Old-new Tel Aviv

The living room of Aviva Marks’s Tel Aviv apartment. (photo credit: URIEL MESSA)
The living room of Aviva Marks’s Tel Aviv apartment.
(photo credit: URIEL MESSA)
The Tel Aviv skyline of today looks Manhattan-like, with its 30-story buildings reaching to the sky.
But Tel Aviv was once a city of low buildings, no more than three stories high and many in Bauhaus style, with one sole famous skyscraper – the Shalom Tower at the end of Allenby Street, with its waxworks museum and telescope, in which you could put a one-lira coin and look out across the Mediterranean.
In 1968, three years after the Shalom Tower was built, British-born actress Aviva Marks bought her two-room apartment in what she calls “Old-New Tel Aviv,” a leafy street that was trendy even in those days. She is still there, watching the sidewalk saplings outside her first-floor home grow into towering trees.
The apartment was featured in this column about eight years ago, and is being revisited – although, like its ageless owner, not that much has really changed.
Marks is one of the few ex-Brits who have made a name for themselves in Israel. A working actress for most of the 48 years she has lived here, she will be the first to admit it hasn’t been an easy ride.
“The problem has always been my British accent, and the fact that British immigrants in general came in such small numbers that we were never able to make noise or use our elbows,” details Marks. “The Russians came and brought their own theater with them; the Romanians came and somehow their accent blended in, and many made it big-time on the stage here.”
Nevertheless, she became known and acted for many years – as a member of the Habimah Theater company and later, the Cameri. She still gets parts in movies, and in stage and television plays.
She also works in translation and at the moment, is busy working on the poems of former president Shimon Peres. Sitting at the writing desk in the corner of her shaded living room, she contemplates the words of Israel’s elder statesman and tries to accurately convey them to English-speakers.
Marks acquired the apartment a year after her 1967 aliya, and looking back with her ironic and very British sense of humor, recalls how the builder actually convinced her to buy the 60-square-meter two-room home by emphasizing the trees outside.
“Look, look at those trees,” he kept saying, trying to distract her from the smallness of the apartment.
But it worked and she bought it, deciding to make the living room a continuation of the garden outside, choosing green tiles – unheard of in those days – to match the natural décor outside the window.
“I like to think of my living room as a gazebo,” she reveals.
The two pink satin couches were acquired in the ’80s from a big furniture store in Tel Aviv, which sold items by catalogue. The contrasting cushions she had made from pieces of material picked up in a stroll down Nahalot Binyamin, the city’s textile market.
She designed the pedestal for the oval glass table herself.
“I wanted a rustic look, and I took the measurements to a stone-mason in Jaffa and had him make the pedestal to my specifications,” she recounts.
It is filled with all kinds of artificial fruits and flowers.
The window boxes outside bloom with healthy looking geraniums and busy lizzie, and the windowsill is lined with many pink glass Lalique ornaments – most, she tells me, wedding gifts dating from her marriage to war-hero husband Col. Alush Noy 30 years ago.
The impressive white sideboard (and matching chest of drawers) was one of the first things she bought on arrival in Israel in 1967.
“It’s from Spain and I saw it in a big furniture store in Tel Aviv called Versailles,” she remembers. “I saw this marvelous thing in the window with the hand-painted panels depicting Don Quixote, and I bought it straightway – although at the time I had nowhere to put it. In those days, furniture was always so drab and utilitarian.”
The curtains are sage-green wild silk.
“I try not to have anything synthetic,” she notes.
The dressing area with its small toilette and pink stool is an extension of the bedroom, while the bathroom is distinguished by its pre-Raphaelite vitrage of waving fronds that pick up the green motif.
A small balcony is perfect for morning coffee and for watching the world go by, enjoying the flaming red of the aptly named “flamboyant” tree.
It’s lovely, though the petals need sweeping up on a regular basis – a small price to pay for the beauty of the old tree, so typical of the color and spirit of vintage Tel Aviv.