Sunrise, Sunset

A recent episode of the television series “Nova” revealed that scientists are only confident of one celestial alignment present at Stonehenge, dismissing all the claims in recent years of the structure being some sort of celestial observatory. Stonehenge’s main axis, a straight line through the entrance, points directly to sunrise on the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. This means that the back part of the axis points to sunset during the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. But what does this say about why Stonehenge was built?

Archaeologist Michael Parker Pearson studied burial practices in Madagascar, where stone monuments are built to the dead. There, it is believed that stone belongs to the ancestors. The realm of the living belongs to perishable materials, like wood.

Pearson invited an archaeologist from Madagascar to visit Stonehenge. He immediately saw the monument as a meeting place to connect with the ancestors. The stones were linked to the ancestors and, indeed, the so-called blue stones, the smaller stones, had been transported from Wales, monuments to the dead, perhaps, that the people took with them when moving from Wales to the area around Stonehenge. But where was the place for the living?

Two miles north of Stonehenge are the remnants of another henge, this one made of timber. It is identical in size to Stonehenge. The post holes were found where timbers were placed. On the morning of the winter solstice the front axis of the timber circle aligns to the rising sun, while at the end of that day the back of Stonehenge frames the setting sun. During the summer solstice, the front of Stonehenge aligns with the sunrise while the rear axis at the timber circle aligns with sunset. Cremated remains have been found at Stonehenge. At the timber circle, there is evidence of a yearly celebration. One circle is for the dead; the other is for the living.

Beyond giving the chief archivist the heebie-jeebies for one more mystery of the world to be so logically solved — why did that photo of the Loch Ness Monster have to turn out to be a hoax? and wasn’t it already so completely obvious from the footage that it was the skin of the Hindenburg that so rapidly spread the fire? — what does this mean for Heliopoli, which is oh-so-similarly a monument to a belief system long dead, whose buildings stand sentinel over a past we cannot grasp?

Heliopoli has no alignment to the solstices, but it is telling that the Sun Disk Monolith rotates slowly throughout the year so that it is always aligned with the sunset. There are perhaps two kinds of people in the world, those who prefer sunrise to sunset, and vice versa. But there can be no denying the power of sunset in Heliopoli when standing in the Central Plaza and the amber, autumnal light comes shattering down the avenues to ring against the bronze disk in the monolith.

The buildings are blue with coming twilight, sparkling and bright. The surface of the plaza shines for one last time in the day. There is a chill in the air. The sunset delivers — mysteriously, curiously — a devastating form of homesickness.

But the question remains: Was Heliopoli built for the living … or the dead?


It’s Official

I have been duly chastised by the excavators for neglecting an element of Heliopoli that if not included in the city’s description would be like trying to make seawater without salt, or to deny a firmament its shining stars.

There is no proper classification for this thing. It is not just a color or a cloth or a pattern, and its interpretation has changed over time. I am further hampered by not being able to find a photo I have permission to use as an example, and any samples in the city itself have so degraded with time that they are useless, so I have used different, though appropriate, images instead. This thing is locked in its own time anyway — its proper time — so its image is always brighter in memory than anything even a digital photo can reveal.

You might have been introduced to tie-dying in someone’s backyard, with buckets of dye and rubber bands and white T-shirts. The method has to be taught, can’t be learned from a book, like making tallow candles or blowing glass. Tie the rubber bands around the T-shirt, tighten it up, thus and so. There were some who knew how to make certain patterns, methodical, while others just waited to see; but when the rubber bands were taken off the shirt after being dipped in this dye and that, it was always a surprise; you never really knew what you were getting, and that was part of the fun —

a sunburst, always — or a star —

Then in the 1980s we got the manufactured kind, made in a factory, always the same stupid spiral, they all looked the same — which was never the point — and it became a fashion, a self-conscious referent, a wry wink to the past gabbled by New York types through their rectangular, black-framed glasses, snarkily summarizing culture — we are only observers — and stuffing all into a box labeled “Retro.”

That was never the point. And now it can never again be what it once was. We are all too self-conscious for that. It will never again be sunshine backyards amid grass clippings — the smell of cut grass — or “arts ‘n’ crafts” or rainbow colors hanging on a clothesline to dry. It will never again be a surprise sunburst. It will never again be a surprise. It is premade now, hanging in a store.

Wryness is death to surprise. Cynicism destroys optimism.

Snark kills voice.

Did you think we were stupid? Yes, we knew it was about psychedelia and where that came from — you were never taught how to tie-dye from a non-hippie, were you? — but it didn’t matter. We ignored that part. It was just cool. And fun.

