EXCLUSIVE Travel Memoir Excerpt: Careening Around Cairo

It is not every day that we get an exclusive look at a future best-selling travel book! I am delighted and privileged to re-introduce A Traveler’s Library contributor, Edie Jarolim, who shares with you excerpts of a chapter from her work-in-progress, a travel memoir you won’t want to miss–Getting Naked for Money.

EXCLUSIVE to A Traveler’s Library

The following is an excerpt from Getting Naked for Money: An Accidental Travel Writer Reveals All.  Please contribute to the Kickstarter campaign that will allow the book to be finished and published (see badge at the end)

***

I am a terrible Jew. This I knew from an early age. At Passover seders as far back as I can remember, I would recite the story of the Israelites’ enslavement while harboring a secret love for the land of the pharaohs. “Let my people go,” I intoned, while longing to visit Egypt.

I don’t blame the Jewish holiday for my disloyalty, although, like most kids, I found the Haggadah reading interminable. I was also a bit dubious about parts of the story that it told. My favorite food on the seder plate was charosets, a mixture of apples, walnuts, and grape juice meant to represent the mortar used at forced construction sites. If you can eat the building materials, I thought, how bad could the work be?

Nor do I blame Hollywood for my Egyptophilia, even though Cecil B. DeMille cast sexy Yul Brenner as Ramses against Charlton Heston’s buff-but-boring Moses in “The Ten Commandments.” My childhood friend Sharon and I would cross our arms and mimic the bald hunk intoning, “So let it be written. So let it be done.”

Brooklyn Museum: Relief of Queen Nefertiti Kissing One of Her Daughters. Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund.
Brooklyn Museum: Relief of Queen Nefertiti Kissing One of Her Daughters

No, I blame my mother—which maybe makes me a typical Jew after all. Every few weeks, before I was old enough to go on my own, my mother would walk with me from our apartment on Lincoln Road down Empire Boulevard to Grand Army Plaza and the Brooklyn Museum. There I came to adore the hushed, high-ceiling Egyptian halls.

I’m sure the serenity of the setting and the shared time with my busy parent, sister free, were part of the appeal. But the alternate universe showcased in those rooms, the grand kingdoms, dynasties, and mysterious hieroglyphs, also grabbed my imagination. I loved the busts with elegant headdresses and exotic names like Hatshepsut–a female pharaoh!—and the clean lines of the towering statues, representing powerful beings who transcended the messiness of everyday life. I was especially drawn to the Wilbour plaque shown above of Akhenaton and Nefertiti, a rare artist’s slab, the label said. I devoured all the books I could find about the Eighteenth Dynasty couple, and about Akhetaten, the city Akhenaten devoted to his revolutionary new religion.

All this is to say, my assignment to update Frommer’s Egypt didn’t come from out of the blue.

My interest in Egypt, always on the back burner, had returned with a mummy-like vengeance when I started working at Prentice Hall Travel (PHT). I regularly tried to convince Marilyn Wood, PHT’s editorial director, that the company needed a new, more in-depth book to supplement Frommer’s Egypt—and that I was the ideal person to write it. As far as I was concerned, there could never be too many Egypt guides.

My persistence paid off. When, in the spring of 1989, about a month after I parted ways with Rough Guides, Marilyn learned that the author of Frommer’s Egypt wanted to take a break from updating her book, she asked me if I wanted to fill in. Naturally I said yes.

***

Maybe the most memorable part of my Cairo research [for Frommer’s Egypt] was visiting the great pyramid complex at Giza.

Pictures make the necropolis look like it’s in the middle of the desert—and of course it was, at one point. Now, however, Giza is a suburb of Cairo, with the pyramids fringing its outskirts. Picture the Seventh Wonder of the Ancient World at the edge of Queens.

That didn’t detract from the impact of viewing it in the direction of the limestone bluff on which the pyramids sit–or from my excitement at seeing camels, wearing colorful, ornate saddles, clustered around the imposing structures.

I am a sucker for camels. The moment I first looked into their mischievous long-lashed eyes in a crowded Tunis market, I was hooked. There was something about the unlikeliness of their shape, the contrast between their ungainly gait and their innate dignity, that spoke to me. After years of ogling these creatures at zoos, I was excited to learn that camel rides were available at the pyramids.

The camels were all standing placidly, chewing, looking bored, as I approached. The camel drivers next to them were not nearly as placid. A tourist actually seeking out a camel ride must have been a rarity, so a group of men descended on me, pleading, “Lady, you ride my camel, she is the most beautiful and gentle. For you, not expensive.”

Overwhelmed, I finally just chose a guy with a camel that didn’t look depressed and who didn’t have a whip in his hand (the guy, not the camel).

Camels are very tall and even a kneeling one is difficult to mount; the large saddle adds to the height and is awkward to negotiate. When my chosen camel driver—I’ll call him CD—helped me up, his hand grazed my breasts, not a part of the body generally required for leverage. I told myself it was an accident and tried to focus on the fact that I was at the pyramids, about to ride a camel.

After we plodded along for about two minutes, we came to a halt, my camel having decided it was time for a bathroom break and CD having decided it was time for a sales pitch. He said, “I have authentic antiquities, not expensive for you.” I nodded and smiled blandly. “You buy?” he asked. “No, thank you,” I said.

But CD was persistent and I suspected that I would be forced to sit in the midday sun, listening to his spiel and smelling camel poop until I gave in. I looked at the statuettes he had wrapped in a cloth, and finally chose a small one for a large price. “Do not let them see it at customs,” CD warned, explaining that it was illegal to take antiquities out of the country.

“Only if they’re authentic,” I wanted to say. But CD was holding the reigns to my camel, and I really wanted to get out of there. For a change, I kept quiet.

No surprise: as CD helped me off the camel, his hand grazed my breasts again. Maybe he was trying to authenticate them.

I can’t vouch for the antiquities, but this book is the REAL DEAL–travel around the world with Edie who shares adventures from camels to insider info on the travel writing business (including the getting naked part).  If you want to hear more about Edie’s adventures as a travel writer, how about becoming a publisher by helping to finance the book? Join Edie’s KickStarter campaign.
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Edie Jarolim

About Edie Jarolim

Edie Jarolim, who has written extensively about travel, food, and pets, has reviewed books about pets and travel for A Traveler's Library. She is working on a memoir of her life as a travel writer called Getting Naked for Money: An Accidental Travel Writer Reveals All. Read more about it at her blog EdieJarolim.com

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