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Quill Pen Moment

“What I enjoy most about writing is the ability to take a magnificent person or place, hold it up to the brightest possible light, and share that light with others.

That’s the challenge, and that’s what keeps me striving to ever hone my words to a fine obsidian edge.”   Bart Jackson

Snippet from my upcoming book – FELLOW TRAVELERS

A Mediterranean Diet

Phalanxes of Egyptian bathing beauties, swathed from head to toe in flowing robes of black cotton, tentatively brave the azure waves  rhythmically swarming o’er the fine sands of Alexandria’s public beach.  Clasping hands for support, these Islam lasses shriek with delight along this historic shore where the ancient Nile pours its waters into the Mediterranean Sea.   From our café table overlooking this frivolity, Lorraine and I sip viscous-thick coffees, as a young boy sporting a wad of ink-black curls hefts an intriguingly heavy bucket onto our table.  Like the city’s namesake, this earnest lad, with no more clothing than Kipling’s Gunga Din, announces that he too is named Alexander…. And then, with a slight bow, he gets down to business.

Fresh from the waters we now gaze upon, Alexander has netted a bucket of sea urchins.  These intimidating nuggets bristling with poisonous spines, he assures us, embody an ambrosia fit for the deities of the Nile and Olympus, and honored American guests, like ourselves.  Ever suckers for a sales pitch, we shell out a batch of piastres, and watch as Alexander deftly de-shells the fist-size globular echinoderms.  With no little pride he sets before us dainty umber ovals vaguely resembling miniature human brains….

Did we dare partake?  Were they as absolutely divine as our young host boasted? 

                                                  When Empire Fades                                

His sheep nibbled around the feet of a giant, startlingly-fanged lion, while ranks of tall-plumed, sword-waving soldiers looked on.  Hattusha, grand capital of Hittites Empire, once ruling most of Anatolian Turkey, now, two and a half millennia later, seemed to boast a single human inhabitant: Baris, absolute ruler of nearly two dozen wooly minions.  Lorraine and I had arrived in full archeological fervor to walk the high stone walls, gates, and temples of this Ozyimandesque ruin.   But our true cultural education came when Baris invited us into his home to meet his wives and children.  What a rich blending of modern perks, devoutly stirred into layers of old and treasured traditions….

 

So, how does today’s tech take its place among those who value the past?) 

The World Fixer

It seemed a fairly standard upscale Cairo apartment, except that all upholstered furniture lay carefully blanketed with newspapers to catch droppings from the wounded fish eagle who screamed just overhead as we entered.  Rose and her exquisitely tolerant husband had found this injured raptor hopping along the Nile and had brought it home to nurse its recovery.  While penning an article on Cairo’s nefarious Pet Market, I had invited passionate animal advocate Rose to join Lorraine and me as we toured the stalls ‘neath the broiling Egyptian sun.  She was a whirlwind. Grabbing a vendor’s galabeya, she pointed to his cage crammed with tortoises stacked like cordwood and demanded he give them better treatment.  A tall, bewildered seller of secretary birds and an albino crocodile came under her wrath as Rose screamingly cited CITES illegal trade laws and threatened to bring this man to justice.  Even on our way to her home, Rose lectured our taxi driver – a father of seven – how Allah would better favor those with minimal means who practiced birth control.

Rose was truly an individual fireball, whose sole ambition was to make ours a better world.  And if we are lucky, our world will begin to grow a lot more Roses, for our own sakes.

Toppler of Tyranny

Ignore the white hair, tis lean looking hiker strode up the hill from Berchtesgaden with a gait that made it clear: this was not a man you’d want to mess with.  As we crested the summit and beheld Adolf Hiltler’s historical Eagle’s Nest getaway, this gentleman tapped my shoulder, introduced himself as James, and then from his wallet pulled out a aged, black-and-white photo of himself in an American uniform, perched atop the German Fuehrer’s beloved monument, tearing down the giant swastika in 1945…

What was James’ story?  Did he actually drink wine from Hitler’s bunker?  

Timeless Tasks

We crouched on the cobbles of Cairo beneath the towers of tilting, bare wood structures that seemed as fragile and perhaps as old as a Karnak mummy.  “Hammet” had enlisted my aid in slicing slender  strips from a branch into which he awled holes and fitted into a masterful bird cage.  But, he insisted, to help in the precision of this work, we had to share his hookah….

