News of the Cruise (Part 1: Prelude)

There it was, literally staring us in the face: an ad, actually a series of ads, for a cruise sponsored by the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel, sailing around the Mediterranean, from Barcelona to Mallorca, Sardinia, Rome, and Marseilles on a very large, very opulent ship, the Costa Diadema.

I would have been quite happy to ignore the lure of the ads. Having been both to India and The States this year, I figured we had spent more than enough time going through security checks and passport control – and just waiting and waiting in airports that are becoming less and less comfortable. And as far as spending is concerned……..let’s just say that this cruise was not going to be cheap, as the price would include airfare to Barcelona, one night in a very posh hotel, a week on the ship with all amenities paid for, and a land tour in every port.

But Barbara was interested, in fact, eager to go. First of all, our good friends Barbara and Richard Levine had signed up, and they would just loooove to have some company along the way. The AACI tours always include a scholar-in-residence, in this case, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin – someone always worth listening to. And then, when the going gets rough (the spouse starts to dwell on the cost of said excursion), Barbara will always play her trump card (nothing to do with the U.S. presidential election!). Her arthritic condition is getting worse, and she wants to do as much traveling as we can while she is still able to get around. What I wind up saying is, “You figure out how we’re going to pay for it. I don’t want to know.” And then she pays and we go.

As our flight to Barcelona was scheduled to depart on a Sun. morning a little after 9AM, we were expected to be at Ben-Gurion airport at 6AM. Bad enough for us, but for The Levines, coming all the way from Har Halutz at that time of the morning (I’m not convinced that 3AM can be considered “morning”), the trip would have been beyond the pale. The simple solution? The Levines would spend Shabbat at the Casden Hilton. We would leave together well before the crack of dawn, but at least late enough to get a few hours of zzzzzzzzzz’s.

If you’re planning to arrive here Thurs. evening, why don’t you get here early enough for the four of us to go to the Wine Festival? Now that’s an offer that no self-respecting Levine could or would refuse. If nothing else, it would help us get psyched up for our cruise, a wine glass firmly and resolutely in hand.

Sometime in August, an article appeared in the Jerusalem Post, written no doubt by some bright young thing hoping to win the Israeli version (if there is one) of a Pulitzer Prize. He (or she, I don’t remember) did a heavy pan job on the Wine Festival: it was becoming too expensive, it was too crowded, the wines weren’t so good, a lot of wineries, especially the smaller ones, don’t participate, etc. He (or she) interviewed this person and that person, none of whom were going to go this year, and so on.

My take on things: assuming you have the requisite discretionary income, you can do a lot worse than spend it on wine. If you get to the Festival early enough in the evening, you can beat the crowds. Even if all the wineries aren’t there, and even if the wines on display aren’t always the cream of the crop, what’s not to like? You get to walk around the grounds of the museum in the cool of a late summer evening, filling your goblet with offerings that range from decent to pretty good. I have always left in a better frame of mind than when I came.

So, ignoring the negative advice, I purchased four tickets on-line, and at a little past six, the four of us were there at the Israel Museum, waiting to get in. Because of Barbara L’s mobility issues, it took us a while to get where we needed to go, at which point Barbara L. and (my) Barbara headed to a set of seats, leaving Richard and me to run around and bring them back various samples of what was available. Yes, that slowed us down some, but never fear, gentle reader, we got the job done. And what was wonderful, every other time we returned with a new splash of wine, there were different people sitting opposite the two Barbaras, with an entirely different wonderful conversation going on. None of which distracted me from my primary mission: keep filling those glasses! And this year, I am happy to report, there was a lot of good wine on hand. Most of the thirty or so wineries who were there made a good faith effort to bring something eminently respectable to offer the customers, the only exception being the Dalton winery, which brought only their least expensive wine, known in the trade as “supermarket” wine. I, of course, gave them hell for that, but what can you do? (More on this topic much, much later!) By unanimous decision, the best wine available was the red from Jacques Capsouto. If you ever see this label, grab it!

As the evening wore on, the place got more and more crowded – as it always does. (I guess that most of these folks hadn’t read the gloomy prognosis in the JPost.) There comes a point when a) there are too many smiling, slightly tipsy people blocking your way to any remaining booths you haven’t been to, and b) it doesn’t matter anyway, because you’ve had all the wine you can possibly drink – assuming you intend to find your way home. Time to fold your tents and head on back, carefully carrying the wine goblets you had been using all evening.

There’s an old saying that I just made up: Spirits in the evening, coffee in the morning. In this case, if it’s the Wine Festival Thurs. eve, then it’s the Waffle Bar for breakfast Fri. morning. Again, you have to get there early; otherwise, you’re fighting for a table (and the waitperson’s attention) with a significant portion of Ma’ale Adumim – and there’s no fun in that. But with a hearty breakfast and the requisite amount of caffeine under my belt, I was ready to spend the next few hours cooking up a storm. We had a lovely Fri. night dinner, sampling several kinds of rosé with additional friends and engaging in our usual witty repartee.

Shabbat is supposed to go according to schedule: I get up early, head out to the Mishnah shiur, stay for davening, beat a hasty retreat back to our apartment for a proper kiddush with a few friends, have lunch, take a nap, etc. Except that this Shabbat we had an intruder. We were finishing lunch, and Natania (home for the occasion) was putting some stuff away in the kitchen. She opened a drawer, only to see the tail and rear end of some form of rodent scampering away. Having spent the last year doing unspeakable things to mice, Natania can be trusted when she insisted that what she saw was no mouse: a rat maybe, or a vole. The Levines know all about voles; they’ve had them up in Har Halutz. They (the voles) will eat almost anything, and they love to chew through plastic tubing. Nothing we can do. It’s Shabbat afternoon and we’re leaving crack of dawn Sunday. No time to call anybody for help.

Great! Just one more thing to worry about. We were still dealing with the leak in our balcony going down into our neighbor’s apartment (I’ve to date spared you the gory details of this six year effort). We were leaving, trusting our contractor to do what he needed to while we were gone. We were leaving Pooms, our reclusive cat, and Lucky, our super-energizer kitten, to co-exist with no one to referee – save the daily visit by a teen-age care-taker. Now there would also be some random rodent hanging out in our drawers (silverware!). Well, we’re leaving in a few short hours – come hell or high water. It will all have to wait until we get back to sort itself out. Let’s hope we’re more relaxed in eight days!

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