A Long Way to Go for Lunch

Rather than wait for you to ask the obvious question, “Who’s this guy Perry?” perhaps I’d better explain. Many years ago, before Barbara and I got married, she was living by herself in an apartment in Jackson Heights, Queens. And there was this young kid in the neighborhood who took a liking to her and kept an eye out – just in case. We invited him to our wedding, and, on and off over the years, he and Barbara kept in touch. He did switch neighborhoods, but he never left the borough of Queens, while we were gallivanting all over New Jersey, finally making the big decision to come to The Land.

Five years ago, after years of saving his pennies in a big glass jar, Perry had put aside enough money to pay for his fare over here. His greatest desire at the time was to ride a camel, something you don’t get to do often in Maspeth. The deal I made with Barbara was that, sure he can stay here; no problem. I’ll be happy to feed him and make my best conversation, but you’re going to be the tour guide. That worked; everyone was happy. In case you need to know: there are a number of these even-toed ungulates on duty between here and Jericho, should a camel ride be on your “bucket list” (an expression sure to join the list of catch-phrases headed for merciful extinction).

Then a few months ago, Perry, in his weekly call via Viber, asked if he could come and stay with us again in May. Well, yeah. Same deal as last time. And so Perry arrived. He had gone from being in his early fifties to his late fifties, and his physical disabilities had slowed him down even more than before.

Barbara took him around Jerusalem – as much as the two of them could handle by bus and train with a little walking thrown in: the Old City, the Israel Museum, Machane Yehuda, the Biblical Zoo, and the like. There is, however, only so much to see, even in Jerusalem in any given week, and Barbara had the bright idea of going to the Sarona Market in Tel Aviv. Moreover, she made me an offer….

“Fred, you haven’t spent much time with Perry; why don’t you come with us?” Fair is fair. I had to acknowledge the justice of her remarks. Yes, I could spare a day from my usual labors, and would I be willing to retrace my steps to go with them? How could I say no?, meaning, obviously, that I couldn’t. #480 bus to Tel Aviv, here we go!

There was a time not so long ago – when Tina and David were living on Ibn Gabirol St. off Nordau – that we made the trip to Tel Aviv with some regularity. I could look out the bus window as the bus was leaving Jerusalem and “supervise” the progress of the two construction projects on the way: the widening of route 1 and the work on the high speed rail line that would link Jerusalem to the airport and Tel Aviv. The thing is that if you’re inspecting this kind of work every week or two, you don’t see much progress – like a lot of what goes on in the Land. Here and there you’d see one of the machines that flattens the road bed slowly going back and forth and not much more. It doesn’t seem that the job would ever get finished – at least in one’s lifetime. But if you come back six months later…….

I knew the road project was almost completed. The big tunnel that cut through the hills west of Jerusalem and helped straighten the winding road on which there had been too many accidents, that had been opened months ago. The overpasses designed to allow wild life (I don’t mean Israeli drivers) to get from one side of the highway to the other without crossing the road and becoming road kill, those had also been finished and, we hope, were being used by assorted four-footed denizens, unaware of how many shekels had been invested in their wellbeing.

Now my attention was focused mainly on the rail project, because when that gets done, who’s going to want to crowd onto a #480 bus? Who’s going to want to pay a shekel to use the not-so-wonderful rest rooms at the Central Bus Station? Who’s going to want to get stuck in traffic going in an out of our nation’s capital – even on the new road?

Nosirreebob. We can’t wait to board a train and ride in comfort to Tel Aviv in twenty-five minutes. We can’t wait to board a train in Jerusalem and travel all the way to Karmiel to visit The Levines, who live ten minutes away. Maybe next year. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves!

This year, we’re taking the familiar bus route into the White City. Except that this year, like a lot of Tel Aviv, the road to the Arlozerov terminal, where the bus lets us off, is blocked because of construction for the Tel Aviv Light Rail project (finally underway fifty years after it was first proposed back when Golda Meir was the prime minister) and the bus has to go around the block a few times to get to a drop-off point.

One more connection: the local Dan bus, which we had to identify and locate. A slight detour through Ramat Gan, hang a right back into Tel Aviv, pass the looming Azrieli Towers on the right, and, sure enough, the bus pulled up across the street from the Sarona complex. Just in time for lunch!

It goes without saying that if this were in Jerusalem, most of the food establishments would be kosher. Tel Aviv is another kettle of fish. There are kosher eateries, but you need to put in a little effort to find them. Unless you know. From my designated landmark, the iDigital store (the Apple franchise) right on the main drag, I marched resolutely, with Barbara and Perry right behind, to the same BIGA restaurant where we had eaten two years before, with Tina, David, a very young Damon, and The Levines.

Savor the moment. It was, as the baseball announcers used to say, shirt-sleeve weather. There we were, dining al fresco under an awning, partaking of a fine dairy meal, for which, Perry announced, it was his turn to pay. Icing on the cake!

