Photographic Interlude.

This is the Holocaust Memorial in Rabin Square. The Memorial is cool, but more of note are the number of people I have seen napping under it in chaise lounges. If you look under the Memorial, you can see a few of these chaise lounges set up in the shade provided by the structure:

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These chaise lounges are also all over the city. Tel Aviv seems obsessed with providing outdoor seating for resting. There are benches seeming every five feet when you’re walking. These chaise lounges are fairly plentiful as well. The text reads: “Taking a free break in the nonstop city”:

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These are 10 cent coins. I feel very strongly that they look like arcade tokens:

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THERE’S A DOG FESTIVAL COMING UP:

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I’ve been very impressed by the graffiti here. Exhibit A:

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And Exhibit B:

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We have an apartment.

I do not recommend relying on Facebook translations, and Google Translate to sift through apartment listings. It worked out, and we actually got a good deal on a very nice apartment in an unexpected but remarkable location (shout-out to Yannai for reading over our lease! Thank you!!). But the process itself was fairly excruciating.

More onerous and unwieldy, I think, than trying to piece together translations of apartment listings, were the emails I had to send in English asking about the apartments. Clearly, apartment listings should be written in the language(s) of the country, and the burden should be on me, the interloper, to translate. It was murky, doing the translations, but manageable. What was difficult was having to be so arrogant and bumptious to respond to the listings in Hebrew with English. English is very widely spoken here, yes, but responding to listings in a completely different language than the listing thrusted me farther out of my comfort zone than anything else we’ve encountered thus far.

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Google Translate: in action!

Primarily, apartments seem to be found here through agencies, Facebook, or yad2 (which seems to be Craigslist-y). Yad2 is entirely in Hebrew, so I tried to dodge listings there as much as possible. In theory, you can tell an agency what you want, and where you want to live in the city, and they will find something for you. In practice, I found that agencies only could do this within the constraints of apartments they had listed within their agency. Agencies also charged a month’s rent (plus a bit more) as a “finder’s fee.” This is fine.  However, I found many listings on Facebook without an agent, and then would find the exact same listings, through an agency with a fee.

All of this meant that I spent entire days on Facebook. I had not even logged into Facebook since April, so in order to do this, I had to spend a morning resetting my password since I had forgotten what it was. I also spent a solid hour scrolling through my News Feed, wondering who all these people were since apparently a lot of people had gotten married, and changed their names since April.

We ended up finding our apartment on Craigslist. Craigslist did not have many listings, but they did have a few, including ours. It was through an agency, so we had to pay a fee. Paying the fee and getting the apartment has allowed me to stop spending all day on Facebook though, so I’m considering it worth it.

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Finnegan: pleased with our apartment decision. Also I had a really hard time putting on this couch cover.

Our landlord is supremely pleasant, the apartment is fully furnished (the landlord actually just showed up about 15 minutes ago with a kitchen mat, unprompted), and we live on top of a bar like we are in a sitcom. We had a frantic evening trying to get enough cash out for the first month’s rent (we did not have Israeli bank checks the night before we signed the lease), while not going over the daily limit of how much money can be withdrawn. It took several (very sweaty) hours of going to every ATM within a 2km radius, but we were able to hand over an envelope of cash the next day.

When we finally did receive our Israeli checks, we were able to write our rent checks. Rent check technology here is on par with the popsicle technology: lightyears ahead. Instead of writing a check every month, and sending it to your landlord, here you write all your checks at once, date them for the term of your lease, and hand the stack over to your landlord. So instead of paying rent the first of every month, we sat for about 15 minutes and wrote out checks for September, October, November, etc. The landlord then has all the checks ready to go, and just cashes them when the calendar catches up to the dates on the checks. Very efficient.

Popsicle Technology, and Ulpan

We are slowly, but steadily, inching our way into Tel Aviv-resident-dom. We finally have cell phones (previously, we had been using prepaid Israeli burner phone, that really should have lead to more Israeli-based dramatic reenactments of The Wire). We finally have an apartment. We finally found where to buy face sunscreen. We still don’t have internet (shout-out to the personal hotspot I’m using right now from my incredibly cheap Israeli data plan!). We still don’t have enough hangers to fully unpack. We still don’t have any idea what the labels on the yogurt we have been buying say.

