2 TAKES ON INTRICATE

WoodCut E1SM 2571

DP Photo Challenge: Intricate

Hammurabi’s Code is intricate. First, it is a set of laws written in the ancient Akkadian language, in a cuneiform script. Second, it is carved on an upright stone stele the size of a person and curved in the shape of a fingertip. Third, it consists of 282 separate rules, and penalties for breaking the rules. Close to 4,000 years ago in Babylon, Hammurabi’s Code laid down the law for everything from stealing your neighbor’s goat, to “surprising” your neighbor’s wife in bed, to how much a ferry boat hire for a day should cost, to the fine for harboring someone else’s female slave in your house and not telling him she was there.

The rules are not only intricate, they are also fairly harsh. If a son hits his father, the son’s hand is lopped off. If you sleep with and “surprise” your neighbor’s wife, or his betrothed virgin child-wife, you get tied up and tossed into the Euphrates and drowned, or they bury you to the waist in sand, so you can’t run away, then stone you to death. Matthew in the Christian New Testament says: “You have heard that it was said, ‘an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’” Whether he knew it or not, Matthew was citing Hammurabi 2000 years earlier. Welcome to civilization.

At about the same time in India, a fairly advanced Bronze-Age culture was creating some pretty big waves in the Indus Valley. And over in Egypt, the Pyramids at Giza were already built and sparkling with fresh paint and great glory. The Indus Valley, along with Mesopotamia (where Babylon lies), and Egypt are now called the Cradle of Civilization. Once iron was discovered, and more powerful weapons could be made, there was a giant arms race. There was constant warfare. Things change, and everything stays the same. I reckon I’m telling you nothing new here.

I just wanted to give you an idea of where things came from and how far we’ve come, as an animal on planet Earth. Apparently, not that far. I’m guessing from that point (4,000 years ago), humans were already sitting on top of the food chain. Not quite as solidly, nor in as comfortable a chair as we sit at the dining table today, maybe. But still, on top, and we were eating everything with a face that moved. We’d already invented bartering, as well as inventing money, and were busily selling scorpions and cockroaches as delicacies in your local roadside market for a fraction of a shekel each.

We’d also become rather artistic. Apparently, when the basic needs are met—food, shelter, clothing—and we have laws in place to keep those pesky slave stealers and goat buggerers out of our lives, we have time to create art. The fine art of coloring textiles has been around for quite a while. Not as long, perhaps, as eating scorpions dipped in honey for dessert, but quite a while.

Once the white cotton had been stained various colors—iron red, turquoise blue, boysenberry purple—the next step was creating designs in other colors to apply on the fabric. The oldest and most labor-intensive method, perhaps, is woodblock printing. This process was used throughout East Asia, and some believe it may have originated in China in the ancient past. No one knows for certain when or where. But where there’s art, there is culture.

The idea of the woodblock print is this: you take a chunk of wood and carve the face of it into some design that you like. You carve a handle on the back to hold with your hand. Then you dip the face into the dye and “stamp” the design onto the cloth by positioning the block, then tapping it to transfer the dye from the block design to the fabric. You do this again and again down the length and width of the fabric. A very labor-intensive, and “intricate,” method of printing on textiles. But very effective, and if you believe some artists, the only method by which some designs can be created. You can use one block for one part of the design or color, another block for another part of the design and color. And create very intricate designs in different colors, and patterns.

Flash forward a few thousand years:

“Why in the world would you buy that thing?” Shakti, my new yoga buddy, asks.

“Why not?” I say.

“What are you going to do with it?”

“Hang it on my wall. Stick it on a bookshelf.”

“I don’t get it,” she says.

We are in Rishikesh. The yoga Mecca of the world. Any yogi worth his mat takes a pilgrimage at some point in his life to Rishikesh, a tiny town resting on the shores either side of the sacred Ganga River (Ganges) in the Valley of the Saints at the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains. This is the place where the Beatles came all those years ago to visit Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, to discover what was what with the universe and everything beyond. I’m pretty sure they didn’t find the answer they were looking for, but they did find inspiration, and the sitar, here in Rishikesh. Their next albums wreaked with Rishikesh-inspired blues. It would take me almost a decade later to arrive my first time in India to search for the same answers. Spoiler: If you haven’t heard by now, the answer is… 42.

