’m exhausted.” Like my answers to all of his previous questions, this one was no lie. Although I’d only been up in the air for four and a half hours (two and a half from Rome to Istanbul, two from Istanbul to Tel Aviv), the four-hour layover in Istanbul, the two glasses of wine I had there, and all the various security checkpoints and long lines I had to deal with en route had zapped the pep from my step. Mr. Handsome seemed to understand.
“Ok, enjoy your stay.” As I walked away, I felt a pang of guilt. I suppose I could have been nicer. I considered going back, apologizing, and suggesting he Whatsapp me later, but judging from my fellow passengers on Pegasus Airlines flight 779 (particularly the tall, dark, handsome male ones), I figured that on the other side of Customs, there’d be plenty of guys as attractive as my first interrogator.
At 190 NIS (New Israeli Shekel), which is equivalent to U.S. $53.70, the cost of the taxi ride from Ben Gurion Airport to the apartment where I’m staying on Mapu Street, just two blocks east of the beach, seemed to confirm what I’d read: Tel Aviv is the most expensive city in the Middle East. But the sight I saw when I got out of the taxi — two guys walking by, nonchalantly holding hands — suggested that it might be worth it.
One hour later, as we drank our $9 pints at Evita, a gay bar not too far from my apartment (apparently, Tel Aviv is compact enough, and I”m central enough, that everything is not too far from my apartment), Rob made the point, too. I’d have so much fun here that I wouldn’t mind having to take out a mortgage to afford it. He reiterated it a couple of hours later as we were eating our $3.50 slices of pizza on the corner of Allenby and Rothschild, his favorite Tel Aviv intersection.
Unfortunately, he had to catch a flight back to London at 8am, which was only four hours away. We had planned on spending the entire weekend in Tel Aviv together, but I’d somehow gotten my dates wrong and booked my arrival for September 22, the day of his departure. I’d been wondering why he was getting there after the weekend.
Ah, well. At least we got to meet up. Not only was it great to see him in person for the first time since my going-away despedida in Buenos Aires three and a half years ago, but his enthusiasm for Tel Aviv was positively contagious. By the time we said our goodbyes, I was even more excited about what the next two to four weeks might bring than I had been upon my arrival in Tel Aviv.
The following day, Rob checked in on me via Facebook email, and I offered my first report on “the white city” (so-called for the second of its two main architectural motifs: functional and white), Rob’s now second-favorite city in the world (after BA — natch!).
Rob: “How’s Tel Aviv treating you?”
Me: “I love it so far — although I still haven’t come up with the words to explain why, or to write a blog post about it. I guess right now I just feel really happy and comfortable here. Everyone is super nice; the weather is beautiful; I can see the beach from my balcony window; and the guys are HOT. [About that “super nice”: They are, but as in Rome, cashiers in Tel Aviv insist on ignoring your outstretched palm and placing your change on the counter, which I always found incredibly rude when select testy cashiers in New York City used to do it. The check-out staff at Woolworths on Chapel Street in Melbourne wouldn’t dream of doing anything so ghastly.]
“This morning, I went running along the beach, up to Jaffa, through the hills of the old town, and then back to the apartment, along the sea. This afternoon, I walked over to your favorite corner in the world, and while I was walking down Allenby, I was wondering, Why is this Rob’s favorite street? It’s like a mix of Once in BA and 34th Street in NYC! Then I got to Rothschild and realized that is the one you were talking about. Gorgeous! I may hang out with your friend Moshe tonight, or one of the cute guys that I’ve been talking to on Grindr/PlanetRomeo. There are a lot to choose from!
Rob: “You’re absolutely right! I even made that comment to Ricky about Allenby. I said it looks just like Once! The promenade from Jaffa to Tel Aviv is stunning! And the scenery (men) is even better. I’ve never seen so many hotties running on a street in my life, ever! Rothschild is gorgeous — pretty and tree lined, it’s one of my favourites in the world!! A lot of nightlife happens around there, too. Aren’t the guys like ridiculously stunning? There is probably a party tomorrow night as it’s a holiday eve.
“It seems like the hotties only go out on the big nights, but you can see them on the street. Don’t miss the beach on the holiday! Hang out with Moshe, he’s so nice! Such a nice guy. Plenty of others like him. They are all keen to meet up and do stuff, even in a non-sexual way, which I found was very nice. Keep me very updated, I want to live Tel Aviv through you!
