No shoebox

The Mexican ambassador's unique Herzliya abode is full of surprises.

nice house 88 224 (photo credit: Eyal Izhar)
nice house 88 224
(photo credit: Eyal Izhar)
When the electronic gate of the Mexican Embassy residence in Herzliya Pituah opens, two adorable King Charles spaniels come running round in great excitement to greet me. The ambassador, Federico Salas, welcomes me into his home and then introduces Checko and Certik, the two dogs who came with him from his last posting in the Czech Republic, where he spent six years. "I'm very happy to be in Israel," he says. In fact he has been pleasantly surprised by how enjoyable life can be here. "The news which we read abroad does not reflect the quality of life here," he says. "Tel Aviv is a very well-kept secret. It's fascinating for diplomats in particular, with so much going on in the political life of the country." As a career diplomat with a background in multilateral affairs at the United Nations, he was no novice to the political diversity of the Middle East and the situation here. But once here he discovered that things perceived before are different once one sees the realities on the ground. "I have been surprised at the plurality of Israeli society," he says in his near-perfect English. "One has a perception of a monolithic government with certain positions, and one discovers a very wide range of ideas - a society very much alive and aware of its realities." The house in which we sit and chat is rented by the Mexican Embassy, he thinks from a British couple, and is to my mind very pretty, perhaps because of the flowery wrought-iron banisters which spiral up to the second floor and dominate the view. Aside from the Mexican flag at the entrance, the signs that this is the abode of the Mexican ambassador are limited to artwork and a display of silver. Several items, including the grand piano, came from the previous posting in the Czech Republic. The ambassador is a passionate music lover and plays the piano for relaxation. He is now taking lessons to refresh his playing and was surprised how easy it was to take it up again after a break. In his small study-cum-music room off the main entrance, he has a collection of 3,500 classical music discs. As an ex-librarian I was curious to know how he classified this extraordinary number of discs. Apparently they are divided into instrumental and vocal, then arranged in chronological order. The house itself has a pleasing asymmetry about it that he likes. "The architecture is rather irregular and I like the roundness of it," he says. "It's not a shoebox." On the other hand, when he first came into the house it was practically empty as his predecessor had used his own furniture and taken it all back. He had to set about filling the space and admits enjoying the opportunity of being able to be creative. "It was a challenge to decorate it because there are few straight walls and corners," he says. The lounge has a curved wall looking out onto the garden and pool which is almost all window, not the usual plate glass but wooden-framed oval-shaped windows which give the room a cozy look. He has used the wide windowsills to display Mexican glass sculpture and old ceramics. He brought in several artworks by various Mexican artists and told me that Mexico is the world's largest producer of silver, with many typical items on display here. In the elegant dining room which is reached from the lounge by three steps, some of the silver is his own family property, while on the wall is a painting by Mexican Jewish artist Bella Gold. In the lounge a display of ostrich eggs from South Africa is quite eye-catching. We walk up the spiral staircase rather than take the elevator to inspect the second floor. The round landing has more Mexican art on the walls, an antique wooden toy horse and displays of his personal belongings on a wooden chest of drawers. The source of much of the light flooding into the house is the dome set into the ceiling. The master suite is decorated in brown and bronze and the balcony looks over the garden and pool. The bathroom is entirely circular - round whirlpool, sinks and cabinets. Downstairs again, in the small TV room, he shows me some memorabilia from his travels - stones from Petra, a piece of the Berlin Wall which he picked up with his own hands, the street sign of the place where the embassy in Prague was situated, a farewell gift from his staff. Finally he shows me one of the changes of which he is most proud. He took a very large bathroom near the entrance and turned it into a well-stocked bar useful for the many receptions he holds. He points out that Mexico and Israel have many areas of cooperation in trade and agriculture and would like to see more tourism from Israel. "We have a large Jewish community of perhaps 50,000 people in Mexico," he says. "They have made important contributions to Israel but they tend to stay in Mexico because they are happy there. For tourists we have much to offer, particularly in historical and cultural terms." Do you feel you own one of Israel's most beautiful homes? Please e-mail: [email protected]