Sunbonnet Sue is doing a great portrayal of Cleopatra with her asp and I think it’s quite the good-looking, sexy outfit she’s got going on. But here’s the thing: Even though we all think of her as epitomizing the Egyptian woman, Cleopatra wasn’t really an Egyptian. She was a Ptolemy, from a family of Greek origin. But here’s what I like about Cleopatra — she thought of herself as the reincarnation of the Egyptian goddess, Isis. So who was Isis, you ask? Much like Cleopatra, Isis, the Egyptian goddess of rebirth, was the image of empowered and complete femininity. Isis spent her time working among the people who worshiped her, teaching them how to be resourceful, how to use the bounty of the earth, and how to manage the men in their lives…something we might all aspire to learn.
But back to Cleopatra, a truly fascinating woman. She originally ruled Egypt alongside her father, and then her two brothers (whom she married, a pharaonic tradition, but had no children from these marriages). Eventually she was pharaoh on her own, and had a torrid affair with Julius Caesar, joining forces with the Roman to protect her throne. She bore Julius Caesar a son. After Julius Caesar was assassinated, she joined with Mark Antony against Octavian, Caesar’s heir, in a battle for control of the Roman Empire. With Mark Antony, she had three children, twins (boy and girl) and another son. After losing a major battle against Otavian, Antony committed suicide. And soon she also took her own life, too, but with an asp of all things, and so ends the saga of Cleopatra.
Cleopatra is still quite well known in today’s world — in art, film, plays, opera, and perhaps best known, in the 1963 film, Cleopatra, in which Elizabeth Taylor starred. And in true Cleopatra fashion, Elizabeth Taylor met and began a torrid affair with Richard Burton, who portrayed Mark Antony, during the making of this movie. To this day, Cleopatra is the epitome of fabulous beauty and great sex appeal, so profound her beauty and sensuality that she conquered the world’s most powerful men.
So when you get to Egypt, you’ll want to search out Cleopatra’s ghost proudly stalking the streets of one of most fascinating souqs in the world, Khan El-Khalili. Built in 1382, the souq is a colorful ode to one-stop shopping, especially for buying souvenirs, spices, papyrus, gold,sumptuous fabrics, and many other wonderful things. For you quilters and appliquists, make sure you hunt down the Tent Makers of Cairo on Kheiymiya Street (which you can find if you walk from the Khan El-Khalili towards the Citadel). A dying art, these men used to prepare the traditional decorative appliqued hangings for the tents of nomads. Today, these skills are turned toward making brightly colored quilts, pillow tops, and other household decorative items; the complex motifs appliqued on them are Islamic, pharaonic and uniquely Egyptian. When you need a break, stop at a cafe for a puff of apple-scented tobacco from the sheisha pipe and sip hot minty tea while planning your next stop.
So I hope that I’ve inspired you to quilt, to applique, to embroider, to walk like an Egyptian, or represent for Cleopatra, Isis, and all the other goddesses of the world! You go, Goddess! I leave you with this lovely exotic flower from my front yard….