The Nights of Tel Aviv (Bring Wisdom)

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My first night out in Tel Aviv was on a Monday.

I googled what kind of fun was happening in the city reputed as the “Gay capital of the Middle East”. There was a girls night in a bar called AlphaBet, just a couple of blocks away from the Café Sheleg (‘snow’ in Hebrew) where I was hanging out.

I decided to give it a try, although I know too well my propension to freak out in girls-only environments. I don’t like the lesbian world. Women are hard on each other, because they don’t feel good with themselves most of the time. There is often anger, frustration and things to prove in the air. Once, a friend of mine told me “You are the only happy lesbian that I know” – and yet, most of my life shit has had to do with my orientation.

I thought I’d stay at AlphaBet for a drink or two and then move on to the male bars which are – in my case – guaranteed awesome party. But when I entered the AlphaBet, I got hit by an unusual good vibe. The atmosphere was cool and relaxed. I gave a look around. 9 girls out of 10 were beautiful and friendly-looking. It felt too good to be true, but there I was, I had found the spot of earth where all the pretty and nice lesbians were hiding. They’re all at the AlphaBet in Tel Aviv.

The bartender started chatting me up very soon. It was her second shift so she was under pressure. She translated the cocktail menu for me. She had a super warm and positive energy. I was already liking her. She kept laughing and I wanted to laugh with her. She asked me if I had randomly or purposely landed in Lesbian Paradise. I am used to that. I confirmed that I didn’t get lost in the L-World to encourage her to hit on me.

I had an unexpectedly AWESOME night. I would have never bet one second on having such a good time in a lez party on a Monday with a cocktail menu written in Hebrew so I had no clue of what I was drinking (that must have added to the fun). The best part of the night is that I didn’t talk, flirt or danced with anyone. I just sat at the bar or danced alone on the dance floor and I watched the happy girls. I love happy people. It really moved me and impacted me to see queer girls who were feeling good in their own skin. It shouldn’t be extraordinary, but it is, at least it’s been so far in my world. I just hanged out there like a lonely idiot to record all those beautiful faces in my memory.

There was a very young couple making out close to me, they were 17 at the most. I haven’t seen that young girls in lez nights in other countries, where the crowd is usually mid-20s to mid-40s. These two couldn’t let go of each other, they were so cuuuuuute, I wanted to step forward at them as their Queer Godmother to keep them forever protected so they wouldn’t get hurt by the idiot bullies on the outside world. I may need them more than they need me, though. They looked perfectly fine and they will continue to be. They belong to a new generation where hopefully who you fuck with starts being less of a collective deal. I watched them for a while, and when alcohol kicked in, I got overwhelmed by the unjust feeling that I am owed 15 years of my love life. I wish I could have gone to gay bars when I was 17 and find normal to make out with my girlfriend in a public place. I don’t know. This whole love/sex thing has been more arm-wrestling than fulfilling since my teenage. When I had my first girl attraction, I lived it like a malediction instead of jumping for joy. Some of it is due to the same-sex factor, some of it is due to the girl-off-the-beaten-path factor, and some of it is my personal ghost. I start gently taming it, though.

I stayed till the end. Cool Bartender had finished her shift and had long been gone after wrapping her arm around me. I left the place but I immediately got back in to do something that I don’t easily do when I have a crush on someone that I could potentially really like. I gave it a chance. I asked another bartender – who also thought that I had landed by accident in the lez jungle – to give my card to the girl. It was my corporate business card, not the writer one. That night, I took the conscious decision to reverse the course of my destiny and to give a chance to awesomeness in relationships. There are great people out there in the broadness of our planet.

I was super proud of myself for a change.

The day after, on Tuesday, it was Drag Queen night at Evita, one of the most famous gay bars of Tel Aviv. When I enter a male gay bar anywhere in the world – and I’ve seen MANY – I get this exact same feeling of home, safety and family. I know I am going to be instantly accepted. It never fails. Gay boys love me, and it is passionately mutual. It is an entire part of my sexual identity, because I have been assertive about it for longer. I have a magnificent “collection” of gay husbands whom I love in an irrational manner. This type of love is blurry. There is some kind of sexual attraction to it. It is hard to describe, because it is fascinatingly proteiform, as anything relating to human desire. (The trend calls that “sexual fluidity”, but I prefer not qualifying it. Makes me feel stronger about it.)

So, I entered the Evita as a conquerred land. It took less than a minute to have a guy all over me. He was the waiter of the place, Calvin Klein model looking. Ridiculously well-built. The drag show was the cheapest I have ever seen. There were two worn out drags with VERY big feet. The most worn out of the two asked if there were any foreigners in the audience. I was the first to raise my hand, I thought I’d have my minute of glory from my eternal fans. But cheap drag with big feet (and ugly shoes) told me: “Argh, you’re a girl, not interesting.” These two scarecrows lost my attention for the rest of the night. I only laughed when the timing of their jokes about Eurovision was really off.

