January 7, 2008 9:05am

Happy Christmas!

From Karnak we went to the Sofitel hotel, which turned out to be a resort.  We walked into the bar to organize ourselves and were awed.  By the time we made our way to the posh suite, we’d completely suspended disbelief, and opening the balcony and window to see the perfect blue of the pool was as surreal as a dream.  We had about an hour so Nancy and I walked out,  found the Nile, and in attempting to reach it found an ampitheater ribbed with planters of daisy, hibiscus, and various greenery.  We sat there for a bit, feeling privilaged and out of place, then made our way out to the grassy knoll scattered with lounge chairs, minature tables, umbrellas, and damp Europeans sunning or displaying themselves.  I’ve never seen quite so many innappropriately chosen speedos.  Taking our cue from them, we stretched out, I on the grass and Nancy in a chair, and napped, snacked, and watched the setting sun from under half-closed eyes.  It finally sunk in, the realization that we were in Egypt, on the Nile, and thoroughly relaxed.

Within the hour, as our colleagues began to stir, we gahered our belongings and headed off to Luxor Museum.  It’s a well laid out design with smartly organized exhibits that are reasonably accessable within a normal length visit.  Without a doubt, my favorite piece was the statue of Taweret, the hippopotamous goddess of childbirth (the lovely statue of Mut and Amun notwithstanding).  I do admire the setup of the Luxor Cachette exhibit, as it allows visitors to walk all the way around most pieces – the better to appreciate the delicasy with which relationships are expressed.  The women in  these pieces have one arm around the back of their male counterparts, and their other hand on the male arm, both supporting and protecting.  Equally, the minature pharaoh approaching the god Amun raises his face and eyes as a beloved son approaching an affectionate father.

Indeed, the only complaint I might level against the museum is that the display cards lack dates, material identification, and thorough transcription of texts.  Important, of course, but if you’ve done your homework, not devastating.

Stopping on the way back at a grocery for water (and thank goodness, because the hotel wanted more than I’d pay american for water), I gave just a bit of money away to two boys, who approached me with the expression I’d been waiting all this time to hear: “baksheesh?”.   They were handsome lads, and I’d had a perfect day.  How could I refuse?

Back at the hotel, after dinner, Jackie, Lauren and I walked out to the Nile, having discovered that they had no idea what was out there.  We chatted and strolled and admired the view, although we could no longer see Deir el Bahri because of the dark, when we finally looked up.  The sky was incredible, and even without Lauren’s star chart we identified Orion, the Big dipper, six of the Pleiades, and poor, upside-down Cassiopeia.  Being tired and all too aware of our 5am wake up call the next day, we said our goodbyes and went to bed.

The next morning we woke to the most ferocious telephone ringing, and given both the hour-long timeframe and our punishing schedule for the day, even I forewent a shower.  As I rinsed off and brushed my teeth, I heard the soft, lovely, pre-dawn call to prayer.  Unfortunately for my colleagues on the other side of the hotel, he’d been calling since about 4:30 in the morning.  They were not amused (apparently he was loud).

continued 12:28pm

After the last stragglers had finished breakfast at about 6am, we loaded the bus for the 20 minute drive to the west bank, towards the Valley of the Kings (with, apparently, some grumbling along the way by Marirose about why we weren’t visiting the Valley of the Queens).  I was very grateful then for my studies, as I had a clear idea of just how punishing the day ahead would be.  I had not read the guidebook description of the entrance (if indeed there is one), but fell rather in love with the 3-D interior/exterior map of the valley, and the layout of the tombs (they don’t call me ‘mapgrrl’ for nothing).  Having seen even very detailed drawings of the plans, and photographs of the exterior, I still felt a different kind of comprehension to see them merged like that.

As we were loaded onto the tram I had my first really tempting commercial experience, desperately wanting a map of the valley and trying to negotiate down from 50 L. E. before we drove off entirely.  I left, and my map remained at the bottom of the road.  Our tickets were valid for entry to three tombs, with the option to purchase another for that of Tutankhamon.  As I am all too familiar with the contents and photographs of the last, and have no desire to waste my precious 45 minutes on a small, minor tomb, I decline.   Instead I got to see the masterpieces in Ramses IX, and have a leisurely tour around Twosret and Setnakht, and best of all the magnificent tomb of Thutmoses III.valleyofthekings-map.jpg

T he corridors and chambers got hotter (much, much hotter) the farther down we went – actually, less down than in.  From a nice, if sarcastic Swiss tourist who was eiting as we entered, Jackie and Lauren and I learned that one could bribe the interior guard to shine his flashlight into the sarcophagus to see images of Nut and Isis.  Additionally, I found out that my map could be had from the young man at the bottom of the stairs for 10 LE.

continued 4:49pm

We are back on the bus now, having visitied Deir el Macarius and Deir el Syriani, and the grumbling has started up again.  Adults acting like spoiled children about bus times and hotel quality and opportunity to shop.  Because we’re ugly Americans and cannot live without shopping.  Warm buttered Moses on toast.

Mi pauvre Nancy has aquired a head cold – actually a good half or more of our company has done so – and thus the bus is now a symphony of sniffs, snuffles and assorted sneezing and blowing.  Companerea behind me says she is losing IQ points, although personally I think she is cleaning out her ears.  Wax is looser than cerebral matter (except for the morning after any major writing is finished – although she did bring Hebrew to parse.  On traveling vacation.  Perhaps she has got some loose effluvia floating around in her head.)

Before I work my way through today’s relaxing if edifying activities, I want to record our remaining time inThebes.   From the Valley we already lost time from our schedule – a potential disaster on a trip like this – because the allure of the paintings convinced us that missing Yalla yalla group members were, in fact, lost (and because of the complete inability of a few souls to resist street vendors).  I do, that said, realize that Wendy and Susan have both now purchased items which I could have afforded and would be quite pleased to have.  Perhaps theirs is the greater wisdom.