Shakti and I stand at a shop where they sell ancient wooden cow bells; Satya Sai Baba nag champa incense; and used, discarded woodblocks once employed to print fine designs on saris of silk. Shakti views them as garbage, to be tossed out with the mango peels. I see a piece of fine art, sheathed in history and tradition. A marvelous sculpture of wood that would look perfect next to my (never-used) opium pipe carved from bone in the form of an open-mouthed dragon, purchased in Cambodia.

I met Shakti at the yoga ashram where I’m staying in Rishikesh. She is the most limber person I have ever seen. She can sit with both legs stretched out to the side, bend foreword, and touch her chest and forehead to the floor. I’m in awe because forward bends are my weak spot. After years of (OK, not that diligent) practice, I still can’t bend forward and touch my chest to my thighs. Some people I know simply plop down into that position, no problem. It’s not a difficult pose, it’s just that my body has some aversion to doing it. An innate tightness in my hip or back or legs that disallows it. If I tried it with my legs out to the side like Shakti, I’d break my pelvis. I can stand on my head, I can twist 90 degrees, I can bend backwards. But forward bend—just not happening. I have heard some yogis say it took them like five years to master a certain pose. But forward bend? Come on, god.

Shakti’s disgust for rubbish did not faze me in the slightest. I bought that woodblock. It has a certain heaviness, it harbors nuances of color left from the printing process, it almost feels soft. I also stocked up on some Sai Baba nag champa incense at a fraction of the cost you’d buy it anywhere outside of India. It’s the only incense I burn. A very pleasing aroma: sweet, light, airy. From ancient times, most cultures used some form of incense for sacred rites, and for healing. For a very long time, frankincense was worth more than gold. That’s why wise men riding camels and bearing gifts sometimes offered it. The Queen of Sheba got rich shipping it by way of the Frankincense Trail out of the Arabian peninsula, where she ruled.

In Hammurabi’s Babylon, life was intricate. People fought wars, people sold goods, people took slaves, people committed crimes, people found love, people lived about as long as we do today. And in religious ceremonies in Babylon, incense was offered every day to appease their gods. Apparently, as intricate as the world is, there is nothing new here.

Find other challenge photos here: Intricate

66 comments

  1. Proportionally to the value of what you have just written, I will try to give a lukewarm opinion to not upset you with compliments, ok?
    I could spend the rest of the afternoon and evening reading more if you had written more. And that could be 10k pages. It is a holiday (Liberation day -WWII) and it’s raining cats, dogs, cows, the whole Noah’s Ark!
    Are you still with me? Acceptable?
    I’m sorry but this is again a f-ing brilliant piece.You know a lot and we may even already know what you share, but the way you recount history tales is: smart, thoughtful, sarcastic, funny, contagious…Think of this…it is like craving for chocolate and eating it.
    Sorry…I said.. even if you will request that I stop following you…
    Didn’t you say that the world is still the same? You can’t trust humans…
    Cheers.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. worth waiting for, Badfish.
    and that photo: WOW!
    just goes to show there are many forms of intricacy – in the beautiful, there may be harsh and horrific.
    humans, ey? not my favourite species.

    actually, i agree with Lucille. when’s the Badfish out of Water history of the World coming out in print form?

    ( though I must say, I’m still waiting to see photographic evidence of the intricacies of the inside of your head! ) ( re yr comment on my blog 🙂 )

    I’m also waiting for Finnora to drop by – that’s when the conversation starts to get very interesting 🙂

    I’m afraid to say I think you may have excelled yourself on this one, Badfish. Like i said, worth waiting for.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Debbie, thanks again. I think you’re right…many forms of intricacy, and the human species? I don’t understand it. I can’t remember who said it, but there’s a saying that goes like this: “Insanity is doing the same thing again and again, and expecting different results.” Isn’t that the very definition of humans?

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m not that good at english, but I think I got most part of the text and the meaning. I like your long term thoughts and you got a valid piont. Not much has happen trough the years, will we ever learn? Thank you for sharing this intricate text!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Here’s the question, what is the figure on the wood block? I assume the picture is the woodblock. Looks like a stylized person. Perhaps with a massive sinus condition? And don’t say Hammurabi.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. An eloquently written post. Although I had problems focusing after visions of lopping hands off and being buried to the waist in sand and being stoned. I would want to study those tiny intricate rules very studiously.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, it’s always good to know the law. Not knowing the law has never been a good defense anywhere in the world. And I can’t imagine those penalties. Sorry to have disturbed your reading time! Good to know that many countries have made advances in laws and punishment, sad that some still lag behind.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Hey, what a great idea. No hadn’t even given it a thought. I bought it as art, display it as art. But it’s really a tool. I’ll let you know if I try to print!

