“Are you sure this is it?” the driver asked, as he hesitantly dropped us off in the street outside our Airbnb. It was it, but it was not what I’d expected.
Up four flights of stairs, through a steel door, and into a dank dark misery hole/apartment. I wasn’t sure what to say. I watched the small lady wrestle Rachel’s duvet into its cover, leaving it twisted and bulbous, like a mangled pork product from a malfunctioning sausage extruder. She patted it down, told us to leave the key outside in the cupboard when we left, and shot off on her push along scooter.
I didn’t notice at first the words ‘Putas Israelianos’ (Israeli whores) scrawled across the front door. Turns out the last Airbnb Rachel booked was an outbuilding in someone’s back yard. She’s not been allowed to book one since!
We sat, ate hummus and crisps that we’d bought from the corner shop, listened to Pat Benatar on my phone, and waited as darkness fell. Then we got lost for an hour whilst trying to find the gallery (where later that week we’d be launching the GIRL TOWN* exhibition).
We wandered back alleys, back and forth, the waft of weed on the air. I asked for directions from a man who was eating noodles off the boot of his car. I started counting cats, I lost count quite quickly and spotted a dog wearing a shell necklace. We realised we were back where we’d started when I spotted the same cat twice. Turns out he was the gallery cat.
There are thousands of cats patrolling the streets of Tel Aviv, posing for photographs, all looking vaguely related, occasionally letting our high-pitched screams and rubbing round legs.
The gallery was a fascinating place. It was, back in the day, a print works producing communist publications, and since then many things, but I felt it had come almost full circle to now being such a socialist space. We ate dinner with some of the team, 11pm at A’la rampa, under the shadow of a multi-storey building, it’s side wall painted with a large black horse.
Back in the hovel box/apartment it got noisier as the night went on. Car alarms, sirens, shouting, revving engines, doors banging, stereos pumping out Justin Bieber and Ed Sheeran, until gone 4am. I had a feeling of despair, a fear that I had just signed up for five nights of sleep deprivation and shit music.
We were up and out of the pit of doom/apartment fairly early. It was hanging day at the gallery. I looked like I was hanging. My face was swollen, eyes puffed up like prawn crackers. Listening to Justin Bieber and breathing in damp, mouldy air for hours will do that to you.
The exhibition hang went well, it was relatively simple and we had free rein. Later in the afternoon we were able to meet up with my friend Moran and she toured us round Jaffa. The sea front, the wishing bridge, to Victory for ice cream (where I was able to put into use my only word of Hebrew, ‘fistuk’) up past the mosque and the catholic church, through the flea market, and back again.
We met another friend, Gali (who I’ve known for 12 years now) up at Habima Square and ate mushroom quiche at Lachmanina, probably the most expensive quiche I’ve ever eaten.
Notes from Thursday: Day off to explore. Cockroach in the hallway. Lunch omelette. Chocolate cake wedge. Cat with crossed eyes. Cat attempting to teleport whilst also attempting telepathy. Statue of the Predator in a shopping mall. Cemetery. Walked to the sea. Sent Rachel into the sea. Found a tiny plastic spanner and a piece of sea glass. Walked back through Carmel Market. Met a little dog in a cute jacket. Drank pomegranate juice (that tasted like beetroot soup). Generally explored.
When I woke up I felt less like I was wearing an inflatable mask, slightly more human. I think I had been revitalised by all those cats and their cat power, or maybe the damp was going because we’d breathed most of the moisture into our lungs.
We wondered if anyone would come to the exhibition launch, but we needn’t have worried. The exhibition had been featured in the Haaretz newspaper. There was a buzz about it, lots of people came – not only because they’d seen it in the national news but they’d also heard about the exhibition from friends all over the world.
Someone told me that my name meant ‘horn’ in Hebrew. Someone else told me it meant ‘ray of light’.
It was a relief to get the exhibition launched, and for it to go so well. On Saturday morning we stayed in bed late then wandered down to Rothschild Boulevard, to Benedict, and ate celebratory brunch.
Moran took us to the port, to the park, to Sarona market. Malls and gardens. Then to dinner. We walked back across the city and came across a protest against the government – thousands of people, flags and banners, police.
We’d been encouraged to try two Israeli snack favourites – Bissli, a kind of crispy crunchy baked pasta-like corn snack, and Bamba, a peanut butter flavoured Wotsit.
I liked the Bamba. The Bamba didn’t like me. After eating a couple of handfuls and marvelling at their amazing peanuttyness (50% peanut apparently) I started to feel sick, and dizzy, my head hurt and my neck started to swell up. I had to go and lie down. I wasn’t sure what would happen. My top lip swelled up. My sleep was filled with nightmares, punctuated by cold sweats and shakes. Then I was woken by the neighbours music at 4am. I listened, a tune that sounded so familiar to me, but one that I’d not heard for years. I concentrated, tuned in to the rhythm and waited for the chorus. It was La Bamba. The irony.
Favourite things from Tel Aviv: Our exhibition. Meeting lovely artists. Seeing friends. Every day sunshine. Cats everywhere. Clementines growing on trees in the street. That little dog in a jacket. The beach. Finding a piece of sea glass. The Bauhaus architecture. Seeing the Predator in a shopping mall. My new pouty top lip which, although much smaller, is still refusing to go back to normal. That Ripndip Lord Nermal shop window (top image). Why didn’t I go in and buy these slides?
*Find out more about GIRL TOWN, see launch event photos, and read why we took the exhibition from London Photomonth to Tel Aviv, here.