Israeli farmer remixes ancient scents near Dead Sea

Erlich sells his products from his farm. (AFP)
Updated 24 August 2019
0

Israeli farmer remixes ancient scents near Dead Sea

  • He claims to have re-created a scent that Cleopatra may have dabbed on her skin
  • “Everything produced in the settlements is illegal”

ALMOG, Palestinian Territories: At his farm near the Dead Sea in occupied Palestinian territory, Israeli Guy Erlich remixes blends of perfume and incense that he believes were used by royalty in the biblical era.
He claims to have re-created a scent that Cleopatra may have dabbed on her skin and oils that anointed ancient Jewish kings.
With a passion for ancient plants, Erlich set out in 2008 to try to grow them himself to turn into fragrances and other products, on a small hill in the West Bank, near the Israeli settlement of Almog.
He now cultivates around 60 biblical plants, from which he creates creams, perfumes, soap and honey, and attracts tourists who come to learn about the rare plants and take in their scents.
Erlich, 48, dreams of bringing back into widespread circulation the balm of Gilead, used medicinally during the ancient Roman era and referenced in the Bible.
He’s even named his farm after it.
The balm is thought to have been used by the ancient Greek physician, Galen, to heal infections and wounds, he says.
He mentions Jewish teachings from the Talmud and Christian sources that name it.
A farmer before making a job out of his fascination for biblical agriculture — some of which has long disappeared — Erlich says he has read everything he can find on the subject.
Elaine Solowey, a desert agriculture specialist at Israel’s Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, helped him to identify some of his plants.
Speaking to AFP, she said that she could not say for sure if Erlich’s plants were those found in biblical times since more research was necessary.
“The species produced by Mr.Erlich are probably those cultivated in the region during antiquity, but we can’t be certain,” Solowey said.
“Many plant species mentioned in the Bible have disappeared and it is vital that we figure out how to study the subject,” she said, adding that more funding was needed.
Erlich makes honey with the flowers of Boswellia trees that yield frankincense — one of the offerings to the baby Jesus in the Bible’s New Testament.
The trees grow in places like Somalia, Yemen, Ethiopia and Oman but Erlich has planted them at his Balm of Gilead Farm.
For now, the small leafed species takes up only a limited part of his farm, but the honey he produces sells at a premium price: $1,000 (900 euros) per kilogram.
The farm is currently quite spartan and he hopes in time to be able to develop his tourist center, a simple, wooden structure that shields visitors from the sun next to his fields.
Wearing boots and a large hat, he explains to visitors the story behind each plant and its name.
Erlich is seeking to attract investors but says it is difficult since his farm is in occupied territory.
For Palestinians, his work has more than a whiff of controversy, given the location of the farm.
Abdallah Abu Rahma, a Palestinian Authority official who monitors Israeli settlements, was unequivocal when asked about the project.
“Everything produced in the settlements is illegal,” he said. “That’s why we call for a boycott of such products.”
Settlement expansion has accelerated under Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a policy that detractors say reduces the chances of a two-state solution to the Jewish nation’s conflict with the Palestinians.
But Erlich is undeterred.
Noting the ancient Egyptians’ use of fragrances and the possibility that several of the plants he grows were used at that time, he advertises his perfume as a type used by Cleopatra.
“Offer your wife Cleopatra’s perfume, the fragrances of antiquity, the scents of Rome,” he tells visitors.
Erlich also claims to have re-created fragrances used at the time of the two biblical-era Jewish temples, the first destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 BC and the second by the Romans in 70 AD.
“On your right hand, you have the scent of the first temple, on the left hand the second temple, and if you rub them against each other, you will smell the incense that will be burned in the third temple,” Erlich said.
According to Jewish tradition, the third temple will be built when the Messiah comes.
Erlich sells his products from his farm.
He has so far sold four kilos (8.8 pounds) of his frankincense honey in 30-gram (one-ounce) bottles and hopes to increase production.
Visitors can also buy a five-milliliter (0.2 ounce) bottle of fragrance for 100 shekels ($29, 26 euros).
“These products have a history, a specificity,” he said. “They are unique.”


Celine Dion returns to Canada to kick off world tour

Updated 19 September 2019

Celine Dion returns to Canada to kick off world tour

  • The Grammy winner also recently announced the release of a new album titled “Courage”
  • She said in April that she felt motivated to create new music and hit the road after the 2016 death of her husband and manager

QUEBEC CITY: After living and crooning for years in Las Vegas, French-Canadian superstar Celine Dion returned home to Quebec to kick off her first world tour in a decade on Wednesday.
At 51, the Grammy winner also recently announced the release of a new album titled “Courage,” which will be her 12th in English and is due out on November 15.
The first single “Flying On My Own,” featuring her powerful vocals backed by techno beats, has already hit the airwaves, while three more dropped Wednesday: “Courage,” “Lying Down” and “Imperfections.”
Known for her blockbuster ballads, Dion said in April that she felt motivated to create new music and hit the road after the 2016 death of her husband and manager Rene Angelil.
“When I lost Rene, he wanted me back on stage. He wanted to make sure I was still practicing my passion,” she said. “I wanted to prove to him that I’m fine, we’re fine, we’re going to be OK. I’ve got this.”
So, after more than 1,140 concerts for 4.5 million fans over 16 years in Sin City, she bid adieu to the Colosseum at Caesars Palace with a final two-hour show.
“Courage is exactly the way I feel,” she told public broadcaster CBC at the time, talking up the upcoming tour of the same name.
“In the past three years, it has been difficult for me to talk to my children, to raise them, to lose my husband, wondering am I going to sing again... so much has happened, but at the same time I feel that I’m in control of my life.”
Some 60 dates in North American have been confirmed so far, her label said, with two arena shows in Quebec City on Wednesday and Saturday kicking off the tour, which will run through April 2020, and will be her first world tour since 2008-2009.
Her show was almost two hours of mastery, as she performed some of her greatest hits — from “I’m Alive” to “My Heart Will Go On” — as well as new material to an ecstatic crowd of roughly 20,000.
“It was really impossible to miss Celine at home,” Nicolas Delivre, a French university exchange student in Montreal, told AFP.
Donald Berard, from Quebec City, said he had grown up listening to Dion. “We love her like a member of our family.”
“Courage” marks the first album and tour in Dion’s long career without Angelil, who steered her success beginning in 1981 when he mortgaged his house to finance the young teen’s debut album.
The pair began a personal relationship in 1988 when she was only 19 years old, and married in a lavish ceremony in 1994. Angelil died of throat cancer at age 73.
In an interview with NBC’s Today show, Dion revealed that she longs for the hugs and laughs that come with a relationship, but added, “I’m not ready to date.”
The youngest of a family of 14 children raised in the suburbs of Montreal, Dion has sold 250 million copies of 23 studio albums in English and French, including collaborations with French singer-songwriter Jean-Jacques Goldman, Barbra Streisand and Stevie Wonder.
Back in Canada, she told the Montreal Gazette that the tour schedule was “a little crazy,” but that she had found time in advance to take in life’s small pleasures.
At a press junket last Friday, Dion told Radio-Canada: “There are good wines that age well, and there are good wines that age badly. I hope to be a good bottle of wine.”
“I’m not a new Celine,” Dion added. “I’m a continuity of myself.”