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  6. Very interesting! FYI Every man I’ve ever known has difficulty bending forward. Women, I presume can do so more easily having been made to bear children. Our pelvis is far more flexible. I have noticed that even heavy women can do this maneuver.
    As for the rest of your article? Excellent and Interesting! I would have loved having you as my teacher. I had few that were interesting enough to keep my attention as you just did. You did your homework “professor”. BTW, are you? I know you taught English at one time…
    I’m with you! I would have bought the block. I think things like that are fascinating!

    As Maggie stated above “too bad we don’t make better use of it” (the world) and as you so stated most eloquently, history repeats itself. If I may quote the Bible Eccl 1:9 states: “That which has been is that which will be, And that which has been done is that which will be done. So there is nothing new under the sun.”

    So man is destined to be cyclical. Nothing changes as much as we would like it to and we keep repeating the same mistakes, never evolving beyond what we are today.
    As individuals we change and grow, but for some reason the masses as a whole do not.

    What’s interesting is that issues change, but the pattern of hierarchies and its responses never does. So is my observation.
    Perhaps it’s all that meat!! BTW, man was not designed to eat meat and did not start eating meat until 2348 BC.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Jo. Right—“nothing new under the sun.” Continually prophetic. I’ve read that too, that man was first a vegetarian-gatherer type dude. But I think maybe that date for meat is a little late. But yeah…maybe meat is the whole dang problem! Not to mention they now feed cement to cows to make them weigh more, and female hormones to make them…er…tender.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I have been on a cleanse and meat was taken off my diet or I should say I was asked to reduce my meat intake. It is a hard habit to break. I don’t eat much meat, but every once in awhile, a good hamburger tastes so damn good! As for chicken, I have a real problem with that. While living in Alabama, I would see the chicken trucks go by loaded with these catatonic birds and it really got me questioning the reasonableness of consuming these poor creatures. Later, a good friend of mine, who happens to own one of these chicken farms happens to tell me they get the chicks and 6 weeks later they are off to market, so no doubt that turn around has to be unhealthy all the way around . Well, I had my own chickens and without a ton of hormones, it takes approximate 6 months for them to get to an “eatable” size, (I never ate a one, just their eggs) ;>)

        Liked by 1 person

          • Yeah, I like macrobiotics. Rice…it’s a good thing. I used to eat butter, loved it. Now, I only eat it on corn on the cob, because it’s not corn on the cob if there’s no butter. I haven’t drunk milk in decades.

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    • Thanks so much for visiting and sharing. You are right, of course, Matthew most “probably” was referring to Moses. I do not pretend in the least to be an expert on history or any religion, but I think you’ll find most archeologists in the field agree that Hammurabi lived a few hundred years before Moses. That’s why I said “whether he [Matthew] knew it or not…” Meaning, he might not know the saying first came from Hammurabi. And I’m not suggesting Moses didn’t get his message from God. Perhaps God gave the message first to Hammurabi, then later passed it on to Moses? Anything’s possible.

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      • Very interesting. Hammurabi was ruler of Babylon, now you mention it. Babylon was first ruled by Nimrod, who is traced straight back to the Adamic line, so those laws could have easily pre-dated both Moses and Hammurabi. Writing something down doesn’t mean authoring it. Thank you for this history lesson.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Yes, I checked that and you are both right. Keep in mind that Moses wrote after the fact. Prior to him there was no biblical documentation, (some historical yes, but not part of the biblical) so that law or ruling may have been in place already but never documented prior to that time. Exodus was written in the 1400-1446 BC, whereas the Hammurabi documents are approximated at 1754 BC, 300 years earlier, so all of badfish dates mesh.
          As for the meat, again biblical documentation indicates that man was given “permission” to eat meat after the flood, which occurred in approximately 2348 BC.
          If one believes the Bible. Why or whether some already did, I don’t know.

