Exploring the White Desert in Egypt

Wednesday, March 27th, 2019 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

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In my last post, I looked at some of the archaeological remains around Bahariya Oasis, in the Western Desert of Egypt. Those ancient buildings had been hammered by centuries of sandstorms so the article didn’t have the prettiest pictures in the world. To compensate, I’ve decided to give you something a bit more pleasing to the eye this week.

To the south of Bahariya Oasis, almost to the next major oasis at Farafra, is a large expanse of soft white limestone and chalk that has been scoured by the wind into elaborate and surreal shapes. The view is constantly changing as the white stone takes on various hues through the day, turning a deep crimson at sunset. Anyone going to either Bahariya or Farafra Oasis will find a night or two camping out in this natural wonder one of the most memorable events of their trip.

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Greco-Roman and Early Christian Ruins at Bahariya Oasis, Egypt

Wednesday, March 20th, 2019 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

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The guard at the Temple of Alexander showing off
some of the stray finds to me and my Bedouin driver

In my last post, I talked about the Egyptian tombs at Bahariya Oasis, some 340 km southwest of Cairo. The oasis was on the fringe of civilization in those days, but became more important during the Greco-Roman period because its well-watered soil didn’t flood like the Nile valley and thus was a good place to grow grapes to make wine, something the Greeks and Romans couldn’t live without.

The oasis became prosperous during Greek and Roman rule. It gained significance right from the start when Alexander the Great passed through here on the way to Siwa Oasis further to the west, where he had his famous meeting with the oracle of Amun at the sanctuary there, where he was proclaimed the son of the god and thus pharaoh. The temple honors his visit to the oasis and is the largest in the Western Desert, with a two-room sandstone chapel and a temple enclosure with at least 45 rooms and a surrounding wall.

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On The Fringes of Ancient Egypt: Exploring the Antiquities of Bahariya Oasis

Thursday, March 14th, 2019 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

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One of the Golden Mummies.
Creative Commons photo courtesy Roland Unger.

As I mentioned in my last post, I recently visited Bahariya Oasis in the Western Desert of Egypt. The oasis became famous in 1996 with the discovery of a series of tombs of the Greco-Roman Period (332 BC-395 AD). They were found accidentally when an Antiquities Guard was leading his donkey on a sandy stretch near the Temple of Alexander the Great when the animal’s hoof broke through the surface. Once he extricated the donkey, he peeked inside and saw an underground chamber.

Famed Egyptologist Zahi Hawass excavated the site and found several tombs, removing more than 250 mummies. Many had gilded masks like the one pictured above, and the site soon became known as The Valley of the Golden Mummies. Hawass believes that he has uncovered only a tiny fraction of the tombs. A few are on display in Bahariya, including the one above, but photography is forbidden, so I wasn’t able to take any shots for you. How Roland Unger got this shot I’ll leave as a riddle unsolved.

Bahariya was an important place in Greco-Roman times, having good agricultural land that could be cultivated year-round, instead of the Nile valley that flooded every year. Thus it was a good spot for growing grapes to make wine.

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Exploring Bahariya Oasis, Egypt

Wednesday, March 6th, 2019 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

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A view of Bahariya Oasis from my camp on the outskirts of Biwati

When visiting Egypt, it’s hard to tear yourself away from the Nile Valley. After all, that’s where you’ll find the vast majority of temples and pyramids, as well as the lively city of Cairo, currently one of my favorite cities in the world.

On my previous trips to Egypt I’ve often looked longingly at the western horizon, wondering about the oases that are strung out across the desert far to the west of the river. Finally last month as part of researching my next novel, I got to visit one of them.

Bahariya Oasis is about 370 kilometers (230 miles) southwest of Egypt’s capital. The old caravan route (the one my characters have to take), was a waterless ten days on camel. I only had to endure a long ride on a cramped bus through a dreary landscape. This part of the Western Desert is not pretty. It’s flat, with few changes in terrain, and not even any real sand dunes to look at.

