Turmoil In The Land of the Pharaohs


Pyramids at Giza, photo by Ricardo Liberato from Wikipedia
Pyramids at Giza, photo by Ricardo Liberato from Wikipedia

With all the strife that is currently unfolding in Egypt, I thought I would take a quick look around the internet and see what I could learn about this fascinating country. I was especially interested in what kind of literary writing I might find on the subject. The results were quite revealing; for it seems that many fiction writers, when dealing with this large and populous North African nation are very much influenced by colorful history that goes back to the ancient population that flourished here long before the birth of Christ.

Many writers have chosen to set a story along the Nile, as did Agatha Christie, when she penned Death On the Nile, a mystery that was first published in 1934. This is one of her classics that features Hercule Poirot, as the main character, and is usually included with  “Murder On the Orient Express” and “Murder in Mesopotamia” as part of a mystery trilogy.

From here the list takes an interesting  journey into the past, including such titles as Memoirs of Cleopatra (by Margaret George), Nerfititi (by Michelle Moran), Palace of Desire (by Naguib Mahfouz), Crocodiles on the Sandbank (by Elizabeth Peters), Egyptian Art (by Cyril Aldred) and River God (by Wilbur Smith). All of these stories focus on either the near or distant past. Mahfouz is the one native son of the group. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988 and died in 2006. Overall, he is one of the most recognized of Arabic writers. Incidentally, his trilogy is set in the early twentieth century and not during the time of the pharaohs.

For a look at a more modern setting in contemporary, readers might want to take a look at The Yacoubian Building, a novel by Alaa Al Aswany, a modern Egyptian writer. The title for this book was found at a Lonely Planet forum site that was posted several years ago. Aswany, who also writes in Arabic, has been described as a social realist.

It should be noted that these titles come from a short period of web surfing. I have not read any of these titles, but the titles did catch my eye and I actually came away from the searching process with a tiny bit more of knowledge than before. Whether any of these titles will shed any light on the major story in the day is a mystery to me.


A Student of Southern Literature

Live oak tree in Rockport, Texas - by Larry D. Moore from Wikipedia
Live oak tree in Rockport, Texas - by Larry D. Moore from Wikipedia

As the second month of my southern visit comes near to an end, I find that I am enjoying my winter in Dixie very much.  This is happening, despite the unusually cold winter and week of snow-covered ground that I have experienced. Nonetheless, one of my favorite moments is listening to the radio comments of Walter Edgars on the local NPR affiliate. His program, called Walter Edgar’s Journal, is intriguing potpourri of local clor and history.  Actually, Dr. Walter Edgar is the proper title of the host, who holds a doctorate in history from the University of South Carolina, where he currently teaches.

Walter’s most recent guest was Jan Nordby Gretlund, a Danish associate professor of American literature at the University of Southern Denmark in Odense (Denmark).  Currently, Jan Gretlund is a visiting professor at the USC at Beaufort, where he recently hosted a symposium on Southern literature.

Like Dr. Edgar,  Gretlund is  an author and college professor.  His most recent book, entitled Still In Print: Southern Fiction Today” is a literary sampler that deals primarily with contemporary Southern fiction published since 1997. Missing are the big names of Faulkner, Welty and Percy and in their place you will find such modern writers as George Singleton, James Lee Burke, Josephine Humphreys and Barry Hannah. In this book Mr. Gretlund attempts to show how the Southern writing tradition is still alive and providing rich material for both leisure readers and academics. In fact, the popularity of Southern writers in Europe somewhat mirrors the success that the various Scandinavian crime fiction authors now enjoy in the US.

In Denmark, Jan Gretlund runs the Center or American Studies at the Odense college. His involvement with the American South actually began in 1962, when enlisted in the US Army and served for several years at an Air Force base in Mississippi, despite being a native of Denmark. Not a bad way to begin one’s academic career.

A Literary President

Obama and George W. Bush meet in Oval Office, White House photo by Eric Draper
Obama and George W. Bush meet in Oval Office, White House photo by Eric Draper

Last night Barack Obama gave his State of the Union (SOTU) speech to a packed house and a national TV audience. I did not watch much of it ( not much interest in watching a large crowd stand up every two minutes and applaud, then sit down), but I did happen to listen to the speech, while was working on my computer. The speech conveyed lots of important ideas and goals, plus it was delivered in fine style by a president with good oratory skills.

