Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Thanksgiving on the Nile

Well, it's been almost a week since Thanksgiving, and probably will be past that by the time I post this, but, as your narrator, I feel compelled to bring you a saga and Thanksgiving in Egypt. Actually, I had two Thanksgivings this year, each one quite unique. As I mentioned previously, my roommates and I had been planning a grand feast at our house on Wednesday night, Thanksgiving eve. About a week before the event, we began realizing our preparing/presenting supplies were slightly inadequate, so we spent much of the week organizing, creating lists, shopping, and calling hotels to find a turkey. Yes, a turkey. Although our kitchen is equipped with a stove and oven, it still requires conflagration via a match, so you can imagine the trials that cooking a turkey in it might create and the explosions/swearing/billowing clouds of black smoke that might ensue. Eventually, we settled on the Marriott to cater a fully cooked turkey and some side dishes for 600 LE, which turned out to be an excellent decision, because the turkey that was supposed to feed only 12 actually amply fed 30. A Thanksgiving miracle, one might say.
Several days before the dinner, the three hostesses, myself and my roommates Akshaya and Frances, logged onto our evite to check the number of attendees, and suddenly realized that we had invited over 30 people into our apartment and many of them were RSVPing last minute. Oh, crap; well, we valiantly forged forward with the dinner; I made a solo trip to the Khan Tuesday evening and found some beautiful, very cheap glass bowls, a decorative platter, and a picture to aesthetisize (new word) the apartment a bit. Wednesday dawned, as always, slightly smoggy, temperate and sunny, and I spent most of the morning running around Zamalek to Alfa Market and The Coffee Bean purchasing last minute items. After a brief jaunt to class (it does occasionally get in the way sometimes ;-), one of which, Amia, was a two person affair plus the prof, I rushed home, dropped my stuff off, attempted to make Jello without any measuring cups, went down the street to buy a floral arrangement, stopped at the computer store to have my machine repaired, puttered around the kitchen with my roommates (they're the real chefs), made another run to Alfa Market, showed one of my friends an apartment in the building, frantically called Eli to find a wine bottle opener (thankfully, he had one) changed, arranged the house, and, finally, greeted the guests. All in all, the meal was a resounding success, and our dining room table was literally heaped with food, so much so that we had to expand to the buffet. With the dishes we made, and the food our friends brought, we had a genuine Thanksgiving complete with turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie, and sundry other dishes, some American, and many international. I enjoyed introducing some of my Egyptian friends to our Thanksgiving traditions, especially Deya, who found the entire concept of cranberry sauce on mashed potatoes slightly perplexing. Our bellies overly replete with succulent dishes, we gathered in a circle and I forced everyone to recite what they were most thankful for, to the chargrin of many. What can I say, I'm ruthless ;-) Unfortunately, at about this time, someone knocked on the door, and thinking it was a late guest, we opened it to discover the maintenance man for the building, who was slightly concerned with the roaring cascade of water that was coming from our apartment and flooding the building. Although indiscernable from the apartment, the flood had been created by a broken hot water pipe in the kitchen/my bathroom, so, after extensive consultation, we were forbidden to use any water in these two rooms. Hmmm, although the guests were convivally ignorant of the situation, we, particuarly, I, wondered how to scour a kitchen and wash the dishes without water? The solution came in the form of the only working hot water source in the apartment, the second bathroom and bathtub, but we purposefully ignored the situation until after the guests left, around 11:30 or so, and enjoyed the laborious results of our toil.
