Le Parfum Cléopâtre No 5

“The barge she sat in, like a burnished throne,
Burned on the water: the poop was beaten gold,
Purple the sails, and so perfumèd, that
The winds were love-sick with them.”
William Shakespeare, Antony & Cleopatra


Imagine you have fallen through a mysterious, sensory-overloading, weird disorienting  vortex that catapults you back to 41 BCE in Juliopolis (Tarsos), in the Roman Empire’s province of Cilicia. Many of the sounds and smells your ears and nose would capture are immediately unrecognizable, foreign, baffling your brain. For effect, play the following sound-byte:

Roman portThere within sight at the mouth of the calmly flowing Cydnus River you find the Roman port. Faintly you see and hear the hammering of many ship-workers and foremen yelling commands. You notice ten or twenty half-built Roman ships, some with two and others three deck-levels or more. These are dry-docked and just as many are finished, docked and tied-off in the harbor.

Traveling Turkey: Taursus

Cleopatra’s Gate in modern Tarsus, Mersin Turkey

Once you arrive to all the commotion trying to determine where you have fallen, what is happening, what has happened, “why is everyone gawking at me as I walk by,” it hits you. I am in 21st-century clothing, I do not speak Greek, and I think my money/currency is no good here.

A breeze picks up and brings another mystery. A distinct, unfamiliar scent crosses over your nostrils. In warm temperatures the aroma has touches of pungent, musky, woody and slight medicinal smells, but then you notice the faint compliments of sweet vanilla and black tea. With this aromatic orchestra comes the sounds of people chattering and rushing to the banks of the Kydnos River. You follow the excited crowds. There at the banks of the river you reach the wall of people lined on both shores yelling and waving out to this massive, golden-plated barge with huge reddish-purple sails on two masts. Being downwind the aromas smelt earlier cannot be avoided. You are witnessing the ruler of the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt, Cleopatra VII Philopater traveling up the river to Juliopolis to meet the Roman general Marc Antony.

Cleopatra's barge Tarsos

If you are ever in Berkeley, CA, stop by Mandy Aftel‘s alchemy shop on Walnut Street, called Aftel Perfumes, and travel back in time to ancient and not so ancient recipes of fragrances across the globe, including what might have been Cleopatra’s legendary perfume from her purple sails on the Kydnos River in 41 BCE Cilicia, but also on her seductive body and garments as she romanced Marc Antony!

Researchers Robert Littman, Jay Silverstein, Dora Goldsmith, and Sean Coughlin replicated some of the great Egyptian fragrances from the archaeological excavation of the 300 BCE city of Thmuis and its region’s famed Mendesian and Metopian perfumes. Both contained myrrh, a resin extracted from the tree (see image). Littman states I find it very pleasant, though it probably lingers a little longer than modern perfume. In ancient Egypt and many parts of the Mediterranean port-cities, inland to Rome’s trading network, most of the wealthy families, dignitaries, and rulers wore these scents though they were of a thicker consistency similar to our olive oils or molasses. Cleopatra made perfume herself in a personal workshop, says Mandy Aftel.


It is even possible that when Marc Antony accepted Cleopatra’s invitation to come visit her in Alexandria, Egypt, the queen toured Antony through her perfume factory in Thmuis as she lavishly entertained him overwhelming the powerful general not only with the finest of foods, drink, music, and seduction royalty could imagine, Cleopatra also wanted heirs to Rome’s throne following Julius Caesar’s murder. The rest as they say, is history, and legend—although parts are factual and corroborated.

perfumes with myrrhWhether Cleopatra wore this fragrance to charm and lure one of Rome’s finest generals or not, it is certain that the elite of the ancient Mediterranean, particularly in Alexandria and the eastern provinces of Nabataea, Syria, and Cilicia, did indeed wear these strong, long-lasting scents. If you are ever in need of seducing a powerful figure for your own gain and those of your kingdom’s subjects, definitely have Le Parfum Cléopâtre No 5 in your toiletry bag!


Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always

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The Whereabouts

When I was a small boy and with my family visiting Dad’s family in Galveston and Brazoria Counties, Texas, we always made a stop by my great grandmother at her rural small farmhouse for a full day, perhaps even late into the night if other aunts, uncles, and cousins would come by as well. They were fun times; lifetime memories. If all of us 12-20 cousins were also there, the time together was a circus complete with clowns of capers and their pranks. At grandma Konzack’s there were endless things to do, tinker with, play, and generally find as much mischief as possible.

