( thoughts )
Like I said, somewhat rambly and not very coherent thoughts. This probably ought to've been several posts, really, but let's see what people think.
( what I did on my holidays )
The thing is that all the stressful work stuff I had piling up before I went away still needs doing, only now it has a short deadline (some stuff by the end of this week, a whole heap by the end of June). So of course I'm procrastinating by writing long DW posts instead of getting on with it. I do feel refreshed after a really good holiday, yes, but this is somewhat diminished by the fact that I still have no gas or hot water at home. The engineer came out today; I had hoped that he would confirm that this incident was just a false alarm and reconnect everything. But no, it turns out there actually is a gas leak, somewhere in the pipework inside the walls, not at the meter, boiler or hob. A small gas leak, but any gas leak is kind of terrible news! I can't quite tell if he's just doing that dishonest trader thing of sucking his teeth and inventing a dire-sounding problem in order to get more money, but I don't have any real reason to think that's what's going on. He's promised to come back on Wednesday to fit a new pipe, and assures me that it doesn't require any really major structural work. So this is extremely annoying and likely to be expensive (especially after a rather pricier holiday than I usually indulge in), but at least it's annoying and expensive rather than actually, you know, deadly. I'm safe now, as the gas is still shut off, but no idea how long I've been living with potentially explosive gas diffusing into my house.
On our way yesterday to an exhibition at the Pergamon Museum about Uruk, the first major metropolis in the world (it's 5000 years old), aviva_m and I stopped off at a flea market where I got
A little bit of German history, mine to keep.* It cost me €2.
* In case anyone doesn't know the background: in 1923, impatient at German's slow delivery of World War I reparations, French troops occupied the Ruhr, Germany's industrial heartland, and the country's currency went into hyperinflation, until eventually a new chancellor (Stresemann) was appointed, who brought it under control. It was during this period that the Nazis gained their first surge in popularity.
I chose this banknote because it's pretty and I like blackletter, but, by the end of hyperinflation, 20,000 Marks would not have bought you a penny chew; so I also got (for slightly more) a 500,000,000 Mark note, which would not have sufficed to buy me a loaf of bread at the time:
There were also banknotes going for substantially higher values, too, measured in milliards (thousand millions), and also overstamped banknotes, from when the currency was rising so fast it was no longer worthwhile to design and issue new notes, the mint just printed new values over the top of old notes; but these cost considerably more (up to €90). Already by the time the 500M Mark note was issued, it seems they'd given up printing both sides of the paper (though the use of watermarked paper suggests to me what I've got is the real thing and not a fake).
According to Wikipedia, the highest value banknote issued during this period was what the Germans called (as the British still did when I was growing up) 100 billion Mark; nowadays this would be called 100 trillion. I can't bring myself to abuse the number system in this way; since I can't use the old British use any longer, I'll settle for 1014 Mark instead.
As an aside, did you know that a thousand years ago, the term "mark" could be used to describe English currency? It meant two thirds of a pound.
So, where is Balaam from? "The river of the land of the children of his people" doesn't really tell us anything! According to tradition, Balaam came from Mesopotamia, and indeed there is a Pitru in northern Syria, with which Pethor has been identified (TH as an allophone of ת is a phenomenon restricted to the Canaanite languages, hence lacking in Akkadian/Assyrian, and -u is a nominative ending, which had been lost by the time of Biblical Hebrew).
