Black Swans

I learned a new definition and tag the other day: “Black Swan.”


What is a Black Swan? As best as I can decipher a Black Swan has three attributes:

  1. The event is unpredictable (to the observer).
  2. The event has widespread ramifications.
  3. After the event has occurred, people will assert that it was indeed explainable and predictable (hindsight bias).

These three Black Swan components can comprise a positive or negative consequence, or both. But it is primarily the second component that makes the event historic for the ages.

The origin of the term “black swan” in order to characterize such events I found intriguing. Prior to 1697, not one Western civilization country had observed any black swans in existence. This gave rise to the blind notion that such creatures just didn’t exist. Hence, the term became used to describe situations of impossibility and in my own estimation, egocentric innocence.1 And then it happened.

After a black swan was indeed observed in western Australia in 1697, the egocentric innocent assumption was disproved. Since then, “black swan” now describes situations where (premature) perceived impossibilities have later been disproven and those false egocentric paradigms have been shattered. Thank goodness for elapsed time and losing our supposed, imposed innocence.

If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.

And Robert Browning called it “sin.”

There are many Black Swan events throughout human history, more than you might think or that you were unaware of or not privy to and as it were was classified as “Strategic Subterfuge” by higher powers. The latter is much more prevalent than one might imagine. Some examples include:

  • Rise of the internet
  • The personal computer
  • The Georgia (1829) to the Black Hills (1874) Gold Rushes and others
  • Battle of Little Big Horn
  • World War I
  • Discovery of fossil fuels then electricity and AC vs. DC
  • Discovery of nuclear fission
  • The dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 or
  • The collapse of Spain’s global Empire over the 18th- and 19th-centuries
  • The 15th-century Columbian Exchange
  • The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on targets in the U.S.
  • COVID-2019

The inventor of the term “Black Swan,” Nassim N. Taleb, underscores the point that the black swan event depends upon the observer. A Thanksgiving turkey sees its demise as a black swan, but the butcher and guests dining do not.

It’s important to draw the distinction between a black swan event and a crisis. Not all black swan events are crises, any lottery winner will attest to that. And not all crises are black swan events. Terrorist attacks are an almost daily occurrence worldwide, but the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 were of unprecedented magnitude and unpredictability, hence their characterization as a black swan. Additionally, I have included COVID-19 because it meets all three criteria for being a Black Swan event. Yes, its ramifications are just as widespread as other black swan events and in hindsight it was obviously predictable and quite explainable; by all reputable, established, global medical experts. COVID-19 only became a global pandemic, especially lethal inside nations of defiant egocentric ignorance, and without question clearly fulfilling criteria #2 above as a direct result of defiant sectors of the human population. The fact that this pandemic is still not under control and behind us can only be blamed on our chosen, willing defiance and ignorance.

However, Mr. Taleb disagrees with me and anyone else calling COVID-19 a Black Swan. You can read his argument in The New Yorker entitled The Pandemic Isn’t A Black Swan But A Portent of A More Fragile Global System. It is an excellent article that I recommend reading. Though Taleb disagrees the pandemic is a black swan, he is correct in pointing out that there are clear reasons why humanity, nations, and governments are all too often repeatedly unprepared for them. This denial or chosen innocence/ignorance by populations gives more credence to the above framed quote on how costly the chosen apathetic mindset becomes.

Moving along now to the distant history in the ancient Levant.

~ ~ ~ § ~ ~ ~

I want to add another Black Swan event to the list that many in the Western Hemisphere and the U.S. will want to take exception. What is it? In a word: Christianity. Several of my regular blog followers will have a general idea as to how and why I add 4th-century CE (and after) Christianity. You’ve read enough of my blog-posts over these last 10-years to know how and why I would label it as a firm, strong holder of being a Black Swan. Listing all the verified, contextual evidence as well as the likely plausible conclusions based upon the said exhaustive interdisciplinary components, it is in my mind without question a Black Swan. Specifically the event? The 17-year disappearance of Yeshua bar Yosef from the Greco-Roman—not the Jewish account, but the Roman—canonized New Testament. This event caused and causes an entire host of many further problematic ripple-effects fragmenting and eventually destroying Christendom’s veracity.

