I never realized that there was a map feature on Instagram that shows where you take all of your pictures. What a marvelous thing! It doesn’t simply say that you took this picture in Los Angeles, it pinpoints exactly the street corner you were on. My picture of magically delicious black and white cookies shows up exactly at Schwartz Bakery. It’s like witchcraft. So, last night when I didn’t care one bit about getting to sleep, I went on an adventure with my photographs. I was truly mesmerized by going through my pictures in Egypt. When I was in Cairo, I did not have a clue where I was when I was wandering through Giza with Gao and Lady M and Nels. But there it all was laid out for me. For some reason, my delight isn’t translating on here, but just picture me at three o’clock in the morning, squealing as I found the names of streets I’ve wandered and sights I’ve seen. I got to go roaming through Los Angeles and Athens and Paris and Nice again. It was like taking a trip, but I was in bed! I even discovered where I was in Italy on that fateful, nightmarish day that I was stranded in a ghost town with a couple hundred angry, starving, overheated Italians! I was near some village called Valli. I never would have ever figured that out without this resource. Horrifyingly, I found the little forest where I smoked cheap cigarettes and forced myself to stay alive by eating Pigs in a Blanket. I am just so obsessed, reader. Go see where you were! It’s utterly fascinating.
“Lemonade” by Beyoncé:
It’s finally here! Much later than expected, but I would wait until Judgement Day for Beyoncé without complaint. (Bit annoyed that I couldn’t directly give Bey my money for the album at first. I really don’t want Tidal. I don’t want to give Jay a dime, especially after she insisted I buy HBO and then see what he had put her through with that Becky with the good hair.). As we are now accustomed, Beyoncé blessed us with endless perfection in her HBO special. It was an hour of intensely good cinematography that featured Queen Bey in many vulnerable and intense situations. Most impactful for me, was when she was singing on a stage, seemingly wrapped in chains like the lyrics made reference to. She said,
I squealed, “Yasssss!” I also understood at the onset that this was not a movie made for me. It was not made for the fans specifically. It was a love letter to black women and their struggle. I was just intensely pleased that I was allowed to watch and appreciate Beyoncé’s art. I have no doubt that this will empower many downtrodden people. This sentiment does not seem to be understood by a great many people on Facebook, which further enhances my shame of my people. I come from racist idiots, the entire white patriarchy is a mess, but even I can appreciate Bey saying, “Middle fingers up, hands held high!” And I was particularly proud when she sang the line, “Suck my balls, I had enough.” Here are actual images of my reaction:
The album, which I had to subscribe to Tidal to acquire, is a delight, but I’m thrilled that it was finally released on iTunes the day after. Now that I cancelled Tidal and paid Bey in full, I feel better. And now I jam to “6 Inch” and the magnificent country inspired “Daddy Lessons.” The album is, as expected, an absolute triumph. I can’t wait for July to be in the Stade de France with thousands of others shouting the words to “Freedom.” I’m going to lose my shit to that one. It’s already been lost, mind you.
“A Winter on the Nile” by Anthony Sattin:
I had no idea that Florence Nightingale or Gustave Flaubert ever went Egypt. I surely had no inkling how profound the experience was for the both of them, however for very different reasons. I don’t even remember buying this book. I probably did it on one of midnight Amazon binges. I do that much too much. My Discover card is nearly worn down to the bone. Anyway, this excellently written book details the trip that so many well-to-do Europeans took in the last century. They would go off to Egypt, explore Alexandria and Cairo, and then take a boat up the Nile all the way to the cataracts using the river’s current, then they would use the wind to sail back to Cairo. This would take months and they would leisurely explore temples, tombs, and souks. It sounds like a marvelous time, and I sincerely regret that this is not done commonly anymore. You can take riverboats and cruises, but they only last a few days and they are so predetermined that there is no longer a sense of adventure. I’d like to restore this excursion someday. Anyway, Flaubert and Nightingale went on this adventure at the same time (though never together, there’s only a slim chance they ever met) and left copious notes and reflections. It was a real treat to read their thoughts and compare it to the experiences I have had in Egypt. Near to the conclusion there was a paragraph that struck me as deeply emotional as I melancholically sipped a latte at Caribou Coffee. Perhaps it was because I was deeply nervous about something that might be living in my brain that shouldn’t be. Nothing confirmed, but it’s made me deeply empathetic.
