Friday, December 12, 2014

Elmallah, Bouk 3, Image 5

About 2 weeks ago, on Nov. 29, I posted some preliminary images I was creating for the fifth image in my latest ebook now in production: The Song ov Elmallahz Kumming, Bouk 3. The image illustrates Dumuzee's servant betraying him to jackel-headed invaders. The two stanzas describing the scene can be found here:

At the time that I created the images in the previous post, working from Assyrian bas reliefs, I assumed I'd use the following image (in one form or another) for Dumuzee. It is a Sumerian bas relief of the god Enki. I had already begun working on it, as is obvious:

However, I then came across a remarkable wall carving from the Assyrian obelisk of Shalmaneser, showing King Jehu of Israel bowing to Shalmaneser. I decided to take some liberties with the Elmallah text (in the poem the servant is not described as bowing to the invaders), and use this detail from the obelisk for my servant. Here he is:

Merging the dogs into this image wasn't so easy, as the colors and backgrounds were not originally compatible. Hammer and chisel; chisel and hammer. I then chiseled in some cuneiform text (sure wish the soft clay hadn't hardened into limestone...), put on a little border of semi-precious stones, and here's how it turned out. Actually the original image is a png about 5mb and 2000x1200 pixels, but to post it here, I had to reduce it to a jpeg, 800x250, which still doesn't fit on this page. Click the image to view it:

Sunday, December 07, 2014

The Eternal Jew, beginning of the Crusades

Here’s a new scene, my pen still smoking, for my poem The Atternen Juez Talen.

This post embodies a new modality for me. Usually I present the poetry in my standard voice, MetaEnglish (or more affectionately, stevetok). Then I present a standard English (“oel Eenglish”) version, also in verse. For the first time I am instead presenting 1) a prose version 2) in standard English 3) first, and then the MetaEnglish poetic version. The prose version is totally accessible, and perhaps it will inspire the intrepid among you to forge on into the MetaEnglish version.

Please realize, tho: MetaEnglish is like a higher dimensional view of reality. As with any reduction in dimensionality in a system, the gain in accessibility will come at the cost of 1) lost information, and more critically, 2) lost context/connections. What remains is, I hope, an amusing and historically viable tale.

Some background: This scene takes place at the beginning of the First Crusade, as armies are just amassing in Northern France and the western German states. Our hero, the Eternal Jew, has been ordered to accompany Godfrey of Bouillon as a translator. Bouillon himself has just joined forces with the infamous Count Emicho (a temporary alliance, as it turns out, and as such, not out of the realm of historical possibility).

As derived from Jeremy Cohen’s book Living Letters of the Law, a new and virulent form of anti-Semitism was arising in Europe about the same time that war with the Muslim world was beginning to percolate in Europe. Christian competition with Judaism had long taken the form of distortion and defamation, and when politically feasible, oppression, but now we see a hatred emerging that would lead to a millennium of ethnic cleansing and genocide.


Oel Eenglish, proze verzhen:

When Emicho heard there was a Jew in the train, he shouted a line he repeated so much his men started to call him ‘Knees and Humps’:
    “No need of our humping a thousand miles to find and wipe out infidels. There’s plenty of Jews right here in our midst.”
Then he sent a sergeant to cut me down. (The word of his coming outstripped his feet; otherwise a different axis would have twisted this tale.)

Up swaggered a cutthroat, ax in his hand. The hair on his head and the bush of his face were dense and matted like a billy goat’s. With a foreign accent that I knew well, he threatened the cooks and the clean-up boys.
    “Where’s that little snipe of a Jew, that cowardly dog what hides in his house defyin’ the order of popes and kings, and refusin’ to convert to the true faith. Where’s that weak and ugly gimp, that seduces our girls and wives. Show me that womanly beggar of a guy who wastes all day just readin’ his books, those magic verses and devilish prayers to switch our gold into rotten beets while he fills his purse with the coin he steals. I’ll pluck his stony heart from his chest.”

Standing up on the cook’s cart waving a knife of my own, I said,
    “You’re talking ’bout two Jews. Which one you want?”

That put his little mind in a stir – a Jew talkin’ back with a knife in his hand. And what’s this talk of more than one Jew? He looked around to assay the turf  -- who would spin with him, and who would resist, and who was just edging into the bush. But no one was moving; just staring at him. Still more confused, his mouth agape, he sputtered like thief with a chicken in his hand.
    “Where?... two Jews?... anyone seen?... What are you starin’?... Emicho says...”

     “You’re talkin’ ‘bout two Jews, one is God and one is a devil. You wanna kill God? Or you wanna look in satan’s eyes and be swallowed up like a beaker of beer?”

    “What do you mean?? No Jew is God! And I weren’t talkin’ ‘bout two damn Jews. Just you! Come down so I can skin you alive.”

