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March 02, 2010

Intellectual Property

http://johnsonmatel.com/2010/January/JMU/McDonalds_Playland_along_I81.jpg

I finished the first module of the distance learning course on intellectual property rights today and I thought I might put make a short write up of some of the take-aways. 

Intellectual property rights give the holders the exclusive rights through things like patents, trademarks, geographical indications, copyright, trade secrets and other undisclosed information.

The idea is to increase sharing of ideas and innovations, while protecting the rights of those who came up with them for specified amounts of time.  Without protections, most people either will not work very hard to come up with new things or they will try to keep their innovations a secret.   This is exactly what happened in times past and still happens in places where intellectual property protections are weak.   

The U.S. was an early leader in the specific protection of intellectual property.   It is written into the first article of our Constitution (Article 1, Section 8, and Clause 8) and it is one of the contributing factors to our nation’s rapid progress in the sciences and practical technologies.   Ben Franklin, a prolific inventor, was at the Constitutional Convention.    He invented (or perfected) bifocals, the lighting rod and the Franklin stove, among other things, but he refused to patent any of them, preferring to share them with all of mankind.  He had already made enough money by then and was devoting himself to public service.  However, he and others clearly saw that most inventors and innovators would not find themselves in Franklin’s happy condition or mindset.

The dual need to share and protect is reflected in patent law.   A patent give the holder the exclusive right to structures and methods that result from his idea, but only for a specific time and only on the condition that the inventor publicize the specifications.   Beyond that, the patent protects the physical manifestations, not the idea itself.

Copyright refers to the rights of authors and composers to control their work and it is under a lot of strain these days.    You have always been allowed “fair use”.  That means I can quote or take ideas from an author’s work if it is used as part of a new work and it not just copying the whole thing.   This worked well enough until it became easier to copy with Xerox and got even worse with the easy cut and paste or computers.  Now we have a whole new artistic/literary/musical genre of “mash-up.”  It is hard to tell where one work leaves off and another starts.  Beyond that, some artists don’t like their work to be altered.   The details of this are beyond my expertise (and frankly generally beyond my interest) but it makes a difference to some people.   Some countries give authors & artists the rights to control their work long after it has left their hands.   They often call these “moral rights.”  That was part of the controversy when Ted Turner wanted to colorize the classics.  I can see both sides in this case.  It is more fun to watch a movie in color and many of the kids will not even look at one in black and white.  But the techniques of color are different from those of black and white.   It may become a significantly different work when it is colorized.

Trademarks and trade secrets are a little different.  These things usually are not very profound, although they are the things most familiar to us.   You have the golden arches, Colonel Sanders’ face, or the unique way Coca-Cola is written.  They are meant only as a means to differentiate products.  The most famous trade secret is the formula for Coca-Cola.    As much as l like the stuff, the world would not end if it was disclosed, but it would make it a lot harder to know I was getting something I liked to drink or some knockoff.   A trade secret can be held indefinitely. 

I have a little more trouble with geographical indications. The Europeans tend to be much more interested in those things than we are, maybe because they have a lot more geographical distinctions. Many of the foods that we call by ordinary names are actually geographical indications. Champagne or Bordeaux come from a specific place in France. Products from other places should not be called by those names. The same goes for Bologna, Prosciutto, Colby, Munster, Parmesan, or Romano cheese. Lots of things have names that indicate their original region.  Many have become generic and we hardly think of them anymore. But others have retained the geographical protection. That is why you might find something Parmesan or Champagne modified by style. 

A more recently important and even more confusing piece of “intellectual property” is folklore or customs. So far nobody has been able to properly define this, since folklore and customs tend to cross national and regional borders and it is probably impossible to identify the original sources.   I suppose the Greeks could try to get a cut each time someone mentions a Homeric Hero (e.g. Ajax cleanser) or even Homer Simpson. Of course, the original Homer probably lived in what is now Turkey.  Go back more than a couple generations and it all becomes the common heritage of mankind and that is why I don’t think much good will come of this aspect of intellectual property.

I have five more modules on this particular course.  I suppose they will get harder.

December 01, 2009

Everything Has a Price

People say that like it is a bad thing.   In fact, the ability to put a price on most things is the basis of most of our prosperity.   It also reduces or even eliminates many conflicts and just makes everything work smoother. A lot of blood has been shed over “priceless” things, but any problem you can buy your way out of is not longer a problem; it is just an expense.

Remains of Roman marketplace in Athens

People have a strange way of disparaging thing they want the most and talk obliquely about them.   For example, when somebody says, “you cannot put a price on that” he usually means that the price offered is too low.  When he says, “Nobody should have to pay for that” he usually means that he wants somebody else to pay for it for him.  

Something for Nothing

Everybody likes to get something for nothing (or at least for not too much.)  We wince when we think about the venality of some of our interactions, but it is just part of human nature.   Actually, it is part of nature in general.   Animals implicitly calculate the amount of effort expended for a particular payoff.   Lions go after the zebras or wildebeests that are easiest to catch and they chase their prey only so far.  After that, it is not worth the effort.   And the king of beasts is happiest when he can find a fresh carcass that he doesn’t have to chase at all, i.e. get something for nothing. That’s nature.

What is it Worth? 

The most important part of a price is the information it contains.  The price tells you whether it is worth the effort.   It also tells you how much effort others would put in making or getting this thing.  It allows you to compare and make choices about disparate things and forms a judgment on the relative effectiveness of various producers.  All this is Econ 101, but it bears repeating since we often forgot why prices are good.

BTW - I have been watching a good show called "Pawn Stars." I recommend watching that when thinking about the "true price" of anything.

Price’s role in conflict resolution is something we talk about less often but it is one of its most important functions.   Price can accomplish so much because it contains all that stuff mentioned in the paragraph above.   W/o price, these are things you would have to fight about.   To illustrate the role of price in conflict resolution, imagine a situation where two or more people want exactly the same thing and have determined it is priceless.   Those are the conditions where people come to blow and nations go to war.

Think of the rare heirloom from grandpa that all the grandchildren want and think is theirs by prior right.   They can all come up with endless credible arguments as to why it should be theirs.   Put a reasonable price on the thing and the conflict usually drains away, as most of the heirs decide they really didn’t want it that much and/or something else is more valuable to them.

Something Beyond Price, or Just a Price Range

Of course, there are some things we really would not put a price on, but fewer than we like to admit.   I am telling the truth when I tell people that I don’t want to sell my forest land, but my statement is valid only within an implicit price range.   I am not exactly sure what that range is.  I know  a price I would accept  is currently significantly more than I am likely to be offered, which I why I can make my “not selling” statements with such moral certainty.   But I think if someone offered me $1 million an acre, I would  take it.

