Florentine, the Neighborhood
The rooftop where I currently reside is of a shop that I walk past nearly every day, a woodwork shop which, like all of Florentine’s numerous manufacturing outlets, is small, covered in graffiti, and open for viewing of these artisans going about their craft. There is a vase with a flower on the window sill that sits abreast of our place in this wide expanse. A woman tends to her food behind the flower. I ruminate over an army of subjects, captivated at every turn. There is something about this place that makes me examine the dust of life. It breaches thoughts I thought unable to be imagined. My mind is afire.
The woman eventually snaps at the noise I’m making, threatening to call the police. Guarded tolerance. I smile as we get up to leave. This city is one of contradiction, like all the best are. There is always a wrinkle to any given appearance. It fascinates endlessly. The people, who make the place what it is, encapsulate such an array of themes, with such a depth to each. History. Culture. Food. Music. Beach. Politics. Innovation. Women. Weather. Nightlife. Religion. Family. Accessibility. Intrigue. Complexity. Conflict. Sometimes beautiful, sometimes ugly, always interesting. These themes are layered and intertwined, like tetris pieces, with themselves and each other, trying to work in concert to find a land without seams, yet inevitably catching on the friction that gives the place its texture.
I start walking to the beach, and the streets are alive. So many things happening, and my gaze cannot be trained. I walk past a friend from two weeks ago. I love a place, especially a big city, where you’re almost a local and the place ceases to be enormous. You walk around subconsciously, able to let your mind drift to where you want it to be rather than to where you have to turn left. I love going to a bar and knowing everyone there, a hundred say, from some hazy night or collection of nights, some number of nights ago.
Florentine, the Beach
The beach lies in front of me. I’m very nearly the only one there. A few dogs and their owners obscured by the wind. The hounds frolic, in and out of the water. Everyone in this country has a dog. Is there anything sexier than an Israeli girl in some flowing, loose fitting and open shouldered clothing with two sizeable dogs? I’m wearing a singlet and the breeze clips, but I don’t mind. I am talking about the feeling of being in a new country, and the colours of the setting sun shimmering off the closest of the lapping water are glorious, intoxicating. On my left lies Jaffa, six thousand year old Jaffa, framed by the church tower rising up to meet the ball of fire in the sky. The muezzin rings out his slow burning melody from the mosque. I am at complete peace. A Japanese friend appears out of nowhere and we yell in ecstasy, because this is what she does; just turns up like the fairy godmother, making time itself better.
The sun balloons as it hits the horizon, and a long haired middle aged Israeli man wades into the water in front of us. The light is fading fast, but the scene is luminescent nonetheless. I feel my skin fighting off the cold and I tell it to submit. An old, sleek jet flies low and does a turn right in front and perhaps a hundred metres above us. I stand up to take off my singlet and get in the water, and as I turn I see a couple kiss in an ornamental drainpipe just off the beach. Another couple chat on top, where grass has grown over. They hunch together, sharing their vision.
The water is amazing. It is choppy and I have to use my body to negotiate it. My body warms and the water warms with it. The view from here is even more superb. My head goes under and I dissolve for no time and all of time simultaneously. I feel everything. I wander out again and the wind talks to the drops of water feeding down my skin, compelled by gravity’s rainbow. This place has captured me. Everything is driven by spontaneity and every turn I make is one filled with change, movement, inside my own lightbulb and out. I am addicted to this spontaneity. It is me. It is insight. The lightbulb extends its reach.
I go through the drainpipe on our way back and there is makeshift cave painting on the inside. The half constructed skyscraper I climbed the other night is in front. Old buildings mix with new. A woman hangs her washing out of her fourth story window. A cat jumps five feet up onto a fence. A car park next to an entrance to a seemingly unused bombing bunker provides a respite from the cacophony. I love it but under the surface somewhere my blood misses the noise. I truly love the sound of the night in the end.
Florentine, the Hostel
I sit here at our hostel in the heart of the district and I know everyone around me intimately well, even those that have only been here a day. They are amongst the most interesting people I’ve ever come across, crazy and coloured with every stretch of the spectrum, each and every one of them, and they compel me to curiosity. Music reverberates in the background, infiltrating my pores. The couch I sit on faces the Tel Aviv skyline, across the open terrace I’m on towards the beach. Shisha smoke distorts the night. The Mexican is cooking an amazing meal for everyone, on the house. The staff, one my lover and all my great friends, mingle in and out of the waves we make with our mouths. They are constantly ensuring our contentedness, but when they ask we can only grin in a halfhearted attempt at exasperation. This place I have not come stuck in so much as unstuck in. Everything is new.