My great grandmother Konzack had about 25-30 acres of land with 4-6 heads of cattle, a big hay-barn, and chicken coup near her 1900’s self-built, five bedroom antebellum home. She always had 2-4 dogs around, watch-dogs more less that were never allowed inside the house. They were somehow responsible for keeping guard of the house and policing wanted and unwanted animals outside during the night. Hours would fly by, but before we would leave, grandma Konzack would always pack us up with the family beef from her deep-freezer and literally the freshest eggs from her busy hens. She and my Dad always had strange, peculiar stories about the goings on with that hen-house. This is one of them… well, a version of one with my own allegorical twist. 😉

But first some quick background. Without going into a long revisit of my family heritage, suffice to say that many/most of my paternal ancestors were of Franco-German-Swiss heritage of Freethinking families. In other words, they often marched to their own beat not blindly following mainstream religion and yet without denying their strong convictions of family and civil service to community in the spirit of individual American freedom and liberty within the confines of our U.S. Constitution. This made many of my paternal family minorities in Texas given most Texans were Southern Baptists, Catholics, or Conservative mainline Protestants, or to say it diplomatically… all equally excitable. She was surrounded on three property-lines by Southern Baptists and Evangelical Protestants where over the years there developed a cordially silent, unspoken, public smiles of tolerance for each other. That’s how folks did it in 1940, 50, and 60’s rural America.

This is my allegorical tale called The Whereabouts.

∼ ∼ ∼ § ∼ ∼ ∼

Grandma Konzack had several hens in her coop, but six of them were very special, particularly reliable and productive hens. Their Latin names were Curiositas, Contradictio, Testimonium, Scrutinio, Aequalitatem, and the best egg producer Didicit. She was the queen over all other hens. The chicken coop had six levels on one wall and six more on the opposite wall. In a way, the eggs from grandma Konzack’s hen-house were, numerically speaking, the 666 hens with 666 eggs! 😈 I tell you, they were the most delicious eggs you’d ever have the privilege of putting in your mouth!

Curiositas was probably one of the most elusive hens to keep track of at any given time, even with the door to the hen-house closed and locked did not mean she would be happily content inside her specific nest box! If she had half a chance to to get out and explore, near or far didn’t matter, then she was GONE before you could say Whoa Nellie. However, Curiositas became one of the smartest, wittiest hens. She learned fast the most efficient methods of escape, hiding, and the most ideal locations on Grandma’s property to perch and watch everything below. She also learned equally as fast all the worst methods of the same.

One day she was never seen again. Vanished.

Contradictio was THE HEN that could challenge the patience of any wise owl and the cunning of the feline Margay. If you thought you’d anticipate where Contradictio would be or would behave, 9-times out of 10 you’d be wrong. What was MORE astonishing was that she could anticipate your behavior practically every single time. She could unravel your tricks or dishonesty before or by the count of five.

One day she was never seen again. Gone.

Testimonium on the other hand was a very friendly, gregarious hen. She always wanted to a part of or in the center of the day’s action. Testimonium also had a very nosy streak always getting in your way or face seeing up close what you were doing. If there was ever any sort of unscrupulous behavior taking place in the hen-house or outside nearby she would know firsthand EVERYTHING that took place! The quintessential court room witness of poultry!

One day she was gone, never seen again. Egg dishes are showing up less and less on the kitchen table!

Scrutinio was the single no-nonsense hen. You messed with or changed her nest-box even the slightest, she would know and immediately return it to her standards. In fact, change the daily routine in the smallest of ways and she was going to go all rooster on your ankles or hands! You could not slip anything past her scrutinizing eyes and high standards. Nothing!

And then one day she too was gone. Never to be seen again. Now there seems to be a pattern going on, right?

Aequalitatem was undoubtedly the protectorate hen of all hens. She would not stand for any mistreatment of hen-femininity! If two hens wanted to sleep together in the same nest box, then as far as Aequalitatem was concerned it was no one’s business what two adult hens wanted to do in the privacy of their nest box. Her motto? If no chickens were being harmed in the acts of amore, consenting hens can do whatever THA F*CK their pretty feathers wanna do. Period! Yes, she was the Joan of Arc of bold hen-ness.

Then one morning she too had disappeared. This was now very serious. Only our honorable, most wise and intelligent Queen hen remained…

Didicit was the Queen for many reasons, but the one best reason was her wisdom and that she had come to us from Oxford, England. She had been a favorite hen of a number of Nobel Prize winning professors at Oxford University and had traveled the world with them as their lucky feathered Madame. It was reasonably rumored that she understood no less than five different languages! Many an avian university department requested her services for various scientific studies. Didicit’s eggs were never bothered for obvious reasons. Two of her chicks had thankfully survived.

