Joanna, Angela, the Mummy, and Me

I have never truly regretted anything I’ve ever done in my life. Sure, I wish that things had gone differently at some points, or that I had tried to do certain bits and pieces of life that I’ve put on hold, but I don’t really concern myself with them. Traditional college, for example, is something I probably should have done after school instead of flying to Europe to commence my life as a Parisian. I could be getting my doctorate in Egyptology by now, but had I leapt immediately through the doors of some institution of learning, I never would have become who I am, and I really am damn fond of this caricature I’ve become. This is a strange way to introduce this post, and it’s out of order because I’m leaping all over the globe willy nilly without finishing up my series on San Francisco, but I want to get this one out.

About college…I started back at it, and I’m awfully glad I did, but I’m still not a huge fan of being told what to learn. One of the classes that I took and achieved a remarkably proficient grade (so high that the computers weren’t able to process it — no joke) was Children’s Literature. I found it endlessly irritating because the teacher and I rarely saw eye to eye on certain artistic elements about illustrated books…but that’s ancient history now. And if I think it looks more like a Matisse rough sketch than a Japanese wood cut, is the world really going to end?  I’m thrilled, looking back, that I took the class, because it truly did change my life. Isn’t that disgusting?

We had to read a book called From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. It was lengthy, and I was in one of my moods, so I put it off. But when I began, I couldn’t stop. It’s the story of a girl named Claudia and her brother who are so sick of their routines and the tedious normalcy of their lives that they sneak away, hop on a train, and live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City for an extended period of time, getting by on their own ingenuity. I immediately fell in love with the characters. Would it not be fabulous to live your life in a museum? I’d choose the Louvre, of course, because Paris would be outside the door, but the British Museum is another favorite. I’d have to rotate. Anyway, ever since reading the story, the idea of running away became an obsession of mine. It always has been, truly, but now it was coming to the forefront of my thoughts. How thrilling it must be to slip away into the night, to vanish without a trace, to pop up somewhere nobody expects you!

So, I did.

The characters in the delightful novel were far from spontaneous. Claudia planned the trip to New York City far in advance, and so I planned my escape far in advance, telling a select few, letting the deliciousness of having a secret wash over me. There’s truly nothing better than a secret.

And, though I was thrilled at my elusiveness, there was a guiltiness that I felt. I am well-known for sharing nearly everything about my life. I never could figure out why, but Maurice Sendak’s words came through my head again when I was feeling lowly. He was a children’s book author that we read about in the same class, and from the moment I first heard him, I loved him terribly. He said, and I’m combining a few quotes mind you, “I am in love with the world…[and] there are so many beautiful things in the world I will have to leave behind when I die.” This affected me powerfully. I feel the same way. I love the world and the people in it and all the wonderful places you can go. At the end of an interview with NPR, he gave some advice to the interviewer that had me in hysterical tears, he muttered again and again with great feeling, “Live your life, live your life, live your life!” That left me an emotional wreck. He gets it. He gets me and who I am. Even though he is dead, and I never once had the opportunity to appreciate him in life, I think of him as a powerful influence.

And so, because of that silly class, I decided to get away. And where better to get away than France? It’s home to me, after all. I booked a month-long getaway to my favorite nation where I will spend a week in Paris and three weeks in Nice exploring the south and doing research on a novel I am writing about my grandmother’s life. I’m going somewhere else special for my birthday, too, but I’m not ready to give up all my secrets yet.

After months of scheming and plotting and laying clues out on social media that nobody picked up on, my plans went off brilliantly. My family went to a baseball game, and I tagged along because I wanted to see my cousin who was visiting. What a fabulous pretense! It worked so well. We had a great time at the baseball game drinking vodka lemonades that tasted like water, and then I had my grandmother drop me off at the Royal Mile Bar, saying that I was meeting a friend who would drive me home. HA! I was meeting a friend, but that friend was GIN. I had nothing but time to waste, waiting for midnight to roll around and my bus to take off, so I had a few gin and tonics that were bizarrely cheap.

Before becoming too inebriated to make it down the block, yet drowsy enough to pass out instantly on the bus, I paid my tab and headed out into the night. The people on the Megabus were the usual variety. Loud. Young. Annoying as hell. The other half of travelers consisted of alarmed looking people using the bus for their first time. It’s not the greatest mode of transportation, but it’s so convenient to just hop on and wake up in Chicago, and I’ve used it so many times now that I don’t remember how often I’ve boarded that bus with its horrible wifi and shady characters.

I wasn’t exhausted, so I pulled out my new golden iPhone Six Plus (I LOVE THAT THING WITH ALL MY HEART) and watched the second episode of Joanna Lumley’s Trans-Siberian Adventure. What a good idea that was!

Joanna, if you don’t know, is one of my idols. My supreme idol. She is one of the few people on this earth that I’d gladly swap places with. (The only other person is probably Ina Garten.) I simply adore her because she is so elegant, so kind, so adventurous, so funny, and such a graceful woman. She is everything I want to be…without being a woman. I quite enjoy being a man. Anyway, she has inspired me endlessly in my life. When I went to Egypt last year, I was quite nervous about it all — terrorism and political unrest and the like — but when I watched her documentary series, Joanna Lumley’s Nile, I knew at once that everything would be just fine. And it was. And what an adventure I had. This episode was a delight, as everything she does is, and I fell asleep with a stupid smile plastered over my face. She makes me want to live an even richer and even fuller life than I somehow manage to do, and so I thought to myself as sleep began to overtake me, “Darling, why don’t you go into a tomb tomorrow?” Because, as I’ve found out, no matter where you go, Egypt is there.