There is joke (I think it is from Groucho Marx) that illustrates the price dilemma:  This guy asks a woman if she would sleep with him for $1 million.  After a little thought, she says she would.   He says, “How about $10?”  To which she indignantly replies, “Sir, what do you think I am?”   The guy says, “We have established what you are; now we are haggling over the price.” 

You Can't Sell That

It is precisely our human “price flexibility” that makes it necessary to have some laws about things that cannot be sold.  No matter what the price, you cannot self yourself into slavery, for example.  Society does this not only because slavery is odious or even to protect the person selling, but rather defends the whole concept of freedom and takes it out of the negotiation/price world.   I think most people support this kind of limit on choice, but we need to be careful not to go far in proclaiming too many things off limits.  Things w/o a price often tend to get abused. 

I recently read a series of articles about the art world.   Art is one of those places where you have a lot of price confusion.  Much of the price is based on fashion and capricious opinion. Artists put a lot of their personality into their works and usually pompously over-value it.   And many people get positively indignant about prices that are too high, too low or anything else.   But price may be more important in the art world than in many other places.    Simply stated: price preserves both art and artists.

Price Preserves Art

One article talked about Chinese art.  Now that some Chinese have piles of money and Western currencies to burn, Chinese art has risen in value.  Some complain that it was undervalued in the past and that Western collectors were able to buy it up at a fraction of what it was worth.   This is a fairly meaningless statement, BTW, because it is worth what somebody will pay for it.   Today it is worth more.  That’s it.  But there is another permutation. 

During the bad old days of Mao’s Cultural Revolution, traditional Chinese art was often worse than worthless within China.   The Communists made a special effort to denigrate and destroy what they considered symbols of decadence and oppression.    Much of the Chinese art now being “repatriated” would have been lost of destroyed had it not been “plundered” by Western collectors at a time when the people on the ground didn’t value it.

Think of the terrible case of the Tailban destroying those giant Buddahs, because they were an offense to their fundamental interpretation of Islam.  If the British had "plundered" them, they would still exist.

Camels in Egypt 

Unappreciated Ancient Civilizations 

The same goes for a lot of the art of ancient Greece, Egypt and Mesopotamia.   I know this provokes strong emotions, accusations of insensitivity and even expressions of outrage, but if you look at the historical record, it was British, French and German archeologists who essentially brought the ancient world back to the places where it had been and had been forgotten.   The current inhabitants didn’t know much and cared less about the world of antiquity and usually saw archeological sites merely as places to dig up valuables or convenient places to steal bricks or rocks for new construction.   

There is a legitimate dispute whether those ancient artifacts now housed in museums in Berlin, Paris, London or New York were plundered or saved.    I think it is clear that had those things not been preserved in those museums, most would have ended up lost, part of somebody’s retaining wall or – at best – in some rich guy’s private collection.

Anyway, it is a good thing that these things had a price and that somebody was willing to pay it. The Rosetta stone could have easily become pavement on the road to Cairo, which illustrates another benefit of price.  It tends to put things into the hands of those who want or can use them the most.  The Rosetta stone was laying around for more than two thousand years and nobody bothered to try a translation until it got into the hands of someone who cared.

May 31, 2008

The Cities of Civilization Are NOT Forever

Chrissy among the ruins of Jarash 

"In the second century of the Christian era, the Empire of Rome comprehended the fairest part of the earth, and the most civilised portion of mankind. The frontiers of that extensive monarchy were guarded by ancient renown and disciplined valour. The gentle but powerful influence of laws and manners had gradually cemented the union of the provinces.  Their peaceful inhabitants enjoyed and abused the advantages of wealth and luxury.”  This is the opening line of Gibbon’s “Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire.”  Visiting the ruins of the once great city of Jerash gave us something to think about.

Below is Hadrian's Arch.  The Emperor Hadrian traveled a lot and evidently erected arches wherever he went.  This is the entrance to Jerash.

Hadrian's Arch in Jarash, Iraq

The second century was indeed a great time.  Pax Romana has created the world’s first globalization.  Like today, diverse peoples mixed in a world market and a type of world system.  Greek was the language of educated commerce and Latin was the language of the law.  The world would not really see the recreation of this sort of trading system until 19th century.  English now plays the world language role of ancient Greek & Latin.   Our situation is like that of the Roman Empire in the 2nd century and like them, we think it will never really end.

Colonade in Jarash

Jarash shows the breadth of Roman civilization.  It was nowhere near the center of the empire.  It was not a key Roman city, but Roman civilization reached here as it did in Petra.  Look at the pictures of this ordinary Roman town and imagine how it must have been. 

I suppose it was a lot like today.  People hangin around selling trinkets, calling out "Mr. Where you from?  Rome.  Rome number one." 

Below - Yay Rome

John Matel cheering Rome in Jarash

The wonder of Rome, however, was not in only the buildings you see here.  A great part was in the “software” – laws and administration and much of physical base of Rome’s greatness was literally on or under that ground.  Roman roads tied the Empire together.  You can still walk on Roman roads and bridges from here on the edges of the Arabian Desert all the way to Hadrian’s Wall on the edge of Scotland.  It was the Internet of the times. 

circile market in Jarash

Under the ground was something as astonishing – water works.  Many Roman cities sat in semi arid places.  The Romans brought in water from distant mountains and provide sewage systems to take out the waste.  When the Empire collapsed, so did this infrastructure and Roman towns shrunk and sometimes disappeared.

Hippodrome in Jarash

Above is the Hippodrome, home to chariot races. 

Imagine the Barbarians, scratching their keisters in the forums of Roman cites wondering where that water in the fountain is coming from and knowing they would be unable to keep the system running.     When the Germanic tribes in the west or the Arabs in the east conquered Roman territory, they did not usually intend to destroy everything   Even the Vandals, despite their fierce reputation, tried to keep things going.   But as the Roman engineers and administrators died out, w/o suitable replacement, the light of civilization dimmed, not all at once.  It was more like breaking up a campfire and letting the isolated embers of a fire gradually die.   The empire was a network and the parts nourished each other.  Without the network you get Jerash - beautiful ruins but dead as the rocks around them. 