For its sunburst and its infinite colors; for its encapsulation of creative and otherwise freedoms; for its obeisance, we see now, to chaos theory’s fractals and never-repeating iterations; for its dark genuflection to drug culture we can ignore; for its bright bursting optimism —

for its representation of an unself-conscious act now turned to stone —

the official something of Heliopoli is —

the tie-dye T-shirt.


The Rap Session

Once upon a time, before there was rap, there were rap sessions. These informal discussions between those of like minds, initialized with the invitation “Let’s rap,” were often held sitting cross-legged and relaxed on cushy furniture. Earth-tone modular pieces were easily configured into a “rap pit.”

In the city of Heliopoli there are numerous alcoves and corners, nooks and crannies, within the buildings. The excavators call these “the empties,” empty spaces that seem designed to hold something, to be used for some purpose, but are now empty. One can see as one turns a corner a blank spot, a modular space, defined by what is around it. “There is where sculpture was,” says one. “There is where a planter stood,” says another. “There is where a mobile hung,” offers a third. But there are plenty of sculptures and planters and mobiles in Heliopoli. None exist in the empties.

On closer inspection, indentations left behind in the beige carpeting tell another story.

“Is this where furniture was?” asks one.

“Yes. No,” answers another. “This is where the people were, when they stopped to talk to each other.”

One-Year Anniversary, With Tang

Today the excavators celebrate the one-year anniversary of the excavation of the city of Heliopoli and the start of this blog. According to its WordPress statistics, this blog averages eight hits per day. Three of those hits per day, on average, go directly to the post Tang: A Correlative History. It is the most successful (OK, only successful) post of the blog, with currently over 800 views, which is about 25 percent of total views.

You can rest assured that throughout the day, every day, someone somewhere in the world is curious about the instant breakfast drink Tang, entering such search terms as “Kraft Tang,” “Tang breakfast drink,” “Russian tea with Tang,” “history of Tang drink,” “Tang recipes,” etc. Who knew? These visitors do not click on anything else in the blog; the focus and intensity of Tang drink curiosity knows no bounds.

So, without further ado, the excavators and the chief archivist would like to salute not the city itself, but the official drink of Heliopoli: Tang.

We hereby raise a toast to Tang … with Tang.


Called the “symbol of life,” the ankh appears frequently in ancient Egyptian tomb paintings and other art. In sculptures in which the sun’s rays are represented as terminating in hands, the offerings are ankhs. As a sun symbol, the Egyptians crafted important examples of the ankh in gold, the metal they most associated with the sun.

The ankh is theorized to represent the sun crowning over the horizon, the path of the sun from east to west, a stylized person, a combination of male and female symbols, the thoracic vertebra of a bull, and a sandal strap. In the movie Logan’s Run, it represents “Sanctuary.” Needless to say, taken out of its context, or put into an imaginary one, we can rarely know what a symbol means to a culture.

The chief archivist and the excavators fondly remember the popularity of ankh necklaces during the 1970s. Several of these have been found in Heliopoli.

Because of its embodiment of the concept of “cool” …

The official symbol of Heliopoli is ankh.

Tang: A Correlative History

After two years of research, General Foods Corporation launched Tang orange-flavored powdered beverage in United States test markets in 1957. This year marks the 50th anniversary of Tang.

Tang was originally intended as a breakfast drink, but sales were poor until NASA began using it on Gemini space flights in 1965, beginning with Gemini 4.

The Tang brand is owned by Kraft Foods.

In 1972, two premiums were offered by Tang in connection with the Apollo 16 and 17 space flights: a replica of the lunar roving vehicle and a full-color map of the moon. About 63,000 moon maps were distributed free of charge to schools across the nation.

Kraft introduced a new version of Tang, “with Fruitrition,” in 2007. It contains half the sugar of original Tang.

TangThe formulation for drinking original Tang is one teaspoon per eight ounces of water. The recommended usage for new Tang is two and one-half teaspoons per eight ounces of water.

Tang is sold both in powdered form and ready-to-drink sachets.

The inventor of Tang, William A. Mitchell, also invented Pop Rocks.

Other flavors, besides Orange, that Tang is offered in include Wild Berry, Tangerine Strawberry, Orange Kiwi, Orange Strawberry, Tropical Passionfruit, Grape, Watermelon Wallop, and Orange Pineapple.

A single 11 gram serving of new Tang contains 40 calories, 9 grams of carbohydrate, 100 percent RDA of vitamin C, 10 percent RDA of calcium and 10 percent RDA of vitamin A.

