Tag Archives: history

Why Do We Woo?

woo_audienceWoo: a verbal affirmation of support, delight, or marvel, commonly used in performance contexts such as rock concerts, improv shows, and evangelical church music; a verbal high five or pat on the back i.e. “Woooooooooo!” Not appropriate for chamber choir  performances. e.g. “WOOOOOOOO! (dirty looks).”

A show just ended and my feet are sweating from the laughter. I’m buzzed from the truth in comedy and inspired to live the rest of my life. The performance demands a response. What do I do? Do I go up to the stage and give everyone firm handshakes? Yes, because I love handshakefulness. Do I go and give high fives? Also, yes, because high fives are incredible.

But mostly, I woo. Before anything, I woo. What a strange thing to do. A kind of shrieking or yelling, it’s slightly aggressive and varied in pitch. I go high but not too high, and I never go too low. A low woo is no woo at all, and middle range woo’s are for woo n00bs.

Could a woo also be called a cheer? In Elizabethan times, when the riff raff became excited by one of Shakespeare’s new plays, how did they give their verbal high fives? Were I to step back in time and become a gladiator in the arenas of Rome, what would I hear coming from the audience? A buzzing sound? Ooooo’s without the W? Unformed screams? Clacks?

Were I to risk everything and build myself a time machine out of old toilet paper rolls and search for the very first woo, what would it sound like?  A moo? Would it be to celebrate a freshly slain pantosaur or skirtcelops? Would it be in celebration of nature, a group of my great aunts and uncles looking at a full moon over the prehistoric forest and grunting or shrieking? And when the moon did nothing but moon right back, what would the response be? Even more grunting because of the mystery and unattainability of nature’s beauty? Or frustration and the first mutterings of doubt, wondering if anyone’s even listening?

Flying down a country lane in Bologna on a rented bicycle with my hair undone, I burst into song, unable to keep it inside. When the adrenaline’s pumping, when the energy is there – it feels good to scream, to belt something out from the gut, to make your internal bliss external and give it back, because if it stays it might grow into a watermelon plant.

Maybe the woo* is the most perfect form of human expression, uninhibited by the burden of forming words. Just imagine, after a particularly moving performance of any kind, rising and yelling, “I really enjoyed this! It was good because it was acted authentically and made sense in its own world! I feel I better understand my own place in the world as a result of this performance!”

That man would be sedated instantly. But the one screaming almost animal-like sounds, “WOOOOO….WOOOO…..WOOOO….” is normal.

The next time I read something true, my response will be “WOOOOO!”

The next time someone says “I love you” and I love them, my response will be “WOOOOO!”

The next time I eat a delicious breakfast, my response will be “WOOOOO!”

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Fake Backstories of San Francisco Neighborhood Names: The Sunset

When living in the city gets too exciting, head to the sunset.

Stanley Kubrick loved to eat dry toast in the morning. A tortured, artistic, soul, he refused to put anything on his bread to soften its coarseness or ease its transition down the gullet, as he wished to be reminded of the dull, dryness of everyday life and its sad, petty cruelties, all of which he captured in his film 2001: A Space Odyssey, which he filmed in San Francisco in the neighborhood to be known as the Sunset.

The filming of 2001: A Space Odyssey took over ten years, largely because Kubrick insisted that the bulk of the movie be endlessly interweaving psychedelic patterns that he created by rearranging small pieces of colored felt on a gigantic black felt board. Because of the area’s damp climate, the felt board would invariably become wet and unusable from fog moisture, which leaked into the studio despite his best efforts, and the team would regularly shut down filming and have a pint or two at Durty Nelly’s, where Kubrick would always talk at length about the dry toast he ate every morning. After the fourth year, the film crew tired of the same spiel and especially the phrase “petty cruelties,” so it was a great relief when the film was finished and released to great critical acclaim, something that surprised everyone without exception. Stanley Kubrick ate an extra slice of dry toast the morning he read the NYT review because he tended to quash feelings of excitement with bland, unpleasant food.

At the time of Kubrick’s film involvement in San Francisco, the Sunset was called Fogtown, which was an accurate name though the residents hated being dismissed as fog dwellers and portrayed in the media as “too moist to be human.” The fog people would often protest the rampant media prejudice in the Financial District during lunchtime, when they would blockade the entrances to sandwich shops, cafes, and public transit entrances with their very bodies. The distress was unbearable and the stock market suffered accordingly after every suit was forced to pack a lunch during a full week of lunchtime lie-ins. The police department decided to take action.

