Thursday, June 28, 2012

Adapt This

I saw this article on Mental Floss which intrigued me, talking about famous authors who hated the famous movies made out of their books.  To be perfectly honest, I'm surprised any authors like movies made out of their books.  It is a complete different medium and it must be a challenge not to feel that your work has been bastardized when it can be massively changed through the course of collaboration that is a part of any film project. 

Just yesterday my dad was having a rant about the TV series Pillars of the Earth and how it couldn't compare to Ken Follet's kickass book.  My personal bugaboos on this topic are Girl, Interrupted (which royally pissed me off because not only did they screw up the book, that was an autobiography and they screwed up Susana Kaysen's life) and The Wedding Date, which took a perfectly charming British rom com called Asking for Trouble by Elizabeth Young and turned it into a vehicle for an American actress and completely changed several major plot points, massively altering the characters, story, message - all of it. 

No, it doesn't surprise me that those authors in that article hate the movies made out of their books.  But I admit to being impressed by the cojones it takes to say it publicly.  Or maybe it's clout.  As a bitty, itty fish in the publishing pool, I'd be giddy if someone wanted to make a movie out of my books, and I'd keep my mouth shut on the final product... but I think I would have to distance myself from the work and probably never see the movie.  An author puts a lot into a book.  It's gotta be painful not to be able to protect it... and then to have the whole world know you for something that is a bastardization. Or rather, they don't know you.  They know this bastardization of your work, but only the rare and sublimely famous (Stephen King, John Grisham...) are ever credited for being the originators of the ideas.  So you get no credit, no control, just the work that you put into creating something twisted until your message, your very reason for writing the book, is corrupted.  So that your voice is never heard, drowned out by the film.  How frustrating.

What do you think is the worst film adaptation ever?  Or, if you aren't feeling so ranty today, what's the best?  (I confess I like the Lord of the Rings movies better than the books.  A fact which horrifies many of my Tolkein-adoring friends.)

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Summer's Hottest Hero

Got this in my inbox today from All Romance Ebooks and thought y'all might have some opinions on the romance hotness...

Seeking Nominations from YOU for...

It's going to be the battle of all battles this summer as 32 of 2012's hottest heroes suit up in their armor, fangs, fur, camouflage, fire -fighting gear, etc., and square off. There will be five rounds of elimination with prizes for voters along the way and prizes for the top 3 authors at the end. 

We realize what's "HOT" is completely subjective - alpha shifters, highlander warriors, loyal soldiers, the neighbor across the street - so many possibilities. We can't possibly be aware of all worthy contenders. We need your help!


You have until July 4th, 11:59 PM US Central time to nominate your favorites. To qualify for nomination a book must meet the following criteria:
  • The book must have been published between September 1, 2011 and June 1, 2012.
  • The eligible book must be longer than 10,000 words. 
  • The book is available for sale at or 
 Go forth and nominate, minions! 
Who are your favorite heroes of the last year?  Tell me tell me tell me!  (The Donovan Brothers from Victoria Dahl?  The irresistible Kyle from Julie James?  Someone of the more furry variety?) 

Monday, June 25, 2012

Romance, Up Close & Personal

Today Julie James (contemporary romance author of awesomeness) is interviewing four of her male friends to get their perspective on the experience of reading her romance novels.  (And she's doing a giveaway for the I-love-winning-stuff inclined.)  I've never had conversations like this with the fellas in my life because if they've read my books, I don't know it.  And I like not knowing.  I really like not knowing.

But you know, I don't think that's a gender thing.  I've been ruminating on this one I think it boils down to familiarity with the genre.  And familiarity with me.  

When friends and family members who are romance lovers read my stuff, I'm perfectly happy to talk with them about it if they want.  And meeting strangers on a train in Cinque Terra and giving them my name so they can look up my books even though they've never read romance because they are so excited to meet a real live author - that's just fun.  But I have actually discouraged some friends from reading my books - not because of gender, but because I got the sense they were using my books as a tool to judge me and judge the genre.  Or maybe "judge" has too many negative connotations.  We'll say form an opinion of, instead.  With people who know me really well, obviously I don't think a book is going to materially alter their perceptions of me, but with people just getting to know me, I hate the idea that they will think all I am is contained in my books. Not to say you can't learn anything about me through my writing, but it's a Venn diagram, not a one-to-one match.