However, the Samaritan Torah, by adding a single letter (ן) completely changes the picture:
[Balak] sent messengers to Balaam the son of Beor to Pethor, which is by the river of the land of the Ammonites, to call him, saying, "Behold, there is a people come out from Egypt, and lo, they cover the face of the earth, and they abide over against me." וַיִּשְׁלַח מַלְאָכִים אֶל־בִּלְעָם בֶּן־בְּעֹר פְּתֹרָה אֲשֶׁר עַל־הַנָּהָר אֶרֶץ בְּנֵי־עַמוֹן לִקְרֹא־לוֹ לֵאמֹר הֵן עַם יָצָא מִמִּצְרַיִם והִנֵּה כִסָּה אֶת־עֵין הָאָרֶץ וְהוּא יֹשֵׁב מִמּוּלִי׃
This makes more sense: Balak was king of Moab; it's much more likely he'd send to Ammon, the neighbouring kingdom, to find someone to curse the Israelites, than all the way to Pitru, 350 miles away:( View map )
Into this fray, however, comes one more fascinating piece of evidence. It turns out that there's extra-Biblical evidence of Balaam: the Deir `Alla inscription, discovered in 1967 in Jordan, and dated to ca. 840–760 BCE:
Here's the translation of it on Wikipedia:
( Read more... )
Deir `Alla is in Gilead; it's about ten miles away from the Ammon border on the above map (and over three hundred from Pitru). One more piece of evidence in favour of Balaam coming from Ammon, not from northern Mesopotamia.( Other things in פַּרְשַׁת בָּלָק )
Whilst I was in Johannesburg, I hired a car and drove to the Sterkfontein Caves, which are in an area called the Cradle of Mankind, where a large number of important hominid fossils have been found. There was actually little to see in the caves; even the skeleton being excavated at the present (which may turn out to be significant—we can't tell until it's fully excavated) was inaccessible behind a locked gate with barbed wire on top to deter fossil thieves. Actually, I had rather suspected as much. But I was pleased to have been able to be there, anyway. There were a lot of fossil remains in the museum, but no indication of which were real and which replicas. I know at least one was real, which had little numbers written on it—I doubt they'd have done that for a replica—and two were fake—both replicas of the Taung child skull, the original of which I'd heard the guide say was in the Civic Museum in Pretoria—but have no idea how the rest divided between them.
I also learned a cool new interesting fact, which is that Paranthropus bosei (which I first learned about in the mid-eighties from Richard Leakey's book The Making of Mankind, which is what put me onto palaeoanthropology in the first place) had a crest along the top of its skull for its huge jaw muscles to attach onto.
Right, that's the end of my pre-composed trip reports: I'd forgotten I'd got rid of my laptop after my first three days there—sent it back to work so I didn't have to shlep it around the country. Let's see if I can motivate myself to put a little time into composing further reports.
So, a few weeks ago I had started to write up some freeform musings to post about my life and what I was going to do with it, since, as justom and I are giving up on the idea of our relationship as primary, it opens up a sort of vast panorama of how to shape the next steps or phase of my life.
Interestingly, though, I find that a bunch of the ideas that I started knocking around have already sort of resolved themselves in the meantime.
( life logistics: moving )
( personal enrichment: Russian )
( personal enrichment: music )
I don't know who my mischievous angel in the Brandeis Alumni office is, but they clearly looked down, saw us living 2 miles apart and said, "You know what would be a kick in the head? Let's send Erica to Ridgewood B, suite 440."
There are more topics to ponder on the life-expansion front (e.g., work thoughts, possible travel plans, other underdeveloped areas for fun and personal growth), but I feel like this is enough richness to be going on with.
The bad news is, I do NOT think I can plan to come to Boston the weekend of the 22nd/23rd. Sorry, gang. Too much complexity, and I feel we're likely to need that time to view apartments.
I did, however, sign up definitely for the G&S Sing-Out in Rockville, MD, over Labor Day. :-)
I'm writing this offline sitting outside the SABC on my first day in Johannesburg, waiting for my work-provided driver, Gift (his car has stripes like a zebra) to come and pick me up to take me to the Apartheid Museum (if he can get there with sufficient time before it shuts!). He says he'll be twenty minutes, so I thought I'd make use of the time to write a brief report, given that this evening I'm going to want an early night.
The reason I want an early night? I sleep on my front. I can manage brief daytime naps on my back or my side, but not for a portracted period of time—and I spent last night in an aeroplane seat that didn't tilt back an appreciable amount, certainly not enough to allow me to sleep on my front.
