Sunday, August 24, 2008

Retire in Tel Aviv: lifestyle, weather, and Mediterranean culture:

Beach and marina in Tel Aviv. A great city with a beach!
      People today retire all over the world. Britis go to southern France, Canadians go to Florida, north-easterners move to Arizona and southern California. In Tel Aviv we are starting to see a trend of full time and part time retirees making their home in Tel Aviv. The white city has plenty to offer, but to some Tel Aviv is a real treat (isn't this what retirement should be?). People come to Tel Aviv for the weather and the cost of living, but they stay for the lifestyle and the truly Mediterranean attitude. Tel Aviv also offers easy access to the “other side” of the globe with Africa, Asia and Europe a short flight away (if you are coming from America). At first I thought that only the religious Jews and American Zionists were the ones who discovered Tel Aviv for retirement. But this is not at all the case. Tel Aviv is attracting British, German, South Africans, and even a few Australians.
      Choosing a retirement location is a combination of a pragmatic practical issues and attractive lifestyle factors. The pragmatic side is mostly based on cost of living and overall basic services such as the quality and availability of health services, similarity and ability to interact with a community on daily basis, and most importantly, the general comfort level: “how it feels to be here?” Once a retiree feels comfortable that pragmatic factors are a good match for them the real allure of Tel Aviv comes to play: incredible lifestyle. Imagine the weather something between southern France and San Diego, in a medium size city, with European culture, cosmopolitan mix of people... and this is just the beginning. Tel Aviv offers so much in culture, variety, weather, and a great location. As a matter of fact, one of the Australians I met wanted me not to write so positively about Tel Aviv, he doesn't want to tell the world about this hidden secret, keep it to himself.
      We will give more details on the attractive attributes of Tel Aviv for retirees in upcoming articles, so let's get started with the physical location. Tel Aviv is a symbolic midpoint of central Israel. Our focus will start here. Tel Aviv is situated on the Mediterranean coast at the center of Israel. The city was officially founded in 1909, so next year will be the centennial celebration, and the city is cleaning up and sprucing up. The municipal borders had limited growth in Tel Aviv proper for some time, so new large construction is not something to look for in the municipal borders. Luckily this is not a problem since there is space surrounding the city all around. Besides the nice residential parts of the city it is also the true cultural center of Israel. Tel Aviv has one of the highest concentration of theaters, concert halls, museums, book stores, shops, restaurants, and whatever culturally you can imagine. Tel Aviv is not just a cultural center in Israeli context but in comparison to many cities. OK, this is not New York city but it certainly competes with many American and European cities twice it's size and decades older. But the real treat here is the combination of year around great weather, a cosmopolitan city with culture, and comfortable mix of people from all over the world. All together this is what makes Tel Aviv the place to be. So if you are retiring, come and really enjoy your time, you deserve it. Now a little about the surrounding areas which will give a bit of understanding and some living choices.
      The city is surrounded by a few smaller towns: Natanya in the north, Holon in the south, and Kfar Sabba in the east. These encompass a few more communities which attract retirees. Each town (even a section of town) has it's own personality. Each community also tends to have a concentration of residents from different country. Natanya is a strong French presence some immigrated in the last two years. Natanya is just north of Tel Aviv along the Mediterranean coast. Natanya is still developing and new construction from low cost small apartments (about US$200,000) to large single family homes (US$1,000,000 and up) attract people who would not be able to afford a new home. As the French started discovering Natanya the word spread and more came. To the east of Natanya lies Ra'anana and Kfar Saba. These two towns with some sections of Hertzelia (between Tel Aviv and Natanya) are the preferred choice of “Anglos”. Anglos is the term used to describe the English speakers (Americans, British, Canadians, S. Africans, etc.) Ra'anana and Kfar Saba have a relatively older town centers with 1960's to 1980's construction. Similar to Natanya, the early Anglo concentration has given the towns a western feel. Ra'anana has a reputation of being clean, green, and spacious. Walking through Ra'anana's neighborhoods and the main street Ahuza does give you a feeling of a well kept town. Here it would be more difficult to find a new apartment and the attraction is the more established community. Bordering the southern edge of Tel Aviv are Holon and Bat Yam. These two towns have also been established a bit longer. They have the most native Israeli feel which is attractive to retirees who want to be in a native environment. Bat Yam sits on the coast and Holon is just east inland. Holon offers cultural activities with museums and performance spaces, Bat Yam has been a working class town which is having an economic infusion from new residents and construction. The beach communities like Tel Aviv, Natanya, Hertzelia, and Holon have a real resort feeling. To most people who want to be here just for the summer or for the winter this is the place for you.

