Boardwalking on a sunny afternoon

Once a delapidated area, the Tel Aviv boardwalk has been transformed into a trendy hub of leisure activity.

tel aviv namal 88 (photo credit: )
tel aviv namal 88
(photo credit: )
The port of Tel Aviv was built by Jewish laborers during the British Mandate in the 1930s to thwart a threat to choke the economy in the Jewish sector of Palestine by striking Arab dockworkers in neighboring Jaffa. The Jaffa port strike and rioting throughout the country in l936 were designed to bring down the economy and curtail Jewish immigration to the country. Although the construction of Tel Aviv port was one of the most lauded pre-state Zionist projects, by the mid l960s it became obsolete with the opening of Ashdod port. Most of the hundreds of warehouses, boat building and repair workshops and offices of the once-vibrant docks became derelict eyesores on the city's shoreline, against the backdrop of smoke billowing from the Reading power station. Fast forward to the new millennium and there is little evidence of the dilapidated post-sixties state of affairs - or the undesirables who frequented the area until massive redevelopment began in earnest some two decades ago. For the first decade the renewal project moved slowly, but in latter years the work has picked up momentum. The renovated warehouse clubs and pubs are now packed with trendy young people partying the night away, or have become classy - if somewhat pricey - restaurants. Stores selling mainly clothing for the sports fraternity are well frequented, as are the other businesses dealing in shoes, electronics and kiddies' fashions. The place that Zionist laborers toiled to build in pre-state days as a gateway to the world's economy has become a hot-spot of economic boom for the city that supposedly never sleeps. In addition to the nightlife options, there's plenty to keep one occupied during daylight hours - not least the wonder of waves crashing against the breakwaters some 100 meters out and the lapping of water closer to shore. These days even the 1937-built Reading power station, most of which has ceased to function as such, shines a light on numerous forms of art in high-ceilinged galleries created in some of its enormous halls. There is definitely more to see than meets the eye at Reading these days. The original iron stairways, ladders and walkways have been renovated, as have the colorfully painted, cumbersome but strangely attractive enormous pieces of defunct British machinery. Shiny brass plates boast names of manufacturers such as Babcock & Wilcox or Herbert Morris Ltd., leaders of 1920s industry in the industrial north of England. Walking past the power station on the opposite side of the Yarkon River estuary, the chimney doesn't seem quite so monstrous. Decorative colored lights wrapped around the chimney stack seem to wink now-you-see-me now-you-don't messages across the water. A dozen fishermen squat on their heels or sit on tiny fold-up stools, squinting at their lines bobbing in the water. Alongside the pathway, a metallic plaque affixed to a concrete bollard is engraved with a photograph of well-muscled male athletes wearing long white baggy trousers and vests, warming up for a competition. The sign informs that this is the site where the first Maccabiah and Tel Aviv outdoor concerts were held. A seated fisherman ripples his not-so-well-developed muscles, casts his line and a split second later there is a plop as bait hits water. But the fish do not seem to be taking the bait and one fisherman decides to call it a day, picks up his tackle and empty net, and heads off back down the path. Before he is out of earshot, one of his friends lets out a gleeful yell as he yanks a large fish out the river. The fellow with the empty net lets out a few rich expletives as his peer, grinning widely, holds his catch aloft. It's the beginning of March, a Friday afternoon, Purim and spring are in the air. The sun is out full-force, as are Tel Avivians and visitors to the city. Walking along the pathway towards the entrance to the old port where the Yarkon meets the Mediterranean, the first building spotted from a distance is that of the chocolate paradise called Max Brenner. The sign seems a little incongruous above the heads of the passing skaters, bikers, serious runners and slow joggers on their daily workout. Popular watering holes in this part of the port are brimming over with folk relaxing from a hard night or tough working week, as overworked waiters and waitresses shuttle between packed tables and poorly parked babies' buggies. The attractive and kind-to-the-feet wavy wooden boardwalk, modern arched street lighting, open sandy area for children to romp in and softly rounded concrete benches make a rewarding afternoon break from what a few years ago would have been a walk on the wild side. The boardwalk is a beehive of activity, but surprisingly quiet considering the number of youth and children on roller-blades making use of the all-purpose wavy areas to do a few hairy scary tricks, bike riders of all ages, dog walkers, young parents pushing buggies and a few elderly folk being gently pushed along in wheelchairs. The mixture of people walking, riding or whizzing over the boardwalk is fascinating. There are quite a few local "posers" out and about - not a hair out of place despite a blustery wind, dolled up in the latest fashion and not looking particularly comfortable. A few faces usually seen on television, the likes of Yair Lapid and Amos Arbel, sporting personalities whose names are on the tip of the tongue, and minor local celebs blend in naturally with the rest of the folk on the boardwalk on the sunny afternoon. The sun shimmers on the water and a glint catches the corner of an eye. It is another engraved photographic sign, on a bollard between the walkway and the sea below. A group of circa l937 workmen - flat cloth caps perched on their heads, pecs that Becks (That's soccer player David Beckham, for the uninitiated) would die for, sun tans from laboring in the sun - watch the modern day parade go by, and seem well satisfied with how things have turned out.