A snarl returned to his bushy face and he started toward my cart when a voice rang out,
    “Pedro, that one is a man of mine!”

Well, no one moved or said a word because Buyon (Godfrey of Bouillon) was sitting on his high horse just behind Pedro, watching this show like a circus event or a wrestling match, with an edge of danger, better to amuse.

    “Have you ever met a Jew before, Pedro? Let’s sit and talk with one.”
And there was Pedro, shock and fear overlaying his anger, his hate, his posture of courage, and his bullying soul, like he’d just been told by the pope himself to kneel and serve old Beelzebub.

Buyon called for a pitcher of wine.
    “Tell me, my Jew, and don’t mislead like your nature inclines, like your fathers all teach. Tell me, who is this other Jew hiding in our camp? Is he spying on us?

    ‘These men are as dense as a pile a stones,’ I thought. ‘And now they’re digging a trench to throw me in and pile on that stone.’

Said I,
    “No sire, you misheard. I said that Pedro here seems to  think that there’s two of me. And not just an everyday Jew am I, but an angel with powers dreamy and  vast, and a devil, ugly, and meaner than an asp. Think about what he’s saying. Bat-faced me, unshapely and course, but all your girls come running to me. Trembly me, hiding in my house, but I have no fear of the king or the law. And lazy me, who has never worked -- I just read and pray and your gold comes my way. Sire, none of these things is true. I’m a God-fearing man, honest and straight.”

    “Hear that Pedro! An honest man! The only Jew that ever was. And we two sitting in Eden’s midst, happy as babes at nurse’s teats. We see one thing, hear one thing, and he just turns it inside out. Poof! Our memories disappear. Magic, Pedro. And he’s my Jew. He’s a knotty man, Pedro. Beware of him.”
And one last guzzle. The wine dribbled down through his grizzled beard, and he up and went.

No tellin’ what that was all about, but Pedro, he looked at me with many blinks, then tripped on a stool as he ran away.


Stevetok version

Wen Ummukko* eerz thaerz a Ju in the traen
            * oel Eenglish: Emicho
He showtenz a line he repeet so much
Hiz menz start a kawl himz ‘Neez an Humps’:
    “No need a humpenz uv a thowzen mile
    “Tu fine an wip owt infaddelz.
    “Thaerz plennee a Juwerz niy heer in ar mist.”
Then he send uv a sarjen tu kut me down.
The werden iz kummen owtstrippen a feets
Or a differn axxez wil twis this tale.

Up swaggern a kutthroet, ax in iz han;
The haeren iz hed an a boush for a fase
Dens an matten like a billee goet.
With a forren aksen az I knowen wel
He thretten the kouks az the kleen-up boyz.
    “Waerz that littel snipen a Ju,
    “That kowwerlee dog wut hiedz a-hows
    “An defiyen the order uv papen az keeng,
    “An refyuze a kunvert tu the truwen faet*.
            * eka d’omray: faeth
    “Ware iz at weeken uglee gimp,
    “Him that sedusen ar gerlzen wive.
    “Sho me that woumennee beggennes giy
    “Hu waesten awl dayz a reed uv him bouks,
    “Them majjek verzen a devvellee praerz
    “Tu swich ar goel intu rotten beets,
    “Wile he fil him persenz with iz koynee steel.
    “Iel pluk iz stanee harts uv iz ches.”

Stannen up on the kouks kart
Waven a nive a my oenz, I sez,
    “Yur toks abbowt tu2 Juez. Wich iz yur wonts?”

That pout iz littel mien in a ster --
    A Ju tokken bak with a niven iz han.
    An wuts this tok uv mor an wun Ju?
Hiz louken arrownz tu assay the terf  --
Hu iz spin with him, an huze a rezis,
An huze jes ejjen intu the boush.
But no wun iz a muve; jes starenz at him.
Stil mor kunfyuze, iz mow a-gape,
He sputter like theef with a chikken han.
    “Waer?... tu2 Juez?... enneewun seen?...
    “Wutter yur starenz?... Ummukko sez...”

     “Yur tokkenz bowt tu2 Juez, wun az God
    “An wun iz a devvel. Yu won a kil God?
    “Or yu wont a louk in satenz iy
    “An be swawlo up like a beeker a beerz?”

    “Wut a yu meenz?? No Ju iz God!
    “An I wern tokkenz bowt tu2 dam Juez.
    “Jes yu! Kum down for I skinz yu allive.”

Az a snarrel retern tu iz boushee fase
An he start tu my kart wen a vois reengen owt,
    “Paydro, that wun iz a man uv mien!”

