Where is the first place you go when you arrive in a new city?
When I was a boy I didn’t live in a city. I lived on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. And I loved going to the beach to surf, and jump to off of sea cliffs.
If you took me to a new town or to another island, the first thing I would look for was a place to get into the water. “Where are the good waves?” I’d ask.
But this changed when I became a teenager and took up skateboarding. Every time I’d visit a new town or city, I would ask where the good skateparks were; where the skaters got together.
I rode skateboards in Oregon until one day, when I was 17, I stopped abruptly. I gave away all my gear. My helmet, my boards, everything. I realized that I was never going to do this professionally, so why risk injuring my hands? You see, I am a musician, and have been since I was five years old.
Music took me to Boston for college. It was there that I started looking for something new whenever visiting a new place: cafes. I could do homework in the cafe, I could write in the cafe. Meet people, new friends and old, in the cafe. And of all this, of course, over hot coffee or tea with a pastry.
So cafes became my beaches and my skateparks. And it went on this way for quite a few years: my first order of business upon reaching a new place was to find out where the good coffee was.
In New York, in Boston, in Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, Nashville, New Orleans, Atlanta, Hawaii, Auckland, London, Prague, Berlin, Florence, Tel Aviv. I could tell you where to find good coffee and good cafes in all of these places if you asked me.
But it occurred to me, last year, to ask myself a question: How long will this carry on? Will there be a point where I graduate from cafes to restaurants or boutique hotels or something else? Why do I always search for the watering hole or the inn?
Well, I don't have an answer to that question yet. But I did realize that I have picked up another sort of beach to look for in new places: Bookstores.
My wife will laugh. “No more books!” she’ll say. But we always make time to visit bookstores when we go somewhere new, and we both usually leave with a new acquisition.
Jerusalem is full of bookstores, especially used bookstores. You can't walk more than a block or two without passing a bookstore full of books in many languages. Truly an international and reading city.
I went to a bookstore the other day to see if I could find an English translation of the Russian original of “Master and Margarita”, which a new friend of mine is reading. We met two weeks ago at a cafe near the old city, and agreed to meet up later in the week for chess and jazz at a bar near Ben Yehuda St.
As I think about it, I suppose the locations themselves aren’t what I’m looking for, it’s friends and a place to just be. ☗
Menashe David Israel