That’s the number of kilometres I’d already flown in 2012 when I received an invite to visit Israel. Having spent so much of the year reclining at 40,000 feet, I had previously been contemplating avoiding anything but train travel for the rest of the year. But the opportunity to take in a country and a culture that I had never been immersed in before was an opportunity too good to pass up.
Tel Aviv’s lights had reflected upon the Mediterranean Sea for mere minutes before the jet touched down upon the tarmac of the country’s only international airport. In the sub-ten minutes that it took to pass through passport control, collect my bags and relax in the back of a car far comfier than any plane, I encountered what would become the key face of the country: the welcoming one. That ought to surprise you – as contradictory as it is, airports are seldom welcoming places. Fly into the likes of New York’s JFK airport without a local passport and you’ll receive a welcome as hospitable as a riding a broomstick into a Spanish Inquisition trial, black cat in tow. But from passport control, to security, to my driver, smiles abounded. So did one question:
Tel Aviv’s skyline illuminated by a full moon.
“Why are you in Israel?”
“To get a feel of the country for myself, to explore its cultures,” I’d often respond, perhaps a little less eloquently than I’d like to remember. The responses to that were varied. They ranged from the thumbs-up that I received from a rare soul who couldn’t converse in English, all the way to a 3 hour discussion over a warm dish of shakshouka.
When in Israel indulge in shakshouka and watch the people pass by on the Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard.
Never was the response to my curiosities negative, never was I met with the same ignorance that goes hand-in-hand with discussions of Israel elsewhere. The country isn’t perfect. Israel has a branding problem and then some – everyone knows it. As a foreigner I was more likely to tip-toe around the issues than those who live there. If you’d anticipate views to be one sided, forget it – conversations about the country’s geo-politics took in everything from ‘we do wrong’ through to a disheartened admission that a ‘solution’ may yet be generations away.
But around such difficulties people make their lives and live them. I wasn’t in Israel for geo-politics, I was there for its particular take on fashion and fashionable culture. I was there because, as Immanuel Kant would argue, understanding comes through experience. And what you’ll experience is the fact that the country’s cultures, its fashions and its geo-politics are intertwined. In fact, I’d argue that they’re symbiotic. The fashion, food and frivolity that you’ll find in a city like Tel Aviv are great because of the realities of the country – cultures and attitudes merge to create something where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. European handcrafts are used to create fashion amongst Ottoman-era buildings, North African foods are fused with dishes familiar to anyone with a great Lebanese restaraunt nearby their house. And as for the nightlife – New York wishes it slept as little as Tel Aviv where, as a forgotten gem of the Mediterranean, you could have joined me in spending an autumn’s day sunning at the beach and then an equally warm evening in one of the city’s innumerous, if strangely musiced, dives.
The view from the Carlton Tel Aviv Hotel.
All of this goes some way to highlight the contrasts of a country whose national anthem could just as well be The Animals’ Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood as it is Hatikvah. To go to Israel is to understand that all facets of life are represented there – take Tel Aviv which, having been rated the world’s most gay-friendly city, sits as one of the most secular cities you or I are likely to have visited. And while it’s true that you only genuinely understand such things after having visited a city or a country, it’s doubly true when most of the preconceptions you have of a country are formed by an evening news cycle fixated on the world’s woes. The Israel I experienced – and let’s be honest, it wasn’t all of it – was a cosmopolitan one, as broadened by its realities as it is isolated by them.
Over the coming weeks Fashionising.com will turn its spotlight on Israel’s fashion culture and talent. For the meantime, however, you can find a few previews of our trip to the country below.
Walking the city: Jerusalem photo diary (14 Nov 2012)
I was joined on the tour of Israel by Ada Alti of Eau de Style, Rumi Neely of Fashion Toast, BryanBoy, and Robb Young for A Shaded View On Fashion, pictured here with the team from Kinetis who graciously hosted us. Photo by Noa Magger.
The beach at the Carlton Tel Aviv Hotel where I stayed.
Tel Aviv, the forgotten gem of the Mediterranean.
The Ottoman beauty of Jaffa.
There’s a lot of gentrification occurring within Jaffa, not all of it is on the side of history sadly.
I’m not sure Ernest Hemingway ever made it to Jaffa, but stencils of him sure have.
Bow-tie cupcakes? You’ve been expecting me.
Tel Aviv is YouTube friendly – there are cats everywhere. Photo: Noa Magger.
Out and about during Fashion’s Night Out, Tel Aviv. Photo: Noa Magger.
Photo: Noa Magger.
The stuff of nightmares.