Written in 2012, “My Affair with Anita Ekberg, Sort Of ” is the most popular read of my blog. For your reading pleasure I extend to you without any significant changes or improvements my own awakening which is whatever young boy experiences when entering puberty.

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This is the real story of my affair with Anita Ekberg. In 2012, I had written a very short paragraph of my first visit to the Trevi Fountain in Rome, Italy. I recounted how I found a spot away from the gaggle of tourist and for a moment had a short-term detachment from my immediate surroundings to relive the famous scene from Federico Fellini’s film, La Dolce Vita. In my daydream, I replayed the black and white scene of voluptuous Anita Ekberg wading through the fountain as her long blonde hair cascading down her back like the falling water’s behind her. The scene was glorious and lush with sensuality. Anita’s was wearing a strapless black evening gown with its plunging sweetheart neckline and seductively urging Mastroianni to join her in the fountain, 

“Marcello, come here, hurry up!”

All that was missing was Nino Rota’s music when suddenly, I’m back to reality when a tourist with a New Jersey accent asked if I would take a picture of him and his wife in front of the fountain. I was happy to do so, but I remember thinking that I would have loved to stayed little longer in the fantasy corridors of my mind with Anita.

 That’s what I wrote in 2012, but the real backstory is this. It happened one night at the age of thirteen when nature’s process of physical change presented itself while a tourist in slumber land. As I recall, I strolled from scene to scene of Fellini’s movie, La Dolce Vita (The Sweet Life). Unknown-3I’ve always dreamed in color but that night of adolescent awakening, my dream was in black and white and was accompanied with a soundtrack of skewed martini lounge music – which only added to the surreal atmosphere of the celluloid dream. Thinking back, I can only guess that my dream may have been prompted by watching La Dolce Vita on the local PBS station before going to bed. But once in rapid eye movement of deep sleep, I fell from reality to a fantasyland that I can still recall to this day. 

5846The transitions from scene to scene of my dream were preceded with burst of light from the cameras and flashbulbs of the “buzzing insects”, aka paparazzi. I would find myself in the background as a causal observer or a participant in each celluloid episode. Whether strolling among the ruins of Rome or on a luxurious balcony of Rome’s decadent and papered rich high above the City of Seven Hills. With another intense burst of light, I found myself on a Vespa speeding down the narrow lanes of Rome with a twin-lens reflex camera in hand as my fellow insects and I were in hot pursuit of Anita.  images-3

The climax of my dream came as I followed Anita down dimly lite cobbled maze of alleys while a tiny white kitten sat on her head,

“Meow”

“Meow”

“Oh hello”, Anita said turning towards me.

At that moment, my emotions and body began to feel different and quite strange. Here I was with the most unattainable dream woman of my youth, and to top that off, I was being acknowledged of my existence. images-9Before me, Anita wades in the Trevi fountain in her black strapless dress, voluptuous, glamorous, and oozing with sensuality.

“David, come here, hurry up!” Anita’s urging me as she reached out to me

“Hurry up!” she repeated.

Even thought I was lost in my dream, I could feel my heart racing and a fever of heat images-6building up the core of my body. As Anita touched the tips of my fingers, I stepped into the Trevi fountain and instantaneously in a whirlwind of flashing lights; Anita’s lips met mine. – I need not go any further, because it all about biology.

 On January 11, 2015 Anita Ekberg passed away on a Sunday morning in her home near Rome. As most men my age would say, “Forse, quando un sogno diventa una memoria, la memoria diventa un tesoro per la propria vita più dolce. Grazie Anita come bella era, arrivederci e velocità di Dio.”

(Perhaps, when a dream becomes a memory, the memory becomes a treasure to one’s own sweet life. Thank you Anita, how lovely it was, goodbye and God speed.)

 

Chapter Five

I was in seat number 33E, center aisle, in coach. Brown and yellow stains covered my seat and the tray table hung from a hinge so damaged that I had to prop it up with my left knee. I tried not to make eye contact with a frustrated mother who was stood in the aisle with her crying baby – her submissive husband in standby mode with the baby’s formula bottle in one hand and a clean diaper in the other. The poor man exemplified Henry David Thoreau’s quote: ‘The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation’. A renegade four-year-old weaved through the cabin and ‘tagged’ an elderly Hasidic man who was praying next to the emergency exit. I just prayed that my iPod wouldn’t die and that the Ambien would soon kick in.

              Our flight from Los Angeles to Tel Aviv was a long sixteen hours. My in-flight entertainment was watching a live performance of Jewish cultural and family dynamics. There was some English spoken on the plane but mostly, a mix of Hebrew and Yiddish filled the stuffy air. The guy on my right was reading The Jewish Daily Forward newspaper and drinking a Sprite. To my left, and fast asleep, was a Teletubby of a man, whose yarmulke had slipped down to his forehead and who, on occasion, snorted like a hog. On my iPod, my Natacha Atlas remix played. Eventually, I entered the ‘twilight zone’ when the Ambien finally took effect.                             

                  As we approached Jerusalem on Highway One from Tel Aviv we could see the city lights reflecting off low-lying clouds. The first time I’d set eyes on Jerusalem was several years previously: it had been a clear night under a full May moon. The limestone walls of the Old City had been awash with blue moonlight and the air had been completely still, and uncomfortably humid. Klezmer music played on the car radio, which seemed appropriate as the streets pulsated with trucks, cars, city buses and pedestrians dodging traffic. Everyone seemed to be in a hurry with their cell phones attached to their ears. 

On this visit, however, there was no moon. Jerusalem was quiet and room service was closed. I lay on the bed munching a Balance bar, stretching my legs and back when the peaceful night vanished with the screech of tires and a ‘Whoosh!’

Below my balcony, on Aharon Katsir Street, a van was on fire. I grabbed my Nikon and got a few shots of the van just as one of the back tires exploded from the heat of the fire. In the distance I could hear sirens as I watched the driver run and disappear into the night.

