Zimmermania

'You're lucky,' she informs us while we're catching our breath on the way up a rocky path, 'because this week - actually, this year - there are no crowds, so we specially prepared the Wormwood Suite for you.'

"I blame the Israelis," says Tzia Yesusun angrily. "We have a spoiled nation here in Israel. People think only of themselves."

Tzia has many reasons to be angry. We are standing with her at the entrance to Moshav Pizdinyoch (Hole-in-the-Wall), a community that is in the process of being dismantled, which lies somewhere out there between the intersection of the Syrian-African rift and the desert. The temperature in the summer reaches 45 degrees Centigrade here; the landscape is not exactly anything to write home about, unless your home is in Alaska and your laptop hasn't melted yet in the heat: There are endless expanses of barren, rocky ground, here and there a low-lying tamarisk and a bramble rolling around in the hot wind, and everything is shimmering in the heat.

"But that's exactly the point! The entire concept of the zimmer is based on the element of heating!" says Tzia, her dry, cracked lips splitting, "but go talk to people for whom 'zimmer' (bed & breakfast) is only something in the Galilee - something 'European' with greenery and water, and herbs, and parsley and God knows what. But why should a zimmer only be something northern? I blame the education in Israel for that. The education and Buji."

"Buji?"

"Yes, Buji, Buji."

"Buji Herzog [Isaac Herzog, welfare minister and former tourism minister]? How is he connected to the issue?"

"I don't know. But that's the only name of a politician that I can pronounce in this heat, and with my lips in this condition."

The Yesusun Midbar Ve'Tzia (May the Desert and the Wasteland Rejoice) zimmer, which is run by Midbar (Desert) and Tzia (Wasteland) Yesusun (Zimmerman), is one of those places that people in the know and connoisseurs spread the news about. Who hasn't heard, for example, about the natural skin-peeling one experiences automatically after a one-day stay at the site? And who doesn't know the story of the Sudanese refugees, who happened upon the place and hurriedly returned to Africa because they couldn't stand the heat?

"Come! I'll show you the zimmer," says Tzia, insisting on lifting the equipment we brought and carrying it herself: duffel bags and backpacks loaded mainly with sunscreen.

"You're lucky," she informs us while we're still catching our breath behind her on the way up a rocky path, "because this week - actually, this year - there are no crowds, so we specially prepared the Wormwood Suite for you."

We reach a kind of shed planted diagonally on a rocky hillside, with a small bush fighting for its life in the front - wormwood, probably. The wind chimes hanging above the door might have chimed if there had been wind, but Tzia promises us that we will be able to enjoy that attraction if we come in October.

To anyone accustomed to the pampering of zimmers in the North - an apple on a plastic plate, a remote-control without a cover for the batteries, half a roll of toilet paper in the bathroom, a Jacuzzi deep enough for the soles of your feet, a trampoline double high-riser bed for the night - the Wormwood Suite may seem somewhat ascetic: a straw mattress, wooden walls that reveal the previous use of the place (a goat pen) and dry wet-wipes, as a substitute for a sink.

It takes a while to get used to the unique thinking of the Zimmermans, who decided "to go no-frills" and to realize the concept of the "fundamentalist zimmer," which happens to be the last word in the field. This trend has become very popular, for example, in the Dordogne region of France, where the rich are prepared to pay a fortune for a "bed & no breakfast" in an antique sink, which in the past served as a pissoir at a monastery.

But what shouts - actually, screams - from every corner in the Yesusun's establishment is modesty: In the suite itself, which as part of a special package deal costs NIS 1,500 per couple per night (all right, we'll make it NIS 150), you will be greeted by a large relief of wormwood made of matches, a work of art by Midbar Yesusun. On the windowsill is a wormwood branch in a jar, and when using the bucket and hose outside, you will be able to wash with special laundry soap made of wormwood, which is locally produced. A candle that gives off an aroma of wormwood will soothe you in the evening, and anyone who hasn't tasted the home-made wormwood preserves served in a basket of wormwood leaves, has never experienced bitterness.

For an additional NIS 135 (which they will pay you), you will also be able to enjoy both the host couple's company and piping-hot wormwood tea, which is uncomparable when it comes to preventing the accumulation of ear wax. If they like you, they will also pamper you in the morning with the specialty of the house: a refreshing wormwood omelet.

The page with the picture of wormwood that greets those entering the zimmer explains the local attractions: the wilderness park, which allows for romantic trysts; meteorite shower observations (only in mid-August, and only one meteorite per weekend); as well as special treatments and indulgences administered by the couple, together or separately: healing, peeling, mingling and reading the sole of your foot.

"And what about the dry sauna promised on the page?" we ask.

A smile cracks Tzia's lips. "It's right in front of you," she says, stretching her hands toward the open spaces.

In the evening - on a rug braided from wormwood branches - we also get to know Midbar Yesusun: a bitter and dry man in his worst years, on whom the toll taken by erosion is evident. We enjoy the show that the two provide for the guests: Tzia plays madrigals of her own composition on a rababa - a Bedouin stringed instrument, perhaps a violin that she constructed herself from a gourd - and her husband provides a performance of curses against the "generation of the governments of Mapai" (the forerunner of the Labor Party) in three languages: Arabic, Russian and Hebrew.

"What haven't we tried in order to subsist here, in Pizdinyoch," asked Yesusun rhetorically, to the discordant strains of the rababa. "We began with agriculture, but everything wilted and died; we went over to growing pullets (as they call chickens now) - but they got roasted from the heat and became oven-grilled even before laying a single egg. We tried to raise a gobex - a combination of goat and ibex - for riding, but it fled to Jordan with a tourist from Uruguay. And we even tried to build a cactus farm here, but it is apparently not profitable to waste the hottest tourist season pulling thorns out of children's hands.

"In short," continues Yesusun, chewing a mixture of wormwood leaves, "in the end we had the idea of the zimmer. Why only in the Galilee? And why should you travel to London-Shmondon, when you actually have everything here?"

"It's unbelievable, what people demand today," says Tzia, joining in. "I blame the zimmer owners from the Galilee and the hotels abroad who have accustomed people to pampering: They enter the zimmer and immediately want to wash their hands and face, and with water yet."

But the Yesusuns have good news. It turns out that there is no limit to the inventiveness of the tourist industry, and beginning in October - and, in any case, after the end of the dry-lips season - a new line of healthful, pampering treatments will be on offer at the site: As part of a "dental experience without instruments," Yesusun will remove plaque from the guests' teeth and Tzia will be in charge of the suction.

"That, for example, is an attraction you don't have in the Galilee, or even on the French Riviera," says Yesusun. And we are forced to agree: So, snob, have you been in Pizdinyoch yet?