I have an affinity for places like this: restful garden spots tucked away in the middle of a city. I’m thinking of Bryant Park or Battery Park (both in NYC), places to go off to in the middle of a workday when the insanity of your place of employment has addled your brain. Actually, what’s the real icing on the cake? We don’t have to go back to the office – ever again!

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A lily pond in Tel Aviv

Having no place to be and no time to be there, we were free to wander about at our leisure. Actually, I did have a place to be, at least a destination in mind: the indoor food court. That had been a work-in-progress when were there two years before. And so I resolutely headed in that direction, with Barbara and Perry following in my footsteps.

In case I needed to be reminded that all was not kosher within, the first stall we passed had a sign announcing their specials on various kinds of shellfish. OK, keep going. We slowly wended our way up and down the aisles, taking note for the future which few purveyors were kosher. We stopped in one store and purchased some packaged granola, and then, there it was. I was standing in front of Palais des Thés! Not quite a real live palace, but close enough; at least enough to capture my undivided attention.

I don’t even remember my feet moving, but all of a sudden, I found myself inside the store, staring at shelves filled with one-foot-tall canisters of carefully labeled teas. The young woman standing behind the counter realized that that there was this older guy standing there, seemingly in shock and awe, and began speaking in respectable English. When I had regained my power of speech, I asked her if this was the same Palais des Thés that had retail outlets in Paris and if there was one opposite the Louvre?

(That little tea shop had greatly improved my disposition when it really needed improving. We were spending part of our day in Paris by visiting the museum. We had spent a mostly sleepless night on the flight from NYC, and I was, to say the least, a tad grumpy. But there it was: a place to sit, sip some world class tea, and munch on our brought-from-Teaneck bagels with the fixings. After half an hour, I was ready to fight my way through the crowds in search of the Mona Lisa.) 

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In search of the Mona Lisa

The young woman behind the counter, realizing that she had in front of her a real live tea drinker, asked the obvious question: What would I like?

Tell me if you agree: you go into an ice cream store where they have twelve flavors, or you go into a store where they have forty-eight flavors. In which store would you have more trouble making a selection? That’s right, the more choices you have, the harder it is to decide.

The young woman behind the counter was now methodically taking down a bunch of canisters, one by one, and letting me inhale the heavenly fragrance from each one. Was this supposed to help me in making a choice? (To make matters worse, I was advised that they had a much bigger store in the Azrieli Mall, where they had over 200 kinds of tea on display!)

I had to explain to the young woman behind the counter that my wife was waiting for me just outside the store. Now everyone knows that I have the world’s best wife, but she does have one foible. She is under the strange belief that I have way too many books in our apartment and too many kinds of tea. There was no way I was going to make it out of the store with a shopping bag full of assorted varieties. If I knew what was good for me, I would pay for one package and leave it at that. After much sniffing and narrowing down my choices, I left the emporium with 740 grams of Bao Zhong Imperial oolong tea from Taiwan in one deceptively small bag with a handle.

More to see! We kept walking until we arrived at one of the exits, from where I could see another intriguing sign. This way to the Whisky museum! Right in front of us was the largest collection of spirits in the Mid-East, over 1,000 kinds of whisk(e)y to sample or purchase. To be fair, saying you have the largest collection of spirits in the mid-East is like claiming to be the tallest Munchkin on The Wizard of Oz set. Not much of a claim to fame. Still, I had to check it out, so we stuck our noses in the door. The joint was not jumping at 2 in the afternoon, and we were free to walk around. Wow! They have a lot more bottles than Palais des Thés has canisters! I wasn’t with the right crowd to sit down and have a shot of something, plus I had no idea if the joint was kosher. So after looking around, we walked out.

It turns out that this bar and museum is kosher, just that they can’t say so. Like a growing number of places, this one has opted for an alternative inspection service , Hashgacha Pratit. Since here in the Land, the official Rabbinut has a monopoly on the word “kosher,” nobody else can state or imply that their establishment complies with dietary restrictions. In a way, I can understand. After all, who works harder than the official inspectors from the Rabbinut? Some of them have submitted time sheets for as many as twenty-seven hour in a day. That’s true dedication! How can the private agency compete with that? Besides, what kind of kashrut certificate could there be without a little – or a lot – of baksheesh? That would be like a falafel served without a gallon of glop and soggy ‘chips’ with it or pizza without corn or tuna fish on top. How could that be? This is Israel, remember!

Barbara and Perry had originally planned to head over to one of the Tel Aviv beaches after we were done with Sarona – maybe a mile away. But by the time we left the whisky bar, they had abandoned that idea. If we waited around another forty-five minutes, there would be an English speaking tour of the little Sarona museum, but even that seemed a little too much for one day. Having a delightful lunch and an abbreviated tour of Sarona would have to do for now. The rest? Maybe if Perry returns for a third trip. We opted to wait for the Dan bus back to Arlozerov and from there the Egged coach back to Jerusalem. Someday, someday, we’ll be able to make this journey by train in half the time and twice the comfort. Someday, but not today. In 2017, we’re looking at 2 ½ to 3 hours back and forth from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv – plus the forty-five minutes back to Ma’ale Adumim. That’s a long way to go for lunch!

 

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