Saturday, February 6, 2010

One Blessing Counted

I stood today on a hill overlooking Tel-Aviv and took this photo:

It may not move most of you very much. but it moves me. I have been to this city in 1987. Back then, only the white highrise in the middle of the image soared over the rooftops. The buildings on the far left were under construction. That was it.

Socialist-minded friends have been known to mock me for loving skyscrapers, but skyscrapers give a town the air of an exciting metropolis. Less than a quarter of a century ago, this was not an exciting metropolis. My friends and I would take the bus from Jerusalem, and get off at the old bus terminal, by far the trashiest, dirtiest, noisiest place I've ever been to. A policeman with one arm showed us the way to the #5 bus. we had to walk over piles of trash to get to the stop.

The bus itself was a proper antique, dating back to the 50s. We would enter through the back, where a plump woman was sitting in a tiny cage, taking care of ticket sales while the driver focused on driving. All of this was exotic to us Jerusalemites. See, in our town the cops had two arms each, trash was more regularly removed (Tel-Aviv at the time suffered several strikes of the city's garbage treatment personnel, rendering it intermittenly unlivable) and the buses were more modern. We were excited: Tel-Aviv! the big city! crumbling concrete! deadly humidity!

I can't even convey how decrepid south Tel-Aviv was in those days. I must be a poet to do that. Thankfully, local wordster Meir Wiezeltier heeded the call in real time. "a city with no concept," he called it, "peeling paint, a weeping shutter, a dead bus." and later on: "a city without feeling, a desperate cavern of smog, a screeching tin swing."

Yes, that's just what it was. We forgot that. I look for images of 1980s Tel-Aviv online and find nothing relevant to this air of despair, this city in a state of ill repair, the dump that it was. We forgot how green with poison the Yarkon river used to be, how dull the restaurants were before globalization raised our standards, how secluded was the true urban scene, kept in a ghetto around Sheinkin street, how the Dizengoff shopping center was all that this city had going for it, that, until they installed Yaacov Agam's fire-and-water-spurting fountain nearby and gave the city its Eiffel tower.

Sometimes it's nice to stand on a low hill, look backwards and remember that the good old days were really pretty bad. It's alright now, though. The eighties are over, our city is pretty damn gorgeous and will hopefully remain that way until asymetrical earings are in vogue once more.


Yaelian said...

Well,it was not that bad.I then lived in the heart of the city, and I had great love for the city,although I came from the very clean Helsinki.The Sea Promenade existed then already, and that was something that Jerusalem did not have.Now the city has become so expensive,that I cannot afford to live there anymore,so have to live nearby....

יובל בן-עמי Yuval Ben-Ami said...

Yeah, things started looking up once that promenade was completed.

I remember watching on television a birthday party trown for Teddy kolek (Legendary Mayor of Jerusalem) at one point Shlomo "Chich" Lahat (then mayor of Tel-Aviv) came on camera. He said: "Teddy, I thought for a long time what to give you as a gift. What is there that Jerusalem hasn't got? It's got history, charm, culture, etc. etc. In fact, it only lacks one thing, and that is the sea. So I decided to give you the sea."

At that point Chich unvailed the sign which designates "Jerusalem Beach" and announced that it is to be fixed at the end of Allenby street. I loved the guy at that moment, but can't say much for him otherwise.