Sunday, June 24, 2012

My Fair Lady Part 3


Two weeks to go until opening night of My Fair Lady and so much to do. Or....... you could look at it the other way and say, look how much had been done already and we still have two weeks to go! The costumes were ready, for one thing. Almost everyone had been given what to wear, which is saying a lot, all things considered. Usually, Robert Binder can open the dozens of boxes of costumes used in previous productions scattered around our rehearsal space and pull out enough uniforms, ladies' aprons and bonnets, even apparel for several generations of baronets, to suit everyone on stage.

My Fair Lady, however, presents its own sartorial challenges. For example, as the curtain goes up on scene 1, your humble writer is seen for all of twenty seconds leaving the Opera House and racing across the stage holding an umbrella to escape the rain. What would the well-dressed English gentleman of the period wear to the theater of an evening? White tie and tails, of course (think Fred Astaire in Top Hat)! In other words, a black swallow-tail coat and matching trousers with a shiny stripe down the side, a formal dress shirt, a bow tie, a vest, and gloves -- all white of course. The piece de resistance was the top hat, which had started out in life a vivid blue in the ballet in Carousel, and which had been spray-painted black for its new lease on life. The Covent Garden scenes, in which I portray a common workman, wasn't so difficult: an old pair of gray cotton pants and a nondescript shirt of the same color from my own closet, with an ill-fitting jacket and vest, plus a gray cap several sizes too small -- all from the Encore! stash.

But the attire for Ascot. That's a whole new kettle of fish! The men were to wear a short black formal jacket with dark pants (I had the latter that with a little taking out at the waist just about fit me), a white dress shirt (the same one I wore in the first scene), vests that RB sewed together from scraps of material, a cravat that velcro'ed in the back, "spats," gray gloves, and........a real derby hat. We walked about with fake opera glasses (that Sandy fashioned out of the cardboard from paper towel rolls) and walking sticks that had been diverted from their original usage as broom handles. Much of what we were wearing had been borrowed from individuals and other theater groups (Try finding formal attire in The Land!!!). But the Ascot outfits for the women, that was a whole 'nother ball of wax. Given the multitude of shapes and sizes of our distaff members, there was nothing for RB to do but to design and sew them himself -- faithfully recreating the original Cecil Beaton costumes, which are justly celebrated. Then there was the final touch, the Ascot hats. Not the little things that women go to shul in. We're talking here about grand chapeaus to dazzle and delight at Ascot opening day. Where could Encore! find such a collection? Who anywhere could replicate the fantastic creations worn in the film version? Rachel to the rescue! Rachel Miskin, a mainstay of the troupe, one of those supremely affable people who make the world a joy to live in, goes about life baking things. Not rugalach or baguettes mind you, but cakes. Not just ordinary, run-of-the-mill cakes that any bakery can turn out for Shabbat or your little darling's eighth birthday, but one-of-a-kind creations for those once in a lifetime occasions at which you break out that special bottle of something you've been saving for ten years. If she can bake the cake to end all cakes, would Rachel be able to create a series of of equally opulent hats to catch the attention of every duke, and earl, and peer who might be there? Her creations did in fact take the cake, dazzling the audience, providing the final touch to a show-stopping scene, the proverbial "icing on the cake," that would leave the audience agasp.

With two weeks to go, the scenery was also done. Roxane had started work on the big backdrop of London well before auditions were even held. With her trusty crew of volunteers, the Ascot backdrop, the interior of Prof. Higgin's study with its trompe l'oeil bookcases, the street where Eliza lives and Freddie waits for her, the tavern from which Alfred P. Doolittle is first unceremoniously evicted and then welcomed back with open arms, all of these came into existence as if by magic and on time. We thought we could wash our paint brushes for good. But no! At the last minute, there were props that had to be dealt with: those broom handles which needed to be transmogrified into walking sticks, ordinary food cartons which for a brief moment would be passed from chorus member to chorus member as flower baskets in Covent Gardens. And so, the last Friday before Shavuot, we had to reassemble one more time and carefully smear more paint. Whew! Done at last.

