This post is about what happened to me this past weekend. It’s also about much more than that.

We were visited by a lovely Canadian couple. They stayed with us, ate and talked. We showed them some of the sites of Jerusalem: the Old City market, the Western Wall, Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum, Machane Yehuda market, the city centre and other neighbourhoods. The visit ended with an impressive light show projected onto the city walls. Then they left us to visit other parts of the country before returning home to Canada. The end?

 

With new/old friend on the Jerusalem's light railway

In the Light Railway

Not at all, because I left out the beginning of this story. Two eleven-year-old girls became friends at school out of convenience, and somehow that friendship grew to include visits outside school. One of those girls was considerably less popular than the other and so glad of the friendship that provided protection from the harsh treatment she’d endured from other girls.

That friendship ended without warning just a year after it began. The popular girl’s mother secretly took her daughter off to live in Canada. The other girl was left to flounder, suddenly vulnerable and exposed to bullying from all directions.

The girl who remained was me. The one who left was the woman who came to stay last weekend, over fifty-one years later. We met briefly four years ago, but this was the first chance we had to talk together.

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‘Weird’ was a feeling we both agreed on. I could be talking to her as friends do, when I’d suddenly remember she was that twelve-year-old girl who deserted me. And while I knew that what happened back then was in no way her fault, I appreciated her apologies. Her leaving led to six difficult years that determined the person I was to become, and none of it was her fault.

I’m so glad we met up again. And I might even have a chance to visit Canada.

My novel, Neither Here Nor There, due to be published later this year, describes several places in Jerusalem that I’ve mentioned before on this blog. Like the market, Machane Yehuda.

Machane Yehuda market

Machane Yehuda market

Jaffa Road and the light railway (which has been going for two and a half years).

Jerusalem Light Railway at night

Jerusalem Light Railway at night

The German Colony, which I mentioned here.

House in German Colony

House in German Colony

Yemin Moshe, where I used to live, and which I described here and here and here.

Yemin Moshe windmill

Yemin Moshe windmill

There are some other places in Jerusalem that get a mention in the novel. I’ll have to photograph them, too.

There are also places in London that feature in the novel. I haven’t taken photos of them and they’re a bit far away from me for a quick snapping session.

Place can often drive a novel. It certainly drives mine.

A lane in Yemin Moshe

A lane in Yemin Moshe

Nothing can happen nowhere. The locale of the happening always colours the happening, and often, to a degree, shapes it.

~ Elizabeth Bowen

…when someone wishes me merry Christmas or happy holidays or season’s greetings. I’m just amused.

Because, while we have plenty of holidays here, only the Christians celebrate Christmas, and not all of those celebrate it on 25th December. The Greek Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas on January 7th according to our calendar, the Armenian Church on January 19th.

When I lived in England, the day was special for us because it was a day off for most people. We used to spend it with my uncle and aunt and cousins in their house, and we always enjoyed it.

But here in Israel it’s a non-holiday for us, a normal day. If I went to the Old City, I expect I’d see signs of celebration in the Christian Quarter, but elsewhere there are no signs at all. What amuses me is the assumption by some people that the whole world celebrates Christmas in some way. So if I send greetings, I usually get the same back.

People who think about it a bit more might say, “Happy Chanuka.” Most years that would be suitable, but Chanuka came early this year.

Only one person replied in the same way as I usually do when people wish me a happy whatever: “Thank you.”

Today I went into town to get a new battery for my watch and do some shopping at the market. I took some photographs to show how normal everything was. Well, almost.

The train was crowded, as usual.

Light railway train into town

Light railway train into town

More so on the way back when it would have been hard to take out my camera.

All the shops were open, including the watch shop that I needed.

Ben Hillel Street

Ben Hillel Street

Ben Yehuda Street looked as usual,

Ben Yehuda Street

Ben Yehuda Street

except for the piles of snow, still there eleven days after the last snowfall.

Pile of snow

Pile of snow

All over the Machane Yehuda market, it was business as usual,

Machane Yehuda market

Machane Yehuda market

including my favourite sweet shop.

Sweet shop

Sweet shop

Back at the end of the light rail line, a bus weaved between

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Har Herzl light railway station

the mounds of snow.

Har Herzl light railway station

Har Herzl light railway station

And I carried my shopping home.

2013FestivalOfLight1The Jerusalem Festival of Light.

This is the fifth year it’s been done, but it was the first time we heard about it! Clearly, others are better informed. The routes inside the city walls were crowded. But we followed the throngs and saw some amazing sights.

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2013FestivalOfLight4.

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Outside the walls it was quieter, and still there was plenty to see.

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Jerusalem Light Railway at night

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Of course we got there and back on our favourite Light Railway. It’s been going for two years and I’m still amazed to see these modern vehicles traversing our old city.

The first thing I noticed was the youngish man who stood up and said, “I’ll tell the driver.”

Tell the driver? Was he crazy? He sounded like the old woman the other day who called out “Rega!” as she made for the open door, causing me to smile. Rega, literally moment, is what an Israeli passenger calls to the bus driver to warn him not to close the door because the passenger wants to get off. Despite eighteen months of living with the light railway, Jerusalemites are still not completely used to this mode of transport. Some of them, for instance, still think they should be able to buy the ticket on the train.

