THINGS I LOVED/HATED THIS WEEK #231

LOVE:

“In Search Of” with Zachary Quinto:

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All of my long and lengthy life, I have had a passionate love for the paranormal and strange places of the world. I have raised myself on parapsychology and astrology and everything ever written by my beloved Sylvia Browne. (Rest in peace, Queen.) In my adolescence and adulthood, I have sought the escapism of paranormal podcasts. It’s delightful to hear about alien abductions, black-eyed children, ghosts, psychic encounters, bizarre places, and demons while I’m walking or working on some laborious task. Every few episodes, somebody would bring up, In Search Of, a television show from yesteryear that explored these topics. I’d always been intrigued, but never watched it since it was long retired. I was quite curious when I read that the show was going to be rebooted starring Zachary Quinto. I’ve always enjoyed his eyebrows and I follow his boyfriend on Instagram. He’s a model and he looks like a model and I enjoy that.

But that has literally nothing to do with this post, even though the next season should heavily feature Miles. I’d watch that repeatedly. Anyway, like most of my great discoveries, I knew it existed but then promptly ignored it. Whilst procrastinating and wandering through the DirecTV Now app, I found that I could stream the entirety of the series. With a contented sigh, I put away my homework, filled my wine glass, and settled in for hours of entertainment. In the series, Zachary wanders around the globe to answer mysterious questions that plague our consciousness. He explored alien contact, the lost civilization of Atlantis, mind control, super powers, time travel and more. I ate it up. I was particularly delighted by the episode about time travel. I understood that time isn’t constant, but this is not something I have ever really understood. You know what I mean? Zachary and a professor do an experiment with atomic clocks at different elevations to see if gravity has any effect on time. So, they put one of these clocks at sea level and then another on top of a mountain in California. After a week, they pored over the data and examined it to see what they could discern. To my delight, there was an imperceptible difference between the two clocks. Time goes faster at higher altitudes. Theoretically if we could defy gravity, we could travel into the future, though I have no expectations of ever seeing this in my life. I’ve thought about this episode daily since. A special on the lost civilization of Atlantis was thrilling because they looked for locations that would make sense according to Ancient Greek writings by Plato. Instead of looking at the bottom of Mediterranean, they looked at actual locations like Crete. The archaeologist in me lost his shit. Still haven’t found it, to be honest. The show was absolutely fabulous, and there was even a bewildering episode about sea monsters that I found unexpectedly riveting. You have to watch it. You have to. 

Barbara Mertz Note:

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Jessica has this new job where she no longer works on the weekends, so we decided to engage in our favorite shared activity, travel, more regularly. We’ve started visiting spooky locations around the state and stay the night in haunted hotels. She found a list online and we’ll visit one each month until there are no more spooky hotels to stay in. It’s a hoot so far, but we’ve only gone to one, so it’s a short hoot but a hoot nonetheless. The first hotel, The Mason House Inn of Bentonsport, Iowa, was in an old river town with a population of 40 people. We stayed at a room where a man was allegedly stabbed in the heart by a saber-wielding guest…allegedly on accident. I find this story rather dubious. How many travelers sleep in their bed with a walking stick that disguises a deadly saber? I have to think the list is slight. Regardless of the truth, it was a good time, but the most memorable part of the entire outing was the return trip. Well, we did give an evil hamster who had been ice mummified a proper water burial, and that was memorable…

