I end my tour of Russian Tel Aviv at a much stranger place, the cavernous Mevdevev nightclub, located a stone’s throw from the American embassy but occupying, until its recent closing, a space-time continuum all its own. As the evening begins, a birthday boy in his forties, dressed in a plaid shirt and sensible slacks, is paraded on stage by the MC and forced to sing 70’s and 80’s Russian disco hits.
A young woman in a skimpy plaid schoolgirl outfit dances around a SpongeBob birthday balloon as the nostalgic Russian music, along with a detour into the early Pet Shop Boys, bellows and hurts. My friend Zur-Glozman meets an armed, cigar-chain-smoking Ukrainian, a graduate student of the History and Philosophy of Science and Ideas at Tel Aviv University who now lives in the occupied territories, as do many ex-Soviet immigrants. He invites Zur-Glozman and some of our friends for a ride in his car, which is the size of a school bus. We negotiate the gleaming white curves of Bauhaus Tel Aviv, looking for a nightcap. Over at Little Prague, the inevitable Israeli political argument breaks out between the right-wing Russian-speaking settler and some of my liberal Israeli friends. “You probably think our houses are built of Palestinian babies,” the settler huffs.
“Well, you’re the one with the gun,” an Israeli woman tells him.
I worry for the sanctity of the evening, torn between geographical kinship with the formerly Soviet settler and political kinship with the progressive Tel Avivians, but as mugs of Kozel beer are passed around and the nighttime temperature falls to bearable levels, the passions cool. “As you can see,” an Israeli friend tells me, “we aren’t killing each other.”
Gary Shteyngart is a T+L contributing editor.