When she had gone missing grandma Konzack was infuriated. She went to her three neighbors trying to determine if they had noticed any bizarre activity the last week or so. After chatting politely with all three neighbors, both Southern Baptist families and the Evangelical family, grandma noticed that all three families had the exact same painting on their living room walls (seen below).

living room painting

Grandma Konzack asked her friendly neighbor about the familiar painting on the wall. They replied Oh, we are big animal lovers, in particular foxes. Curious, she asked why that particular animal. They are remarkably stealthy, cunning canine carnivores. They keep all the unwanted trashy, disease-carrying animals away.” they answered with a sly grin. Grandma Konzack couldn’t resist and retorted back:

Yes, but they are not particularly honorable carnivores are they… sneaking up on their prey and always hiding, always fleeing scared of the slightest trouble. No wonder the British had so many fox hunts with their hounds!

Not amused her neighbors responded in a snide tone Well that may or may not be true, but it’s always the end that justifies the means. If your survival depends on eliminating enemies with dishonorable stealth, then it deserves our favor. Grandma was not particularly surprised by the logic. She had been around these type folks most of her life. It was why she enjoyed the company of others who enjoy life to the fullest. I’ll be on my way she said. If you do notice anything out of the ordinaryshe politely explained, please let me know would you?” Their response was even more strange than their previous:

We do not know the whereabouts of your fancy, expensive hens Mrs. Konzack. The husband continued, Perhaps they’ve simply runaway or perhaps tried and failed to cross the road. His wife chuckled under her breath. Then, to show his “Christian politeness” he asked grandma:

We are having a weekend prayer-n-fellowship meal down at the church tomorrow afternoon if you’d like to attend. Do you know the whereabouts of our Fellowship Center? We’re having all sorts of goodies as long as the eye can see and the bellies can pack, including baskets of fried chicken!

Thanks but no thanks grandma replied quickly. And yes, I know where the Fellowship Center is located Knowing her welcome would not last much longer, she smiled in reciprocated charm and said:

No one can miss it because it is as monstrous and gaudy as the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception and as she opened the door to exit said in closing:

But nowhere near as beautiful, as naturally human, or as meaningful as The Temples of Khajuraho (see above video). But I am guessing you’ve never been outside Brazoria County, much less out of the United States have you? If you can put your bibles down for a day or find a quite spot other than your church sanctuary, read Mark Twain’s Innocents Abroad for an enlightening, delightful life-lesson of what it means to be truly human.

My grandma Konzack was a wonderful woman with a sharp, witty sense of humor. One would learn fairly soon too she did not appreciate any type of elitism from anyone, not the President, not the Queen of Britain, and damn sure not from any kuntry folk from rural Texas. She’s the one who taught me the meaning of Right, but everyone sits on the pot the same for the same reason. There were some other juicy tidbits she’d add, but I’ll skip those so not to offend the sensitive or faint-hearted. She was a tough, tough woman, but full of so much life!

I do miss my Grandma Konzack.

To my readers: Tell me in comments below what my allegorical story says to you. What happens to the Hen House and the future of flocks when the best hens (and their egg producing/teaching abilities) are silenced.


Live Well — Laugh Often — Love Much — Learn Always

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A Soap Box Legend in Parts

Have you ever been in those situations as an adventurous kid or bold young teenager where your friends enthusiastically encourage you to do something you are not quite sure you want to do or should do?

This is what happened to yours truly one day with two boyhood friends testing our new streamlined modification on our self-built go-cart. The amount of time the three of us spent on R&D (research and development) for this brilliant enhancement had to have been at least 4-5 minutes! What could possibly go wrong?

∼ ∼ ∼ § ∼ ∼ ∼

The racing era? 1974 – 75. I and my race-buddies were 11 to 12 years of age. The BM-501 (Bat Mobile 500 v1) was a two-axle chassis with an old wooden toy-trunk nailed down to the wooden chassis. The toy trunk was 2-ft (H) x 5-ft (L) x 2-ft (W), and kept us Speed-Racers tucked fairly tight inside. It had 10-inch rear wheels (from common toy wagons) and 5-inch front wheels, typically found on lawn-mowers of the day. The front steering was cleverly accomplished by a rope attached near both front wheels with a 75-80 degree turning-range, centering hinge that held the front axle to the chassis. Pull the rope’s right-side, turn to the right. Pull the left-side, turn left. The engineering alone that went into this marvel of motion was the talk of the neighborhood, yes by parents, but most importantly the girls! We were heroes to be… in our own eyes!

Yes, we were truly becoming sexy Demons on Wheels.