But what about the show itself? The lines that had not yet been learned, the cues that were still being missed, the vocalizing which was still spotty in places, the choreography that had not been learned. (Arlene, realizing her time constraints, made no effort to create her usual magic for the male choristers, leaving us on our own to move about in time to the music.) PLUS.....Alfred P. Doolittle was still at the University of Maryland, teaching his classes in philosophy. How would he ever get to the pub, let alone the church on time? We all knew, from past experience, that everything would somehow come together; we just didn't know how.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

My Fair Lady Part 2


We weren't quite ready to go live, and we had about two weeks before opening night on May 29. The miracle was that we were even remotely ready. It wasn't as if we hadn't started rehearsing for My Fair Lady early enough (Jan. 25), but there were just soooooo many interruptions. Even the set painting on Friday morning, which usually goes like clock-work, was slowed down by a freak snowstorm and the running of a marathon through the heart of Jerusalem (I hate to be more curmudgeonly than I normally am, but enough is enough!) that kept a lot of people from getting to Talpiot -- or anywhere else for that matter..

The rehearsal schedule for the chorus takes into account that everyone won't always be available; in fact it's safe to say that there's never a rehearsal when everybody who is supposed to be there actually shows up. We just keep plugging on with the forces we have, and ultimately everyone figures out what they are supposed to be doing. At some point, we are told where we are supposed to on stage, and we begin integrating our parts with the soloists; and somehow it all comes together and we're ready.

There are always interruptions, but it occurred to me that the the spring productions are more problematic than the ones in the fall because of all the holidays. Yes, there certainly are all the Yom Tovim in Sept. and October, but they come at the beginning of our rehearsal schedule. Purim (regular and Shushan), all of Pesach, Shavuot, plus the additional days that are important here in The Land: Independence Day, Holocaust Remembrance Day, even Yom Yerushalayim, come smack dab in the middle, as we are trying to maintain our momentum and remember what we learned the week before. Plus this year we had to celebrate Feb. 29.

No doubt, you are waiting for me explain what that's all about. So here goes: When the last troupe of performers was assembled to put on HMS Pinafore, it was mentioned that we would be also performing Gilbert and Sullivan's Trial By Jury at some future date, (we were even sent Paul Salter's recording of our parts) but it wasn't clear where or when. As we got closer and closer to performing Pinafore, there was less and less talk of the second show. As I determined later, Robert Binder had expected to perform TBJ as part of some arts festival in Jerusalem in the spring of 2012. Whatever happened to put the kibosh on that I don't know, but our esteemed artistic director had to do something -- if for no other reason than he had been rehearsing a number of principals (I can't imagine when he found the time), and he owed them some kind of performance.

I keep referring to the production of cool summertime beverages from yellow citrus fruit. There had to be a performance of Trial By Jury. Wait a minute; it's 2012, which means that February has twenty-nine days. Feb. 29: that's the anniversary of the founding of the Jerusalem Gilbert and Sullivan Society by none other than one R. Binder. And why that special date? February 29 is the "birthday" of Frederic, the pirate apprentice in Pirates of Penzance. So invite members of the Jerusalem G&S society and assorted other worthies to our rehearsal space for a concert reading of TBJ and selections from Pirates. There, that was easy, wasn't it?

So on Monday, Feb. 27 at our rehearsal facilities (already getting crowded with scenery). I along with everyone else who showed up was given a copy of the vocal score for TBJ.

Hark, the hour of ten is sounding; Hearts with anxious fears are bounding.
Hall of Justice crowds surrounding, Breathing hope and fear.
For today in this arena, Summoned by a stern subpoena,
Edwin, sued by Angelina, Shortly will appear.