Me: “You are making me even more excited than I was after I just returned from walking around in the beach area after dark and picking up beer and wine from the supermarket. It’s really not as expensive here as I thought it was, not if I think in terms of euros instead of dollars. If I do, it’s really not so much more expensive than Rome and Germany were — and at least booze in the supermarket is very reasonable: 39.99 NIS for a 6-pack of Carlsberg and 32.26 for a bottle of white wine. That’s less than $12 for the six-pack and about $9 for the wine, which would be a STEAL in Melbourne!
“The one thing I find very strange, though, is the Hebrew script. Am I imagining things, or does it read right to left instead of left to right? For a while, I thought it might be upside down, too, but that would be ridiculous!
“So which holiday is Thursday? I picked up the latest Time Out Israel and got the lowdown on all the September holidays. Rosh Hashanah is past and so, thank God, is Yom Kippur (I did enough fasting in Dubai during Ramadan!), so it must be Sukkot. But doesn’t it end tomorrow? Do they celebrate after it’s over? Or is tomorrow like New Year’s Eve and the next day like New Year’s Day, the actual holiday but not the really important day? Boy, I may not have timed this right for us to get more face time, but it looks like I timed it perfectly in every other way!”
Rob: “I need to find out which holiday is Thursday. It’s some weird holiday that’s after Sukkot. It’s a one-day holiday; I heard from the guys in TLV that the holiday was again on Wednesday. I’m not sure what it is, but Jews love their holidays! You did time it right, definitely. You aren’t imagining things, though, they read everything from right to left! So when you have a regular-looking menu or something, it looks like everything is upside down because the book opens the opposite way. The weirdest part is when you have an English menu and a Hebrew menu. You never know which side to open it from! You’ll see. What’s on tonight?” [So that’s why Moshe’s smiley faces on Whatsapp looked like this — (: — instead of like this — 🙂!]
Jeremy: “I’m not sure. I might meet up with Moshe, if he gets back from visiting his mom. He said tonight would be a big going-out night. I think it’s every Tuesday, though, nothing to do with the mysterious holiday. If I don’t hang out with him, I might meet up with one of the guys I’ve been chatting with online, or (more likely) head out alone to meet people the old-fashioned way. I have my beer and wine, so we’ll see where it leads me!:)”
Rob: “OMG, I wish I could be there with you! Maybe I’ll come back at the end of October:) I don’t know why today is such a big going-out day!”
Me: “I know! I wish you were here, too. Those few hours on Sunday weren’t enough. And after going out in the cool night air to get stuff from the supermarket, I feel a little bit of old-school adventurous Jeremy coming back. But I’m going to have to try to stay out of trouble!”
Rob: “Tel Aviv will bring out the wild in you. But a civilized wild, unlike the BA wild. You can meet and get to know nice locals where it isn’t all about sex — but you can have plenty of that if you need to:)”
Me: “After Rome, that’s exactly what I want — and need. So far I haven’t gotten too many crazy messages online, so I’m already feeling like things will be a lot better on that front. Is there any place that’d you’d recommend other than Evita? I have a guide that lists a bunch of places, but they all look the same to me.”
Rob: “Evita is the only place I would recommend today, unfortunately. I only know of other things starting on Wednesday. Www.atraf.com is a good place to go for that, too, and also to meet guys, apparently. All the guys have the Atraf app or Grindr. I think people are more respectful in Tel Aviv, but wild, if you get wild with them. Also, I get the feeling that everyone knows each other like BA, so you get that whole small scene, but people don’t ignore each other like they did in BA. People are not that big of bitches.
“Well, actually I hear they are bitches to each other but not the tourists!
Me: “I was just about to mention that guy!!! At least he didn’t lead with it!
“Gay men wouldn’t be gay men if there wasn’t some bitchiness going on. Well, maybe I’ll go back to Evita then. I know how to get there from here. I’ll have to find out the places for the rest of the week from you. I’ve been hearing so much about TLV’s great nightlife (not only from you), and I’m almost afraid to sample. Not sure my 44-year-old heart can take it!!!”
In the end, I didn’t have to find out — yet. I was in bed by 11, watching Spartacus on my laptop. Crassus coming on to Antoninus as the latter gave him a sponge bath (?!) would be the only action I’d be seeing. Modern Roman guys could learn a thing or two about sexual subtlety from Crassus’s oysters and snails analogy. I pray the boys in Israel have already learned that lesson!