But it isn't just that I don't like feeling judged personally.  Sometimes it isn't about me; it's about the genre.  When I first started writing romance (after years dabbling in fantasy) my mother was not a romance reader.  She'd always been a big supporter of my writing and loved reading my manuscripts, but I explained to her that I wasn't comfortable with her reading my romance novel until she had read at least one other romance, for a frame of reference.  So I got her hooked on Jennifer Cruise and Nalini Singh and other purveyors of romance awesome, and then let her read my first romance attempt.  I never doubted she would love it (because she's my mom and she's totally biased) but I was more comfortable knowing I wasn't her first exposure to the genre.

Does that mean I don't want anyone to read my books who doesn't already love romance?  Hell, no.  When The Sexorcist was picked for the Crasstalk Book Club, it was the inaugural romance for many of their members and I loved broadening those high-brow literary horizons (even if it was somewhat unwillingly for some of them).  I'm perfectly delighted to devirginize non-romance readers - provided those readers are complete strangers. 

It's something about the personalization of someone who knows me forming an opinion of me, my books, and my genre in a bubble that wigs me out.  Which I actually feel mild twinges of guilt for, like I'm failing in some way if I don't badger everyone I know to read my books.  (Damn that self-promotion brainwashing!)  It isn't insecurity.  It isn't any sort of shame over what I write. (I'm proud! I'm confident!)  I think I could be writing The Greatest & Most Important Novel of All Time and I would still be telling people that they don't have to read it to support me and be my friend.  Perhaps it's about separation of church and state.  Being able to keep some distance between my Author-Self and my non-writing-self.  But there really isn't any distance, is there?  They're both me.

And I think we've officially gotten too philosophical for ten in the morning. 

So, moral of the story, go off and check out Le Blog du Julie James and her fellas, but don't expect anything like that over here any time soon because apparently I am a crappy ambassador for the genre.  At least when it comes to the people I know directly.

Sunday, June 24, 2012


"Love is a command to rise to one's highest potential, the best and noblest vision of ourselves."-from The Passion of Ayn Rand (1999)

“I, with a deeper instinct, choose a man who compels my strength, who makes enormous demands on me, who does not doubt my courage or my toughness, who does not believe me na├»ve or innocent, who has the courage to treat me like a woman.”  -Anais Nin

Just had to share these today.  May love make us all daring and strong.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Fix It Fridays: The Eagle, Centurion, etc.

Welcome, boys and girls, to the return of Fix It Fridays! 

So, there are these movies that hot men love to star in because they get to play with swords and because of Gladiator and the 300, the studios like to greenlight them because they believe they will make pots of money, but I would like to put out a request into the universe that the studios and the hot guys find better ways to spend their time and money. 

There are several of them.  The Eagle - Channing Tatum goes north to reclaim the Eagle standard thingy that a Roman general lost in northern England and fights the Picts and... I dunno, I got bored.  King Arthur - Turns out the legendary king was really a Roman soldier (Clive Owen for the win!), in northern England, straddling Hadrian's wall and fighting the Picts,  That sound you heard was my head exploding from the force of the historical inaccuracies.  Centurion - Michael Fassbender leads a ragtag band of Roman soldiers trying to survive behind enemy lines in northern England and fights the Picts and there's this hot chick with a spear out to kill all of them and I started rooting for them all to die so the movie would end. 

See, here's the problem.  I can't root for the Romans.  The Romans are the bad guys.  But the hot guys are all fighting on the Roman side.  WTF?  The Romans come north to make the world Rome and rape and kill and do all the things the Bad Guys do in Braveheart... so we're supposed to want them to win?  Y'all, I'm rooting for the Picts all the way.  In Gladiator, we rooted for Russell Crowe because he was the underdog, he'd been wronged, and he was fighting for his life - not to enslave or imprison others.  In the 300, we root for those plucky Spartans because they are defending their homes and loved ones.  In The Eagle & King Arthur & The Centurion, our heroes are the ones storming into someone else's homeland and declaring themselves rulers of the universe, raping, cutting out tongues, and pillaging.  They don't have loved ones to defend (there are no Roman women in England) and the Picts were certainly not threatening to storm the Colleseum.  They are In The Wrong.

