The last time I was in Jerusalem was 1996 and when I left, I was sure I’d be back every year. It didn’t happen. Books, jobs, other stuff got in the way. Now we’re back for several months and after two days I am once again looking at real estate signs on apartment balconies. With everything that has happened here, the city is still irresistible.

Two months after the four-year Intifada ended, our friends are telling us, the country is coming back to normal. They say that Palestinians and Jews alike are tired of the war, the killing and the hate – not to mention the economic disaster of a country that has seen tourism drop from eight million visitors a year to two million. Even two million, to an outsider like me, seems like a lot but these are the loyal Jews who come here to support the country. After these four years, hotels had closed, the markets were empty, most Jews were afraid to enter the Old City and half the Palestinians were unemployed.

Today people have hope again.

We’re here because David, my husband, is teaching a course at the Hebrew University on federalism.

I’m supposed to spend my time here finishing a manuscript on the Robert Pickton serial murder case in British Columbia, a project that I began in the summer of 2002. Details I heard at the preliminary hearing in 2003 in Port Coquitlam, a small city about thirty miles east of Vancouver, are under a strict publication ban; this ensures that a potential jury won’t be tainted by reading evidence beforehand. Pickton, who has been charged with the murders of fifteen women and will likely be charged with at least another seven murders, won’t go to trial until at least the spring of 2006. But because his story is large and complicated, I already feel under pressure to get the draft finished. As the trial progresses, I will do re-writes; eventually, after the trial, Knopf Canada will publish it.

The big problem is that Jerusalem has its own agenda for me. There is so much I want to do and see here, so much to learn, so much to enjoy. So I have made myself a budget: so many hours a day on the book, so many hours to walk and explore and just look around me. This morning, very early, the birds at our window woke us and tempted us outdoors for a walk. There are fruit trees in bloom outside our windows, the rosemary hedges are full of purple bloom and the lavender is in full bud. We walked to the central YMCA where they were already serving breakfast, and afterwards to the park behind the King David Hotel and down through the artist’s colony of Mishkenot where lemon and orange trees are studded with fruit and where ancient, stubby geranium stems hold thick bunches of trailing red and pink blooms.

From the stone terraces of Mishkenot we could see the golden walls and towers of the Old City and the shadows of the Hinnom Valley, still waiting for the sun to warm it up. It’s February here and they tell us it’s been cold and rainy, but yesterday it was hot and sunny; today it’s a bit overcast and mild.

Spring in Jerusalem: what more can I ask for?