If you did not know about or had not heard of a Black Swan event as I had not, now you know. What are some Black Swans you can recall or comprise as one? Feel free to share them below!


Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always

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Cash-worshipers vs. COVID-19

The madness, the sheer ignorance, or insanity of this modern life, of complacency and certain human logic often cannot be fathomed, not in the least. Today I am beside myself.

A wealthy women’s Republican organization took to the grounds of Dealey Plaza in downtown Dallas Tuesday, April 21st, 2020 demanding businesses reopen and workers return to their jobs immediately. Their demands came in the wake of still rising confirmed infections of COVID-19 cases of 2,602 (90 more cases) on April 20th from 2,190 on April 15th, including 9 additional deaths in those five days. Confirmed COVID-19 cases in Dallas County are still rising according to the Dallas County Health and Human Services.

PCRW protest Dallas

The Park Cities Republican Women is a political club of wives and women from two of Texas’ most wealthiest urban municipalities within Texas, University Park and Highland Park combined, and second only to Collin County consisting of opulent towns like Plano, McKinney, and Allen, Texas. These two counties are the bulk of the wealthiest Republican seats in North Texas for the last 25-30 years. Some of the nation’s richest billionaires live in three of these four Dallas neighborhoods. At one time in recent history these neighborhoods all barred non-whites from entering these areas of residence.

Park Cities Republican Women Board

Dallas Park Cities Republican Women Executive Board

Researching and digging into these ladies’ current occupations and their husbands’ and those business ties and ventures certainly yielded a very clear bias leaning to DFW mega-businesses in sectors like but not limited to real estate, financial-wealth management, and mass media corporations. That digging also resulted in determining that several of these women on the “Executive Board” are not native Texans or even more than 3rd-4th generation Texans. It soon begs the question, How many times have these ladies gone to and spent significant time in Dallas’ most impoverished areas (Pleasant Grove? Wynnewood or Beckley Club Estates?) for simple charity or stimulus packages/plans for critically needed improvement in basic, public socio-educational programs?

Aside from these protester’s political associations and postures the more pressing, more critical question to be asked is what is required to stop and reduce COVID-19 infections and subsequent deaths. After all, is it not human life, the unnecessary loss of innocent lives that are most important, most morally responsible that is the top priority? Isn’t that the highest importance as if it were your own child or your own parent? Is that an overreaction by anyone who’s own child/parent might be infected with COVID-19?

Overreaction? Seriously!? What planet do you live on!?

No. It is anything but an overreaction people. As of today, April 25, 2020, there are 2.79-million people infected by COVID-19 around the world. To date there have been 196,000 deaths from coronavirus; over 52,400 in the U.S. and rising still. All one need do is examine Italy’s COVID-19 crisis in March 2020.

italy_newplot

From a March 23rd Vox article:

What’s scary about Italy’s experience is that Italy wasn’t exactly passive in its response to the virus. The country did act, quarantining a dozen towns in northern regions on February 23, urging the public to engage in social distancing, and ordering the closure of all schools nationwide on March 4.

The reality, however, of wisely and scientifically managing one of the worst, most devastating pandemics this country has faced since January 1918 with the Spanish Flu pandemic, is that there is a very specific, safe plan to slowly ease out of Social-distancing and Stay-at-Home orders that were ordered to save lives. It is simply called public health and protection of American lives directed and implemented by our elected government officials, on all necessary levels. That’s the theory anyway.

The plan has several phases: Phase one is slowing the spread through social distancing, while ramping up testing capacity, and ensuring hospitals have the equipment they need. In phase two, social distancing restrictions ease while public health workers continue to track and isolate cases.

