16 December 2013

The Adventures of Lemon Juice: an exercise for learning Hebrew

Once upon a time we had, every morning, a bottle of lemon juice on the table, with a Hebrew label: Mitz Limon Meshumar.
Mitz = juice
Limon = lemon
Meshumar = preserved (like shomer, shmirah, shomer Shabbos... it means guarded)
Preserved Lemon Juice.

Every morning, this bottle wound up on the table in precisely the same position, so that all we could see from where we sat was Mitz Limon Meshu...
We found different ways to finish the word.

It would make a good exercise for people learning Hebrew... only you'd better use a different label, as I think we've pretty much exhausted the possibilities of lemon juice.

Mitz Limon Meshumar... preserved lemon juice.
Mitz Limon Meshupatz... renovated lemon juice.
Mitz Limon Meshuga... crazy lemon juice.
Mitz Limon Meshuchrar... freed lemon juice.
Mitz Limon Meshutaf... lemon juice in a partnership.
Mitz Limon Meshulal... lemon juice captured as booty.
Mitz Limon Meshuneh... bizarre lemon juice.
Mitz Limon Meshubad... subjugated lemon juice.
Mitz Limon Meshupar... beautified lemon juice.
Mitz Limon Meshulach... lemon juice dispatched on an errand (usually fundraising).
Mitz Limon Meshulam... lemon juice paid for in full.
Mitz Limon Meshulash... triangular lemon juice.
Mitz Limon Meshukatz... lemon juice afflicted by vermin.
Mitz Limon Meshum... lemon juice made of garlic.
Mitz Limon Meshurar... lemon juice sung-about (I am not sure this word actually exists).

Rabba bar bar Chana and the Arabian Nights

Rabbi Geometry once mentioned a Gemara about a sea where metal nails fly out of ships.Say, said I, that sounds familiar. There is a sea like that in the story of the "Third Calender" in the Arabian Nights.

The Nights were set in writing c. 1450, but they are set in Baghdad under the Abbasid Caliphate in, oh, the 700's.

 It occurred to me the other day that the yeshivos of Sura and Pumbedisa were for a time located in the exact same time and place as the Arabian Nights -- occasionally one turned up in Baghdad itself -- so I dug my copy out of the basement to see if I could find any Gaonim wandering around in the perfumed gardens of Caliph Haroun al-Raschid.

While I was there, I got distracted: the stories of Sinbad the Sailor are so famous, and I never read them... so I read the first one.


The first voyage of Sinbad the Sailor -- or at least the nut of it -- is taken almost verbatim from the story of Rabba bar bar Chana and the whale fish, on Bava Basra 73b.

(Once upon a time, says Rabba bar bar Chana, he and some others went a-sailing on a ship, and saw what appeared to be a mossy island. They disembarked and began to cook a meal on it... but it was really a whale; and, feeling the heat of the cooking fire, it rolled over; and had they not been close to the boat, they would have drowned.

The first time I heard this story, it was explained as a metaphor for Jewish history: we land on what looks like a safe kingdom to live in... but we better stick close with the Torah!)

Fancy meeting you here!
In the end, I did not find any mention of contemporary Jewish society in the Nights (I only skimmed the Victorian children's version); but it is obvious that there was Jewish influence on them here and there.

29 September 2013

Goosey Sukkos

One of the best parts of Sukkos in this particular (chilly) corner of the Diaspora is sitting in the sukkah, looking up through the schach, watching all the Canadian geese fly south.


A worthwhile project, brought to you by NCSY:


Dark Mink

Some Israeli friends of mine were once invited to a wedding at which the color scheme for family members was Champagne. They thought that was hilarious: "Champagne? That's a color?"

I have lived among New Yorkers long enough that it no longer strikes me as hilarious that a wedding would have a color scheme, or that the color would be called Champagne... but I did get the giggles recently when my friend was busy calling bridal shops searching for a garment in Dark Mink.
"Dark Mink? That's a color? What color is a mink, anyway?" -- but all the shops knew exactly what she was talking about.

...whereupon we here in the Rain made a list of colors that we'd like to set as the color scheme for a party.
We tried to come up with colors that you can almost visualize... you're sure you know what color that is... except that, on second thought, you'd be hard-pressed to specify exactly what it is...

Faded Venezuela
Burnt Horizon
Arctic Grape

Then we got silly...
Yellow Cup (as opposed to plain yellow)

...and sillier...
Postmodernist Aster
 Antidisestablishmentarian Pink
Yesterday's Backgammon
 Mutual Fish

I wish I could take credit for coining the name Mutual Fish, but that is the name of a real fish store in Seattle.

 Then we listed all the shades of yeshivish suits that the men might wear to this wedding...
Times New Roman
Flat Tire
Black Licorice
Vivid Bat

27 August 2013

Plus ca change

Scrambling to find primary sources for a course on medieval Jewish history, I came across a piece of Karaite poetry.

It sounds exactly like a disgruntled blogger, but in rhyme.

Pretty funny.

The more I read about it, the more I suspect people in the days of the Gaonim became Karaites for the same reasons that people today become bloggers: the desire to air imagined or unexamined grievances by innovating in public.

10 July 2013

Defining Gothic

I just discovered this definition of the Gothic in print; then someone asked me to "share the link" -- so here it is.