My childhood home was in a hilly neighborhood. Ideal for Demons on Wheels. My house was a two-story split level home where the driveway went from our street, down the side of the house, turning rightward to a larger driveway for two cars, garages underneath the first floor, and a grass lawn the remainder of the rear property (see image below).

Dallas childhood home-driveway

My actual childhood home and driveway today – Google Maps 2019

After about 40-50 runs starting at the crest of our driveway (see red arrow), my racing teammates, Keith and Greg, and myself wanted a bigger challenge and more speed. We weren’t going to make legends for ourselves or to the girls unless we impressed. We pondered our choices and opportunities.

Keith had always been the bolder of us three. He had a gallant disregard to normal, whatever was convention he’d push it. There was one race on the lower BM-501/BMX track we thought he’d never recover or regain his courage, if it’s really courage. Some girls argued it was idiocy, but we couldn’t abandon our daring friend over some silly girls opinions. What do they know about soap box engineering and racing? Besides, doing things with Keith usually made Greg and me look and sound cool too. More on this later. Suddenly Keith had an ah-hah moment.

What if we start in the Lowery’s driveway, he pointed, cross our street, then onto our driveway and down? Greg and I considered the path, the dual hills offering more speed, and likely much further in the grass through our rear lawn. Further than any man had gone before! Unanimously we yelled YES! It was an exceptional idea and we patted Keith on the shoulder and high-fives all around.

Dallas childhood home-driveway_2

The new proposed race track to better speed and legendary fame!

After only about 10-15 runs between the three of us, hitting the street from the Lowery’s driveway, hopping the crest of our driveway, then making that sharp right turn to eventually slow in the grass to a stop, surprisingly the walls of our wooden toy trunk in which we sat began coming apart. The constant repeating G’s we wheeling demons were pulling in that right-hand turn was just too much force for that wooden box frame. A serious dilemma confronted our youthful, brilliant engineering and racing skills:  A) Can the box be repaired? If not, B) do we find another lesser hill to ride affording driver safety, but sacrificing the roar of the crowds and girls wooing? Or C) do we just remove the four crumbling walls and sit on the flat bottom so that our fans could see every inch of our beautiful, skilled bodies? How were the new Niki Lauda, Jackie Stewart, and Mario Andretti of soap box racing going to handle this challenge?

It was determined by our consortium of advanced brains that the wooden trunk-walls were irreparable. We did not have the same carpentry skills, glue or nails to repair it to its original specifications. “A” is out of the question. What about “B”? It was soon deduced that if we moved to some other hill in some other neighborhood we would lose our fan-base—which were our giggling nearby girls and sisters. Also, we’d have to involve the Racing Commission and Safety Board, i.e. our parents. “B” was most certainly out of the question. It would have ruined our racing careers!

“C” it was! We went about refitting—rather dismantling—our fine machine of motion and in less than 20-minutes BM-502 was ready to roll into the annals of history.

Once the three of us topped the Lowery’s driveway, looked down to the street, down my driveway, and the back pavement off in the distance, a flashback took us all by the necks! HOLD ON GUYS! Greg mumbled with timidity. The three of us remembered when we once rode our dirt-bicycles with knobby-tires down my driveway, over different sized jumping ramps for Cool-points, and then skid our rear tires to screeching halts. Only the last time the three of us did that was when Keith didn’t stop with a screeching rear tire. Instead his chain came off his rear sprocket when he landed his jump.

Keith kept going and going, jumped our grass embankment Dad and I had built at that corner of the back pavement to deter eroding of our manicured grass and topsoil by rainstorms and runoff. Keith later told us, with some vehemence, he was not trying for double Cool-points as we accused, he was scared shitless. He jumped off his bike to save himself from almost certain death or a face-plant into our old, massively huge Oak Tree… just before our aluminum fence (see image below). Or if you avoided our Oak Tree, six to eight feet further was a very, VERY busy 6-lane Dallas Boulevard called Westmoreland Blvd. Make it that far into traffic and you have a serious mess moms and dads won’t be happy about. I would think the drivers of those cars too after glimpsing a flying kid go by, with bicycle (and parts?) or no bicycle, just before impact.

Dallas childhood home-driveway_3

The jump and hill to death by oak or bodily dismemberment.

Keith then had another ah-hah moment! This is different guys he consoled, I had 2-wheels and no chain. He pointed down to the untried BM-502, We have four wheels and no chance of a missing chain!” he said with confidence. Our three engineering brains acknowledged his well-made point. Who’s going first? Greg asked breaking the silent pause. More silence and looks at each other. Then Keith said I came up with the idea of the faster better track. It’s you two’s turn.