                  What if the van’s full of explosives and I’ve just watched the driver run away? The Hyatt Regency is full of tourists and here I am, on the balcony, shooting stills – the only thing left of me will be ash, meat and a Nikon F3T!

              But that train of thought wouldn’t lead to the money shot, so I kept shooting until I heard chatter from a walkie-talkie above me, on the roof. 

              Looking up, I could make out the silhouette of an armed guard and the barrel of his Uzi submachine gun. He was dressed like a Ninja, all in black, and wore a balaclava. His conversation was in Hebrew but there was no alarm in the Ninja’s voice. The Israeli fire department arrived, as did the police. They were in the process of putting out the van’s fire when the potential terrorist returned to the scene, showing the police his driver’s license and some papers.       

              When I share this story of the would-be Jihadist and the van on fire, people often ask me, ‘Aren’t you afraid when you go to Israel or the Middle East?’ 

              ‘I’m always very comfortable in Israel,’ I reply. ‘Besides, everyone carries a gun. But what does it say about your faith if you’re afraid to go where Jesus walked?’ Without a beat, I continue, ‘Quite honestly, I’m more fearful of going into a 7-Eleven in L.A. at midnight and getting shot, than I am about getting blown up in the Middle East.’

               The fire of the van had been extinguished so the Israeli fire department left with the police. I watched the driver of the van hail a cab; the show over, I jumped in the shower before falling into a deep sleep. 

              I woke to the loud chirping of sparrows. The morning sun presented a new day as I walked out onto the balcony to greet it. Below me, the blackened shell of the van sat desolately. I looked beyond its charred skeleton to the Old City of Jerusalem, surrounded by its stone walls and the Damascus and Jaffa Gates. It was hard to imagine that within those walls so much bloodshed had taken place, given that it spanned only 220 acres. Jerusalem, for me, was the Disneyland of the world’s most sacred sites: the Temple Mount, the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and the Dome of the Rock. In spite of the many solar panels, satellite dishes and electrical wires cluttering up my eye-line, I could still imagine what the Old City of Jerusalem looked like five hundred years ago.

              Our plan was to start filming at the Christian Quarter’s entrance of the Jaffa Gate, on the west side of the Old City. We would then shoot still images and slices of life throughout the Jewish Quarter before finally moving on to the Muslim Quarter. At that point, we planned to double back and follow the Fourteen Stations of the Cross of the Via Dolorosa, which would lead us to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Christian Quarter. The end of the day would be spent in the Armenian Quarter. With that in mind, I grabbed the Betacam, my Nikon camera, Sony Discman and a day-pack full of camera batteries and tapes, before heading out. 

              Jerusalem is a rich source of content for television news pieces and documentaries, as part of secular or religious programming – both of which keep me employed. The entire country of Israel is a treasure trove of archeological digs, ancient tombs, artifacts, current affairs and war.           Standing at the Jaffa Gate, I watched a young American man preparing to perform and sing at the entrance to the Old City. He had a small consumer camera on a tripod and a silver, portable radio-cassette player. His blonde hair was coiffured within an inch of its life and didn’t move even when the breeze picked up. He was wearing a light blue polo shirt, khaki pants and penny loafers: the unofficial ‘uniform’ of most young evangelical Christian men in America. He held a microphone that wasn’t connected to anything and asked a fellow tourist if they would hit ‘record’ on his camera and ‘play’ on his cassette recorder. As a disco beat rang out, the young man raised a clenched fist, his index finger pointed to the heavens; with his fake microphone in the other hand he began lip-syncing to the music. ‘We were lost sheep in a dark, dark valley. Lost, lost, lost.’

              During the chorus he danced. ‘He’s obviously not a Southern Baptist,’ I thought, recalling the old joke: ‘Do you know why Southern Baptists don’t believe in sex? Because it may lead them to dancing…..’

              As the music built in tempo he was completely absorbed, twirling and bouncing around like Zebedee. Behind him, an old Palestinian man in a gray suit who’d been watching began mimicking the dancing Christian, nearly tripping over his own feet. Standing to the right of the Jaffa Gate, three young, female Israeli soldiers smoked cigarettes and giggled at the impromptu performance. Tourists stopped to take photographs before continuing their pilgrimage into the Holy City. The Palestinian circled the young Christian – now aware of his new backing dancer – upstaging his performance. Jockeying for pole position, the old man moved towards the camera. The young Christian tried to put his arm around his waist but the old man wasn’t having any of it. He pulled away, and when only inches from the lens of the camera, he shouted: ‘God is great! I love America! I love hamburgers!’

              Upset, the young American stopped his performance. With his arms at his side he watched the old man praise America as the music played on. The Israeli soldiers, having enjoyed their unscripted reality show, turned towards the city to start their patrol. I tagged along behind them, past the Tower of David and into the Jewish Quarter. 

              Before entering the quarter I put on my Discman’s headphones and listened to my music which cut out external noise and distractions, thus helping me to focus on the rhythm of life inside the ancient walls. It’s amazing what you see when you’re immersed in music; it’s like your senses are heightened to compensate for the workout your ears receive. Sights and smells are more vivid and the trance-like calm I felt delivered a lucidity I couldn’t tap in to when people’s shouts and blaring car horns drilled into my skull.

              Track one, Jethro Tull’s ‘Living in the past’; ‘How appropriate,’ I thought, as I entered the bleached limestone homes and shops of the Jewish Quarter. It was spotlessly clean with pretty flower boxes and blue-and-white Israeli flags. Orthodox men wore black hats and coats; they rushed around as young Israeli soldiers stood sentry at every corner. Entering the vast space of the Western Wall Plaza, men prayed to the left while women prayed to the right of the huge stone structure, the retaining wall of the Dome of the Rock. A large group of American Christian pilgrims were stood in the middle of the plaza photographing each other with the Western Wall behind them. As they waved into the camera, Jewish men dodged and ducked around the group, covering their faces so that they weren’t also photographed. I heard one of the Christian women ask her tour guide, ‘Where can I get an iced tea, dear?’

