Saturday, October 23, 2010

Saving Second Base and Herding Cats

Just got back from the Race for the Cure which was held here in Egypt at the Pyramids of Giza. I do have to give credit to my friend Ben Dunbar for providing the first part of the title of this blog entry... and only a guy would consider a world-wide race to find a cure for breast cancer a moment to reflect on one's adolescent conquests! However, recognizing that the race for getting to second base is as important at certain stages of our lives as finding a cure for this horrific disease is to us now, I concede that the phrase resonated with me. Who doesn't remember how important it was to either a) get to second base or b) allow someone to get there. How many of our earliest sexual memories have to do with the development of our breasts...the first "training bra", wondering how big would they get or how small they would stay (never the right size, if you ask most women) and how much of them could be shown to look sexy without appearing to be slutty? No wonder that the thought of our hooters, tatas, boobs, jugs, tits being invaded by some disease shakes us to the core. It threatens our youth and our sexual identity in a way that other cancers cannot...we have no joyful high school memories of our colons, our lungs, or skin...but our party fun bags?? Well, I leave it to you to ponder. Suffice it to say that this particular cancer is one that women are willing to go to the mat for or, in my case, to Cairo to fight!

And it is in the details of that trip that the second part of the blog title comes in . Adults really should not travel together in groups of larger than maybe four, and that assumes that they are paired in couples. Why? Because adults get used to doing things their own way and on their own schedule. They have their own rhythm and timing that rarely blends well with others. Trying to get seven adults to leave on time (with all essential gear), decide on a place to eat, meet at a given location or simply walk from point A to point B together is virtually impossible. It is about as easy as trying to herd cats, and equally frustrating. Intuitively, and for the survival of all, breaking up into smaller units is necessary. That is not to say that traveling with a group is not is wonderful. It's just that you have to factor in much longer waiting periods while people retrieve keys, sunglasses, take bathroom breaks, duck into stores and take pictures. And you wait while one of those incredibly independent cats goes gets diverted by one tangent or another. Thank god cats are deemed sacred in Egypt.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Veni, Vidi, Wadi

OK, so that is NOT what Julius Caesar uttered when he kicked Pharnaces II of Pontus's ass in Turkey, but he might have said it had he left the lovely arms of Cleopatra to venture southwest of Alexandria to visit Wadi Natrun, an area known during the era of the Pharaohs as the place to get natron, a necessary chemical for that very Egyptian process of mummification. A "wadi" is a desert waterway, wet only when it rains, and when the water drys up leaves behind deposits of natron, which, when applied liberally to a dead Pharaoh, dries him up like a prune. I have posted the hieroglyphic of natron here, just in case you need to consult your local funeral parlor.

But, unlike Caesar, I did not go out to the Wadi Natron seeking balms for the afterlife. I went to investigate another aspect of Egyptian life...the monasteries of the Coptic Christians. Slightly after Caesar's time, but still within the era of Roman occupation, thousands of early Christians (some believe them to be the very first followers of Christ) were fleeing to the desert to escape Roman persecution. Some ducked into the nearest cave to wait it out, but others, much more resourceful and seeing the likelihood that the Romans were not going to change their minds any time soon, built monasteries to protect the faithful. Makarios, Bishoi, Antony (not Cleo's man, but a more celebate and holy guy) all earned their sainthood in the Coptic church mostly by fighting off raiding Bedouins who not really having a religious axe to grind, mostly just wanted to pillage and plunder. Of course, it wasn't just raising the drawbridge around the monastery that won them their proverbial wings. Saint Beshoi did a good samaritan routine and picked up a lowly beggar and carried him up a hill, not realizing until they were both suspended well above the ground that the man was actually Jesus. For this, Beshoi was promised that his body would "show no corruption" and every July, the monks carry around a casket that is said to contain the whole, un-deteriorated body of the Saint. Pretty good for a guy who has been dead since the 4th century. And then there are the relics of the 49 Martyrs, a group of monks who had the great misfortune of forgetting to raise the drawbridge when a band of marauding Bedouins came by wanting to practice with their scimitars. After polishing off the 49, these guys rode a few kilometers down the desert and cleaned their swords off in another monastery's well. Cleanliness is next to godliness, I guess.

In any event, whether you are Christian, Coptic or otherwise, the monasteries are lovely and the trip well worth it, especially if you are into Byzantine art. The Coptics get sort of short shrift here in Egypt as they are a small, but visible minority in an otherwise Muslim country. When you are among the Pyramids, ancient Roman ruins and 4th Century monasteries seem sort of well.... modern. Guess my perspective is changing rather quickly. I used to think Colonial Williamsburg was old!