You won't believe what you can spot and learn on the streets of your city. Leave it to a tour guide like Guy Sharett to open your eyes to the world you haven't seen. In Tel Aviv, Sharett runs StreetWise Hebrew, a walking tour that delivers more than explanation of local street art; it includes historical, philosophical, and sociological context to the landscape in front of you. His background in linguistics helps usher in a healthy conversation about more than art, but about language and communication as well. Here are five lessons I gleaned along the way with Sharett this week:
1. There's something for everybody.
First-time visitors to any country, particularly those who don't speak the native language, can run into problems keeping up. Sharett does an excellent job not only translating and explaining, but he incorporates every member of his group into the conversation, to keep them attuned and on their feet. This isn't an easy task, especially with so many non-natives joining him for the afternoon. Still, Sharett engages every single person at his or her level, making sure that no matter who you are, you can get something from his tutelage.
2. He walks the walk.
Although Sharett might not be the premier street artist himself, he is deeply embedded in the artistic community in the area of South Tel Aviv - Florentine - where he escorts his guests. He adds personal anecdotes about interactions and communications he's had with the artists behind the works you see, and it sheds further light on these creations that you wouldn't get simply from looking at them. In addition, it's a welcome surprise to discover that Sharett began this tour during "Occupy" a few years ago, which represents his commitment to providing educational and productive substance for outsiders. It's a bona fide glimpse into the heart and spirit of a neighborhood.
3. It covers the gamut.
Arguably the best thing about this walking tour is how much ground it covers so quickly. That's both physical and historical, yes, however it also encompasses both the religious and non-religious in respectful ways. Cultural respect and etiquette are the name of the game for street artists and community organizers alike, as they look to keep the rich traditions of all parties involved alive. Sharett speaks as passionately about the LGBTQ community in Tel Aviv as he does about the Orthodox community -- and what a loss it was to have a local synagogue close. There's devotion here for all infrastructure and institutions, but especially people, of the area.
4. Your time may run out.
While the focus of the tour rests on the local street art, nevertheless the high-rises lurking beyond in the distance provide a pesky distraction. So Sharett deals with the elephant in the room, urban development plans, by acknowledging the changes to the area and what it means for the creative craft. He's honest in describing the benefits to both residents and to the community, yet still emphasizes how a growing, evolving community squeezes out some of the character. Sharett offers some insights on local politics, but ultimately leaves it to you to decide how you feel. He does warn, though, that some areas are set to be demolished sooner than others, and you should get to see them before they're gone forever.
5. There's more than meets the eye.
Some of the most heartwarming moments of the tour come from seeing the art created by a graffiti artist who displays art demonstrating a blind man with a cane. His art carries compassion. Another artist in the area left a piece of art in Braille, perhaps as a tribute to him or to others. Even for those who can't read and interpret the Braille message, there's something truly inspiring about seeing this kind of communication and appreciation come alive on the outsides of buildings throughout the area. You'll walk away better for having seen it.