As you might guess, the piece is about a court action brought by a young woman whose affections have been trifled with by the defendant. TBJ is short work, maybe forty minutes in length, the first major collaboration by the team, produced in 1875. Some people consider it a cantata (for all you Bach fans) for there's a lot of music, very little staging, and no spoken dialogue. Most of the music isn't that difficult, except as it gets towards the end and more and more people are singing different words and different music at the same time until the judge, in total exasperation, tells one and all to "Put your briefs upon the shelf, I will marry her (Angelina) myself."

You understand that I had two days to learn the music! OK, we didn't have to memorize it; we would be singing with the score in front of us. And the male chorus, as the jury, wouldn't be doing any little dance steps. But still, two days for something I had never seen or heard before --when I was still trying to get the music of My Fair Lady straight in my head.

I have a great distaste for making a fool of myself, and so I spent a considerable amount of time on Tues. and Wed. listening to Paul Salter's recording of the baritone part and singing with the score in front of me until I could do a credible job of most of it -- which I and everyone else did, ignoring the last several numbers with six or seven part harmony that would require a lot more work. Then it was time for the excerpts from Pirates. Hand out copies of the lyrics to several of the songs. Most of the guys had been in the cast when Encore! performed it several years ago and remembered:

When the foeman bares his steel,
Tarantara, tarantara,
We uncomfortable feel,
And we find the wisest thing,
tarantara, tarantara,
Is to slap our chests and sing,
as a collection of baritones, the predecessors to Mack Sennett's Keystone Kops enter, prance around, and finally, finally exit.

I, to my eternal dismay and sorrow, had not been in the company that had performed Pirates several years ago; hence, I had never sung this music before either. However...... I can slap my chest and sing along with the best of them, and so I joined in. "Tarantara, tarantara, tarantara, tarantara........" No one seemed to be the wiser that I was winging it. A good time was had by all, and we could resume rehearsing My Fair Lady, which we would be performing in front of a larger, paying audience three months from the last tarantara, tarantara.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

My Fair Lady Part 1


I was standing on the catwalk of the "AACI building" that evening in January, waiting for the My Fair Lady auditions to start, looking around to see who had showed up, when I had the following flashback:
It was the first day of school at P.S. 80 in The Bronx, and I was , let's say, back in the fifth grade. There were exactly three classes per grade and they were not tracked, meaning that we were not assigned based on upon how we did on any of the standardized test they unfailingly gave us but on some random selection. So we never knew until that first morning of school who would be in our class. There were always a lot of kids I knew, and I hoped that some of my friends would be among them; but there would always be, from the 100 or more children in the grade, some kids I had never. met before. So everyone would be furtively looking around the room checking out everybody else....

At any of the previous Encore!auditions I had been to, we all were waiting outside for our turn, some calmly sitting and chatting, some, like me, pacing back and forth, going over our audition piece one more time. This time, because it was so exquisitely cold out, and because our current digs are a little larger, everyone got to wait inside. There were chairs lined up in the part of the room near the entrance and there were screens set up so that whoever was auditioning would have a measure of privacy. This way, you could get to hear your comrades-in-song as they tried to warble their way into the hearts and minds of the selection committee, Robert Binder (artistic director and guiding force behind all things Encore!), Paul Salter (musical director and maestro par excellence), and Arlene Chertoff (choreographer and business manager). Some of what would happen was predictable: veteran Encore! talent who would almost certainly be invited back; some was gratifying: I could get to hear men and women who had been in the chorus with me take a solo and demonstrate how really talented they are. There were elements of drama and pathos: an elderly woman whose voice had aged faster than she had, young girls waiting to be "discovered," and a few women with real talent, all of whom would not get the leading role.
I, myself, have no illusions of grandeur; all I was doing was trying to secure my spot in the ensemble (as well as offer my services writing publicity, painting sets, selling tickets, and the like). One of the things I like about these auditions is I can go through my goody-bag of old time favorites and pull out a number that no one but me is likely to know. For example, this ballad, culled from a Dec. 11, 1919 Victor recording by the great Irish tenor John McCormack, which goes:

I know my lips have never met your lips in sweet caress,
Your hand has never touched my hand in thrilling tenderness;
You've never spoke of love to me, and still somehow I know,
For love has made me wondrous wise, your eyes have told me so.....