Hippodrome in Jarash Jordan  

The other thing you learn when visiting abandoned cities is that cities are not forever.  I think about that in relation to a great American city like New Orleans.  Much of that city will need to be abandoned soon and returned to the cypress and tupelo.   The engineering required to keep a below seawater district dry is just not worth the ecological harm.  But – as usual – I digress.

Jarash panorama

We had a really good visit to Jerash.  This link has a few more details.

May 29, 2008

Petra - Chrissy's Comments

 Ad-Deir monastario at Petra

Petra is amazing; I am glad I got to see it.  Photos cannot do it justice.  We got a map/tourist guide from the visitor’s center; they were out of English ones, so I picked Spanish.  I thought we would be able figure out what it said.  Luckily, there were signboards in English along the path giving details on the main sites. 

We decided to go to the end of the trail, to Ad-Deir (the Monasterio), which is the second most famous attraction after Al-Khazneh (el Tesoro, or the Treasury) in Petra.  The brochure said there were over 800 “peldanos tallados” on the way to Ad-Deir; we didn’t know what that meant, I figured it was some sort of carved rosettes or decorations on the Monastery facade.  Eight-hundred seemed like a lot, but they probably had a lot of free time.

I was pretty wrong; "peldanos tallados" actually means “carved steps”--and there are waaay more than 800 of them.  It took us about 45 minutes to get to the top—uphill all the way--and because we are good planners, we went up during the hottest part of the afternoon.  I was pretty happy to finally get there—but it was worth the hike.  John with new hat at Petra

Bedouins set up tables along the walking paths and even on the switchbacks on the way up to Ad-Deir.  They were selling drinks, jewelry and trinkets-mostly junk; lots of beaded necklaces (from India).  Even the kids were selling; a pair of what appeared to be three year olds had a stand selling rocks, and seemed to be making money at it.  John took a photo of a little girl holding a baby goat; she charged him a dinar.  That's a dollar and half, pretty good money for just sitting there looking adorable for 10 seconds. 

 

This is John’s new hat, it speaks for itself.  At least he got the guy to knock 5 dinars off the price.

 

Petra

monastary at Petra 

Most of you are familiar with Petra, even if you do not know.  It is often featured in pictures and it was the backdrop for “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” 

gorge that leads to PetraYou get to Petra down a long narrow gorge long ago carved by the action of water.   Petra was an important & prosperous trading center until trade routes shifted.  An earthquake that damaged the water distribution system ensured its continued decline.  Eventually, most of the people wandered off and leaving the site to Bedouins.  The Bedouins are still there, offering donkey & camel rides and selling various trinkets.  Their goats wander the neighboring ridges, picturesquely destroying the local vegetation.

Seeing the Petra ruins is an all day trip.  Of course, you could spend years exploring the whole complex and visiting all the side structures.  We climbed a couple.  There were mostly large, cavernous spaces.  Tomb raiders have long since cleaned out anything of value.  Some of the climbs are difficult and probably dangerous.  Take a look at this steep climb and rickety bridge.

On the plus side, the rocks in the region are some kind of sandstone, which stays rough and provides a good gripping surface for walking.  The rocks in Athens were some kind of marble or alabaster.  It got very smooth and slippery. 

Indiana Jones bridge Petra

The hardest part of the trip is from the main area up to the monastery.  It is a steep climb that takes around 45 minutes.  The Bedouins offer donkey rides up.  I would not want to ride the stinky animals nor would I trust them not to hurl me into the abyss.  They seem ornery and nasty.  I know they are supposedly sure-footed, but I prefer to be on my own feet. 

Donkeys at Petra

It is a hike with many beautiful views and well worth the effort.   You have to get out of the way  as the donkeys come down.

Roman ruins at Petra

The Romans controlled the place for around 500 years.  Say what you will about them, the Romans built to last.  Even at this edge of their world, there are roads that are still useful after all this time and there is evidence of their good government.  BTW, Chrissy asked me when the Byzantines took over from the Romans, as we visited a Byzantine church.  Of course, the Byzantines WERE the Romans, the Eastern Roman Empire just transitioned.  There was no clear break for them.  The Byzantines called themselves Romans until the fall of Constantinople in 1453.  The term "Byantine" is a 19th Century creation. Petra temple

The picture on the left shows the treasury at Petra. This is the part of the city that is generally shown on all the pictures.  It is literally carved out of the rock. 

The Nabataeans, who made these structures, were tolerant and eclectic.  They mixed and matched their cultural influences and probably were themselves a diverse people, typical of one sitting on trade routes and so actively engaged in commerce,  with a Semitic/Arab base.  They left no significant literature and not even inscriptions on their buildings, which makes it hard for historians to categorize them.  This makes then a sort of stealth people and the mystery appeals to some. 

In structure on left, as in most others, you can see influences of the Greeks, Romans, Persians & Egyptians.  Of course, the shapes and types of rock face dictated some of the forms.  

On the way back out through the gorge we saw why you might not want to ride the horse carts.  As we came in the passage, we saw a driver having trouble with his horse.  We noticed, but didn’t think too much about it.  When we were about half way up, we heard the sound of hoofs coming behind.  It was the same cart – cart # 3 – careening until semi-control, with too terrified Japanese tourists hanging on for dear life, not having a wonderful day.  I bet they never rent another horse and buggy.  

Below shows what these horse carts look like.

Horse carts at Petra

I will let this link explain re history of the place.  There are a few inaccuracies in the link. For example, Pompey was not a Roman emperor, but the site does a good job with other background.

May 28, 2008

Up From the Jordan Valley & Meeting Friendly Natives

 Christine looking over Petra hills

Above Chrissy at the Petra overlook. 

We climbed from the Jordan Valley up the ancient city of Petra.   It is hot in the valley, but it gets cool quickly as you gain altitude.  The landscape is very rough and the road winds around and up and down.  When donkeys and feet were the only means of transportation, this must have been a nearly impossible trek.  But people obviously made it.

Sami overlooking Jordan Valley

Above is our driver Sami.  We met him in Amman.  He came down to the Dead Sea to drive up to Petra. 

Petra is one of the wonders of the world.  It is a whole city built into the rock face.  We will visit the actual site tomorrow and I will write more when I learn more.

Jordan panorama on way to Petra

The panorama in this part of Jordan reminds us of north-central Arizona. 

We are staying at the Marriott in Petra.  Marriotts are familar and I like to have some stability when traveling. Chrissy and I walked into down from the hotel to the modern Petra city center, about three kilometers.  The people were phenomenally friendly.  A couple of kids on the street gave Chrissy a part of a plant and me a piece of candy.  They wanted nothing in return.  Everybody was asking where we were from and shouting welcome.  Frankly, I don't know why people are so outgoing.