In the backstreets of the suburb now and I hear someone playing drums in an old warehouse. I go and look through a sliver in the huge metal door for five minutes. A man up the street is arguing with his motorbike. A rooftop bar is blaring live music a couple of blocks away, and the sound finds my ears as it knows it should. There is a guy in a second floor window painting on canvas whom I can see only partially, as if leading me down the rabbit hole. I am in narrow streets surrounded by roofs of corrugated teeth pitched at oblong angles, but the window is more a door than a window and so the brush moves in my eyes. A falafel shop around the corner provides the scent that compliments the mood. I need to get the beautiful things in my mind out of my fingers at some point. I strain to remember the feeling for my later writings. I need to flesh it out in my own mind before I can spray it to the world, fully formed. It would be heresy otherwise, the idea never vindicated.
Florentine, the Graffiti
This is the place where you write in your mind through the night. This is the place where you forget the magnificent ideas that come to you because you can’t pull yourself away from the conversation that’s triggering them, in order to record them. This is the place where you can start singing obscure foreign eclectic music and everyone will join in. You can do it in the streets and Tel Aviv will respond. With enthusiasm. This is the place where you don’t do it if it’s bad, unless it’s funny, or good, which it always is. This is the place where you grab a water bottle from a guy you met the same day and throw it across the road, away from your favourite bar, four times, because it is an insult to the night. This is the place where you buy twenty shots for random people at that favourite bar, then another forty. Not forty then twenty. Twenty then forty. You are not satisfied in this place, ever. It drives you to feel it. You go outside and yell to the street and the people in it whether they want one, and invite them to join you in the reach. A line ensues.
I sit on the balcony of two shipping containers stacked on each other, on a mattress we found last week sitting on the street which we hauled up the stairs which have clearly seen some steps. There is a quarry next to us and a bobcat moving matter from place to place, in keeping with what humans have done throughout time. Orange peels we threw into the yard a week ago to confuse the driver the next morning still lie there. We pass this joint around as a token of the way of our lives. I sit in sight of the largest police station in Israel, two hundred metres away over Tel Aviv rooftops, quietly mocking it. There is graffiti again, and there is written, same writer, on three distinct lines, something that somehow sums up the arbitrary nature of this city and the sublime feeling it instills. Dogshit. Jetboat. Gary. There is no sense but it feels right.
Florentine, the Girlfriend
I’m sitting on the floor in this apartment with a joint and a glass of red in one hand, pen in the other. Absolutely naked. She is asleep behind me. We’ve been in this room for hours and hours, in this way. The room is interesting at every glance; it is a room that has been lived in. It would feel strange if we ever found the time to make the bed that we never leave. The traffic below screams and the music joins the chorus that the entire room sways to. She is exhausted but my mind is alight. The light is perfect. This girl is intensely, incredibly sexy, and that light falls on her perfectly. She is an absolute ball of fire. Fierce. Small but big. I’m not actually sure whether she likes me, such is her flame, but it doesn’t matter. I enjoy her every movement. She lays there, three quarters on her side, the sheet up to her hips, hidden but exposed, her Israeli hair cascading down. It is dark, long, a nimbus of curls, and seems to make its own decision at each turn, as if daring the world to go along with it. I love the feel of that hair. Amazing. I can’t describe it adequately. She doesn’t look at you often, but when she does, she really does. Those eyes make me wilt. They make me ravenous. When she kisses me, I feel every muscle in her body working in concert with those lips. It is the full experience. Here, she puts me through time.
I don’t know why I am here; do I ever? Yet, innately, I sense this place’s truth, and I follow it. There is love in that space.
Written by: Ben Cooke
Ben Cooke, 32 years logged. Part-time writer, photographer, engineer, libertine, philosopher and historian, full time vagabond. Addicted to wandering, addicted to wondering. Has recently returned back to his ‘home’ country of Australia after twelve years and 130 countries of travel to not-so-casually knock off a PhD in political science and give his parents a moment’s peace. Follow Ben at: www.bencookephotography.com
For more ITKT travel stories about Isreal