Fleeing the Caucasus

Here’s another translation back to old English (you know, the English you speak) from my poetic epic, The Atternen Juez Talen. It’s an amusing little vignette.

Here’s the setting: the Eternal Jew and his wife, Batkol decide to leave Georgia (in the Caucasus) after a disastrous earthquake. They are probably suffering from what we’d now call PTSD....

Eyes to Baghdad. Expectin' to find just lone and level sands stretched out after the Mongols had harrowed that field. But first we stumbled into Tabriz. What is this? Muezzin* calls; a market place with busy stalls; some bushy palms; and bright glazed tiles on the face of a musjid's** dome and walls. Even churches and synagogues back in the warren of market streets.
* him who chants the call to prayer
** mosque

As we gawk along, some guy rushes up, squawkin' about our travels beyond and our Master already restin' at home and come along we mustn't be late.
"Our Master? Us on the road beyond?"
Troubled times and madmen abound. And tender and soft we decline his help.

"Don't be afeard. I mean you no harm, but the Holy Father will join us soon, and many the delicate dainty prepared, and your Master be worried that you be lost."

How many Christians, and not a few Jews believin' these be the end-time days. This sorrowful mystic broke in his grief, imagines around the next corner we'll find the King Messiah who will save us all. Just then we’re at an open door and some haggard woman is shoutin' ‘hallelu’ and grabbin' our arms, obsequious -like, and draggin’ us into an opulent room, brocaded curtains and velvet chairs, and some foreign rake with a feather in his cap gapes at us as we gape at him.

He turns to the madman and asks of him,
"Hoyar aze twa? Iyar niy on gise."

Well, that's my scriptin' of what I heard. It sounded like some garbled Spanish or such, and my heart leapt, thinkin' of Spain.

It's been a few years since we been back there so my lingo were probably garbled as his, but all excited to know the news -- how goes Grenada and who is the King? I blurts out, "I'm a Spanish Jew." An amused smile curls his lips.

And there's Batkol, yankin' my arm,
"This place is creepy. Let's scram. Come on!"

And the haggardly woman tries to appease Batkol, cooin' and pattin' her hand; and now the Holy Father struts in but it's just some priest from a local church; and the madman jabbers at this one and that; and here come some pastries, and now some tea; so it takes quite a while to sort things out.

Reader, the first thing you probably should know: this weren't Messiah, nor even the Pope. But he spoke Italian and he actually said,
"Who are these two? They ain't our guides."

And if I recall he said his home was Venice, but he's on a quest out east, and his servant mistook us for his guides, and his name is Margo Folo, or such.

Batkol's still yankin' my arm to go, as I accept an offer to join them for meat.
"Incorrigible man," she mutters, annoyed.

Portraits from a Jewish orphanage

In my ongoing translation of The Atternen Juez Talen back into “old” (ie, normal) English, I came to this short portrait I thought you might like. It takes place in Georgia (in the Caucasus) around 800 years ago, in the midst of the Mongolian invasions. In the aftermath of one battle, the Eternal Jew and his wife set up an orphanage for the children who survived. In the morning they would teach the children some Torah, and in the afternoons they would send the children out as apprentices.

Here’s a portrait of one child, and the setting he lived in.

Samson. Well, that's what he come to be called. Funny how a person lives into a name. Built like a bull, and tough as one too, like a thunderstorm that flashes from afar, threatening, but rare to strike home. But when his tears welled up you were best to run. He would sit stone still in our Torah talk, and silent as stone and probably as dull. But the butchers and porters, they all competed when they seen his arms, shoulders and neck. With clever cajolin' and callin' in debts they bartered til butcher Zev prevailed. Zev could hack thru an ox's flank with a single stroke; and cut to the heart of our Halakhah* as quick and sure. In the butcher's prayer house he was the rabbi.