We went to a bakery and got five pieces of that great Arabic flat bread  and half dozen cookies for one JD.  We had some good kabobs at a local restaurant.  It is a pleasant city, but very hilly and hard to walk around.

Wadi on the way to Petra

Above is the wadi that leads to the old Petra sites.

I have traveled all around Europe and recently in Iraq, Jordan, Egypt & Greece.  I don’t notice that anti-Americanism we always hear about.  I am fairly obviously American and I am always very clear whenever anybody asks me.  I have always felt welcomed.  People approach me, ask questions, tell me about their trips to the U.S. or their friends and relatives there.

Below is me at the Petra overlook.  Same spot as Chrissy's picture above.

John Matel overlook at Petra

I understand the sources of measurement bias.  Very likely those who take the time to talk to me are already more pro-American.  Maybe they just want my business/money or they like my smile.  But the way I figure it, if all it takes is a couple of dollars and a smile to counter anti-Americanism, the price is not very high.

I don’t trust those polls showing the world dislikes us and I don’t need to ask that question “why do they hate us?”.  The general question is bogus.  I know it is as sweeping generalization to sweep all that off the table, but I have seen the polling data and I don’t think it is getting at the deeper realities. Most people in the world are probably indifferent to the U.S. most of the time.  When asked by an opinion researcher whether or not they like the U.S., the recall whatever recent negative news they have seen in the media and answer based on that.  It is a true opinion, but it is ephemeral and not deeply held in most cases.   An actual encounter with a friendly American tends to tap into an entirely different area of response. 

Put the shoe on the other foot.  Remember all the gnashing of teeth about France and the whole freedom fries crap?  Did you really dislike the French?  If a friendly French traveler asked you directions, would you mislead him or be angry with him?  In other words, did Americans’ stated preference really amount to a hill of beans?  The same often goes for others. 

We need to be less concerned with this supposed general opinion and concentrate on the specifics that often DO create troubles.

May 27, 2008

Jesus, Moses and Mosaics

"And Moses went up from the plains of Moab unto the mountain of Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, that is over against Jericho.  And the LORD showed him all the land of Gilead, unto Dan..."

John Matel at Mt Nebo in Jordan

We went from the Dead Sea, 415 meters below sea level, to the top of Mt. Nebo, which is 656 m higher.   This was the place were Moses saw the promised land, as you can see form Deuteronomy 34 above.   Moses must have had better eyes than I do because I could not see beyond the escarpment over the Dead Sea.  Mt. Nebo was a pleasant place, however, with some trees and significantly cooler temperatures. 

mosaic with bull from Madaba Jordan

From Mt Nebo, we went down to a town called Madaba.  It still has lots of Christian churches and used to have even more, so the town is full of mosaics from the late Roman and Byzantine times.  Even after the Muslim conquests, the native Christian communities continued to thrive. 

Jordanians seem interested in the Christian and other pre-Islamic heritage of their country and very tolerant of religious diversity.   At least they recognize the tourist value of emphasizing Christian heritage in the birthplace of Christianity.

Church pictures from Madaba Jordan

It is interesting to speculate how different world history would have been if Islamic armies had not conquered this area.  There certainly would have been no Crusades and very likely the center of Western civilization would have remained in the Mediterranean, and even the eastern part, rather than shifting toward the Atlantic and Northern Europe.

It has been more than a quarter century since I studied Greek and forgot almost everything, but I can still put a few things together from a combination of looking at the pictures and tortuously making out a few words.  I was telling Chrissy re some of the pictures when a local guy overheard and in English told me how surprised he was that an American could read that Greek.  I didn’t tell him that I only made out something like three words and guessed the rest from the illustrations.

River Jordan

We went back down the hill into the Jordan Valley.  The river Jordan is a lot smaller than I thought.  In fact, it is really not much bigger than Genito Creek, which runs through our forest land.  It doesn’t look very clean either.  I think that Baptism in the Jordan would risk infection or dysentery.

Jesus baptism place

A lot of the water has been drawn off for irrigation upstream and presumably it as bigger and cleaner back in the Jesus Baptism mosaicold days.  We went to the Jesus baptism site - the place they have identified where John the Baptist baptised Jesus.  The river has changed course, so the place is no longer actually on the flowing part of the stream, but the flood sometimes comes through and a spring keeps the basin full of water.   In ancient times, there were churches at this spot.  Now they are just ruins, although you can still see some of the mosaics.  Below is a more modern mosaic re the site.  Notice the webpage.

I enjoyed going to these sites, maybe because they were so unpretentious.  Not many people make the trip, since it is out of the way.  Notice the transportation.  It was hot out and it was sweaty, but that sort of added to the charm. 

Below is our bus to the baptism site.

Bus to Jesus baptism site

May 23, 2008

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi

Amman 

Above is Amman from the Citadel 

Empire is politically incorrect these days but the Roman Empire was a great thing.  It brought together disparate people under the rule of law.   The Romans controlled almost all the world they knew about and certainly all the territory they thought worth having. 

temple of Hercules Amman

In our modern world, we are used to progress running in one direction.  We might suppose the past was more pleasant, but we never believe that people of the past could do more than we could.  This was not always the case.  For around 1000 years, people looked back on the ancient Roman Empire with a sense of envy.  The Romans had a better general organization than the states that followed them.  Cities fell into ruins after the fall of Rome and they sometimes staying in ruins, with people poking around among them like some characters in a scifi book.  Amman did not regain its Roman size until well into the 20th century.   People could look at the ruins and wonder how those building came to be.

On left is the Temple of Hercules.

Jordan was at the edge of the Roman world.  Beyond here was that desert I know only too well.  The Romans were wise enough not to go very far away from the Mediterranean Sea (Mare Nostrum – our sea, they called it) very often.  When they did, they tended to come to bad ends.   Crassus, the associate of Julius Caesar's,  was captured by the Parthians who poured molten gold down his throat in recognition of his status as one of the richest men in the world.   

