Wednesday, December 2, 2009
“Ill Omen – Girl in the East Wind with Ravens Crossing the Moon”
Above is a painting by a British artist, Francis MacNair (1874 – 1921)
It’s daytime here, so there’s no moon at the moment, but there are plenty of ravens –which is to say crows. Crows – birds of the Corvid family – are plentiful in Israel. They rarely fly so artistically against the moon, but they are, nonetheless, clever little beasts. Israeli crows have actually been observed using breadcrumbs to go fishing. People feed them little pieces of bread in the park, and then watch as the crows pick up the bread, fly over to the pond, drop the bread in, and thus lure an even better meal: fish!
But it’s that blasted east wind, not crows, that’s the topic under discussion today. Today’s weather forecast was for a strong east wind – and the moment I went outside this morning, I noticed it. The wind came from an unusual direction, although at daybreak, it wasn’t all that strong.
Now, however, it’s really ripping out there – systematically knocking all my plants off their perches, where they were previously standing so serenely on the railing of the outside-room. I’m still considering what to do about it. Putting them back on the railing seems pointless. Better to go take them all down, I guess.
Normally an east wind in Israel blows hot and sandy, carrying the heat and sand of the eastern deserts into every nook and cranny of every house, no matter how carefully you try to shut it out. After a sand storm here, I literally shovel sand out of the corners. Nothing at all prevents it from coming in.
But today the east wind isn’t hot. In fact, it’s quite chilly. That makes it even more unusual.
No matter what, I always think of an east wind with a certain amount of trepidation. In the first place, it’s odd, coming from a different place as it does. It’s something odd that you sense, even if there’s no rational basis to it.
Secondly, however, from time immemorial, an east wind has been used as an omen – not for good but for evil.
In the Chumash (Hebrew Bible) the east wind is mentioned 17 different times. In Genesis, when Yosef interprets Pharaoh’s dream, he specifies that it’s the east wind that blasted away at the corn, destroying it seven years in a row. Later, in Exodus, Moshe summons the east wind to bring the locusts into Egypt, and then later, uses it to part the Sea of Reeds to permit the Israelites to escape – and drowning Pharaoh’s armies in the process. Most usually, the east wind is depicted as destructive.
Literature followed the same pattern:
The Greeks, who lived and wrote not that far from Israel, preferred to leave the east wind out of things. They named the east wind Eurus, but refused to associate it with any of the three Greek seasons. (Sensible of the Greeks to have only three seasons – live in these parts awhile, and it starts to make sense.)
Later, in J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings’, the characters sing incantations to the three winds, and just as did the Greeks, they left out the east wind.
“ "You left the East Wind to me," said Gimli, "but I will say naught of it."
"That is as it should be," said Aragorn. "In Minas Tirith they endure the East Wind, but they do not ask it for tidings. ..."
All that said, good old Sherlock Holmes, as usual, refused to bow to convention.
In Conan Doyle’s story “His Last Bow”, Sherlock and Dr. Watson chat while their prisoner struggles with his bound hands. Sherlock points to the moonlit sea and says, "There's an East wind coming, Watson."
"I think not, Holmes. It is very warm,” Watson replies.
"Good old Watson!” Sherlock replies. “You are the one fixed point in a changing age. There's an east wind coming all the same, such a wind as never blew on England yet. It will be cold and bitter, Watson, and a good many of us may wither before its blast. But it's G-d's own wind none the less, and a cleaner, better, stronger land will lie in the sunshine when the storm has cleared."
Today, Israel suffers under the blast of the east wind. But it's not just today, it's ongoing, covering the last several weeks.
Will it blow through, leaving a better stronger land, once the storm has cleared?
We can only hope.