Tel Aviv is an Ugly City

Words: Nissan Shor
Art: Roni Hajaj

Tel Aviv is an ugly city. Its aesthetics resemble a worn down pair of sneakers you bought in the 80s. They lost their whiteness and have definitely seen better days, and yet, they are comfortable, reliable and have a familiar, almost addictive odor. You take a whiff and great memories bubble up instantly. The sneakers are old but have the energy of a sex-crazed teenager. They are eager for new adventures. But most importantly – they’re yours.

Tel Aviv is mine. I don’t need to think twice about it. Tel Aviv is my second nature, it is in my blood. With belonging comes a clarity of vision, I know that there is a lot of beauty in the ugliness. A kind of working class glamour that hides in the three story buildings, ragged and filthy from exhaust fumes. Tel Aviv has a pizazz that cannot be silenced. A certain je ne sais quoi. A strong gravitational force. A chutzpah if you will. But it doesn’t take you down, it catapults you up and up and sideways.

This city can be a roller coaster or a baby stroller. This city has been around the block. People died in her arms. Tel Aviv has earned its scars and heartaches.

 It reflects the story of Israel, marking the pain and celebrating its achievements. It mixes hedonism with melancholy. When you walk back from the beach, you can hear the ghosts of passovers past. They whisper to you – “keep on living, keep on dreaming, keep on losing yourself, in Tel Aviv.”

This is why I love Tel Aviv so much (and you should love it too). No matter what, she will always remain the same. You can try and transform her into a modernized global city – try to mimic New York, London and Paris. Let gentrification rule her streets. Build shiny high rises. Restructure her old Bauhaus buildings into white architectural dreams. Imagine it as a western metropolis, rich, segregated and privileged. It won’t work. Tel Aviv is a stubborn one. It is what it is. A Middle Eastern city that rose from the desert. She is diverse – Palestinians in Jaffa, African immigrants in the southern neighborhoods, French and Russian Jews, Arab-Israelis everywhere and all over. There are bike thieves, hoodlums and the occasional terrorist. But it is as safe as walking in your own backyard. Is that a paradox? Not at all. Tel Aviv turned her fears

 into an existential fiesta. And did I mention the food? Oh my. I don’t know if it is the best, but it sure tastes like it.  The dishes here are certainly some of the most satisfying and comforting in the world. The culinary range is in debt to the immigrant community that is typical of Israel and Tel Aviv –

Yemenite soups, Iraqi dumplings, Egyptian falafel, Persian rice, Russian cold cuts, Moroccan salads. A mishmash of east and west. And of course – haute cuisine and so many influences from current food trends. Tel Aviv is tasty as hell.

I first came to Tel Aviv in the year 2000 and made it my home. It is the home of many of my friends. We were here when buses exploded in the streets, when rich folks tried to throw us from our rented apartments, when savvy entrepreneurs treated the city as a business opportunity rather than a living and thriving urban organism. But we were also dancing at the best clubs, partying until the morning, having the time of our lives and when the sun rose, we went to the beach, got into the water, and knew there was no other place we’d rather be. Only here, in our ugly Tel Aviv.

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