However, it is Barack Obamas prowess  as a man of words that I would like to focus upon. Though lots of presidents have been able to write well and find success as an author,  Obama stands out in the way by which his literary skills have been so instrumental as a springboard to his political career. In 1995 Barrack Obama released his memoir, entitled “Dreams From My Father” and then a year later he published, “Audacity of Hope”. Although not a professional writer by trade, Obama’s memoir was well received by the American public, even though he was an unknown at the time.

It is from this background that the president speaks, as he did last night. And as was obvious last night, when he does speak, he does so in a very articulate manner.

A Story With Legs

Fishnet Stockings, photo by RJ Ferret, courtesy of Wikipedia
Fishnet Stockings, photo by RJ Ferret, courtesy of Wikipedia

Today an interesting story appeared on Huffington Post concerning the possible appearance of a supernova in the sky near the end of 2012. It is even possible that this celestial event might  coincide with the so-called “End of Days”, which is an integral part of the Mayan Calendar. This is the same “End of Days” that inspired the movie “2012” along with countless books and articles concerning the true significance of the approaching date..

According to the article, Betelgeuse (pronounced beetle juice), one of the brightest stars in the sky, is in a state of collapse and could go “supernova” at any time. Supernovas are caused when a star explodes. This is a natural part of the death cycle of stars and results in the formation of a neutron star or a black hole. The last supernova to be observed on the surface of the earth occurred in 1604.

One interesting side note to this story is its source. Much of the information in the article is attributed to Dr. Brad Carter, Senior Lecturer of Physics at the University of Southern Queensland. In a recent article that appeared in News Limited, an Australia news service, Dr. Carter details the effects that a supernova in a nearby star, such as betelgeuse might have on the earth. Currently, this red super-giant is the ninth brightest star in the sky. Along with its twin sister, Rigel It can be found in  the constellation of Orion. Betelgeuse can be seen in the right shoulder of Orion, while Rigel is part of the hunter’s left foot.

The Spotty Surface of Betelgeuse  Credit: Xavier Haubois (Observatoire de Paris) et al.
The Spotty Surface of Betelgeuse Credit: Xavier Haubois (Observatoire de Paris) et al.

Dr. Brad Carter is a Senior Lecturer of Physics at the University of Southern Queensland, Australia and he has acquired a minor presence in the media, almost always in conjunction with betelgeuse and the possibility that it might become the next supernova. Reference to the Australian astronomer has appeared in print dating at least as far back as  2004. So as far as the disintegration of betelgeuse goes, the fact that this event will occur is a generally known fact. The only question that remains is when it will happen and how bright will the explosion be as seen from the surface of earth.

And by the way for those, who are wondering where the term Betelgeuse came from, the word is believed to be of Arabic orign. According to the University of Illinois Department of Astronomy, the word is a “corruption of the Arabic ‘yad al jauza,’ which means the ‘hand of al-jauza,’ al-jauza the ancient Arabs’ ‘Central One,’ a mysterious woman”.

Who Was Zora Neale Hurston?

Zora Neale Hurston by Carl Van Vechten, courtesy of the US library of the Congress
Zora Neale Hurston by Carl Van Vechten, courtesy of the US Library of the Congress

I have a confession to make; I enjoy reading writing magazines.  A recent issue of “The Writer”, brought to light the life and literary accomplishments of a noted Southern writer, who moved to NYC in the “Roaring Twenties” to pursue her writing career.

Once a part of the Harlem Renaissance, Zora Neale Hurston had moderate success as a writer during her own lifetime. Her literary notoriety began in 1934 with the publication of her first novel “Jonah’s Gourd Vine”. A year later “Mules and Men” was put out by her publisher, Lippincott. This accounting of black dialect began as a play done in conjunction with Langston Hughes, but turned into her on publication after a major rift developed between her and the noted poet. These writings were followed by her most acclaimed novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God”, which was released in 1937. Another novel, “Moses Man of the Mountain”, came out in 1939, followed by an autobiography entitled, “Dust Tracks On a Road”. Her last release was called  “Seraphs on the Suwanee” (1948) and it featured as the central characters, a rural white couple living in rural Florida.

After the publication of Seraphs on the Suwanee, times changed and Hurston’s work fell out of favor with the general public. She died in 1960 and was buried in an unmarked grave in Port Pierce, Florida, after having spent the last ten years living alone in a welfare home. However, Zora and her literary accomplishments did not remain forgotten for long.