The Mediterranean really is a paradise.  It is like California, northern or southern depending on where you are.  Jordan is like southern California.   It has been hot during the day, but not uncomfortable in the shade.  In the evening it is comfortably cool.  There is a fair amount of green.  There would be more if it were not for the goats and the general bad management of soil resources over the past millennia. 

goat on citadel Amman

Amman is quiet today because it is Friday.  I went up to the citadel.  Every ancient and medieval city of any size has a citadel or an acropolis.   Life back then was nasty, brutish and short.  You had to have a place to repair to during the inevitable periods of bloody disorder.   After a while, these places became the sites of public buildings so they usually feature interesting archeology.  Beyond that, there is almost always a good view from the high ground.

ruins Amman

As I sit here writing this, I can hear church bells ringing.  I have been hearing the Muslim call to prayer all day, so this is a change.  I understand that the Christian population was once significant.  It has dwindled in modern times, but is still here.  This is the holy land after all.   Tomorrow or the next day I plan to visit the place where tradition says John the Baptist baptized Jesus.

March 23, 2008

Nothing Too Much

Stream in Athens park 

This is the kind of place I always find, a little stream in a quiet park.  I am sitting again in the garden park near the Parliament.  I put the kids on the plane at 0655.  My plane doesn’t go until 1805, so I figured that I would go to the Archeology Museum, the one I missed because of the strike.   I will write about that later.

I sat at this very spot before the kids came a few days ago.  The feeling was different.  That day the sun was shinning; today it is overcast and drizzly.  My moods reflected the weather on both occasions.  Then I was about to get on the Metro to go and get them at the airport so that we could see Greece together.  Today I am getting ready to get on the Metro to go back to Iraq.  The kids have left.

The excitement of Iraq wore off with the first step I took in that dusty desert. Now I just want to finish my job.  Some people think it is a bad idea to go on R&R, especially the short ones I have chosen.  The received wisdom is that getting out for a short time just makes you want to stay out.  Of course that is right, but most people still want to take the R&R. 

Aegina view

Above is a very from a hill in Aegina, an island near Athens.  Maybe because I am in Greece, I remember the classical debate about having and not having.  Some thought that you should not have anything you could lose, so as to avoid the pain of loss.  Most Greek thinkers were moderates, however,  who didn’t believe in excess – nothing too much. They understood that an excess of pleasure seeking would lead to unhappiness, but they also knew that an excess of denial would produce the same result. 

I enjoyed being with the kids and finally seeing this place and adding Greece to our shared landscape of memory.  The joy of having done these things greatly outweighs the pain of losing it and the memory will brighten up my time left in Iraq.  It is not that long anyway.  I have half done and since I have saved my R&Rs for the second half of my tour, I have lots of time out coming.

Below are cats in Poros sharing the catch.

cats in Poros

Iraq has been a fantastic experience, but it is less attractive prospectively than retrospectively.  This is a great thing to HAVE done, less fun to be doing.

March 22, 2008

Island Hopping

Mariza espen on Hydra 

Much of Greece consists of islands.  The Aegean is really a drowned mountain range with the peaks protruding above the water and the valleys sunk below.  And the islands are very close together.  You can usually see the next island from the one you are on.  This invited exploration even by sailors who didn’t like to be out of sight of land. 

Below is the Orthodox church on Aegina. Aegina is a big island, as you can see from the background.

Espen Mariza Aegina

We took a cruise to three islands: Poros, Hydra and Aegina.  Poros was not very attractive.  Well, the island was pretty but the houses were that 1960 socialist style.  It was worth seeing, but not worth going to see.  Hydra was beautiful.  The natural setting was spectacular and the buildings were well constructed and good looking.  There are no cars on Hydra, which makes it an exceptionally good place to walk. Aegina is the biggest of the three and it was an important center in ancient and medieval times. There is an ancient temple and a Greek Orthodox monastery.  This island is fertile and is a paradise, with olive & pasticcio groves mixed with citrus framed by pine forests all overlooking the blue sea.   The pictures do not do it justice, but look at them anyway.

Above is the Temple of Athesis on Aegina.    

Cruising itself is not much fun. A cruise boat is like a big floating bus.  But being there among the islands is great.

Below, Espen deals with the early wake time and the slow boat syndrom.

Espen sleeping on boat

March 21, 2008

The Theatre

Mariza at Epidarus 

The amphitheatre at Epidarus supposedly has nearly perfect acoustics.  We walked up to the top and indeed we could hear people speaking down in the center.  Evidently the sound waves flow up the hill and then some bounce off the stone seats in back of each audience member.  Given the speed of sound, this is not enough to produce a discernible echo, but prolongs the sound.  This is not perceivable and our brains make the necessary corrections so the whole thing enhances our senses.  At least that is what I heard.  This is one of the birthplaces of drama.  It started out as story telling and gradually developed into the kinds of things we would recognize as a play. 

This theater is still intact because it was isolated and people didn't have as much incenitive to steal the stones.   Many ruins are not wrecked by time, but rather by salvage.

Epidarus started out as a healing center dedicated to the god of healing, Aesclepius.  People would come here to make offerings to the gods.   After a while the priests developed a modicum of physician skills and you can trace the origins of medicine to these places.  Of course most of what they did had little more effect on actual sickness, other than the value of the rest and psychosomatic benefits.  The ancient Greeks were profoundly superstitious people.  All pre-modern people were/are superstitious because they don’t have any scientific alternatives.  Even those of us who should know better still fall for faith healers, shamans and other charlatans.

The natural setting is beautiful and if you got to hang around here watching plays and not having to work, I bet many people did recover their health, so I suppose it worked.  The proximate cause is not always the apparent one, or that one advertised.  I remember reading that in the 18th & 19th Centuries many of the very young women who married old rich guys were evidently barren.  Their husbands sent them off to “take the waters” at some spa, where lots of young men worked and the miracle of the spa restored their fertility.  

March 20, 2008

The Workers - United - Will Close All Museums

Protest in Athens

I would have to tell the story of today by telling what we didn’t do.  We didn’t go to the Archeological Museum.  We didn’t go any other museums.  We didn’t even go to the park.  All these places were shut because of a strike/demonstration by government unions.  We DID see them marching and chanting.  It was very 1930s except the banners are more colorful: less red, brighter pastels. 

Demonstrations are always the same.  You get the big march and the chanting in simple words and cadences that the cognitively challenged can repeat w/o too much trouble, something like "The workers - united - will never be defeated."  We saw on the news that some fire bombs and tear gas were used after the main demonstration.  The protestors looked peaceful enough when we saw them.  I think most were just ordinary people, but there are always some of the violent guys who take any opportunity to make trouble.  

steep walk

We walked a lot, since the Marriott shuttle couldn’t drop us or pick us up in town. I had a good time being with Mariza & Espen.   Above is one of the steep paths we climbed.  Since I didn’t get to go to the museums, I have rationalized it away.  It is true that actually seeing the real thing is sometimes less satisfying than seeing a really good photo, since you can usually see more detail in the photo and there is more explanation.  That is what I am telling myself anyway.  It is not entirely wrong.  I recall when Chrissy and I saw the Mona Lisa in Paris.  It is smaller than you think and farther away than you would want.  The same went for Stonehenge.  On the other hand, even on this short trip the Acropolis and Mycenae were more than I expected.