John Ruskin was a Victorian champion of Gothic architecture. His list of its defining characteristics tickled my fancy, not only because I like metaphor but because it seems an apt description of Gothic subculture.
Any Goths reading this will kindly bear in mind that Ruskin was a great admirer of the Gothic:

I believe, then, that the characteristics or moral elements of Gothic are the following, placed in the order of their importance:
1. Savageness.
2. Changefulness.
3. Naturalism.
4. Grotesqueness.
5. Rigidity.
6. Redundance.
These characters are here expressed as belonging to the building; as belonging to the builder, they would be expressed thus: -- 1. Savageness or Rudeness. 2. Love of Change. 3. Love of Nature. 4. Disturbed Imagination. 5. Obstinacy. 6. Generosity.
...I shall proceed to examine them in their order.

The entire chapter is entitled The Nature of Gothic. I am sure it is all over the Internet.
I don't agree with everything he says, but it makes for highly entertaining reading.

02 July 2013

Quote of the Day: on Rome

"Rome was a flea market of borrowed gods and conquered peoples, a bargain basement on two floors, earth and heaven."

--a character in Russian fiction

05 June 2013

Book Review: The Dressmaker's Guide

The Dressmaker's Guide, 1840-1865, Second Edition, by Elizabeth Stewart Clark, has not received many online reviews, so I thought I'd describe it a bit. I have not been asked to do this by the author.
This is a ladies-only post: any gentlemen are invited to excuse themselves.

The book is self-published, intended for the Civil War reenacting (“living history”) crowd. It doesn’t feel self-published: it is well laid-out and the font is appropriate. The drawings are clear.
A publisher would have given the text one more edit, to clear up minor annoyances like typos, then/than, and superfluous adverbs.

The book is not fluff: it is 300 pages of solid information. The first 70 are relevant only to reenactors, addressing matters like textile accuracy and class-specificity. The next 20 pages cover basic hand-sewing techniques in detail, with some suggestions of materials that sound intriguing (so that's what twist is!). And then comes the fun stuff: how to make 19th-century piping, how to make period-correct gathers and half a dozen different kinds of pleats, and finally how to draft (or rather drape) 19th-century garments, including nine kinds of sleeves and about as many bodices. I believe the selection of shapes is, with a few exceptions listed below, comprehensive.

The book does not elaborate on the many styles into which these shapes can be developed without further instruction (e.g., where you might put trim): it assumes that you have at your disposal a large collection of period images from which to derive inspiration.* It concerns only women’s clothing, though I assume the techniques for children’s clothes are similar.

What I love about the book is the level of detail: e.g., the author not only tells you how to make box pleats, she explains how to position them so that they look nice, and which parts of the pleat need to be precise and where you can fudge; and how to size and space the stitches that hold them together; and how many pleats “look well” per skirt.

Missing from the book (or at least I couldn't find them) are:
-pagoda sleeves
-ruched (etc.) trim
-blouses, as opposed to bodices: how to finish the bottoms, put in tucks, and make the high, ruffled collars of c. 1850
-where to insert the supports in – the gentlemen did clear out, right?
-internal cross-references
-a list of resources, and
-an index.

The book is costly, probably because it is a combination (and expansion) of two books that the author had previously published separately. But I do not know of another book that explains clearly how to draft, say, a 19th-century armscye or a fiddleback; and the technique for narrow hems made me very, very happy.

The author’s website is http://www.thesewingacademy.com/

*such as a public library, or the Internet; or, there are whole books of nothing but daguerreotypes, published expressly for this purpose.

23 May 2013


Babyloops saw a man eating soup, and asked for some.
"No, Babyloops," I said, "It's not kosher."
She kept admiring the soup.
"Should we go find you something kosher?" I suggested.
"Find you something kosher!" she agreed, and off we went.
"Do you want a banana?"
"No! I want kosher!"
"Do you want chips?"
"No! I want kosher!"
"A banana is kosher. So are chips."
"No, I want kosher!"
So I gave her a carton of Haagen-Dazs and a spoon.
"I like kosher," she said.

[**the word "please" has since entered her vocabulary.]

Funny mistranslation

‎"But for a burst of pizzas, throw little somethings all over."

- advice on how to host a party, from the Jerusalem phone book

25 April 2013

Occupy Entropy II

There is no such thing as the present. (This is reflected in the way the present tense works in Hebrew.) Time swishes from the past to the future; you can reference the past, and you can reference the future, but you cannot point to any part of Time and say, "This is the present," because by the time you do, it is already in the past.

However, we have the ability to stop time from swishing by us. To make a free-will choice to do something good, is to do something eternal, as the Source of all good is eternal: to remove those moments from the passage of time.

Occupy entropy!

In the Wee Hours of the Morning in a Kitchen Full of Spray Bottles This Seemed Extremely Funny

For the full effect, you have to stop singing abruptly the moment you run out of syllables.

On the evening before Pesach, my husband kashered for me
Five steel pots,
Four electric burners,
Three countertops,
Two kitchen sinks,
And a blech!

18 March 2013

What We Wore in Egypt

This is not based on serious research, only the Internet; but from what I can make out, it seems that...

The Egyptians went round chiefly in white linen. The more wealthy you were, the finer your linen -- which is why garments in Egyptian art are sometimes depicted as transparent.

The Jews wore wool -- shelo shinu es malbusham, we did not switch over to traditional Egyptian dress. And, at least when we had time, we dyed it. Woolen garments, like shepherding, were anathema to the sheep-worshipping Egyptians.

Wool in summer is not as crazy as it sounds -- a light wool is more comfortable than, say, a light cotton.
But I did find this amusing, because even today certain Jews are the ones wearing black wool suits in the summer...

21 January 2013

On Being a Giving Person

My neighbor, Mrs. Monsoon:

"If someone tells me that her son is sick, and I don't say, 'Can I take the rest of your children? Can I cook you a meal?' that makes me a small-minded person, doesn't it?"

Food for thought.