My sense of duty and honor began to gnaw at me inside. After all, it was my driveway, my street, my fast go-cart, and I knew this faster track like the back of my hand. I knew what had to be done. I’ll go I said with some sort of unknown cranial sharpness and courageous spirit.

Resemblance of BM-502

A close resemblance of the legendary BM-502, but a totally flat seat and bigger rear tires not shown.

I mounted BM-502 for its maiden voyage. Keith went down to the street to monitor any traffic coming either way. Greg went all the way to the back of my house to witness racing history being made. I waited for Keith to give the all clear. In my head I imagined the transition from the Lowery’s drive into the street and that slight verge to the left much like Olympic bob-sledders do just before the starting gun or beeps go off. Up the crest of our drive and small lift off the ground, now the speed goes higher—must make that right-hand turn sooner and firmly at these speeds, I said to myself—and Keith yelled CLEAR! I moved my hips to get comfortable, lifted my feet onto the front axle with the steering rope in both hands and she began to roll immediately. Two seconds later and there was no turning back.

Before I knew it I was across the street and up the driveway crest with all four wheels off the ground! Keith let out a big roaring YEAH! as I came down. The girls gasped in awe. It seemed like slow-motion, but then I was at the next decline at the right-side bushes. No time to think of the past, girls, and what was behind me. My speed picked up quickly. It felt like 100-mph if not 45. I was at the large back pavement, time to turn right. It HAD to be quick and firm or else the oak of death or Westmoreland splat awaited me. I pulled the rope from the right, hard! That’s when everything went into a blur.

I no longer had my feet on the front axle. I no longer had the BM-502 under me. I did still have the rope tightly grasped in my right hand, pulling still I’m sure, hell… nothing else was as it should be or as I had just imagined it. The girls began screaming. About that time came the unbending, unforgiving, hard concrete on my left arm, then shoulder, then hip and butt. As if that wasn’t enough, then came the left rear wheel up my back, over my head and past me as I continued skidding, rolling across that aforementioned pavement. When my raggedy-Ann body finally came to a halt I wondered what have I lost, broken, and which time-space dimension had I entered. But suddenly that didn’t matter. The pain from all over my body started reaching my still foggy, oozy brain. I let out a few big screams of my agony and defeat.

I do remember up ahead of me the BM-502 had come to a rest upside down and wheels still spinning. The scene was sheer carnage I’m sure. The girls didn’t know what to do or what to say. They weren’t about to touch anything!

Greg ran into the house to get my Mom. Keith ran down from the top of the driveway to see what remained of this once great race driver. At least that’s what he told me later. When Mom hurriedly arrived she yelled What on Earth happened!? Greg and Keith very carefully and cautiously considered their answers as I laid there in pain and a trail of skin behind me. Mom checked my arms, elbows, butt thighs, knees, all the typical areas that get torn-up on concrete pavement crashes. I need to get you into a baking soda bath and cleaned up. Come on. she concluded. What happened?

Keith and Greg finally answered with their excellent, well-thought out account of events. Dwain didn’t stay on the go-cart. Even the NTSB would have been astonished by that crash-site assessment. Mom pressed them for a more… precise picture as she helped me to the bathroom for the tub and bandages. The two geniuses rethought their first answer, considered more and explained again. Well Mrs. Miller, we didn’t consider what might happen when we removed the four walls of the toy-trunk and started up higher at the Lowery’s. I think Mom responded with Forget it. I’ll just ask the girls.

Oh my god, that was the WORST possible thing she could do! Our reputations would go down the toilet, a worse fate than death-by-oak or the Westmoreland splat. How were we going to regain our former glory?

After the Day of Wipe-out the BM-502 lost its appeal along with more damaged parts. Nor did we dazzling mechanics have much motivation for a BM-503 GTE we had also dreamt. We learned in the end, it wasn’t the Oak Tree of death or launching into Westmoreland Blvd. traffic that was to be feared. It was our ignorance and inflated egos—and sketchy physics—that were to be most feared.

Like many a man before us our lofty self-perceptions for legendary racing status, below-average engineering skills, less than sufficient forethought and testing, and hordes of female race fans blinded us. We were no match against natural laws of velocity, gravity, distance, acceleration, deceleration or impact, and pain. The famous words of Captain Sully come to mind:  Brace for impact.

Thus ended the three almost famous soap box racing careers of mini-Niki Lauda, mini-Jackie Stewart, and mini-Mario Andretti before they even got off the ground. Well… I guess in some cases into the air (what goes up) and into the ground (must come down) in a sundry of pieces and parts. An elusive concept for boys it seems. 😉

Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always


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This work by Professor Taboo is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at www.professortaboo.com/contact-me/.