I saw your eyes, your wonderful eyes,
With love-light and tenderness beaming,
They thrilled me through, they filled me too,
With wonderful dreams I am dreaming.
No need to speak, no more shall I seek,
For my eyes have taught me their meaning,
And love has come, at last I know,
Your eyes have told me so..........
(Gus Kahn, Egbert Van Alstyne, and Walter Blaufuss)

Well, that's how they pitched woo in days of yore. None of this, "You ain't nothin' but a hound dog," or even more trendy manifestations. Not surprisingly,, most of the guys auditioning went with more conventional pieces, like "On the Street Where You Live." No imagination!!!! After I finished my audition piece, Paul gave me the score for the beginning of the Ascot number (Every Duke and Earl and Peer is here, everyone who should be here is here...) and asked me to sing it with his accompaniment. I realized later why: he was uncomfortable with the vocal arrangement as written and was wondering if the talent (?) on hand could handle it, or would he need to re-write the part to make it a tad more singable. He re-wrote the part.

My Fair Lady is one of the most beloved musicals ever written -- probably among the five most popular. My guess is that it is the most idiosyncratic, by which I mean that it doesn't follow most of the conventions that have been around since the time of our heroes, Gilbert and Sullivan. There are really only four principal vocal roles; there is relatively little for the whole chorus to do; instead of the usual rousing finale with the entire cast on stage, the ending is, shall we say, tentative, with Eliza returning to Henry Higgins, just in time to help him locate the slippers which he always seems to misplace. (In Shaw's original, Pygmalion, Eliza does marry Freddie Eynsford-Hill and the two of them live unhappily ever after -- but that ending wouldn't work in a musical.) You might consider the musical version a masterpiece in spite of itself.

Anyway, when rehearsals started, I noted a few new faces among the men and a whole lot among the women, a number who are comfortably middle-aged and several under twenty. More names to remember. The routine, of course, was the same as always: hand out the relevant parts of the score and start working, one number at a time, trying to remember our parts -- even harder than remembering the names of the forty plus people in the chorus.

To the casual onlooker, it would have seemed that we were just starting work on the production, but to those of us in the know, it was evident that that was not the case. Well before, Robert Binder had developed his concept of how the work should be staged, Roxane Goodkin-Levy has prepared her drawings and scale models, and Ronnie Burns had started the actual construction of the sets. As the weeks went by, our rehearsal space would get smaller and smaller -- or more accurately more and more crowded with scenery, furniture, costumes, and props -- until there was almost no room to breathe, let alone maneuver in those situations when were supposed to be moving about the stage.

Now, when you are surrounded by a growing phalanx of scenery, there's only one thing to do: paint it. Whether you're starting with new wood or reconfiguring pieces used in the last five productions, the first thing you have to do is start with a coat of primer. That's where I come in. Having been made redundant from my previous position of "chief cutter," i.e., the guy who would wield a box cutter and carve out all the pieces from cardboard boxes, I needed something to occupy my time and make use of my negligible skills. A whole new position was created especially for me: "chief whitewasher." Before Roxanne or the handful of volunteers with real talent could actually tackle the incredibly intricate designs, I could be given a wide brush and a can of white (once in a while, black or brown) paint and turned loose on some unoffending piece of wood. It's nice to feel needed.

It turned out that my retirement from my previous position was only temporary. Roxane, when she's not working round the clock on Encore! sets, teaches art to senior citizens and school children. One of the schools in which she works was putting on a little play, and, of course (!) Roxane was expected to design the simple set, which included a small building made of (what else?) cardboard. Roxane explained the situation to Rob, who immediately thought of the obvious solution. "Why don't you ask the chief cutter?" I wasn't really concerned that my cutting skills would get rusty; but how could I say no to Roxane? So there we were one evening in February, lugging cardboard through a quiet street in French Hill (the neighborhood near the Mount Scopus campus of Hebrew U. and Hadassah Hospital). You tell me whether this situation could have happened anywhere else outside The Land. We had to fight our way into the building, even though the people in charge had approved the project because the custodian (in his white shirt) decided that our being there would disturb his schedule and equilibrium. Nonetheless, a (deliberately) rickety structure was assembled, which Roxanne would return to decorate, and the school's little dramatic interlude went off splendidly shortly before Pesach -- at least that's what I was told. My fame as chief cutter precedes me! Isn't that a comfort?