No matter how many noble individual motives and grandiose lines of dialogue you throw at me, I'm still gonna root against them.  Far as I can see it, there are only two ways to fix these movies - 1) Make the Picts the heroes and give them a hot celebrity to fight on their side.  Or 2) Stop making these damn movies. Give me someone I can actually root for.  Because I like hot guys with swords.  I'd like to not be rooting for them all to die.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

What is the Fairy Tale?

You know how everyone is always saying they want a fairy tale romance?  I understand that what they mean is that they want the prince charming who will fight any dragon to save the fair maiden and for everything to work out like magic, but if you really look at fairy tales, they are some of the most unromantic romances out there.  Beauty and the Beast could be a textbook example of Stockholm Syndrome.  In both Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, the vaunted Prince Charming makes out with his heroine while she is unconscious, which, you’ve gotta admit, is a little skeezy. 

And Rumpelstiltskin?  Don’t even get me started.  The heroine is a miller’s daughter who is locked in a tower and forced to spin straw into gold or she will be killed.  Then the prince (who in some versions is even the guy who threatened to throw her in the dungeons to be tortured if she didn’t pony up the gold) decides he is in love with the gold-producing chick and asks her to marry him. 

Fairy tale romance?  I’ll stick with something a bit less hostage-y and mercenary. 

When I set out to write a reimagined version of Rumpelstiltskin, one of my first goals was to actually make it romantic.  Which, considering the prince is more or less a total douche, meant taking a new look at who got to be the hero and who the villain in the classic story.  The person putting Our Heroine into danger and forcing her into a corner, forcing her to make a deal with the imp Rumpelstiltskin, is actually the prince.  Not exactly charming.  The person who bails her out, keeps her alive to fight another day, is actually Rumpelstiltskin.  It wasn’t a big stretch from there to amp up his Hero Juice – a little writerly magic and Rumpelstiltskin becomes Rue – a buff gold-skinned fairy trapped inside an enchanted medallion.  Suddenly he looks a lot more like hero material and “spinning gold” is an interesting euphemism for some nighttime activities.

So what is the appeal of the fairy tale?  You know, it’s not about the prince or the castle or the godmother makeover.  The fairy tale is that you will meet The One and through all the obstacles - magic and otherwise - you will end up together, live happily ever after, and never have to worry about the mortgage on the castle.  The fairy tale isn’t any of the silly trappings.  It’s love.  As simple as that.  I wish I could say that I was living the fairy tale, but I haven’t been that lucky yet.  But I still believe in it.  I never dressed up princess gowns as a little girl or wanted to marry a prince, but I bought into the fairy tale big time and I’m still waiting for my prince charming.  What about you?  Do you have the fairy tale?  Do you believe in it?  Or do you think it’s something we should grow out of?  Is prince charming something we should believe in or a fantasy we need to outgrow to be happy in reality?  Which fairy tale do you think is the most or least romantic of them all?

Today I'm giving away ebook copies of Spinning Gold to two lucky commenters.  You can check out more of the book details, including an excerpt HERE.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Spinning Gold Up For Grabs!

Over at the Ruby Blog today, I'm giving away two copies of Spinning Gold to lucky commenters.  And I'm blathering about excuses, results and how my internal freak out over being responsible for doing everything myself nearly stopped me from self-publishing.  Come hold my hand as I hyperventilate about second guessing DIYing the publishing thing.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

It's Aliiiiiiiive!

That's right, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls!  Spinning Gold, a look at Rumpelstiltskin as you've never seen him before is now available for download to an ereader near you!


A new twist on Rumpelstiltskin. No princes need apply...
Juliana Ravel will do anything to save her innocent brother from the executioner, but what the supposedly charming prince demands is impossible. Spinning straw into gold? He might as well ask her to fly. Her only hope is a family heirloom - a gold medallion rumored to be the magic prison of one of the fabled golden fae.

Trapped inside the medallion for hundreds of years, Rue isn't fool enough to trust Juliana, but he can’t help but be tempted by the feisty beauty. Even though she is the spitting image of the witch who betrayed and imprisoned him, Rue agrees to help her. For a price.

Entranced by the exotic, golden-skinned man, Juliana agrees to his terms, believing her worries are at an end. But when the tyrannical prince finds her surrounded by riches, he isn’t about to let her walk away – instead holding her prisoner within the corrupt court. Juliana’s only freedom is her nights with Rue, where their negotiations turn to seduction, and together they construct a desperate plot to escape a life where they must keep spinning gold… or die.