* Jewish law and rulings

In the strop and hone of rabbinic thought, where every moment is seen as unique, and law must flex itself to fit our twisted world, that we might bring God and justice down to us; in the butcher's blade and the gush of blood; in the splattered fat and splintered bone; there, Samson become a man under the knife of the butcher Zev. Nor dull and cold as I had thought, the lad's heart. He come to learn anatomy of the cow and sheep, and eternity of Jewish law. But stony, still. Nor smile nor joke bent his lip. "He needs a wife." his father-boss declared for him. But like his namesake, Samson preferred the Gathly girls, the Mongol ones. Wield of talk and morals loose, and neither Mongols nor us Jews were pleased to let our children mix. More than once did Samson face a gang of angry Mongol boys. And more than once he hung the dead on poles to give the crows a feast.

And more than once our Mongol lord demanded reprisals, gold or grain. Finally the khan sent a troop to take Samson as a prisoner. But word out-sped their horse. Samson fled and joined a rebel band. Some say he became a mercenary thief. Others say he was a Maccabee.** A future ballad told his tale: The Highwayman; shot down like a dog.

** Family that led rebellion against Hellenists, ~170 BCE

Just sayin', #1

One of the remarkable people I have had the great pleasure to know, Greg Barker (find him here: https://gregbarker.education) recently posted a question-challenge to his readers:

McJesus Sculpture Controversy:
Discussion Question: Is it ever acceptable to violate religious symbols as a form of artistic expression?

Well, I rarely intervene in his discussions, but this just plucked a string of my ole beat-up guitar, and I responded with a short rant. Greg shot back this quick reply:
I think you should have a column entitled 'just sayin' '   I would be a happy follower of it.

Okay, Greg. You asked for it (altho I’ve edited out the rant component).

We live in a world where disrespect is glorified. From comedians to presidents and dictators disrespect earns big points. Disrespect is easy, thoughtless, and popular. But this religion of disrespect is a mind poisoner, and its exponents invariably become narrow and diminished proportionately to the degree they engage in it. It is the voice of of intolerance, cynicism, bullying, abuse, and hatred, and it reflects a dystopic thinking we seem to want to pursue with alacrity. While there is much that is deserving of criticism in this world, in the end, if we are not devoting ourselves, primarily, to imagining a better world, including building bridges with those with whom we disagree, how then can we create a better world? McJesus is just another manifestation of the dystopia it purports to belittle.
Just sayin'...

Musings on trans-personal consciousness

Sitting on a ridge in the Mojave Desert, just north of Joshua Tree National Park, watching a rain storm blow in…

Like fronts of weather moving across a landscape, similarly, emotions and beliefs blow across human societies and through human consciousness, and we, without the “meteorological” tools to see, measure, track, or forecast those fronts of emotion, instead experience them as arisen from ourselves, individually, and thus with no capacity to prepare for and shelter ourselves from them, so that we might be able to remain largely unaffected and undamaged by the storms such fronts can bring on. Instead, we are overwhelmed by them, and blown like tumbleweeds across the emotional landscape; a society, a world of tumbleweeds blown about without shelter or stability.

We have yet to understand that causation in history works at a higher level than individual motive and action.

Indeed, individual motive and action is as inconsequential and derivative in the emotional “storm fronts” that blow across our world, as local and momentary differentials in pressure in the midst of a passing gust of wind. And I am speaking here not just of the “common people”, but of presidents and dictators, lords of industry, and the phantasms of popular culture — musicians, sports figures, movie stars — all mostly tumbleweeds with a little will and a little luck thrown in.

Ah, but we love to idolize and project authority and awe onto blow-hards and other puffs of wind. Why? Partly because we imagine that we might be, or yet become one of those “shakers and movers” in world history, tumbleweeds that we are.

Megillat Esther, Islamic inspired designs

While many of the images for the Megillat Esther Josh and I are producing are based on Achaemenid artifacts (which would have, thus, been current at the time the story takes place), we also decided to make a number of more abstract illustrations, based on classic designs from Islamic manuscripts (designs that would NOT have been current in Esther’s time) that would, nonetheless, add some elegance to the manuscript. Indeed, the general page layout, with framing single lines of text in a large font at top and bottom and much finer text in between, often written at a 45 degree angle, is based on classic Islamic manuscripts from the 14th to 17th centuries.

