It is Friday afternoon in Tel Aviv, and for a short while, the life is slowing down, but just for a couple of hours. Everyone is getting ready to join the usual family gatherings of the evening, marking the start of Shabbat, the day of rest. There ae even less tourists on the streets, so quiet now that you can hear the waves of the sea nearby. For me, this is the perfect time to go back to Jaffa, walking slowly on the beach till I reach the area of the port, with its coquette shops hidden between ship repairing garages.
Especially in this moment, when there are not too many tourists and the shops are getting ready to close, the streets usually crowded with visitors can reveal their mysteries and stories, testimonies of the long and rich centuries of history.
Compared to other historical places, here in Israel or elsewhere in Europe, you don't have the overwhelming feeling of being in a museum of human history. The human presence integrated the rich past into through the colourful windows and the green alleys that spring from the millenial cobblestones.
Beyond each massive door mysterious stories seem to hide in their well locked wooden boxes. But right now, I can only hear my steps on the stones and the sound of intensive preparations in the kitchens.
Either there are private houses, art galleries or antiques shops, you feel invited not to buy, but to stay, hear stories and eventually take a decision while admiring the streets, with a glass of fresh lemonade or a big cup of hot black Turkish coffee in the front of you.
Every time I visit this part of Israel, considered as one of the oldest in the region, I feel that there are always so many things that I want to learn about: about the three different religions coexisting here, and the various religious symbols can be noticed on the streets outside the old city, about the history of architecture of the country, about its nature and beautiful trees, about its old and new traditions, visible in the variety of art styles displayed in the numerous art galleries.
Like in the old city of Jerusalem, there are so many short streets and houses that are so close that you can mistake them as part of the one and only block of buildings.
Besides the art galleries and antiquities shops, another important landmark in the area is Ilana Goor Museum, hosting an interesting collection of works, that can be eventually introduced by the artist herself who is often there talking with the visitors.
But today, I rather want to feel free, taking the advantage of a sunny December afternoon and walk as much as I can, together with my friend which wants to learn so much about the art, history and the controversies associated with the region. But when you walk these old streets and you see everything with your own eyes, you don't need any more to get your sources from the biased media.
The art courageously displayed on the antiques walls make me feel less guilty for not visiting too many art galleries this time. Only one every ten minutes.
The artists and the gallery owners are there not only to help you take the right decision, but also to tell their and other people' stories. The beautiful pieces of jewellery from Yemen or Morocco are especially beautiful, displaying old crafts for ever lost in Europe. At one antiquities shop that is about to close, I am showed different Seder plates brought from Jews home from all over the world. My favourite is one made shortly after the creation of the State of Israel, provided with a little machine that sings for a couple of minutes Hatikva, the national anthem talking about hopes and love for freedom.
For me, nothing can represent better the spirit of this place than the 1993 work of Ran Morin - Oranger Suspendu ( in English, Hanging Orange Tree). Made of steel, artificial stone and orange tree, it can be read as a narrative about strength and resilience, that needs to fight against unexpected artificial problems but tempered and helped by the given natural destiny. This piece of art is considered one of the top photographic attractions of this area, so during the busy week expect to wait a bit in line till you will be able to take your selfie here. Morin, who lives in Israel, is the author of several full-sized living trees.
While my mind is thinking maybe too much for this time of the week, the streets are getting empty and I feel somehow compelled to find our way outside the area, maybe going back to Tel Aviv for the Friday evening meal with a view over the sea.
The streets are getting cleaned and the tables are ready to be set. The quiet stones are ready to hear more family stories.
According to the Biblical story, Jaffa was the location from which Jonah set sail before his encounter with the whale. A massive statue of a whale by Ilana Goor reminds the visitors about this reference. Another story says that the famous cedars used in building Solomon's Temple were shipped to the Jaffa port.
Right now, the port is quiet and the touristic restaurants serving fish dishes and the tasty local versions of Mediterranean food are ready to open. Far away, but still very close, I can see the lights of the beautiful city with its sky scrapers and creative high tech industry. This is the moment when past and present meet and I am happy to be here and hear this story of hope and resilience.