Though some memories may disappear like dewdrops scattered across a summertime lawn at dawn, others remain, rising unbidden from time to time.
A certain dog, for instance, has rarely left my mind.
Long ago in Beersheva, we came across a small archaeological site, really just an open rectangle in a rough, silty, makeshift parking lot, once a thriving Byzantine enclave.
It was sandwiched between the local sook and a modern supermarket reputedly built above a long-ago Roman garrison. Since no one was around, we ducked under the dig’s fence and peered in. Barely a yard below lay a rounded, Byzantine stone hearth– and the curled skeleton of a dog. Fifteen hundred years ago, a dog, like many of us nowadays, craved a warm, sweet moment of solitude.
Until the 1550s, the British wrote with quills and ink. When black graphite, thought to be a form of lead, was discovered in Borrowdale, Cumbria, it was dubbed ‘black-lead.’
Because graphite sticks alone were too brittle for writing, they were originally wrapped in sheepskin or string. By the 1840s, however, lead-pencil manufacturers were compressing graphite powder into solid sticks, inserting them between two grooved wooden halves, then gluing them together. The official catalogue of The 1851 Great Exhibition, Hyde Park, London, informs artists, architects , and engineers that their ‘Purified Lead Pencils, Perfectly Free From Grit, May be Entirely Erased, and Will Maintain a Firm Point.’
“Eternal Father,” alternately titled “The Navy Hymn,” was written by two Englishmen, Rev. William Whiting (lyrics) and Rev. John B. Dykes (music) between 1860 and 1861, drawing inspiration from both the Old and New Testaments.
its verses reference familiar texts such as Psalm 65, (“who stilled the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, and the turmoil of the nations”).
There are alternate verses to this hymn. One, for example, written in 1965 , is dedicated to naval submariners:
Lord God, our power evermore,
Whose arm doth reach the ocean floor,
Dive with our men beneath the sea;
Traverse the depths protectively.
O hear us when we pray,
and keep Them safe from peril on the deep.
Another version appears inNoye’s Fludde, a one-act opera for amateur performers by Benjamin Britten. It features “the grinding conflict of Britten’s passacaglia theme against Dykes’ familiar hymn-tune in the storm” …
Recently we went to Ai Wei Wei’s exhibit, “Maybe, Maybe Not” at the Israel Museum. Other than hearing vague, related tales of Chinese repression, we knew very little about this artist– it turns out, this political artist. The most arresting part of his exhibit were the huge, gigantic, bigger-than-life trees that he assembled from parts of actual trees, pasted and bolted together.
Facing a wall constructed of thousands of slips of paper, documenting donations (in Chinese) by people who supported his political cause, was a spacious replica of a ceramic tiled floor. That is, it looked like a tile floor– but it turned out to be — a rug. When we were asked to remove our shoes before exploring its subtle tile-y hues and textures, however, we demurred.
What luck. Instead, we came across a tiny exhibit that touched me personally. In a recent piece I wrote about novelty teapots, I learned that original Chinese ones were one-cuppers — drunk directly from curved spouts. And Ai Wel Wei was evidently as fascinated as I. He exhibited a handful of –what in Heaven’s name are these?– antique broken teapot spouts!
I am not a big tea fan. Though I recall once serving tea and tangerines to my dolls, tea, in our house, was strictly medicinal. It was reserved for dosing sore throats and barking coughs.
Moroccan friends, however, introduced me to a different world of tea.
Imagine a small room, wintry but for small kerosene stove glowing red in the corner. Atop sits a tiny, dented aluminum teapot, its contents, a handful of tea leaves, a bunch of greeny mint, ample sugar, and a bit of water, simmering merrily. My hostess pours a smidgen into a glass, topping it up with boiling water. Then raising it head-high, she deftly pours its contents down into a second glass on the table below. Again and again she pours the golden stream through the air from glass to glass. Then she hands me my tea. Voila. The minty liquid has become cool enough to drink. Ah, the fragrance, the elegance.