The Corona Chronicles – Don’t They Know It’s the End of the World?

Earlier this week, I was cloistered in my study all afternoon, writing my cat blog. When I finished, I suddenly noticed how dark it was – far darker than it should have been for that time of day. I got up and looked out of the window, and my startled gaze encountered an apocalyptic vision:

And here is another view, sent to me by my sister, from Yad Vashem:

My first thought was that the heat wave had finally broken and that we were in for rain (highly unusual for August, but not impossible) – yet there was no smell of rain in the air and it was as hot as it had been for days now. Could it possibly be an approaching dust storm?

The sight of that red sun brought verses, unbidden, to my mind:


Fell deeds awake: fire and slaughter!
spear shall be shaken, shield be splintered,
a sword-day, a red day, ere the sun rises!

Ride now, ride now, ride! Ride for ruin and the world’s ending!

A quick survey of family and friends on WhatsApp elicited the information that a huge fire was raging, uncontrolled, in the hills around Jerusalem. Yet there was no smell of smoke. I found it hard to believe, at first. Fortunately – for me, at least – the wind was not blowing in our direction. Less fortunately for the residents of several smaller towns, kibbutzim and moshavim around the Capital, including the Eytanim Psychiatric Hospital, who had to be evacuated to safety. Indeed, during the course of the evacuation, two psychiatric patients went missing. Both, I am thankful to say, were later found, safe and sound.
Later in the evening, the wind must have changed direction because the sky in my quarter of the city became blue again. Yet, during the night, I awoke coughing, the acrid smell of smoke in my nostrils, and was obliged to close the windows, despite the heat, before I was able to sleep again.

It took three days to get the fire under control. Although perhaps I should say fires. Investigation by the Fire Department revealed that there were at least five sources of conflagration, and more were added later. It was arson.

In light of the constant stream of incendiary balloons with which the inhabitants of Gaza have been attacking us in the South, people were quick to draw conclusions as to who was responsible for the wanton destruction of 25,000 dunams of forest and vegetation on this occasion.

And now, back to the pandemic. We are once more in full “Green Pass” mode. The debate as to the necessity or desirability of “booster shots” is hotting up. Despite the opposition of the Minister of Education to administering the vaccine to children between the ages of 12 – 15 in school, during school hours, she was over-ruled, officially because giving the shots in school during the hours when the children have to be there, rather than before or after classes, will make it easier for those who cannot get to local clinics (at all of which, it is possible to be vaccinated, even without making an appointment in advance). The real reason, in my opinion, is to make it easier to exert “social pressure” on parents who object to having their children injected with a substance which has a proven connection to myocarditis in children and whose long term effects are not known.

Social pressure, did I say? And what can I say of the vicious attacks on social media against even those who had the first two vaccinations but are now, in light of developments, hesitant to have the third shot? These are already being accused of “responsibility for the deaths of thousands”, and of being “traitors to the human race”!!! (The latter phrase has echoes of the Nazi era, when Aryans who engaged in relations with non-Aryans were accused of being “race traitors”.)

I mentioned, in a previous post, my own hesitancy with regard to the booster shot. As I said, I am not an anti-vaxxer in principle – and I did take the first two shots as soon as I was eligible to do so. Frankly, some of the conspiracy theories the anti-vaxxers came up with (such as the claim that the vaccine contains tracking devices, or that it will alter your sexual preferences) were so far-fetched, it was easy to dismiss them and the whole anti-vaccine argument with them. But that would be to throw out the baby with the bath water. Now, I cannot help but ask myself – if the effectiveness of the vaccine has dropped so much in a mere six months, and in the meanwhile, new variants have developed that are more resistant to the vaccine, when will we be asked to subject our bodies to a fourth shot? There are already variants that are said to be more dangerous than the Delta Variant, as well as more resistant to the vaccine.
It is in the nature of viruses to mutate, in order to circumvent vaccines. They “want” to survive. We are told, by those who favour mass vaccination, that it is the refusal of the “anti-vaxxers” which is fueling the development of the variants, that the variants develop in those who are not yet vaccinated and are then passed back to those who are vaccinated, because “we said from the start that the vaccine isn’t 100% effective, but it does at least prevent SEVERE illness”. According to this claim, when EVERYONE is vaccinated, the virus will have no place to go and develop and mutate. But even if this is true IN THEORY, Israel is not an island. Even if every Israeli were to be vaccinated, there are vast swathes of our planet where people do not have access to the vaccine. And so the virus can still find host bodies in which to mutate. Moreover, even were it possible, in theory, to vaccinate the entire population of the world, let’s not forget where the original COVID-19 virus came from.