Did Hammet and Bart ever finish a credible bird cage for Cairo’s Pet Market? Did Lorraine ever lead herself and bewildered hubby out of the labyrinth of Cairo’s back streets?  Visit Bartsbooks.com to discover more Fellow Travelers

What Man Has Done…

They were called Cyclopean walls.  And when you behold these massive, rough-hewn blocks forming the bronze-age Greek citadels of Mycenae and Tiryns, you understand why.  Surely, the only creatures to set these mammoth stones into fortress a millennium and a half before Christ must be the one-eyed giant Cyclopes of Odyssey-fame.  But sitting on just such a wall at the Tiryns excavation with head archeologist, Klaus Kilian, we were witnessing the fallacy of the old Greeks’ myth.  Under Klaus’ supervision, here indeed was a man-and-woman sized job….

“Just take that wall segment down,” Klaus instructed the team.  “I want to examine what’s under it.”  Understand, Klaus’s crew were no regular human beings.  They were grad students. Urged to a slavish frenzy by the carrot of degrees, graduate students have proved themselves more powerful and dedicated to grunt work than any day laborer who ever sweated over pyramids or Roman roads.  And Herr Professor Kilian had come to Tiryns with a stalwart student team of mostly German youth.

 

Perhaps no peoples celebrate Greece’s heroic history so zealously as the Germans.   It was German archeologists, after all, who salvaged the entire Pergamon Altar of Zeus (all 117 by 110 feet of it) and brought it stone by stone back to Berlin restoring it to its former glory.  Klaus Kilian had dedicated years of his life to the city of “Mighty Walled Tiryns,” as Homer referred to it in the Iliad, which was a thriving metropolis at the time of the Trojan War.

Gathering material for my book about the Greek hero Achilles, Lorraine and I had come to Tiryns to talk with the renown Professor Kilian.  And he decided that the most appropriate interview vantage would be atop this ancient wall in the city where Heracles once came to undertake his redemptive labors, while he supervised the current exertions of his crew.

And so the dozen graduate students hefted six-foot crowbars and began loosening, then lowering, and carefully numbering the fitted couch-size limestone chunks, which they would rebuild later.  Klaus’ training showed in their skill, even so, this was all muscle work.  Their bodies toiled and sweated ‘neath the harsh Greek sun.  I kept thinking that under this sun, and under this city’s king, so had the powerful Heracles struggled…..

Did the KIaus Kilian inspire his team to perform the “superhuman” feat of disassembling and resurrecting Tiryns mighty walls?  What did the professor discover about this legendary land of Greek heroes? More about this fellow traveler will be explained in further pages.

Gathering All the Animals

Compared to Noah, I couldn’t find a lion in my living room.  Quiet, settled, subtly humored, Noah knew exactly which stream banks lay slathered thick with alligators, on which kjopes lions stoically scouted for prey, and precisely how close to wildebeest herds he could set us walking without probably getting trampled.  Lorraine, I, and long-time fellow trekker Richard Craig had just come down from traversing Mount Kilimanjaro, and a friend had linked us with Noah as the “most intriguing” driver/guide for a few weeks camping safari in Tanzania’s Serengeti…

From the moment we tossed ourselves and gear into Noah’s “Jarringly Jouncing Jeep,” the three of us realized we had a perfect fit. Noah was the first man we’d met in all Tanzania with camping equipment as worn and aged as our own.  Pointing “JJJ” roughly toward Mount Mehru, our guide began expanding our Swahili expletive vocabulary as he fist-swatted the swarming tsetse flies against the dashboard.  (Tsetse bites make our American greenhead’s worst efforts feel like a gentle kiss.)

It soon became apparent.  We had own definite ideas about this photo safari, and Noah had the right ones.  “Yes, of course,” he had wryly noted, “you don’t need a cook, but then the baboons will destroy everything.”  Thus we had hired on Grayson to make scrumptious meals and fend voracious intruders by day while the four of us drove across the dust-choking plains in search of game…..