A single 25 gram serving of old Tang contains 90 calories, 35 mg of sodium, 23 grams of carbohydrate, 100 percent RDA of vitamin C, 10 percent RDA of calcium and 10 percent RDA of vitamin A.

Tang3_170Recipes from the Kraft Foods Web site that incorporate Tang include Tangy Tang Shake, Orangey Muffins, Nutty Cheese Log, Russian Tea Mix, and Halloween Sparkle Punch.

According to the Kraft Foods Web site, “Tang is a great example of Kraft’s ‘best of global, best of local’ philosophy at work. We use our global scale to create efficiencies like advertising and to fast adapt the brand to new markets, while incorporating appropriate local preferences in each country.”

Tang4_170Today, the Tang brand is the leading powdered beverage brand in Kraft’s Latin America, Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa, and Asia Pacific geographic regions.

Tang is enjoyed by consumers in more than 60 countries. Flavor varieties are tailored to the taste preferences of consumers in different regions around the world. The formulation of Tang has been changed for different countries, to meet nutritional needs.

The Tang advertising slogan is “Moms everywhere trust Tang.”

Corollary to an Ancient Law

Heliopoli_Full_EX88There are those who don’t believe in Heliopoli. They do not believe that it was built by humans. They do not believe that it is as big as it is. They do not believe in its purpose.

There are those who don’t believe that humans built the ancient Egyptian pyramids, or, at least, not without help from extraterrestrials.

There are those who don’t believe that mankind landed on the moon.

Let us begin with the pyramids.

Author Arthur C. Clarke formulated Clarke’s Law, which states that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. (Points of argument: One would hope that if one came from a technological society, one would assume that the “magic” was a form of technology to begin with; doesn’t one need a belief in magic from the start, to assume that something is magic?; and how does one define magic? — but these concerns are outside the scope of this inquiry.)

Heliopoli_Full_EX87The chief archivist would like to propose a corollary to Clarke’s Law: that any sufficiently ancient technology is indistinguishable from magic. This supplies our nonbelief in the pyramids. We cannot figure out how they did it, therefore extraterrestrials helped out by levitating blocks into position, or some other kinds of “magic” built them.

A corollary to the corollary would state that any wondrous thing achieved by a generation may succumb to nonbelief by a subsequent generation. This supplies our nonbelief in the moon landing. (This also holds true to horrible events inflicted by a previous generation.) We haven’t gone back to the moon, later achievements in space don’t measure up, and so, they believe, it didn’t happen; it cannot be believed in.

The corollary to the corollary to the corollary would state that plucking one thing out of the context of the time from whence it came and holding it singly to the light of day subjects it to nonbelief and ridicule. We take one thing — “Look at those pyramids over there” — and see them only in our own context, our own lateral history. If it is something we would not do, it becomes hard to believe in. We do not see the actual belief systems that surround it, the cultural motivations, the economic incentives, etc.

Heliopoli_Full_EX89Lateral history, as defined by the chief archivist, is that connective web of factors that exists concurrent with the object or achievement. The ancient Egyptians believed in the godhood of their kings and the preservation of the body to ensure an afterlife; they needed a public works project; they sought to employ a population outside of the irrigation time when the Nile flooded; and so on. These factors exist at the same time as the achievement.

In summary, ancient technologies seem like magic, a previous generation’s achievement appears impossible because it does not belong to us, and context is stripped away when an object is plucked away from its era.

An achievement belongs to its time. The rest is filtered interpretation.

How, then, should we regard Heliopoli? What belief system drove it? What economic incentives inspired it? How did its builders view it, without regard to those who came after?

The excavators do not understand Heliopoli. Certainly it was an achievement. It exists, like the pyramids, and we regard it through our filtered interpretation. We pluck it out of its lateral history and turn it over in our minds and, for many, see it as quaint. We see it as foolhardy. We see it as a cute exercise. We see it as a failed attempt.

But eventually we must come back to belief. Belief fuels the interpretation, both for the builders of an achievement and the interpreters who come later.

One must first believe in magic to interpret something as magic. And we believe what we want to believe. Maybe magic isn’t outside the scope of this inquiry, after all.

The chief archivist believes that Heliopoli is magic. With its pedways and monorail and boulevards; its open expanses; its sweeps and turns and flourishes; its raw exuberance; its dreamy foolishness; its innocent charm — how could it not be?

Heliopoli, in many ways, belongs to its time. Its nature is singular, however, because it once belonged to the future.