Below is a little slideshow of one of the Islamic-inspired designs I recently completed. The show starts off with a page of text, so you can see what I was talking about, when I was describing the text layout, above. By the way, Josh does all the calligraphy, and is responsible for general design decisions. I just do the illustrations.

Enjoy!

Notes from a Georgian Han, 2

About a week ago I posted 2 excerpts from The Atternen Juez Talen that I’m currently translating back to “old English”. Here’s another one you might enjoy.

To remind you: the setting is a small town in medieval Georgia; the year about 1270 CE. Our hero is recording some notable events that happen in the courtyard of the han (caravanserai) he’s working in.

2.

At the gate of the han, stompin’ and screams; two wild men, hair matted in knots, beards that swallowed the whole of their face and it made their heads look ghastly large, like them demons the Tibetans paint on their scrolls. Their robes were a patchwork of scraps and holes stained and filthy and as foul as their mouths, them screamin’ for blood of some rascal thieves. With an elbow my neighbor gives me a poke:

“De-frocked Nestorian monks, I hear, beggin’ and pilferin’ and skulkin’ about. It seems some lad got the better of them.”

Curious and amused I finish the verse of *Pesukei Dezimra* I’m scribin’ for the rav, **“Supru v’goyyim et kavodo.”**

Then I wipe my quill and mosey on down to piece out the story from their monkey mouths. When I get there, one is pawin’ his purse lookin’ for something, with growl and curse.

“Here! You see this piece of shist? Genuine lapis that bugger swore, highest quality, finest kind, straight from Khorasan’s finest mine and carved by an artist in holy Mashhad. And more he’s got, that bastard says, him takin’ pity on us wanderin’ monks.”

He sticks out his grubby and scabby hand to show us a medallion, crude and dull, like the throw-away matrix you can find in a heap outside a shop for cuttin’ gems. Gray and black veins, splotches of white; some blue patches, them second rate. There’s chuckles and grunts and ‘you been stung.’

“But yesterday this here was blue as the sky, til we took it to sell at ‘Gems of the Shah’. That bitchbag dropped it in a boilin’ pot; when he pulled it out, he hands us this dungball, useless as tits on a bull. Help us find that pisspot runt that sold us this. We’ll cut off his nose.”

Then up rides a soldier, sword in hand, and me and the guys drift back to the han.

*-* ‘Verses of Song’; songs to begin morning prayers
**-** ‘Declare Hem glory to the nations’

Notes from the Caucasus

I am translating a section of The Atternen Juez Talen back into ‘normal’ English. In this scene, set in around 1270 CE, the Eternal Jew (Atternen Ju) finds himself living among unknown Jewish communities in the Caucasus region. The town he’s currently living in is Mtskheta, Georgia. It’s about 20 klicks north of modern Tbilisi. Having set up his scribal shop in a han (caravanserai) on the edge of town, he has decided to record some of the notable events that are happening down in the courtyard of the han while he is working up in the balcony. These little vignettes are subtitled “Sketches Set in a Georgian Han

Here are 2 short ones you may find curious, even interesting.

4.

Spit and strut. Spit and strut.
Surly and burly, them comin’ on.
Spittin’ and pissin’, fart and belch;
Handlers whistle, then a hook to the neck.
Down they kneel, bellow and groan.
The camel’s tale of Kohelet’s* first words.
* aka Ecclesiastes

6.

There’s a box made of stained and knotty slats
That a finger will just about fit between.
Some kind of cage that houses beasts.
I seen a guy stickin’ his pinky in
And the demons inside nearly tore it off.
Squawkin’ a racket like Beelzebub’s jinns,
And rustle and fussin’ like a room full of kids.
But I seen their owner slip in his hand
After hushin’ and shushin’ with soft coos,
And there on his finger a bright green bird
Big as a crow and as like to be mean.
His beak a wide leer, his eyes like veneer.
And just like a salesman, incessant he squawks.

“Ya hear that,” the trader suddenly blurts.
“This girly just said ‘Alhamdulilah*’”
* Arabic: praise be to God

Megillat Esther, illuminated gold cup

Work on the illuminated Megillat Esther continues.

