When I get overwhelmed by the overbearing Americanness of Iowa I can escape to places like this. For me, there is honestly nothing quite so refreshing as sitting in a strange place listening to conversations in languages I can’t even name as I devour something hearty and delicious. That food made me feel so good. Maybe I should marry an Indian guy who’s a chef. That is probably one of the better ideas I’ve ever had. Please send in your applications for my hand in marriage, gentlemen. Cheers. 

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Picture it, Paris 2009, a cozy winter night, me in a vintage Dior suit, snow gently falling and making the streets glitter under the yellow streetlights. There I am in a highly regarded restaurant on Left Bank just a stone’s throw from Notre Dame. That evening would prove to be one of the most influential in my gastronomic life.

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I’m sure that you’ve seen one of those infomercials about miraculous copper cookware that nothing at all sticks to. And if not, I have little doubt that you’ve probably started a small avalanche in a store when you walk by an aisle filled to bursting with copper skillets. These things are absolutely everywhere. I was sick to death of seeing them. I couldn’t stand to watch that woman in the commercial slide another ugly omelette onto a hideous plate. I couldn’t stand the black and white footage of a distraught gentleman crying when trying to unstick some slab of meat from a stainless steel skillet.

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NEW YORK CITY: Blizzard Queens

She said something profound right then, after tutting dismissively at me, “You just live, Ben! Don’t listen to anybody, and if they ask what’s wrong, say that you fell in a damn ditch and you hurt your knee. OH! And always talk to the bartender; he has all the right answers and you don’t have to take him home.”

“Queen!” I muttered, but I don’t think she understood.

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LUXOR: The Ghost at Esna

I was lost in reverie when the temple first came into sight. And once my eyes had latched onto the yellow-brown stone, I felt the most inordinate connection. It wasn’t like I had been here before, or anything like what Lady M would have discussed at midnight on a rooftop in Cairo, this was something absolutely new. It was relief. I know that doesn’t make tremendous sense, and I can’t claim to understand the sensations I felt there myself, but I took great comfort in the Temple of Esna.

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I quickly fell head over heels in love with the author, Barbara Mertz. When I learned that she was a trained Egyptologist with a degree from the highly respected University of Chicago, well that was it for me. I knew that I needed to do the same. So I wrote a lengthy letter telling Barbara that she had profoundly impacted my life. When I went to research the address to send it to, I read that she had died. I felt overwhelming loss. I was devastated for the longest time because I would never get to befriend Barbara. And I was sad because Amelia had been frozen. She would never come back to life in the pages of a book. Imagine my rapture, imagine my thrill, imagine my delight when word spread that there was an unfinished manuscript about Amelia!

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LUXOR: The Best of All Birthdays

I don’t mind aging so much. I joke about it frequently, but I feel as if I was “eighty before I was eighteen.” I was a grumpy old man for the majority of my life. I didn’t do anything terribly exciting or socialize or have a dozen boyfriends or wake up on a riverbank with no memory of getting there. Honestly, I can’t say that I regret that, but there are times when I wonder what I missed out on during the course of my tame youth. I feel younger now than I did back then. I still haven’t woken up on a riverbank, but that’s just fine. I have woken up in five star hotels, so that’s better.

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LUXOR: The Karnak Conundrum

Coming to the end, a well-uniformed security guard approached me and told me that I was sure to get a wife now. I smiled and chuckled to myself and replied, “Inshallah.” This pleased him inordinately, and so I was led on a long walk with him into more to those off-limit sites for a bit of baksheesh. Everybody’s charmingly corrupt in Egypt. He led me into a chamber with something to do with Alexander and went to find a man who was going to give me great good luck. I shrugged again, any luck was better than no luck, after all.

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ASWAN: Abu Simbel At Last

“It will eat you, Bin-ya-meen,” Hassan hissed, pronouncing my name in the most beautiful way.

I didn’t care a bit. What a story! I eagerly accepted the beast from the woman and couldn’t believe how strong it was. Tiny though he was, that little crocodile was nothing but muscle and teeth and scales. It was insane. He writhed in my grip, and I wondered how strong his bite was. Hassan was having none of this as Abdul photographed me and my new best friend.

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