Saturday, April 17, 2010

Thursday April 15, 2010

4.15.10 1 Thursday
LOG Although after much fuss I have my Acer 10’’ laptop working with Internet and therefore temporary Word (free trial if online) I’m using Susan’s computer which is less skittish and roomier for fingers.
Firstly! This morning a huge volcano erupted in Iceland stopping any air travel over the Atlantic and northern Europe until further notice. The particles went up 20,000 feet and can lodge in engines, besides destroying windscreens and entering the cabins. If I’d have left yesterday instead of Tuesday I’d have been redirected or returned or much worse. Now for a cold, cloudy summer and an ice age not blameable on man.
My trip was long, a bit cramped but fairly smooth. The girl next to me was a very pretty teen called Suzanna with long curly red hair, a perfect face and smile and an Irish accent. Atypically, we didn’t talk. I read the NYRB, watched 2 films to obey Boaz: "Watch the movies, Mom!" the first due to faulty earphones a nearly inaudible Crazy Heart which showed me it was even better than I’d thought the first time, as without the music I made out good dialogue and screenplay. Then a dull Di Niro film about a widower visiting his grown children, followed by a hilarious Larry David episode – when he finds out his Af Am ‘girlfriend’ has cancer and for duty’s sake he may not dump her. Nothing sacred. I dozed.
Security at Heathrow took ages so the driver, James, a redundant accountant (thinning sandy hair) waited over an hour – I used someone’s mobile to reassure him. People are helpful. A long dozy drive to Cambridge, trying to identify blossoming cherry trees and what I found out today was forsythia (how could I forget, we had one in the front garden on Addiscombe Road).
Then Susan paying him £100 on the doorstep of Bateman Street… so welcoming… and a magnificent supper (another one tonight – she’s the tastiest cook I know, meal after meal without recipe books). Watercress soup – good! Salmon trout in foil in the oven, mashed potatoes (real ones) and delicious red cabbage (the first time I’ve ever enjoyed it). Daniel came in for soup on his way home from the station (round the corner here). He’s in Manchester today, covering the pre-election and will be the editor-in-chief for the BBC coverage at the event in two weeks. He had his photo in the Evening Standard the other night.
Susan had been to the funeral of someone in the community and was tired; she and Shaun went to bed early leaving me trying to wear myself out at what would have been 3pm in LA in front of the television. In fact, I went to bed at 11 and slept until 7helped by Susan’s heating pad and a hot water bottle. Tonight she’s put on the heating for my sake. So worried about money – won’t let me pay for anything. Generosity her second name if not her first.
This morning (Thursday) she made a lovely breakfast, coffee, brown bread with strawberry jam… I had a great hot shower (powershower UK style!)and then in came Robert Mathews (he used to teach with her, subsequently working in Qatar). In 1999 he took Susan, his now deceased friend heavy-smoking Alison and me off for a day’s respite from Mummy's bedside and Addenbrookes Hospital on a boat along the river. He once came to sit by Mummy and told me about his published archeaological theory that Troy was really Cambridge. I subsequently explored 'Troy' - the Cambridge Gog Magog Downs - covered in mysterious Roman grassed-over bumps, bulwards and ditches. He’s still gentlemanly and a little eccentric. Time flies.
Susan drove us to the University Library, a 1920’s building, where two gents from TAU joined us. One knew Ithamar, the other Esther. The young frum lady who brought them, Miriam Lorie, knew Lonny, working in Interfaith. Small world. The junior researcher, Dan Davis, who lectures in Judaism and Islamic Studies at Canterbury, had the British stutter of the Intelligentsia but was very patient and sweet. He quoted ‘Herbert Davidson’ and also a Joel Kramer who unlike Herb thinks maybe Maimonides did nominally convert for safety, but I think that ridiculous, considering M’s beliefs and respectability. It’s even more outrageous than saying Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare. I mean, he wasn’t like G and myself telling that crazy pig farmer who was driving us at 100 mph over the Appenines and spouting madness about religion that we were… English! I never felt Dan was authoritative though he was very sweet. Soon came a long-term Genizah research graduate, Esther her name, a young German woman who did sound self-assured although her pronounciation of Hebrew names (Moshsheh as in mine-son-de-docteh) was stressed in all the wrong places. Never mind. She brought out large flat boxes and showed us page after page of plastic-covered fragments, familiar from the Jewish Museum exhibit some years ago but here up close and personal, with marvellous stories. First the Ecclesisates Ben Sira fragment brought back by the old Cambridge ladies exploring Cairo, which proved to the very excited Solomon Shechter that it really had originally been in Hebrew and not Greek. Esther explained that the Cairo synagogue had not been built with a genizah, so the women’s gallery was used though I can’t understand why they needed a ladder to reach it as how would the ladies originally have climbed up? The hole behind the wall is 20-22 feet deep, so layer after layer of documents were dropped in, though some writings must have been plundered as they found their way into the market where they were picked up by the two old sisters. Before the 10th C, parchment was used and we could see the markings in Arabic on the palimpsest. Even paper was reused, being expensive, and Hebrew had been written in margins and corners of whatever had been resold. We saw brief one word responses by Moshe ben Maimon to what for each shailah inquirer must have taken an age to write. Yes, No! What was important to him was what was good for the community. One shailah was that since the man’s brother and nephew had both died, could the writer marry the niece-in-law? Quick answer: Yes! There’s a romance for you! Another fragment showed a pre-nup, medieval style – the man must have been desperate to marry the woman as he promises faithfully and probably at daggerpoint not to mix with 'buffoons' (one of many words describing men of ill-repute) or bring them to the house, or bring in a concubine, or gamble or drink… if he did: Divorce! He signed. What happened there? And next? Sounds like Chaucer.
Then there was the creed document; it was identical to one found in Qmran, though written much later. The supposition: that there was a continuous link through the Karaites. Have to check that one out though the lead may come right back to Frau Doktor Esther, and her Cambridge Boss Professor. No longer, sadly, Stefan Reif, who is now a widower in Israel.
There were humdrum lists; many burned pieces from what was rescued and then thrown back after a big building fire; letters from a woman in Yiddish (Yiddish had begun by the 1600’s) living in Jerusalem telling her son to come back as it was much better there, that people were more educated and why didn’t he ever reply? Plus ça change! But the most moving for me was one written by David ben Maimon, Maimonides' merchant brother who drowned at sea. This may be the last letter he ever wrote. He had been trying to reach India and missed the overland caravan (one didn’t travel alone). He took a boat to the Red Sea, I think, then found out that the caravan had been robbed of all its goods and everyone possibly murdered. He wrote to M saying God had protected him so far so although M disapproved of sea voyages, he was defiantly going to take the boat to India (I asked if he was going to Goa but Esther didn’t know). The boat sank. When M heard the news he went to bed for a year: severe depression. Sad story.
Finally, here, as there is a wealth of information available and soon to be published by Rabbi Mark Glickman who has just replied to my enthusiastic report, so I’ll only add one more discovery: there are letters about the Crusaders who captured not just people but books as they knew Jews paid ransome on them – the fragments even say how much was paid. Nu? Nu? Plus ça…..