Wel, no wun muev or sez a werd
Kawz Buyon* sittenz on hiz hi hors
            *Godfrey of Bouillon
Jes behien Paydro, wochen this sho
Like a serkus evvent or a resseller mach,
With an ejjee daenjer, better tu ammyuze.

    “Hav yu evver meet a Juez befor,
    “Paydro? Lets sit an tok uv wun.”
An thaerz Paydro, awl shock an feer
Overlayen iz aengerren hate
An hiz poscherren kerrij an bulleyen seel,
Like heez jes bin toel by the pape himsel
Tu neel an serv oel Beelzebub.

Buyon kawlz for a picher a wine.
    “Tel me, my Ju, an doen misleed
    “Like yur naecher inklienz, like yur fotherz awl teech.
    “Tel me, hu iz this uther Ju
    “A-hid in ar kampen? A spiyen uv us?

    ‘Theze menz az densen a pile a stane,’
I theenks. ‘An now thay dig uv a trench
    ‘Tu thro me inz an pile that stane.’
Sez I, “No siyer, yur a mis-herd.
    “I am the say that Paydro heer
    “Seemenz a theenk thaerz tu2 a meez.
    “An not jes evverday Juez I am
    “But a aenjel with powwerz dreemee vas,
    “An a devvel, uglee, an meener an asp.
    “Theenks abbow wuts in hiz say.
    “Bat-fase me, unshaepee an kors,
    “But awl yur gerlenz kum a-runnenz tu me.
    “Trembellee me, a-hid in my hows,
    “But I hav no feeren a keeng or law.
    “An lazee me, hu nevver az werkt --
    “I jes reedenz a pray an yur goel kum my way.
    “Siyer, nun uv this theeng iz truez.
    “Iem a god-feeree man, onnes az straet.”

    “Heer that Paydro! An onnes man!
    “The onee Ju wut evver wuz.
    “An we tu2 sittenz in Adenz mist
    “Happlee az baebz at a nersen teets.
    “We see wun theengz, heer wun theengz,
    “An he jes ternz it insiedz owt.
    “Poof! Ar memmerz ar a dissappeer.
    “Majjeks, Paydro. An heez my Ju.”
    “Heez a nottee man, Paydro. Be waerz a him.”
An wun las guzzelz. The wine dribbel down
Thru iz grizzel beerd, an he up an goez.

No talen wut that wuz awl abbow,
But Paydro, he louk at me with mennee a bleenk,
Then trips on a stool az iz run awway.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Conservation of an old prayerbook

Cindy Arnson asked me to repair a siddur (prayerbook) that belonged to her grandfather, Jacob Fishman (zt"l). A little over 100 years old, and probably a bar mitzvah gift to him, this siddur was once a beautiful book. It had a carved ivory front cover with inlaid brass decorations, and a plain ivory spine and back. The covers were rimmed with brass, and there was a brass clasp. It was now in pieces. Of most concern, it's covers and spine had broken off. The paper of the book body had become brittle and discolored, and a few were torn. One signature (sewn section of the book) had broken out. What to do??

The book could not be fully restored. The paper had deteriorated badly and that is a process that can't be reversed. The binding itself was still tolerably good, and the loose signature could easily be tipped in (glued back in place). The boards of the covers were also in bad condition, but to remove the ivory, inlaid brass, and brass rims would be a long, difficult process that could very well end badly. Especially problematical would be re-attaching the brass rims. At least one corner would have to be opened and then re-soldered after being re-fitted to the new board. Given that the book had no meaningful public value ($100; maybe $200), a 30-60 hour restoration at standard restoration rates would involve a cost of some number of thousands of dollars.  Like I said, what to do?

One reasonable answer would be to tread softly, and do 4 fairly simple things: document the book's condition before restoration, re-attach the covers and spine, tip in the loose signature, and then document the book's condition again. That's what I did.

I carefully photographed the book when it came into my shop, and I photographed the stages of restoration. I used those photos, along with descriptive and explanatory text, to make two pdf booklets, a before and after. Here are a few photos from those booklets:

Here's the book as it came into my shop, in a plexiglass box (a good way to store it).

The 4 pieces of the book, from top left: book body, ivory spine, ivory back cover, brass and ivory front cover. The brass rim and clasp are easy to see.

The back of the spine, with rotten paper and the remains of the old, original cloth cover (purple-ish).

Detail of front cover, showing brass rim pulled away from board.

Another view of the brass rim and board.

The clasp on the back cover.

The first step in restoration: clean the spine of old paper, glue, cloth, crud.

Here you can see the cloth flange (left side of book) attached to the spine, that will be used to re-attach the covers. In the center is a cloth tube to be attached to the spine so the book can flex when it opens. Waxed paper extending from the top and bottom of the tube assure that glue won't fuze the front of the tube to its back (thus disabling its tube function).

