Preparing to write about the Schtakleffs, my maternal grandmother’s family, the other night I finally had a close look at the photos I took of the ‘Register‘. Its official title is the Register of the Christian Orthodox Community in Holy Jerusalem. Its discovery is one of the big coups of my last trip to my mother’s birth town in the summer of 2015. Before I write about its contents, I figured I’d tell the story of how I got hold of it.
Looking to continue the previous year’s research in Jerusalem into official documents, I started by asking around about burial records and was told that Bajali, a jeweller in the Old City, was responsible for issuing licences for burials at the Greek Cemetery so he would have the records. I mentioned this to George Tsourous (a Greek social anthropologist who had spent more than a year studying the Greek Orthodox community in Jerusalem – mentioned in a previous post) in our first meeting so we decided to go check there.
On Wed 14 Sep 2016 the Greek Community of Jerusalem lost one of its oldest members, Vassos Triantafyllidis.
I didn’t know Vassos well nor do I know much of his story. I met him for the first time during my July 2014 visit to the Greek Club. A gentle man with a cane who upon hearing I was Anna Kassotou’s daughter was thrilled, in his soft, understated way, and told me he was her classmate. Which, I suppose, puts him at about age 87, give or take.
One of the things I tried and failed to do last year was find the place where Nouna Marika and her family lived. Nouna in Greek means godmother. Marika Schtakleff was my grandmother’s sister and godmother to my mother. We all called her Nouna Marika. She was married to Efthymios Gaitanopoulos, another Jerusalemite, and had two daughters, Feely and Jenny – mum’s first cousins. Feely now lives in Canada, Jenny in Cyprus. (I realise that at some point I’ll have to add a family tree to this blog but I think so far you can follow me.)
Their home, a rented flat in a quadruplex in the lower part of Katamon, was not too far from the Kassotis (mum’s) house but far enough to provide a somewhat safer haven when the ‘troubles’ reached their back yard. The Kassotis house was two doors up from the small, Christian-owned Semiramis Hotel which, in the dead of night of 5 Jan 1948, was bombed by the Haganah, the Jewish paramilitary organisation that grew up to be the Israeli army. The bombing, in addition to killing 24 people (including members of the Lorenzo family – the owners – and the Spanish consul), had the desired effect: people got scared and started vacating the area.
I’ve picked up again The Club (Η Λέσχη), the first book of Stratis Tsirkas’ Drifting Cities trilogy (Ακυβέρνητες Πολιτείες, Στρατή Τσίρκα). I started it years ago but never finished it. Couldn’t appreciate it at the time and found it confusing. But after my last trip to Jerusalem, the book practically begged to be read.
Not only is the writing beautiful but I now have such a better sense of the place and even the time in which it is set: Jerusalem during World War II. And as one reviewer of the book has said, Jerusalem is the main character in the book.
The last from last year’s trip, first posted on Facebook on 14 Jul 2014. Once again, lightly edited and with the addition of photographs.
Saturday was my last day in Jerusalem. And my last chance to visit the Greek Orthodox cemetery. I was glad I had gone exploring the afternoon before as I wouldn’t be wasting precious time now. So once again I walked across the old city, exited from Zion Gate and made straight for the cemetery. It was a hot day, the hottest one since my arrival, the official temp being 34C (93F). I was armed with a cap and water bottle.