Tag Archives: fantasy

True Life: Bilbo Baggins is my Fashion Icon

Bilbo Baggins in the shire

Photo courtesy of: geeksunleashed.me

There’s a certain jacket I like to wear. It was green once, but has since faded to some kind of grey. The elbows are getting holes in them, and the cuffs are slowly fraying back into balls of thread. I wear this jacket almost every day, regardless of what other clothes I’m wearing or even the temperature outside.

I purchased the jacket for the Hungarian equivalent of $4 on a chilly afternoon in Budapest in May 2010. Some of my closest friends and I had managed to convene partway around the world, and we were doing what we knew best: bumming around and thrift-shopping. The jacket wasn’t really my style – or hadn’t been, at least – but I tried it on and felt something special happen. I felt a transformation and knew that it was my glass slipper, my magic pair of jeans like the ones from The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. My friend immediately confirmed the glass-slipper effect, and even though I was slightly broke, I put up the thousand forint required and walked away with an instant favorite piece of clothing.

Over the course of the next three years, it developed a host of memories and some magical powers, powers to tie me to the future and the past in the same moment, to render me both invisible and extremely conspicuous, and to allow me to speak freely and confidently on subjects I know nothing about. It’s been with me to a few different countries, through different stages of my life, various loves and crushes, and a couple career visions. As it’s taken on so many memories and supernatural abilities, it’s lost a bit of its color and the ability to hold itself together and put forward a sharp appearance.

But that’s okay, because we support each other. Where would the memories go, if they weren’t contained in this article of clothing. Where would they fly away to?

Towards the beginning of The Lord of the Rings, with the dark rising in the entire world, all fates rolling towards one impending doom, Bilbo sets out on another journey at last after disappearing from his 111st birthday party. Here’s what Tolkien has to say about those last moments.

He walked briskly back to his hole, and stood for a moment listening with a smile to the din in the pavilion and to the sounds of merrymaking in other parts of the field. Then he went in. He took off his party clothes, folded up and wrapped in tissue-paper his embroidered silk waistcoat, and put it away. […] From a locked drawer, smelling of moth-balls, he took out an old cloak and hood. They had been locked up as if they were very precious, but they were so patched and weatherstained that their original colour could hardly be guessed: it might have been dark green. They were rather too large for him.”

This is the piece of tattered clothing that most people would be inclined to throw away, but it is Bilbo’s own personal suit of armour and the equivalent of my Hungary jacket, the one that ties me to past selves. I can remember every piece of clothing I wore on my journeys, and some of the stories that happened in them. These garments journey with us, to different countries or worlds or states of being, and for me at least they retain some of those journeys and become portals through which I expereince the past and imagine the future.

It’s not fashionable, but it’s meaningful, and I think that’s even better.

I pulled the quote from a full text version of The Lord of the Rings that can be found here. If you liked this article, you might also enjoy: Oh Travel, Why Are You So Magical?, wornstories.com, a website about clothing and memory, and Step Out of the Van and Into a Postcard

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7 Uses of a Unicorn Carcass

3rd time I’ve used this picture. Gotta stop talking about unicorns.

A message from the U.S. Executive Office of Wildlife Conservation:

Unicorns are a blight on our country. Not only are they a destructive and invasive species, but their very presence is an abomination. Unicorn eradication should be America’s number one priority, second only to starting another war somewhere (Iran!) and eliminating women’s rights.

For this reason, the U.S. Executive Office of Wildlife Conservation has issued a direct order mandating the death of each and every unicorn on sight. No longer will they sweetly neigh their morning songs or gently traipse alongside country paths on pearly hoof. Not one more day shall they terrorize school children by defending nerds and making lollipops sprout out of the earth with their suspicious unicorn magic.

With the help of faithful US citizens and patriots, such as yourselves, these meddlesome unicorns will soon be dead, and ‘round the piles of their motionless bodies shall many a child, mother, and father dance the dance of the victorious. Unfortunately, since current budget restrictions do not allow the US government to participate in the Great Unicorn Corpse Removal, we are calling on countrymen and women to do their part in this effort after they finish the dance of the victorious. We realize this is a rather gruesome inconvenience, but we hope you will soon some to realize that killing the unicorn is merely half the fun.

In order to help you, our loyal citizens, we have spent billions of dollars creating a new department and hiring thousands of employees in pursuit of the best ways to use the entire body of a dead unicorn. We are certain that the American people will once again come through with impressive innovation skills and make some wonderful home crafts while also purifying the earth of this reprehensible paranormal being.

Here are the top 7 uses our experts have found for the various parts of the unicorn carcass.

1. Unicorn horn chandelier: A wonderful project if you’re located in a particularly infested area. The horn is even more luminescent during full moons. Warning: see health risks section.