But it will take a lot to get there. The authors argue these decisions need to be made on a region-by-region basis: Phase two should only begin after 14 days of sustained case reductions in an area, and only after testing capacity is dramatically increased.
Resnick, Brian, “How to safely end social distancing,” Vox.com, accessed April 25, 2020

There is still so much that is unknown, undetermined about the COVID-19 virus, how it spreads so easily, so quickly, and how it is quickly detected. We just learned that six more symptoms have been added to the original 4-5 symptoms. On top of this new evidence there are people in China and Japan that after recovering from infection they have become reinfected with COVID-19. The fact is there is simply not enough collected data and research to determine with certainty whether these new cases were in fact positively infected the first time (U.N. announcement). Therefore, with a known incubation period of at least 14-days before COVID-19 symptoms manifest in patients, it is much more safe for medical professionals and the general public to err on the side of caution.

Remarkably there is still push-back from many Cash-worshipers. The Park Cities Republican Women’s club is not the only protesters voicing their defiance. Lulu Garcia-Navarro hosts NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday and she along with Kirk Siegler talked with former Salt Lake City, Utah police officer Eric Moutsos who has become overly vocal since being put on administrative leave from the SLC police department:

In my opinion, not being able to provide for your family is a hundred times bigger health crisis than any virus.

Quarantine is for sick people. It’s when you lock sick people away. But when you lock healthy people away, that’s tyranny.

Moutsos is not alone in his self-made celebrity status. Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick has already made controversial remarks against the sanctity of life for all Americans by stating senior citizens were more concerned about money, paychecks, and the economy. From NBCnews.com:

“And what I said when I was with you that night, there are more important things than living. And that’s saving this country for my children and my grandchildren and saving this country for all of us,” Patrick said Monday night.

He went on to say that he didn’t want to die but that “we’ve got to take some risks and get back in the game and get this country back up and running.”

On the contrary, reality according to epidemiologists and virologists around the world is that too many Americans are underestimating how long COVID-19 disruptions will have to last. They blame much of this false hope on the Trump Administration’s erroneous information and timelines disseminated in Press Conferences:

…but quickly reopening businesses or loosening shelter-in-place rules would inevitably lead to a new surge of infections, they said.

“The administration has consistently shown a desire to underplay the severity of whatever is coming. And they’re constantly adjusting that — as it becomes harder to deny the reality will be worse than what they’ve conditioned people for,” said Jeremy Konyndyk, a senior policy fellow at the Center for Global Development.

But experts say that, even if some restrictions are relaxed, it’s unlikely life as normal will resume in early May.

“Decisions to reopen society should not be about a date, but about the data,” Frieden, now president and CEO of the global public health initiative Resolve to Save Lives, said during a briefing Wednesday for journalists. “How well and how quickly we do these things will determine how soon and how safely we can reopen.”

Still A Small Minority

Fortunately, these protesting Cash-worshipers represent a small minority in the U.S. as well as Texas. The Texas Tribune’s Brandon Formby and Ross Ramsey write:

Two-thirds of registered Texas voters agree with decisions by Gov. Greg Abbott and several local officials to suspend nonessential business operations. And more than three-quarters of voters support orders to stay home except for essential activities. The poll’s findings come as Abbott says he will soon announce plans to reopen a wide range of Texas businesses.

According to Politico.com only 30% of Americans say getting the nation’s economy up and running is a first priority despite what some news media corporations promote. Here is what Gallup Polling states:

The average American is unequipped to make scientific judgments on virus-related matters. Americans are better able to make judgments on the financial and economic impact of the shutdowns.

While other Gallup data show that a majority of Americans (55%) say they can continue following social distancing practices without significant financial hardship for “as long as is necessary,” 8% say they’re already experiencing significant financial hardship, and another 14% say they will within a few more weeks.

[…]

58% of respondents in the survey chose… “the United States will move too quickly in loosening restrictions and the virus will continue to spread with more lives being lost.”

As of today, the majority of Americans do not want to risk more extended restrictions of Stay-at-Home orders by foolishly and prematurely reopening. This is clear.

Will American History Repeat Itself?