I have to say, I've gotten a little blase about release days recently.  I couldn't sleep for days before The Ghost Shrink came out.  I couldn't focus on anything but the fact that I had a book coming out.  The only thing that would calm my nerves was doing jigsaw puzzles.  I used them to self-medicate for my first five releases.  Then I slowly stopped needing them.  And then I started worrying about the fact that I didn't get those same jitters.  Yes, every release was exciting, but it wasn't as intense an experience as it had once been.  But this, my first self-pub experience, has brought back that jittery, nervey, oh-my-god-I-can-hardly-sit-still feeling.  It's an exciting day, folks.  A very exciting day. 

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Book Art!

Are you sick of reading about travels?  Ready to get back to booky business?  Well, you're in luck, boys and girls.  Travelog complete and it's Release Weeeeeeek!  So it'll be ALL BOOKS ALL THE TIME for the next few days.  And to get us kicked off in style, how's about a little link to some booky goodness?  Yes, ladies and gents, it's Book Art!  Yet another kick ass example of repurposing those pretty-pretty older books and turning them into forever.  (Or the cannibalization of words for the sake of visual art - you decide.)

Friday, June 15, 2012

Neuschwanstain, the Original Fairy Tale Castle

We've just about reached the end of the travelog, boys and girls.  After Verona, I headed up to Innsbruck, Austria (love)...

...and then wandered my way through the Tirol (Austrian Alps) up to Bavaria and Hohenschwangau, the site of the original fairy tale castle, Neuschwanstein, on which Walt Disney based Sleeping Beauty's castle.  My new release (Spinning Gold, coming June 18th!) is a Rumpelstiltskin reboot and I ask you, what writer of fairy tales can resist a real fairy tale castle?

Built by King Ludwig who was eventually declared mad (though we would probably just call his affinity for building castles all over Bavaria "eccentric") and died under suspicious circumstances, Neuschwanstein definitely feels like the home of someone who was extremely romantic... and somewhat disconnected from reality.  He was buddy buddy with Wagner (which I thought was pretty cool... got ridiculously excited when I saw a piano that Wagner himself had played - it was missing a full octave) and had grown up in Hohenschwangau castle (which you can see from Neuschwanstein) which was covered in murals depicting tales of knights and chivalry.  But all those murals, of famous battles and victories, not a single one of them showed a drop of blood.  The cleanest slaughter in history.  Probably not a great mindset for a king to have - that battles are noble and in no way bloody.

I wonder if the original Grimm stories came from a different part of Germany - what with the step-sisters chopping off toes to try to wedge their feet into the shoes.  Not exactly bloodless.  Or perhaps the fairy stories came from the peasant class, where they have a more realistic approach to life.  Funny that fairy tales are more realistic than King Ludwig's life. 

But really, can you expect to be connected with the common man when you grew up here:

And there are passages in the walls so you never have to see the servants?  (They could actually tend the fires without ever entering a room.)

It must have been an odd life, but fascinating to think about.  And easy to picture Cinderella in that world. Or perhaps a Swan Princess...

I had a bit of difficulty in southern Germany because, well, let's face it, I couldn't look more German if I tried - so everywhere I went in Bavaria and Tirol, people were asking me directions and coming up to me on the street to chat.  And I speak some German, and the German I do speak is with a distinctly Bavarian accent (shout out to my kick-ass teacher Frau Spencer who taught us all Bayernische Deutsch!), so everyone in Bavaria would hear me speak a few words, think I was local, and then talk really freaking fast so I could only understand about forty percent.  Then, when I asked them to speak more slowly, they looked at me like I was nuts. 

Interestingly, this was not an issue in Frankfurt - the accent was too different, I guess.  Or I looked more foreign to them?  Who knows.  Maybe they were just all drunk.  In Frankfurt not only did I see a guy biking while holding a giant beer in one hand, I also was witness to this awesomeness:

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the Beer Bike is a bunch of drunk German guys sitting around peddling with a bartender in the middle to keep them well lubricated.  Only in Deutschland.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Around the World in 80 Bajillion Pictures: Part 5, Venice & Verona

You know what's interesting about Venice?  I don't think I ever saw a chick driving a boat.  I did see a few hunky shirtless guys in boats, but never with a lady behind the wheel.   Not sure if the ladies prefer to be chauffeured or if it's a social injustice we should all rise up against - Italy doesn't really strike me as an equality-of-the-sexes suffragette state, but what do I know?

