Archive for September, 2013

Rachel’s Hebrew Class 2013/14

September 25, 2013

Rachel Montagu has kindly sent some details of her Biblical Hebrew course for 2013-14.  This stands in place of the course she used to teach at Birkbeck.

Rachel’s courses work in the classic fashion: each student in turn reads a verse aloud and then translates it, with input from the teacher as necessary. She also provides some background and interpretation from traditional Jewish teaching.

The emphasis is certainly on understanding the text rather than grammar as such. In my experience, there have been perhaps an average of seven or so students coming to lessons. The level things are taken at tends to depend on who the students are.

In principle, students should have covered the material in the First Hebrew Primer from Eks before starting this class. If you know the qal conjugation (perfect and imperfect) pretty well for verbs with three strong roots (the ‘regular’ ones if you like) and have some idea about hiphil and niphal and verbs with weak roots, that will probably do.

If you want to know more, you can email Rachel;  or feel free to email me if you’re feeling shy.  I’ve also shared just about everything I know about studying Biblical Hebrew with the world here.

Dear all

This year we will be meeting on Wednesdays, starting this week Wednesday
2nd October from 6.30-8.30.

The West Central Synagogue and Liberal Judaism are still kindly offering us hospitality at

The Montagu Centre
21 Maple Street
London W1T 4BE

This is near to Warren St and Gt Portland St tube stations and just off the Tottenham Court Rd.

If you’re interested in this, you can email her directly.  Or if you’re feeling shy you can email me instead.  The schedule is as given below.

Autumn Term

Amos – Prophet of Tekoa

2nd October Amos 1:1-8, 2:4-12

9th October Amos 2:13-16, 3:1-12,

16th October Amos 4:1-13, 5:4, 5:10-15

23rd October Amos 5:21-27, 6:1-12,

[30th October – half term]

6th November Amos 7:4-16, 8:4-10

13th November Amos 8:11-14, 9:1-3, 9:7-15

Lamentations – A Time to Weep

20th November Lamentations 1:1-18

27th November Lamentations 1:19-22, 3:1-40

4th December Lamentations 3:41-66, 4:13-22

11th December Lamentations 5:1-22

Spring Term

Elijah and Elisha: Master and Student

8th January I Kings 17:1-16

15th January I Kings 17:18-24, 18:16-29

22nd January I Kings 18:30-46, 19:1-4

29th January I Kings 19:5-21,

5th February II Kings 1:1-17

12th February II Kings 2:1-25

[19th February half term]

26th February II Kings 4:1-20

5th March II Kings 4:21-44

12th March II Kings 5:1-19

19th March II Kings 5:20-27, 6:8-23

Micah – Powerful Prophet

26th March Micah 3:5-12, 4:1-10, 5:1-4

2nd April Micah 6:1-16, 7:5-8, 18-20

Summer Term

Esther: Wise Queens and a Foolish King

23rd April Esther 1:20

30th April Esther 1:21-22, 2:1-18

7th May Esther 2:19-23, 3:1-5

14th May Esther 3:6-15, 4:1-10,

21st May Esther 4:11-17, 5:1-14

[28th May half term]

[4thJune no class – Shavuot]

11th June Esther 6:1-14, 7:1-6

18th June Esther 7:7-10, 8:1-17

25th June Esther 9:1-20

2nd July Esther 9:21-32, 10:1-3


9th July Psalms 142:1-8, 144:1-15

16th July Psalms 107, 43, 42

day arrives (Inga Kuznetsova)

September 22, 2013

day arrives like a train day fixes
bodies to an island like a glass bottle with a message
day opens in a thicket like a sudden glade
day resides in a shell of darkness for the time being
and day hatches out like water day arrives
day by day the day’s flood is such
day blooms like a white lily of summer
day lives from dawn’s bud until sunset
at evening a cicada seаms the rolled-up day
the pellet of the day catches on the hem of a dress
so much it does not want to disappear fall be forced back
with flapping words the evening birds bring down
the day’s petals shreds echoes remains
day is perishing has perished so only in embryo
in its black shell but you will awake will see
the day is hatching out from far away it is arriving


  день прибывает

день прибывает как поезд день прибивает
к острову тела бутылкой стеклянной с посланьем
день открывается в чаще внезапной поляной
день до поры в скорлупе темноты пребывает
и вылупляется день как вода прибывает
день ото дня наводнение дня так бывает
день расцветает как белая лилия лета
день от бутона рассвета живет до заката
вечером свернутый день прошивает цикада
катышек дня зацепился за краешек платья
как он не хочет теряться упасть откатиться
взмахами крыльев сбивают вечерние птицы
дня лепестки лоскутки отголоски остатки
день погибает погиб значит только в зачатке
в черной своей скорлупе а проснешься увидишь
день вылупляется издалека прибывает

Foreign Language Books In London’s Charity Bookshops: Oxfam Bloomsbury

September 22, 2013


Both this shop and the one in Marylebone are described as Oxfam’s flagship bookshop–maybe they just have too many admirals.  Anyway, this one had, excluding dictionaries, 9 shelves of foreign books with about 250 volumes.  There was no sign of any in Russian (including the ones I’d donated on earlier visits).