A bat.

It seems to me, therefore, that the more likely scenario is this. We will accept the booster shot. The virus will then mutate into something still more resistant to the vaccine. The vaccine, whose effectiveness is, in any case, less than 100%, will start to wear off and another booster will be needed, probably in a shorter period than the 5 or 6 month period which it took this time, then another, more vaccine-resistant strain of the virus will develop, requiring yet another booster – and so on and so forth, until we are requiring monthly boosters.
And meanwhile, what will happen to our own immune system?
And why did Pfizer demand, and receive, immunity from lawsuits in case of harm caused by the vaccine? And why is their agreement with the Israel Government confidential and why will it remain so for thirty years???

In spite of all that, I am not yet ruling out the possibility of having the booster shot some time in the future. Indeed, I may have no choice. The pressure to deprive people who haven’t yet had THREE shots, of their right to work, to move freely, to enter a whole slew of venues, is becoming VICIOUS. Yet part of me is inclined, the more they push, to push back harder. On principle. Not because I oppose the vaccine on principle.
Because I oppose turning my country into a copy of Communist China.

Fire, floods, a worldwide plague.
Not for the first time recently, I have to ask – am I the only person who thinks the Almighty is trying to tell us something?

The next part of “the weekly rant” was supposed to be devoted to the shameful American flight from Afghanistan and the terror which now awaits that country’s women and girls, but since I don’t want to send all my readers away in total depression and ruin their weekend (and my own), I will leave that till next week and instead move to a less emotive subject.

Opera.

On Monday, I went to the Israel Opera’s new production of I Capuleti ed I Montecchi, (Romeo and Juliet) by Bellini.
Bellini’s opera was written with a particular cast in mind, at a time when castrati were no longer in fashion, but the soprano voice was still very popular for the role of the hero. The role of Romeo was therefore written for a soprano or mezzo-soprano en travesti and sung, at the opera’s premiere in 1830, by Giuditta Grisi.

That was apparently enough for the director of this new production, Hanan Snir, who decided to make the opera more “relevant” to today’s issues, and display his “wokeness” by actually making Romeo a woman and turning this into a lesbian love story.
I can’t help but feel this idea was – shall we say, misguided?
And before you all jump up and accuse me of homophobia, let me remind you of my general, and consistent, dislike of the current trend for “modernising” operas, which has prompted me to many a rant in previous posts. I have no more wish to see the western world’s most iconic heterosexual love story transformed into something it is not, and never was, than I have to see black leather-clad Valkyries riding about the stage on motorbikes, or Il Trovatore set in a Soviet shipyard, or crocodiles copulating onstage as Valhalla falls, or The Flying Dutchman set in a rubbish tip in Bangladesh. I hated the production I saw of Carmen, in which the eponymous heroine was killed, not by her erstwhile lover, Don Jose, but by his jilted sweetheart, Micaëla, as much as I disliked a version of Turandot I saw, in which Turandot, after confessing her love to Calaf, committed suicide, presumably because, as a feminist icon, she could not live with her “weakness”.

As for the director’s attempt to “send a message” – if that’s what he intended, he failed miserably. For a message of that kind to work, it needs to be clearly understood by the audience.
Now, I daresay many of the audience knew that the part of Romeo had been, from the very beginning, intended for a female singer – rather like the Principal Boy in the British pantomime tradition. Presumably, many of them had also heard in the Media (as I had) that the director had decided to turn the opera into a love story between two women. If they had not – actually, even if they had – they must have found themselves as confused as I was.