As we huddled close to our charcoal fire, gazing uneasily at the predatory eyes crouching seemingly a few leaps away in the inky dark, Noah gleefully spun “true” tales of hyena and big cat attacks.  He and Richard also swapped military stories of serving in Vietnam – ironically on opposite sides.  (Apparently, some contorted Russia/Tanaznia treaty had placed a bewildered young Noah training in North Vietnam camps.)  Not surprisingly, both men shared a chest of anecdotes concerning military inefficiency – SNAFU….

Did Noah live up to his biblical name in showing us all the animals? Was it really his fault that we were sprinting down this trail toward the jeep with an ardently perturbed cape buffalo right behind us?  More about this fellow traveler will be revealed in further pages.

 Intriguing Folks Encountered Along Life’s Journey

The waves slammed him jarringly onto the sand, but the waters had been kind.   He emerged filled with more fish than he could hold.  From the dune above came his wife’s unmistakable voice, hopeful, but with a pleading urgency.  In response, he joined his fellow commuters, heading on up to home.  Crouched in our perch in the twilight, Lorraine and I emitted softly whispered cheers of support as he stormed the steep sand cliff.

Puffer, as we’d nicknamed him, seemed totally unperturbed that he held all the wrong tools for this climb.   New Zealand’s Korora penguin rounds out at about 23 inches, with beautifully hydrodynamic flippers and widely webbed feet that send him sleekly powering through ocean waters with remarkable grace.  Alas, all these finely evolved aquatic attributes worked against Puffer and his fellows as they waddled up against the nearly sheer dune, each heading for the family nest dug into the soft, sliding sands, 100 feet above.

From scores of nests, hundreds of chicks filled the evening breeze with an encouraging clamor.  Puffer, distinguishing his children’s call above all the others, knew they were anxious for their share of seafood which Dad would regurgitate into their waiting maws.  Thus spurred on, he churned his squat legs hoisting his rotund frame upslope.  Each step marked Puffer’s labored progress in the dune. Lorraine and I watched this scene of parental courage, sympathizing with this slate blue penguin as his wings flapped futilely and his bill almost scraped the sand before him.   Then, after several minutes, almost half way to his goal, the exhausted Puffer started to shift right.  Wincingly, like a fall in slow motion, we saw the prints of his struggling feet mark an agonizing backwards descent to the bottom of the high dune.  Without so much as a shrug, Puffer launched his climb again.

So, did Puffer make the nest to his hungrily waiting family?  Did the kids get fed?  Was his wife appreciative?  Why did New Zealand’s Maori natives name this penguin “Korora?” More about this fellow traveler will be explained in further pages.

****

“It’s call sounds like the wind blowing over an empty whiskey bottle…” he explained. Freshly descended from a broad meandering across Tibet’s yak-rich plateau, New Zealand ornithologist Rhys Buckingham was the first and only non-native Lorraine and I had run across in a couple of weeks.  “You see,” Rhys enthused as we trekked along a stony track some miles west of Lhasa, “Everybody is insisting that the South Island Kokako is an extinct bird.  But I’ve been assembling proof – almost undeniable – that he exists!  Just as alive as when Captain Cook wrote that description of his call.”

With Tibetan tourism still a couple of decades in the future, the rare foreigners who finagled their way into this physically rugged and spiratually rich land tended toward the venturesome and fascinatingly eccentric.  Traveling solo, Rhys had landed in Tibet as part of a swing up through several South Sea isles, on into China, where he discovered some remarkably inexpensive dental work, and then a cut across Asia.  During stops for porridge and yak-butter tea, Rhys regaled us with tales of his quest for this elusive, yellow-wattled avian.  Always hunting, hoping, his was a life of long forays into the South Island’s deep, jungled bush; setting up exotic recording and photographic devices before the first hint of dawn – searching patches of moss for signs the Kokako’s distinctive snip-cutting – always tantalizingly close.  After far too short a time, we came to a parting of paths.  We were heading the 90 kilometers south toward Everest, and Rhys was continuing west toward Nepal.  Amidst our adieus, Rhys proffered and invitation to come down to New Zealand and join him in his next quest.  Then flashing his hallmark wry smile he added, “When we find one, I hear the wattles make excellent soup.”  We replied that we couldn’t pass up so bizarre an opportunity.

So did we reunite and trod in Rhys Buckingham’s footsteps?  Did we discover further proof of his amazing bird?  Well, that’s another story for another time…

If you would enjoy reading more of these words, visit our BartsBooks Bookstore.