After this minimalist landscape, the road leads up a ridge of black volcanic stone and to an overlook above a wide valley. The entire valley is green with palm groves and cultivated land. The effect is startling, and must have been even more so for the travelers in the old caravans. The valley measures 94 kilometers (59 miles) long and 42 kilometers (26 miles) wide.

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Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone – 3 Good Reasons: Not Quite Dead Enough

Tuesday, March 5th, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

NotDeadEnoughPBjpgI have written a LOT about Sherlock Holmes and Solar Pons — some of it here at Black Gate. I even write newsletters about each one. And I had a pretty neat hardboiled/pulp column here. But my favorite mystery series, bar none, is Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe. I’ve read and re-read each story multiple times and never tire of them. I even adapted one of the old Sidney Greenstreet radio shows into a pastiche (more of those are coming).

The genesis of Hither Came Conan (which I’m sure you’re following here at Black Gate) was actually an essay I wrote for my first (and so far only) Nero Wolfe Newsletter: 3 Good Things. Since I have far more writing projects (including a similar Robert E. Howard Newsletter) planned than, you know, actually written, issue two of The Brownstone of Nero Wolfe isn’t in the immediate future. So, as time allows, I’m going to write up some new 3 Good Reasons entries and post them here under the Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone moniker. I’d read and write REH and Wolfe just about all day, if I could. So, here we go…

Welcome to the first installment of 3 Reasons. With a goal of eventually tackling every tale of the Corpus, I’ll give three reasons why the particular story at hand is the best Nero Wolfe of them all. Since I’m writing over seventy ‘Best Story’ essays, the point isn’t actually to pick one – just to point out some of what is good in every adventure featuring Wolfe and Archie. And I’ll toss in one reason it’s not the best story. Now — These essays will contain SPOILERS. You have been warned!

The Story

It’s World War II and Archie is ‘Major Goodwin’, working for military intelligence. The Army wants Nero Wolfe to help with a particularly tricky issue, and the corpulent detective won’t talk to anyone. Archie is assigned back to the Brownstone to talk some sense into Wolfe. He finds the world’s most ordered household routine turned upside down and is dragged into a case brought to his attention by Lily Rowan.

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In Defense of Professional Ghostwriting

Sunday, February 24th, 2019 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

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Well, the Internet just blew up again.

This time it’s because a romance writer has been caught plagiarizing dozens (and I do mean DOZENS) of other authors.

Last week, a fan alerted romance writer Courtney Milan that the book Royal Love by Brazilian author Cristiane Serruya included numerous passages lifted from Milan’s The Duchess War. Milan made side-by-side comparisons of the passages and called Serruya out on her blog.

Serruya denied any wrongdoing, blaming a ghostwriter she had hired on Fiverr, a freelance site for budget jobs. Twitter exploded, as Twitter does, and she quickly deleted her Twitter account, all other social media, and took down the electronic copies of her works. As of this writing, the print and audio editions were still available on Amazon.

For the latest developments, there’s #copypastecris on Twitter, and boy is it ugly.

At the time of writing, the list of plagiarized works has grown to 44 books, 3 articles, 3 websites, and 2 recipes, stealing work from 30 authors, including heavyweights such as Nora Roberts and Jamie Oliver. You can see a regularly updated list here.

I’m acquainted with Cristiane Serruya. She was part of the Kindle Scout program, having won an advance, 50% royalties, and publication for at least one of her works from Amazon’s imprint Kindle Press. Two of my books are also in the program. We chatted numerous times on the Kindle Scout Winners Facebook group and we even traded critiques. She read the first two books in my Masked Man of Cairo mystery series and I read Damaged Love, which turns out to contain plagiarized passages too. At the time I was surprised she would want me to be a beta reader on a romance novel, a genre she knew I didn’t read and knew nothing about. Now I know why.