I passed a contingent of Israeli soldiers at the entrance to the Muslim Quarter. Unlike the sterile antiseptic Jewish Quarter, the aroma of grilled onions, spices and garbage filled the narrow stone walkway. Vibrant, noisy, crowded and intriguing, the Muslim Quarter is the poorest neighborhood of the four quarters. Darkened from age and smog, the limestone walls were covered in green, red and blue graffiti. I stopped to film children playing in the ancient streets and spotted an old man sitting on some alley steps, counting the ninety-nine names of Allah with his prayer beads. A young coffee vendor approached, wearing a Manchester United football jersey. He offered me a shot glass full of coffee which I accepted. ‘Shukran,’ I said.

‘Afwan,’ he replied. ‘Would you like to sit down?’

‘I would love to, but I’ve work to do. May I come back and join you for coffee?’

‘Of course, of course, my friend,’ he said.

At that moment, one of many self-appointed Palestinian tour guides in Jerusalem interrupted our conversation. ‘Mr. TV, you need me to get you in the Dome of the Rock. I know people. No problem, no problem. Come, it’s easy, Mr. TV.’

In Arabic, the young vendor started scolding the tour guide for his intrusion; their voices rose and spit flew through the air. Caught off guard, I stepped back as the veins in the tour guide’s neck began to enlarge. 

Shit! I should be filming this.

I brought the Betacam to my shoulder, but the argument was done. The tour guide stormed off but not before he’d jabbed his finger at me and shouted, ‘May your children cheat you!’

I continued my hunt for the money shot through the ancient labyrinthine streets and alleys, amongst Jews, Christians and Arabs wearing variations of their traditional dress. Although I was surprised, others appeared unperturbed as a Christian pilgrim passed, wearing shorts and carrying a seven foot wooden cross with a wheel attached to its base. Two nuns shopped for pastries and four Muslim women pointed at a shop window, discussing which of the mannequins’ hijabs they preferred. The volume of banter from the local merchants as shoppers haggled only added to the bustling atmosphere, the smell of deep fried falafel deeply ingrained. Symbolic of a country with bipolar disorder, one nearby kiosk sold the CDs of American, European and Arab artists along with T-shirts bearing the Israeli air force emblems and prints such as ‘Free Palestine!’, Sylvester Stallone as Rambo, images of Yasser Arafat and Che Guevara. 

              ‘Mr. Mr….my friend, you come into my shop, please? Are you an American?’

        In my best Barry White voice, I replied, ‘No, no, I’m Klingon.’          

              ‘Oh, that’s okay. I take that money too.’

        The Muslim Quarter overflowed with pure capitalism. I continued through the souks, occasionally stopping on Via Dolorosa, shooting video and still images of Christian pilgrims, IDG (Israeli Defense Force) soldiers and Muslims on their way to prayer. At Station Three, I found a multitude of Korean pilgrims with point-and-shoot cameras, all wearing the same bright yellow hats. They followed a guide waving a bright yellow flag as he spoke through a mini bullhorn. I swear I saw the same group of Korean pilgrims in Rome two months before. Those yellow-hat-wearing pilgrims – and the group of red-hat-wearing Italian pilgrims right behind them – were on a very tight schedule.  I decided to wait them out at a nearby sidewalk café and enjoy a cup of tea, a ‘kanafeh’ and a smoke. As the mass of pilgrims finally passed, I noticed a tourist on the corner babbling prophecies with tears in his eyes. This wasn’t an unusual sight in Old Jerusalem: devout Christian pilgrims got quite emotional when walking in the footsteps of Jesus. 

              The ones you’ve to watch are the seemingly normal Christian pilgrims who suddenly become ‘inspired’. They shed their normal clothes and transform into biblical characters, garbed in nothing more than a toga made from their hotel’s bed sheets. We call this ‘Jerusalem Syndrome’ and I wondered which of the biblical prophets the man opposite would become. Usually, it’s Moses, John the Baptist or Jesus Christ himself. 

        I’ve yet to find the woman who truly thinks she’s the Virgin Mary. It’s said that she walks the Via Dolorosa every day to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher to sob at the altar of Golgotha, mourning the death of her son, Jesus. She may sound far removed from reality but there is another ‘Virgin Mary’ – she invited everyone to her son, Jesus’, birthday party in Bethlehem.            

              There’s a joke in psychiatry that if you talk to God, it’s called prayer, but if God talks to you, you’re nuts. There seemed a disproportionate number of those who contracted Jerusalem Syndrome that were American Evangelical Christians, though there have been reports of deeply religious Jews – and, in rare cases, Catholics – also contracting this strange affliction. Peak seasons are Easter, Passover and Christmas. 

              Over the years, Israeli police have come across multiple biblical characters running around in bed sheets and even goatskins, proselytizing to the citizens of Jerusalem. Tour guides are asked by the Jerusalem authorities to watch for these symptoms: agitation, singing/shouting verses from the Bible and/or religious songs, marching to holy sites, delivering sermons in a holy place and urging people towards a better life. People who fall behind the group and who want to go off alone are observed carefully because once they get to the ‘bed-sheet-toga’ stage, there’s no stopping them.                                                                                                     

             After the mass of Korean pilgrims moved on, and before the Italians moved in, I grabbed the cameras and continued walking the Via Dolorosa. A metal medallion hung next to patched-up bullet-holes bearing a Roman numeral; these indicated the historical events at each location, of Christ’s walk to Golgotha.                   

              The church belonged to five different Christian groups: the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholics (Franciscans), Armenians, Coptics, and Ethiopians. This makes for complicated arrangements; disputes are common, particularly over who has the authority to carry out repairs. There’s a wooden ladder on a ledge just above the main entrance that’s been left there since the nineteenth century, because no one can agree who has the right to take it down. It’s not unusual to see fights between monks from different sects in the Sepulchre. Passions run high, particularly on important holy days. All it takes is a monk in the wrong place at the wrong time in a religious procession and it’s SmackDown. Fists fly, holy water’s thrown, beards pulled and even candlesticks used to ram groups of opposing monks. 