It's nice and warm and sunny here, about 23°. Unfortunately, it's forecast to cloud over and drop to 17° after Wednesday afternoon—i.e. it'll only stay nice whilst I'm cooped up indoors [in a windowless office, to booy] working. Still, maybe it'll turn nice again afterward. [Turns out the north of the country has a dry-winter wet-summer climate, the south of the country the other way around. Since I was there at the turning of the seasons, I got rained upon, but also had good weather in both places.] I've brought my star chart with me, and am looking forward to seeing the night sights of the southern hemisphere—the Milky Way at its most impressive, the Magellanic Clouds, the "Coalsack", Alpha Centauri (the nearest bright star to Earth). I'd hoped to get good viewing when I'm on my safari, away from the city, but I might try my luck within the hotel here in case the next couple of nights are the last clear skies I get. [The skies of the southern hemisphere turned out to be a little disappointing to the naked eye, though I did get to see everything listed above apart from the Lesser Magellanic Cloud. I did try doing some star photography with my camera, but, without a tripod, I couldn't really point the camera steadily at interesting bits of sky for long enough exposures—though I was surprised to discover sixty seconds was enough to result in colourful star trails, due to the rotation of the Earth.]
I did, in the end, just about manage to make it to the Apartheid Museum, but wasn't able to see the lot: Gift didn't get my text until half an hour after I sent it; and when I called him up after fifteen minutes, he was twenty minutes' drive away. I should have cancelled and called a taxi, but someone had told me the museum only takes twenty minutes to see. [I spent an hour there, and saw half of the museum. I asked a later tour guide where else I should go in Johannesburg, and he said whatever I wanted to learn more about, I could learn more about at the Apartheid Museum, so I went back, where, I reported on the twelfth, I] spent a further three hours there. I was not surprised to see a panel in the display about my distant relative Benjamin Pogrund, but I was flabbergasted to see a photograph of Jesmond Blumenfeld, a man I've met. (He's the father of Rebecca Blumenfeld, whom I was friends with at Marom, and who is now in New York training to be a cantor.) I'd got no idea he was involved in the struggle against apartheid. The photo was of the last meeting of the Liberal Party before it was banned.
One thing I've realised was missing from my Pretoria tour yesterday was a look at the outside of the grand old building that started life as a shul but by the 1950s was the location of the courthouse where Mandela had his first trial. Ah well; it was only a half-day tour; there wasn't time for everything.
I'm also uncertain what to do about my photographs. bluepork asked me why I didn't just put them up on a photo sharing website. I replied:
Well, firstly because I've always been a bit paranoid about putting content up on services whose terms and conditions include some degreeSince then I began to think that maybe I was being excessively paranoid—nobody's going to be interested in pirating my holiday photos—and then Flickr made some changes which got everyone railing against it, and firmed up my determination not to use it. So, unless anyone makes a better suggestion, these trip reports will start off text-only, or using such images as I can already find on t'Internet.
of surrendering control (i.e. that they can reuse them without your permission). Possibly Google+ doesn't do that; Facebook certainly did when I checked it out some years ago, which is why if you look closely at my original Facebook profile photo, you'll see I've put a digital watermark on it, and I went off Flickr when it got taken over by Yahoo!* and the T&Cs changed to Yahoo!'s exploitative ones.
* The ISP named after a pejorative word for "human being" used by horses in Gulliver's Travels.
Secondly, because that would mean typing up long captions, as the photos require decent explanations: It took a couple of hours to go through my photos with aviva_m, and when my mother agreed to give me half an hour of her time, I don't think she was upset that she only got quarter of the way through.
And finally, because I've got
1.5Gb808Mb of photos from South Africa, and I've got better things to do with my bandwidth than devote all day to uploading holiday photos.
Anyhow, South Africa. Quite a country of contrasts. On the one hand there's such poverty (the unemployment rate is around one in four) that you find people standing in the middle of road junctions begging from passing cars and trying not to get run over; on the other, I initially stayed (whilst my work was paying for my accommodation) in a four-star hotel in Johannesburg with its own golf course. Such places would exist anywhere, I suppose, but here road access to the entire area is controlled, behind booms raised manually by security staff. And every middle class home was surrounded by a tall fence or wire with, more often than not, several lines of electrified wire on top of it. (I knew to expect this from South Africa expats I've known in London.)
At the SABC, where I was working, every laptop had to get signed into and out of the building, with its make and serial number being noted: Apparently two laptops had been stolen from within the office of the department where I was working. (They also had fingerprint recognition to open the doors, something which, though not new, impressed me as I hadn't seen it before.)
