Learning German – ongoing effort

What can I say about my German studies? I listen to each podcast twice, once very intently while sitting with no screen before me, the other while knitting or crocheting.

The written homework is fairly easy, I think. The lessons tell a story around Munich, which is a city I want to visit someday (but not live in; at least, right now I am not inclined to want to live there). The routine is this: I print out the written work, skim it… …then listen to the episode, do the homework – and later in the day listen to the episode again, during a knitting break.

It feels unremarkable, like walking along a paved road. I’m not confident enough to initiate conversations in German with the in-house German-competent human. Probably because most of the vocabulary has to do with hotels (and I don’t live in one), kobolds (less than fully useful in my daily life), and fussy gentlemen who don’t want me to say “du” – whereas I think my dear German coach would be most offended if I were formal with him, suddenly, after nearly sixteen years of marriage.

So far, so good. At least I learned to apologize in German. That will surely come in very handy!

Exodus – nation building among the reeds

The tone of the story changes in Exodus. There is much more of an us-and-them feel to the characters.

At the beginning there were many reeds and reed-weaving words.

Do sandals or shoes fiber count words? I think they do. The verb for “take your shoes off” is the same one that is used, in Modern Hebrew, to describe a snake’s moulting.

Further along in Exodus, there are many things done with “staffs”. Staffs? In English a “staff” relates to a “disataff” – which is used for holding wool or flax being spun.

Exodus 9:31 was the first time I saw flax or cotton, although it was not clear if it was foodstuff or fiber-goodness.

Fascinatingly, there was an echo to the creation story, at 15:18. “Tehomot” – sounds like Tiamat. In modern Hebrew, that means “abyss” or “chasm” – but the creation story uses to describe that over which the darkness hovers.

In writing these blog posts before I read the English, I feel both hesitant and extra-free. Discovering the English translations is the last bit of the work of this packet, adding them to the file of words logged. That makes it harder to discuss them with any authority. Hmm. This won’t be a problem with any texts that are not in Hebrew.

Reading Genesis – emotional response

Set up as I am with my comfy fonts and nifty parallel version, I could dive into the book and get a good sense of the stories, along with the fiber words.

It was heavy going, emotionally. The constant double-dealing, the interminable deceit of man and god, the casual holding of women as property – these were hard to handle.

Reading about Joseph and his success story (not without a false accusation of sexual impropriety by Potiphar’s wife) reverberated with the things I’d seen in the King Tut exhibition. There were words about reeds and baskets, absent before, and descriptions of fine clothing contrasted with sacks, “top” fiber and a purse with a name that sounds incredibly non-Semitic, and laundry, along with some great fiber verbs.

All told I found 52 verses that mentioned unique fiber words in Genesis.


Reading Genesis

The work of reading Genesis has been slower than I expected.

At first is was a technical issue: the bible I read for solace and poetry (and the occasional fit of rage) makes for easy reading of familiar passages; it is less conducive to a cover-to-cover read-through.

I resolved this thanks to an online institution, Machon Mamre, that offers Bible downloads for interested parties. At first I worked with a Hebrew-only version, then went all out and dowloaded the fonts with the cantillation marks, and went for the parallel versions that showed both Aramaic and Hebrew.

It turns out that this gave me lots of clues about meaning.

Now, I do not speak Aramaic. If I were lost in a city where that’s the lingua franca, I’d probably have to stay lost. But I do read it. And the delightful structure of the Semitic language shone lights on words that were hard to understand, along the way. I even ended up adding notes about some of the translations to my initial list of fiber-related words.

A date with a dead king

I dedicated this entire day to a trip to the Pacific Science Center in Seattle, where the grave-robbing exhibition named Treasures of King Tut is displaying the spoils of (British) empire.

Despite my disapproval of the whole way the Carter robbed graves in Egypt (you can see him do it in this 4-minute video), I wanted the chance to see the artifacts, which I am assured will be going back to Egypt, where they belong, after the exhibition closes on January 6th, 2013.

It was mind-blowing.

Let me unpack that: along with me were my daughter (who is as fascinated with mummification as I am with strings and yarns), her friend, a very fine sketcher, and my husband, who is deeply immersed in the study of human history, especially of parts of the world in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Each of us shared perspectives about the exhibits, with the sketcher seeing lines and shapes and making them apparent, the mummy-knower updating us about why particular forms are especially significant, the history-dude adding a fourth dimension and constantly perspectivizing everything we saw, and me looking for fiber and fiber-related skills.

A proper reflection about this exhibition will be on this blog (under the yet-to-be-added Reflections heading). First impressions need a word in Arabic to full encompass the opening of my heart and mind in that series of dark, over-heated, far-too-loud rooms: Alhamdulillah!

I am overwhelmed with joyous gratitude (to no specific entity, freeform gratitude goin’ on here) that I get to live in these times and see the hieroglyphics translated into languages I can speak, to see the artifacts in such great company, with my own eyes now as multi-faceted as those of a fly, to see the points of view of my fabulous companions and of students and researchers over the years.