Attaching the tube to the spine using PVA glue. The blue material is latex, wrapped tightly around the book to assure steady pressure to all parts of the tube, given that the spine has an uneven surface. The bars are weights made of lead poured into square aluminum tubes (nice square edges, safer to work with, and less maleable than lead alone). Pencil gives a sense of size.

The book, completed.

Clasp works again.

Monday, December 01, 2014

A scene from The Atternen Juez Talen

The following excerpt comes from work in progress on my narrative poem The Atternen Juez Talen (The Tale of the Eternal Jew). The year is 1096 CE, and Sodya, the Eternal Jew has been invited to teach history at Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki's (Rashi's) yeshiva (school). Sodya is rather bemused by this, and enters into a little revery.

The excerpt here is presented first in MetaEnglish (Stevespell), and then in Old English (standard English). If you have trouble reading the MetaEnglish, scroll down and read the standard English version first. You'll find the MetaEnglish isn't really all that hard or strange, after all. 

Your feedback is always valued.


Me, Sodya, the Atternen Ju,
Shumaken, wonderren, jerneemen, kouk,
Messijjer, onvoy, advizen too.
Bekum a yeshever an teechennes saje.
In a werl a chaenjleengz, Iem a chaenjennes man.

Evvaddens! Thats wut my iyz wer seen.
Tern it an tern it intu histerree.
Yet hu iz the jujjenz az truwen the fals?

[deleted stanzas]

We maken histerreez az thay maken us
An remake histerreez az the remake uv us.
An weer kot like Zeno in iz infinnit redres
An blien az Ballom iz seet on iz as.

Now Iem a-poez tu teech a histerreez*.

                    * eka d’omray: memmerreez
So my startenz the teech with a fames kumpare*,
                     * eka d’omray: pare
‘It’s the fers a tiemz an the wersen tiemz.’
A talen tu(2) sitteez, Jerrusem an Rom.

Evverwun knowenz at Jerrusallem
Iz the senter the werl an the Throne a the Lor,
That Rom, them seezerz, ar enveyus uv.
So the rommen paeps, in thaer kompenstate,
Aklaem thay senterren the rejen* uv erth.
                     * eka d’omray: rejent

An evverwun knowenz the lammentes faets
Wen the rammen barbareyenz laed tu waes
The hevvennee wawlz uv the Throne the Lor:
Exxile for God an Ju unnallike.

So wen Iem a heer az Rammules iz seejd

For a yeerz, an fammen iz eeten them up
An Badwelah fienlee torz it down,
Jes like Jerrusallem, tor tu the grown,
My theenks* with a tinj uv bitten avvenj,
                     * eka d’omray: thaenks
    “Them Kristyenz wil sufferz a simmaller fade
    “Az us, wokkenz theze rokkee roedz,
    “A wunder az tiem run bakkerdz now,
    “Awway frum Adenz az awway frum the Lor.”

Waal, a duzzen seemz tu wok that wayz.
Wich tot me wel an soon ennuf,
Better tu louk in a merer yerselz
Than tern a merer on histerreez.
Ar simmatreez aent so simpel az that.


Oel Eenglish verzhen

Me, Saadia, the Eternal Jew,
Shoemaker, wanderer, journeyman, cook,
Messenger, envoy, adviser too.
Become a yeshiva’s teacher and sage.
In a world of changelings, I’m a man of changes.

Evidence! That’s what my eyes have seen.
Turn it and turn it into history.
Yet who is the judge of true and false?

[deleted stanzas]

We make history as it makes us
And remake history as the remake of us.
And we’re caught like Zeno in his infinite regress
And blind as Balaam seated on his ass.

Now I’m supposed to teach our history*.
                     * others say: memories
So I start my teaching with a famous comparison*,
                     * others say: pair
‘It’s the first of times and the worst of times.’
A tale of two cities, Jerusalem and Rome.

Everyone knows that Jerusalem
Is the center of the world and the Throne of the Lord,
That Rome’s caesars are envious of.
So the Roman popes, to compensate,
Acclaim they are at the center of the region* of earth.
                     * others say: regent

And everyone knows the lamentable fate
When the Roman barbarians laid to waste
The heavenly walls of the Throne of the Lord:
Exile for God and Jew alike.

So when I heard that Rome was under siege

For a year, and famine was eating them up
And Baduila finally had torn it down,
Just like Jerusalem, torn to the ground,
I thought* with a tinge of bitter vengeance,
                     * others say: my thanks
    “The Christians will suffer a similar fate
    “As us, walking these rocky roads,
    “Wondering why time runs backwards now,
    “Away from Eden and away from the Lord.”

Well, it didn’t seem to work that way.
Which taught me well and soon enough,
Better to look in a mirror yourself
Than turn a mirror on history.
Our symmetries aren’t so simple as that.