I was quite worried about the security situation there, until I talked to snjstar's parents a few days before I went, who were over here (in Blighty) for a visit. They said the degree of danger had been hyped up by the British media, and that I would be safe walking around the place by daylight. I said I hadn't got the impression the country was safe from expats I've known here. They replied that they were trying to justify why they've left the country. Thinking about descriptions of life in Manchester from Mancunian Jews living in London versus those who had remained in Manchester, I could believe that. And in reality, I was neither mugged nor car-jacked when I was there. (Though the advice to climb Table Mountain in groups of at least four was, it seems, more to deter muggings than in case one person ran into danger on the ascent.)
In general, my perception of the country is that it's a mess, but it's less of a mess than it's been beforehand, and at least now it's a free and democratic mess.
If I continue to post trip reports of this sort of length, would once a day be too often for people to be bothered to read them?
But no, I still haven't sat down and started noodling around with the ukulele. :-)
I'm now arrived—thanks to the gods!Tee-hee. :o)
Thro' pathways rough and muddy,
A certain sign that makin roads
Is no this people's study:
Altho' I'm not wi' Scripture cram'd,
I'm sure the Bible says
That heedless sinners shall be damn'd,
Unless they mend their ways.
Questions from an artist who writes blessings and creates art around them.
Q:“Am I allowed to draw over the letters, including Hashem’s name if you can see them underneath?”
A:How you treat Hashem’s name is a metaphor for how you treat Hashem. How literally Jews take metaphors roughly depends on where they fall on the denominational spectrum. Thus some (most) Jews would say that painting transparent watercolour over a Divine Name is fine if it contributes to making it beautiful, but a few would think it inappropriate. Without knowing you personally I cannot say how you should feel about all that.
Q: “If I make a mistake and the writing is not legible anymore, do I need to bury it?”
A:If a text is damaged but contains legible Divine Names it is proper to bury it because it is improper to dispose of Divine Names in any other way. If you made the Name itself illegible by making the mistake, such as spilling opaque paint onto it, opinions vary since the Name has already been destroyed, but you should probably go to the extra effort of burying it, to teach you to be more careful next time.
Q:“I use canvas, is that ok?”
A:Okay, look, there is an opinion that says you aren’t allowed to write verses from Tanakh on anything except kosher parchment, with anything except kosher ink, in anything less than book-length amounts. There is also an opinion that says someone who writes down blessings is like someone who burns the Torah (כותבי ברכות כשורפי תורהת Shabbat 115b). The vast, vast majority of Jews do not abide by these opinions.* I assume you are among them since you create blessing art on printed material. In that case, obviously it is fine to use canvas; canvas is a respectable art material. I wouldn’t suggest you go all “Piss Christ” because ugh, and I personally think it would be weird to write blessings on parchment made from pigskin, for instance, but basically there are no rules about this beyond “Don’t do it.”
* Even very frum ones. They too use prayerbooks, for instance. I might talk about that at some later time.
Mirrored from hasoferet.com.
For some of my readers, the picture will speak for itself. For others, here's the explanation: In many synagogues, especially Sephardi ones, you will see a plaque reading שִׁוִּיתִי ה׳ לְנֶגְדִּי תָּמִיד "I have set the Lord before me always" (Psalms 16:8). That's very nice for those who are capable of such piety. For me it would be more like the picture above, where the last word, in the insert, currently reads "sometimes".
(Note: This is a partial mock-up; I would not write the Tetragrammaton out for real for something as frivolous as this.)
1) Make a list of fifteen characters first, and keep it to yourself for the moment. (That way you're not leading the questions asked to fit the characters.)
2) Ask your flist to post questions in the comments.
'One, Nine and Fifteen move in together. Is this a really bad idea?'
'Under what circumstances might Five and Seven fall in love?'
'What would Two experience in Silent Hill?'
'Why is Eight so very, very angry?'
'Write a drabble in which Three and Eleven FIGHT CRIME.' (...possibly not technically a question.)
3) After your flist has asked enough questions, round them up and answer them using the fifteen characters you selected beforehand, then post them.