Next time: lifestyle in Tel Aviv and the surrounding communities and a look at a few other towns. We will also describe not just the retirement life in Tel Aviv, after all retirement is not just sitting around. Read More...

Monday, August 18, 2008

Sex, Noise, and Smoke: good and bad in Tel Aviv bars

Street dancing on Dizengoff: the Israeli rap generation

It seems like Tel Aviv is having a low level cultural war. Not one that you hear about in the newspapers or TV. The bar culture is being attacked by residents through city hall. No need for alarm, Tel Aviv is not going to be a dry city any time soon*. But there are rumors and and article here and there that "the city" is out to close bars in residential areas. Essentially they enforce a few noise and public smoking laws harshly. I heard of the noise issue from bar owners and bartenders. I also heard of the no-smoking "police" lurking around bars and the staff running around putting out cigarettes (fine of 1,000 shekel for patron, 5,000 for the establishment). If you are a bar kind of person you probably think this is unfair. Why have bars, give them permission to operate, have people come and find a place to socialize and create a community just to close it down for some noise and smoke excuse? If you own or just bought an expensive apartment in a good location you take the opposite side: why doesn't the city keep the city organized? Why can't we have quiet nights and smoke free places? Why do we have to live next to a virtual sex hotel where the young of the city come to enjoy anonymous sex** and a few good drinks? Well, there you have the issue at hand. As Tel Aviv becomes more cosmopolitan it attracts the kind of people who not only want but actually demand the bar scene. The "alcohol culture" which comes with other British and American imports (business, culture, people) is steadily making it's way into the Tel Aviv night life. The "kids" which you see in the bars are not going to be satisfied by Israeli folk dancing and telling stories around the campfire on the beach. That was fine for their grandparents. But if you are going to ask them to do high-tech software, banking, and advertising on international scale, with Europeans and Americans, they want to go to pubs and bars just like in London or LA. This is what in some cultures get banned. The Muslims and Christian fundamentalists mostly in Asia (that includes the Arab countries on the middle east) live in fear of corrupting their young ones. But the cost is freedom to society. Well, let the story continue, we will keep the story going as we see what is going on here. Please post a comment or send an e-Mail if you have any news on the matter - T H A N K S !

* a dry city or county in American slang is a location free of alcohol, both sale and consumption (in public places).
** there is an image of free sex in bar bathrooms has taken hold in Tel Aviv. Apparently this was a popular form of entertainment for the 20 something. From what you see today it's only in very few bars and very few people. Read More...

Thursday, August 7, 2008

TV humor, political correctness, sensitivity, and freedom

Television commercials are sometimes different from one country to the next. Sometimes we see funny or sexy TV commercials from other countries and enjoy them. But not often do we fear that a funny TV commercial would anger or humiliate someone in another country. But this is what is happening with an Israeli commercial for Nissan Tiida poking fun at Arab oil executives. The commercial started airing about two weeks ago and has been very successful. It shows a group of well dressed Arabs leaving an upscale building on their way to a stretch limousine. Just a few feet away from the group a shiny new Nissan Tiida is parked. They apparently talk about the fuel economy of the car. Suddenly one of the Arabs starts getting excited. He curses and beats up on the car. His group is quick to hold him back and restrain him. All this is in Arabic, so for most of the Israeli TV viewers this is just a skit of an angry Arab. An voice-over and text in Hebrew says, the Nissan Tiida is so economic, it is certain to anger your average oil executive.