In the 1970’s, the contemporary novelist, Alice Walker, helped resurrect Hurston’s literary status with an article  entitled, “In Search of Zora Neale Hurston”, which was published in Ms. Magazine. Walker also tracked down Hurston’s grave and added a headstone to mark her final resting place. Though the writer’s resurgence was already on the rebound, the article by Alice Walker did a lot to put her writings on the reading list of many readers throughout the world.

Nonetheless, the legacy of Zora Neale Hurston is complex. She contrasted sharply with many of the celebrated male writers of the Harlem Renaissance, even the legendary Hughes. The woman from Eatonville, Florida did not fare much better with the publishing world with her written journey into the folkways of the rural South. This was made most apparent by her 1950 article entitled “What White Publishers Won’t Print”, which was published in the “Negro Digest” in 1950. Fortunately, today her books are readily available in most bookstores.

Punks Who Write

Bowery Poetry Club photo by David Shankbone courtesy Wikipedia
Bowery Poetry Club, photo by David Shankbone courtesy Wikipedia

Patti Smith published her first book of poetry in 1972, three years before she released her first album, called Horses. Since those early years the poetress of the punk scene has steadily recorded and put onto paper her words and observations on life. As a result, it should be no surprise that her recent autobiographical literary effort would end up receiving a national book award.

Just Kids is Patti’s memoir about a poet’s life in Manhattan during the late 60’s and early 70’s. The work revolves around the experiences of the writer as well as her relationship with Robert Maplethorp, an avant-garde photographer, who died in 1989. Those who enjoy Patti Smith’s writing might enjoy the daily postings of her agent, Betsy Lerner. Ms. Lerner has obtained some literary success with her own book, The Forest For The Trees, which has become of a standard read with anybody wishing to learn more about the book publishing world.

On the other hand there is David Byrne, one of the founders of Talking Heads, one of the great post-punk or New Wave bands of the ’70s and ’80s, has been writing about bicycles. In a book called “Bicycle Dairies”, Mr. Byrne discusses his bike adventures in such diverse places as Buenos Aires, Istanbul, Baltimore, New York and Berlin. Along with his offbeat travel guide, the author includes some philosophy and observations on bike transportation in general. Though the band Talking Heads is past history, David has continued his musical career with solo releases, writing music scores for film and occasional  live performances. The first Talking Head album appeared in 1977, while his first literary publication did not appear until 1986 (True Stories). Although his books have not won any awards, his latest effort on bicycles has been very well received by reviewers.  Also, of interest is a blog  simply called “David Byrne’s Journal”, which has received a “Webby” award for its content.

Talking Heads Band 1978, courtesy of Wikimedia
Talking Heads Band 1978, courtesy of Wikimedia

Snow On Spanish Moss

Snow on Spanish Moss
Snow on Spanish Moss

Here’s a rare sight, snow-draped Spanish moss hanging from a live oak tree. This picture was taken in the Pee Dee region of South Carolina, which can be found in the northeastern portion of the Palmetto State. Snow in this neck of the woods is not common but does occur from time to time. The snowstorm that rolled in late last night continued well into the daytime hours, depositing almost eight inches in the process.  This winter is turning out to particularly snowy one, a situation that was enjoyed by all the kids in town.

The snow storm kept everybody at home today (snowplows do exist but their use is reserved for keeping the main highways clear. Most town residents stay home and wait for the white stuff to melt, as the city has no money or vehicles to clear the roads. The kids seemed to particularly enjoy the reprieve for readin, writin and rithmetic as they got to slide down the few hills. One of the best hills is right outside the house where I am staying . It has been busy all day with youngsters who sometimes have to use their imagination to find something smooth enough to transport them down the hill.

The birds don’t particularly like the snow, but they come to the collection of bird feeders that I set out to feed them. Quite a few different species come to munch on the suet and seeds that get left out outdoors. Juncos are abundant as are the white-crowned sparrows. Chickadees, nuthatches and an occasional towhee can also be seen. There are also a couple of pairs of cardinals that can be seen. One of the males is pictured in the next picture.

Cardinal in Winter
Cardinal in Winter

Tonight the snow has changed to freezing rain, so who knows what tomorrow may bring. If the ice is thick enough, the kids just might another day off from school. And since the daytime temperatures are forecast to be only in the 30’s, the ice and snow might remain in place for a few days. No problem for me as the long as the electricity stays on, for I can stay at home and write.

Hope this winter finds all readers doing well.

Best of luck.

South Carolina Snowman
South Carolina Snowman