Tower of Babel

January 22, 2015

Last week I was back under the lights for opera director Saskia Boddeke, wife of Peter Greenaway. She is creating an installation for the Jewish Museum in Berlin on the subject of Abraham and Isaac. The story is central to Judaism, Islam and Christianty, so I was asked to write the relevant passages in Hebrew, Arabic and Latin. The team had devised a new writing table, which allowed a length of paper to be pulled past the camera while I wrote in a fixed position. Keeping the pen on screen is always the challenge, so a monitor is installed directly in front of me. I watch the monitor, not the pen – calligraphic laparoscopy! This delicate operation went well in Latin, even better with the wonderful flowing forms of Arabic, but was a real challenge in Hebrew, which I do not read. We crawled forward letter by letter, with Saskia checking the spelling along the way. Suddenly she would shout out, “spelling error” and we would have to cut and redo the take. I can tell you that a day of trilingual calligraphy under hot lights and with Father Abraham looking over your shoulder is exhausting. But the results were stunning. I can’t wait for the opening, to see what the editor does with all the footage.

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