What I do know?  I freaking love Venice.

We sailed into Venice on the Crown Princess, wildly snappy photos during the slow glide through town, and disembarked there.  Which could have been sad, but our next place to lay our heads was here:

... so no complaints. (We had a wrap around balcony with views of the Adriatic on one side and Venice from the other!  How insane is that?)

The Excelsior Resort on Lido was actually quite famous, back in the day.  Winston Churchill stayed there, along with an elite smattering of other political figures and movie stars.  It had cabanas along the beach and the kind of presence and grandeur that few newer places can achieve.

I would have loved to see it during it's heyday.  Back in the twenties and thirties, I bet it was the place to be seen.  I kind of wish it would come back to that.  That some movie star would tweet about the Excelsior with its fabulous blend of nostalgia and luxury, and suddenly all those private cabanas are filled and it's alive again.  It seems like most places that were once grand have been consumed by modernism and lost their personality, but Lido has retained its elegance and its charm.

If you're going to Venice, I highly recommend staying on Lido.  It's only a twenty minute water-taxi ride from the heart of Venice (and some hotels, like the Excelsior, have free private shuttles taking you to and from St. Mark's Square), it has a beach resort feel so you can get away from the mad, rushed tourism (and noise) of Venice and relax, and in most cases it's substantially cheaper than staying in comparable places in Venice itself.

Ah, lovely Venice.  Every time I go there, I remember how much I love it.  St. Mark's Square, the Basilica, the Campanile...

...the Doge's Palace...

...the Rialto, gondaliers singing and the glorious maze of paths leading up around and along the canals.  Midnight in Paris had put me in a twenties mindset and tempted me to go to Paris, but Cole Porter and Hemingway both lived in Venice too and to me it has always been the more romantic, more inspiring city.

If only it didn't cost a mint to live there...  and if only it weren't slowly sinking into the sea... other than those tiny little obstacles?  Perfection.
We visited Murano to watch a master sculpt glass...

Grabbed lunch in lovely Burano (where my mixed fish plate came complete with eyes! - much to my aunt's horror and my delight...)

And I fell in love with the Music Museum.

My aunt flew home from Venice and I was once again on my own, with a week left in Europe and plans to head inland.  And thanks to a certain Bard of Avon, I couldn't resist a little stop in fair Verona...

I didn't quite know what to expect of Verona.  I feel it is often overshadowed by other cities in Italy.  You hear talk of Venice, of Rome and Florence and Naples and Milan.  By the time people make their way down the list to Verona, they've lost their voices from talking so much about the other cities, but it's truly lovely and I would recommend it to anyone visiting northern Italy.  The river wraps around the old part of the city like a U and there are these lovely hills beyond it.  A castle, a roman amphitheatre (right in the middle of the town square), gorgeous churches, Juliet balconies everywhere, and this gorgeous garden (like a miniature Boboli).  It's small, but Verona packs a lot of personality into its limited acreage.

And then, of course, there is the Shakespeare connection.  The setting of the Bard's most famous play - and the movie Letters to Juliet.  You can go to Juliet's house, Romeo's house, and Juliet's tomb... which, okay, I find a little weird.  Because, it's not like going to Picasso's house in Paris.  Juliet never actually lived there, because Juliet was, shockingly, fictional.  So how does this fictional, non-corporeal character have a tomb?  She never had a body!  She was an idea!  Words on a page.  But powerful words.  Words that have spawned a tomb and a house. 

And a movie/letter-writing-campaign...

And a gate of locks...

And a statue.

For the record, this picture was really hard to get because people kept jumping up to get their pictures taken whilst groping Juliet's boob.  I kid you not.  I can only assume that this is some sort of good luck ritual and not a let's-all-grope-the-dead-fourteen-year-old party.  So they grope the statue to... what?  Make them lucky in love?  Juliet was epically unlucky in love.  And was she really so wise that we should be writing her letters to appeal to her wisdom on matters of the heart?  She killed herself at fourteen because of a guy she'd known a week!  A guy who was madly in love with some other chick in Act One!  And we're raising that up as the pinnacle of romance?

