Smart People at the Mercy of Idiots

There is this fantastic group of book stores in East Jerusalem on Salah Al-Din Street  called the Educational Bookshop. It’s a little oasis of intelligence, humor and free speech. Actually it is three oases – one location at 19 Salah Al-Din Street, one just across the street and one at the American Colony Hotel. I would call the folks who run and work at the book shops renegades or rebels, but they are among the most intelligent and well-spoken people I’ve met in these parts.

Run by generations long-established Arab Jerusalemites, the owners of these shops are highly aware of local current events. They are always interesting to have an intellectual conversation with, even if you don’t leave one of their shops with a book. They sell mostly English titles that emphasize politics, geopolitics, current events, and regionally “controversial” subjects. Whatever that means when you’re in a region that nearly every opinion, big or small, has the potential of being controversial.

The Educational Bookshop also often hosts or facilitates author events. While in their American Colony Hotel location last week, I asked one of the owners, Mahmoud, about the lag time for announcing events on their email list.

“Why is it that you so often only send out event announcements the day of the event?” I asked, annoyed. “I mean, it makes it impossible to just drop everything and go to the event or book reading. And I’d really like to go to some of them.”

“Oh, that’s simple,” answered Mahmoud, a sharp-witted man with strong opinions and perfect English. “The authors who come from other countries sometimes have trouble passing through customs if the Israeli authorities know in advance about their plans. So they ask us to keep it quiet until the last minute.”

I paused, incredulous. For a journalist who has covered this region on and off for the last six years, it seems I am still naieve about the reality of life here. This is a place where Palestinians can be thrown in jail – for a long time -for doing something like writing poetry and clicking like on a Facebook post. Case in point is the story of Dareen Tatour.

“Are you serious?” I blurted out. “Nice freedom of speech. What a joke.” I was having one of those days where I just wanted to go home to America.

“Yes,” he answered, completely deadpan. He had the look of a man who got the same three questions about fifteen times a day from foreigners about “the situation” in Israel.

Luckily for me and everyone else, an upcoming author boldly decided to announce his arrival one week in advance. The author, Toufic Haddad, has written a book called “Palestine Ltd, Neoliberalism and Nationalism in the Occupied Territory“. Mahmoud described it to me as “the most important book of the year” and it retails for about NIS140 at their shops (a special rate they negotiated). Toufic will be giving a talk at the Issaf Nashashibi Cultural Centre in Sheikh Jarrah, above the Gallery Cafe, at 6:30pm on Wednesday December 7. It’s free.


Useful Tel Aviv Food Guides

A photo from Tel Aviv Food:

Tel Aviv is filled to the brim with tons of cafes, restaurants, pubs, bars, coffee shops, and on and on. If you are coming in cold to the Tel Aviv restaurant scene, it is very helpful to get a few tips from locals who love to eat out and share their experiences.

It complicates matters further that many restaurants in Tel Aviv do not have websites or social media sites in English. It can take quite a while to find basic information like an address. It can take even longer to find out whether it would be worth your time to go and try a place.

Two of the best and most useful blogs I have found while researching contact information for my book are TelAvivFood and Tel Aviv Food (no relation!). TelAvivFood is written by a Russian expat/part time student/part time office worker who loves to eat out, find deals, and then share information on her blog.

Her blog is categorized in a very intuitive way, allowing you to browse categories ranging from “moderately priced” to “pricy fancy” to “royal fast food.” A recent review from the blog about Nana Bar says:

Finally I went to the Nana bar. After about two years of anticipation I finally purchased two coupons on groupon and we went for my boyfriend Ayals birthday. Considering the interior everything I heard was completely true. It is a very romantic and cozy place combining natural elements with antique furniture with a very cool bathroom. The service was friendly and the food came fast, maybe even too fast. I received the food before I received my glass of wine.

The other Tel Aviv Food is written by a young couple who just love to travel, eat, and share their experiences using a fork-rating system to rank it. They also provide a large number of photographs of the food they ordered, with a blow-by-blow account of how the food in the photographs ranked. A recent review from their blog went something like this:

R2M group opens a new place, an event that food lovers like us will never skip. It’s true, it took us a while and a lot of recommendations from the people around us (usually we are the recommending side), but we got there and we will be back.

The new place is located in Yehdua HaLevi street, not really the hottest street in Tel Aviv, despite the “5 minutes walk from Rothschild”. Nevertheless, Ruti and Maty manage to bring this boring street to life.

Both sites are very, very useful for visitors and locals alike. Keep up the great work, guys!


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