Jaffa

My friends Chaya and Azriel needed to go to Yafo (now practically a suburb of Tel Aviv) today. In a few days, Chaya and Mordechai will move there, to an old red stucco house on the corner of a street a block from the ocean. As of today, the house is full of plaster dust, paint, scaffolding, wood glue, a bull terrier, two old dressers that nobody bothered to move before, and some rainwater on the floor. They say it will be ready to move into by Monday.

Talking of paint choices and rent makes my brain cramp, so I hied myself across the street to the local kebab shack. “Shack,” here, is neither a term of cynical affection, nor ancient ’60’s slang. It is a shack. A hibachi is arranged on one half of an aluminum table out front, for the cooking of the kebabs (chicken, beef, liver…), and the other half is for the condiments. Kebabs are eaten in a pita with a dose of slaw plus your choice of condiments, including large whole green peppers and the ever-present hummus. You could, if you really wanted, eat the meat off the skewer like one customer did. Atkins diet, I guess. A refrigerator in the back has soda and beer. (Me: chicken, Coke.)

It seemed like the platonic perfection of a restaurant: a place so simple that it had no need of a menu. There is a small counter along one inside wall and three wooden stools if you don’t need to carry your food right off with you. So I sat a while, and ended up with hummus dripping on my skirt, and a few friendly chats with the chef/owner.

(It is a rule in the Levantine that, if you are an adult man and physically able to, you must try to make conversation with any woman past puberty. Azriel agrees, and says that it is not just a rule, but probably a law, with a 300 NIS (New Israeli Shekel) or so fine for breaking it.)

The afternoon was brilliantly sunny with a clear view across the patch of scrub bushes to the beach that used to be a major Crusader port, which I could see no sign of this afternoon. Instead were tidal flats and water clear enough to show turquoise, and not the dull, opaque gray/green/blue one sees almost always by big seaside cities, like Miami Beach.

Through the souk (pronounced “shook”) with its panoramic if dusty array of Stuff. I wish I knew the Hebrew word for Stuff (or the Hebrew for “What the hell is that?!”), because that’s the only way to describe it. Like an ancient, oddly well-organized flea market spread over several city blocks, enabling bursts of traffic to join the fun along with shoppers and merchants. Snacks at Abulafia’s bakery (over 100 years old, and a true Israeli tradition) and several other places before dragging ourselves back to Jerusalem.