Friday, June 8, 2012

Starting Off on the Right Foot and Then Spraining It

No, faithful reader, I have not deserted you. From before Pesach, I was engaged in several very convoluted editing jobs that have taxed my strength and spirit. Now I am done and have received my compensation via PayPal -- more than enough to cover the cost of a new iPad. (Every over-age boy is entitled to a new toy once in a while!) And so we will pick up as if there had been no interruption. I will be interspersing this series about this one week in our life with another on the Encore! production of My Fair Lady in which I have a small part in the chorus -- another venture which took up more of my time than I'd like to think about.

If only everything in life that started out chock-full of promise would end on such a high note. But, alas, everything is not always that simple. Let us consider our recent Pesach as a prime example of how one can be blind-sided while traveling along life's little journey when everything seems to be kol b'seder, or in the vernacular, groovin' right along. So let's start at the beginning when everything was hunky-dory.

Generally speaking, we all have our little routines and rituals for Pesach: how and what we clean or don't clean, where and when to shop and what to buy, and the biggie: who's coming to the seder(s).
There are certain routines which we have developed in the five Pesachs we have been here in The Land, although, in truth, some of our activities have become so simplified that they hardly merit being called routines. We just walk into our local supermarket anytime before the holiday starts and buy whatever we need -- they're not going to run out of anything! If I need to have any utensils kashered for Pesach, two days before, I just walk over to a shul five minutes away, where the yeshivah bochers have set up operations with tubs of boiling water and blow torches. When I want to burn my hametz the morning before the holiday, I just walk downstairs. There's always somebody with a good blaze going next to the trash dumpsters, and I just throw my stuff on top. As we did in The States, we have separate cabinets for our Pesach utensils in our new kitchen. Close the regular cabinets (a little duct tape for good measure, open the Pesach ones, and we're good to go.)

We have a standing invitation to join our friends Ron and Esther at their ONE seder (time off for good behavior!). We supply the shmurah matzoh (we have settled on two kilograms as being more than enough); we bring some wine, they have some wine; they supply everything else, including Ron's running commentary (I stress "running" rather than "plodding"), allowing us to be on our way home up the hill before the clock strikes 12. (One fellow at shul told me that they had set a family record, finishing at 3:15, the earliest they had ever ended. Egads!) Plus Ron and I are in full agreement that when it says a "kzayit," as a measure of how much matzoh and other stuff you're supposed to eat, an olive is an olive is an olive -- to paraphrase Gertrude Stein, who knew her roses, if not much about things Jewish -- not the equivalent of an ostrich egg! We (Ron and I, not Gertrude) are also of the opinion that "maror" (bitter herbs) does not mean horseradish, which is neither bitter nor an herb. A number of the green things that actually do qualify are indigenous to The Land, for example, the original kind of lettuce, much more pungent than the romaine now sold commercially. (One of our local Anglo rabbis told us that he picks the wild lettuce growing in his garden.) So no need to gorge ourselves on matzoh or destroy our taste buds for no good reason.