I think I am probably presenting myself as the sweatiest, most frantic person ever to most Israelis. One of the perks we get of moving here, is that we get free intensive Hebrew lessons. Last week we went to the Ministry of Absorption to get our Ulpan (Hebrew school) vouchers, along with a veritable bouquet of other paperwork. I had been fairly indecisive about which Ulpan to enroll in, factoring commute, class intensity, timing, etc. Before we went to the Ministry of Absorption, I had finally resolved to go with the large, well-known Ulpan that happens to be less than a ten minute walk from our new apartment. When our “personal absorption counselor” asked which Ulpan I had selected, she looked up.

“When are you going to register?” She stared at me. Hard.

“I was planning on going right after this meeting?” At this point, I was already sweaty, but this conversation was prompting just utter buckets of sweat to appear.

“Okay, you better. The French will be coming this week, and they will take all the spots at the school.”

The meeting could not end quickly enough. I had to get over to the Ulpan to get a spot before this ambiguous inundation of “the French” arrived. Ulpan voucher in hand, I left the Ministry, and full on sprinted to the Ulpan. Will went back to the Airbnb to collect Finnegan, while I stormed the Ulpan. Once I arrived, I hysterically looked for the nearest office, or anything resembling an office, so I could usurp the French, and claim an Ulpan seat.

There was an office not too far from the entrance. Three women were in there, laughing. I stood in the doorway, feverish. Finally, they turned to me.

“I’m here to register.” My voice had taken on a grave, foreboding quality, and the women stared at me.  After an excruciating pause, one of them beckoned me over to her desk.

Sometimes when I’m overwhelmed, sweaty, and possessed with an engulfing desire to get in the best intensive language class I can, I become completely unable to coherently answer questions. The woman asked me questions about my occupation, level of education, name, etc, and I flubbed every question on the first try. At one point, she asked me for my phone number and I just went “In Hebrew? It’s temporary.” Which were two separate thoughts, that made no sense stitched together. During this entire debacle, I was sweating sunscreen into my eyes, and continued to dab my eyes with the corner of a kleenex. Most likely, I looked as though I were crying, vanquished by my emotion at signing up for intensive Hebrew.

Towards the end of the meeting, the woman stood up.

“I have a present for you.” She walked around a filing cabinet. Turning around, she handed me a backpack. It actually seemed very well constructed, with a key fob, and a headphone hole. Still frantic and dabbing sunscreen out of my eyes, I reacted too much to this backpack.

“WHAAAAT? THIS IS AN AMAZING BACKPACK!!”

The woman was, clearly, unsure how to respond to me.

“We give these to all new students.”

I tried to calibrate my reaction to the backpack. Instead, I ended up awkwardly clutching it, as the woman told me I was registered. I had beaten the incoming French; I had gained a spot.

To make this sweaty, frenetic experience worse, I then had to pace outside the Ulpan for about 25 minutes, waiting for Will and Finn to come meet me. I must have appeared to be unable to wait for classes to begin, well-constructed backpack in hand.

Since I have no pictures of me not crying while registering for Ulpan, here’s a picture of what I thought was a slightly pornographic granola tagline:

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I also want to mention the popsicle methodology I’ve witnessed here. I’ll try to get a picture. As I’ve been walking around, I’ve not only noticed an astounding number of people eating popsicles, but they’ve all been holding them so that the stick is at the top, and the popsicle faces the sidewalk. I couldn’t understand this the first few times I saw it, then I realized. It’s so the popsicle juices do not slither onto their hands, and create a sticky mess. Israel, you are lightyears ahead of the US on your popsicle technology. Mazal tov. Seriously.

“Does he have balls?”

Against my better judgement, I did not learn a ton (that is putting it generously) of Hebrew before we moved here. I wanted to. I like learning languages. I signed up for a five month intensive Hebrew class starting next month, but I wanted to start immediately. We bought books, and “methods.” We had visions of a utopian summer where we read all the books we had been meaning to read for years AND learned enough Hebrew to get by in our first few weeks here. The placelessness of this summer really jostled these plans into the ether, however.

To get to Tel Aviv, we left LA in mid-June. We drove up the coast to Santa Rosa, Mendocino, Arcata, Eugene, Portland (a few day trips), Seattle, and back to Eugene before flying to Boston to stay in Plymouth, with side trips to New York (me) and Chicago (Will), and finally drove to and flew out of Newark. We left for Tel Aviv in early August. Until we went to Seattle we had two dogs with us (Finnegan, and my grandmother’s dog, Ella), and then from then on we had just Finn with us. It was a very long moving process. Something about not having a space or a routine really eclipsed our efforts to learn Hebrew and we just didn’t.