              The Jerusalem police had enough on, patrolling the bed sheet prophets without keeping the peace at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. A bit disappointed that there was no rumble between rival gangs of monks, I left the Holy Sepulchre and made a mad dash to the Mount of Olives, east of the city. This, potentially, was my last shot of the day and my first sit-down meal was patiently waiting for me. The Mount of Olives was the perfect location to shoot a setting sun over Jerusalem with the Dome of the Rock, the Golden Gate and Lions Gate in the foreground. Sunset and sunrise both made great shots which meant my days were long. With copious amount of coffee and snacks to keep my sugar level high, I averaged a sixteen-hour day. As the sun packed up and left, dusk turned to night and jewels of light gave Jerusalem softness from its harsh reality. Maybe it would see a better day tomorrow.  In spite of war, terrorism and the recent ‘intifada’, Jerusalem remained a devotedly holy place for the world to visit. As I left the Mount of Olives, I had to pass Bar-Ilan Street which could prove to be a harrowing experience, especially at night. 

              Ultra-orthodox Jews gathered on Bar-Ilan Street, a main Jerusalem thoroughfare, to protest about driving on the Sabbath. They threw rocks at passing cars and trashed restaurants with non-kosher food; they slashed tires and set trashcans on fire. Proudly burning the Israeli flag, they also committed acts of violence on women they didn’t consider to be modestly dressed – all in an effort to influence how the secular Jews of Israel should live their lives. The Jerusalem police resorted to riot gear, club-swinging and water cannons to keep Bar-Ilan open. The ultra-Orthodox had an unlikely ally in their fight for religious observance in Walter Sobchak, the Polish-Catholic convert to Judaism from the Coen brother’s cult movie, The Big Lebowski. In the bowling alley scene, Walter explained why he couldn’t compete in league-sponsored bowling tournaments during the Jewish Sabbath. ‘It’s Shomer Shabbos. I don’t roll on Shabbos. Saturday,’ he yelled, ‘is Shabbos, the Jewish day of rest. That means that I don’t work, I don’t get in a car, I don’t fucking ride in a car, I don’t pick up the phone, I don’t turn on the oven, and I sure as fucking don’t fucking roll!             ‘I don’t roll on Shabbos!’ adorned T-shirts alongside Walter’s image cocking a 9mm Glock: it was on cups, aprons, posters, mouse pads, caps, bumper stickers, hoodies, dog tags, and even babies’ bodysuits. We approached the Orthodox neighborhood in a convoy of Israeli traffic. I could smell smoke; all I saw were trashcans with yellow flames vaulting upwards and men dressed in black standing about. No stones were thrown, there were no blockades, just singing and shouting as we left their civil war against secularism. We drove by Kfar Shaul Psychiatric Hospital, for tourists with Jerusalem Syndrome, and turned northwest of the city, past olive groves, crops of tomatoes, cucumbers and zucchini. Off Highway One was the village of Neve Ilan and the Elvis Inn. We were greeted by a five-meter tall golden statue of Elvis Presley. Inside were more life-sized monuments scattered in various poses, such as Elvis sitting at a table, strumming a guitar. The jukebox played his greatest hits on loop and even the napkins bore his image. The walls were carpeted with Elvis photos, movie posters, magazine covers, concert tickets, postage stamps and license plates.                                                                                                 

              A short, portly man stood at the souvenir counter waiting to buy a kitschy keepsake. He had greaser sleeves (extreme sideburns) and wore a white polyester jumpsuit with rhinestone shoulders; round his pot-belly was a crudely embroidered American eagle belt. He also had Elvis’ trademark gold-framed sunglasses. I felt I’d discovered a new psychiatric condition: Elvis Syndrome. I saw that another Elvis statue was sat across from me, staring me down as my spicy burger, (kosher beef, of course) French fries and Coca Cola were set down. ‘Thank ‘ya very much,’ I said to the waitress, giving her my best Elvis impression.                                                          

              ‘You don’t think I hear that every day?’ she scowled. 

              ‘Must be the end of her shift,’ I thought.                       

              The jukebox played Elvis’ ‘Viva Las Vegas’ as the front doors swung open and two truck drivers walked in, laughing and discussing something in Hebrew. The Elvis impersonator walked away from the souvenir counter, past the two men who barely noticed his get-up. There was shouting from the kitchen and the wonderful fragrance of fried food filled the restaurant. As I watched a young couple point and stare, open-mouthed, at the multitude of Elvis photographs on the wall, I ordered another Coke. It was the end of another perfect day, and as Elvis’ voice sang from the jukebox: ‘Bright light city gonna set my soul. Gonna set my soul on fire,’ I couldn’t have agreed more.

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A continuation from Life in the City of Angels: When You Can’t Get Published, Fuck It, Give It Away!

Chapter One link:https://davebanks.wordpress.com/2020/06/10/life-in-the-city-of-angels-when-you-cant-get-published-fuck-it-give-it-away/

Jimi Hendrix’s version of ‘All Along the Watchtower’ was blasting out from Mark Hufnail’s BMW stereo, fuelling our adrenalin and chest-beating machismo. During Jimi’s solos, I strummed the invisible strings of my air guitar and glanced over at Mark, catching him head-banging to the beat.

Two middle-aged white guys, reminiscing about hippie living and experimental drug days, we were now living on the highs adventure brought. Potential ‘fixes’ dangled from the grueling schedule before us to shoot three documentaries throughout Middle Egypt, along the Nile. With some security concerns, Mark and I drove from his Burbank office to the west side of Los Angeles, for one last advisory meeting with the only Muslim we knew, Attallah Shabazz.

After directing Discovery Channel’s ‘Eco-Challenge, Australia’ – Mark was the Executive Producer – we’d gained a reputation for productions in remote and hostile locations under adverse conditions. We’d delivered a five-hour adventure race on time and on budget to the Discovery Channel and now we were ready for our next big challenge. Mark’s company, MPH Entertainment, had been contracted to produce three documentaries: ‘Akhenaten, Egypt’s Heretic King’, the ‘History of Sex’ for the History Channel, and ‘Tutankhamen, Egypt’s Boy King’ for A&E Network.