We were in a right state on the way back, and I know you’ll be shocked by this, but we were starving to death. If we didn’t eat soon it was sure that we would die, so we stopped in Fairfield to try a popular cafe. Fairfield is a bit different from other cities in Iowa. It’s artsy and metaphysical and there’s a Vedic Observatory there where monks practice transcendental meditation daily. Oprah’s been there. Anyway, I had a broccoli curry for luncheon. Lovely. More lovely was the bookstore down the road. Jessica can’t stop herself from browsing books, and I determined that I would have a good wander around too. I enjoyed looking at paranormal books, coffee table art books, and then enjoyed browsing the fiction section in the basement. This is not normally open unless customers put in a request — something to do with heating and electrical bills — so we felt awfully special as we made our way down. I always look for the Amelia Peabody books wherever I go to see if I can find the last few to complete my collection of my favorite book series. I was in no luck. There were books by Elizabeth Peters, but they were nothing I didn’t already have. I don’t know what made me do it, but I decided to open one and noticed a folded piece of paper marking a page. I casually unfolded it, expecting nothing, but when I saw the letterhead of the personalized stationary, I froze, I gasped, I couldn’t believe it. It was a handwritten note from Barbara Mertz to the prior owner. Barbara Mertz is the real name of Elizabeth Peters, which is the pen name she used for her fiction writing. I of course had to buy the book and take the note home to treasure. I once wrote Barbara a note myself. It was a heartfelt thank you. She unwittingly altered the course of my life. I’ve always loved Egypt, but in my early twenties, this passion was more frequently on the back burner than the forefront. When I started reading her books, though, my old love returned as if we had never been parted. I felt like my life had purpose again. I was meant to study Egypt. I was meant to write. It all made such perfect sense and it was all so clear and I don’t know if I would have ever had that mental awakening without Barbara. That’s what I told her in the letter, but when I went to find her mailing address I learned that she had only recently passed on. I was left with quite a hole in my heart. I’ve never been over it, so when I found this note addressed to a young woman that was certainly not me, I felt like it could have been addressed to me. “I wish you the best in life,” Barbara told a woman named Caitlin but it might as well have been me. It could not have been a coincidence. It was simply too fortuitous. And as Lady M told me one evening on the rooftop in Giza, there is no such thing as a coincidence. Coincidences aren’t real. And I would never have learned that life changing affirmation or valuable lesson from Lady M if it hadn’t been for Barbara Mertz. I finally went to Egypt in 2014 because of Barbara and it changed my life for the better. I feel so immensely blessed.

New Apple Watch:

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Every new Apple product that is released seems stupid to me. I don’t know why I have this knee-jerk reaction, since I end up love all of it. Still the fact that I love the iPad as much as I do after thinking of it as digital hygiene product for so long is a miracle. I felt much the same way about the Apple Watch when it was first released. I didn’t need it. I had no real interest in it. I didn’t even know what it did, but they released a gold version and I was weak. Immediately, I learned how amazing it was and why I needed it and it wasn’t long before I was unable to live without it. I could check my texts and emails with a quick glance at my wrist. It allowed me to keep my iPhone in my pocket, which really prolong an inevitable carpal tunnel diagnosis. And I could sassily dismiss phone calls from people I didn’t want to speak with, which never failed to thrill me. I’ve loved it since that first day, but lately, my original Apple Watch has been showing its age. The battery would die while at work, it was slow, it couldn’t access Siri with any speed, and when it did, it seemed like it wasn’t really listening to me. But it worked well enough that I wasn’t too upset. Then one day before work, I was getting ready for the day. I shook out a pair of pants that my cat decided to sleep on and the watch hit a piece of metal on my belt. Immediately the entire thing shattered and I found myself just staring at my wrist in shock. I have swam in the Mediterranean Sea with that watch, it has safely guided me to restaurants in Egypt, it has hailed Ubers in Chicago, I have literally tripped and fallen into the brick exterior of a Jewish school in West Hollywood and stumbled up slippery underground stairs in Mexico City. It should have broken ages ago as it’s gone through so much trauma. But my belt must have been at just the perfect angle because there was no going back from this. I assumed I’d be able to get the glass fixed, but the innards of the watch were exposed, and I was honestly ready to upgrade, though I didn’t have the money for it. I opened up my savings anyway and a new one was soon here. It was so worth the upgrade. I now have the Series 4 in gold with a gold Milenese loop band and I have never felt more elegant or sophisticated. The Watch thinks before I do, it’s so fast. It looks amazing, the battery lasts for absolutely ever, the bigger screen is ridiculously overdue and highly welcome, it performs tasks immediately, there is a new watch fact that shows me so much information — I know exactly what the exchange rate is between Mexican pesos and American dollars at a glance. It’s too fabulous. Too worth the expense. And then I had an entire phone conversation on it and I could simply not believe the quality of the connection. I am so glad that I have this technology in my life. It’s indispensable. Treat yourself today, reader. Get one now. You will absolutely never regret it. 

Portable Wireless Charger:

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The future is wild, y’all. I tried to go Christmas shopping this week after one of my medical appointments, but it didn’t go exactly according to plan. I found lots and lots of things that were perfect gifts. The problem was that they were all absolutely perfect gifts for me. I found a beautiful new pair of suede boots that I couldn’t live without. And then there was a faux leather coat that was half price and I simply had to take it with me. Put together, I look like a cross between a leather daddy and a biker babe. Not really a look I’ve ever gone for personally, but it works for me better than I expected. I bought bags and bags and bags of things for me. I was ever so slightly out of control. And then I bought myself something on a whim that I didn’t really need, a wireless wireless charger. And yes, I meant to write wireless twice. When I came across the device, I was flummoxed because I had never seen such a thing let alone heard of it. It looks like a normal portable charger, but instead of having to plug your phone into it, you just set your phone on top of it and it starts charging. Of course this only works if you have a cellphone that allows wireless charging, but most of us seem to have the latest iPhones now so it’ll work with all of those. Every time I set my phone on this charger, I get this gleeful sensation of living in the future, which made the fifty dollar purchase completely worth it. If you had told a middle school me that technology would allow me to do this, I don’t think I would have believed you. I still remember a presentation I saw in eighth grade by a tech guru who insisted that students would soon be doing all of their work on tablet computers. He even showed a video of how they’d work and I was absolutely enchanted. It looked like a monstrous black box but it was cutting edge then. I waited years and years, but it never happened while I was in school. But now we have iPads, so it seems his prediction came true. That has nothing to do with anything, though, just know that this little machine has endlessly thrilled me. I can take it absolutely anywhere and be able to charge my phone wirelessly. I could be in the middle of the Sahara, on top of a pyramid in the Mexican rainforest, or a haunted hotel without easy access to electrical outlets and still be able to charge my phone with ease. It’s wonderful. 

“I Was Mummified” Episode on Discovery’s Curiosity:

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This was probably the most extraordinary and riveting documentary I have seen on Egyptology in years. The episode I’ll be discussing was released in 2011, so I can’t imagine how I missed it, but last night while scrolling through On-Demand episodes in DirecTV, I stumbled upon it. I mistakenly believed it was a documentary I had seen in my youth where Dr. Bob Brier created the first human mummy since the ancient Egyptians. I remember being mystified and dazzled by the history and the science and the end result. Just last year I unexpectedly managed to come face-to-face with that very mummy in Kansas City. It was absolutely wild. So I was eager to watch this program again with a scholar’s fascination rather than that of a bewitched child. To my shock, this had absolutely nothing to do with my friend, Bob Brier (you will kindly remember that I will consider any celebrity I have spoken to a friend, so just go with it), but rather another team of scientists trying to discern the forgotten methodologies of mummy making.

To create a mummy, you have to dry out the flesh so that it doesn’t rot, it’s as simple as that. You can toss a dead body in the sand and the desert will bake it out and make a perfectly fine mummy, but the Egyptians wanted more control over the artistry of preserving bodies, so an absolutely massive funerary industry was established. I’m a big fan of this part of Egyptology. When I snuck into a room allegedly used to prepare mummies in the Temple of Abydos with my guide and friend Abdul, I was on cloud nine. And you remember when the staff of LACMA requested I stop lecturing about cheap mummification using cedar oil? Wild times…I love mummies.  Anyway, back to the facts. Embalmers would use natron, a kind of naturally occurring salt that is abundant in ancient lake beds. Traditionally, scholars believed the corpse was packed in this salt internally and externally, and over seventy days’ time, the body would become desiccated. This isn’t exactly wrong as it does work, but it’s imprecise. 18th Dynasty mummies are so particularly well preserved that specialists are sure there was more to it than simply drying a corpse out. So, in this episode, the scientists decided to make a natron bath, an increasingly popular theory that I have ascribed to since learning about it. In this method, the body is submerged in a bath of natron that has been dissolved by Nile water. This liquid application allows the natron to penetrate the body completely and more easily than with regular dried natron, which really only successfully mummifies what touches it. With this, the body was completely filled with the preserving agent. I didn’t know if it would work, but it worked marvelously. In the end, the modern mummy looked as like I’d expect a freshly mummified pharaoh to look. It’s convinced me completely. And even though I’ve already rambled on long enough, it wasn’t the proof of one method over another that captivated me, it was the additional charm of getting to know the man who was to be mummified. Bill, a London taxi driver, answered an advertisement in the paper for a person wiling to dedicate their body to Egyptological research. He had recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer and didn’t see any reason not to give it a go. So the cameras rolled and we learned more about Bill, laughed at his jokes, marveled at his attitude, and then we got to see his corpse go through the stages of mummification. It was an emotional and bizarrely heartwarming spectacle as his wife viewed his mummified body. Modern Egyptologists can never forget that mummies were once breathing people, but there is always a sense of detachment from such an ancient person. When I peer into the handsome face of Seti I, I don’t think about him as a man but as a piece of history. The mummy of Bill, though, could have been somebody we’d chatted with, loved, hated, or just saw occasionally at the shop. It was so much more visceral. I could see Bill in the mummy the way I never saw Hatshepsut or Ramses II. I will never look at a mummy again. This was a wonderful program. Do try and see it. 

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