The total eclipse postage stamp!

In June the US Postal Service will release a commemorative stamp to celebrate TSE2017, and it will be a big, big first: a stamp that changes when you touch it.

The heat of your finger will react with the stamp’s thermochromic ink to reveal an image of the full moon over a solar corona. It will revert back to a totally-eclipsed sun when it cools.

The “Total Solar Eclipse Forever” stamp will be made available on June 20, 2017 after its First-Day-of-Issue ceremony at the University of Wyoming in Laramie. (Am I the only Oregonian disappointed that it’s not taking place in Madras?) Apparently there’s some kind of druid sculpture there that manifests its magical properties on that day, the summer solstice.

The image on the new stamp was selected from among Fred “Mr. Eclipse” Espenak’s fine collection of totality photographs, that was shot during the eclipse over Egypt/Libya in 2006.

On the back (each pane of 20) will be the path of totality on August 21, featuring the largest cities and towns in the shadow.

Learn more (and watch for preorder information) at the USPS website.

(Fellow philatelic umbraphiles, spread the word! Uncle Sam says use hashtag #EclipseStamps.)

 

 

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The celebration tent

A giant tapestry-type tent was erected on the beach outside the hotel in Mersa Matruh, and the post-eclipse celebration inside was memorable—woven carpets covered the sand, and table after table was heaped with catered Mediterranean food.

Funny WTF moment: at the cheese and hummus table I pointed to a bowl of chalky grey squares and inquired with a lift of my eyebrows to a man behind the table wearing a chef’s uniform and tall white toque. He just shrugged, so I reached for one and started to put it in my mouth. “No eat!! No eat!!” he screamed, waving me off. I dropped it and ran. I still don’t know what it was.

A dorky DJ spun outdated American records and the frenzied eclipse nerds danced to “YMCA”.

The entire glorious day was a travel memory I wish I could relive, with my Ralph, exactly as it was—except I’d take more photos.

Above: Celebration tent in Mersa Matruh

Below:

Fabulous food

Chasers get down

Eclipse 2006

On March 29 an estimated 8,000 tourists, astronomers, NASA scientists and Egyptian officials gathered in Sallum, a town on the Libyan border usually visited only by workers and truckers entering and exiting Egypt.

The hotel in Mersa Matruh was 2 1/2 hours from the eclipse site and we rose unspeakably early to the pre-dawn rumble of motorcoaches and diesel fumes outside the hotel. “This reminds me of the Marine Corps,” groaned Ralph as we staggered from bed to bus seats in the dark.

At half past noon the moon passed before the sun in a perfect and cloudless sky. I’m now five for five.

I noticed that the shape of the corona—which is different every TSE and has something to do with sunspots and the solar magnetic field—exactly and mysteriously mirrored the design of the winged sun carvings on the back of my chair in the Nile Hilton dining room. I kept this observation to myself.

Above: Shades

Below:

Path of totality, 2006

Back on the bus

Press tent

Observing at Sallum. (Ralph. Get UP.)

Mubarak

The official viewing site for the eclipse was in Sallum at what appeared to be an abandoned air force base under heavy checkpoint surveillance near the Libyan border.

The early waiting and partial phase hours in Egypt were more entertaining than at any other eclipse: an elaborate preparation was underway for the arrival of then-president Hosni Mubarak. Young soldiers in smart parade uniforms were arranged in rank, then in file, then re-aligned. Superior officers inspected and fussed and dusted: tunics were jerked, collars straightened, caps adjusted to the perfect angle. The soldiers finally stood in solemn formation in anticipation of their leader.

A large, multicolored seating area was assembled with gilt furniture, gold-potted plants, and a red carpet stairway leading to a massive portrait of the president’s big ol’ face.

Events took a turn in the minutes before his motorcade pulled up: a team of men in jumpsuits scrambled to dismantle the stage and hustle the red carpet and other decor to a low and modest tent adjacent to the showy grandstand—which I’m assuming was a decoy all along, presumably to deter an assassination attempt (!) Travelers to the site that day, was that your impression?

