Across the road from the Tel Aviv beach, from the Hilton in the North, to what Nathan, until recently a Lufthansa trolley dolly, calls the Interconti, on the way to Jaffa, are buildings ranging in style from bland international to pug-ugly post modern, and worse.
There is building work all over the city. Property here is expensive, and in certain parts, overlooking the sea, Neve Tzedek, North Tel Aviv, the places, basically, where the French want to live, are expensive. €8m for a modernised two-bed? Pourquoi pas?
I live three blocks from the sea, on Hoveivi Tzion, in an apartment not worth €8m. My bedroom overlooks the Trumpledor cemetery, where, I am told, all the best ghosts live. It takes me no more than a few minutes to stroll to the beach. I walk its length, paddle, actually, with my shirt off, from the Orchid to the Royal Beach, then North to the Carlton, then back to the rainbow-fronted Dan. I have measured out my life in expensive hotels, it seems.
I gauge my tan in types of honey. I am now millefiori, and aspire to castagna. I look at my shoulder and enjoy the golden colour. I run my hand over it and notice how my skin creases in a way it hasn’t before, even a couple of years ago. I’ve been wearing shorts since before March and I feel like a schoolboy, I don’t feel close to sixty. How is that supposed to feel?
Ehud, who works on the beach, is 24, much too young for me, but, oh, handsome. He works from 7am to 7pm, six days a week. He folded and stacked 190 sunbeds before coming to meet me. His skin tone is beautiful, the colour of gingerbread. He holds his arm against mine, tells me it isn’t from the sun, it’s how he was born.
I spent time on the gay beach, overlooked by the Hilton, with Erez, who flies planes for a living. He is ten years older than Ehud, and has all the confidence Ehud doesn’t have. I like how he uses emojis in his messages, and the way he says awesome. He does both con brio. My day with Erez felt charmingly old fashioned, eating pale green melon, getting to know each other. Elvis could have been singing a Hawaiian love song behind us.
Erez pointed out the religious beach opposite, protected by wooden fencing. It is for men on some days of the week, women on others, I don’t know which. It all seems so silly, this separation. I didn’t like it when I was a child, in the synagogue, men downstairs doing the important stuff, women upstairs, watching them.
I like both of these men, but I find it easier to talk to Erez. What they see in me is a mystery. Still, I’m glad they see something. To those of you worrying about greying hair and growing waistlines, let me tell you, there will still be people who are interested in you. This is perhaps the best surprise of middle age, and goes some way to compensate for the many worst surprises of middle age.
I especially like the quiet melancholy of the beach in winter. The sky paler, the sea darker, the light milky. I saw a man practicing walking on a tightrope a few months ago. He looked a lot like David Blaine. He’d tied some rope between two shelters and, well, walked on it. Sometimes he’d sit on it. He tried to lie on it. He fell off and started again. It was hypnotic, in its way. Otherwise you’ll find a man and his dog, some surfers bobbing in the sea, like so many seals.
On a hot Saturday in summer it is busier than Selfridges at sale time. The half of the beach closer to the water will be as crowded as a colony of penguins. Israelis have a different notion of personal space to mine: towels are laid a foot apart. People ignore, somehow, others’ music playing, and the incessant, hollow plick plak of the bat and ball game played at the water’s edge.
The half of the beach furthest from the sea will be empty but for men using the outdoor gym. There are nets for volleyball, and there is a spot on the boardwalk where young men do one-armed handstands. They are beautiful, and heroic, I suppose, and pointlessly strong.
The lifeguards mostly stay in their huts, which are on stilts. They call through megaphones telling people they shouldn’t swim because of the current. “You, the woman in glasses, yes you…” They do chin ups all day, holding onto the doorframe. They’re the colour of actual chestnuts, and bulge like bags of them. Awesome!
All photos by Simon Wilder