One established custom here in The Land is to get out and go somewhere during the intermediate days of Pesach and Sukkot -- and I don't mean to Great Adventures. Here anywhere you go is a great adventure of sorts. We always try to go on a tiyul or two, and this year we found two tiyulim of interest, both sponsored by the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel (AACI), which would involve some but not a lot of bus traveling on our part. We started with "Springs in Spring," which began in Kfar Etzion, one of the many small communities near Efrat in Gush Etzion (that's the area south of Jerusalem). There's a regular Egged bus which runs every hour or so which took us to the one bus stop in this kibbutz community. We quickly realized that there was another couple who had gotten off the bus with us, obviously going on the same tour as we were. We were about half an hour early and so what was there to do but introduce ourselves and begin playing everyone's favorite game, Jewish Geography. It would not have been that surprising to find that they would know somebody or even several people that we do, provided that these several people have something in common. But this couple knew our friends Steve and Ettie, who moved from Albany, NY to Ma'ale Adumim some fifteen or twenty years ago AND also our hiking buddy Danny, a life-long Teaneck resident-- good folks who have absolutely no connection to one another. Try that one out yourself. Pick two people you know at random from different places and different times in your life and then go about finding a third person who knows both of them. See how long it takes you!

Speaking of Danny, he would have enjoyed this jaunt through the hills of Gush Etzion, although he's used to much longer treks. Our guide was quite knowledgeable, but he had made one serious mistake, not indicating in the publicity the degree of difficulty of this venture. Most of the AACI walks are virtually strolls down the lane, but this one involved scrambling down a steep path, treading gingerly from stone to stone. A lot of the folks on this trip, most them seriously middle-aged, were not in proper footwear. It took almost twenty minutes for one guy in flip-flops to get down the fifty yards to the bottom. My problem was a little different. Just as we were about to start the tiyul, I twisted my ankle (ouch!). I've done similar things in the past and just walked it off. But I've never had to hike it off. I had no choice but to keep walking, although I was out of commission for two days thereafter. Still it was a fine walk in glorious spring weather. That was, in fact, the whole point of "Spring and Springs", to go gallivanting through the Gush during that short span of time when the hills and valleys are all in bloom; and to locate the various mayanot that flow hither and yon throughout the area.

What I liked about this tour was its singular combination of nature and local history. We began right near the rag-tag collection of stores in Kfar Etzion at the site of an ancient olive oil press whose stone foundation is still visible. There are many such remains of homes and religious or commercial enterprises scattered throughout The Land. Still, respect must be paid to each and everyone of them; each ancient community in which they are found is part of our collective patrimony, evidence that we were once there and a reason for us to return. After stopping briefly at a spring which had been turned into a local watering-hole -- a good place for youngsters to take a quick dip and families to enjoy a Chol Hamoed picnic -- we wound up in the neighboring community of Bat Ayin, which houses a varied collection of Bratslav Hassidim and is probably the only place I can think of where you can find a car spray-painted with the ubiquitous "Na Nach Nachma Nachman meUman." (which means something like 'Please rest in peace Nachman from Uman' -- although I'm convinced that this elusive figure would have been a lot happier if they were to take what's left of his remains out of the Ukraine and knocked off the grafitti which has spread throughout The Land like kudzu). Along the way, we passed a middle-aged Bratzlaver (the same guy who owned the car) in his white shirt, watering his horse. That's Bat Ayin!

In keeping with the theme of our excursion, we finished with a stop at the remains of a mikvah that was in use two millenia ago. We had almost made a complete circle, and the walk back to our starting point in Kfar Etzion was about fifteen minutes. Our bus going back was scheduled to arrive for an additional half an hour, plenty of time to poke our noses into the legendary Naot shoe outlet, one of the several stores nestled inside Kfar Etzion. There are some outlet stores in The Land, but, just like in The States, you have to know where they are. Naot makes a good selection of women's sandals -- not cheap -- and the outlet store has them and a lot more footwear for men and women at a better price than you'd get on Jaffa St. back in Jerusalem. Should I or shouldn't I mention that Barbara ("I hate shopping") gave in and purchased a pair of sandals?