—–

I didn’t have the most delightful wake up call a few hours later. An awful lot of shouting and screaming came from below. The cast of characters on the Megabus can be volatile, but I’ve never seen them violent or even actually angry. This time was different. The driver and one of the passengers were screaming wildly at each other…never did figure out over what…the police were called and she was escorted off the bus and straight into the back of a patrol car. We were all glad to be rid of her, she had been loud all night.

If felt like ages, but Chicago finally came into view, and after a lengthy battle with an endless line of traffic, I leapt from the bus and onto the streets. I didn’t have a tremendous amount of time before I needed to be at the airport, so I forswore my usual walk and called an Uber. The driver wasn’t one of the best I’ve had. He wouldn’t come to my pickup location because of some reason I couldn’t understand and it took absolute ages to find his car, but find it I did, and we were off.

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The Field Museum is probably the most famous tourist attraction in Chicago, but I’ve never been. I don’t know why that is. It seems like a place my family would have gone at some point. We went to the Science Museum, and I’ve been to the aquarium, and everybody I know knows how passionate I am for ancient Egypt…so it’s a mystery. The Field Museum has a good number of mummies and artifacts, so I dashed in and found the galleries. They were targeted at a more juvenile audience, which was something of a disappointment to me, but when you overlooked the simplistic display cases and cards, you still had the artifacts themselves to enjoy.

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There were a great number of beautiful coffins and the mummies were well displayed. There was a recreation of a mastaba with a truly ingenious layout that led to the other exhibits.

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I was thrilled by a recreation of a peasant temple dedicated to Bastet, my favorite of the ancient Egyptian gods.

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I was running quickly out of time, but I made sure I dashed through their ancient America wing quickly. I’m slowly building my knowledge of the Aztec, Maya, Olmec, and all those Mesoamericans. It’s much more interesting to look at something when you know what you’re looking at, after all.

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I’ve never seen so many pieces of Mayan art, so I was thrilled. It’s all so strange to me, too. I know it’s unlikely (not impossible, mind you) but the art and representations of gods and people are somewhat similar to ancient Egypt. Not exactly, but they have a resemblance like a second cousin. Maybe someday we’ll learn more? People have gabbed on about connections between Egypt and the Americas for nearly a hundred years. Nothing has been proved and the chances of it is beyond slim, but wouldn’t that be a thrill?

I really had to go. The airport suggests you arrive at least three hours in advance, so I did, but that was almost too late. I was appalled at how long the check-in line took at Aer Lingus. This is my first time on their airlines, and it seems all right, but there weren’t any check-in kiosks and you couldn’t do an online check-in from Chicago for reasons that befuddle my mind. So, I waited in line for forty-five minutes to get my tickets. I didn’t even have a bag to check. They should have a separate line for people who aren’t checking anything. It would make the whole process so much smoother. I was deeply irritated, but my irritation quickly grew to outrage as I took my tickets and my backpack to the security line that was so long it was very nearly out the front door. I exaggerate with great frequency, but this is not one of my many examples.

I was quite convinced that I wasn’t going to make it and that I’d have to hang around O’Hare all night until their next flight to Dublin. I didn’t want that, but there was nothing to do but wait…and wait…and wait… Finally, and I do mean finally, with about fifteen minutes to spare, I made it through security after nearly wrestling with an angry Brazilian woman. I had to jog to my gate, which, as you can probably guess, was one of the farthest away. They were finishing boarding as I arrived, so I was very out of my element when I collapsed into my place. An aisle one, too, thank Beysus. The flight is nice enough, but I have to complain about the lack of an electrical outlet. I thought that planes without a USB charging port were obsolete at this point? Thankfully my golden iPhone Six Plus has a tremendous battery that lasted me from Chicago to Dublin with energy to spare. (I’m rather proud of that purchase. I had my doubts, but I love that phone.) Still, what are you trying to pull Aer Lingus? This is Ireland, not Communist Russia!

Not in the least bit fatigued, which was worrying to me, I put that Mortdecai film on the screen. That’s the Johnny Depp one that failed miserably at the box office where he has a mustache and plays a comedic art thief.

I understood immediately why it didn’t find success, and I could see that it was truly awful, but still…I enjoyed it. It was a funny little waste of two hours and even Gwyneth Paltrow didn’t drag it down too far, which is saying something. And when I get around to cutting my hair sometime (NO TIME SOON), I’m inspired by Ewan McGregor’s in this movie.

I requested a vegetarian meal, as I always do, and this is the first time I regretted it. I had a curry that wasn’t awful, but the regular meal was a ricotta pasta and they served it with a caprese salad. YOU KNOW HOW I FEEL ABOUT CAPRESE SALADS! I’m a vegetarian, not a vegan, you silly airline, I’ll eat all the cheese you can give me. With a heaping helping of remorse, I finished my food and turned on another show on my iPhone to help while away the hours.

Don’t make my mistake reader. Don’t you ever, and I do mean ever, and I do mean this from the depths of my heart, don’t you ever watch the stage version of Driving Miss Daisy starring James Earl Jones and Angela Lansbury on a plane. I wept like a child. I was ugly. I’ve never seen the film version, but I don’t know how it could compare to the triumph that they filmed for PBS. What a sweet story.

Remember when I met Dame Angela Lansbury?

I'm a mess. I just talked to Angela Lansbury. She touched me. Like with her hand. And in my heart.

A post shared by Benjamin Phillips (@bdphillips) on

OF COURSE YOU DO! I don’t let anybody forget it.

And don’t forget that she sent me her autograph. We’re basically best friends.

Finally, a bit drowsy, I shut my eyes, and a feeling of giddiness overtook me. I was living. This was life. I was doing exactly what I wanted to do, and doing it just they way I wanted. I could smell Paris, and taste it. I could feel it near me like a visceral being. But first, I had to go to Dublin.

And am I ever glad I did.

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