If you would like to hear any of these words from the authors mouth at your next event, drop Bart a line at info@bartsbooks.com

APPETIZERS

On Money:

Money is only a yardstick for those who have achieved, but ‘tis a vital walking stick for those still struggling up the trail.

On Success:

Growth doesn’t happen. It demands architects of change and willing engineers to innovate. And, of course, oceans of enthusiastic sweat.

When your own company grows, its so exciting you can scarcely sleep. When your company ceases to grow, you cannot sleep either.

On Leadership:

A great leader can inspire his team to scrabble up and over a wall bare handed. A great manager makes sure there are ample ladders leaning against the wall so everyone can get over swiftly. Notice, I do not say they have to be two different people.

On the benefits of Flattening Your Organization

Pyramids are great. Pyramids are Impressive. But they house only the dead…

On Power:

Real power is as fleeting as romance in a brothel. Take it neither to heart or head.

Alexander the Great inherited an empire. Ghengis Kahn was an orphan. Opportunities of birth, like the taste of old Scotch, are highly overrated.

ENTREES

The Ultimate Leadership Challenge

He walks into a strange hall in a foreign country filled with nearly 100 consummate professionals whom he has never met. They know only his name plus whatever hints of his reputation they have gleaned from the brief biographical handout. Fortunately, theirs is one of the five languages he speaks fluently. He has come to imprint his vision on them and on a product under tight deadline. Each of these nationally renowned professionals holds his or her own personal vision, and most have been hired at least once to employ that interpretation in creating this product for other employers.

He mounts the stairs and comes before them. In stature, he stands half a foot shorter than the average American CEO. Yet his stance and presence gleam with authoritative intensity, radiating the message that you do not want to mess with this guy. Even before he greets them in their mother tongue, he has taken command. He has banished what might become a wasteful contest of wills, because he simply does not have the time.

From the moment Maestro Jacques Lacombe lifts his baton at the first orchestral rehearsal, he will have a mere eight hours – four rehearsals – to produce a two-hour symphony before some of the most discerning ears in the nation. When he sets his baton down after the performance’s final coda and sweeps his arms majestically upward, signaling his fellow musicians to rise, he will turn, briefly bow, and acknowledge the standing ovation. Audience members will whisper to each other about subtle nuances of “his” rendition. Reviewers will remark on his ability to draw out the optimal performance of individual musicians and blend them as a united whole. The proof of teamwork and leadership lies in the product. Bravo….

Cricket vs Baseball

From his article The Second Most Popular Sport

The trouble with Cricket is that it is so ineffably British. It’s just that stodgy, over-dressed version of baseball, where men in snow-white padding fuss about on a manicured lawn all mired up in some labyrinthine set of obscure rules and memories of The Grand Empire. Or so it may seem to us unitiated yankees…….

The obvious difference on the cricket pitch is Teamwork. You see, the trouble with baseball is that it is so ineffably American. I – a rugged individual baseball batter – armed with nothing more than my big stick, square off against an enemy army of fielders. And I slug that horsehide spheroid with all my god-given might, and I churn my legs to earn as many bases as I alone can grind out against the foe. Then some other guy, recently traded and paid to wear the same shirt as mine, gets his chance. ‘Tis exactly the appropriate version of the bat-and-ball sport for a nation of lone (and more than a little self-absorbed) pioneers fighting their way in the wilderness.

However, if I were a human resource manager looking for some fun corporate team-building exercise, I might just swap the softball field for the cricket pitch. A cricket match is a deliberately engineered group-coordination effort. The kind of stuff that neglects stars, and builds empires…..

Man, Deer, and The Forests

You could hear the rhythmic hoof beats advancing through the forest. I had crawled out of the old, low canvas tent my father brought on our camping trips, to answer nature’s call. Squinting into the dawn, I searched the blaze of autumn colors for the source. And then it broke brush. With arrogant magnificence, an immense stag leapt into the small clearing of this North Jersey woods, bearing easily aloft a broad antler rack of at least 12 points. I stood frozen with slack-jawed awe and beheld this stately, grand animal with whom I shared this moment. In a few bounds, he crossed the clearing and slipped into the foliage. There are some things a boy never forgets.