Picture this: bright yellow sun pounding, Jerusalem’s dry heat penetrating the skin and the parking lot pavement, hundreds of people gathering outside a large rectangular building, where inside they don fleeces, jackets, gloves, scarves, hats, socks, boots, preparing for the cold before opening a heavy inner door and looking up, down and around at ice, in awe.
As hard as it was to believe, since it was in the low 80s out and 14 degrees in, it was picture perfect.
When Simone asked me if we could go to the International Ice Festival in Jerusalem before it ended late May, I went online to order tickets.
I had read about it three months earlier in the Jerusalem Post English edition weekend paper and seen a photo of people bundled in warm winter coats and surrounded by ice. The Old Train Station complex near the German Colony, it announced, was being transformed into an icy winter wonderland for March and April. In order to fashion the massive ice sculptures, 35 Chinese artists and sculptors were flown in to create the exhibition, which is preserved at a frigid 14 degrees.
As winter ended and spring dawned, I realized that we had missed the festival. During my parents’ month-long visit in March, they went twice, once alone without the proper attire and the second time well equipped for the cold with some of their Jerusalem-based grandchildren, each time sending fabulous pictures of the creations. So when I heard that the exhibit was extended through late May and Simone mentioned going, I immediately reserved two tickets for noon on Friday. The coldest two members of our family, we dug through our winter wardrobes searching for appropriate layers to make sure we would be warm enough, packing them in a bag to take.
Because it was so hot out and we couldn’t imagine feeling cold, we dressed in our shorts, t-shirts and sandals for the one-hour ride there. Upon entering the parking lot and seeing the crowds, putting on and peeling off their layers, we knew we were in the right place. We each put on our long pants and closed shoes before locking the car but carried the hats, gloves and fleeces with us until the last minute.
“Where did the ice come from?” Simone asked. “How did they make these?” I couldn’t answer her. I didn’t know.
Huge, looming sculptures surrounded us: Jerusalem’s infamous wailing wall and windmill, yellow-orange giraffes, red monkeys, black bears and yellow lions stood perched under a dark brown Noah’s Ark.
“Wow! This is amazing,” we each said. Simone desperately wanted to touch, but there were signs on every sculpture that said not to, of course. The mere heat of the hand would be enough to melt the sculptures. We crossed over a low bridge where there were swans of ice. Then we saw Cinderella, her horse and carriage, the Tin Man, Scarecrow and Dorothy and an entire carousel. Masses of kids, Simone included, raced up a flight of stairs and waited in line to slide down an icy re-creation of one of Jerusalem’s most well-known landmarks, Niki de Saint Phalle’ slide in the Kiryat Hayovel neighborhood, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:MonsterS.jpg. Toward the end, we saw what remained of an ice bar with tables and chairs, a bar and stools, some of which looked half melted.
All in all, our visit lasted only 30 minutes. Even though it was short, we were enchanted, partaking in a first and hopefully annual event in Israel, a country that has only one real ice skating rink http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v5c3c5ycUKI in the northern town of Metula. There is talk of building one far south in Eilat and another in Netanya, which would serve the center. But that’s often as cold as it gets in this desert climate.
Simone and I walked out the first door, where we removed our excess layers, aware that as soon as we exited the second door, we would be attacked by the heat.