Friday, February 05, 2016

An escape scene from Yiddish for Pirates: The Ol' Egyptian Fire Trick translated into Hebrew


At some point in my Yiddish for Pirates novel, I needed our "hero," Moishe, to facilitate an escape from an auto-da-fé where some condemned conversos were about to be burned at the stake. I wanted this to be accomplished with some flair and by fighting fire with fire. I mean, at lot was at stake, as it were. When I want to know about magic, I ask my sagacious and professorially odd friend, Professor Oddfellow AKA Craig Conley author of numerous books and keeper of many arcane fires. He has rabbitted away more hatfuls of knowledge about magic than anyone I know.

He suggested that my scene could use the ol' Egyptian fire trick. From the front, the audience sees only a wall of fire, but what is really happening is that there are two separate walls which allows the magician to appear to walk through a solid wall of fire. This was interesting.

I thought I could adapt this in a number of ways. Firstly, because this is a book engaging with Hebrew, Kabbalah, books, mysticism, and a kind of Yiddish derring-do (I guess that could be translated more plainly as "chutzpah,") I'd make the trick use a Hebrew/Yiddish letter. The letter qoph (kuf) would allow someone to enter the wall of fire and then escape out a secret flaming sally port out the back. This was important not only because my characters needed to escape but also because this scene was taking place in the round, in the Quemadero, the Inquisition's Sevillian execution square.  And the stakes would be in the enclosed part of the letter.



So this is how it would go. While the ceremony was taking place and those to be executed were tied to the stakes, Moishe would walk around the Quemadero dribbling oil in the shape of the letter qoph. Then at an appropriate time, he would light the oil, surrounding the stakes in a wall of flame. He'd dash into the middle, untie those at the stakes and then lead them to safety down an alleyway down the bottom opening of the qoph. With appropriate mumbo-jumbo jabbering patter and some dramatic stage craft—raising his arms, etc—those assembled would be sufficiently discombobulated that Moishe and the conversos would be gone before anyone knew what exactly was happening. 

I can't resist: here's a picture of Barbie wearing tefillin.
The little box on her forehead and on her arm contain prayers on paper.
In my novel, they contain inflammable oil

As it turns out, and here I'm giving the scene away, there is a rabbi who has a teffilin box filled with oil and he throws it like a Molotov cocktail onto the kindling below his pyre. So Moishe has to act more quickly than he planned. Still, the whole thing is pulled off like a brilliant magic trick. Or a miracle. At least, that's what Torquemada, the Grand Inquisitor thinks, But more on that another time...


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