I recently completed the 11th illumination, an image of an Achaemenid gold cup, probably dating from the time of Xerxes, the ruler who is often thought to be the Achashverosh of the Esther story. Thus, this cup may have actually been used in the revelry that opens the story!

Here’s a short slide show of the stages in producing this image. We see
1. the sketch, with gold ground laid
2. raking light on the gold ground as I prepare to burnish it to a glossy finish
3. close-up, showing the difference between the burnished snakes (uroboros) and the forehead
4. first layer of gold, unburnished
5. illumination completed, fully burnished
6. crystal background completed

The image is 3” x 2”.

Singt frum the upper werlz

Three fragments excavated from my current notebook….

The first is a piece of poetry from the upper worlds. Our language down here, so limited, will have trouble making sense of it, tho pieces of it will sound familiar. This is what I transcribed:

… He heerd Davee play.
He iz a reed uv iz werd.
He iz heer
selammen seen in iz song,
drippen iz hunnee fraegren a spise.
He iz rae Izayah an Hozayah too
an iz hert iz braken it
in winder abownz.
Ammajjin aer seengen the upper werlz.
I wil breeng em aer fer the aenjelz be heer…


And this opening to a parable…

There was a king who lived in a castle unknown to his people. He employed many ministers and envoys. He was a modern king. He spoke to them by texting!
One of his envoys was determined to meet the king in person. He texted to him, “How can I meet you in your castle?” The king texted in response, “You are too deceitful to meet me. Not only your thoughts, but your senses too are full of deceit.…”

And finally this…

The closer I get to the truth, the more alienated I am from myself and the world.
The closer I get to the truth, the less rational my thinking.
The infinite is not confined by human ratios.

1-Sketchbook1-ThisClayBall1.jpg

Megillat Esther - what it will look like

Here’s an image of how most pages of the megillah will be laid out. This particular image will be page 3, and the images laid on it, Vashti and a gold drinking horn from the Achaemenid period, will soon be pasted down onto the parchment. The parchment will be pasted onto multi-ply paper with a marbled backing.

Beneath that image is a photo of Maddy, Josh, and me working — Josh lettering, me illuminating, Maddy unfolding the mysteries of nature.

Megillat Esther - P3.jpg
Maddy Josh and me.jpg

Transmigrant Journals -- new story

One of my long term projects is to compile stories of odd events, other-worldly experiences, and strange dreams in a book titled Transmigrant Journals. Here's the opening scene of a story that I'm currently calling "Re-Education". 

1. Late August, first days
I was sent here as part of an educational program, government subsidized. It was a big honor. But it was far away. The flight seemed to take forever. I slept most of the way; dozed really, occasionally waking in a surge of anxiety or excitement. It was hard to tell the difference.

I was met at the gate, whisked thru customs, limo’d into the city, and escorted into a fancy apartment. All first class. Like I said, this was a big opportunity. They had plans for me. And I felt like I had earned them.

This city was unlike anything I had ever seen or read about. To my eyes everything around me looked like heavenly corridors. The buildings were as much art and sculpture as they were practical structures. Large and small were elegantly merged. Sunlight was directed or reflected into every carved niche. Often I couldn’t tell where buildings ended and botanical gardens began. But oh, such gardens! Nature’s abundant creativity delighted all my senses. And ever the transition between art and nature, and between edifice and artifice challenged my perceptual skills

I will not try to describe what I saw in each shop window. It would take too long and divert me from my purpose. Besides, who has the powers to describe such wonders? ...

Art and Nature

Megillat Esther: the calligraphy

While I have been working on illuminations, Josh has been producing pages of text.
Here's a little slideshow of some of his work...

Megillat Esther: Vashti portrait

While Josh is producing pages of text, I'm working on the illuminations. Here's my most recently completed image, a portrait of Vashti, the king's courageous wife who will not be disgraced as a sex object by the crude and drunken king.  The image comes from an Achaemenid silver bowl. This slideshow presents the main stages of the image's development.