Be that as it may, here’s a picture of the opening hours:


I had also on many occasions been struck by the peremptory nature of this notice:


and didn’t really notice the placatory introduction until I came to photograph it…

Foreign Language Books In London’s Charity Bookshops: Oxfam, Maylebone High Street

September 22, 2013


Upon investigation, the foreign books in this shop amounted to a shelf of dictionaries:


In other news, I was quite tempted by a copy of J L Carr’s A Month In The Country, but decided that the pages were too tanned.

And here’s a picture of the opening times:



Foreign Language Books In London’s Charity Bookshops: Books For Amnesty, Hammersmith

September 21, 2013


The Books For Amnesty shop at 139b King Street turned out to have 6 shelves of foreign books, containing perhaps 150 or so volumes:


I can’t say that anything struck me particularly–they had three or four (quite old) books in Russian.

Here’s a picture of the opening times:


Foreign Language Books In London’s Charity Bookshops: Oxfam Kentish Town

September 18, 2013

IMG_1052This blog has decided to investigate the foreign-language books in London charity bookshops, with the idea of donating our surplus ones to places where they have some chance of escaping the recycling bin.  Our first visit was to the Oxfam Bookshop in Kentish Town.

There was indeed a pretty decent Foreign Literature section, comprising about 150 volumes:


The most interesting thing I noticed was a copy of Le Père Goriot  in rather better nick than the one I had just donated. I didn’t see any Russian books–a couple of Bulgarian ones maybe.  The most encouraging thing was the air of animation in the shop–there was constant activity as some people bought books and others brought new ones in.  In fact, the staff were too busy to harass me about Gift Aid.

None of which makes Kentish Town any less unappealing as a destination, of course…

Here’s a picture of the opening hours:


Some problems of continuity in J L Carr’s ‘A Month In The Country’

September 18, 2013


Try Books! was highly impressed by this novella, and quite rightly so.  We briefly recall that the story is set in 1920 and concerns the protagonist Birkin arriving in the North Yorkshire village to uncover a wall-painting in the church.  Not a great deal happens, you might say–he uncovers the painting, but without any great repercussions, recovers somewhat from his experiences in the Great War and does not have an affair with Alice Keach, the vicar’s wife.  At the same time, and following the provisions of the same will, another man (called Moon) has come to search for the grave of Piers Hebron, d 1373.

The narration impresses with its reticence–things like the death of Emily Clough are alluded to so that the reader himself sees and feels them, instead of a description being imposed on him from outside.  The manner of the North Yorkshire locals–direct but without meaning harm is beautifully evoked, as is the changing of the seasons.

That is the important bit.  There are also some reservations.  It may be  good that we confront so many items of specialised vocabulary in so short a space:  fish-base, baluster, ashlar, sinoper haematite, sneck, but some of them raise doubts:

‘a spendid repertory of North Riding dishes was performed amanti bravura to an applauding Londoner’

–I rather doubt that amanti bravura  means anything at all in Italian or in English…

The way in which Moon finds Piers Hebron to have been a convert to Islam at the end of the story so that he must have been the  intriguing sinner depicted in the mural Birkin has uncovered is all rather too neat:  presumably it means This is the end of the story, you can go now.  Which I imagine is why neither Birkin’s masterly mural nor Moon’s two discoveries have any consequences at all.

People move away, grow older, die, and the bright belief that there will be another marvellous thing round each corner fades.

Then there are some strange lapses of consistency.  The month seems to last at least from the end of July to sometime in September.  At the beginning, Birkin learns that his deceased funder herself cleared a patch of the painting; he worries about this, but then it’s never referred to again.  At the beginning, Birkin also tells the Reverend J G Keach that he will need to use the stove in the church since he does not have his own, while later on he cooks on his own Primus.  Alice Keach ends up referring to her husband as ‘Arthur’, which doesn’t sound very JG-ish.

Apparently this all came about because the author didn’t believe in proof-reading, and it’s unfortunate in a novella–especially such a good one–while forgetting what you’ve said in a novel is less likely to distract the reader.