All three had to be shot simultaneously in sixteen days, to produce seven hours of programming. Before any overseas assignment, it was my responsibility to budget for and rent the cameras, audio gear, and small lighting package, as well as estimate how many cases of videotape we needed to take for the shoots. Before leaving the States my anxiety started, not from the threat of kidnapping by terrorist or being shot at, but due to the hell of red tape: the filling out of the carnet form or Merchandise Passport. A ‘carnet’ is an international customs and temporary export-import document that’s used to clear customs in foreign countries. Successful completion means you don’t incur duties and import taxes on your gear, or ‘tools of the trade’, if they’re to be re-exported within twelve months.

With ten anvil cases of gear, cross-referencing serial numbers and descriptions of each piece of gear was a tedious and daunting task. If just one serial number was off by one digit it could mean spending precious time and baksheesh (bribe money) in a foreign Customs office, sorting things out. The last thing I wanted to explain to a burly, foreign custom agent is why my boxer shorts had yellow smiley faces on them, having packed them in the equipment cases along with my other clothes.

Being a boy scout taught me to ‘be prepared’; if you know that there are no McDonald’s in the Sahara desert and little time during the day to stop and eat, you pack away enough food for an army. The most important thing to take, however, when shooting in exotic locations, is toilet tissue and baby wipes.

Having spent time in the Middle East previously, I took it upon myself to research the locations, assessing any potential risk. I was well aware of the current affairs in the Middle East and I was able to identify and assess a number of specific threats, not only to our production but also to us.

Beneath the massive limestone cliffs near Luxor is one of Egypt’s most popular tourist attractions: the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut. This was the site of the Luxor Massacre; on November 17, 1997, 62 people were killed – mostly tourists – by Islamist extremists and the Jihad Talaat al-Fath (Holy War of the Vanguard of the Conquest).

As we went into preproduction for the three documentaries – on February 23, 1998 – Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, a leader of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, along with three other Islamist leaders, co-signed and issued a ‘fatwa’. This called on Muslims to kill Americans and their allies, saying it was their duty. The declaration was made seven months prior to our scheduled departure to Egypt.

I’d also read somewhere that Osama and Zawahiri hated Americans so much that they wouldn’t even drink a Pepsi. On top of all that, there was rumored to be a bounty of $16,000 for every American’s head in Egypt. I found this a bit insulting: why couldn’t they round it out? I thought I was worth at least $20,000.

Since the Luxor Massacre, tourism had been pretty much void there. To capture or kill a western film crew like us would have been equivalent to bagging a top prize. Protocol suggested that I went through specific official channels. I presented my assessment and ‘deal memo’ to one of the producers. In my deal memo it specifically requested that MPH accepted financial responsibility to have my body shipped back to the States, should anything have happened to me.

To my surprise and shock the producer said, ‘No deal’.  I can only assume that she was ignorant of current affairs and only perceived the rest of the world as a studio back-lot. Unfortunately for me, her world revolved around recreational television, celebrities and Hollywood gossip. This was a serious issue that couldn’t be handled by a mid-level producer so I gave the assessment to Mark. That is how we got to be on our way.

We were meeting Attallah Shabazz at a kosher Italian restaurant. Ms. Shabazz is the eldest daughter of El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, better known as Malcolm X, the powerful civil rights activist of the ‘60s. Mark and Attallah have worked together on several television productions and have become very good friends over the years, to the point that Mark’s daughter, Megan, refers to Ms. Shabazz as ‘Aunty Attallah’. I’d also worked with Ms. Shabazz on various television shows in the past, but I hadn’t had the opportunity to get properly acquainted.

We walked into the restaurant. Sitting at a table alone, in the middle of the busy eaterie, we could not help but notice Ms. Shabazz immediately. Strikingly beautiful, tall, and wearing her trademark African print pillbox hat, she acknowledged our arrival with a broad smile that seemed to light up the room.

Mark set the stage to our trip, telling Attallah that we would be the first American crew to travel by vehicle through Middle Egypt in ten years, according to our fixer in Egypt. Our security was our foremost concern; we’d be two unmistakably-American white guys shooting at various locations

Attallah interrupted Mark. ‘You know, I don’t thing you have anything to worry about, traveling through Middle Egypt,’ she reassured us. ‘The Egyptian government cannot afford another massacre, it would be devastating to their economy. You will be well protected. Think of it as an adventure, don’t let the threat of a small group of extremists hold you hostage.’

We placed our orders for our meal and our conversation turned to shop talk and a bucket full of scuttlebutt. It’s traditional amongst our staff and crew to collect the best pithy quotes during production which we then use as a catchphrase during shooting when things get a little too heated. Over our kosher pasta with meatless sauce, we told Attallah that we’d collected three favorite quotes for the History Channel’s documentary, the ‘History of Sex’:

‘Does the composer actually see the show he’s composing?’

‘Regardless of their academic achievement and expertise, try not to use any male or female archeologist over forty years of age’.

But the killer quote, and my favorite when shooting ancient Egyptian statues, was: ‘You can shoot as many penises as you want, as long as they don’t move’.

*****Judean-Wilderness-and-Tree

We landed in Cairo around mid-afternoon. I was still a bit spaced-out from the residue of the Ambien still in my system and I gave off an odor like fermented Gouda cheese. It had taken us close to eighteen hours to get there, not including the ten hours we’d took to prep our gear before departure. In customs, with all ten anvil cases of equipment, we started the tedious process of cross-referencing the serial numbers of the gear against our carnet. A short, oval-shaped Egyptian customs official, in a blue shirt with wet stains under each arm, raised an eyebrow. There was a bead of sweat resting on the top of his pencil mustache that I couldn’t stop staring at.

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              The larger gray camera case he found to be empty of the Betacam camera. I was holding it in my hands after carrying it on the plane with me. Inside the case, in place of the camera, were a dozen or so boxer shorts bearing acid-yellow smiley faces, which prompted a smirk from the agent. ‘My underwear,’ I said, pointing at the shorts.