Mubarak, his wife, and several Ministers, Egyptian officials and various governmental hangers-on soon pulled up in their sleek motorcade and observed the eclipse from the lesser enclosure. Mubarek boarded a black sedan shortly after third contact and waved “wadaeaan” from the window.

Above: That’s him

Below:

Welcome to Salloum—however you spell it

Egyptian military at the ready

Mubarak’s viewing area—not Mubarak’s viewing area—Mubarak’s new viewing area

Bye now, gotta go stand trial

The pink bus

We joined the TravelQuest tour already in progress at the Meridien Pyramids hotel for the bus excursion to the eclipse site.

If you’re thinking about traveling to a TSE, I can’t recommend TravelQuest highly enough. I generally hate the term, “trip of a lifetime” (unless you’re 100 years old, never say “never again,” right?) but a TravelQuest astronomical tour is so unique each time, so outrageously special, that you really will refer to it as a once in a lifetime adventure, just like their website says. Founder and President Aram Kaprielian is the most dedicated, detail oriented travel professional I’ve ever met and a man who really shares the joy of the experience with each traveler on the tour.

Even the grating lady—there’s always one—on our “pink” bus, who broadcast her every movement to no one in particular but for all the bus to hear. “I’m getting a coke from the ice chest now.” “I’m going to use the rest room now.” “Oh my, look at that <whatever outside the window>.” There must be a name for this disorder.

Western Egypt is flat and arid and refreshingly devoid of tourists. The bus stopped at the El Alamein WWII museum and cemetery at Mersa Matruh, the site where Rommel’s German Afrika Korps were smacked by the British and the allies.

In the Time Before Ralph (TBR), I was indifferent to ye olden days, but through him I’ve grown to appreciate the past…a little. Traveling with a history teacher is like having a personal docent at every museum, castle, monument and art gallery, and Ralph knows all the dirt about every world leader. It’s enlightening (and sad) to hear about the scandals and deceits and failures of yesterday that continue to repeat today, over and over, exactly as before.

Military museums like El Alamein and this one provide a historical perspective that can deepen your understanding of a place and its people, and they usually exhibit early attempts at technology (and some flat out crazy items) you won’t see anywhere else.

The bus came to rest in Mersa Matruh the night before the eclipse. It felt heavenly to put a beer in my hand and dig my toes in the sand on the private beach outside the hotel.

Above: Everybody on the bus

Below:

Tour group (and swag)

Historian at large

Egypt!

What a cool destination for a total solar eclipse trip. This time I took Ralph, the current and final husband; a somewhat twitchy traveler but an avid historian who was lured by a scheduled visit to the El Alamein WWII museum, a place of vast interest on the way to totality at the Egypt/Libyan border.

Before hooking up with a tour group for the ride west to the viewing site we hit the must-sees in Cairo: the pyramids of Giza (bigger than you think), the Sphinx (smaller than you think), and the Khan el-Khalili bazaar (home of the world’s scariest public toilet).

The most exhilarating memory of Egypt wasn’t the eclipse: it was crossing the street outside the Nile Hilton, on foot, through four lanes of speeding traffic. It was the only way. We stood pathetically on the curb for what seemed like forever, waiting for a break in the flow of traffic that was never to come. To our right and left we watched in amazed horror as Egyptian pedestrians simply stepped into the oncoming melee and somehow waded safely to the other side. When we could stall no longer we looked at each other with equal parts “let’s do this” and “goodbye”, and I strode forward like Indiana Jones taking his leap of faith on the Path of God. Somehow invincible, we moved in a dissociative fugue state through the honking swirl, cars rushing and lurching inches away, to reach the the opposite curb. The eclipse actually paled in excitement. Oh, that and the time our cab quit running and began rolling backward on the Sixth of October Bridge. That, too.

Above: Giza. (What you don’t see: the photographer is standing with her back to a Kentucky Fried Chicken. The pyramids are just yards from the edge of Cairo, the largest urban area in Africa.)

Below:

View of the Nile from our balcony

Giza pyramid complex