1. There's nary a sideburn ringlet or bewigged head to be seen.
2. No old ladies are body-checking you to get to the front of the queue at the market.
3. When you go to a restaurant, nobody asks you if you have a gun.
4. No one will throw bleach on you if you walk down the street in a bikini.
5. You can eat as many cheeseburgers and as much shellfish as you want.
After another week of fighting the crowds of religious fanatics along the Via Dolorosa, we were ready for a break from the Holy City. On Friday morning, we elbowed our way onto the bus and fled like Jonah to Tel Aviv. A friend of the family who lives there generously offered to show us around; she met us at the bus station and took us on a little driving tour of the city, pointing out the Bauhaus architecture and the wide promenade which lines the beach from the southern port of Jaffa all the way to the northern marina - a distance of about 4 miles, crawling with bikini-clad beach bunnies and ancient crones alike enjoying the wide stretches of white sand and sparkling water.
The next morning, we set out early to walk the length of the promenade from Jaffa. Jaffa, once famous for the orange and olive groves surrounding its walls, is a contender for the oldest continuously operating port in the world, and was an important stop on the old incense trading routes from the Arabian peninsula to the western Mediterranean. It was conquered at various times by the ancient Egyptians, King David, the Romans, the Arabs, the Crusaders, the Mamluks, Napoleon, the Ottomans and the British. The city's Arab inhabitants were almost all driven out during the 1948 war and it sank into a state of destitution, housing only the very poorest of Israel's immigrant communities for a decade. In the 1960s, the Old Jaffa Development Company decided to transform the city by reimagining it as an artists' colony. Its old stone houses and crooked streets were renovated and rebuilt, gardens were planted in its center, and the port was reopened. (We watched a film on the history of Jaffa in the visitors' center, which skipped startlingly and unapologetically from the nineteenth-century use of Jaffa's port straight to its 1960s renovation.) Now, it's a beautiful little city in the shadow of the uber-modern skyscrapers of Tel Aviv.
We wandered north from Jaffa along the beach, picnicking along the way on some leftovers from dinner the night before: stuffed zucchini, kibbeh (spicy minced lamb inside a crust of deep-fried bulghur), tomatoes and fruit. After some very satisfying beach time, we toasted Cinco de Mayo with some Coronas (yes, this took some searching, but we're only getting savvier) and a dish advertised as nachos that turned out to be some Cool Ranch Doritos, served with a "salsa" that owed a considerable debt to Heinz ketchup. Ah well, we tried.
We abandoned the Mexican theme for dinner and took advantage of our distance from Jerusalem to gorge on shrimp in butter and some excellent local wine, though the grilled chicken, seasoned with harissa and pickled lemon and served on a bed of lentils, was the real highlight of our dinner by the sea.