‘Yes, yes, very nice,’ the agent said.

‘Jesus, Dave, can’t you wear regular underwear, like ‘tighty-whities’?’  Mark asked.

‘I, er, have a problem with chafing. I’ve big thighs. Boxers really help with that problem.’

‘But couldn’t you just buy regular boxers?’

‘These were on sale,’ I protested, ‘besides, I’m going to throw them away after I wear them.’

Pointing at the camera case then the carnet, in broken English, the oval-shaped agent asked, ‘Where is this item, the camera?’

‘This is the camera,’ I said, holding the camera up further and pointing to it.

‘But it’s not in the box. The carnet says ‘camera and case’. I need the camera in the case.’

Standing before him, with the camera case at my feet, I pointed again to the camera I was holding. ‘This is turning into a Monty Python skit,’ I thought. ‘This is the camera,’ I repeated, ‘I carried it on the flight so that I could use the camera case to store my clothing.’

‘I understand. But I need the camera in the box.’ This time, his voice was raised.

‘Do I understand you? That if I put the camera in the box, you’ll be satisfied?’

Opening the camera case, I pulled out my boxer shorts and all the other items I’d put in there and placed the camera into its case. I smiled at the inspector who remained stony-faced. It suddenly hit me: Cha-ching, cha-ching, cha-ching.

              In my mind I heard Pink Floyd’s ‘Money’. The signs for baksheesh were simple – how had I missed them? The term ‘baksheesh’ describes tipping or, as the local authorities call it, ‘a charitable donation’. I call it ‘bribery’.

The government officials could have held the camera gear in protective custody until an ‘understanding’ was reached. Other signs of baksheesh could be: incorrect stamps in your passport or ink of the wrong color; your visa looking forged because the official emblem is smudged, usually after a government official has rubbed his thumb across the stamp, purposely smudging it. My favorite was the palm extended with a smile: simple, to the point and immediately recognizable for what it was. Baksheesh is a common practice across most of the Middle East; it’s common for western film crews to carry large sums of cash, just for these ‘unseen expenses’. Especially American film crews – it seems that we Americans have a reputation for throwing money at any problems we encounter. Good old American know-how.

Once our payment had been graciously accepted we cleared Egyptian customs. Porters loaded the gear onto a flatbed dolly and wheeled it out to the curb. By the time we’d finished loading the van we’d spent about $350.00 – and one carton of Marlboro cigarettes – in baksheesh…I mean, ‘charitable donations and tips’.

On the way to the hotel I decided to ride on the roof of the van with the cases of gear, to shoot B-roll of as we traveled from the airport to downtown Cairo. The driver of the van sped across El-Galaa Bridge that crosses the Nile and an insect the size of a ping-pong ball smacked me between the eyes, leaving little red blotches on my left cheek that looked like a target. I hoped that wasn’t a sign of things to come.

Our schedule was grueling and left so little opportunity for rest and recuperation that I was confused as to what day of the week it was as we rushed from the Pharaonic Village, Giza, to the Cairo Museum. Just like all shoots, we hit the ground running, apportioning no time to acclimatize. With pressure to shoot three documentaries there was no time to appreciate Egypt and its culture, it was just ‘wham, bam, thank you, ma’am’.

For two sweltering days we’d been inside the Cairo museum shooting Paranoiac antiquities, artifacts, and ancient stone penises (but not the moving kind). Alone, and in a rare moment of quiet, I was on the second floor of the Cairo Museum framing the camera to shoot an artifact belonging to the most iconic of all Egyptian pharaohs: the solid gold mask of King Tutankhamen. The 11kg gold mask sat behind protective glass on a high pedestal and I’d found just the right angle to shoot the mask which didn’t also capture my reflection in the glass. I had King Tut all to myself as I began my work.

Then, from nowhere, hordes of tourists from Germany swarmed in, surrounding me and the exhibit. The lens of the camera blocked the tourists’ view; there was much pushing and shoving as they tried to get closer – so much so that the camera and tripod were nearly sent flying. I stepped back from the gaggle of Germans and could not believe my eyes when I noticed several wearing lederhosen. It was freaking hot – at least 28°C – with high humidity and no ventilation.

One man, in the shortest shorts I’d ever seen, started to pick up the tripod and camera to move it. ‘Sir, don’t move the camera,’ I warned.

In a thick German accent, he turned and snapped, ‘You shouldn’t be here! This is for tourists!’

‘I understand, sir. We’ve all come a long way to see King Tut. Just leave the camera alone. Okay?’

He persisted, putting his hands on the tripod. I stepped forward and removed his hand, which is when he elbowed me on my left cheek. It was bang on the place where the kamikaze insect had whacked me several days before.

                  ‘Ouch!’ I muttered, before tensing, ready to defend my space. Sanity prevailed for just a moment as I thought about Mark, and that the last thing he needed was me being thrown out of the Cairo Museum for fighting with a tourist. Luckily, at that moment, a woman – also in leather lederhosen and thigh-high white stockings – grabbed the man’s arm and started scolding him in German. None of the other tourists seemed interested in our struggle for territory as they snapped pictures and left. Now, at least, I was alone with the king, sporting a painfully bruised cheek.

Eventually, we’d shot every stone penis in the museum – erect and non-erect. Our work was over in Cairo and now it was time for our road trip through Middle Egypt.

Attallah was right: we were escorted by seventeen Egyptian bodyguards as we traveled south along the Nile Delta to Luxor in Middle Egypt. Our caravan was made up of several vehicles, including a sky-blue armored personnel carrier complete with fifty-caliber machine gun, and a black 4×4 Mercedes-Benz SUV that carried our four bodyguards. They sat in comfort, in their polyester suits and sunglasses. Except for the front windscreen, the side and rear windows were bulletproof glass, tinted almost black. In the middle of each passenger window were gun ports that looked like small, black puckered lips, ready to give any adversary a stinging kiss of death. On occasion you would see copious amount of smoke stream from the gun ports; most of the time the bodyguards sat in their SUV with the air conditioning on full blast as they played their favorite Egyptian pop music. As a result, the SUV vibrated with a ‘thump, thump, thump’. Jimi Hendrix, it was not.

