August 2010


It has occurred to me recently that the most fitting metaphor for my attempts to find a job are to be found in the ancient Greek myths of Sisyphus and to a lesser extent Tantalus (I think I’m not the only one who had mixed these two characters up with their specifics). Or rather the myth of their punishment for as far as I know I haven’t committed any acts of unspeakable horror as at least one of those men did. And yet I feel like I’m on the receiving end of a punishment, just don’t know from what quarters.

Before I explain, a quick refresher on the classics. Sisyphus is the guy who was condemned to pushing a boulder to the top of the mountain and nearly reaching the top only to have said boulder roll to the bottom again and beginning the task anew. Tantalus – from whose name the word tantalizing derives – had an even more diabolical punishment for he was made to stand knee or waist-deep in a pool of water with a fruit laden vine hanging above him but was perpetually hungry and thirsty. Every time he bent his head to drink some water to attempt to quench his thirst (his hands are not mentioned but they were evidently of no use in his predicament) the level would recede and he never got to so much as moisten his lips or tongue, and the grapes hanging a perfect ripeness just over his lips would similarly move out of reach every time he attempted to bite into one of them.

And how or why do I feel comparable to these wretched men? My job search that’s why. I’ve lost count of the number of applications I’ve written and submitted over the past year and a half. These letters (and statements and etc. etc.) are my personal equivalent of the Sisyphean boulder – except that sometime the boulder rolls down before I’ve even made it halfway there. And when on the rare occasions I break free of that myth and do manage to reach the top – er land an interview – it has been followed even more heartbreakingly with a punishment to rival that meted out to Tantalus. I can view the fruit in all its juicy perfection and even feel the water in its cool comfort but am ever denied the pleasures of partaking either.

I won’t bother to go into specifics and am not asking for sympathy. In fact I’d go so far as to say I’m actively discouraging any well-meaning comments about hanging in there, something better around the corner, not taking it personally etc. Am just having a public fist-shaking and rant session to relieve my frustrations and  intense discouragement at the job market and my situation. Having suffered what I view is a personal defeat by having to spend a 4th year at AUC when my original fellowship was only for 3, I feel like I’m entitled to a public rendition of the opposite of a victory dance. Just before I am led to the altar of Scientific Thinking like a bleating sacrificial lamb to the slaughter.

As for that last metaphor, heck, I’m in Egypt, it’s Ramadan and Eid is fast approaching. baa...

Last summer it was Swan Lake . This summer it was the Schloss Neuschwanstein.

Directly translated Neuschwanstein means “new swan stone” and is basically the name of the special kind of limestone that makes up the castle’s facade. Perched high on a cliff in Bavaria, this castle, built for King Ludwig II (also known as Mad King Ludwig poor man) in the late 19th century, was truly a case of fantasy made flesh or fantasy given form. Small wonder then that Disney chose it to be the model for its iconic Sleeping Beauty castle, now world-famous (along with Mickey’s ears) as the symbol of Disneyland.

My impressions of the castle – well, it is hokey but tragic at the same time. There is after all something quite sad about a king who was permanently depressed – not unlike his friend (and perhaps lover say some) the Princess Sisi of Austria (with whom I met again after two years) – and had an entire castle built as an exercise in alleviating this depression, only to die within 6 weeks of moving into it. And the death was tragic too – confined or deposed as mentally ill,  and arrested and moved to a castle in Munich, he was found the very next day, mysteriously drowned along with the doctor who had declared him insane. The castle’s decor with images of Lohengrin aplenty as well an artificial venetian grotto within certainly point to his eccentricity (and are part of the reason for me thinking the castle hokey) but madness? Need more info.Meanwhile some more images of the schloss:

Meanwhile, the views from the castle, of the Tyrolean Alps, of a lake and water falls, are breathtaking indeed. There is an old footbridge over a very steep waterfall, which was a thrill to peer from. And while Neuschwanstein flies high with the clouds, closer down to earth is a another beautiful castle, Hohenschwangau, where people, including Ludwig as a young man, actually lived. With no time to get into both castles (as it was we only made the last bus back into town (Fussen) from where we caught the last train out) I could only get pictures from the outside.

But really, having been to various castles now, I must say the exteriors that are more interesting…Maybe the German Romantics (I’m thinking of Heidelberg and Schwetszingen) had the right idea when they built ruins on the grounds of their castles.