Two days later, having sufficiently rested my sore ankle by forgoing a concert I had planned to attend that evening in Jerusalem and forgoing a trip to Tel Aviv with Barbara and Natania the next day to see married daughter Tina and husband David, we were set for the second excursion, one in the middle of Jerusalem. The planned route was to start at the parking lot next to the Mormon University and snake our way down and around until we reached the City of David, south of The Old City. Now I sort of, sort of, knew where the Mormon campus is -- near the Hebrew U. campus on Mount Scopus. But sometimes 'sort of'' won't do -- especially if you're walking, and 'sort of' is in actuality two miles away. Why not call up the lady leading the tour? She'll know exactly where to go, won't she? Note to self for future reference: if you're considering going on a tour ,and the guide can't give you exact directions to where they're starting, reconsider your plans.

If we had listened to her, we would have wound up in the middle of a nearby Arab neighborhood -- not part of the itinerary. Instead, we figured out on our own where to go -- sort of -- and wound up at the top of the hill where we needed to be, looking down at the Emek Tzurim National Park. Just in time to wait twenty minutes for some stragglers coming by car, who had gotten lost ten miles away. More than enough time for me to look around down below, I could see the sifting site, the same place where I had gone sifting with Myron and Esther a number of years before. The Muslim authorities who were given control of the Temple Mount had built a large underground mosque, in the process digging up I-don't-know how many tons of earth from that holy place and dumping it unceremoniously in the nearby Kidron Valley. So, using our usual ability to turn lemons into a palatable drink, the Israeli archaeological authorities moved the whole kit and caboodle to the site where it is now and set to work sifting through this rubble, in the process finding valuable artifacts that had remained buried since at least the destruction of the Second Temple

Our little group began by walking down the hill towards the sifting site. What I remember to be a fairly small operation has over the years been expanded tremendously. As it was during the school vacation, the place was packed with Jewish youth, all sifting with the same intensity as a rabbi looking for bugs in lettuce. They weren't the only youngsters in the area. We could hear and then see a group of local girls in their school uniforms chanting in Arabic. Better that I don't know what they were saying! I should also add another bit of local color: just as we were about to head on, a flock of goats marched down the hill and headed of to parts unknown!

Now I'll give our guide credit. She had written that we would be going through parts of Jerusalem that we normally wouldn't go through -- and she was right. We began hiking through the park area, which now has a walking trail -- thanks to the new Jerusalem mayor -- up to a look-out point paid for by a wealthy Mormon, on and around, until we came to an area filled with churches and monasteries and scads of Christian tourists -- it also being the Easter season. Our guide took a group into one of the churches to see I-don't-know-what -- as I politely remained outside. We then continued, walking along the road on the east side of The Old City, passing more well-appointed churches built in the last hundred years and large grave sites of wealthy Jews who were alive when the Second Temple was still standing. The final stop on the tour was supposed to be at the City of David, directly south of The Dung Gate. By this time, Natania (who was with us for this trip) and I had overdosed on guide-ese and in desperate need of caffeine and other sustaining nourishment, headed off into The Old City, where Barbara would meet us later.

I've had a number of discussions with our friend Jeff, who has taken the tour guide course and has had the opportunity of watching the finest English-speaking guides in The Land, about what makes a good tour guide. What distinguishes the best from the rest? Some of it is personality and good-old-fashioned people skills -- those you can't teach. Some of it, though, is the willingness to tell a story, or, to put it a different way, to stay on message -- something a person can learn to do. Why are you telling me about this; what's the point? If you're on a tour, and the guide is just passing on a random collection of information, at some point you start tuning out. Likewise if the guide is intent on passing along every last tidbit of information he has ever learned about a particular point of interest. MEGO! (My eyes glazeth over.) To be fair, I should say that I am not the best listener on any tour; at some point, I usually wander away from the group in search of something to photograph. But I can usually tell if I'm missing anything important the guide is saying or if I'm simply wandering away to avoid the incessant drone.

Anyway, we did get to see parts of Jerusalem we had never been to before; and if I had to start over on my own and retrace my steps, I'm not so sure I could do it. So even if I didn't learn a lot about what I saw, it was worth the effort. No one can say we didn't do our part in Walking The Land! However, there was still plenty of time to do other things, which I did, and I will share with you in the next episode.