An Israeli commercial for Nissan Tiida: poking fun of Arab oil executives?
Up to now everything is fine. A few Arab Israeli actors get a job doing a commercial. Israeli TV viewers laugh at a funny commercial. Nissan sells more cars. Everyone is happy? Well, not exactly. Apparently a government commentator on Saudi Arabia's MBC TV decided to comment and came up with the conclusion that Nissan through the Israeli media is humiliating Arabs. Apparently he is offended by the fact that Arabs are used as caricatures or scape goats for the oil price or shortage in the world. I am actually not clear what the main complaint is. Israeli advertising agency and the Nissan importer were quick to reply that the Muslim Israeli (Arab) actors were not at all humiliated and that no intention to humiliate anyone was intended. But apparently this Saudi TV commentator wanted an official Nissan apology.
This is not a political or religious blog so this issue is not going to be debated here. (See Haaretz article) But this is a great opportunity to look at the Israeli TV and the Israeli viewer. From this commercial and it's topic you can see that both regular TV shows and commercials can be sarcastic and funny. Maybe because of the stress in the security and economy which the average Israeli feels, the TV is more of a funny relief than in other countries. I think that Israeli TV is simply a mix of serious communication and entertainment. In a country where Hebrew is mostly spoken and where nothing from the rest of the world is in Hebrew there is a need for everything. So satire and sarcasm definitely take back seat to political correctness. There is a regular comedy show on channel 1 which pokes fun at just about everything. Specially Israeli government officials and military leaders. But besides the talk when ordering coffee on Monday morning I don't think that anyone ever paid attention to the content of the show in terms of humiliating attacks. If the Saudis want to compare the Tiida commercial they should take a look at the latest McDonald's commercial. Here the US secret service picks average Israeli teen agers from a dance club and their home. Takes them to a closed McDonald's restaurant, open it just for the visiting US president. This pokes light fun of George Bush or the US secret service. But if George Bush as a US president didn't have a chuckle instead of a feeling of humiliation I would be worried. Actually, thinking about it, I would be worried if the US president even paid attention to a commercial on Israeli TV. In general, Israeli TV reflects the values of free speech and open communication.
But what does this say about Arab television? or worst, about Arab advertising? Well, it probably says that the main TV outlets in the Arab world can not be as free as in other places. Israelis are probably not really surprised or worried. Saudi Arabia and other gulf countries are not considered free politically. The dance between free press and state propaganda takes slightly different twists and turns, but than again this is not a political opinion blog.
Paris Hilton poking fun of John McCain - No Israeli TV commentator was offended.
One little bit of funny TV commercial mention. We get to see US television news channels (CNN, FOX, NBC, etc.) - Fox recently had a commentary on the Paris Hilton spoof of a John McCain presidential commercial. Apparently the mud slinging is starting in full force there. This is something we are going to see soon here when the primaries and the election campaign start soon. I wish Paris would come here, or better, we should get some Israeli bomb shell to copy her. We got lots to learn yet. Enjoy the commercials, they are sometimes better than the news! Read More...

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Lobby - Pickup Bars, Strong Drinks, and Quiet Streets

No need for refined graphics, "The Lobby" is quiet and classy.

"The Lobby" is a small bar on Bazel Street (#30) in Tel Aviv. It opened two years ago in a very quiet location. I can't believe that the owners planned on opening a pick-up bar with strong drinks. Well, this is not exactly a "classical" pick-up bar. The location is just one aspect. Most people would assume that a pick-up bar is going to be in a desolate industrial zone where there is plenty of room and parking and only the desperate and sexually adventurous would be trolling dark bars in search of a one-night-stand. Pick-up bars also come in the glitzier variety catering to lonely business types with a few extra dollars to buy a broken hearted girl a drink. Somehow "The Lobby" has become what I would call a "locals'" pickup bar. Since tourists and business travelers usually take over the bar scene in the city in search of a willing one-nighters partner, there has to be a place for the locals. My "locals" term is describing not just Tel Avivians but also out of town Israelis looking for Israelis and not foreigners. You may think that this is a little discriminatory on the side of Tel Avivians or even Israelis. But a few visits to "The Lobby" and you will see that the place is comfortable and friendly. There is the sexual tension of a pickup bar but also a feel of a friendly neighborhood drinking hole. To some this makes "The Lobby" a less intimidating place.
      The Lobby is essentially a small room that holds about 30 people. There is a long counter on the right side of the room where two barman mix strong traditional drinks. Doreen the waitress (a twenty something divorce lawyer by day) was recommending the large Mojito (a liter of rum, sugar, and your favorite juice with lime) or a Long Island Ice Tea. On hot Tel Aviv summer nights, the Caribbean drinks seem to be the weapon of choice here. "The Lobby" is furnished in comfortable seating, high tables and chairs and decent bar stools at the counter. There is definitely a "regulars" arrangement with reserved spots at the counter and some reserved tables. The lighting is muted but not the kind of dark that you can't see a face 10 feet in front of you.
      The drinks are strong and big. Besides the regular western (European) drinks there is a good selection of Caribbean / Cuban / Mexican drinks. I was a little disappointed when they didn't have a traditional summer Sangria with ice. "The Lobby's" version is served warm for cold winter nights. Staff at "The Lobby" is young and energetic. They greet most guests as if they are regulars, even the ones which are there for the first time. Even a group of 20 something girls which seem to have one-nigher pickup on their mind seem to be welcomed by Doreen and the barman. Overall I give "The Lobby" a high score. If you are looking for a comfortable neighborhood bar for a good drink and a slice of pizza this is the spot. If you are looking for a pickup bar, come here on Wed. to Friday (the other nights are a little slow). [The Lobby, 30 Bazel, Tel: 03-5462714 - Note: This area has little to no parking at night.] Read More...