Sunday, July 14, 2019

And Then Double Again

To rest.  A day with nothing to do.  Stated officially.  “Tomorrow, we have to do nothing.”  We'll have no sites to see or connections to make except with the Red Sea, seen last night for our first time and now shining aloud.   It was nice in the dark and its nicer in the day.  We have a remarkable corner room with a few to the left and a view to the right. The sea is not “red.”  My wife noted convincingly.  I stared out and thought of Arabia, which I thought perhaps I could see, until I checked Google Maps and confirmed that there are a few islands, five kilometers off shore (Jazair Jiftun).  And I thought of Moses and tried to explain the parting of the Red Sea, to my wife and I thought of Peter O’Toole the way his eyes pop out of his head when, as Lawrence of Arabia he looks at the water after being in the desert and says “Aqaba,” and I thought of being a little grade school boy and learning of Jacques Cousteau diving in the Red Sea when he was the coolest figure I could imagine.

Outside are pleasure yachts of varying degrees of grandeur. The Egyptian flag is fluttering above a thatched hut.  It seems small but determined.  Yesterday, driving up and back to Qbey and Abydos there were many pillbox towers check-points with machine guns poking out were a much more imposing site.  This town is most certainly a target.  I’m sure the security in general around this town in tight.  The water is crystal clear as it ought to be and there are families down below, none of them dressed conservatively, lounging.  In the lobbies are a jarring cabal of the Cancun-set here with their American stares of presumption. This place is certainly seen as an infidel colonization by some. 

And where are the Russians?  I had been told that the Russians loved to go to Egypt and I’ve been here two weeks and not met nor heard one Russian voice.  Perhaps there all here at the beach doing what you can’t do in the summer in the Baltic.  Perhaps they are at the Russian-friendly resorts somewhere further up or down the coast.  I warned our guide and a quick look on the web confirms that Chinese tourism to Egypt doubled over the last few years.  It will invariably double and then double again.  Sooner or later China will face a soul-shaking challenge to its international presence. 

I had very much wanted my children to see Egypt.  I wanted to see it as well.  Last night I toasted the whole family for their endurance.  We’d seen a tremendous amount in the last twelve days.   And as happens with a collective journey like this, the gestation of inspiration can be one year and be many years.  The shared experience regardless creates a webbing of references that hold you closer together as a family.   Sharp narratives.

Tomorrow early, we fly out.  First to Cairo, and then on to JFK.  A blessing then, being able to have seen all this safely and while we can, as a collective.

Sunday 7/14/19

Snap of His Boiling Eggplant

One tour guide and then another in or from Luxor has commented to how they like Mubarak.  He was, it appears, good for tourism.  Now, an hour out of Luxor we stopped for a moment in Qena.  I wanted to get my phone’s data charged and we pulled up along a candy stand and began to ask around.  Our guide Ahmed and our guard named Fati walked down the road with me, in search of a kiosk.  I learned this morning that when we paid or the van and the permission to head to Abydos and Hurghada we had also brokered the services of an armed guard.   

I absolutely don’t understand how one properly charges one’s phone in Egypt.  I’d bought a forty-dollar plan back at the airport in Cairo which lasted a week.  After that it’s been thirty dollars a day, or so it seems to use data.  The guy with the charge machines charged two hundred and ninety Egyptian pounds for a charge of two-hundred.  I don’t get why there should be a 1/3 charge to all this but so be it.   

I went back to see who else need a charge on the phone.  Fati accompanied me.  My older one had complained this morning that her data'd run out.  But no one else besides her needed a top-up.  She, like me, was wearing shorts before long both she and I’d received text messages announcing the top-ups we’d just paid for.  Another man entered the shop and waited for us to complete our transaction and it suddenly occurred to me that I looked ridiculous in shorts and that my daughter presumably looked topless with her own hair and legs unfurled.

Fati accompanied us back and my wife suggested she wanted a falafel.  I snapped a picture of the candy man’s shop after asking and he gave me a big smile.  Over at the falafel shop they the proprietor was not pleased that I’d stolen a snap of his boiling eggplant and I complied by returning my phone to my pocket.  My attempts to nod and pull a smile from the man were completely unsuccessful.  We were about to buy eight falafels, and I most assuredly did not feel welcome as we prepared to do so.

Qena, my driver confirmed, is not the sort of place that would have been considered Mubarak territory.  Luxor had formerly been under the jurisdiction of this provincial seat and it is clearly a bigger city than Luxor though perhaps not as big as Aswan.  The people suddenly seemed to be to be rather conservative and I was glad to have the chance to consider this place, outside the shadow of Egypt’s main tourist boulevard.                                                                                                            

When we stopped at a shisha bar where my daughter and I once again could use the bathroom.  By now I was acutely aware of her attire and made a joke about it with her.  Inside the dark environment every water pipe stopped gurgling as we walked by.  Fati, handed me a tissue, and then one to my daughter, as we exited the bathroom door and made our way out of Qena on our way to Sohag.

