Old Stuff #1When I am in my forced march through Octagon Hell (ok, I've learned the hard way that 200+ of anything except Peanut M & Ms is just way too many), I listen to free podcasts. This month's favorite is a joint project from the BBC and the British Museum:
here. The "rules" of the program were that museum and BBC muckamucks would choose 100--and only 100--objects from the gazillions that are in the museum collection. (To get some idea of how hard that would be, know that it took us three days just to see what was on display there. Himself is still trying to figure out a way to get locked in overnight so he can see what is stashed in the basement crypts.)
The objects had to start from the beginnings of human history (two million years ago) and come up to the present day. And they had to come from everywhere in the world, with the goal of "trying to address the many aspects of human experience...to tell us about whole societies, not just the rich and powerful within them. ...the humble things of everyday life as well as great works of art."
Each episode is just a few minutes long and features a complete audio documentary--experts musing, ambient sounds, the whole works. The object itself becomes a tool to explore intriguing concepts that I haven't really ever thought about before but in many ways form the vertebrae of our existence. Like this one.
The Pot changed everything and it is the damn Wheel that gets all the applause.
Here's another favorite: The Rhind Mathematical Papyrus.
"In seven houses there are seven cats. Each cat catches seven mice. If each mouse were to eat seven ears of corn and each of corn, if sown, were to produce seven gallons of grain, how many things are mentioned in total?"I was absent on the day they taught that at my junior high, but don't worry. The papyrus shows the answer in red, along with all work.
Spending my days with these objects triggered a thought: what are the 100 objects that tell MY history? I started a list and jot them down as they appear in my brain...my Shirley Temple doll with the hair that I straightened, my rock that looks like an Oreo that I picked up in my summers at camp in Northern Michigan, my mother's Gold Metal Flour sifter, the copy of The Prophet that my famously untouchy/unfeely mom gave me in 9th grade. My Earth Shoes and guitar, my briefcase and Filofax...my saddle and bridle. Try it for yourself.
Old Stuff #2This semester, I am auditing a course at the local rabbinical college called "Biblical Core." The professor is a whizbang biblical scholar who knows all things ancient Near East. (She read us a poem in the original Akkadian the other day and everyone oo'ed and ahhed until I pointed out that no one in the room would know if she made a mistake.You can say stuff like that when you are auditing.)
The course is increasing our proficiency in biblical Hebrew, which bears roughly the same relationship to Modern Hebrew as Canterbury Tales does to modern English literature. That's why every Saturday, my kitchen table looks like this:
BUT hold on. It is equally plausible grammatically that it says something completely different, something way further down on the niceness scale. It could actually translate as "you shall love your neighbor who is like yourself." Not nice at all, but invaluable if you are trying to preserve your new little band of monotheists against the guys with all the gods one hill over.
I love being up to my elbows in words written nearly 3,000 years ago. I have often wrestled with the fact that the spiritual text of my people was in truth cobbled together over years and years and is full of mispellings and editorial failings rather than mysteries meant for us to unfold. But the ability to read the original helps me love the human inaccuracies for themselves...they are the footprints of the real live people who molded generations of stories and archetypes, who wrestled with the shortcomings and the beauty of human nature, who put it all together in a way that has managed to survive when I live in a world where a book goes in and out of print within two years.
I love old stuff.