If you, gentle reader, have a chance to see this exhibition, definitely do.

A busy bibliography search

Yesterday was filled to the brim with work (of the professional variety), and all I managed to do was four episodes of German study. I’m now up to chapter 4, with all the audio material handled and all the written homework complete.

Today I dug through WorldCat and found the editions of each of the books I picked up at William James, and after a bit of pushing and pulling and some unprintable language at the tricky turns, came up with a dandy new bibliography for this semester.

Next step: read all the lovely books. Or enough of them to mesh with the fibrous goal of this semester’s studies.

You’ll find me in the comfy chair in the front room, working on it.

Down and dirty (does paper make dander?)

So, day 2.

Today’s studies were fascinating to do, but in terms of telling the story, this was an even less interesting day to write about than yesterday: sitting there, with a bible, reading stuff I’ve read before with new eyes. Pages flipping, flip-flip-flip, nothing of any huge surprise or importance – yet.

It’s slow going, but it’s a huge luxury. Reading – reading anything – has always been a luxury, almost a stolen bead off of the necklace of time. Some of my favorite reading moments were back when I first kept house, and realized that while I was doing the laundry, the machines were working – and I could legitimately cuddle up with text. That felt deliciously stolen. Reading for study has a flavor from the same group, only richer and with more textures. Even reading stuff I’ve read before.

German: lesson 2. Nothing terribly new and exciting there, either. The lesson plan features a strange character, named Ex. Ex is a kobold. I don’t think I’ve ever had any truck with a kobold, before, except on NetHack.

Preparing MLA-style citations seems like a chore. I need to gamify it, somehow. There’s time enough for that. Maybe I’ll make a deal with myself to put the new books, properly formatted, into the blog? Yes, that sounds like a good plan.

Alice’s Restaurant Massacre

My “proper” reflection about the Treasures of Tutankhamen exhibition included, as a stylistic device, several quotes from Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant Massacre, which I used as headings, to move along the story.

I have a long history with Guthrie’s Alice. First, as a little girl, I remember looking and looking and looking at the funny record cover, which showed Gurthrie with no shirt on, but wearing a bowler hat (indoors! At the table!) and a napkin standing erect, seemingly tucked into his hairless chest. The table is clearly set for what I considered “a fancy meal”, and stare at it as I might, I could find no way in my mind to make it make sense.

Here’s a picture of that album cover, conveniently connected to the music.  And here’s a picture of the recent release. Guthrie is decked out in the same attire, but some forty years older than the first version. It has the music, too.

 Then, when I was a teen, and very involved in objecting to wars (which were happening all around me; I grew up in Israel, and turned 16 just after the first Lebanon War happened), my father introduced me to the music and lyrics. I still got to stare that the album cover, but the song made me smile.

As I grew even older, and more involved in peace movements and so forth, I instituted a household celebration of American Thanksgiving in my home. Playing Guthrie’s Alice was an important part of the ceremony.

When I moved back to the States in ’01, into a small town full of ex-hippies and ex-hippy-wannabes, the tradition held: everyone knew Guthrie.

It held until I discovered that Gurthrie was a follower of Meir (Martin) Kahane, a Jewish supremacist American rabbi who agitated for full ethnic cleansing of all of historical Canaan. It turned out that Gurthrie’s mother was a Jew, and she chose Kahane to be his Bar Mitzvah rabbi. In the intervening years, I have not found a forceful anti-racist statement from Guthrie, making a clear delineation between him and his teacher.

The song lost much of its sweetness for me, after that discovery.

The song itself has a life of its own, though, beyond the objectionable opinions of its creator. When reaching for headings, some quotes form it bubbled up, and I let them stay in the “proper” reflection.

Study journal, semester 1, day 1

Oooh, this is still exciting!

Today is the first day of my first semester here. Other than finding some particularly awesome books (pictured) and enlisting the assistance of two research assistants (both feline, one pictured), my task list today involved starting the selection process of ancient texts to read after reviewing the full Hebrew text of the Old Testament (or are they Hebrew Scriptures?).

The point of the reading is to find words that relate to fiber, highlight them, and follow them around in various ways (etymology, archaeology, history of use).

So far today I have:

  • put together (or rather, repurposed) this blog;
  • done lesson 1 of my German studies;
  • gotten very excited about the Epic of Gilgamesh and the three volumes of Ancient Egyptian Literature from Stanford Press.

My plan for later today:

  • read Genesis to look for fiber words (not the whole thing, just until I’m fed up with it. Some parts are kind of tiresome);
  • prepare appropriate MLA-formated citations for my pile of new books (see below);
  • And that’s it! That’s enough for one day. I can’t study everything all at once… or can I?

This reading list is Cisco-approved

This is what I found from a dive into the local used bookshop. See Cisco’s big grin?