On the death of a friend (Andrei Polyakov)

September 11, 2013

The staircase is no longer going to creak
with its empty stairs
and there’s no-one going to speak
in those same youthful words.
But a smoking yellow light will show
and outside the window–wasted snow.

Why is it that at these times
I’ve come, obeying some dogma?
Why did I still read through your lines
Over apples and the vodka?
Not in order to drink, I say
But because a brother’s passed away.

The dirty light in your entrance hall
scrapes over my skin, like a knife.
Farewell! You were a bad poet, in all,
but you were a good comrade in life.
And we drank together more than once
and we used to shake our heads as one.

When we meet again with joy
in the Crimea we have inside
how we will laugh, my dear boy,
and God we’ll leave aside.
How we shall embrace in those happy days!
And what a table will be set always!

And what girl students, now you mind,
will be there with you and me!
And what gold it is we’re going to find
beneath their tongues, you’ll see!
And what the verse is you’re going to recite
you yourself, of course, will grasp aright!

But until that time in earthly gaol
I will remember you
I’ll trust my heart, without fail,
and in the resurrection too,
while darling vodka continues to shine
while the snow still blows in the line.polyakov

На смерть друга

Не будет лестница скрипеть
ступеньками пустыми
и человек не будет петь
словами молодыми
А будет дымный жёлтый свет
и за окном — размытый снег

Зачем же я сюда пришёл
дорогою короткой?
Зачем стихи твои прочёл
над яблоком и водкой?
Не потому, что выпить рад
а потому, что умер брат

В твоём подъезде грязный свет
как нож, скребёт по коже…
Прощай! Ты был плохой поэт —
товарищ был хороший
Не раз мы пили здесь с тобой
качаясь общей головой

Когда увидимся с тобой
во внутренней Тавриде
как рассмеёмся, милый мой
на Бога не в обиде!
Как мы обнимемся тогда!
как стол накроем навсегда!

Каких студенток приведём
потом узнаем сами!
Какое золото найдём
у них под языками!
Какие ты стихи прочтёшь
ты сам, наверное, поймёшь!
А до тех пор в земном плену —
тебя я не забуду

Я верю сердцу своему
и воскресенья чуду
покуда водочка блестит
пока в стишок снежок летит

‘Are Russians becoming ever fewer?’ (Kirill Koval’dzhi)

September 8, 2013

Are Russians becoming ever fewer?
Russians are becoming ever more numerous!

What have immigrants ever done?
Most have them have always got
Melted in the Russian cauldron
In the linguistic melting-pot.
A beauty of any bloom
Has always done us for a girl-friend;
Given two generations, which is soon
A Negro becomes Pushkin in the end.

Становится русских всё меньше?
Становится русских всё больше!

Чего мигранты достигли?
Они всё в большем числе
Переплавляются в русском тигле,
В крепчайшем языковом котле.
Красотки любого цветения
Извечно годятся в подружки нам;
Даже негр через два поколения
Становится Пушкиным!

Fidelio (Mariya Stepanova)

September 8, 2013

The session begins, everything rustles,
They lead witnesses away and lead in new ones
The sentence is passed in haste
The accused turns into a convict.

The sentence is put into effect
Normally the prison governor and the doctor are present.
Relatives are not allowed there.
Reporters are also not allowed there.
They thrust the convicts in, one at a time,
Fix the shoulders, ankles and wrists,
Give him a last cigarette,
Give him the injection, give him the alternating current,
The convict turns into a bear.

Normally the relatives do not collect them,
Though I know of one exceptional case:
They are kept at the dachas, with a guard, there’s forest all around.
Those not required are dispersed amongst zoos,
Circus troupes, private collections:
They are unaggressive, easy to train,
Walk on their hind legs, sometimes say ‘mama’.

(The woman clothed in a guard’s hide
they politely seat in a Black Maria.)



Заседание начинается, всё шуршит,
Свидетелей выводят и вводят новых,
Второпях выносится приговор,
Обвиняемый превращается в осуждённого.

Приговор приводится в исполнение,
Обычно при этом врач и начальник тюрьмы.
Родственников сюда не пускают.
Журналистов тоже сюда не пускают.
Сюда запускают осуждённых, по одному,
Фиксируют плечи, щиколотки и запястья,
Дают покурить в последний,
Дают укол, дают переменный ток,
Осуждённый превращается в медведя.

Родственники их обычно не забирают,
Хотя я знаю один исключительный случай:
Держат на даче, с охраной, там лес до краёв.
Невостребованные расходятся по зоопаркам,
Цирковым коллективам, частным живым уголкам:
Неагрессивны, хорошо обучаются,
Ходят на задних, «мама» порой говорят.

(Женщину, переодетую в шкуру охранника,
вежливо усаживают в воронок.)