Assistant Director of the Center for the History of Medicine at Michigan University, Alex Navarro, detailed the historical accounts of the 1918 Spanish flu in 43 cities:

“There was a lot of pressure in pretty much all of these American cities to reopen,” said Navarro, whose research was done in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “When they removed those restrictions too soon, then many cities saw a resurgence in cases.”

Government authorities in California and much of the West Coast in 1918 – 1919 were doing everything right, they were ‘flattening the curve’ as repeatedly told by doctors and scientists of virology and epidemiology. Sadly, by November and December 1918 too many business leaders and moguls put huge pressure on government officials to reopen and return our struggling economy to normal. Those Cash-worshipers then used the press to further promote and propagandize their declining riches.

San-Francisco-influenza-1918

A congregation praying on the steps of the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption, where they gathered to hear mass and pray during the influenza epidemic, San Francisco, California, 1918 — Hulton Archive / Getty Images

But three weeks after that celebration of removing their masks, the city saw a dramatic resurgence. Officials at first rejected the idea of reopening the city and suggested residents could voluntarily wear face coverings.

But shortly after the New Year in 1919, the city was hit with 600 new cases in one day, prompting the Board of Supervisors to re-enact the mandatory mask ordinance. Protests against the mandate eventually led to the formation of the Anti-Mask League. The detractors eventually got their way when the order was lifted in February.

And as PBS’ poignant Frontline documentary Coronavirus Pandemic proved this past Tuesday, April 21st, the American economy is not just taking a blow from COVID-19, the nation’s economy is suffering directly because of Washington D.C., the White House, and specifically our incapable fake President who delayed and downplayed the seriousness of the virus. He has never been a true leader prior to or during his Presidency or one who proactively or consistently shows compassion, sympathy and empathy for all Americans, or much less the ability to admit publicly when you’ve truly f*cked up. Has the man ever taken full responsibility for his f*ck ups as the country’s incapable leader? The truth doesn’t get any simpler nor more clear.

Nevertheless, getting back to the real issue: the science, when your country’s top, foremost doctor of infectious diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci states If it looks like you’re overreacting, you’re probably doing the right thing then even a preschooler understands what must be done no matter how badly your pocketbook is hurting. Duh!

∼ ∼ ∼ § ∼ ∼ ∼

Addendum 4/28/2020 — this is an excellent interview by Michel Martin of PBS’ Amanpour & Company called “Former Sen. Bill Frist on the President’s Pandemic Response.” It is well worth watching:
https://www.pbs.org/video/former-sen-bill-frist-presidents-pandemic-response-h6futh/

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Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always — Listen to Experts

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Our Better Angels

————

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies.
Though passion may have strained, it must not break
our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell
when again touched, as surely they will be,
by the better angels of our nature.”

President Abraham Lincoln First Inaugural Address,
Washington DC, March 1861

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∼ ∼ ∼ § ∼ ∼ ∼

Back in the Fall of 2015 I had read some rumors and articles that one of my all-time favorite American, historical stories was being made into film. I was thrilled, elated this true event was finally making a screen-write then into full production. This true story is set during the 1970’s Civil Rights Movement throughout the old South, but for these two main characters the movie would begin exactly where it all began, Durham, North Carolina, 1971.

I thought about titling this blog-post Our Better Virtues, but decided against because Lincoln’s quote was just too spot on and appropriate for this subject and film. Although, “Virtues” would have inferred my own meaning, intention, and desires for human kind around the world. After all, every single living human on this planet has some virtues. They just have to choose to find them, bestow them liberally, and nurture as well as grow them. Oh well, “Our Better Angels” gets the point across just fine. 😉

I have blogged here several times about C.P. Ellis and Ann Atwater and the volatile, appalling events they both found themselves. In a February 2016 blog-post I wrote about expanding sympathy into deep empathy and how the two feelings, behaviors are actually quite different. The Golden Rule, “Do unto others” and so on, falls short of deep, impactful empathy. Real empathy requires much more than being self-centered or focused on one’s self. It requires putting yourself into their life, their shoes, and metaphorically (or literally?) walking in them 100-miles or more. It does not involve yourself.