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Greco-Roman Mummy Masks in the Egyptian Museum

Wednesday, February 20th, 2019 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

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Mask of a boy named Heraklion, Roman Period 2nd century AD.
This painted plaster mask covered the head and chest of the
mummy. Heraklion offers a bunch of grapes to a small bird.

Visitors to Egypt tend to want to see the great sites of the Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms. The pyramids, the Valley of the Kings, and the splendid temples around Luxor are all well worth a visit, but Egypt’s later periods are of interest as well. I just went on one of my semi-regular trips to Egypt with the specific intent to study the Greco-Roman period. It plays a role in the third book in my Masked Man of Cairo neo-pulp series and there’s no better inspiration than actually seeing the sites and artifacts themselves.

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Slugs, Slime Trails, and the Muse: Can You Separate the Art from the Artist?

Saturday, February 16th, 2019 | Posted by Nick Ozment

BG John CarterMost of our participation in the Great Conversation these days is taking place, not in the halls of academia or in fireside clubrooms, but on social media virtual spaces like Facebook. One conversation that many people have been engaging in lately is prompted by the question “Can you separate the art from the artist?”

Another fact of our present moment is that the most sordid and intimate details of public figures are dragged into the light, subjected to intense scrutiny and immediate judgment. Some of our most beloved actors, our most cherished writers, our most celebrated musicians are suddenly being exposed as pariahs, shameful corrupted beings who must be exiled from the spotlight – and, possibly, from our bookshelves and our stereos and our movie streams.

It is not just entertainers currently in the spotlight who are subjected to this new scrutiny. We hear about how certain renowned science fiction writers of the past might have behaved like some of the characters on the TV show Mad Men. Do we jettison the touchstones they left us in disgusted protest? Reaching further back, can we still curl up for some chills with H.P. Lovecraft when we know he was a racist? Can we unabashedly thrill to the adventures of John Carter and Tarzan when we know Edgar Rice Burroughs reinforced some colonialist “great White savior” views?

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The Alcázar of Córdoba: A Spanish Castle Full of Roman Mosaics

Wednesday, January 9th, 2019 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

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In many of Spain’s oldest cities, history comes in layers.

Dominating the southern skyline of Córdoba is the alcázar, a castle that takes its name from the Arabic word for fort, al-qasr. This medieval Christian castle/palace was built atop the foundations of an earlier Muslim palace, which was built atop the foundations of a Visigothic fortress, which was built atop the remains of a Roman governor’s palace, which was built atop. . .who knows?

The earliest structures all but vanished after the Moors expanded the building into a palace with a large garden, which was used by the local rulers until the Christians retook the city in 1236. In 1328, Alfonso XI of Castile began construction of a larger fortress on the site, although he maintained the luxuriant gardens of the Moorish palace as well as building generous living quarters. Even though the Christians demolished the majority of the original structure, the new building looked pretty Islamic thanks to the introduction of the Mudéjar style, an enduring Spanish architectural style that takes its inspiration from Moorish designs. Even some early twentieth century buildings near by house in Madrid are in this style.

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Strolling through Córdoba, Spain

Thursday, December 20th, 2018 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

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The Calahorra tower, on the far side of the Guadalquivir River
from Córdoba, protects access to the Roman bridge. It was
originally built in the Islamic period and rebuilt in 1369

Last week I wrote about the magnificent mosque/cathedral of Córdoba. While that’s the city’s main draw, there’s plenty else to see in this historic place. In fact, the entire city center, where most of the old buildings are, is one big UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The area, next to the Guadalquivir River, has always been inhabited. Evidence of Neanderthals has been found, as well as all the major phases of prehistory. A small prehistoric settlement became a city under the Carthaginians, who called it Kartuba. When the Romans conquered it in 206 BC, the name morphed into Corduba. Under the Romans, the city thrived, becoming the cultural and administrative center of Hispania Baetica. Seneca the Elder, Seneca the Younger, and Lucan all came from Córdoba. It was briefly under Byzantine rule from 552-572 AD before falling to the Visigoths.

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