Stanley Kubrick, an artiste, decided that the only proper way to experience the film of his heart’s desire was to project it on a sheet that blanketed a building, and shut down the entire downtown area in order to subject movie-comers, hot dog vendors, and passers-by alike to his brilliance. Besides, the fog people were planning another protest on the day of the movie’s release so most people were prepared for mayhem and un-productivity. Secretly, the police lay in wait with banana cream pies with which they would lure the fog people’s off their soggy bottoms and away from sandwich shops.

A carefully orchestrated blackness descended over the city, summoned from the incredibly disturbed and misunderstood mind of Stanley Kubrick. As the movie flashed onto the screen, downtown bustle ground to a halt, the only noise heard the occasional flapping of a tourist’s map. In the alleyways, police readied their pies for the fog people.

The film meandered, reached its climax somewhere, and then denouemented and ended. The crowd lay, sat, stood, or leaned in awe and confusion at what they had just seen. Munching on a piece of dry toast, Kubrick rose and spoke a few words, the most important of which were these:

“This was filmed in Fogtown over a period of ten years. I have grown old there and am now reaching the sunset of my life (he wasn’t actually old—he was just being dramatic), and I remember a day in January three years ago, when I saw the sun sinking into the ocean and imagined myself as similar to the sun, a brilliant orb also seeking the depths, which I have found now in the sunset of my years because of this movie (again, he’s just being dramatic), and in the neighborhood that shall now be known as The Sunset.”

And the people did cheer and everyone did eat banana cream pie and the name stuck.

And that was fake history. Because research takes time.

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Traveling: Useful for Watching the Humans

Oh you know, I was just floating down the Nile on a ship.

On April 16th, 2012, at approximately 12:03 pm, I returned at last from a journey that spanned a total of 1190 miles (1927 kilometers), and approximately 4 millennia, stretching from Istanbul in the north to Aswan, Egypt in the south, from the time of the mysterious Pharaohs to the more familiar civilizations of modern Turkey and Egypt.

Though I remain pale as an alabaster rose I do, however, sport the beginnings of a shapely frecklestash.

I saw the sultans’ puffy pants and the bare breasts of ancient Egyptians; the pith helmets of eager yet uninformed tourists, and the North Face jackets of unhappy American families. I sampled the modern cruise cuisine of Egypt, tasted the street fare of Istanbul, dined from the secret recipes of palace chefs, and ate starches whenever possible.

My sperries received a beating from all of the walking and then another lashing from me for being a mediocre shoe. My clothes are stinky and there is multinational grit in my purse.

So what did I do after all, in the grand scheme of time and space? What did it mean to travel to distant lands, even farther from my already distant home and sleep in beds that were not my own in places where I didn’t know who washed the sheets?

What does it mean to sit in a shady park full of blooming tulips and look out over the Bosporus, commenting on the rooftops of strangers in a country where I could not pronounce anything correctly?

For me, as an alien, these journeys give me a chance to deepen my understanding of human culture, helping me to better imitate it in my own life. Witnessing other humans acting in a way similar to humans in my region increases my functional knowledge of their kind. As I view the holy places of civilizations long past and watch others imagine the hope and desperation of those who surrounded the temple walls, I learn the act of historical empathy from the humans themselves, one of the most difficult emotions to mimic.

I am more than a little humbled by the grace of the mother queen, who granted me the privilege of leaving my base and seeing a timeline of human history that spans four thousand years. It is also fascinating to think that I am in some ways a continuation of that same history, because we plan to wipe out the entire human race and bring all of it to an end.

More on the trip and its starches to come soon.

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Christians in Cairo

This is where the pop music was playing

History can be interesting sometimes. I experienced that phenomenon today when I went on another tour with AUC to Coptic Cairo where we learned a little bit about Coptic history and art—we also saw a synagogue—not too many Jews left nowadays however, and most of the ones that are left reside in Alexandria, but the synagogue we saw was pretty sick.

Like last time, we rode in ultimate style to the old part of the city in our luxury bus, where we were then forced to get out and walk around, to our great disdain. Luckily, most of the time we were inside so I didn’t have to worry about wearing sunscreen. Unfortunately, I had remembered to bring sunscreen but forgotten my camera. On the bright side, no one else had a camera so I’ll forget the entire experience except for what I remember to put in this post.

Highlights from the trip:

1. Seeing two oldest churches in Egypt, going back to the 2nd and 3rd century A.D. (I think…that could be inaccurate). Maybe earlier. Old South Church in Boston has nothing on these guys.

2. Seeing where Mary, Jesus, and Joseph hung out while they were avoiding being killed in Nazareth (one of the rumored places)

3. Smelling frankincense when walking into the churches and imagining the people that have been smelling the frankincense for centuries.

