Akko is a city of fascinating confluences: Arab and Jewish, past and present, present and future. It is a magnificent prism of histories on a promontory jutting into the raucous Mediterranean. Crusaders, Mamluks, Ottomans have all had their way with this place—and have left a fairytale architectural legacy. Today the Old City buzzes with life among structures built in the Middle Ages. We are grateful to Yosef Idan for walking us through it.
Let’s talk about Yosef for a minute, and the privilege of having a guide in Israel. Yosef is copiously knowledgeable about this country (and several others as well), endlessly considerate to his travel companions whose every possible need he anticipates, patient as a saint, and able—in what we have come to think of as an Israeli way—to charm his way through any closed door and instantly secure an excellent table at any fully booked restaurant. He adjusts his pace utterly to ours (which is often slow), while gently keeping us to our packed schedule. He provides us context for the places we are seeing, clearly and fascinatingly. Perhaps most unusually, he brings no apparent agenda or bias to the task, so attuned is he to the vagaries of his companions’ whims and opinions. We are very lucky to be traveling with him.
And let’s talk about Uri Jeremias—whom we first knew as the owner/chef of Uri Buri, now also the owner/host of the Efendi Hotel. Here is a man who is hoping to show the citizens of Akko the potential of their city. Our dinner last night at Uri Buri was (as expected!) extraordinary, and Uri came to chat with us as our desserts were served. “Old Akko is a city that is 95 percent Arab. More than half of my employees are Arab—and we do just fine,” he said. “Why isn’t the world interested when something good happens?”
We assured him that we are trying to do something different. He thanked us for The Desert and the Cities Sing—saying “I think . . . it’s almost too good to be true.” He meant it literally: the message is perhaps so positive that it may be overlooked.
This is a tightrope we walk with this project.
Today, we strolled Akko’s shuk and bought spices from Kurdi and Berit. It’s a slightly musty shop; shelves lined with jars filled with powders and seeds and leaves—a palette from black to warm browns to vivid oranges and yellows. (It somehow evokes Olivander’s wand shop in the Harry Potter books.) I am now set for cinnamon, zaatar, baharat, saffron.
Before we leave Akko, I have to mention Uri's mandarin orange sorbet with potent green olive oil drizzled over it. Good god.
We drove south from Akko, heading to Artport Tel Aviv—Jason Arison’s arts-residency center in south Tel Aviv. (A beautiful setup, but we were told by our host, Yael Moshe, that it will soon be moving to a new site.) And a brief look at Kiryat Hamelacha: an appealingly grungy neighborhood dotted like a hive with artists’ studios.
And finally dinner at the lovely Dalida restaurant in the Florentine neighborhood—our group in the company of Tracey Corwin and Avital Moses, Lin’s redoubtable aides de camp.
Now a little about Avital, who has played a major role in the planning and organization of our trip. A fiery-redheaded Tel Avivian, a ball of energy, Avital has introduced us to so much about Israel and Israelis. She is amused and a little befuddled by the endless niceties of American behavior: she understands that we cushion our messages in (unnecessary?) caveats and circumventions. The Israelis, famously, are direct communicators. It is something one learns to appreciate here.
Avital loves her city, and is generous with her warmth. She was excited to introduce us to Dalida—where the food is Middle Eastern with a twist (one might say), and where we had several new food experiences. Notably, a spicy feta crème brulée—beautiful combo of stingingly hot and creamy with crunchy burnt sweetness. And a fish carpaccio sprinkled with Egyptian dukkah spice-nut mix—delicious and delicate.
Our hotel tonight is the Market House, in the throng of the Jaffa shuk. It’s cozy and chic—and the urbanite in me is happy to hear the chug and voices of the market outside my window.
— Diana C. Stoll