There were three other visitors. Two men brought by a young pretty frum married woman who looked like one of Boaz’s friends. Her name: Miriam Lorie. She escorted two professors, Biderman and Fish….American or German we predicted, no, probably Israeli, said the wise Robert. He was right – they were from Tel Aviv. “Do you know Ithamar Gruenwald?” I asked (unwisely?) Of course! said Prof. Shlomo Biderman. We talk all the time! We are both in the Philosophy Department! How do you…? Etc.
I explained. Then I dropped the Moshe G-G magic word and “Ah!” cried Prof Menachem Fisch, “I know his wife Esther… please ask her to contact my mother Joyce, she’s frail but would love to hear from her! [OF COURSE!]
I took photos and even of… but nobody should get into trouble.

Susan, Robert and I then drove off to Granchester. First to The Orchard for some coffee indoors (it was sunny but very cold and I’m dressed like an Eskimo, even with a beret, the fluffy black one Gershy likes) (I need gloves in the house quite frankly) and I bought a postcard of Rupert Brooke, Sybil Pye and Geoffrey Keynes, Maynard’s brother I think, sitting outside under the trees where I sat years ago one summer.
Robert then led us on a romantic poetry tour, short but very sweet. He took us to where Sylvia Plath wrote about a 15 mile walk to the stile by The Orchard – it’s now a metal semicircular swing gate – and read us her account. She wrote a poem: Watercolor of Grantchester Meadows. ‘….in Byron’s pool // Cattails part where the tame cygnets steer….’
Then to the river edge, where he recited Chaucer, as the mill, long sunk under the stone bridge, had inspired The Reeve’s Tale: ‘At Trumpington, not far from Cambridge town, // There is a bridge wherethrough a brook runs down, // Upon the side of which brook stands a mill;….//’
A tiny island has the river rushing by on both sides of it, covered now with tall yellow and white daffodils. According to Oliver Huckel: when asked about The Lady of Shalott, Tennyson replied, ‘ “If it was anywhere, it was Trumpington,” meaning Grantchester Mill, near Cambridge, but also implying by those words “if it was anywhere” that it was scarcely more this than the other picturesque old mills that he had in mind’.
I then stood by the river and told them about gentle old Miss Idle and how in order to persuade me – aged 10 - to do my arithmetic she bribed me with The Lady of Shalott, so I learned it off by heart. She also explained about the lady's amazing mirror: how could the lady see so much outside? Miss Idle showed me her little convex mirror on her study wall… I’m happy to say (Boaz! Absalom!) that both Robert and Susan watched me were smiling as I told this story of long ago…

