'For a Good Time, You Go to Tel Aviv'

An Israeli engineer returns from a Russian vacation of clubbing and seeing ballet; a Brazilian couple attends a big fat Cypriot wedding – before their own interfaith nuptials.

Alex Perlov.
Tomer Appelbaum

Alex Perlov, 32, from Ashkelon; arriving from St. Petersburg

Hello, can I ask how you spent your time in Russia?

I was sightseeing. I met up with friends who live in New York.

How was it?

I don’t remember.

Was it fun?

I guess so.

If you don’t remember, it must have been.

We were in a few restaurants, parties, clubs – chaos. It was all really surprising.

What’s surprising about St. Petersburg?

The beauty of the 17th-18th century is insane; no other European city can compare to it. Also, it’s not so crowded, relative to a megalopolis. I also think that Russia has become more casual than it was. But even so, I went to a ballet.

What did you see?

“The Nutcracker,” with a girlfriend who likes ballet. Don’t go – I waited three hours for the intermission. And only the men are in tights, not the women. But the main thing is that I’ve been everywhere in the world, and this is the most beautiful city I’ve been to. The last time I was there I was 4, so I couldn’t appreciate it.

What were you doing there at age 4?

I was born there. We immigrated to Israel in the 1990s, when I was 5 – my mom, dad and my sister. We started off in Netanya, then Tel Aviv and Ashkelon. I still speak Russian.

Do you know why your parents made the move?

Yes. Because they could, because they were allowed to. They’d wanted to move to Israel even before, but until the Iron Curtain fell, Jews, as everyone knows, weren’t allowed to leave. But at the time I didn’t think about it too much. I was a 5-year-old kid, and a 5-year-old learns straight off how to get along.

What about as an adult?

What do you mean? I have a job. I work in a global company and I have clients all over the world. I have lived in the United States and in Ireland too, a little.

Where in Ireland?

A year in Dublin, for work. I wanted to travel a little.

Was it nice?

Trips from work are convenient, because they are all-inclusive, but Dublin is a gray city, not for sun-lovers. The people are cool, but other than Guinness beer there isn’t much there.

At least the Guinness is fresh.

The truth is that the best beer was in Portland, Oregon. Every bar there is a brewery, everywhere you go there are something like 10 types of India pale ale, and then you come back to Israel and you realize that what you drink here isn’t beer at all. It’s never mind.

What did you do in Portland?

I lived there for half a year. It was gray there, too, but better than Ireland – at least there were intervals of sun. I also lived in New York for a year, which is gray in the winter but really nice in the summer. Those trips are an experience, especially when you’re looked after from work and it’s all free. Usually a group of people from go from the office, which improves the experience. I’d do it again, but now I’m in Israel, at least for the coming period.

Don’t let it get you down.

When you’re there you sometimes miss this country, but when you’re here you realize that you feel like going again.

Then why did you come back?

It’s a matter of what’s needed of you: If needed you stay, and if not, you grab a suitcase and fly. I’m a practical engineer in the field of electronics. I have a B.A. in economics that I did for myself, but I work thanks to the engineer side. I studied for the degree during trips abroad.

What’s Ashkelon like after all that traveling?

Good. Ashkelon is bathed in sunlight. Sometimes I feel like living in a bigger place, but it has the quality of life of a small city. No parking problems, no traffic problems.

Nothing to do.

For a good time, you go to Tel Aviv, it’s just half an hour away. It takes longer to get from Brooklyn to Manhattan.

Do you still have childhood friends there?

The truth is that fewer and fewer of my friends live in Ashkelon. Some left for jobs and some emigrated. You get a green card, you get married. In the meantime, I’m staying.

Isabel Motta and Fernando Desideri.
Tomer Appelbaum

Isabel Motta, 28, and Fernando Desideri, 30, from Sao Paulo; flying to Rome

Hello, can I ask what you plan to do in Italy?

Isabel: We lived there for two years and did M.A. degrees there: I in architecture and he in economics. We were in Milan, in different schools.

Did you meet in Milan?

Isabel: No, before, in Brazil.

Fernando: You could say I went to Italy in order to bring her back to Brazil. (They laugh)

Isabel: We were a couple before Italy. We knew each other three years before dating.

Fernando: And three months into the relationship, she left.

Perfect timing.

Isabel: I thought: If he really loves me, let him come to me. And he came to Milan half a year after me.

Just like that? 

Fernando: I always told her I wanted to go to school in Europe, but she realized the dream before I did.

Isabel, were you happy he showed up?

I missed him very much, but at first it was really weird. I was already used to the city and to being alone. Actually, we hadn’t met for half a year, and then almost immediately we were living together. But in no time it was terrific. We traveled a lot. Italy is the European Brazil – noisy, messy, stylish, full of warm people.

Fernando: Italian culture is close to Brazilian, and there’s a large Italian colony in Brazil.

What did you do in Israel?

Isabel: We came for a 10-day vacation. Before that we were in Cyprus for four days.

Fernando: Friends of ours from Italy got married; the bride is from Cyprus.

How was the wedding?

Isabel: My girlfriend said – and she was right – that it was going to be like the movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” It was really different from weddings in Brazil.

In what way?

Isabel: It started in the morning, in her house, with “dressing the bride”– a party for the bride only, with her family and close friends. It’s actually a ceremony of parting from her parents, and it’s very nice. After that, she meets the groom outside the church and they go in together. With us, the father brings the bride in. After the church there was a reception for 2,000 people, which was insane. The bride and groom had to greet everyone who arrived, which is pretty well everyone who knows them. Just to shake everyone’s hand took three hours. And after all that, 400 people were invited to a dinner and a party with food and dancing until the morning. Every wedding lasts a whole day and a whole night. You get totally immersed in it, and it was great fun.

Here, a Jewish mother would ask if it didn’t give the two of you some ideas.

We are actually getting married, in September. We’re engaged.

Have you already planned the wedding?

Isabel: We will be married in my village, on the farm, in the day. We will have 200 guests. And it won’t be a religious ceremony, but a cultic one based on elements of nature. Then there will be a party.

Fernando: We are Catholics, but not devout. We thought of doing something that doesn’t focus on religion.

Isabel: It’s a ceremony that respects all religions. We’ve been to weddings like that. First he will enter with his mother, then I will come in with my father, and we will go together to the altar. I like the fact that we’ll walk together.

Whose idea was it?

Fernando: Mine. Next to her farm there’s a small church perched on a hill, and on the steps leading to the church I placed flowers and little notes, and at the end of the path there was an engagement ring. I got her there with the excuse that we were going on a picnic. She didn’t know what was going to happen.

Isabel: At the start of the stairs he blindfolded me and went to the end of the path.

Fernando: Then she removed the blindfold and read the notes as she walked toward me.

Isabel: But I started crying as soon as I took off. I must have known something good was going to happen.