Throughout Act 1, Romeo was dressed as a man and referred to as such (at least in the English surtitles). Now, the use of male pronouns when referring to Romeo could be explained by the fact that, apparently, Juliet’s family were supposed to be unaware of his (her?) true sex (a point of which I was unaware until reading one of the reviews later in the week). But it got more confusing when the character spoke in the first person, for those who were reading the Hebrew surtitles. Hebrew is a gendered language. As in French, Italian or Spanish, nouns are all either masculine or feminine. There is no neuter, unlike, say, in German. Their attendant adjectives are masculine or feminine, depending on the gender of the noun to which they are attached. And, as in Arabic, there are masculine and feminine forms of verbs. But whoever was responsible for the surtitles mostly avoided giving the game away, by using ambiguous terms. For example, whereas a man would say, in Hebrew: Ani yode’a (אני יודע – I know), a woman would say Ani yoda’at (אני יודעת). But one could get round this by using the form Yadua Li (ידוע לי – It is known to me).

For the spectator who had not read the programme notes, or heard/read in the Media about the “scandalous” new production, all they would have seen would have been exactly what they would have expected to see – an opera in which, by the conventions of the era in which it was written, the male lead was sung by a woman, just as Bellini had written it.
I myself, having heard in the Media what to expect, was even more confused. Had the management backed down in the face of controversy?
No, it had not. In Act 2, when Romeo sneaks into Giulietta’s bedroom, s/he was dressed as a woman and spoke (in Hebrew, at least) in the feminine.
If I was confused, imagine what must have been the feelings of someone who had neither read the programme notes nor read about the production in advance, in the Press.

Moreover, although I now know, from the reviews, that what seemed to me just like rather muddled “stage business” during the Overture,(two little girls running about and hiding from a group of nuns, and a man getting shot by “Romeo”), was supposed to represent the long-standing love between Romeo and Giulietta being eventually discovered by the latter’s brother, who then attempted to kill her for the sake of the family honour, and was shot by Romeo who came to Juliet’s rescue – none of this was known to me at the time.
All in all, then, while I came prepared to disapprove, my principal emotion, as the curtain came down, was rather of bewilderment.

The music, of course, was lovely, the sets were beautiful (another one of my pet peeves is the way many opera houses tend to set new productions on a stage furnished by two or three cement blocks which are moved around from scene to scene and are meant to represent everything from a forest glade on the banks of the Rhine, to the throne room of the Doge of Venice).
So I would say the evening was not entirely mis-spent.
Of course, we did get caught in a dreadful traffic jam on the way back to Jerusalem, due to roadworks and – presumably – large numbers of drivers, such as ourselves, trying to avoid the main road from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which was reported as being horribly gridlocked due to the forest fire. We came back via Modi’in.

Unfortunately, it seems everybody else had the same idea.

Last, but by no means least, a purely joyful news item.

On Tuesday afternoon, I awoke from my siesta to the murmur of many voices in the street below. Before long, dialogue gave way to singing, then to the music of trumpets. I looked out of the window and saw people dancing. I hurried downstairs to find out what was going on.
A family living two blocks down the road, whose daughter had passed away last year, was donating a new Sefer Torah to a synagogue round the corner, in her memory.

It seemed as if the whole street had come out to celebrate the inauguration of the new Torah scroll.
I was happy.
Everyone was happy.

And I thought to myself: “Only in Israel…”

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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4 Responses to The Corona Chronicles – Don’t They Know It’s the End of the World?

  1. CATachresis says:

    I agree with you Shimona about the vaccines and feel your confusion over Romeo becoming a woman in the opera! I have a family member who has not been vaccinated at all and refuses to do so. Their reasons seem to come from the virulent anti-vaxxers group! I am ambivalent about being vaccinated – I’ve had two jabs, but am thinking I won’t have any booster if it is offered. The effectiveness of the vaccines seem to be on the wane. This is what happens when years of research are contracted into a few months! They have really no idea what the long term effects are. As for Romeo, well, I don’t think Shakespeare needs to be rewritten for the modern era. There are enough modern writers who pen plays, books and operas about some very complicated relationships.

  2. Carole Schulman says:

    No, you’re NOT the only one who thinks that Shimona. I could and want to write a book about this whole thing. BUT it would only be opinion as I have nothing to lean on.

  3. Carole Schulman says:

    I do want to know why it is alright with everyone to be forced because of jobs and whatever else they come up with?

  4. 15andmeowing says:

    I worry that it will never stop mutating and a vaccine won’t be available for all strains. I try not to think about it though.

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