We drove Robert home and Susan then took me to the new city centre, once cobbled and winding, covered now, like an indoor mall with a long glass ceiling-roof. Busy, happy, could have been anywhere in the world. First to Barclays while Susan went to buy groceries (came back laden) and where the ‘personal banker’ persuaded me to open a better interest-bearing account (long may it last, hmmm) from dead-beat Trackers to money-making Essential Savings. The ‘personal banker’ told me his life story (Wherever I go, Karin (!) people open up, unless they don’t of course). He had been the manager but when Barclays requested volunteers to step down from managerial positions he decided to go back to his original job as he missed dealing with customers (‘I love it, so many interesting people here in the middle of Cambridge’) and even turned down other offers to manage. They kept him at his manager’s salary and he has less stress, so that he can go home and look after 19 boys and one girl in his junior football league. ’17 of my 19 are a real pleasure.’ I admired his kid’s colourful drawing of himself as a footballer – it reminded me of Julian’s painting of Granny the Footballer. Front centre, bold and tough in boots!
Then we walked to the mobile phone centre where they found that my sim card hadn’t expired at all and I had £20 left on it.
Once home Susan found an email to her from Esther still in Israel saying David was in hospital so I called Rita, who was with him, very upset quite naturally. He has been bleeding copiously from his colon in spite of Dr. Adler (immer so) having taken him off blood thinners, so he’s been in hospital now since last week - and now has an infection; he will stay there through another Shabbat at least. Rita says the doctors come so late at night that she is exhausted; she’s sending Leo to be with him tomorrow at 10pm to receive the results. I can’t see him coming to Leo’s big birthday party, and perhaps Rita won’t either. Shades of Onkel Werner in Hadassah Hospital when all the family came for a simcha. What a pity.

Susan went online to get help for my 10” Acer’s internet connection: it now works as does a Word document which if I don’t buy Microsoft Word at some expense I can use temporarily, gathered from their website. Which I did, cleverly saving two documents first – surely they can’t wipe those off the screen once saved. She then called me down to another delicious supper: vegetable quiche and baked potato with an excellent salad, followed by baked Alaska, I really can’t keep eating all her sumptious rich food.

She and Shaun then went to watch television and were laughing so loudly I joined them. It was a really unusual and hilarious sitcom, partly improvised, about genius children and bewildered parents. Called ‘Outnumbered’. Try to find it online.

Tomorrow Mary picks me up for lunch; I will try to write also before Shabbat when possibly Daniel and his ‘little family’ will join us.

Will all this fit on a blog? Should I try? Do I want anybody to read it? Hmm… I’ll decide tomorrow.
Meanwhile, off you go, Today’s Scribbles…. As a Word Document to my kids who won’t read any of it. Next time, a poem! Usually shorter and at least Abigail (btw, Judah’s horrific story arrived, zapping of a mother) will read it soon and Zachary in 6 months)!
Now to my hot water bottle…++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++=

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Behold! Today with the help of Marc Porter-Zasada (check him out, his articles are gems which he also reads on Public Radio), I began working my brand new 10" Acer laptop - will I be able to use it during my trip? Who knows? But it may be a link to YOU. Also he found for me that if I press Edit Html I can copy and paste. Hurray! Here's a recent poem.

I Love my Cat

I love my young, sleek cat,
Black, and slippery, white nose, white paws
White chest, the whitest whiskers
And six toes splayed out like sneakers
Swiftly skittering
Along the parquet flooring,
His leaps like morning newspapers
Hitting the sidewalk, his taps
Like paper falling from tables.

My cat’s called Figaro, a name
We innocently thought described his voice
Miowling in seven different languages,
Consisting of the vowels from a to y
And many diphthongs, all in tones
From middle C to screeching Bs
And treble Ds to basest Gs,
With modulations ranging mutely soft
To most imperious, feline fine fortissimo.

A clumsy clot’s my cat, and that’s a fact;
He leaps and misses ledges, knocks down plants,
He slithers in the bathtub, bounds up stairs
Like panthers on the loose, and then slides down;
He tackles tiny twigs and carries them
Like quarry, or he chases beads
Across the floorboards, cutting corners,
His triumph gleaming in his wet glass eyes,
His six toes splaying
While displaying, comic cat,
His polydactyl personality.

But let me here reiterate, I love my cat;
He winds himself around my neck, he purrs
Into my ear, he looks so luminously
At me with his shiny eyes like pebbles washed
By running streams, he waits for me
On window sills and rubs his silky, slinky coat
Against my skin and when he sleeps
He claims my lap or shoulders,
But if I’ve left the house, he finds
My hidden cupboards or my pillow:
Puss, my missing spouse.