In contrast, we were stuck in a white minibus, with painted hieroglyphic symbols and a giant portrait of a pharaoh on the hood. The interior seated roughly ten passengers; it would have held more but our camera gear filled the back of the coach. With our security so obviously in tow, this bus shouted ‘tourist on board!’

Driving in Egypt is not for wimps or the faint of heart, which is why I was happy to let Mohammad, our driver, take the challenge. I’d assumed we were safe outside the city of Cairo, where car horns blast continually, insults are spat and universal hand gestures given at the slightest provocation; little did I realize just how dangerous the road to Luxor was. Most roads had two lanes of tarmac, but the condition of the ground varied greatly. The scariest part was when giant trucks frequently passed other trucks already passing cars. I lost count of my ‘sphincter twinges’ during the day but they went off the scale when we drove in the dark. It was a Mad Max movie in reality; the Egyptians didn’t use their headlights until they thought they saw an oncoming vehicle – then they’d flash their lights. Thank God we were in an official convoy, with an armored personnel carrier leading the caravan.

We made numerous stops along the way, shooting B-roll to enrich our documentaries. I shot video and still photographs at each location for ‘cut-away footage’ that could be added to scripted voice-overs or expert interviews. This adds greater dimension to the storylines in our productions, an alternative to the traditional ‘talking head’ pieces. As we continued our trek to Luxor day turned to night. Suddenly, our motorcade came to a complete stop. We were near our destination of Al Minya, at a goat crossing.

I grabbed the camera and jumped out of the van. I started shooting the goat herder and his goats against the van’s headlights when four tourist police intervened. With their Uzi machine guns they hustled us back into the van.

‘Jesus! What was that all about? It’s just goats,’ said Mark.

‘Maybe someone just got his goat?’ I chuckled at my own joke.

One of the security men from our convoy came into the van, still wearing his sunglasses. ‘Keep down! Keep down!’ he said. ‘A madrasa is down the road: the most radical of Islamic schools in Egypt. We believe Osama Bin Laden is inside. The goats are a way to stop people, so they can see who approaches. Just stay down.’

There was a lot of movement outside the van and raised voices. The goats still surrounded us. A second bodyguard came to the door. ‘The local authorities and the village elders fear retaliation from Islamic fundamentalists at the madrasa for hosting you Americans. We cannot stay here or in Al Minya. We have to find another place to stay the night. Please, stay down, and do not get out of the van.’

We waited, keeping a low profile as our security team herded the goats out of the way. The goat herder had disappeared. After traveling south for half an hour, our security team found an abandoned hotel outside an unnamed village. Oddly, there was a flickering light-bulb several floors up. Despite our hesitation, we had been at it for sixteen hours and we were dead tired. We carried the cameras and battery chargers up the dark, shadowy, concrete stairs that offered no handrail. I was so dazed from lack of rest that when I plugged in the charger for the camera batteries I forgot that Egypt’s electrical current was 220v. I neglected to plug in the transformer and the charger blew like an indoor firework display. As the sparks flew, I grabbed the plug and pulled it out of the socket, only to get a jolt. ‘Crap! Crap! Crap!’ I shouted.

‘Are you okay?’ said Mark.

‘Yeah, I’m okay. I just feel like a complete idiot.’

‘You’re tired, Dave, don’t beat yourself up. We’ve another charger,’ said Mark.

As I moved away from the socket I heard a loud crunch. Lifting my boot, I saw the largest cockroach I’d ever set eyes on. The floor of the building was concrete and it was cold; the walls looked to be peppered with bullet holes and the windows didn’t bear glass but iron rods shooting up from the windowsill.

Mark looked out. It was deadly quiet outside. ‘Hey, Dave, there are guards outside, on the ground. I think this is serious.’

The flickering light was a beacon to a frenzy of moths, unidentified flying insects, cockroaches and five-legged bugs, the like of which I’d never seen. We were too exhausted to care and slept on the floor, only to have the creepy-crawlers roam freely on and around us. ‘Mark, are you awake?’ I asked.

‘Not really. It’s difficult when you have creatures crawling on your face. Shit! One just tried to crawl up my nose! Jesus H Christ.’ Mark was now sitting up. He was pale with bags under his eyes and desperate for some sleep.

‘Hey, why don’t we use the djellaba I picked up in Cairo?’ I suggested. ‘We could wrap it around ourselves like the Shroud of Turin. We could wrap our kefflyehs around our faces too, to keep the marauders away.’

‘Great idea. Let’s do it,’ said Mark.

So, there we were: two guys from California in Middle Egypt, beneath a winking light on a concrete floor, shoulder to shoulder and draped under a makeshift shroud. Neither Mark nor I remembered much of the drive from the abandoned ‘roach’ hotel; we slept most of the way. We eventually pulled up at a deserted parking area. Before us was the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut, which sat atop a series of colonnaded terraces, accessed via long ramps that were once graced with gardens. Built into the limestone cliff face that towered above the temple, there were three layered terraces reaching 29m high.

It was midday, and at least 40°C. Walking up the ramp in the scorching heat was going to be challenge. I drank my last bottle of hot orange Fanta, grabbed the camera and started shooting Arab workmen breaking up the limestone walkway to the temple. It seemed to me to be perfect B-roll for the documentary, but what I didn’t realize at that moment was that they were replacing the bloodstained path where the 62 people had been massacred nearly a year before.

Hot, hot, hot! The tripod legs burnt if touched; the metal of the camera was sizzling and I could feel the heat of the scorching sand through my Doc Martin boots. I took off my kefflyeh, soaking it with water and placing it over the camera, so as not to burn up the electronics. Our Egyptian crew stayed in the van with the air conditioning on and with the hood up to keep the engine cool. Our four bodyguards sat in the comfort of their Mercedes-Benz SUV, smoking and listening to music. Mark and I continued to shoot for two hours, taking breaks in the shade of the Temple’s columns. The Sahara heat was unrelenting and oppressive, though, and I gave up when the glue on my boots began to melt. Because my kefflyeh was on the camera, the back of my neck was naked to the sun. It was now horribly blistered. Back in the van, a sunburned Mark took a long drink from a Fanta he’d kept hidden.