Mystical musings by the Atternen Ju (Eternal Jew)

The following short excerpt is from a scene in The Atternen Juez Talen. Our hero has recently migrated to Poland (around 1320 CE) to start a new life, yet again. He is reflecting on a line from the daily prayers, that the Master of the Universe daily renews the act of creation (often interpreted to mean that the world, and each individual in it, is created anew each day, or even each moment). Reflecting on his own renewal, he goes off on a riff.

Here is a prose translation into standard English (what I call 'old English'), and then the original text as it was composed...

I, the Eternal Jew am a voice in the streaming world a-coil in you -- a recurring face, a recurring place, unknown, familiar, a recurring embrace. Hate me and I will choke you with hate. Fear me and I will hound you with fear. Love me and I will ignite a desire that consumes but can’t be satisfied ...

Blink and look into your mirror. I am behind you. Blink again. I am you. Was it always so? Blink. I’m gone. Was I ever there? Blink. You stand in a room well known. Blink. You are lost, and no way home. Blink. I am with you leading the way. Blink. A stranger has led you astray. Blink. You walk with your father instead. Blink. You awake. Your father is dead....

Each moment the world is created anew. And I, sub-atom, an orbit in you. Where I am, and where I will be... you cannot determine the point of me. Whoever I was and who I can be, you can’t compute that continuity. Accept me. Is this how you mean to be free?

The original text:

I, the Atternen Ju ar a vois
In the streemen werl a-koyellen yu -- 
A rekkerren fase, a rekkerren plase,
Unknoen, fammilyer, a rekkerren embrase.
Hate me an I wil choke yu with hate.
Feer me an I wil hownd yu with feer.
Luv me an I wil ignite a deziyer
That kunsuemz but woen be a sattisfy.
Studdee my bouks an yu may untwist
The okkulten thredz that taengel yur seel
In the annammah grip uv this Addom shel.
Louk tu me az the Proffetten God
An I wil kumpoze divvine skaelz
That reverben myuzeks owt uv the speerz
Koyellen yu in infinnitteez.

Bleenk an louk intu yur meerer,
An I am behien yu; bleenk aggen
An I am yu. Wuz it awl wayz so?
Bleenk. Iem gon. Wuz I evver thaer?
Bleenk. Yu stan in a rume wel knoen.
Bleenk. Yu ar los, an no way home.
Bleenk. Iem with yu leeden the way.
Bleenk. A straenjer iz led yu astray.
Bleenk. Yu wok with yur father insted.
Bleenk. Yu awwake. Yur fother iz ded....

Eech momen the werl iz kreyaten a-nu.
An I, sub-Addom, an orbitten yu.
Ware I am, an ware I wil be,
Yu kant determin the point uv me.
Hu evver I wuz an hu I kan be,
Yu kant kumpyute that kontinnuwittee.
Assep me. Iz this how yu meen tu be free?

Many notes, one Song

This is a short excerpt from The Atternen Juez Talen, or in normal English, The Eternal Jew's Tale, in which our hero has a visionary experience that he tries to describe:

We read in our prayers,* 
    “Renewing all; a perpetual day of God-Creation.
And I seen for myself that this be true. I was carried along on my rivery thoughts, every heart beat and every breath, every flickering blink of my eye, a new “me” in a new world come to the surface and then sank down; distinct worlds that bubbled and burst, and bubbled again, new and the same -- consciousness pulsing into my mind, and every mind, notes of one song: I to I, me to you, we to all, all to one; mere slivers of a slivery world that rushes thru us, seamless it seems. But slow it down and note by note it comes apart in fractallin’ thoughts.

For a short time my world slowed down and I seen its notes, one by one floating apart, each from each, and felt the Divine Song of it rejoining the slivers. River. It flows. Wonder and dismay as my eyes seen what my mind fails to understand.

For those who praise war...

The Eternal Jew hears a noise one morning. At first he thinks its thunder; then an earthquake. Then he realizes, an army is attacking. This scene in The Atternen Juez Talen takes place in approximately 1100CE. First a translation into standard English, and then the original in MetaEnglish.

