Thursday, May 10, 2007

22.04.07, Jerusalem

The airport is very modern and rather large. The official signs are all in three languages (Hebrew, Arabic, English) but the ads are mostly just in Hebrew. The only exception is a huge flowerbed just outside the windows that says "NOKIA: connecting people".

The passport check. "Have you ever lived in Israel? Those relatives you are visiting, how exactly are they related to you". I describe the family tree. "What's your father's name? Has he ever lived in Israel?"

Lyonya (for the Israeli passport control and other people who like exact descriptions of family relations: his wife's father's mother was a sister of my mother's mother) picks me up, which is awfully nice of him to do at 5:30 in the morning.

The hills of Judea (the region where Jerusalem is situated) are way greener than I expected. Lyonya explains that the trees were planted there, not indigenous.

Flags are everywhere, in amounts unsurpassed even in Norway. That's because the next day is the Memorial Day, and the day after that is the Independence Day, but Israelis like to wave flags in general, and the fact that the flags are the same color as in Finland makes the whole impression a bit surreal.

Jerusalem is sort of light orangey-pink. That's because the front of every building has to be made of Jerusalem stone, an orangey-pink kind of limestone. The fact that everywhere you see there are hills with Jerusalem stone buildings makes it very difficult to orient oneself in Jerusalem without a map.

Lyonya and his wife Mira (my cousin) and the rest of their family live in Gilo, the southernmost neighborhood on Jerusalem. There is a deep canyon behind the corner, and on the other side of it is Beit Jala, a suburb of Bethlehem. Some parts of the street are separated from the canyon by a bulletproof wall. Those are the places that were the targets of shootings from Beit Jala in 2000-2002.

All the houses have sun batteries and water heaters on the roof.

We drop off my bags, have some breakfast and go downtown. It's very hot already, even though has promised only 22 degrees.

We pick Mira up at her office. The inside of the building reminds me of Russia, partly by the paint on the walls but mostly by the amount of Russian spoken there.

Mira is a workplace safety official, and a very enthusiastic one at that. She can be sitting at a beach one moment and suddenly start screaming "Look, look, that guy is working up there without a safety harness! Take a picture, fast!"

I hadn't seen them in person for almost 20 years.

The three of us go to a cafe on Jaffa road, called Aroma. Aroma is a chain, and they make a really nice drink called aroma coffee, a kind of latte with a bit of whipped cream and chocolate. There is a guard at the entrance, but we sit outside.

Lots of religious people are walking in the street. Religious Jewish men in all varieties of kipas and hats, some in black Hassidic clothes, some with peyos (the sidelocks), some without. You can sort of tell their differences from their hats, clothes and peyos, but I don't manage to learn this skill.

Religious Jewish women are a lot less exotic-looking - they wear normal-looking long skirts and long-sleeved blouses, and are sometimes difficult to distinguish from similarly attired non-religious women. The married religious women cover their hair: sometimes with a hat, sometimes with a scarf tied on the back of the neck, sometimes with a snood and sometimes with a wig. In New York wigs seem to be the most popular covering, but here in Jerusalem the scarves seem to be in fashion. They are always tied in the back, possibly lest one be taken for a Muslim - Muslim women pass their scarves in front under their chins. A lot of them also wear huge shoes that probably require a tractor driver's license, but this seems to be just the local fashion.

Religious Muslim women wear scarves in such a way that neither the hair nor the neck is visible. Some of them wear jeans and perfectly normal long-sleeved blouses, some (the more religious?) wear a kind of a long coat over their other clothes, but in any case none of them look like tents, or cover their faces.

The non-religious people are fairly well-covered, too, and I wonder about the reason for that until I go out some night and realize how awfully cold it is. Jerusalem is one of those places where it can well be +30 during the day and +12 in the late evening. Tourists beware!

Mira goes back to work and Lyonya and I check out Mea Shearim (he tries to convince me that people who live there do not bite at all, at least not if I put a long-sleeved cardigan on). It's quite interesting, and people really don't bite us. Then we visit Ein Kerem, a very pretty and flowery (in the literal sense) neighborhood where John the Baptist was supposedly born. While there we see some artist friend of Lyonya's. Lyonya himself paints, and paints quite well, which is something I have never known about him in the 30 or so years he's been my relative.

In the evening Mira shows me the university campus, and then we go to visit Alla, Mira's and Lyonya's older daughter. She was 9 the last time I'd seen her. Now she is all grown up and works in the police and has a husband and two children. The one-and-a-half-year-old boy, Guy, loudly demands ice cream and more ice cream, occasionally falling down into a Muslim prayer position. The older girl, Noi, looks at her brother with the most sarcatic smile I'd ever seen on a five-year-old. Heh.

In the evening I finally meet Dina, Mira's and Lyonya's younger daughter. Naturally she does not remember me - she was 3 when I's last seen her. It's very interesting to see her as an adult.

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