Anyway tomorrow we have an island cruise day and then the kids go back to America and I go back to Iraq.  They rhythm of that reminds me of Davy Crockett’s campaign slogan.  I will recall as best I can.  “If you reelect me, I will serve you well and honestly; if you do not, you can go to hell and I shall go to Texas.”  I felt funny not being in Iraq for a few hours, but I came to my senses.  Still I have to go back so I may as well make the most of it. 

Espen has decided he will look angry (and tough) at all the photo sessions from now on, so whenever he notices the camera...well you see.  Who knows why?  But I will post in any case.

Espen in Athens

I did get him when he wasn't looking, however.

Espen in athens 2

March 19, 2008

Cyclops' Wall

Mariza & Espen at Myceanae

The ancient Greeks thought that giant Cyclops built the walls of Mycenae, since they could not understand how such big rocks could be brought to the site and stacked.  When I looked at the place, I could see how they were astonished.  The rocks are big and the hill is high, but with simple tools and a lot of persistence the ancient Mycenaeans did not need the help of Cyclops. Nevertheless, despite all the monumental precautions their civilization was destroyed and Mycenae abandoned.  These Bronze Age warriors were no match for Iron Age weapons of invaders.

BTW – it is not true that a man armed with iron weapons was so much superior to one armed with bronze, but iron is more common and so more men could be well armed. Of course the most famous representatives of Mycenaean culture were Achilles, Agamemnon, Menelaus & Odysseus.  The Iliad makes it sound like these sorts of heroes were the only guys who counted on the battlefield and they were.  With bronze weapons and kit, only a few can have complete armor, horses and chariots AND even fewer have the talent and time to develop the skills of an expert fighting man.  The Homeric heroes were a lot like tanks on a battlefield.  They could mow down the opposing infantry until they ran into a hero from the other side, hence the importance of single combat.  Besides, it makes a better story.  The later Greeks developed the phalanx, where they all stood in lines with spears and shields and pushed the other side until somebody broke.  Individual valour was merged with the larger group. It was an excellent war machine, but not as cool as Achilles v Hector. 

Greece scene

The 19th Century amateur archeologist Heinrich Schliemann used the Iliad to find both Agamemnon’s Mycenae and Helen’s Troy.  When he found a body in a tomb and took off the death mask, he thought he had looked on the face of Agamemnon and the gold death mask is still often associated with the face of Agamemnon, but modern historians think that the king with the golden mask predated the Trojan War period by a couple centuries.

We still take much of our understanding of the period from Homer, who wrote centuries after the events based on oral tradition, which tends to be corrupted.  The Mycenaeans had a written language.  There was great excitement when it was deciphered, about 50 years ago now, but all they wrote about were lists of who owned what and where things were stored.  It did prove that they were indeed Greeks (or proto-Greeks) but there is no literature or sense of history.   Knowing that Agamemnon owned a dozen sheep &  three cows in a particular local valley was probably really important back then, but fails to capture our imaginations today.  Mycenaean civilization remains pre-historic in the practical sense of the term.

Nevertheless, Mycenae is impressive even today in its ruined state.  The Lion Gate you see in the picture is sort of a reverse arch, with the triangle in the middle bearing and spreading the load. 

Espen at lion gate

The natural setting is beautiful.  Most of the scenery we saw as we drove past Corinth into the Peloponnesus was beautiful.  The mountains in Greece go right down into the sea giving the country an unusually indented coast and long coastline.  Greece has more miles of coastline than all of Africa and no place in Greece is very far from both the mountains and the sea.  Little fertile valleys sit next to barren rocks and all have access to the sea.  It is a unique combination and scenery is not the most important consequence.  Geography helps explain much of Greek history and achievement.  

The picuture is a fish farm, BTW. Sorry for the blurr. I took it from the moving bus.

Fish farm

It has been really great to see the geography of the places and people I studied since I was a kid.  I realize how little I understand.   It is possible to know lots of facts and understand little.   When you put your feet on the ground, it is easier to understand the history.

March 17, 2008

Kids Arrive in Athens

Mariza & Espen at Parthenon 

Mariza & Espen arrived about an hour & a half late. They were tired, which was good since they arrived late and could go to bed soon.  We had supper at a place called “Goody’s” a fast food place.  Even with all the money I get for being in Iraq, we cannot afford (or at least I cannot tolerate) to eat at the restaurants in Marriott.  It would be costing around $50 a person.  It is expensive around here in general and it is not only the strong Euro.

Mariza espen athens view

I let the kids sleep late and we had the Euro tourist breakfast of bread & cheese and then headed down to see the Acropolis.  Marriott runs a shuttle bus to the downtown.  We walked up the steep path to the Acropolis.  This place is not handicapped friendly and the rocks are worn smooth, shinny and slippery but it is worth the trip.  Actually, there is not much left of the monuments on the Acropolis, but standing amid all this history and at the origins of our civilization is a special experience.  Espen and Mariza enjoyed it too and that made it a much better day for me than yesterday when I scouted it out alone – and yesterday was a good day. 

I have grown old and softer especially my feet.  I walked all day yesterday and most of the day before and on the third day my feet hurt.  Tomorrow we plan to go to Mycenae.  It is a bus trip, so I figure I will walk a bit less and the old feet will recover. 

athens rock stairs

Mariza got sick.  We don’t know why.  She ate all the same things we all did, but she threw up a little.  As I write now, she is feeling better and I hope she will be in shape tomorrow.  

The irony of trying to eat in Athens is that the gyros are not good or not avialble.  They just don’t have those rotating meat things I saw in Turkey or that I remember from the Greek restaurants in Madison.  I had a poor imitation of the legendary Zorba’s of Madison gyros. It was actually just little pieces of meat with the bread and sauce.  I may never again enjoy the total experience.  Last time I went to Madison, I found only one gyros place and it was run by Mexicans.  Evidently there are not enough Greek immigrants anymore and these guys were way too polite.  I recall the Zorba’s experience as something like the Soup Nazi on Seinfeld.  YOU! They would say and if you didn’t answer quick enough “no gyros for you.”  Well, not quite that, but the feeling was the same.  

