By JOEL MEYER
I happen to live on the edge of the Florentine neighborhood (well, at least for another month or so before I move to a more central location!).
It's a fantastic place to live, always humming, buzzing with activity, and a great place to see Tel Aviv at work and at play, a mix of cultures, old and new.
A couple of days ago, I brought a group that I was working with to the neighborhood to explore Israeli society through pictures, or perhaps, more accurately, graffiti.
Florentine has many examples of some fabulously artistic, witty, caustic and sometimes downright alarming graffiti, through which it is possible to gain considerable insight into modern Israeli society.
The Florentine neighborhood of south Tel Aviv contains an eclectic mix of industrial and residential, young and old, trendy and poor.
It was established years ago by new immigrants from Greece and Turkey and originally intended to be a small and attractive neighborhood, but soon fell into a rundown condition, with disheveled low-cost housing drawing in the poor and many of Tel Aviv's foreign workers.
Even during its less salubrious days, Florentine's busy Levinsky Market was and remains a major draw for people seeking all kinds of food, herbs, spices and an amazing array of knick knacks. And Herzl Street is still the furniture center of Tel Aviv.
In recent years, Florentine has reinvented itself; the existing residents have been joined by students, artists and other young and Bohemian new residents, drawn by the authentic, lively atmosphere and lower prices. Florentine's remarkable resurgence has seen it come to be considered one of the "in" places in Tel Aviv, if not the coolest.
New cafes, bars and restaurants are opening up all the time, yet Florentine manages to maintain a uniquely intimate real neighborhood feel.
Street parties, on Purim, Independence Day and New Year's have cemented Florentine's place as the young heartbeat of Tel Aviv.
The bars and eateries have been joined by a host of boutiques and art galleries, interspersed between the new and old housing,industrial lots and carpentry workshops.
New developments are being built at an alarming pace, great for the upwardly mobile seeking luxurious homes in the neighborhood, but a source of concern for those fearing that gentrification will destroy the gritty urban vibe that has made Florentine so popular.
Banners and graffiti bear witness to this fear and a concern about a lack of green spaces in the south of the city.
Florentine has become such a hotbed of social, political and anarchic expression that the graffiti plastered around the neighborhood have become a point of immense interest in themselves.
The writer is a licensed tour guide in Israel, and blogs at http://bigsmallcountry.wordpress.com
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