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 Summers at Jurmala  The highlight of our year in Latvia was spending the summer at Jurmala (or Riga Beach), a resort area 15 miles from Riga. Jurmala means “seaside” in Latvian. While my grandmother was alive, it was an annual family reunion. Aunt Thea and Peter regularly spent most of the summer with us, and Arthur joined us for a shorter period. Aunt Clara was also a steady visitor. Uncle Leo dropped by for shorter visits. Uncle Eduard generally preferred to remain in Riga and came to the beach only occasionally. Jurmala is a long, narrow strip of land between the River Lielupe (called the Aa in German) and the Gulf of Riga. The beach is wide, with pristine, soft white sand and a gentle surf. A string of dunes separates the beach from the villas beyond. In the 1930s the water was crystal clear. Years of Soviet mismanagement have left both the sea and the river badly polluted, and swimming is no longer recommended. Most of the beach had separate morning hours for nude bathing: 8 to 10 A.M. for men and 10:15 to noon for women. No nude bathing was permitted during the afternoons or on weekends, when the beaches were open to both sexes. Rental accommodations were primitive.The villas had no running water, heat, or bathrooms. We washed in basins in our bedrooms with cold water carried in ceramic or enamel ewers from an outdoor pump. If warm water was desired, it had to be heated on the wood range in the kitchen. There were no laundry facilities; only absolutely necessary laundry was done during the summer. The absence of washing or laundry facilities did not trouble me. I never considered that my shorts needed washing. My personal hygiene needs were met by the daily swim in the sea and sometimes also in the river. During the summer months showers or baths were unheard of. At our home there was occasional talk of buying a summer home at the beach, but that was as far as it went. The process of finding a suitable place started about mid-April with repeated resolutions: “Next weekend we must 66 GROWING UP JEWISH IN PREWAR LATVIA go and look for a rental villa.” We generally procrastinated well into May, at which time the selection of available places was limited. Most years we rented a different place, although sometimes we stayed in the same villa for two years. Jurmala consisted of a number of villages—among them Majori (Majorenhof), Dzintari (Edinburg), Dubulti (Dubeln)—that stretched along the seashore. The more desirable villas were those close to the beach, either just beyond the dunes or within one or two blocks of the beach. We preferred the centrally located Majori-Dzintari area, which had a larger selection of nice villas. There were several small forests nearby, where we would pick wild blueberries and mushrooms. We moved to the beach in mid-June and back to Riga at the beginning of September. Moving day was full of activity, a day of great excitement for me. The villas were rented furnished, but we brought our own linens, cooking utensils, and dishes. Until the early 1930s these possessions were taken by horse-drawn cart, which took more than half a day to arrive. Later, during the 1930s, the moving was done by truck. I wanted to go with the cart or on the truck but was never allowed to. Our first order of business after arriving at Jurmala was to register with the police. In Latvia all residents moving to different quarters had to report their new whereabouts within two or three days. The superintendent of Michelson family at Jurmala, 1930. Left to right: Manfred Peter, Leo, Thea, Sylvia, Emma, Eduard, Erna, Clara, myself, Arthur, Dietrich. SUMMERS AT JURMALA 67 each apartment building kept a house book wherein the arrival and departure of all residents were duly recorded. The majority of the house books have survived at the Latvian State Historical Archive and are a valuable source for tracing former inhabitants of Riga. In the early 1930s my father bought our first car, a Belgian-made, fourdoor Minerva coupe. My father engaged his young cousin, my namesake Max (Mako) Michelson, then in his mid-twenties, as our chauffeur. The family considered Mako a ne’er-do-well; he had no profession and no steady employment. A great tinkerer, he was interested in automobiles and spent a great deal of time “maintaining” our car...


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