2. Unicorn hoof ashtray: The pearly finish is sure to go with any décor, especially nursing home and doll house themed interiors.  The ashtray perfumes the room with the scent of a secret midnight garden.

3. Meat: self explanatory. See our website for glitter stew, sparkleballs, glimmer nuggets, and shine steak recipes. Warning: see health risks section.

4. Magic powder: The horn, hooves, and bones can all be ground to create a powder of mysterious magical qualities. Our experts are still studying its properties. Whatever you do, don’t give any to Ron.

5. Unicorn pelt lunchbox: The status symbol of the year. Changes colors with the unicorn queen’s mood, provided she’s not dead. Warning: see health risks.

6. Vest with no buttons: A statement your neighbors are sure to notice. Let the vest flap in the breeze as you sparkle along and leave a visible glitter trail in the air behind you.

7. Halloween costume: Go to your local unicorn taxidermist and have the body prepared as a human garment. Wear it next Halloween when you really want to scare the kids, “Ahhh I thought we killed all of them! I don’t want any more lollipops! Ahhhh!”

Now get out there and do your duty. Start slaying!

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We Are Middle Earth

A mythical building for an imaginary world

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen, I am a nerd. This means that I enjoy learning and fantasy fiction. After I finally read Lord of the Rings in eighth grade, I was hooked: Tolkien’s world seemed more real than my own. My fascination with Middle Earth formed a dangerously large portion of my personality, and I even ended up writing my college admissions essay on why I loved Lord of the Rings. A BU admissions counselor probably read it and thought I would add a unique, socially awkward aspect to the campus environment before being sent to a maximum security federal prison. At any rate, I’m thankful to have been admitted.

As I was considering the relationship of Middle Earth and the War of the Ring to my current experience in Cairo, I found that the characters I’ve met during my Arabic study adventures resemble the different races of creatures in Middle Earth. In order to make my life more comprehensible to the small portion of people out there who read Lord of the Rings annually or biannually and/or watch the films obsessively, I would like to present my findings. To these same people, I politely request that you don’t get your panties in a bunch if the comparisons aren’t perfect. To everyone else, I apologize for alienating you.

The subgroup of Arabic-interested persons that I would classify as hobbits are the average Arabic students. Though slightly dim-witted and occasionally reluctant to expend great effort on reading or writing, they are a tough breed and can surprise you with magnificent feats. These, however, are few and far between. For the most part, these students enjoy simple work, afternoon naps, and hearty meals instead of great Arabic adventures that might cause mental and physical discomfort.

There is a breed of student, however, that does take great pleasure in perusing ancient Arabic texts and spending hours composing non-obligatory essays, short stories, and poems. This species can also converse with you at length about the fascinating differences between dialects and other languages, of which they know many and can learn at great ease. These are the elves, who capture the fascination of most others and would earn their enmity were the elves not above the judgements of lesser beings.

Though hard workers that accomplish when focused, the group I consider the dwarves can be antagonistic towards others who are pursuing the same purpose and show little interest in learning about the culture behind the language they’re studying. These are the people studying Arabic for the money and are just waiting for a knock on their door from a defense contractor, intelligence organization, security consulting firm, or government agency.

The great Arabic scholars of old (and new) who have created linguistic masterpieces for the purpose of aiding those also studying Arabic I would classify as wizards, sent to help lesser beings in the field. Because of the effort of personalities such as Hans Wehr, Frederick Lane, Sayyed Badawi, and Kristen Brustad, who have spent countless hours deciphering this language, the great fight has been made more bearable.

Speaking slowly and clearly while avoiding hastiness or imprecision in language, Arabic teachers are best described as ents. Anyone who has studied a language knows the familiar frustration of leaving the classroom and realizing instantly you have no idea what anyone on the street is saying. Are you even studying the same language? The answer is no, since Arabic teachers actually speak Entish.

As skilled as earmuffs in social interaction and exhibiting no signs of living in a civilized society, the shabbab, or roving masses of teen-aged to mid-thirty year old Egyptian males, would have to be the orcs. Not only can they make foreigners’ stays in Egypt less pleasant, but they don’t even really like each other and internecine fighting is often the cause of much bloodshed and mutual annoyance.

I could go on, but I think this is enough nerding out for now. I’m not promising another LOTR themed post in the future, but it could happen.

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Jasmine Yearns

In the movie Aladdin, Disney’s fantasy powerhouse translates a One Thousand and One Night’s story likely filled with licentious characters, murder, and the utter evil of mankind into a tale involving a blue genie, a sorcerer serpent, and characters wearing egregiously fluffy pants that find true love in less than 24 hours. Most people have agreed that the depiction of the Near and Farther East is spot-on and lacks nothing except for more harems scene and a speedier love and marriage process.