Espen on rock

As important as gyros is to human happiness, there is much more to the country.  I expected to enjoy Greece, but I have been pleasantly surprised so far. My disappointments are that I will not see it all.  For example, I will not go to Thermopylae.  It is not on the beaten track, even after the success of “The 300”.  As I understand it, silt and erosion has widened the pass since the time of Leonidas, so it is hard to picture the battle anyway.  Maybe it is best to keep it in the imagination.  I saw the old movie “The 300 Spartans” when I was in 5th grade and that is what started me reading about the ancient Greeks.  Forty years later I know that movie was not accurate in most details and the real Greeks were much more interesting than those in the movie, but I still acknowledge what started me down the path.  After so many changes, I guess we sort of stay the same, or more correctly I think we circle around the same places. 

John and Mariza Matel at acropolis 

I was worried that the kids would get sunburned.  I am a little tan from living in Iraq - and I have a hat - but they are still pale.  Sunblock is expensive and harder to find around here than I thought but we got some.  It cost 20 Euro or around $30.  Note to self - bring sunblock.

Things Are Getting Better

Acropolis looking up 

I talked to an English guy named Joe, who evidently made a lot of money selling prosthetic and orthopedic devices.  Exciting as that business was, he preferred history and knew a lot about it.  He said that he had been coming to Athens for more than 20 years and had seen a lot of improvements.  That is why I didn’t find the smoggy, dingy Athens I had expected, he explained.  He pointed out that 20 years ago you couldn’t look out from the Acropolis and expect to see the mountains because they were usually obscured by smog.  The green space had been much less green and was filled with garbage back then.  The Greeks had made significant progress.  He also confirmed that much of the forest I had seen coming in was a recent improvement. 

agora in athens

Contrary to what you might think watching the news, things have generally been getting better, especially in Europe and North America, where forest cover has increased and water and air quality has improved remarkably.  As a teenage environmentalist, I recall reading all those books that predicted mass famines by 1985, resource depletion and general collapse of the environment by now.  Instead we get this (see below).

Agroa trees athens 

What a beautiful place.   That is not to say our problems are all finished.  China is already making our pitiful attempts are planet wrecking look like a junior varsity effort of a class C team, but if we in the West can make such progress, I suppose they can too.  If they work really hard, maybe the athletes at this year’s Olympics in Beijing will be able to breathe deeply as they compete and that temporary improvement might be the start of something bigger.

Below is a parade next to the Greek parliament.  I just happened on it. 

greek parade

January 18, 2008

The Citadel, Mamluks & Mohammed Ali

This entry is one of the late ones I mentioned.  This is the last of my Egypt entries.

Citadel wall 

Saladin built the Citadel and it became the home of Egypt’s rulers for the next 800 years.  You can see why it was built here.  The high ground commands Cairo.  All medieval fortresses have a similar feel and this one reminded me of those I have seen around Europe.  Europeans learned the art of making stone fortifications from the Muslims during the Crusades, but Muslim inherited much of the knowledge from the Romans and stone walls are stone walls.  Anyway, the feeling was familiar, except for the minarets. 

road to citadel

Mohammed Ali, ruler of Egypt not the fighter, added a lot to the complex, including the big Mohammed Ali Mosque.  He was an Albanian born in what is now Greece who evidently never spoke any language well other than Albanian.  It gets even more complicated.  He took power from the Mamluks, slave soldiers seized from the Balkans and Caucuses, among other places.   The Turks ran one strange empire.  Mohammed Ali invited the leaders of the Mamluks to a feast at the Citadel and then murdered them on the way out.  That is a dish best served cold.

Mohammed Ali

The Citadel features an interesting military museum with lots of weapons and uniforms.  The big drawback is that it was restored with the help of the North Koreans, so many of the exhibits are comically propagandistic.  Although the list of recent Egyptian war victories is short, they managed to imply some or at least a few heroic stands.  The N. Koreans made a panorama of the Yom Kippur War that looks like the D-Day landings.  They probably copied the D-Day pictures.  They have a painting of the British in Egypt in the 19th Century showing a couple of guys who look like they came out of a 1990s GQ.  I bet that is what the N. Koreans used as models.  How dumb is it to ask the N. Koreans to help with something like this, but despite the propaganda veneer and the mislabeling of some exhibits, it is worth seeing.  Alex especially liked it.  

Mohamed Ali Mosque 

The Mohammed Ali Mosque is an interesting place.  It is Turkish, not Egyptian style, and looks like those you might find in Istanbul.  Mohammed Ali is an interesting and important historical figure.  He rescued Egypt from chaos, helped modernize the place  in the 19th Century and ruled for many years, yet we hear very little about him in our history classes.  I think he suffers from being a non-European leader when most history was written in and about Europe.  He also doesn’t get much support from nationalists or the new PC crowd, which venerates non-western leaders, because of his peculiar origins.  He was essentially an imperialist and sort of an adventurer, who could capture the imaginations of Victorians but leaves modern readers cold.

domes

 

January 15, 2008

Note on Chronology

You may have noticed that my blog entries are sometimes out of sequence.  There are two reasons for this.  The first one is a good one.  Revealing some of my travel plans in real time would violate operational security and even though I write innocuously and in general terms, I might accidentally reveal something important.  So if you are an ordinary reader, I apologize for any confusion.  If you are a bad guy looking for information, I expect the Marines are coming for you and you should probably just give up.

The other reason is more practical.  Sometimes I do not have access to computers or internet.  The time I write the most is when I am stuck someplace waiting for a flight.  I take notes in my little green books and I do not get around to transcribing them for awhile.  In any case, I have a notebook full of notes and not so much time to transcribe, so the order may suffer.

Speaking of out of order, here is a good picture from the pyramids

pyramid and people

 

 

January 09, 2008

A Long Way From Graceland

mephis 

Memphis was the capital of Egypt for hundreds of years.  Today there is nothing but palms trees and a big monument area in the nearby desert.   This is Saqqara.  In some ways it is more interesting than the pyramids at Giza.   The first pyramids are here.  At first they are just a pile of rubble, but then you get a step pyramid (pyramid of Djoser) that is the precursor of the pyramids we all know.

pyramid

We got to Saqqara early enough to avoid the crowds.  In fact, we were just about a half hour ahead of a bus caravan of Germans.  They were hot on our heels throughout the area.  Going in tour groups has some advantages.  You get some lecture by the guide and the numbers help dilute the effect of the ubiquitous pseudo guides who show you how to get into a monument or point you to the clearly marked path and then want money.

cobras

I do not believe that the average guide furnishes accurate information.  Just listening to those around me I heard all sorts of conflicting stories.  The guides’ main goal is to make the listeners happy so that he will get a bigger tip, so he tailors history to suite what he thinks the audiences wants to hear or a narrative that is easier to tell.  I am not sure it really matters very much anyway.  I cannot believe I just wrote that.  Those who know me know that I am very particular about historical accuracy, but in this case the person is going to remember only that he saw something very old.  The details will be buried in the sands of time, shrouded in the mist of antiquity or lost like a drunk’s car keys on a dark night, depending on the metaphor you like best.   This is tourism, not scholarship.

