January 6, 2008 6:22am

Christmas Eve

We’re on our way to Western Thebes now, and I’m still behind days in my accounting.  When I last left off, we had finished lunch and were headed out to shop.   Most everyone went off in their own directions, but Nancy and I stayed with Dr. Gabra – which meant that I did acquire my fez (which is actually a tarboosh, as I should have remembered), a drum, and a beautiful galabeeyah, the most practical of my purchases as it had been bourne in on us that morning that our evenings’ activities were much more formal than I had originally understood.  For the most part we actually achieved the half price point – certainly not a feat I could have managed on my own, as I was jumping out of my skin with excitement.

Later, after a nap and a quick clean-up, we got on the bus to our audience with the Pope.  As we walked in, a line formed and we shuffled past more icons by Isaac Farnous and each of us shook hands with a bishop.  He was a nice, sturdy man with a hat that looked like a pleated black silk cream puff, rising about 8 inches off his head.  We all figured that was it – and were certainly surprised at the number of photographers, camerapersons, and suit-clad journalists wielding microphones.

Apparently, we were an event – and soon discovered why.  Rather than exiting, we were escorted through the papal palace to a carved and gilded office, where two rows of thronesque chairs waited for us – the central throne remained empty.  After we were all seated, the journalists busied themselves arranging mics and camera angles, and a reminding buzz went around that we were to stand when the pope entered.

Soon a little procession of plump bishops was arranged, and we all rose as a tiny man with a grizzled silver beard and gilded robes entered.  He seated himself between Salaama Shakur, the former Ambassador to Canada and a large man in a cream coat.  These two then were flanked by Karen and Dr. Gabra.

Formal greetings were exchanged and Karen asked for a blessing on the new Coptology chair.  We then settled in for an open forum of questions and comments – deeply surprising because they were unvetted and unedited.  Although the atmosphere was free, the questions were polite and Shenouda’s answers were both hopeful and humerous.  All the while, gilded goblets full of coke were passed around. I may begin to drink my own soda this way at home.

As the audience concluded, books and icons were passed around to each of us, depicting the holy family in Egypt.  The pope then had his etymology joke and gave blessing.   Primarily we noticed how deeply he is able to laugh, and how extensively he has worked to encourage cooperation between religions.  I strongly suspect that I would disagree with many, if not most of his solutions, but it is hard to dislike a peacemaker, and that does seem to be his preoccupation.

continued 11:32am

Dr. Gabra is now announcing the opening of international exchange programs between our university and those in Egypt, particularly the American University – basically a dream come true.

Certainly I was realizing last night, thinking of my conversation with Magda, just how vast my field is – and how even my politics (especially my politics) affects my goals.  I am here as tourist, scholar, diplomat, and as in this record, journalist (certainly at least in being one who journals or records).

After the audience and the frenzy of photographers as we exited, it was straight on to the diplomatic (or diplomats) club – grand, colonial, lush.  Servants at every corner bearing goblets of fresh juices (I chose lime and melon, which was delicious but still could not compare to the guava juice at the bazaar).  I am moved to note yet another example of my ignorance, as I am reminded that just as there are varieties of apples, so too there are varieties of mango and guava with both subtle and dramatic differences in taste and texture.  Back at the club, the dinner was course upon course, served by waiters like soldiers, trained to appear in perfect tandem.  The main table was in the circular chamber surmounted by a fresco like a sunrise, all delicately shaded clouds in sherbet colors.  The other tables, weighed down by Limoges and crystal and heavy linen, were in the rose colored chamber.  Only the food surpassed the decor – stuffed artichoke hearts, tomato salad, lamb, whitefish, and ending with Milk of Ali pudding and fresh fruit.

We thanked the various dignataries and Salaama gave an impassioned speech on behalf of the university, then we walked the five blocks back to the hotel, exhausted.  I am once again moved to prayer and gratitude for the wisdom to give up high heels.  We packed, slept, and woke prepared to make the flight on the Air Egypt Express to Thebes (modern Luxor).  The plane was lovely, spacious and clean, and looked from the outside like a pregnant dragonfly. Inside it was 2 seats deep on each side, with plenty of leg room.  I sat next to Karen and was able to discuss passing geographical features (primarily the Red Sea) and Hatshepsut.  The view from the plane was a study in contrasts – stark deserts, lush fields, outlines of sites and old waterways.

We landed and went straight to Karnak, a description of which can be found in any guidebook.  That said, no guidebook quite prepares you for the beauty, the sense of recognition, or the sheer scale, all of which in combinaton conspired to make me tear up.  Well, that and the sense of what I was missing.


~ by heycarahe on February 1, 2008.

One Response to “January 6, 2008 6:22am”

  1. […] bookmarks tagged dragonfly January 6, 2008 6:22am saved by 5 others     greendaygirl829 bookmarked on 02/01/08 | […]

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