Neither he nor Florence Nightingale went back. And, pleasing as the idea would have been, there was really no need for them to return. They had lived out their dreams. And, in different ways, Egypt never left them, for there was always the writing it had inspired, the memory of the temptations it had presented, the thoughts it had provoked, and the luxury to an unknown shore, leaving behind all that had constrained them.
Egypt lingers with you. It never goes away from your thoughts or your memories. It is so different and special that it’s hard for people who have never visited to understand. Those of us who have sailed on the Nile, walked through temples, and stared at the desert stars, though…we know. And so we must never forget the people that carved the path that we walk upon, for few of us fell the trails ourselves. We may certainly cultivate and tend, pluck out the weeds that strangle the way, but it is the rare individual that breaks fresh ground. We must hold them dear to our hearts, even when we don’t know their names or what they did.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Season 2:
The only show I ever binge watch is Murder, She Wrote. I just can’t get enough of Jessica Fletcher’s sleuthing all over the world. In the last episode there was a master of karate in her house trying to steal a counterfeit porcelain dragon. Who else would that happen to? In other episodes she’s stopping the KGB, flying off to Athens, visiting with her dear friend an opera star, meeting the Queen of England, and even more unexpected things. It’s a treat. So, it was weird when I spent two days watching all of the new season of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. If you’ve never watched this show, you are doing yourself a grave disservice. It’s a brilliant, unapologetic, Tina Fey comedy about a young woman, Kimmy, who has to learn how to live in New York City after being prisoner of a religious cult for fifteen years. Doesn’t sound much like fodder for laughs, but the situations are ridiculous, there’s a lot of music, and my beloved Jane Krakowski plays a fabulously down on her luck socialite. It’s divine. Every episode is funny, every line is a joke, but this season worked on developing a poignancy, too. We explore themes of family and heritage and what friends are for. Perhaps the most touching episode, after the episode where Kimmy’s roommate, Titus, plays a tragic reincarnated geisha (you have to see it to understand), there was an episode full of show tunes. They were all parodies, but I was quite touched by the lyrics of one that was a spoof of Annie. “They say life’s too short, but they’re wrong — it’s so long/ Sometimes the only way to go is to just go on.” It’s sung so beautifully and with such melancholy that it brings a tear to my eye. This was even before my mysterious medical troubles, mind you! It touched a chord deep inside of me. The show is phenomenal and I simply cannot recommend it enough.
Contemplating Mortality:Remember my numb leg and wonky eye? I’ve been bothered, so I went to the optometrist the other day to get my eye looked at. I assumed I had a burnt retina or strained muscle or something stupid but fixable. Turns out…no. My doctor tested me endlessly with different machines and tools and all we found out at first was that my eyes are healthy and work fine. That’s just dandy, but it really didn’t explain my blurred vision and headache. So we took more tests. I had to look at flashing lights and hit buttons and it was very exciting, but then the results came back and they weren’t so fun. I have a loss of vision in both eyes at the same spot. And we knew it was not the eye, so it is something further back in a nerve. Still not sure what, but suddenly the doctor and I weren’t joking anymore and I was referred to a general practitioner so that they could get me an MRI to see what is there and if I need a neurologist. That’s not the end result I expected. And so for the past few days I have been in a daze thinking about the lingering specter of death. I’m not afraid to die. I long ago come to terms with that. But I’m not ready. There’s a world of difference there. And I know I’m being dramatic and all because whatever it is can surely be fixed…but this forces you to be different. Instantly your outlook on life alters. I don’t know if I’ll ever be the same Ben I was last week. I don’t know if I could be. It’s probably nothing…but what if it’s something? I updated my funeral plans in case. They’re available up top.