You know, I kind of have to wonder if Romeo and Juliet was really ever intended to be taken as a romance.  If Shakespeare is rolling in his grave at the idea that what he initially wrote as a don't-have-feuds-or-your-idiot-children-will-kill-themselves-to-teach-you-a-lesson morality play has been twisted into the romance of the ages... for crush-happy fourteen-year-olds.  It's romantic, throwing yourself into love, but is it a romance?  (If that question makes sense to you, I love you.  You're awesome.)

Moral of the story:  I went to Juliet's house.  I stood on a balcony in Verona (and no one compared me to the moon, le sigh).  And then I explored lovely Verona until my feet ached.  And it was awesome.

Up next... the Tyrolean Alps of Austria and Bavaria.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Around the World in 80 Bajillion Pictures: Part Four, Greece & Turkey

We resume our travelog (after a brief hiatus for poor, poor, pitiful Vivi to spend a weekend hopelessly mired in edits) in Lovely Greece!  Or, in this case, Rainy Greece!

Did you know that Mykonos has something like three hundred sunny days a year?  And we managed to find the single rainy day they'd had in weeks?  The thunder would roll, this loud, crashing rumble that lasted for like thirty seconds (which, of course, makes you look around to see if Chris Hemsworth is in the vicinity). The rain was novel to the locals (and helped shepherd numerous tourists into their shops and cafes) but it didn't stop me.  No sir!  After Paris, no amount of rain can intimidate me!  And in spite of the rain, I seriously loved Mykonos.  It was gorgeous and peaceful (though that may have been the rain driving everyone indoors) and the people were marvelous. 

After Mykonos we sailed through the Dardanelles (sp?) and up to the Bosphorus to see that magnificent and historic city straddling Asia Minor and Europe - Istanbul!  (Not Constantinople.  And yes, I had They Might Be Giants stuck in my head all day.)  (If you notice lots of Turkish flags, it's because we were there on a national holiday.) We saw gorgeous Hagia Sophia...

Took our shoes off and be-scarved ourselves to enter the famous Blue Mosque...

Ate a traditional Turkish lunch within sight of the ancient city walls and then went inside the Topkapi Palace where our guide was quick to inform us that Sultans weren't the only ones who kept harems. 

(Just your average, everyday canopy bed in the palace...)
It was interesting to hear about the court politics of the sultanate.  The queen mother had massive amounts of power, so it wasn't surprising that there was so much jockeying within the harems to make sure your kid had the best claim to the throne.  If nothing else, having multiple wives made the line of succession a mess.  And the practice of imprisoning or killing off your male siblings so they couldn't usurp your throne when you came to power?  Talk about high stakes.

(A view of Europe from the Topkapi.)
We saw the famous Turkish carpets being made by hand, drank apple tea and the local raki (nicknamed lions milk because it turns milky when diluted with water - and after you've had a few you will roar like a lion) and then it was back to the boat.

After Istanbul, we sailed back south to beautiful Kusadasi - the sight of the Tomb/Church of St. John the Evangelist...

The house of the Virgin Mary... which, I'm just gonna say it, feels more like a tourist trap than a sacred site to me. 

(A sign in the pavilion leading up to the shrine.)
They found the foundations of a random house, in an area that might have been where the Virgin spent the end of her life, with some skeletal remains and NO IDENTIFYING EVIDENCE and they rebuilt the house, turned it into a shrine and started charging admission.  Now, I admire faith, and I think if anything is holy about that sight, it is the belief that all the people who go there bring to it.  The notes they tie to the wall, praying to the Virgin.  But the house?  It could have been a sheep farmer's for all we know.  Are walls we rebuilt where we think there were once walls really sacred?

And then there's Ephesus, the ancient Roman city.  WHICH WAS SO DAMN COOL.

Seriously, you guys.  Go to Ephesus.  Once a thriving port town (which is fascinating because the natural topography has changed so much it is now inland) and the Second City of the Roman Empire (second only to Rome), it was covered by silt and erosion for a couple thousand years and now is being uncovered again.  They are excavating more every year and they say less than half of what they know is there (technology is so cool that it can show people where to dig now!) has been uncovered. My favorite part?  The library. 

