Monday, April 29, 2013

X Marks the Spot

Ever since I was a boy I have been fascinated by the subject of archaeology. Webster's defines the term as: the scientific study of material remains (as fossil relics, artifacts, and monuments) of past human life and activities. Even before I knew the word, I knew that people who hunted for treasure on land or under the sea must lead very exciting lives. My attention was first captured by such stories like Treasure Island where a buried pirate chest full of gold and jewels was the object of the quest. Tales of vanished empires like the Inca and Aztec always spoke of the fabulous wealth hidden in long buried temples. Legends of old gold or silver mines inspired many a dreamer to go west in search of elusive riches.

As I grew older, my interest heightened. The subject became especially fascinating when such discoveries shed light on lost cities and civilizations. Movies like Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Romancing the Stone, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Pirates of the Caribbean tapped into every armchair adventurer's daydreams about finding lost treasure. Sometimes as a kid I would dig holes in my back yard, hoping I guess that some pirate took a wrong turn and was forced to bury his treasure chest in Brooklyn. My wife is always teasing me about spending my retirement years with a metal detector down on the beach; one of these days I might take her up on it.

I think the discovery of the tomb of King Tut by Howard Carter is what really got me hooked on archaeology. In the fall of 1917, Carter and his sponsor, Lord Carnarvon, began excavating in earnest in the Valley of the Kings. Here in Carter's own words is the story: 

"With trembling hands I made a tiny breach in the upper left-hand corner. Darkness and blank space, as far as an iron testing-rod could reach, showed that whatever lay beyond was empty, and not filled like the passage we had just cleared. Widening the hold a little, I inserted the candle and peered in, Lord Carnarvon, standing anxiously beside me to hear the verdict. At first I could see nothing, the hot air escaping from the chamber causing the candle flame to flicker, but presently, as my eyes grew accustomed to the light, details of the room within emerged slowly from the mist, strange animals, statues, and gold - everywhere the glint of gold. I was struck dumb with amazement, and when Lord Carnarvon, unable to stand the suspense any longer, inquired anxiously, "Can you see anything?" it was all I could do to get out the words, "Yes, wonderful things." 

Another wondrous tale revolves around the search for the lost Spanish galleon, Atocha, by deep sea diver Mel Fisher. Here's the story: The Nuestra SeƱora de Atocha and the Santa Margarita were Spanish galleons that sank off the coast of Key West in the year 1622, along with 6 other galleons from the same fleet. The wrecks were discovered in the 1980s by Mel Fisher’s team, after many years of searching. The amazing treasure trove of gold, silver, and gems that were valued in the hundreds of millions. Sadly, Mel's oldest son Dirk, his wife Angel, and fellow diver Rick Gage died after their boat capsized during their quest for the treasure. Mel struggled through decades of hard times treasure hunting in the Florida Keys with the motto Today's the Day. 

 Only today I read about the discovery of a lost Egyptian seaport city called Heracleion. For centuries it was thought to be a legend, a city of extraordinary wealth mentioned in Homer, visited by Helen of Troy and Paris, her lover, but apparently buried under the sea. In fact, Heracleion did exist, and a decade after divers began uncovering its treasures, archaeologists have produced a picture of what life was like in the city in the era of the pharaohs. Here is the link to learn more. Lost Egyptian City Revealed After 1200 Years

Most treasure hunters fail, but the dream of finding a lost Egyptian tomb or a sunken Spanish galleon stimulates sales of genuine treasure maps to hopefuls. Treasure hunt, anyone?


Children's Craniofacial Association

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Mazel Tov

I learned today that a Bar Mitzvah is like the Catholic sacrament of Confirmation, only with a better party and better gifts. We attended our second Bar Mitzvah ever for a friend's son in New Jersey. The temple was beautiful as was the service...solemn and joyous at the same time, and very family oriented. Jewish rites are similar to our Catholic ones; they have a sanctuary, they read from the scriptures, they sing and they pray for the sick in the congregation. A female rabbi led the service accompanied by a male cantor. The three young boys being ushered into manhood, Andrew, Zach and Scott, look properly serious as they chanted in Hebrew from the Torah.

Then the party started. After the ceremony we adjourned to the Grand Marquis in Old Bridge for what I can only describe as a wedding without a bride and groom. The banquet hall was magnificent, the food was excellent and the wait staff extremely attentive. The cocktail hour would have fed many smaller, third world countries. Then came the dinner which was delicious. Finally, an endless stream of desserts that put the finishing touches on my rapidly clogging arteries. There were 200 guests in attendance including 60 very energetic kids. The 13-year old girls in their skintight, thigh-high dresses looked 18, while the 13-year old boys, with their ties askew and shirt-tails out looked about 9. 

There was the obligatory, obnoxious D-J in charge of music. (I say music in the very loosest definition of that term.) To give you an idea of how loud they were, the wait staff circulated to the tables where older adults were seated and offered ear plugs to those who found the "music" too loud to bear. This is sadly the case at almost all functions where DJs preside these days. They play so loudly, yet no one tells them to bring it down. On the up side, the DJ and his entourage entertained the kids in-between noise explosions so the adults had a chance to get in a few words. There was also a very rude ventriloquist whose idea of fun was to ridicule the elderly members of the Bar Mitzvah boy's family as they came up to light candles of remembrance. Not nice.

It's amazing how celebrations for religious ceremonies like Communions, Confirmations and Bar Mitzvahs have escalated. We have been to parties for these occasions that far overshadow the weddings of 30 years ago. Everybody tries to outdo each other. These used to be pretty much family affairs with maybe a few invited friends; now they have become very ornate and elaborate affairs. I don't know how anyone can afford to spend 30 or 40 thousand dollars on them. I guess my old school values are kicking in. Even the weddings we've been to seem so over-the-top with no expense spared. I think back on the old "football" weddings we attended and the fun we had, not because they cost $200 a head, but because the people who were there didn't need to be entertained; they brought their fun along with them.

I very much enjoyed the Bar Mitzvah service, although I found out that rabbis like to hear themselves talk as much as priests. The boys and their families made this a beautiful ritual, and sitting in that temple, I was reminded that people of all faiths are more alike than they are different.


Children's Craniofacial Association