Spring is right around the corner. If proof were necessary, it was there in abundance in last month’s field trip with Yad Ben Zvi, to the Shefelah, in search of early spring flora – anemones, wild orchids, irises, cyclamens (one of my favourite flowers), lupins, mandrakes and many others.
We were blessed by ideal weather conditions – not too hot and not too cold.
Driving through the Elah Valley (Valley of the Terebinth), our first “port of call” was the Adullam Park, near the city of Beit Shemesh. Here, we saw red anemones and pink butterfly orchids, mauve stork’s bill (Erodium gruinum) and yellow field marigolds (Calendula arvensis). These last are known in Hebrew as Tzipornei Hechatul (ציפורני החתול – Cat’s claws), because of the shape of their seeds.
In the Adullam Park, there are several archaeological sites. As this was a nature ramble, we visited only one – Hurvat Itri – a ruined Jewish village from the Second Temple period. I took very few pictures here. Truth to tell, I wasn’t paying very much attention to what Edna, the guide, was telling us, as, at this point, I started to feel extremely unwell. The accompanying paramedic wanted to take my blood pressure only to discover that the batteries of his digital BP gauge were flat. He was obliged to borrow the batteries of someone’s camera. It turned out my blood pressure was very low and he suggested I return to the bus, a 10-minute walk away. But I felt that if I could walk to the bus, I might just as well walk slowly about the ruins with the others.
Fortified with a caffeine-fix from a mocha drink provided by Renana, the tour co-ordinator, and sipping water as I walked among cyclamens and yellow gold-crocuses (Gagea commutata), I started to feel better.
When we reached a field of anemones, I suddenly realised that the dizziness had disappeared and I was feeling my old self again. How could I feel ill amid such beauty? These were medicinal plants in the true meaning of the word!
As we made our way down to where the bus was waiting for us, we saw that the wild irises, which had still been closed when we arrived in the morning, were now open.
After a picnic lunch under a carob tree on a hillside overlooking the carpark (in reality, merely a tract of open ground between the hills), we boarded the bus and drove to Tel Sokho, rising above the Elah Valley and famous for its proximity to the site of the battle fought in ancient times between David and Goliath (I Samuel 17).
The site is popularly known as the Hill of the Lupins (גבעת התורמוסים –Givat Haturmosim) – for reasons which will quickly become abundantly clear 😉 .
Besides the cyclamens, sickle-fruit hypercoum, euphorbia (spurge), and the delicate white blossoms of musk dead-nettle, not to mention the ubiquitous anemones, and the ancient terebinth trees for which the Elah Valley is named, the hill is covered in early springtime with the blue lupins which gave it its popular name.
Alas, as Israel does not put the clocks forward till late March, the setting sun forced us to start wending our way back to the bus at around five o’clock, stopping every few minutes to admire the many beautiful wildflowers along the path. When we finally reached the bottom of the hill, we were surprised and delighted to see a haredi (ultra-orthodox) family celebrating a birthday party amid the flowers. Clearly, the family was combining an early Purim celebration with that of the birthday, as the children were all in fancy dress.
It was a heartwarming end to what had been a beautiful day – even if a few drops of rain had started to fall as we made our way down from the hilltop.
But that was not the end of the goodies late February had in store. Oh, no – by no means.
You didn’t think I was going to leave you without some music to round things off, did you? Music and flowers are the best medicine I can think of, for almost anything 🙂 . You’ve had the flowers. Now it’s time for the music.
At the beginning of February, my choir – the Jerusalem Oratorio Chamber Choir, together with our sister choir Bel Canto (also a part of the larger Jerusalem Oratorio Choir), took part in a concert with the Ashdod Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Maestro Vag Papian, performing the Fauré Requiem at the Jerusalem International YMCA. And at the end of February, the JOCC joined the Ellerhein Girls’ Choir from Tallinn, Estonia, the Bat Kol Choir and the Maayan Choir from Tel Aviv, and the Yoav Choir from the south of Israel, to participate in the annual MustonenFest in Tel Aviv, performing – under the baton of the festival’s founder, Maestro Andres Mustonen – a new work by contemporary Israeli composer Eitan Steinberg. This was the world premiere of a work for six choirs and percussion, entitled “Sod HaKavana” – literally “The Secret of the Intention” To quote from the introduction to the score, “the Jewish expression kavana refers to the mystical power of one’s inner intention when saying a prayer or performing an act, and to the deep impact that such an intention has. The Midrash refers to the intention to the words written in the prayer, while the Kabbalah adds mystical intentions beyond the meaning of the written words.”
I have to admit, when I first heard that we were to perform a piece of contemporary music, I felt the greatest misgivings. And I won’t lie – it was not easy, what with the many changes of tempo (sometimes extreme) and the complex rhythms. But somehow, when all the choirs and the percussionists came together – everything seemed to work out. I really liked it.
Just to give you a taste, here is a short videoclip of part of the Dress Rehearsal. Since each choir had a different role and different scores and had been working separately, this was the first time all the singers and instrumentalists had come together to work on the piece.
We gave two performances – one at the Ashdod Centre for the Performing Arts (the same place where we had performed The Magic Flute the previous month, and Beethoven’s Choral Symphony in October) and one at the Israel Conservatory of Music in Tel Aviv. In both locations, the audience responded with prolonged applause.
With barely time to catch our breath, many of us will be taking part, later this month, in a sing-along production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Patience“.
But that’s for next time 🙂 .