But this man, it turned out, wasn’t crazy. He knocked on the glass that separated our front carriage from the driver’s compartment. When the driver turned round, the man spoke to him.

“Someone’s dropped a Rav Kav between the train and the platform. I’ll try and get it. Don’t move the train.” A Rav Kav, I should explain, is Jerusalem’s version of London’s Oyster card. You can fill it up and use it to travel on trains and buses within the city.

The man reached down, retrieved the card and handed it to the grateful old man who had dropped it. The younger man returned to his seat and the older man touched his card on the machine and sat down, too. The train doors closed and the train pulled away from the station. I glanced at my watch. Almost one o’clock. A popular time for old people to travel, I thought, looking around.

Suddenly an old man with a knitted yarmulke stood up. There is a dress code here as far as men’s headgear goes. A knitted yarmulke means orthodox. A black one means more orthodox. A black hat  means ultra-orthodox. The old man with the knitted yarmulke said, “I lost my Rav Kav.” He took a pile of papers out of his pocket and started to go through them.

Another old man, with white curly hair and no yarmulke, said, “So it’s yours?”

There followed a convoluted conversation between Knitted Yarmulke and No Yarmulke, during which each tried to make sense of the other’s words. All the while Knitted Yarmulke went through the same pile of papers over and over, opening and refolding pages of newspaper and searching inside a wallet.

“Was it a Rav Kav?”

“What?”

“What sort of card did you lose?”

“A card for the train.”

“A single ticket or a whole card?”

“A card – a Rav Kav.”

“Someone over there found a Rav Kav. Maybe it’s yours.”

Knitted Yarmulke went to ask. “I heard someone found a Rav Kav and I just lost one. Maybe it’s mine.”

“No,” said the lucky old man whose Rav Kav had been retrieved for him by the younger man. “I dropped my Rav Kav and this man picked it up for me. But it’s mine, I promise.”

“I believe you. I’m not accusing you.”

They parted amicably and Knitted Yarmulke returned to his seat minus a Rav Kav.

“You can get another one,” said No Yarmulke.

“I know, I’ve lost it before,” said Knitted Yarmulke. “But I’m going home now, in the other direction.”

“Right, but another time you can buy a single ticket and go to get a new Rav Kav.”

“Right.”

I was glad that was all finally cleared up.

It’s not often I get a chance to attend talks by authors, so I was happy to be able to go to one yesterday evening. I heard readings by Evan Fallenberg (from his new book, When We Danced on Water) and Abby Frucht (who is in Israel to teach creative writing), followed by a discussion on writing. A very pleasant evening.

And it was made more pleasant by the journey there and back. Despite my previous experience, I decided to brave the light railway again. What a difference! I left the house at 6:00 and arrived in the centre of town at 6:30. I couldn’t have done that by bus. I got a seat both ways and we didn’t stop for long at stations.

Now all I need is a sticker:

Four of us walked the whole length of Jaffa Road, from the bus station to Jaffa Gate. On the way, we were overtaken about every two minutes by a light railway train. Jerusalem has finally reached the twenty-first century. Well, not quite. Because it was the same train that kept passing us. I need to go back in time to explain.

As it was my birthday, I got to choose. I wanted to see the Mamilla shopping centre, which has been open for a few years but which I only saw once and not in the evening. So I chose a restaurant in the area that was recommended. We could have gone by car, but I decided it was time to try out the light railway. We’ve been suffering the building of this single railway line for eight years. The opening has been postponed four times. Last week, it started operation and for the first few weeks it’s free!

I wonder whether the powers that be will decide they made a mistake, opening it up as free transport during the summer holidays. We got on at the first station. When the train arrived, the seats were all taken in a second and we had to stand. As the train filled up, people jostled us – not just at stations but during the ride. The large number of prams and children didn’t help.

Jerusalemites aren’t used to trains. They’re used to buses, on which there is one door to enter and another to leave. When the train stops, no one thinks to tell them to let people off first. They push their way on, and then those getting off have to push, too. There are problems with doors. People stand in the way of the doors so that they don’t close. Over the loudspeaker, they say, “Boy in the green shirt, keep away from the emergency button. What you’re doing is dangerous.” That’s why the train stopped for about five minutes at each station.

When we reached the bus station, we’d had enough. We got out and walked, arriving at exactly the same time as the train.

The shopping centre was quite full. We found the restaurant and waited less than five minutes for a table. We sat outside, which might have been a mistake because it was rather noisy. The food was excellent. I had mushroom quiche with salad, followed by a rather large but tasty apple pie.

Walking back to the train stop, I took a photo of a sign that has been there for many years. What do you think it means? (Answer at the end of this post.)

While in a snapping mood, and because we had to wait nearly an hour for our train, I photographed one going the other way:

The return journey was also slow, noisy and uncomfortable. Hopefully, the teething problems will be sorted out and we really will have a convenient transport system in Jerusalem. We haven’t got there yet.

The sign? “REHOV PRATI” is a transliteration of the Hebrew. It means “private road,” but of course you knew that, didn’t you?