Is that not a gorgeous library?  It even had a secret underground passageway that ran across the street to a brothel.  So you could, you know, get some "knowledge" on the side.

There were luxurious private apartments - where historical records indicate Cleopatra and Mark Antony spent their honeymoon - and yeah, they had plumbing, complete with hot and cold running water. Also, check out the massive amphitheatre which is still used for concerts today because the natural acoustics built into the hillside are so good.  How cool is that? 

After Kusadasi, it was across the Aegean to Athens.  I almost hate to admit it, but I had kind of a been-there-done-that boredom in Athens.  I loved it the first few times I was there, but this time it just felt like a replay.  The Acropolis was... the Acropolis.

The food was beyond awesome and we caught a folk dance show which was deeply excellent...
But for whatever reason, that day my Wow was broken.  Maybe I used it all up in Kusadasi. Or perhaps, Athens may just not be my city.  Because no matter how many times I see it, I never feel blase about Venice.

Tomorrow... the travelog continues in Venezia.  Ciao!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Around the World in 80 Bajillion Pictures: Part Three, Egypt!

Egypt was hands down the part of my trip I was looking forward to the most.  We were in the unique position of being the first large cruise ship to make port in Alexandria since the revolution, arriving about a week before the country's first presidential election.  There were definitely symptoms that it was a country in transition.  There were mountains of trash alongside the streets because the sanitation department had been contracted by the old regime.  Cars double and triple parked, eating up two and three lanes of freeways and major thoroughfares (making traffic some of the worst I've ever seen, and I've lived in Manhattan).  One of our guides commented that some people take freedom to mean no rules.  But the Egyptian people do want order.  They were looking forward to the elections, to having a leader to take care of things like traffic cops and sanitation.  Our guide also said, "Egypt wants to be free, but we don't know how."  They don't have any practice with governing themselves.  When your entire population is voting for the first time and there are candidates in the double digits, how do you decide who to vote for? One of our guides wanted "the good looking one" because he would represent Egypt internationally.  I cringed at that criteria, but historians say taller, more attractive men have traditionally won elections in the States, so is she really so unusual in that desire?

One thing all our guides agreed on was a request to keep Egypt in our prayers.  Even a guy trying to sell me something at the pyramids asked me to tell people to come to Egypt.  That it's safe.  For the record, I never, not for one second, felt unsafe or threatened while I was there.  Tourism is their third (or maybe second?) largest industry and it's taken a big hit since people are afraid to go.  I was glad I had an organized tour, but I didn't feel even a flicker of discomfort - so if you want to go to Egypt, don't let their difficult transition frighten you off (but do go with an organized group). 

As I noticed when I was in China as well, there is a stark disconnect between the modern and the ancient cultures.  (Which I suppose isn't surprising, I mean they had a few thousand years to grow apart, but still...)  Modern Egypt is a predominantly Muslim place, with most women in the hijab (showing your hair is fast - what must they think of the topless beaches in Cannes?) and a culture where arranged marriages are still commonplace - though I'm told there is some dating *gasp*, particularly among people who meet on the internet (behold, the Power of Facebook!).  Here's a snap of Fort Qaitbey, which is apparently the Alexandrian equivalent of lovers' lane.

Ancient Egypt, on the other hand, with their pagan worship and men in loin-clothes, was a horse of a different color. (What must the Muslim conservatism think of Cleopatra?)  We were told, fascinatingly, that the oldest pyramids were not, in fact, built by slaves.  See, in the Olden Days, the Nile would flood once a year - carrying all those nutrients in the water which would remain in the soil after the water receded and cause the impressive fertility of the region - but while the Nile was flooded, all those farmers would be out of work.  The current historical belief (which I, being the skeptic that I am, give about as much credence as scientific predictions of what is going to happen five thousand years in the future) is that the Pharaohs used that seasonally available work force to build the original Pyramids - which was part of why it took a lifetime to build one.  They were only working when the fields were swamped.  Interesting stuff, huh? 

Anyway, enough talk.  Let's see some photos!

We started out at Saqqara, the step pyramid and the oldest pyramid in Egypt.  My first pyramid!

Saqqara turned out to be one of my favorite stops.  It was slightly less overrun by tourists and the Infamous Camel Guys, so you got to actually soak up the history a bit more.

