Last winter, Tel Aviv was declared to be “The Most Expensive City In the World.” Having just begun my search for an apartment in this particular city, I was not altogether pleased to hear this. Moreover, word got out that there was such fierce competition for apartments of all prices, that to find one of the few remaining affordable places was all but impossible unless you knew somebody who knew somebody. Indeed, the agents I checked with had nothing whatsoever in my price range. All except one, a young man named Roi (pronounced Ro-ee), who said he had just one apartment he could show me. “It’s really tiny,” he confided. But the location was perfect, right on Tchernichovsky Street. Willing to consider anything short of a bed on the sidewalk, I decided to take a look.
The apartment was tiny indeed, maybe half the size of my NYC one-bedroom, but with an adorable kitchen, washing machine and an elevator in the building, none of which I’d had during my 22 years in Manhattan. Screens being something of a rarity in Israel, the large, screened window overlooking a lovely tree was a major draw. I’d brought a couple of friends, and while Roi and another gentleman sat on the sofa, serious and silent, we took a look around. Eager to show we weren’t suckers from America, we opened cabinets, checked water pressure, frowned at the light fixtures, and tested the burners on the stove one by one. Although neither of the fellows reacted visibly, they had to be impressed.
I came to see it again a couple of more times, and with each visit, the space seemed to have gotten a bit larger. Roi’s companion on the couch turned out to be Udi, the landlord. Udi was a man of few words. “Would it be okay to put in a new floor?” I asked. “Probably.” May I put pictures on the walls, maybe paint the cabinets? “Yes.” What about pets? After a pause: “Cat, yes. Dog, no.” Fanatic about air circulation I asked, “Would you be able to put in a ceiling fan?” “That could be tricky,” replied Udi, tapping his lip with a forefinger as he looked around. But by then the questions were superfluous — I was hopelessly in love.
Okay, so Udi was not without his idiosyncrasies. Rather than use the standard two-paged lease approved by the city, he insisted on using his tried-and-true contract: a frayed and faded document with 30 pages of single-spaced Hebrew. Each page required a signature, and when all was signed and sealed, and I was exercising my wrist to relieve the cramp in my hand, Udi whipped out his cellphone, and with a twinkle that even he could not hide, showed me a photo of a beautiful, sparkling-new fan, installed by himself. My gushy praise turned him all pink. Then, abruptly regaining his composure, Udi cleared his throat and shoved the phone back in his pocket.
It’s been about seven months since I moved into my apartment, which I describe as a womb with furniture. My fondness for this place has not diminished one bit. The kitchen inspires even me. The quirky washing machine, a drama queen with its erratic grunts and groans, gets the job done. And hanging laundry from my balcony while listening to the birds chirping in the tree outside my window is pure Zen. Ascending the ladder to bed each night, I feel like Heidi, the grandchild from the children’s book, climbing up to her hayloft. There’s room for Yoga and work and even accommodating a guest for a couple of nights. When I managed to have six people over for dinner, my heart sang.
Just need to remember to tear myself away from Paradise now and then to go out the door and see what’s going on in “The Most Expensive City In the World.”