Just so you don’t get it confused with the City That Never Sleeps, Tel Aviv — my favovurite place on earth — now markets itself as the Non-Stop City and, indeed, it never lets up for a moment.
We like to refer to the Blitz Spirit; Israel has it. Any of the lovely youngsters playing matkot on the beach (an American journalist once used the bat-and-ball game as a metaphor for Middle Eastern conflict — ‘No rules, no winners and it never ends’) could be called up to fight and die for their country that evening. And life during wartime leads to living for today.
At the beach bar every morning at nine sharp, our beautiful waitress serves us G&Ts and tells us: ‘You come to nightclub on beach, near the Dolphinarium, where I work?’ What time are you there? ‘From 11 till 5 a.m.’ And then you start here? ‘Yes, I here 9 a.m. till 5 p.m.’ As if to make up for all the centuries when they were forced to hide or leave quickly in the night, Israelis never stop moving. We join them at 5 a.m. in the Hilton swimming pool, and again for a sunset dip at the Gordon Lido; between that they’re biking, boarding, surfing and playing ball games on the beach.
For someone like me who holds to Winston Churchill’s theory of energy conservation — ‘Never stand up when you can sit down. And never sit down when you can lie down’ — this can be alarming. So my boon companions and I take our ease while we take it all in. At Toto we drink Bloody Marys and eat artichoke cream pizzas. At Suzana we eat potato latkes and drink arak cocktails, watching the hipsters of Neve Tzedek do their thing. At the Landwer Café, right by the beautiful Gordon pool (scatter my ashes there just before they switch the skimmer on) we eat halloumi shakshouka and drink the dry, elegant wine of Israel. At Manta Ray we drink frozen margaritas and the ‘Optimistic Breakfast’. We decide to pass on an establishment boasting warm beer, cold women, bad service and rubbish food.
The one place that anyone — and apparently time — stands still is in the gloriously icy bar of the Dan Hotel, where you can sip sidecars and imagine that you see Moshe Dayan, fresh down from the Golan Heights and letting his eye wander. A graceful young Orthodox couple walk slowly in, their eyes wide with delight at being in such a worldly place — but leave because they can’t smoke inside. Everyone seems to smoke in Tel Aviv, especially the Orthodox, and not just tobacco — not so long ago Rabbi Hagai Bar Giora of Israel’s Chief Rabbinate told the Israeli magazine Canabis that, ‘If you smoke it, there is no problem whatsoever.’
Yet the backbeat to all this hedonism is the sobering thought that, here, people lost their lives simply for wanting to live in their own tiny, free country. At Mike’s in 2003, British Muslim suicide bombers killed three people; at the Dolphinarium Disco, in 2001, a Palestinian suicide bomber killed 21 Israeli teenagers and four adults.
A sculpture of two youngsters outside the abandoned building reads, in Hebrew ‘We won’t stop dancing.’ It could serve — just as much as the Non-Stop City — as the motto for this wonderful city that I love above all others.