This 2019 film, The Best of Enemies, starring Taraji P. Henson (as Ann Atwater) and Sam Rockwell (as C.P. Ellis), tells that story about finding and giving common, deep empathy for your fellow neighbor, your fellow human being. I finally had the opportunity to watch it and not soon enough! Here is one of the trailers:

Sadly and disappointingly critical reviews of the film have been average and unkind if not neutrally bland. Therefore, I am writing my own reviews and commentary everywhere I can. Why? Because I feel strongly it is important to point out a few things about historical, time-period films to less discerning audiences regarding authentic history, particularly scholarly history that seeks to gather all possible data, evidence, sources, and narratives… no matter their viewpoint. Now, for my personal review of the film, The Best of Enemies:

I imagine this film is horribly underrated and unappreciated by the majority of cinematic fans and specific “cultural” groups. BUT movie reviews will never change what Ann Atwater changed in North Carolina and the ripple-effects she and C.P. Ellis began afterwards during and for the Civil Rights in the 1970’s.

The fact that this film briefly portrays in two short hours what was accomplished in real life between Bill Riddick, Howard Clement, C.P. Ellis, and Ann Atwater—not to mention the Black community in Durham, NC—must be remembered. No matter what movie critics think about the film, and honestly, their trivial criticisms about its direction or production or script or acting do it injustice. Pffffft.

Real, accurate, authentic history is near impossible to translate/transcribe onto the silver-screen in a measly 2-hours or less. This unwinnable cinematic anomaly against movie producers, film-writers, film-budgets, then movie audiences and critics, should always be seriously considered when producing and releasing raw, historically accurate, socially-politically CORRECT and LEGALLY RIGHT Movements as the American Civil Rights, or other highly controversial subjects as the Holocaust or the U.S.’s 18th – 19th century treatment, extermination, and resettlement of Native American Indian tribes. Typically 2-hours or less will NEVER do these historical time-period subjects full justice.

Hence, when all considered, including reading and deciding the real worth/value of this film’s many bland or negative short-sighted or undeserved reviews, just remember this…

2-hours will NEVER be able to tell the full astonishing, real-life true story and relationship about and between Ann Atwater and C.P. Ellis… which required and evolved over three decades! Ignore movie critics, remember the core and marrow of what the film is telling, portraying!

5-stars and more, every time, every day!

Did I emphasize 2-hours enough? 😜

Seriously though, I hope you will make the time to watch, appreciate, and support these fine altruistic, humanitarian films like this one and the stories they tell. They will at least introduce to you a starting point to go further, dig deeper into the entire contextual narrative, facts, plausible facts, and plausible probabilities despite there often being degrees of cinematic license taken to appease corporate profits, severe time-constraints, and/or film productions at the expense of truth and full historical accuracy. Please keep this in mind.

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Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always

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Ordinary People, Extraordinary Heroes

This past weekend and some days this week I have been keenly interested in heroes. Whether modern or older I have wanted to know a bit more and pay personal homage to ordinary people who through acts of selflessness and the highest valor and courage, sacrificed unquestionably their own self-benefit for others, for a greater good, for a greater number in the future. Some of these remarkable stories included many war heroes, men who willing put themselves in lethal danger in order to protect their Brothers in Arms, their squad, platoon, or battalion. Their acts of sacrifice are legendary and should never be lost to time.

But there are also other heroes who never fought in any war, or armed conflict, but the risks and dangers they willingly faced were just as daunting, just as consequential as a soldier faces in combat. Many of them are women of the 19th and 20th centuries. Their fight for equal rights, equal treatment, pay, and opportunities in patriarchal dominated societies across the globe deserve just as much awe, respect, and homage as any man’s stories of gallantry, valor, and sacrifice in war! Agreed? Of course you do if you are a fair and reasonable human being.

