6.22.2005

Monday in Amarna

And yet more time goes by. Does it ever seem like it goes faster the older you get?

On Monday this week, physically I sat in the Hillsborough County Courthouse awaiting to fulfill my civic duty as a juror. The room was too cold, the seats uncomfortable, but I was happy to bear the burden of my duties as a citizen- it really is one of the finest and yet remaining cornerstones of our government, more so, I begin to believe, than even voting or writing letters to our congresspersons and senators.

But before I go off on a rant because I just cracked that door open- the corruption, lack of foresight, lack of sound judgment, greed of our elected representatives and the corporate media, etc etc ad nauseum...I can see it through the crack, I recognize it, and it repulses me no end. Others have expounded on this far more eloquently than I could (thanks Andi), and so I will slam that door and say only that on Monday, I did my part, even if it was only to warm a seat for 7.5 hours and then be sent home without deciding any of my peers' fates.

But really, I must be honest here and say that altough my pinstripe-skirted bottom sat in an institutional chair, my heart mind and soul were across the globe and a few thousand years distant in Akhenaten and Nefertiti's city.

The Saturday before Jury Duty, I discovered the Old Tampa Book Company, a little gem of a used/rare/out-of-print bookstore in downtown. I dug through the stacks, feeling quite at home, delighting at the smell of old books. There is really no smell quite like it- comfortable and just the slightest bit musty, the smell of a collection of minds upon dusty shelves. And upon one of these shelves, I found a book by the irrepressible Mary Chubb called Nefertiti Lived Here.

Come Monday, I escaped the drudgery of jury duty along with the Miss Mary. The book itself, its physical dimensions, typeset, paper, are charming. A hardback, it is small enough to read in bed, and lightweight. Its cover is a delightful recreation of a painting of ibis among lotus plants taken from an Amarna pavement painting. As I read, I delighted not just in Miss Mary's retelling of her experience, but also in the wide margins, old fashioned typeset (1954), and pen/ink illustrations that are charmingly reminiscent of St Expery's The Little Prince. Best of all, the paper itself has some sort of sparkle in it so that when the light shines on the paper, it glows.

Page 75 has an upside-down 'j' in the word 'just'. I am well over half-way through the book now, and so far, that upside-down letter has been the only mistake. The book once belonged to a John Morris of 57 Blake Court, South St. Gosport, his inscription tight and unobtrusive under the jacket cover on the outer left corner of the front cover.

Nefertiti Lived Here is a memoir of Miss Chubb's time at an archaeological expedition to Amarna in 1930. Her memoir opens after a year of secretaryship at the Bloomsbury Egyptological Society; she is bored beyond compare and dreads yet another day in the dreary offices of the Victorian restored house trying to make sense of the archaeologists' field reports and accounting records. In the basement on a rainy Tuesday in February, she discovers a tile from Amarna that likely hasn't been touched since it was brought back from Egypt.

That one little tile, as it spills Egyptian sand through her fingers, suddenly clears the clouds in her mind and she is completely hooked. As she writes:

"I don't suppose any one of them [archaeologists] would have said, 'I saw a beautiful thing made by an ancient Egyptian, and that was enough for me to decide on this for a profession.' but something, some accidental chance even, had once set that self-same nerve thrumming, so that there was nothing for him to do but go back in space and time and search patiently for the truth."

I almost wept as I read that line.

She finagles her way into accompanying the next expedition to Amarna as the field secretary, and the rest of the book is a lighthearted, highly readable but intellecually luminous recounting of her adventures as part of the dig to uncover the mystery of the Heretic Pharaoh Akhenaten and his lovely Queen Nefertiti.

And here's the amazing part: I bought this out-of-print edition for $6.50. I did an amazon.com search for it, and the out-of-print version was listed for $99- and one not in as good a condition as mine. Holy Heiroglyphs Batman, what a steal! It's a priceless little gem I am proud to have added to my new and growing Egypt library (what Charles has taken to calling my "book binge". HAH. If only he'd looked at my amazon.com Wish List, he'd know what a real book binge looks like).

6.14.2005

Tuesday in Alexandria

A week goes by.

I read of Nefertiti Hatshepsut and Cleopatra - oh my.

With my morning coffee I dig beneath the sand to find stone temples.

I come home late from drudgeday and eagerly snatch open the mailbox.

And trudge to the house disappointed that it hasn't arrived.

Ordered from someone in Miami or Phoenix or Seattle a book they no longer want but now I must have. A book that will unlock the secrets of the long dead language I seek.

Cleo was a Ptolemy anyway and NOT a pharaoh nor even really Egyptian, but notwithstanding all that, I wonder: did she really commit suicide?

Surely not a woman of her talent, ambition, determination, political savvy, willingness to commit murder for her own political survival?

Isn't it just possible that Octavian being a brilliant strategist saw that a queen of Egypt being paraded as a POW through the streets of Rome would not be the same coup d'etat as dragging a captive conquered king? Surely he knew that there would be no policital advantage in it? Political advantage, on the other hand, would indeed be manifest in a trapped queen romantically taking her own life as she saw the walls of the Roman Empire closing around her. Consider what a hugely symbolic gesture Cleopatra's suicide indicated: that Egypt in all Her feminine decadence had reached the end of Her power and knew there was no other way out than to be poisoned by the 3,000 year old symbol of Her own royal power, the cobra.