Oh, the infamous Camel Guys.  So, here's the deal.  There are these guys at the Pyramids.  With Camels.  And donkeys.  They try to persuade you to get up on the camel or donkey, or just stand in front of it and give them your camera to take your picture (Free! No Charge!) and then, to get off the camel or donkey, to keep it from wandering off into the desert with you, or to get your camera back, then there's a charge.  So there are tons of camel guys, tons of donkey guys, and tons of guys trying to sell you postcards and nick-knacks.  Ah, Egypt.  When will you learn that people will actually buy your stuff and ride your camels fair and square if you let them come to you and are honest about the cost.  And then they will recommend other people visit you, as opposed to the advice I got from my parents: "Under no circumstances do you get on a camel!"

From the Saqqara it was slightly north and into the future a few generations to the Pyramids at Giza.  All the pyramids are on the West Bank of the Nile.  The sun sets in the west and these were tombs.  A Pharaoh's necropolis (or city of the dead) would be on the west bank, whereas during life he would live on the east. 

After a photo taking frenzy at Khufu's (aka the Great Pyramid), we had a chance to actually go inside the Menkaure Pyramid, which is the smallest of the three.  Our guide discouraged us from going in - it's a cramped stairway, you're bending over the whole way, when you get to the bottom there are no hieroglyphs, nothing to see - but it was the high point for me.  I touched the inside of a pyramid.  I had pyramid dust on my hands!  Thousands of years ago, the people who built that pyramid walked that tunnel (or one like it).  Inside the pyramid is the closest you can be to the people who created it.  The architects of history.  Everything else is just pictures.  Inside is history.

After that it was on to the Sphinx, which swarming with the most aggressive and annoying hawkers and therefore my least favorite part of the entire tour.  I would have loved to really take time to see the Sphinx, but we could barely look at it without someone stepping in front of you to try to get you to buy a scarf, a metal statue, a post card, something.  But I suppose that's the case everywhere.  There are hawkers on top of the Great Wall too.  They're just easier to get away from...

On day two, we went to Fort Qaitbey, pictured above, where they were filming a movie about Napoleon's invasion of Egypt.  Turns out Fort Qaitbey is important mostly because lost battles at that Fort led to all the many invasions over the years.  Egypt really hasn't spent a lot of time out from under someone else's rule.

Then it was on to the Roman ruins.  Yep, the Romans conquered Egypt too.  If there was an Empire, at some point they put their footprint in Egypt.  You know what I loved about the Roman Theatre?  There's this part which would have been the "backstage" area in the original theatre.  You go through this archway and there's a rickety old door (probably at some point put there by archeologists to keep people from tromping through their find as pieces of this site are still being actively excavated today) and beyond that is the backstage area... where there are no floors.  You walk on these narrow planks above ten foot drops in this corridor.  It was hella fun, and perhaps what I liked best about it was the fact that I would never be able to do that in the States.  Somebody's ass would get sued in a flat second if there weren't guard-rails and nets and giant "Caution" signs.  It's kinda nice to be free to break your neck.  It makes the world feel more real, and less like a padded cell.

And then... oh, boys and girls, THEN... the Library at Alexandria.  Now, obviously this is not the original library, since that one rather famously burned, but a modern repository of Book Awesomeness built a short distance from what is believed to be the original site.  Still, it was like Mecca to me, you guys.  All the books!  All the knowledge!  And art galleries and old printing presses and even one of the new-fangled Espresso print-it-while-you-wait Book Machines.  It was beautiful and sparkling and glorious.  An oasis in the rather chaotic surrounds of Alexandria.

The library got me thinking about monuments of words versus the physical monuments of the pyramids.  Who left a bigger legacy to the world - Homer or the Pharaohs building the pyramids?  How many great thinkers are remembered (those who don't start major religions, that is) a thousand or two thousand years after their deaths?  What truly lasts?  Ideas?  Or castles of stone?  Should we all be building pyramids if we want to leave a mark?  Even if they're covered by centuries of sand, pyramids can be uncovered again, but once an idea is lost, a scroll burned, how can it be resurrected again?  And once it's no longer relevant, what impact does it have?  A pyramid always has impact, but a book, a song, those things are much more transient.  Perhaps that's what makes them feel alive.  The fact that they are fleeting.  The pyramids are forever, but Giza was a necropolis.  A city for the dead.  Just a thought. 

Up next... Turkey and Greece.