Already Betty has reminded me that even the space of a day takes a toll on memory – I have forgotten the Collassae of Memnon, which was the opening of our day.  The air there was crisp and fresh (brisk, even) and the tour groups were at a minimum as we arrived so early.   Sadly, we did not beat the birds, so I had to content myself with the left hand monument (although fortuntely it was the better preserved of the two).   My excitement at recognizing the symbols overcame some of my apprehension, and I was the first to approach admittely the far left side.  I could see the pleats of the kilt, and the lovely female figure at the side, and even the strands of the queue that gathered the back of the wig.

The more heiroglyphs I see, the greater my desperation to remember.  Here, I lose my shame at my own ignorance because: how can anyone possibly know all of this? Never fear, I reaquire it quickly.

We pass from the Valley through the tombs of the nobles and past various temples and copious alabaster factories in el Gurnah to Deir el Bahri, or the mortuary temple of Hatshepsut, and I’ve got excitement pouring out of my skin, worse even than sweating my way through Thutmoses III, aka the tomb of the thousand steps (known to me, anyway.  I didn’t count, but it sure felt like it!)  The bus is parked and we are given precisely 30 minutes from the tram to look and be back, or it’s a taxi for stragglers (fair enough, as our hotel has a strict – and expensive – check-out policy).  I decide to forgo both the lecture and even Dr. Gabra’s expertise and head straight for he source of my excitement, the description of the expedition to Punt, and the adjacent mural of Hathor as a full cow suckling the Pharaoh Hatshepsut.  The latter is just as touching as I’d hoped, and the former is a wealth of beauty piled upon wonder.

I manage to find the image of the Candace directly, and from there identify various fish, including squid, and trees and barks and so many images that I desire nothing more than to caress the pictures (a thought which repeats itself later at Luxor Temple where the seated statue of Amun and Mut lures me to sit in her lap and cuddle her.  I do actually restrain myself in both instances, but just barely).

Accompanied again by Lauren and Jackie, I hauled myself up to the third level to see what I could in the five minutes remaining – including some of the remenants of the monastary – but it was such a whirlwind that I’ll have to look at pictures later to remind myself of what I’ve seen.  We make it back on the bus – late, actually, because we walked back instead of taking the tram – and headed to our last stop of the morning, the tomb of Sed nedjm at Deir el Medina.

Here we are privilaged to have Dr. Gabra escort us in small groups to the tomb of this artisan, and explain the vision and concept of paradise, despite the general policy against lecturing inside the tomb.  What I hope was a slight joke went around at the end that the guard who allowed Dr Gabra to speak was fired on the spot.  I know for sure that we didn’t tip enough to cover the loss of his job (anyway, I didn’t – if I recall correctly, Marirose pushed me out of the tomb before I had a chance to pass along the pound note he requested).  As I was in the first group down, when I emerged there was just time to clamber into the exceedingly steep neighboring tomb of the royal scribe.  Possessing an antechamber, it was slightly more impressive in scale, but nowhere near as well preserved as the first, although there was a particularly fine lion in the burial chamber proper.

It was high sun and quite warm by this time – about 11:30 am in fact – and we were all sweaty and dusty and tired in both muscle and sleep deprivation.  I felt fabulous, but we all looked and smelled disgusting.  Fortunately we made it back to Sofitel Luxor in time for a quick shower before checkout.

Many of us – Regina, Pat, Steve and Mary, Jackie and and Lauren and I – then sat out near the Nile again for the hour of relaxation, claiming a group of lounges and spreading out books and ipods and orange peels and discussed feminism and travel and the effect of expectation on enjoyment.  We had a nice bite of lunch near the Suk and then had a rushed and crowded hour at Luxor Temple.  The birds pervaded  and I grew paler and more startle-ready the farther in we wandered.

I could see there were great scenes, but my discomfort got to be too great and I had to be escorted out by Dr Gabra, who took the time to ease my fear once he realized its extent, and we discussed the niche mural which our tour guide claimed was christian.  The elements were all wrong though – four figures instead of three or five, and facing the wrong direction – and we were able to dismiss it as Roman and move on.

Down by the avenue of the Sphinxes, Nancy and I got into a good natured but loud “my dick is bigger than yours” Egypt versus Rome debate.  Argument.  Whatever.  I maintain that I won, because she decended to the “Hello? the size of the Roman Empire?” tack, which is the historian’s equivalent of the Reducio ad Hitlerum arguement.

Although there was some mention of time to shop in the suk, we finally ran out of time and had to head off to the airport.  In the long run, I’m quite grateful, because, it being Christmas Eve, the plan was to check in, rinse off, have dinner and then off to midnight mass.  I managed a short nap, and thank goodness, because that service was long and most of it was standing.  At 9:30 pm, then about seven of us met at what was now the redicuously huge bus (Karen had planned for twenty seven of us) in our best duds.  Ironically, the people who reqested to go to the service were among those not present.

We arrived at a massive crush and met the young men and women who had been asked to escort and guide us.  Although I swtiched occasionally between Phoebe and Mina, I felt so coddled and welcomed – even more so when I realized that they were announcing us from the pulpit and had some of the mass in english strictly for our benefit (as were the handbooks of the St. Basil liturgy and the projection screen).  As I watched both the formal service and the rowdy children on the khorus steps, I felt like a child myself as I was guided through a service I didn’t understand.  I learned when to bow (because the moment the bread is transferred to the holy plate is the moment that God appears in the sanctuary).  The ritual of incense and the sound of the songs filled the church top to bottom, so that lights and voices seemed to reflect and attach to a solid, expanding presence.

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~ by heycarahe on January 17, 2008.

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