Cross cultural exchange
Everyone fantasizes about at least one travel destination – some people hope to visit the elaborate splendor of the Taj Mahal, or the soaring heights of Machu Picchu, the romantic lagoon of Venice, or the bohemian cafes of Montparnasse. All in the interest of experiencing a different culture, expanding horizons, and leaning something new. My fantasy destination has always been Egypt.
I have always wanted to contemplate the pure symmetry of the pyramids of Giza, stand awestruck over the gilded coffins of pharos, and examine the ranks of carved figures walking sideways and stiff-legged across an ancient frieze in the Valley of Kings.
In the winter of 2011, I finally decided to go to Egypt. The catalyst was research for my novel The Stolen Chalice – a romantic thriller with an ancient Egyptian theme. As a former reporter, turned novelist I found that I crave the stimulation of field research. I find it hard to write my books without visiting the locations. So tickets were bought, itineraries planned, hotels booked.
But not so fast. The so-called “Arab Spring” arrived with unexpected force. As crowds were storming Tahrir Square, the U.S. State Department issued a “travel warning” urging all “non-essential travel” be postponed. I watched the coverage on the Internet as a revolution unfolded in real-time broadcasts. The events were stirring and disturbing, both peaceful and violent. It was a revolution via You Tube. We watched a society change before our very eyes.
One year after the uprising, Cairo seemed quiet. The presidential elections were planned. The political scene was, if not stable, at least calm. So I set off with my eldest son William to video locations for the enhanced electronic version of The Stolen Chalice.
We had a marvelous trip. We climbed down into ancient tombs, rode camels out into the desert and explored historic sights. But I’d like to share an incident that gave me a glimpse of our increasingly connected world.
As a music lover, I was keen to hear what the Cairo Opera House had to offer. The hotel concierge obtained a ticket for me, without any indication of what the program might be. That night, clutching a ridiculously cheap 15 dollar ticket I arrived at the Cairo Opera house to discover that the evening performance was a live video feed from the Metropolitan Opera in New York! It was one of the Met simulcasts – Verdi’s Ernani. The audience was all Egyptian – not a tourist in the house. I sat with them, as they watched the patrons at the Met take their places, and the conductor begin the performance.
How interesting that the same communication technology that brought me images of Tahrir Square during revolution, could show the citizens of Cairo an opera performance in New York. How little we anticipate the cross-cultural effects of our modern communications. We share our lives in real time now, from our revolutions to our art. – Kitty Pilgrim