Some of the immediate names of female heroes that come to my mind are Eleanor Roosevelt, Susan B. Anthony, Rosa Parks, Billie Jean King, Malala Yousafzai, and a big one for birth-control Margaret Sanger who eventually laid the groundwork for America’s badly needed Planned Parenthood. However, the one specific woman I was reminded of this past Sunday and Monday was Emily Wilding Davison. If you are unfamiliar with Emily’s unwavering commitment to eliminating injustice and gender inequality, then watch this following 15-second clip of her public statement:

As part of my remembrance to many ordinary people who became extraordinary heroes for the betterment of humanity, I watched the 2015 film Suffragette with Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham-Carter, Natalie Press, and Meryl Streep. The film is pretty accurate historically regarding Women’s Suffrage in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s England. From the Smithsonian Magazine web-page:

The filmmakers deliberately modeled [fictional character] Maud [Watts] on the stories of working class suffragettes, whose activism put their jobs, marriages and even custody of their children, at risk. “I think what was interesting for us was to create a rich ensemble of composite characters who we felt would carry the voices of these women who hadn’t been heard and allow them to segue and intersect with these extraordinary moments of history,” says Morgan.

Horse Racing - The Derby Stakes - Epsom - Suffragette Protest - 1913Many parts of the film were real historical events and characters.

…the bombing of Chancellor of the Exchequer, David Lloyd George’s empty country house, and Davison’s fatal protest at the Epsom Derby – were real. After decades of peaceful protest with no result, suffragettes, particularly those in Emmeline Pankhurst’s (Meryl Streep in a brief cameo) Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), followed the motto “Deeds Not Words.” Taking pains not to hurt people, they created mayhem by attacking property – including slashing a Velázquez in the National Gallery  – and disrupting government meetings.

Emily Davison’s protest, whether to attach a scarf of her Movement’s colors to King George V’s horse or to sacrifice herself by death or maiming is unknown to this day. What happened in decades and a century later was unprecedented.

Today, Davison’s gravesite in Morpeth, Northumberland, is a feminist shrine that attracts visitors from around the world. […]

“What is extraordinary about that footage is you can see that this wasn’t a small movement of ladies who meet for tea in Kensington,” says Suffragette’s screenwriter Abi Morgan.  “This was a national and international movement.

Emily Davison closeup

Emily Davison’s entire story is quite remarkable for the time-period. She like most women of the time had very few options outside of the home and birthing then raising children. As a well-educated woman she taught as a teacher and live-in governess as well as attaining two college degrees from the University of London.

Davison was tireless and ingenious. She was arrested nine times for offenses ranging from breaking windows at Parliament to firebombing letterboxes. One of her more creative stunts was sneaking into a closet in the House of Commons one night in 1911 so she could claim Parliament as her place of residence on the official census. It was a subversive double protest. In one act, she could – as many suffragettes were attempting – avoid being counted as a citizen by a government that didn’t recognize her right to vote while if she were counted, it would be at the address of the center of that same discriminatory body.

After her first arrest she wrote gleefully to a friend. “Did you read about it? We went outside Lloyd George’s Budget meeting at Limehouse, and protested at women being kept out, etc. I was busy haranguing the crowd when the police came up and arrested me.” She describes breaking windows in her jail cells and adds “What do you think of me?” before signing off “your loving and rebellious friend.”

If you’re interested in more heroic details of the Suffrage Movement—which later fueled our modern-day Women’s March and activism for more women’s social, workforce, and legal equalities—then click here for the Smithsonian’s article. It is well worth the time.

As I finished Suffragette, I then moved on to another well-directed, acclaimed cast and historically accurate feminine hero 2009 film called Agora starring Rachel Weisz. If you are unfamiliar with the great female philosopher, astronomer, and mathematician named Hypatia of Alexandria, Egypt, during the late 4th-century CE inside a Christianizing and increasingly patriarchal Roman Empire, then I suggest you study her and watch this outstanding film. Hypatia was perhaps one of the very earliest suffragette’s in human history.

Nevertheless, let’s never forget that extraordinary heroes come in all sizes, all races and ethnicities, and certainly all genders and sexual-orientations. They’re all human. That is no debate whatsoever.

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Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always

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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

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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.

Commiphora_myrrha

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!

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Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always

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