Monday, May 16, 2011
I remained in that zone for many years, until fiction and poetry began to consume more space on my shelves, and until I began reading and (consequently) writing memoir. I don't make nearly enough room for classic nonfiction these days, but when I do, I'm returned to a happy place, and Stacy Schiff's Cleopatra is, at the moment, making me happy.
I bought this book for myself in December. I've read at least four dozen books in the meantime—many of them prescribed by my teaching. I've been burning through things and Cleopatra cannot be burned through. I take my time. I turn the (paper) pages.
I'm up to page 68 on this foggy day, and I'm going to stop right here, share a passage. Have you ever wondered what Alexandria was like in young Cleopatra's time—what she and Caesar looked out upon as they contemplated their strange, mysterious union? Let Schiff take you there:
From east to west the city measured nearly four miles, a wonderland of baths, theaters, gymnasiums, courts, temples, shrines, and synagogues. A limestone wall surrounded its perimeter, punctuated by towers, patrolled at both ends of the Canopic Way by prostitutes. During the day Alexandria echoed with the sounds of horses' hooves, the cries of porridge sellers or chickpea vendors, street performers, soothsayers, moneylenders. Its spice stands released exotic aromas, carried through the streets by a thick, salty sea breeze. Long-legged white and black ibises assembled at every intersection, foraging for crumbs.Oh, how I love this stuff.
I also love my own Penn students, some of whom are taking the graduation march today. Kim, Jonathan, Sara, Trixie, Ben, Lydia—my thoughts are with you on this steamy, atmospheric morning. Be well. Be safe. Travel widely. And write to me, every now and then, of your adventures.
The shimmer of this world awaits you.