Tuesday, September 14, 2010


So here we are, tucked into a rented flat in Bloomsbury, just a bit north of Russell Square--i.e. London.  We spent a semester in the same neighborhood nine years ago, when Mrs. B had a teaching gig here.  Everything seems so familiar I can't quite  believe I haven't been back in the meantime, and I'm mildly impressed at how little has changed.  There are a few points to notice; example, the forlorn/modern Brunswick Square shopping center which always looked so desolate the first time I saw it in 1976 has transmogrified itself into almost inviting--well, at least most of the shops have tenants, which is a novelty and an improvement.

We're still pretty dopey so in default of ambitious plans we idled away a few hours by popping around to the British Museum.  We spent most of the time with the Assyrians--those gaunt, majestic stone lion-men and the massive bas-reliefs just off to the left as you go in the main door; another of those grand enterprises of imperial pillage that the Brits carried out so unapologetically in the 19th Century.  It was fun to be back because I have more context for this stuff than I used to.   Specifically I've trekked around Israel a bit, and have at least a beginners sense of the situation of the ancient Israeliates--more precisely, the Judaeans-- wriggling between the millstones of Assyria and Egypt.

In Israel I did visit Lachish, south of Jerusalem.  These days it looks like a noplace.  I gather that in its own time, it was someplace, but its main identity is that it was between someplace and someplace else; so, a natural candidate for destruction when the Assyrian king Sennacherib in the late 8th Century got a feather up his nose and undertook to make a nuisance of himself throughout that part of the world.

Bear with me, there's a sequitur here.  Specifically--among its Assyrian loot, the BM offers a whole room dedicated to wall reliefs giving the official Babylonian spin-doctor account of the battle of Lachish,  and it is a sight not to be missed.  Lots of battle scenes of course, and picture of miserable prisoners being hauled before the great king.  But also remarkable sketches of other unfortunates as they pack up wives, children and chattels for the journey into exile.

Perhaps the most remarkable item is a panel showing three (it says here) prisoners with musical instruments--some kind of a lyre.  With the help of a museum wall note, we connect the dots:
By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.  We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?

That's the beginning of Psalm 137, from the King James version.


Anonymous said...

There is a song with the words: 'I'll hang my harp on a weeping willow tree." Dang I can't remember where that memory comes from.

Anonymous said...

Tavern in the town.