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Home » Middle East » JEAN SHEPHERD- Travel. Middle East, Tel Aviv (2)

JEAN SHEPHERD- Travel. Middle East, Tel Aviv (2)

I am now walking along this main seaside road that goes up to Jaffa, the Arab quarters of Tel Aviv.  I can see the moon hanging over and I can smell the Mediterranean, and I’m coming down toward the Arab quarter.  You can smell the Arabic quarter, a smell that I remember from one summer when I was about ten or twelve, when I got a job on a farm in Indiana.  It’s not really a barnyard smell but it’s the smell of a sheepfold. Ever been around sheep much?  Around goats much?  Ever been around places where they roast coffee?  Ever been around places where strange tobaccos are smoked?  I’m talking about tobaccos that are dark, kind of tar-y, tobaccos that are smoked through perfumed water pipes.  It’s a strangely attractive, sharp, bitter, biting, exciting aroma.  This is the only way I can describe the Arab quarter.

 jaffa streetJaffa Street

Now Americans are very funny people.  Americans believe that Lifebuoy smells good.  That’s a special kind of people.  We’re the kind of people who live by Dial Soap ads, who believe if a person is totally antiseptic, he’s a good person.  Nobody in the world is as hung on cleaning and laundry and soaps and deodorants and all this stuff that’s designed to eliminate our humanness, designed to erase, somehow, the animal side of mankind, than Americans themselves.  So, when I say something has an aroma, immediately, people say “Ug!” assuming it’s bad.  Don’t be so sure it is.  As a matter of fact, I find that when you’re not around it, you miss it—yes, it’s all part of it, it’s a part of the world there, and I’m only sorry for you if you don’t appreciate it.  You’re really not getting a very important facet of the life in the world.

A little vignette.  I drive down through a long, winding passageway with a friend of mine and he’s taking me to a very good Yemenite restaurant.  It’s considered a very good, high class one, one of the best in all Tel Aviv.  And here are cars all pulled up, a couple of Mercedes, there’s a Rolls Royce, here’s two or three long, low Ferraris pulled up in front of this place.  Not more than one car can get through at a time.  And this restaurant has a big, blue neon sign with the name in Middle Eastern script.

You can see the people of all nationalities sitting in there, all finely dressed. There’s nothing more exciting to me than to be in an area where there are all kinds of things, nationalities, all types of languages spoken.  There’s a certain dynamism.  I suppose it’s the endless excitement of endless variety.

It’s a long, low restaurant that bends around this sharp corner.  The Mercedes, the Ferraris.  Inside, the candles are lit, and what do you think is standing right in the middle of the street?  A great big, fat sheep. It isn’t that someone parked his sheep out in front and went into the place to pick up some shish kabob—he just lives there.  Just standing there tethered to a fire hydrant.  That would be the equivalent of going along 48th Street, you get to about Lexington Avenue and somebody has parked his water buffalo out in front of the restaurant.  There it is in the street and everybody is going around it paying no attention at all.  That’s it.   That is what makes a place exciting.

I go around the corner, driving this little European car.  We’re trying to park the car, so we take it up an alley and finally stop.  Just as we stop, out of a little alley right in front of us, you hear clop, clop, clop, clop, clop, clop, clop, clop, this little furry burro comes clop, clop, clop, clop, clop. A kind of white burro with black ears, clop, clop, clop, clop, and sitting on its back is this fantastic chick—ohhh!  This girl looks at us with her sloe eyes.  She’s carrying what looks like a little silver platter, and on it are three green peppers, clop, clop, clop, clop clop, clop, clop, clop.  She goes right across the alley in front of us and into another dark passageway and disappears.

All around us these windows are open and you see people and the girl is sitting up there.  She’s got big, golden, sparkling ear rings and she’s looking down, and you hear this music all around, it’s just drifting down from everywhere.  It seems to come out of the gutter pipes, drifting out of the alleys, just all around. You can smell the sheep, you can smell the tobacco burning, you can smell the pavements on which people have walked for maybe five-hundred years, and a lot of other things have happened in five-hundred years or more.  You can smell the edge of the old Mediterranean.  It’s just a night out in the restaurant—Ahhhhh! Yeah!

Good bye, Tel Aviv. Next, hello, Beersheba.

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