THINGS I LOVED/HATED THIS WEEK #224

LOVE:

Dark Tourist:

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I’m getting really excited for my surgery this Thursday, and by the time you read this, I’ll have a titanium screw fusing to my skull! Going deaf has been deeply disabling, and I promise you that this has something to do with the show I listed, just bear with. A friend of mine has had the surgery before, which is odd, because it seems that every time some remarkably unlikely ailment befalls me, somebody at work already has it. When I received the diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, I already had a support system built in at work thanks to a coworker with an earlier diagnosis. It’s comforting to see the both of them living their lives as usual, so I’m not really all that concerned about surgery on Thursday. (LOL I AM EDITING THIS IN SO MUCH PAIN RIGHT NOW! Totally underestimated the seriousness of that surgery!) Anyway, she says that it doesn’t take long and that the recovery is easy. The surgeon recommended up to five days of rest, so I’m doing four and then seeing how I feel on the following Monday. In the meantime, I’m not supposed to exercise — thank GOD — or lift things or bend over. So I’ll be in bed for a few days. I’ve never been stationary for so long, so I think I might lose my mind. To ward off this, I’ve been queuing up a bunch of shows to watch that have been on my list for years now. As I was picking through, though, tons of new ones began popping up and then suddenly last night it was two o’clock in the morning and I was binge watching Dark Tourist. This show follows a New Zealand journalist as he explores touristic locations that are off the beaten track. The first episode took place in Latin America and he chatted with Pablo Escabar’s number one hitman in Colombia. It felt like a real world adaptation of Reina del Sur, so I’ve obviously added narco-tourism to my wish list. The most profound scene for me was in Mexico City, though, in the barrio of Tepito. This is the roughest part of town, and he was in search of the cult of Santa Muerte, which I won’t get into since I’ve blathered on about her many times in the past. He visits with a woman called Doña Queta who built the original altar to Santa Muerte in Tepito and has become something akin to the high priestess. She is wonderful and describes Santa as a loving thing, terrifying though she is to look at. What stuck most with me is the hopeful message Doña Queta was spreading, that the most important thing to do is simply to live. That’s been one of my mottos for years. Just live. The narrator is somewhat insufferable and seems to value his ethnocentric viewpoints too much, but the places the show takes you are extraordinary. I’ll be finishing this show Thursday afternoon!

“The Shadow King” by Jo Marchant:

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One of the best things about being absolutely obsessed with Egypt is that there is always something new to learn and research. Whenever I get a paycheck, I tend to pick up a couple used books on the subject, and wait for months or years to read them. Unfortunately, life doesn’t give one much time to relax with a good Egyptological research book. I finally had a moment to start something new and I veritably tore through The Shadow King. I have read about Tutankhamen all of my life. I’ve been in his tomb. I’ve seen his treasures in Cairo. I’ve watched nearly every documentary, read all the books, even went to the major exhibition going on in Los Angeles right now. That was absolutely fabulous. I really didn’t think that I would be able to be shocked or learn much, but The Shadow King was revelatory. I learned something new in each chapter. I have never had much curiosity about ancient DNA and assumed that it was a valid technique, but I learned just how sketchy DNA can be. Oftentimes the results are mere interpretations rather than actual evidence. When the Egyptian antiquities department makes major DNA announcements, many in the scientific community scoff at these seemingly airtight conclusions, but the media infrequently mentions this. There is a lot of guesswork and supposition in the Egyptological community when it comes to the DNA of royal mummies. This was a considerable shock to me because I had thought these were incontrovertible. Now I wonder if I’ve really ever come face to face with Hatshepsut. Did I really ponder Akhenaten’s bones or were they those of Smenkhare? And who really was Smenkhare? In the future, more is possible to be ascertained, but who knows if I’ll be around for anything like that…life goes by so quickly. The rest of the book was absolutely fascinating. It told the story of the discovery, as all good recaps of King Tut must, but Marchant’s focus was about the body of the boy king and the human stories that were caught up in this drama. We learned about the researchers who study him, the bizarre theories that speculate King Tut was either Jesus himself of the pharaoh of the Exodus, and we learn a strange amount about the mummified penis of the king. Each new chapter was eye-opening and it was just an absolute treat to read. If you have any interest in ancient Egypt, no matter how small, get yourself a copy of this book. It completely unsettled some of my firm beliefs about Egyptology. More books like this are dearly necessary so that we don’t go scholarly stagnant. 

“Chris” by Christine and the Queens:

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The kids that I work with frequently ask me what my favorite music is. Every single time, I’m befuddled by what to say. Do I mention my overwhelming passion for Harry Styles and Beyoncé? Or do I go on rapturously about Édith Piaf and Eartha Kitt? Do I discuss my absolute passion for modern French pop or classic mariachi songs? I have, like most people, an endlessly diverse taste in music. There is something in every genre that I like, and what I like most depends on the day. If you ask me right now I’d probably go on endlessly about Reba McEntire’s masterpiece, her second volume of her greatest hits. I cannot get enough! That woman knows how to craft a masterpiece. Have you listened to “You Lie” lately, or seen the music video for one of my personal anthems, “Is There Life Out There”? If not, you’re going to watch the video right now. You’re welcome in advance.