Saturday 7/13/19

Another One Was Missing

On the road to Abydos, leaving out of Aswan.  We’d left an hour later than planned.  Eight in the morning was always going to be a challenge.  To the right, The dusty dangerous looking constructions are built up into the hill side, Inshalla there will not be any earthquakes here for many, many years, till long after they reinforce those walls.   Abydos was Mecca before there was Mecca.  The ancient temple of Osiris, built by Seti I, in 1294 B.C. the father of the big builder Ramses II.   I’ve talked the troupe into this one last temple, which is supposedly has remarkable color and is largely complete. 

Our guide Ahmed, comes up to me and asks if he can speak.  I need to finish a document first but when I do and I ask him what’s up, he mentions that we will have three more hours to reach Luxor and then Abydos will be a full three hours beyond that.  It is unlikely we will reach Abydos before 4:00PM and the site may close soon thereafter.  Why not go tomorrow?  He suggests.  We’ll cut off two hours of travel because you must go north the Qena before you turn off to Hurghada anyway.  This will be better.  At first, I dismiss this.  No.  We’ll continue on the with the plan, as the new plan begins to get other members of the tribe anxious about just how long everything is. "As you wish" which always seems to burden the recipient rather than serve them.  But in the end, we decide upon the new plan.  Let the family rest today when we reach Luxor.  They can have a lazy day at the hotel, and we’ll take on Abydos then, tomorrow.

I need to get my sister something and I have it in my mind to find some of these old British prints that they have in some of the hotel walls.  I’m not sure  that a glitter painting of the Pharaohs on treated papyrus has a future on our walls.  Out in front of the Winter Palace hotel there is a shop and wonderfully they have  a ten of the prints by Mr. David Roberts  from Stockbridge which I learned was in Scotland.  They have different sets and I choose the one that has prints from across the nation.  I’d had it in my mid to get the cow as the symbol of Hathour, which we’d learned at Abu Simbel was the symbol of maternity.  They show me a lovely cow our two with the sun disc on the forehead and I am tempted but we get the prices wrong between pounds and dollars and it’s much more than I thought.  He explained that these were all from a special cabinet that though not ancient were all carved in the 19th century from  Steatite stone.  He suggests throwing in a scarab beetle to increase the value and I consider a lovely one that has Hatshepsut carved into the base but in the end, I pass and respectfully move on with only my prints. 

Somehow the actual Temple of Luxor itself is one that we did not get to visit during the frenzy of our initial day in Luxor.  I’m not going to press anyone else to join but I head over now in the 105 degrees weather, to consider another of Ramses II’s construction the temple of Luxor.  I tried as best I could to suggest the guide take the afternoon off but he accompanied me over and it was certainly good to have him.  Formerly, the ruins were buried to the seated Rasmes' neck in dust and debris.  How strange for the 19th century visitors to have first seen it in this fashion.  He points out the obelisk that testifies to Ramses II and the space where another one was missing.  Muhammad Ali apparently presented it to the French in the early 19th century and it presently sits as a gift in the Place Du Concorde, in Paris.  I seem to recall having seen it there, many years back.  The French apparently give Muhammad Ali a clock tower return that broke down shortly after they received it.  My guide points out that the Obelisk in the Hippodrome in Istanbul was also from here originally and that if they were given as gifts there is not much Egypt can do to reclaim them, but the ones that were taken, that is another matter.  And he reminds me of the challenges for Egypt in the last millennium before Christ.  The Nubians conquered Egypt.  I consider the ropes around the necks of the Nubians marching beneath one side of Ramses feet and the “Asian” Syrians on the other side with their prominent beards, as it had been in Abu Simbel.  And then a few hundred years later the Nubians return the favor and after that, the Persians so the same.  And the Persians in particular like the Christian Copts later, deface the ancient iconography or in the Christian's case, paint over their Biblical scenes.     

Heading home its hot.  Really hot and there is no shade. The water from the market fridge I buy along the way remarkably refreshing and I needed it more than I’d assumed.  Back at the hotel and splurge about on two items from the gentleman’s 19th century case.  I hope my sister and my mother enjoy them.  There is no point in getting items that are disposable.  And this evening we dine at the house of Mustafa, the ensign on the dahabiya we sailed who invited us to his home.  We met his mom and sisters on the first floor and his wife and family on the second.  We paid games with his two younger daughters and laughed, trying to teach them how to count to ten in Chinese.  Dinner was on the floor.  Chicken and soup and mezze, and each of us genuinely purred with satisfaction and how delicious each dish.  I wasn’t sure beforehand whether or not this was something the family would really want to do.  I the end, I think it will be remembered by everyone in their own way as a highlight.  Mustafa did not have smart phone or an email address so I cannot easily send him the lovely photos we took all together there with his family. 

Friday, 7/12/19