‘You bastard!’ I said. The sun’s heat lost its grip as I stepped into the van. Mark leaned over and pulled out another warm Fanta, handing it to me. ‘Cheers, Dave. You ready to go home?’ he said.

I’d lost all reference to time. I had no idea what day it was or how long we’d been in Egypt. This often happened to us when documenting fragments of time long since gone – you lose your own place in time.

We barely made our flight back to the States and had to sacrifice taking a shower and changing into clean clothes. I wasn’t too upset; there’s something magical about carrying the sands of the Sahara in your boots with you as you arrive home.

Days later, I was back at the NBC Studios. The guests that night were David Spade and Kate Capshaw, the musical element provided by Deana Carter. I was still painfully sunburned and therefore moved slowly; I could continually smell the odor of fermented Gouda and, during rehearsals, I found a strip of bubble wrap that seemed to resemble the blisters on the back of my neck.

During lunch at the NBC Commissary I told my cousin, Hank Geving, who was also a cameraman on the show and dedicated reader of Ancient Egyptian history, about Queen Hatshepsut and her temple. She was the first great woman in recorded history, the forerunner of such figures as Cleopatra and Catherine the Great, and female pioneers of our own age, such as Madonna. He listened intently, and it gave me a huge glow of satisfaction to have stood where she had, centuries before. Many people living there don’t acknowledge that there’s life outside Hollywood. How wrong they are.

Main line Dialogue

“Hey man ! It’s all about infinite reflection isn’t it? We ask for an eternal embrace after our rite of passage, but like string theory it’s always about getting the right vibe. The vibe man, the vibration of energy from someone who believes in the third eye… Jesus! I sound so woo woo or stoned. Which reminds me, back in the day I use to watch wonky Dance Fever on tv while stoned….popping Tootsie Rolls and caramel popcorn, man oh man! Maui Wowie! Good shit back then.
Jesus! Dance Fever man, hosted by that baby face and swarthy Adrian what’s his name of T J Hooker and Captain Kirk. “Where no man has gone before.” Oh yeah, been there in the cerebral abysses man, damn near didn’t come back. Got to go man, have a date at Pink’s Hot Dogs, peace brother.”

Gulf of Naples

“I just really want to tell you right now Enzo, that it is extremely plausible that you have created your own world and the illusion is that you are a neurotic mess because your mother was a neurotic mess. You think to much and feel to little, now go home and eat some prosciutto, drink some vino and take a nap.”

Lady in WaitingSitting here in La, La, Land I can see how you would believe that a gluten free diet and drinking green veggie smoothes is the answer to all your worldly woes. It’s a lie sweetheart, what really works in this world is a pack of Marlboro red, a cup of coffee and a buttermilk donut. Listen sunshine, there is no guarantees in life, this is it, this is all you get. Honey, you and I are living in a temporary parking lot between Nativity Lane and Sunset Boulevard.

The wind whispers Mary, Broken pieces of yesterday life, Somewhere a queen is weeping, Somewhere a king has no wife. And, the wind cries Mary, Will the wind ever remember the names known in the past? And the wind cries Mary.  – Jimi Hendrix
 
                                     Dear Mom,
Mom and MeThis is your day, a special day and I want to share with you some really good news on this Mother’s Day.
Researchers at Queensland Brain Institute in Australia have shown that a non-invasive ultrasound technology can be used to treat Alzheimer’s disease and restore memory. This innovative, drug-free method breaks apart the neurotoxic amyloid plaques that result in memory loss and cognitive decline. It may seem to some that you have vanished  into the dark corridors of your mind. Yet, I hold on to a faint gleamer of hope that you will find the right passageway to your future and all your sweet memories.
Until that day comes don’t be embarrassed to ask where you are or who has passed away I will be your narrator to the life of a woman I call Mom.
I love you and happy Mother’s Day.

Whitewater West

Architectural photography is not my first choice for an assignment; I’m more of a run-and-gun photographer. But from years of overseas and domestic assignments I came to the realization that the kinetic structure of my knees are deteriorating and the pace of my stride is slowing. I live in my past as most men do my age, but reality is insidious and has a way of redirecting ones life. In a conversation with my brother Mark we discussed reinvention, evolution and acceptance as we age. I’ve witnessed him overcome incredible odds in La La Land (Hollywood) to becoming a very successful Producer while all along maintaining his integrity – which is the cornerstone of character. He now lives in the great Northwest freeing his spirit from the tragic and deviant characters of Hollywood. As T.S. Eliot said,

“We shall not cease from exploring,

And the end of our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.”

How appropriate, only recently has Mark rediscovered his passions that have lied dormant for several decades. One of which is using his hands to build and create – he is the only man I know who has built a home from the ground up.Keystone 0152 Master Email

So what does all this have to do with Architectural photography? My assignment was to photograph an older building that is being refurbished, redecorated and rehabilitated. While editing the images I suddenly became aware of the building name, Keystone, which is the central stone at the summit of an arch locking the whole together. I think of the camera as my cornerstone, holding my perception of the world together with its steel, plastic and glass.Keystone 0062 Master Email

I have heard that Architecture is like frozen music and is assembled in light that fills an empty space. So, are we architects of our own life? We lay our foundation in youth with education and life experiences as we try desperately to avoid the pitfalls as we whimsically journey to completion. It becomes apparent as we age to measure the space and spiritual dimensions of our past, the games we played and the poetic inventions of our heart. For some of us, we did this without a blueprint and struggled, but quickly learned that for every new situation and issue requires new architecture. Unlike Rip Van Winkle who wakes from the glassy bosom of Ale to find that twenty years have past, I woke to reinventing with a solid foundation to breaking new ground.Whitewater West