          Liked by 1 person

  7. A wonderfully written piece that had me in a puddle of tears, as it coincided with me reading about a 15 yr old girl in present day Pakistan who will be lashed, presumably for sex out of wedlock, after being raped repeatedly by her stepfather, as it coincided with me dealing with my own childhood experiences of cruelty (again!) It’s been a day for healing the past and the present and the whole f*cking mess. I didn’t ever want to be born into this insanity and wasn’t really wanted here either. Or at least that’s how it seemed to me. This hologram is ‘peopled’ by the insane. Seriously. And yet from the insane such creativity and beauty arises – such as the woodblock, your brilliant photo of it, and presumably the fabric it helped pattern.
    peace love grace and tears
    Alison

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Alison, I saw that shocking article too. Now I’m reading another one from amnesty international whereby a ten year old girl, raped by her stepfather, is being prevented by the state from having an abortion, and the mother – not the rapist – is being charged. and another story from brazil whereby a 9 year old girl who was raped was assisted by her mother and doctor to have an abortion, and the mother and doctor are being charged, not the rapist.
      this kind of atrocity simply must stop. its everywhere, its scary.
      i am very saddened to hear of your childhood experiences of cruelty.
      know that it is over and you are loved by more than you could ever know, courtesy of this miracle of the world wide web and the blogging world.
      everntually the insane one are gonna eat themselves all up and leave the world to those who love it. just gonna take a bit more time…
      in the meantime, be kind to yoruself, breathe fresh air, and let those awful memories face away….

      hugs, debbie.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Thanks so much for your kindness Debbie. The cruelty I suffered was nothing compared with these children, but still it leaves a mark. I’m pleased to say that all the events of the past few days (reading this post, plus learning about the girl in Pakistan, plus a few other things) together were a catalyst for some clearing and healing for me. And I’m lucky enough to lead a very charmed and blessed live. I’m full of gratitude.
        I agree the atrocities must stop. And as best we can we must all focus on the positive in hopes of that energy overwhelming any other.
        Alison xox

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    • Alison, Whoa. Normally, I would love my writing to make women sit in a puddle of tears. But I would want it to be tears of joy, or laughter. If any of this helped you along your journey of “positive response” (where I know you always bounce right back to), then I can feel OK about it.
      As far as “insane” and sane and cruelty and beauty go, I guess we just realize it’s another lesson on…jeeesh. Just what…everything has two sides?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah it helped – a lot. I’ve bounced back further ahead than I was. And yeah – it’s duality, it’s the way it is until we get it that it’s a friggin’ hologram and that we are not who we think we are. I have the theory, but only moments of the direct experience. It’s all good.
        A.

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  8. Badfish, each successive post gets better and better. The flow, the themes that you pursue, your stories that provide insights into the reasons why, and why not. Wonderful. What a treat.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I begin with the spooky, which I am certain isn’t at all spooky since, first, you saw at least some of my song challenge, and near the end, when we were comment hopping, it would have been hard to miss the fact that the number of songs which I finally cut that favorite song down to, was, yes, indeed, that must excellent number 42. So not so spooky.

    I find myself wondering just why the teachers I had in school, were not as witty and engaging or even as informative, as you are. I would have really excelled in that subject. But the reality of education is that it’s wasted on the young. I’d say the point in your post where I’d have found interest during my 12 year stint in school would have been that part about The Beatles, since, as a youngster, that is where my interests were. That I might have learned a modicum of historical fact, would have been happenstance. So, my educational pursuits now would be 100% more effective.

    This is all to say that you have, yet again, gifted us with a great post. It feels like this is a weekly show which I tune in to: Swimming the Globe with the Bad Fish Out of Water.

    I will tune in next week for continued answers to Life, the Universe and Everything.

    Ciao!

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    • Yeah, I don’t think “42” counts as “spooky,” either! Everyone knows that is the answer, these days, don’t they? Education yes, wasted on the young. And you know what else is wasted on the young…youth. If I could only go back to being 16 and knowing what I know now! If only. And as far as teachers go, there’s only a handful of them who can inspire more than one student in the classroom, and I am not one of those, apparently. And, I learned way more outside the classroom than inside the classroom. Education is highly over rated. Don’t panic. Thanks for tuning in. That’s a good “tag line” you’ve created there. I might have to change it?! Till next week, same time, same place.

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  10. I guess, after reading this and being reminded of “civilization” to date, our one tentative improvement/ innovation is a purported government run by the people: what used to be democracy in the US. It is only barely so these days, but it would be the chief curiosity for the Babylonians, I would think. Apart from some pretty cool scientific/technological advancements. Always good to ponder where we were. Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Beth, You’re right, of course. Democracy “sounds” like a darn good idea. But like you say, it isn’t really democracy now, and perhaps it never really was. And yeah, I like some of these techno-advancements, they save time. But what are we doing to the world in the process. Is all this electro-radiation a good thing?

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