When thinking of the scent of a place, the characteristic local earth is one of the first things I think about. For Tel Aviv, what comes to mind is grass on moist hamra soil. This particular soil is bright red colour and full of sand. It has a particular smell that is slightly musty when moist, and more mineral than earthy. Mingled with the scent of coarse grass that's in the many striving gardens and parks of the city, it is an iconic Tel Aviv smell.
The street scene below is from the not-so-aptly named Rehove HaBosem)(Perfume Street), just a few blocks away from my dear grandmother's home in south-east Tel Aviv. This little piece of shanty town is made up of illegal temporary housing made of wavy tin and scraps of other industrial left overs. The garbage can, bearing the white signage "The Perfume 19" is ironic and immediately caught my eye-phone's camera, for reasons quite obvious.
Tel Aviv, aka Non Stop City, is not exactly renown for its pleasant perfumes. Like most places humid and hot, all the odours get amplified, including the non-polite ones such as garbage, urine-drenched street corners, cat-feces rolled in the sands of the sycamore boulevards, and sweaty people in tightly-packed buses.
I was determined to set on a mini scented journey in Tel Aviv to discover and share with you some of its more elegant and/or intriguing aromas. And here is what I found:
Sycomore figs, ripening on the trees, and further fermenting on the grounds of the boulevards, on benches, etc. Sycamore trees are an inseparable portion of Tel Aviv, and some are many hundreds of years old and are considered protected heritage trees. There was a point in time when these historic trees were attacked by the city of Tel Aviv because the fruit attract flies and bats; now the city has smartened up and forbids any logging or damage to those trees, to the point that some buildings are designed around a tree, in order to preserve it. These are trees that our own grandparents and great-grandparents climbed on and played under their graceful evergreen shade, and our own children can crawl inside their hollow hearts. If you ever visit Tel Aviv, you must seek out these trees and admire them - and if you have little children, they will forever remember the experience of getting inside the "cave" of such an ancient tree.
Frangipani (Plumeria alba) flowers, which can be found practically everywhere, are in my mind, a very Tel-Avivi scent. It was here that I was introduced to the flower and its name 19 years ago when I lived here. To me, frangipani will always be a coming-of-age scent, and a trigger for happy memories of independence and romance.
Banana Ice Cream Bars are a long-time childhood memory from a brief period when I lived at my step-grandmother's in Bat-Yam. My mom took me to the beach a lot back in those days, and did something out of character then, which was to buy me an ice cream bar (she's one of those 1970's granola gals who lives her life in fear of sugar from as long as I can remember) from the ice-cream vendor that would walk on the beaches with a large straw hat and announce his wares carried in an over-the-shoulder icebox. I was glad these merchants are still alive and kicking and made a point of getting ice cream bar for my daughter when we were at the beach (she picked another flavour). The flavour of these banana ice cream bars is very fake, and if anything is reminiscent more of an over ripe, baked banana. If you've experienced Vanille-Banane by Compoir Sud Pacifique - that's bang-on what you get when licking one of these pale yellow treats.
White Chocolate smelling flowering tree. This tropical wonder (not sure of the scientific name) grows on thorny trees, and produces silky cotton-like fruits.
Oleanders, both pink and white, are now in bloom everywhere. They smell powdery and sweet, a little like hawthorn, but also green and not unlike the fresh/waxy aspects of frangipani.