After Saqqara we went to the probable site of Memphis. Layers of mud had covered the place, but they still sometimes dig out interesting things.   There was a giant stature of Ramesses laying on the ground and they built a viewing area around it  Ramesses was evidently the vainest man in world history.  He wrote his name on everything, including the statues of previous pharaohs, but this was supposedly really him.   We got to Memphis a few minutes ahead of the Germans, but that is about all the time it took to see the place. 

big ramses

Our driver took us to a carpet “museum”, i.e. a place where they show you an exhibit of carpet making for a minute and then try to sell you carpets for the next hour.  Drivers get a kickback and I don’t begrudge them this.  We went to a papyrus museum yesterday, same thing.  And they tried to draw us into a perfume factory.  We were immune to these enticements, however, having already been already fleeced at papyrus and perfume museums near the Egyptian museum.

For me the most interesting part of the day was a visit to the Coptic area.  Copts still make up about 10% of the population.  The churches are reminiscent of the Romans & Byzantines.  I like that history.  According to the narrative at the museums, Egypt has more relics of early Christianity than anyplace else because the climate preserves them. Besides, Egypt was a center of early Christianity.  It is interesting to see how Islam so obliterated Christianity in all but a few pockets in what really was its homeland in Egypt, Syria, Asia Minor and of course the Holy Land itself.   

coptic church

We wanted to go to a nearby restaurant, but the driver told us that we would get food poisoning if we even walked in.  He took us to an authentic tourist buffet restaurant.  Those Germans who, had been just behind us all day, were now in front and already sitting at the restaurant.  We had the Egyptian meal auf deutsch. 

mural

It was a busy day.  Back at the Marriott we went to the restaurant that called itself Egyptians and called ourselves content.  Then a strange thing happened.  It rained.  People are accustomed to water flowing in the river and are a little surprised to see it falling from the sky.  The waiters were all exercised & talking about it.   After living in Al Anbar for a couple of months, I understand.

I will post pictures of all the things above when I get back to Al Asad.

Great Pyramids

alex and me at pyramid 

We saw the pyramids.  They are magical and more impressive than you would think from pictures.  The sphinx is smaller, however.  We rode up on camels to see these wonders.  It cost more, but it was a good experience and now that I have done it I will never have to do it again.  The camel is a horse designed by a committee.  They are truly odd looking and unpleasant animals.   They burp, spit and stink. 

camels

We had a good guide who had relationships (i.e. gave money) with the guards to let us “park” near some of the pyramids and we had the pleasure of being almost alone in the quiet near some of the smaller pyramids.  It makes a big difference.  We could see the thousands of people in the distance touring the macro sites.  When we went down to see the sphinx we had the crowd crush experience.  There is always somebody around who wants money.  It detracts. 

alex riding

below I am sitting with our guide.  He spoke good English and claimed to have spent his whole life near the pyramids, at first as a child selling little tokens.

me and guide

January 07, 2008

First Day in Cairo

 cairo balcony

Above is Alex at the Hotel with Cairo behind

Egyptians have been very friendly.  Some are just the trying to sell something, but others seemed genuine.  We are staying at the Marriott, where I stay whenever I can all around the world.  The Cairo Marriot is more opulent than most.  It sits in a beautiful garden area on an island in the Nile in a palace built by the Egyptian Khedive to host Euro-Royalty during the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869.  Among the guests were Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Josef and Empress Eugene, wife of Napoleon III.  I suppose they had really nice rooms.  Today the rooms are typical Marriott.  I like that.  I feel at home. 

Egyptian Museum

Outside the Egyptian Museum

Alex & I walked to the Egyptian Museum, which is just across the river not far from the hotel.  It is full of artifacts, perhaps over full.  The place has a little bit the feel of a warehouse, with artifacts stacked in rows.  After you have seen one mummy, you have pretty much seen them all, kinda dry and depressing.  But I enjoyed seeing all those things I have seen pictured in history books.  We saw the King Tut stuff, for example.

The desert preserves things that would have long ago turned into dust or compost in any other environment.  I especially like the little wooden figures showing ordinary life and people working in brewing, baking and textiles.  I prefer these kinds of things to the death obsessed culture of the tombs.  How they lived in more interesting than how they died.   The gold and art from the tombs is spectacular, but it was a waste of for the people of the time to literally slave away their lives to fill monuments to the dead.  I don’t much like the jackal-headed gods either.  

nile boat

Old & new

We tend to think of Egypt only in relation to those who built the pyramids but there is a lot more. Roman and Greek history was always my specialty and I am more interested in Egypt under the Greek Ptolemy and the Romans.  This period lasted more than 1000 years, but we often telescope history and move from the pharaohs to the caliphs, with only a brief glace at Anthony & Cleopatra, usually even forgetting that Cleo was a nice Greek girl descendents from one of Alexander the Great’s generals.   Cairo was built on a Roman city called Babylon.  It is a little ironic that I had to travel FROM the country of the original Babylon to see one.  The Christian Copts, descended from the original inhabitants, still live on the site.

buidling

This is one of the narrowest buildings I have seen.

Parts of Cairo are pleasant, but it is never peaceful and walking around is not much fun.  Drivers pay no attention to crosswalks or signals.  You have to run for you life to cross busy streets and there are lots of busy streets.  As Alex and I waited to run across one busy street, some guys on the other side actually mocked us for being timid.  The funniest thing I saw was a bus turn a corner too sharply and three guys literally fell out.  They landed on their feet and just chased the bus to get back on.  Cacophony is the word to describe roads.  Everybody feels it necessary to beep his horn just like a bored dog has to bark at everybody who passes.  We did a lot of walking nevertheless.  It seems like everybody wants to talk and invite you back to their shop for free tea. Of course, it is not really free.  If you stop more than a few seconds, taxis pull up and ask if you need a ride   I have to admire their energy, but I would prefer to have a little more peace.