LRH 3.28.10

Monday, April 12, 2010

Like a gift, I had such a wonderful dream last night - woken only by my internal clock, Boaz clattering before going to school and the cat miowing outside the door.
Boaz and I were in a city as usual, with crowds and business all around. I met some colorful people who invited me to join in their happiness, whatever it was. I had to deliver something to them so went to their temple, a large building with porticoes on the main street. The doors were all closed to outsiders but I knocked lightly, opened the door and slid in. The temple was full of people of many races and origins, all rejoicing in sensory delights (no, not that, silly!) of sounds and tastes, scents and colors, especially colors. In spite of our having intruded, they were smiling and let it be known that if you were determined to enter, it was evidence that you were meant to be there, so they made me feel welcome.
I stood or sat with Boaz near the back and witnessed pageants and plays, dances and singing, nothing offending anyone and all of it appealing to the congregation in different ways: they'd found their common denominator and were achieving happiness.
There were hints of many different experiences in my dream. A bit of Beth Jacob, where I sit by a door that is supposed to remain shut during services but allows everyone in; the Athenaeum club in London where Leo will have his party; Lonny's Elijah Institute, the Venice California Boardwalk, with its myriad costumed themes and skaters rolling up and down between the strollers; a bit of Hare Krishna parades and the abundant pink blossoms of yesterday, or, after the massive rains and windstorms last night, of yesteryear.
The Rabelaisian contentment took me through the morning, packing and sorting while the cat jumped in and out of my suitcase, but peace was blown away by the afternoon which brought a Kafkaesque phone chase over medical insurance, two runs to the PO and one to the bank, bills to pay and a sudden realization I wanted fish for supper and the best fishmongers, Gordon's, had closed at 6 - it was 6:01. G called several times, the last wistfully, saying tomorrow night he wouldn't be able call as I'd be flying away. His envelope today was filled with 10 poems, a letter and his diary about one of his mates, Gary aged 50, whose wife announced last week that she was leaving him for fun with other men, this after 10 years of waiting and only one more year to go. Today he told G "Oh well, time heals." Oh well, time heals.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Driving South home from Taft, Sunday April 11, 2010

G called me three times during my slow drive home to make sure I was safe through the wild winds in the valley and gusts of rain in the mountains. First came the valley east of Taft - a wry term for what is flat semi-arid land alleviated by vast acres of regimented Langer Farm apple trees - I would call it a plain - where colossal tumbleweeds as massive as haystacks whirled across the road - they were bigger than any I saw in Texas when I drove west in 1976, and I hadn't even known we had tumbleweeds in California; then came whirlwinds whipping up the sandy soil and causing me to drive blind, bringing flashbacks of driving through a sandstorm near Sharm el Sheikh in 1979 and the relief at seeing Egged Bus Stop signs sticking up through the sand at eye level. At one point I slowed to a crawl as the dust was so thick with violent spouts coming off the roadside.
On the way there in patches of pale sunlight I passed hillsides of tall, waving weeds with those little silky yellow petals and remnants of the sweeping slopes of purple-blue lupines. There were also magnificent bushes I have never seen before, lush with pink blossoms - I have no idea what they are - the earlier apple blossoms and perhaps pecan trees were easy to know (Langer Farms! crates for future fruit!) but I pass through these colorwheel sights unable to put names to most of what I see. If I were at the theatre I'd at least know the names of the characters; at the opera I know the names or first words of an aria, when I meet people at least I ask them their name, and here I pass through the wonders of creation in complete ignorance.
As I leave Taft I usually turn to the music program from Fresno and Bakersfield, KVPR FM, 89.3, a happy find the first time I made the trip, when I stumbled on a museum-quality program comparing the music of Schumann, the romantic poetry of Eichendorf and the paintings of Caspar David Friedrich. Two weeks running! In Red-Neck country! This time they were broadcasting something that may have been George Gershwin writing An American in a Bad Reception Windstorm, so I switched to a CD with the heart-stopping voice of Dylan Thomas reading his and others' powerful poetry and his wacky non-novel of Adventures in the Skin Trade which is a mixture of Samuel Beckett and Catcher in the Rye but ends ends ends because DT died died died, of drunkenness.
With his voice entering my bones, at the foot of the mountains, I stopped at Grapevine. Now I've always been puzzled by Grapevine. Was it a tangle of roads? That's what I pictured. But no. Once I drove off one exit too early and found myself in a mall of widely spaced gas stations. Surrounded by untamed country. This time I waited until the Grapevine exit and found... another group of gas stations. But smaller. Is Grapevine a village? A sentry post? A camel stop? Keep posted, readers, when I come back from England God-willing and if God is not blasting the heath with witches' winds, I'll venture further and let you know what I find. Maybe... grapevines?