I’m So Busy, My Head Is Spinning…

Apologies to Tommy Roe for the paraphrase but…

My stepmother warned me that, after I retired, I would find myself busier than ever I was while I was working.

What can I say?

The last few weeks have been so full of music, tiyulim and related activity that I haven’t had time to write about them.


That’s generally considered to be A Good Thing, isn’t it?

Be that as it may, if I don’t write about them now, before  I  get swept up in the next round of Activities, I probably never will.

January finished on a high note (literally), with an opera, a tiyul and our annual Gilbert and Sullivan singalong.

I will start with the opera – Richard Strauss’s Salome at the Israel Opera.  This was a completely new, Israeli production, directed by Itay Tiran. The sets, costumes and lighting were all Israeli-designed, the choreographer and video designer were Israeli, and so, too, were the conductor and many of the soloists (depending on which day one saw the performance, of course).  I actually saw one of the guest artistes, the Swedish soprano, Elisabet Strid, in the title role and thought her excellent. I did not quite understand the intentions of the costume designer, whose sci-fi like costumes all included necklaces, or other accessories, made of lights. I did, however, find Eran Atzmon’s set quite fascinating, especially the giant, revolving sphere which was present throughout the opera, doing duty first as the moon, which so fascinates Narraboth and the Page, at the beginning of the opera, and later as the rock covering the entry to Jochanaan’s dungeon. The changes are effected by the brilliant lighting design of veteran Israel Opera lighting designer, Avi Yona Bueno (Bambi).  In fact, the lighting was crucial to the set – so much so as to be an inextricable part of it.



I did read, in one of the reviews, that the sci-fi costumes were intentional and that the whole thing was designed to make it seem as if the action was taking place on an alien planet. A friend of mine from my choir, who had seen the production a few days earlier, remarked that Herod resembled Jabba the Hutt from the Star Wars franchise. Perhaps, then, the light necklaces were supposed to remind us of the light sabres wielded by the Jedi knights?

Whatever the case may be, this production won rave reviews from the Israeli press and, believe me, it deserved it.


Next up was a study trip with Yad Yitzhak Ben-Zvi to Einot Tzukim (Ein Feshkha) and the Judaean desert, in the wake of the people, flora and fauna who have made the area their home.

Einot Tzukim is a nature reserve and archaeological site on the north-west shore of the Dead Sea. It is divided into three parts – a closed reserve, used by researchers, an open reserve, which contains mineral pools where one can bathe, and the so-called “Hidden Reserve”, where access is limited to organized groups and by special arrangement only.
In the open reserve, one can see the remains of a Herodian villa and industrial complex. The purpose of the latter is unknown, although some have theorized that it might have served for the production of the famous afarsimon perfume for which the region was famous.

The villa, too, judging by its remains, was impressive:



As we passed the mineral pools, our guide pointed out to us the plant known in Hebrew as תפוח סדום (tapuach sdom – Apple of Sodom). Its botanical name is calotropis procera.



The fruit is large, round and somewhat resembles an apple, but when opened, it is almost completely hollow, save for the seeds to which fibres are attached. The milky sap is toxic.

It has an alternative name in Hebrew – פתילת המדבר (p’tilat hamidbar – desert wick) and is so-called because the fibres attached to the seeds could be twisted into wicks for lighting oil-lamps.

Next we entered the Hidden Reserve, where you might find it hard to believe you were in the middle of the desert:



See the contrast!







How did the freshwater St. Peter’s Fish (tilapia), commonly found in the Sea of Galilee, and the River Jordan, reach this pool on the shores of the extremely salty Dead Sea?!
And not just any St. Peter’s Fish, but the most genetically pure members of the species in Israel?



From the Hidden Reserve, we proceeded to Wadi Nuhil:






Here, besides indigenous crops like date palms, a (successful) attempt has been made to grow imported fruits, such as the papaya:




In ancient times, however, the Wadi was home to hermits’ caves rather than to agriculturalists:


We made the steep climb up to one of these caves:



Those hermits certainly knew how to choose a room with a view 😉


The Judaean Wilderness has its share of Muslim shrines as well – not the least of them being Nabi Musa, the reputed Tomb of Moses. Of course, this does not fit the Biblical narrative, according to which, Moses died and was buried by the hand of God Himself, on Mount Nevo, east of the River Jordan. Indeed, originally, Nabi Musa was known merely as a vantage point on the route of travellers making the hadj (pilgrimage) to Mecca, from where they could look beyond the Jordan to Mount Nevo. Over the years, it became confused in the mind of Muslim believers with the actual Tomb, as happens with many shrines and thus, history is reinvented. Such reinvented histories continue to cause strife right up to the present day.



At the time we visited, extensive renovations were being carried out, under the aegis of the Palestinian Authority which plans to build a hotel on the site (where there was once a khan or caravanserai).

Unusually for these study trips, we returned to Jerusalem before the sun had completely set, but this would be offset by the next trip, much further afield. About that – more in my next post.

January went out in style with the Jerusalem Gilbert and Sullivan Singalong of Trial By Jury.  Although not formally staged, we always make an attempt to add “atmosphere” to these singalongs, by, for example, having the men wear sailor’s hats (as in the production of H.M.S. Pinafore two years ago).  This year, we were asked to come dressed as we would if we were going to appear in court. Naturally, I thought this would be a cinch. All I needed to do (as I fondly imagined), was to wear one of my “lawyer’s suits”, which have been hanging in my wardrobe since I retired.
Alas! I had forgotten that clothes left hanging unused for more than a year, inevitably shrink at least two sizes.
It’s a basic law of nature 😉 .

And on that note, I will leave you.
Till the next time – Lehitra’ot (להתראות).

About Shimona from the Palace

Born in London, the UK, I came on Aliyah in my teens and now live in Jerusalem, where I practice law. I am a firm believer in the words of Albert Schweitzer: "There are two means of refuge from the sorrows of this world - Music and Cats." To that, you can add Literature. To curl up on the sofa with a good book, a cat at one's feet and another one on one's lap, with a classical symphony or concerto in the background - what more can a person ask for?
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6 Responses to I’m So Busy, My Head Is Spinning…

  1. I loved every word! How I wish I could have been there for that extraordinary Gilbert and Sullivan sing-along! And I would so have enjoyed the study trip. Being there to see such riches is beyond my ability but oh, I wish I could.
    Building a hotel you say? Incongruous to the area in which they are going to have it built, it seems to me. And what else commercial one wonders? I started to form more opinions, but I realize I know nothing with which to form one. All of my thoughts would be in error likely.
    Yes, isn’t it amazing how clothes shrink like that?? I have found that same unpleasant phenom in my own closet. I think it is a virus that spreads everywhere that there are closets! I hope a spray is developed to quell this happening.
    Katie and me

    • The hotel might not be so awful – if they build it, as they seem to be doing, in the style of the old mediaeval caravanserai which is, itself, basically an inn.

      I love your idea of a spray to fight the clothes-shrinking virus (lol)!

  2. lmao about the clothes shrinking!!! At least your busy was being busy with GOOD things! I also laughed that the youngsters who read your blog will have no clue about that Tommy Roe song verse, but I do! 😉

  3. David says:

    Fascinating area. I wish I’d been on that tiyul.

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