While we can get by with English here for most things, I hate it. I hate immediately being a stereotypical American who does not speak the language and cockily assumes she can get by just speaking English. I hate calling places and cheerily but with a desperate edge chiming “Shalom! Inglit?” I hate laughing awkwardly as people try to make conversation in the street, and then hearing them say, “oh, you don’t speak Hebrew?” Yesterday, I hated when Finnegan surprised both of us by pooping in someone’s walkway…as a resident of that building was walking up the path. I hated being yelled at and not being able to understand, and not being able to profusely apologize and explain that it was unanticipated for me and the dog. So far, I like this city, and I would like to be able to speak its language.

Bureaucracy here is hard and different from what I’m used to, but it’s much more difficult not speaking the language of the country (obviously). I just spent probably an hour on the phone (split between two phone calls) trying to get a license for owning a dog (a requirement here), and to get Finnegan registered with the city. The woman I spoke with was patient, and helpful, but I really wished I could speak Hebrew. Or at least spell my dog’s name in Hebrew for her, without having to pause for an awkward 30 seconds between each letter while I confirmed that was how I would spell it. Not speaking Hebrew also led to the following back and forth:

“Does he have rabies?”

“No.”

“Okay he will need a vaccine.”

“He was vaccinated in May.”

“Okay, does he have balls?”

“Balls?”

“Balls. You get a discount if he doesn’t have balls.”

“He doesn’t have balls.”

Spay and neuter your pets, people. You get a discount if your dog doesn’t have balls.

And because this post was just text, here’s a picture of a really cool, zebra print bird I’ve seen around that I’m increasingly obsessed with:

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A few more pictures while I freak out and hope that at least one apartment calls us back.

I have absolutely no idea what these manhole covers say, but they are nailing the graphic design:

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Slightly hard to see, but some streets have these medians with bike lanes in opposite directions on either side, and a pedestrian walkway in the middle. At the ends of the blocks, there are these little restaurant stands:

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There was kind of an open air zoo situation in HaYarkon Park, which is the park that goes along the river. In a really thrilling situation, Finn got to meet some ibex, deer, emu, and a bunch of different kinds of birds:

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And:

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TLV.

So we live in Tel Aviv now. We got here a few days ago, and have spent pretty much all day every day just nonstop walking. The walking has been a combination of trying to fully adjust to Tel Aviv time, exploring the city, and trying to get a better sense of where we want to live.

The flight here was, in a one word summary, sweaty.  Due to the ripple effect created by a situation akin to this (except replace “business class” with “economy seat”, and “first class” with “actually even less desirable economy seat”), Finnegan and I ended up an aisle and a seat across from Will. This meant that instead of the luxury having Finn splayed across both of our laps during the flight, like we did on our Portland to Boston flight, Finnegan spent the whole 10.5 hour flight in various unwieldy and clammy positions on my lap.

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We were also right by the bathroom, so poor Finn repeatedly got bathroom light directly in his eyes, every time someone opened the plane bathroom door. Additionally, since all the space between me and the seat in front of me was taken up by a rather warm cocker spaniel, I couldn’t put my tray table down. All in all, I couldn’t really eat (holding the food tray + Finn + a fork = I actually just don’t have enough hands), which was a drag.

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Even though it was probably the most uncomfortable flight I’ve taken in recent memory, my new, Hasidic-shifted seat was next to two incredibly nice Israeli women. They did not mind (actually, they were thrilled) when Finn fell asleep with his head on one of their arms, they helped me stuff my neck pillow back into its bag when I didn’t have much of a range of motion due to Finn’s position, and they talked to me about living in Israel pretty much the whole flight. One of them gave me her email address, and had me meet her daughter, who was also on the flight moving here. I also enjoyed what committed oversharers they were; definitely made the flight go by faster.

Right now it feels like we are on vacation, with a lot of paperwork. We have a lot of appointments to make at various ministries, and desperate emails to send (“Shalom! My name is Alivia. Do you speak English?”). We really, really should have learned more Hebrew before we moved. The timing of everything seems like it’s slightly off. We opened our bank account, but it will be a few days before the money transfer goes through. I need to wait two days for a call back from one ministry to make an appointment to get my voucher for free Hebrew lessons, but classes start very early September, and I need to register well before that. We leave our Airbnb in less than two weeks, but we haven’t heard back from a single apartment. Once we move into an apartment, I think it will start to feel more like we live here, and less like we are on a strange vacation where we flew for 10.5 hours to make phone calls and send emails.

In terms of the city, we are really, really liking it. Historically, Will and I have had differing ideas on places we would like to live, but so far Tel Aviv seems to be a bit of a unicorn city that we can agree on. It’s beautiful:

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Has some A+ public art outside men’s restrooms:

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And sells frozen bureks:

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