4. The pop music playing in the courtyard of one of the churches.

Tidbits from the tour:

1. The tradition of monasticism was apparently started in Egypt, and so there’s a ton of Coptic art from monasteries that were built and then abandoned whenever the water resources ran out. I now desire to go hang out at a monastery and add my own modernist twist to Coptic art.

2. A story: in the time of the Fatimids, the ruler used to like to have discussions between the leaders of each religious community. At one such discussion, the ruler got into an argument with the Coptic pope and demanded a miracle from him in order to assuage his anger since Christianity was supposedly a religion of miracles. The specific miracle he demanded (I didn’t know you could be so picky) was that the pope move the Moqqatam hills in 3 days. So the pope asked all the Copts to pray and fast for three days and on the third day the Virgin appeared to the pope and said that he needed to walk outside the church and he would find a one eyed man who would perform the miracle. He exited the church indeed found a one eyed man. They took a taxi to Moqattam together and the one eyed man performed the miracle and the hills were lifted off the ground so that you could see the sky through the bottom of the hills. We know this actually happened because there is an authentic tile representation of the miracle, a medium widely known to be quite accurate.

3. St. Mark was the founder of Egyptian Christianity

4. Copts were known for their weaving skills.

5. In the 19th century, a tourist (read: British colonialist) was poking around in the synagogue and accidently stumbled upon a huge treasure trove of Jewish texts. When I’m chilling at the monastery I’m going to do a lot of digging in hopes of finding something equally impressive.

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Old. Hot. Big.

Of course I’m talking about the dusty hollowed out water buffalo carcass I saw today. Just kidding, I saw a live water buffalo. They are such beautiful and noble animals, and delicious as well I’ve heard. I wonder if there is any ancient Egyptian mythology detailing their extensive history helping the human race. Topic for a later blog….

No but seriously, I went to the pyramids today on an excursion organized through the Arabic Language Institute at the American University in Cairo. When you travel with AUC, you travel in style. I didn’t pay a dime for the trip, and we had a yacht on wheels to carry us out the pyramids and ferry us around them, an art history professor telling us about the history of the pyramids, and all admission fees to the boat museum, the temple, and the pyramids themselves paid for. The only thing lacking was some kind of on-board food and drink service, which would have come in handy right about noon when every drop of moisture I brought with me had been evaporated by the merciless sun.

The pyramids are not far from Cairo. In fact, they are almost directly within it and are slowly being surrounded by it. Millions of people are able to make out the pyramids through the smog from their windows in the many high rise apartment buildings in the city. It was so strange to be winding our way through Cairo streets and then all of the sudden to see a pyramid pop into sight right out my middle school history textbook.

They were everything I thought they would be (see the words above), but there’s something to be said for visiting a place that is 4500 years old. I love imaging all the people that walked where I was walking over the past millenia and remembering how they had such ordinary lives just like my own, except for the semi-frequent mummy attacks that must result from living so close to the pyramids.

We didn’t go into any of the big pyramids, but we did go into equally small and smelly spaces. One of them was the burial chamber for a notable, and on the walls were all these dumb pictures and I was just like “Come on, they couldn’t even speak English? Why do we bother even learning about this civilization.” But I guess the craftsmanship was incredible. Everything was done with stone tools (that’s what our “guide” said) and it was incredible to see how well preserved and elegant it was. That chamber had the distinct odor of feet, which resulted from a stinkier group having gone in before us and the lack of ventilation. I can only imagine what the bigger pyramids smell like after a long day of tourist stink filling up the stagnant air.

The other small smelly place we went down into was the queen’s pyramid, for which we had to crouch as we descended down a very steep and narrow shaft and then turned the corner around another very steep shaft into a chamber where about 20 of us  looked around at each other and at the stone walls and then decided it was time to leave. I almost had a moment of panic when I began to think about what would happen if we got stuck down there and slowly suffocated to death. We’d have had to kill people in order to save air. I was also worried about mummy wrath and plagues.

No description of the pyramids is complete without a describing the tourism workers that accompany the experience. Tourism is the number one income for Egypt as a country, and after the revolution there was a huge decline in the number of tourists, threatening the livelihoods of millions of people. Despite the fact it’s hard to see kids selling bookmarks all day when they should be in school, and men whose only source of income are the dumb camel rides that tourists seem to love, it doesn’t make it any less annoying to have people offering you “gifts” and “Egyptian prices.” That said, it wasn’t too bad. You just say no thanks a bunch and walk on, sister. Don’t take anything, don’t let them do anything for you and you should be fine. If you really want a singing stuffed camel, though, be my guest. Haggle away and don’t look back.

Note: look at pictures on Flikr. There are more than just ones of the Nile I promise.

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