Tel Aviv, a Love Letter
It’s my last night in Israel, and here I am. Dinner has ended and I’m meeting a friend later, so I stay a little while after the group have gone their separate ways, sitting with my notebook at the bar, snatching down thoughts between being distracted by a cute barman making cheeky conversation with me. I begin to write my love letter to the city.
I’m sitting under the hanging plant, sweet sensual soul tunes are filtering out the speakers of this night café and I’m thinking of you…
How did you find me?
How did you capture my heart so profoundly?
Sweet, cool, soulful Tel Aviv.
So, here’s the truth. An Israeli boy stole my heart, so I went to Tel Aviv to find it again. Not to find him. To find me. I was looking for my heart when I found something else.
Five days earlier, nine different voices from across the globe gathered in a quirky boutique hotel in Tel Aviv’s artist district for a writing retreat. Wonderful women between the ages of 23 and 70, each on their own personal pilgrimage. Tentatively, we started to write and share, led with warmth and humour by our retreat leader. With each tale, a story for each voice, we got to know slices of each other.
In between the writing we discovered more as we trod the paths of those before us in this ancient of new cities. From the dusty old town of Jaffa to the mania of Carmel Market, or simply sitting in a shaded café, nourishing ourselves with fresh Mediterranean dishes and revitalizing conversation.
I didn’t feel brave when I arrived. I was nervous, tired and, honestly, quite broken. But somewhere, somehow, inside I was holding aloft the tiniest flame of hope for what might come. On the first morning in the shaded courtyard of our hotel, birds serenading us with their song, I took up my pen, balanced my notebook on my lap, drew in a breath of warm morning air, and began to write.
An Israeli boy stole my heart – he shoved it roughly in his pocket and ran away into the silent night. I may not get it back, you know. I asked him for it several times, he said he would return it, but he never did.
So, I went to Tel Aviv to build a new one. It clutters and sputters a little but with some polish and oil it’ll shine in time.
I found a kind man to help me build it.
“How much will it cost?” I asked.
“Listen, no charge, it is my pleasure.”
We fought about the design, and which way to build it, of course, but I was in no position to turn down such generosity. What a gift to be found in the most unexpected of places, with someone so unexpected.
And just like that, things I’d struggled to articulate started to flow out of me. Each day I wrote with these women, alongside them. I realized we were all holding each other up. We weren’t just sharing stories on the page; we were gifting each other pockets of our past. Be it over bread and wine, or while strolling through the sun-beaten streets of Rothschild Boulevard, or even bobbing in the sea trying to decipher the boom of Hebrew coming from lifeguards’ loudspeakers. “It’s fine, no one’s coming in, can’t be a shark!” We laughed and continued to bob.
I’m buoyed by every sunrise in which a new voice has awoken in me. In such a short space of time I’ve seen and heard the women around me come into bloom. The bravery, vulnerability and truth of them all exploding out of their pens and onto the page.
Tonight, the final ‘walk and write’ tour around the city filled me up and turned the floodlights on inside. On our final approach to the beach I spoke to a stranger in our group, a beautiful American photographer. She told me how she came here, fell in love and never left.
She said she takes nudes of women to expose themselves to the beauty of their own fragility. I tell her how incredible this sounds, and that I’ve always wanted to have nudes taken. We swap numbers. After the beach we gathered for our final dinner, to bid fond farewell to each other and the journey we’d come on.
All over this gorgeous place I’m finding the truth exposed around me. I’m using the phrase ‘truth bomb’ way too much, and it makes me laugh joyously every time. I’m drawn in and fascinated by the stories of the women I’ve met that are either heartbreaking or hopeful, silly or scary. I think it’s because there’s such an abundance of spirituality here from the cultural history, the breathtaking sights and sounds and the people.
Did I just get lucky? Or is it simply how the blood flows around this body? Can I pack all these feelings up in my suitcase to take home, do you think? If not, I’ll leave them with all my new friends and return again soon to collect them.