I bring this movie up because recently, feeling a little more adventurous than usual, friends and I decided to watch Aladdin after a successful soup making endeavor. While watching it, I couldn’t help but notice the incredible parallels between the world of the American University of Cairo and the poorer neighborhoods of this dusty city: Jasmine’s palace and Aladdin’s shabby home smacked of the walls of AUC’s Tahrir campus and the winding markets of Islamic Cairo.

I decided to flesh out this idea and undertake a partial retelling of the story (aided in party by friends’ input), in order to place it  in a more realistic setting and deflate it completely of any magic it may have once had.

Without further ado:

Once upon a time, in a city of 20 million people called Cairo, there lived a lonely Egyptian girl named Jasmine. Daughter of a natural gas CEO, Jasmine is quite wealthy and studies Literature at AUC’s new campus. The one time she saw Tahrir Square was on television, also the only place she has seen any kind of market selling food. She dresses in the latest styles of skinny jeans and exclusively wears heels that are taller than 5 inches and made out of some kind of animal.

She owns a tiny dog that she dresses in clothing like a human. Though the dog is yappy, incapable of being potty trained, and disliked by the family, her father lets her keep Dot because it was a gift to Jasmine after her mother’s death. Also he’s never disciplined his daughter or denied her anything so it would be awkward to begin now after 20 years of blind pacification.

Yet he tires of her maintenance and really wants her and Dot to get out. The best way to do this, of course, is to marry her off to the next CEO’s son she meets at the McDonald’s on campus. Unfortunately, she has proven an unwilling participant in this marriage endeavor, having watched Titanic too many times. Now, like Jack and Rose, she wants raw, uneducated love from an unpretentious commoner, a regular shab (young man) from Shubra (poorer area of Cairo).

She’s even tried to sneak off with the car and leave the suburbs in attempts to meet the common folk of her city. For her own protection, her father has prohibited her from leaving the confines of their gated community or the gates of the university. Yet she grows restless, yearning for the authenticity she cannot find amongst the waxed eyebrows and chests of AUC. One day, she takes matters into her own hands, bribes the necessary people, and gets her hands on the car keys. Little does she know how much her life is about to change.

to be continued……

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Dear Future Tenant: Nothing You Do is Original

Oh sweet damp and dusty nights to come

One day, future tenant, all this will be yours. The house plant, the wobbly table, the bizarre equipment in the corner of the balcony that may have been used for torture….it will all be yours, to keep and to hold forever until your lease runs out after a year.

I remember when I was like you, wide eyed with wonder as day by day I discovered the rich variety of ants in our apartment and the necessity to keep everything as sterile as a freshly boiled set of vampire teeth. I, too, chuckled as I realized that none of the lamps in the apartment were equipped with light bulbs and ruined the Italian coffee maker by putting the top part on the stove, causing it to produce water permanently scented with burnt rubber.

The bathroom was a stranger to me as well, especially the shower square with its curtain that you must encase yourself in like a sausage while watching as water still shoots onto the floor despite your best intentions. And yes, I recall the nook, that precious nook in the corner of the first bedroom where I would while away the hours drawing both straight and curvy lines and think about to whom I could send them to as a time-released prank.Those were some of my better years. The ashtray of my mind was not yet full and I saw with youth’s vigor and hope.

And the balcony. Yes, I remember that balcony very well. I had dreams of buying a soccer ball and juggling on it without pants. Sometimes I walked to the edge of the balcony and looked out over the empty street, bad pop music sounding from a distance. It was my world. It will never really be your world, since it was mine first.

And of course, the bizarre bed contraption in the corner. I can see it in my mind’s eye and on this webpage very well. When I first laid eyes upon it I thought it a dilapidated piece of junk, good for nothing except soccer ball storage or unwanted guest accommodation. Upon closer inspection, I found it was something much more special, as if God himself had sent it to us, His final touch on creation and the 2nd greatest gift to mankind. Yes, future lessee, you will be the proud temporary owner of this bedswing, perhaps the only one in the entire world. And yes, the mattresses will be continually damp and half their mass is an accumulation of dust and previous tenants’ skin cells absorbed into them over the years.

But don’t let that take away from the experience of lying on the bedswing, moving slowly yet haphazardly both forward and side to side. As you absorb the view of the roof’s underbelly, perhaps you could imagine the man (or woman) that created this thing and why they did so. Were their beds too dry and dust-free inside? Did they want to reinvent the waterbed with chains, nails, and wood? Were they trying to make a cabinet and didn’t read the instructions correctly? Did they wear glasses? Love their mother?

I’ll let you think those thoughts for yourself, though I’m sure I’ve already thought of all of them since I was here first. I am not the original tenant. Nor am I the owner. But make no mistake, this apartment will always remember me, since I’m going to build a larger and even more bizarre device that will leave the generations to come wondering what happened to that girl and where did she get enough peanut butter to fuel a rocket launch. Just you wait.

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