Cleo dead, she would no longer be around to connive against him- which he HAD to know she would do if she lived, even as a captive. She had seduced both Julius Caesar AND Antony - that is a sure sign of a political survivor, if ever there was one (Lady DeWinter comes to mind). But, Octavian couldn't just have her openly murdered either- this would not be politically circumspect. Octavian had her trapped in her own quarters, indeed had control over all Alexandria. Therefore, he had control of the 'crime scene.' He could have orchestrated events any way he saw fit.

There are no first hand accounts of Cleo's death, so it's all speculation, but what a tantalizing "What if?" it is. At least to me- this is the kind of thing that keeps me awake at all hours.

Here's what sparked my mind in the first place:

Mysterious Death of Cleopatra

6.07.2005

Mistress Mosquito Thwarted

The original Invasion of the Body Snatchers was on Turner Classic Movies tonight. Memories of one Halloween weekend in high school, while I hastily made a Roaring Twenties flapper dress from remnant fabric, flooded back to me as I half watched it tonight while browsing Amazon.com for books on Egyptian heiroglyphs.

I have this clear memory of standing in the dining room ironing my costume, watching the later version with Donald Sutherland on TBS (when it was still a UHF channel in Atlanta back in the day). The original is better. Twenty years on (eek), I sit with my information-age laptop watching the original 1950's version, having memories from two decades ago when I watched the remake, while searching for books to teach me how to read a 4,000 year-old language. And so life folds in on itself again, even in the dawn of the 21st century.

Our A/C unit is making horrible clunking noises as it shuts off, followed by a bizzare high pitched wizzing noise. As I write this, it has just come back on, and the house is thankfully still cool and yet I am troubled that I can smell burning plastic. Perhaps it is only my laptop protesting at all this use of a sudden, when I had left it alone for so long.

Loki has taken to whimpering in the morning. I cannot decipher this behavior. Food, water, affection, time outside to take care of business- all these things are provided him. But as soon as I sit down to eat my breakfast and drink my coffee or check my email or iron my shirt or any other task, he begins the low-volume whining. Being a dog, he has no vocabulary to articulate the whining, and so I am left to wonder what it means- we call him old man these days. He will officially be 9 years old in just a couple of days; I begin to wonder if he has arthritis or some other ailment that affects him in the mornings? He only does it in the morning. I think I may have to take him to the vet and see what she thinks. Poor old guy. Such a capital dog Loki is- I will be completely brokenhearted when he passes. I hope he'll wait for me on the other side when he gets there. In the meantime, if he all of the sudden acquires language and tells me what all this whimpering is about, I'll report in immediately- and then check myself into the nearest asylum. I only mention this because sometimes he really does look as if he's about to speak.

The tomato plant I started back in February just recently yielded another six tomatoes. Last night, to celebrate Charles' major promotion, I made bruschetta from these tomatoes, and also made pesto from the basil that I finally cut way back. Given the weather recently, I have a feeling it will spring back up pretty quickly. For dinner, I tossed the pesto into some angel hair pasta and served that with a caesar salad (I count chopped Romaine and Newman's Own Creamy Caesar dressing as a Caesar salad) and bruschetta from homegrown Roma tomatoes. I served it with DaVinci Chianti, which Charles didn't really like but I thought was a pretty good accompaniment to the food. He said one of the rules about purchasing wine is never buy a bottle with the name of someone famous. Oh. Oops. Well, I'll be sure to avoid the Einstien Pino Grigio and the Michaelangelo Merlot next time. I'm no connoisseur, but I know what I like (said the woman who actually really does like the Dogs Playing Poker paintings, much to her mother's horror).

The astroturf now lining our freestanding "back porch" is a welcome addition to our Redneck hacienda. It is the beginning of hurricane season around here, and the summer afternoon rains have started, so it's a 50/50 chance that we actually get to sit on the 'porch' in the evenings. This morning I drank my first cup of coffee and watched the male and female cardinals at the feeders- this is the first year since we moved to south Tampa four years ago that I've seen them in my neighborhood, and I'm delighted to see them in my backyard.

I noticed a mosquito darting and smacking against the outside of the screen, desperate to get through to my sweet sanguine flesh. I couldn't resist shooting her a bird. Our addition isn't completely bug proof, as evidenced by a random mosquito and some interesting beetle species I've noticed inside the screenhouse, but hey it's better than nothing. Our kitchen gecko isn't chirping tonight. I hope he hasn't abandoned us for greener pastures. I read somewhere their favorite meal is roaches and in spite of keeping a pretty clean kitchen- well, this is Florida, after all and I'm not a fan of the Orkin man. My coworker, in spite of fifteen plus years of Florida living, still screams bloody murder if she sees one (a roach that is, not the Orkin man)- even across the room. I feel sorry for her- I got over that particular heebie jeebie after a year of living off campus. As to hurricane season, I hope they pass Tampa by- I'll be pretty sore at Mama Nature if I have to dismantle my newly constructed porch. But She's in charge around here this time of year, so que sera sera.

I woke up this morning just before dawn to the sound of a mockingbird singing its heart out as it perched in an Arbor Vitae just outside our front door. I read they love to eat beetles and wasps. More power to them- and they sing prettier than the Orkin man too.