Thank God, another show was going on behind the counter. The jaw-dropping waiter was shamelessly hitting on me all night. He claimed to be straight. Every time he was passing by me, he was whispering dirty stuff in my ear, but as I was difficult to convince, he started licking the bar, the beer pump and every piece of furniture he was approaching to “turn me on”. But I was just dying laughing. He tried everything to take me home. Well. I started considering it, because he made me a very interesting proposal. I have a fantasy to f**k a boy like a boy – to be a gay boy just for a moment – and he was into that. So I could have quenched my curiosity that night. I never even thought I’d be given that opportunity so easily. That would be a very interesting research on human desire and a very funny story to write.

But there I was again, as a good story maker. I pondered for a moment. Something was holding me back. The guy was pushy and over the top, and I was trying to sense where my own desire was. Just writing a good story? I don’t want to be the girl with good stories any more. I am known for that in my circle, this is even why I launched a blog. I want to have a funny and adventurous life, but I want the good stories to be off my heart and knickers. I am claiming the right to be “normal”, plain, serene, even sometimes boring, at the emotional level. I deserve it. Yeah!

The Bar Licker gave me half an hour to make up my mind as the bar was closing. Fuck your perfect abs, dude. I’d rather sleep again with a guy with more belly but more heart. Not interested. I walked back home when everyone left, and I went to bed alone and happy. I had acted on reversing the course of my destiny again.

I was super proud of myself for a change.

The day after, Wednesday, was another girls night at a bar called Shpagat. It means ‘split’ in Hebrew. I drunk Arak and grapefruit alone at the bar. There was no magic this time. I wasn’t impressed. I was feeling average and tired after the emotions of the last two nights. I shook up my habits and went to bed by 11pm.

I was super proud of myself for a change.

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יְרוּשָׁלַיִם (Jerusalem)

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I arrived at the central bus station of Jerusalem at mid-day in the sticky heat.

I had no map, no real plan and no clue where to go. I naively thought that I would get off the bus at the bottom of the Wailing Wall. But Jerusalem is also a city like any other. In Hebrew, it is ‘Ye-ru-sha-la-yim’.

I decided to follow the Orthodox Jews dressed in traditional outfit, thinking they would end up going to the Wall for their prayers. That’s how I lost myself in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighbourhood of West Jerusalem. I hadn’t seen so many Orthodox Jews since walking Macy Avenue in Brooklyn on Shabbat. The women were mostly young and pushing strollers. They were all wearing skirts, dark colours and tights despite the heat. A lot of them were also wearing a wig, according to the tradition, which was easy to spot as they were all wearing the same one: mid-length straight brown hair with bangs. Only the shade of brown was slightly different from one to the other.

The streets of the old city are small and picturesque. The walls were covered with a bright green poster entitled “Are you aware?” both in English and Hebrew. I stopped to read. It was propaganda for women to measure the length of their skirt and for men being responsible for the modesty of their household. According to the holy texts, exposed limbs should be chopped off and boiled. It also stipulated that women shouldn’t speak too loud and should change sidewalk when men are coming their way. I started feeling seriously self-conscious and readjusted the scarf around my head and shoulders. Thank God I was wearing my longest dress, but the buttons on the chest pop up because my boobs are expressive. I’m a girl with volumes, what can I do? I was afraid they would stone me, though. In certain streets, I was the only girl. I wasn’t comfortable to ask my way and there was still no Western Wall in sight. I ended up hailing a taxi. The driver made me sit at the front, because there was a man at the back and I’m a threat to male integrity.

When the other passenger got off, the cab driver became super friendly. He touched my veil and was like “What is that? What is that? It’s hot! Why are you wearing this?” And he laughed to tears. He couldn’t stop. I laughed too. I told him that everyone was covered from neck to toes and I didn’t want to offend anyone. He was still laughing as if I was the funniest thing he had ever seen. He told me: “Don’t worry, these people are Talibans, they are Daesh!” I relaxed a little.

The driver asked where to drop me off. I said I just wanted to see the Wall. He asked: “What wall?” Best joke ever. I thought asking for the Wall in Jerusalem would be as easy as asking for the Eiffel Tower in Paris. I mimed a wall with my hands and people praying. I don’t think I did a very good job because the guy was laughing but still had no clue. He opened his window and shouted at another taxi driver something in Hebrew punctuated with the word “wall” multiple times. The other driver had no clue either. My dude told me plenty of names in Hebrew which didn’t ring any bell. I attempted to repeat the names but he started laughing to tears again. I think I won funniest client of the week. (I learned afterwards that the Wall is called the ‘Kotel’ in original version). I wrapped it up by asking “OK, just take me to the old stuff“. We passed the tunnel to Jerusalem-East and he literally stopped me in the middle of the road close to a fortress. I had to find my way from there.