And behind the forward shock of noise
The walls of dust that choke your breath
And cloak your face in a deathly mask
So dragoon and drayman, commando and corpse
All look like statues in a Roman tomb.

And this the song them dragoons sung:

We are the hollow men born for war.
We are the arrogant caked in hate.
We are the sons of pagan gods.
And we are the fruit of polluted clods.

March on, march on, man of dust.
Do what you will; do what you must.

Look on us, your conquerors,
Sharp our tongue and sharp our darts.
Look at us, above all law.
Bloody hands and bloodless hearts.

March on march on, hollow men.
Your road is long; who knows its end?

We are the wallowers, slogging in scorn.
We wallow in impotence, loving a sword.
We hide our envy in a bigot’s abuse,
And express ourselves best with a mob and a noose.

March on march on, man of chalk.
Your road is short; no time for talk.

Look on us who scorn the just. 
Past? We’ll have no piece of that.
Look on us, who mock your trust.
Future? We’ll have no peace in that.

March on, march on, hollow men.
March on, to find your punishment.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Here’s the original metaEnglish version, with its more overtly vibrating language:

We arren hawlo menz bornen wor.
We ar the araggenz kaekt in haets.
We ar the sunz uv pagen godz.
An we ar the frute a poluten klodz.

March on march on, man a dus.
Du wut yu wil; du wut yu mus.

Louk on us, yur konkerren.
Sharp ar tung an sharp ar darts.
Louk at us, abbuv awl  law.
Bludded hanz a bludles harts.

March on march on, hawlo menz.
Yur roed iz long; hu knoez it enz?

We ar the wawlowerz, sloggen a skorn.
We wawlo in impotens, luvven a sord.
We hiden ar enveez in a biggets abyuse,
An espres ar selz bes with a mobben a noos.

March on march on, man uv chok.
Yur roed iz short; no tiem fer tok.

Louk on us hu skorn the jus. 
Past? Weel hav no pees a that.
Louk on us, hu mok  yur trus.
Fewcher? We hav no pees a that.

March on, march on, hawlo men.
March on, an fien yur punnishen.

Vanity and play: some self portraits

As a diversion while sketching out an essay, I took some photos of myself reflected from the computer screen. Today, Shabbat, not working, I decided to play a bit and shop them up. Here's some of the results. I named this series of 5 slideshows 'Reflections'.

A phenomenological experience

Another episode where the borders between thought, reality, and dream broke down. As if each thought were tangent to, or a window onto, a whole other world. Images – they seemed like forgotten but internally vibrant dream images – would evanesce up, and it was impossible for me to know if they were dream images or things I’ve experienced in this world. Hazy, just on the edge of consciousness, but brightly ‘colored’. Perhaps simply thoughts that were being amplified somehow. Each seemed to have a whole life behind it.

Perhaps this is a formal description of what I was experiencing:
Fractal consciousness in an n-dimension geometry, each thought a vertex or tangent on another world.

Scary but fascinating, like a taste of higher consciousness. But also out of my control, mysterious, confusing.

Jonah ReVisioned

The Jonah story, traditionally read on Yom Kippur is often explained as being about repentance. However, in truth it’s mostly the tale of a troubled guy who feels called by God, but at the same time has serious issues with his calling. He’s cranky, rebellious, cynical, mean-spirited, and petulant. Further, the story has much in it that even ancient readers could not take seriously: the absurd whale scene and equally absurd repentance-of-Nineveh scene, replete with the animals having to wear sackcloth! This is well beyond even the ancient view of reality. And in truth, Ninevens couldn’t have cared less what Hebrews thought, a fact that ancient readers surely were quite aware of.

Thus, our authors have re-visioned the text, in attempts to expose the real Jonah. Two of us re-wrote portions of the story. A third person engaged in a therapy session with Jonah. The fourth envisioned Jonah after his Nineven tour of duty.

Our general thesis is this: this is not a text about repentance; it is a text about moral ambiguity, self-deception, and the effects of inner conflict. Join us in this journey on new ways of understanding Jonah.

Read all 4 vignettes at: http://forward.com/scribe/386907/jonah-reimagined/