Was that not everything??? Anyway, I saw a little blurb in Entertainment Weekly about a group called Christine and the Queens, which reminded me that I had heard something about them before in relation to Yelle, my personal queen of French pop. I immediately downloaded the album and have not stopped listening to it yet. I don’t understand why I love it so much, but there’s this ethereal quality to some of the songs that transfix and bewitch me. “5 dols” is constantly in my head and I am almost always mumbling the lyrics in my head or out loud. While I’ve been in a Vicodin haze, I’ve been belting it out when I’m not passed out or absentmindedly staring at the ceiling. The album is full of bops, and there is a French and English version! Such a treat! Highly recommended. 

Kindle Paperwhite:

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I don’t think I’ve spoken about this yet, but if I have we are going to do it all over again. I have been obsessed with ebook readers since I first discovered they were a thing. I remember seeing one as a child at Best Buy. It was behind a glass case, had a green screen, and the font was some derivative of Courier. Absolutely hideous, but I could sense it was the future. I bought my first ebook reader with my first paycheck, and I was so madly in love with it. It was by Sony and had a gorgeous red leather cover. It was slower than molasses and getting books onto it was a pain in the ass, but I loved it. It went with me to Paris and I read it in the Metro, until I discovered the Kindle App for my iPod Touch, and I’ve never been quite the same since. I have had a Kindle for years now, and in Mexico City I loved sitting in the courtyard, flipping through Anne Rice books. I hated that I couldn’t read in the dark with it, though, so I was determined that I get a newer model. When I returned home I found that I could buy one with a monthly plan, so soon the Kindle Paperwhite, in white, was winging its way to me. We have been inseparable ever since I opened the box. The screen is so much clearer than any ebook reader I’ve had in the past and I quickly forget that I’m consuming literature off of a touch screen instead of a real book. The backlight is a game changer, too, and I find myself reading until the small hours of the morning before I realize how much time has passed by. It’s little and light and I love it with all my heart. It changes pages in an instant and getting content onto it is a breeze. You just have to email it! That’s wild. I could never of dreamed of such luxury and casual elegance back when I first started dreaming of this technology. They aren’t cheap, but I wouldn’t really consider Kindles to be too expensive to argue against purchasing one. It’s just one of the nicest treats I’ve ever given myself and you need to get one for yourself too! Get any of the models, but do remember how convenient the backlight is when you want to read yourself to sleep. Oh, and did I mention that there is a reasonably priced novella for the Kindle called Haskell & Eudora written by yours truly. Get your copy today!

HATE:

Haunted by Cairo:

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Cairo was not one of my favorite places. I can’t even pretend that it was. I found the place chaotic and fascinating, but when I was there for a week, I failed to develop any irrational passion for the city. Luxor and Paris and Turin and Mexico City and Los Angeles, well, those were all different. I immediately loved them, oftentimes for no reason, often for the way they made me feel. Cairo made me feel vulnerable and foolish at first. I didn’t understand the city, and I can’t claim that I do now. I never wandered through Cairo alone. I never discovered anything by myself in Cairo. When I went to the Khan el-Khalili, I was buffered by Nels and Lady M. When I went to my hotel, it was more like a low security prison. When I went to the pyramids, I was surrounded by guards and guides. I never had the chance to fall in love with it like I hoped I would. When I went back to Egypt a couple of years ago, I should have taken a taxi and done a whirlwind tour during the layover before my flight to Luxor. I was there for nearly seven hours. But I didn’t. I sheepishly sat in a coffee shop, which really isn’t like me. I regret that. Now I think about Cairo all the time and it drives me out of my mind. I want nothing more than to stay in a hotel of Tahrir Square, to wander again through the Egyptian Museum before it moves to Giza, to devour a big bowl of koshari, to sit in a coffeeshop in the souk, to wander Islamic Cairo, to see a Coptic service, to visit the beautiful mosques and citadel. I want to discover Cairo on my own. That is, I’m convinced, how I come to adore cities with such an irrational passion. Maybe I’ll go to Cairo in the summer. Maybe I’ll go back to Mexico. Maybe I’ll stay home (LOL). Maybe I’ll go camp in a desert. Maybe I’ll be a monk. But whatever I do, I’ll be thinking of Cairo constantly. I want to get there and become a local, not do the tourist stops. I want to befriend a baker and know the taxi drivers. I want to learn some Arabic and I want to seek out obscure museums and fantastic expats. I want to wander the ruins of Memphis and see the obelisks in Heliopolis…and oh, there’s just too much I need to get done in one lifetime. A century is not nearly enough. 

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