I climbed the stairs of the ramparts and got into a different world. I tried to figure out the geography of the place but it was confusing so I walked straight ahead into tiny paved streets where all the “Merchants of the Temple” were selling cheap bibelots for people of all confessions: “Scents of the Bible” perfume set, and my absolute favorite, the glow-in-the-dark Virgin Mary in every size. I burst into laugh. The shop owner didn’t like it. “What’s so funny?” he asked me.

My steps finally took me to the security gate of the Western Wall. Hurray!!!! I must say that I felt something standing there, at the top of the massive stairs that were leading to the Holy place among the Holy places. Men are praying on the left side and women on the right side, but as in any hot spots of the planet, the interesting action was on the men’s side. There is a separation in the middle, but you can peep through a gate to see what’s going on, so I stood there for a while with tons of other idiot tourists like me, observing with one eye the strange dances of the men in costume bending over again and again all in the same way. It was hypnotic and fascinating. The militarists come and pray there as well, and my fav part was that they don’t even take off their weapons. The call for prayer from the mosque emanated as I was leaving. I loved that image. In the same perimeter, there are tons of churches – I lost count – the mosques with their enchanting melody and the Jewish repeating the same choreography since centuries. You just wonder why the three monotheisms are against each other since they all come from that spot of earth? I left with many question marks in my head on the absurdity of the Human kind.

The afternoon was nearing its end when I spotted the sign of the Mount of Olives. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to go because the name had resonated in my imagination since childhood. I was raised super Catholic. My mother has the name of Jesus tattooed on her forearm. I went to religious classes, Bible study and all that between 6 and 11, so I had all the names of the sacred places of Jerusalem somewhere in my memory.

From the Western Wall, it is a fifteen minute walk on an isolated road to get to the Mount of Olives. From distance, my sight couldn’t distinguish what the white stains on the slope of the hill were. I realised afterwards that they are graves and that hundreds of people are buried there. The hill is naked but covered in graves (which cost $100,000 but you go straight to heaven so the rich people of the diaspora book their space.)

The Mount of Olives is a wonder of beauty, peace and mystery. As I was approaching it in the burning sun, I was feeling a highly spiritual wind blowing at me. It is an absolutely captivating place. All the legendary spots of the Bible are a few meters away from each other. I entered the Church of All Nations, at the bottom of the hill, which became my favorite church in the world (as soon as the bunch of Japanese tourists who were taking selfies emptied the premises. Grrrrr.) The stain glasses are all different shades of purple so the inside is bathed in a magical light. There is a place to kneel down under the mosaic of Jesus resisting temptation over the last night of his life. I almost believed all of it for a moment. I believed in God and Jesus an all the Saints while inside the Church of All Nations. (On the outside, I hate religion – or to be accurate, let’s say that religion hates me.) I kneeled down for a while, just to see what it feels like to be humble, and it was a revelation to love it. I totally surrendered, I gave my inner Warrior a break in Faith.

Outside the Church of All Nations is the Garden of the Olive trees where Jesus enjoyed hanging out – the Israeli olive trees are the most beautiful I’ve ever seen – as well as the Grotto of Gethsemane, where Jesus got arrested.  And a couple of steps away is the Tomb of the Virgin Mary, which is one of the most special places I’ve seen in my life.

When you get in, it is dark and the smell of incense hits your nose. You go down very big stone stairs. A million oriental lamps are hanging from the high ceiling. There is an autel on your right with tons of icons and a tiny door – even I had to bend over to get in – and there She is resting. Actually, there is an empty sarcophage with an irregular-surfaced stone in it full of hand-written messages. I left one too. The ambiance of this place is something else, I won’t even try to describe it. At every step, my breath was suspended in fascination and I was just thinking that everyone must stand there once in their life to be impregnated with magic.

I climbed the Mount of Olives on foot as the sun started going on. I passed the Russian Church of Mary Magdalene with its camp shiny golden domes. Mary Magdalene is my middle name so I was really keen to visit the place, but it is only open four hours a week to visitors who are not Russian. I felt an overwhelming urge to get inside that building, like a call. I will come back.

I reached the top of the Mount at sunset. Jerusalem was lying in all its beauty under my feet. The last rays of sun were bouncing on the Dome of the Rock. There was a random camel nearby who tried to give me a kiss.

I took a taxi to the station so I’d get in Tel Aviv right in time for the beginning of the Drag Show at the Evita bar.

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Photo from Wikipedia – Tomb of the Virgin Mary