In this week’s City Perspectives, Sivan Askayo (@sivanaskayo) introduces us to her home city of Tel Aviv, Israel. Though some may perceive the Middle Eastern metropolis to be old-fashioned and slow-moving, Sivan showcases a different side of it: hip and contemporary, with delicious foods, rich arts and culture, bustling cafes, and a roaring nightlife.
How long have you lived in your city? What is your profession?
I’ve been living in Tel Aviv for one year, working as a Travel Photographer. Before moving here, I worked and lived in New York for 12 years. Although my home base was there, I traveled back and forth to Tel Aviv often to visit family and for shooting assignments.
If you could capture the essence of your city in one word, what would it be and why?
NonStop. In fact, the city’s slogan is: ‘Tel Aviv, a city without a break.’ You’ll notice the city’s fast pace in the ever-crowded cafes, which buzz with laughter and conversations almost twenty-four seven. Crowds constantly spill out of theaters, music halls and night clubs. If you fancy something to eat at 2am, there will always be restaurants open – and they’ll be busy! And those who like to go out and party often only start their night at midnight.
How would you describe the locals in your city?
There is so much diversity in Tel Aviv, from hipsters who sit at outdoor cafes tweeting about their lives, to start-up/high techies, to young creatives, to older folks who have been in the city for generations, to a large and thriving gay community, to fashion-lovers. Tel Aviv is filled with locals who were born here and others who have made the city their new home.
Some might also say that Tel Avivians are cynical, perhaps because they often complain about things (like the limited parking). I suppose they are a bit spoiled, but only because they live in a city that has so much to offer; with so much at their fingertips, it’s easy to be picky and develop high expectations.
How do you think that the beat or style of the city has informed your style as a photographer?
I think my personal style as a photographer is constantly evolving and is more influenced by editorial style than it is by location. Since I mostly work with travel magazines on various assignments, I have realized that when I am shooting, I am thinking about how the image will be used, framed or edited in a magazine. I try to make photos with a Photo Editor’s point of view.
Describe the first place you’s bring an out-of town guest. Why would you take them there before anywhere else?
I would definitely take them to the area known as the White City. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site, named in honor of its whitewashed Bauhaus architecture. Rothschild Boulevard, beginning at the outskirts of the Neve Tzedek neighborhood and ending at Habima Theater, the National Theater of Israel, is the main drag and is lined with old trees and benches, and dotted with outdoor coffee kiosks and chess tables. It’s a charming street to stroll or bike down, and a great area to just hang out with friends. It’s also the perfect place to see and feel Tel Aviv’s classic mix of old and new; the historical, colonial buildings stand among the more modern European-style cafes, marking what has now become the city’s quintessential landscape.
What’s the best season to visit your city in?
Tel Aviv sits along the Mediterranean sea, so the weather is quite hot and humid during the summer months and winters are quite mild. I suppose the best time to visit is during the fall when the weather is still warm but not heavy and uncomfortable.
Which coffee shop(s) are your favorite to spend an afternoon catching up on work or people watching?
I love Nachmani Café in King Albert Square in the White City area. It overlooks the Norman Hotel and the owner’s private art collection hangs above the wood paneled walls, giving a really unique atmosphere to the dining experience. I like to go there to catch up with friends, meet guests who come from abroad, or just to sit and get work done on my own. The crowd is quite diverse, too, and the place has a mixed Israeli-European vibe.
I also tend to hand out at Nechama Va-Hetzi, which translates to Nechama (the name of a woman) and a half. This café is always crowded; people tend to bring their laptops with them and get work done while nibbling on some Israeli food. The best part of this café is likely it’s big outdoor terrace, overlooking Habima Theater.
And finally, for awesome people watching, I like to go to Rothschild 12 on Rothschild Blvd. Their terrace overlooks the street and you can observe the people down below. The crowd is mixed – there are a lot of expats which makes me feel like I’m in New York – and on some nights, they even have live music.
What’s your favorite restaurant or place to eat? What is on the menu that shouldn’t be missed?
One of my favorite places is called Port Said, located in the backyard of the Big Synagogue on Alenbi Street. The main room is usually packed, and its got a wall of vinyl records and cold beer on tap. Its lounge vibe and hipster crowd reminds me of a place you might find in Brooklyn. Tables and chairs are low to the ground and food is served as shared plates, sometimes handed to you in a brown bag which begs you to dig in with your fingers.
A dish not to be missed is the Bread Salad. It’s small chunks of bread wrapped in tomatoes, sweet chillies, olive oil, and sheep yogurt and it is absolutely delicious!
Where’s your favorite place for an outdoor run?
Hatayelet, which translates in English to the Promenade. There is a path along the beach that is designated for runners and bike riders and the farther you run or ride, the more varied the neighborhoods become. Each area has its own distinct crowd and culture: The Hilton beach is a Gay beach; Frishman and Gordon is popular among tourists; and Banana beach is where the locals tend to hang out. Hatayelet runs from the north port of Tel Aviv all the way to Jaffa.
What’s a signature dish in your city and where’s the best spot to find it?
Hummus is a typical, signature dish in Israel and one of my favorite places to enjoy it is at Abu Hassan in Jaffa. Tel Avivians try to keep it a ‘top secret’ hummus joint; however, lots of people – including tourists – already know of this place and the lines to order are now fairly long. Don’t let them deter you, though, and definitely don’t be intimidated by the chaotic atmosphere, or even the yelling of the owners who try to keep people moving; it’s all part of the dining experience. The hummus is worth it! Just don’t wait until late in the day to make your way over there; the restaurant closes when the daily supply is finished, usually around 2 or 3 in the afternoon.