Because we had been forced to alert the bowab about our party, in order for him to direct the guests, somehow the landlord had also been informed, and we feared he might inspect the apartment the next morning (which he did), so we cleaned vigorously for several hours until the place veritbly sparkled with Lysol surface spray. Frances and I were due to leave that morning at 2:45 for our whirlwind Nile cruise adventure, so we wearily packed our bags and trudged over to the dorms dragging with exhaustion. Unfortunately, rest was not imminent, as we boarded a bus and drove to the airport, piled off and met the rest of the group (we were about 60 strong), dispersed tickets in a generally Egyptian fashion of cacaphonic shouting and shoving, checked in and soon arrived at our gate. Security was slightly amusing, as i.d. was really not necessary at any of the metal detectors, although I suppose our tickets and affiliation with AUC expedited the process. Taking a bus to the tarmac (jetways only exist in the US, I'm learning), we entered the EgyptAir plane, collapsed into our seats, and waited for take off, attempting roseate chitchat but miserably failing. I may have dosed a bit, but the flight was too short, a little over an hour, and too soon the plane bumped down in Aswan to pre-dawn Stygian blackness. Warding off the night chill, I attempted alertness as our sizeable group boarded two tour buses and drove to the Aswan High Dam, a true archtectural marvel, but, too be honest, I was far more interested in rest. However, let me give you a brief history of the dam. Constructed in the 1950s during the Nasserite era in Egypt, the dam regulates the ebb of the Nile, entirely eliminating the yearly innundation that characterized the river for millenia. Instead, the dam provides a steady source of water for the millions of denizens dependent on its fecundity for their livelihood even during times of drought. Of course, with this drastic of an alteration, the dam also irrevocably effaced some of the world's most ancient wonders, mainly the lands of Nubia. Nubia is a name given to a region in southern, or Upper, Egypt, and is currently submerged beneath the silvery waters of Lake Nasser, the capacious lake created by the dam that stretches hundreds of miles in length from Egypt into Sudan. Not only were the citizens of Nubia displaced, but many of the pharonic temples, early Christian monestaries, Islamic mosques, and other architectural masterpieces subsumed beneath the waters. UNESCO rescued many of the more impressive temples from the encroaching waters, adroitly moving entire temples to higher ground, and all of the temples we visited in Aswan were relocated from their original positions.
Anyway, I saw the dam, yawned, and got back on the bus which then proceeded to the cruise boat that was to be our home for the next 4 days/3 nights. Although our cabins weren't ready, we still were allowed to infiltrate the dining room and scarf down the buffet breakfast spread our for the guests, after which many of us went up top to pass out on wonderfully comfortable deck chairs for two hours. No rest for the weary, they say, and so we were too soon herded onto buses for the 3-4 hour bus ride by convoy to Abu Simbel, a magnificent temple in the absolute middle of nowhere. Thankfully, our brilliantly informative but occasionally verbose guide shut up for the trip in order for us to get some shut-eye.
After some well-needed rest, we filed out into the bright sunshine in the midst of a thriving town situated picturesquely next to Lake Nasser, which was, amazingly enough, still following us all the way from Aswan. After stopping at the washrooms, which were surprisingly modern, clean, and flushing, we trekked through the 'bazaar' (I got so tired of these by the end of the trip; every tourist site trapped you in one), rounded a mountain, and emerged into the open plateau laid out before the temples of Abu Simbel. Built by Ramses II, Abu Simbel is one of the most enduring and beautiful monuments still in existence today. Compared to Abu Simbel, the pyramids are just a pile of crumbling stones. I can recall, back in fifth or sixth grade, studying ancient Egypt and knowing that the places portrayed in the pictures were destined to be visited only in my dreams, that people like me don't embark on journeys to Africa and the Middle East. Yet, there I was, gazing on the fair visages of Ramses and his wife, walking through the temples and trailing my fingers over the deftly etched hieroglyphs and images, walking among the gargantuan statues of Osiris standing in eternal vigilance over the main passageway to the altar.
Because vehicles have to travel to and from Abu Simbel in an armed convoy (although our bus had a few engine issues and the military vehicles at the year passed us) we only had about 1.5 hours to explore the site, which was adequate, but not generous. The smaller temple is known more for its beauty and fashion than the bigger one, probably because Nefertari had a hand in it. Indeed, she had her effigies all over it, and in each image, she was wearing a new gown or hairdo ;-) My kind of girl! Nicola and I snapped the requisite pictures, entered the main hall, and I even managed to get a few photos of the inside. Photos are memnuah inside (i.e. forbidden), and I got caught in the main temple, but the photo police guy didn't punish me, just made sure I put the camera away. To be honest, after awhile, all of the reliefs begin to look alike, because all temples utilize the same stylized, uniform precept, and, honestly, how many images can you really have of gods parading in a line or someone kneeling in obeisance to a god? Or, how many conquered slaves and battles can you honestly create before the effectiveness of the image is lost? Infinite, judging from the fact that every temple we visited displayed uniformity in regard to the wall decorations. Of course, there was some variation, but, generally, they have all blended into one giant slab of rocky temple wall with a ceaseless procession of gods, priests, boats, slaves, and pharaohs lilting across with delicately carved faces and, in the case of many of the women (sorry if this is a little crass) very perky, abnormally upright breasts. As I said, highly idealized ;-)
After a final, longing gaze at the temples, we headed back up the hill toward the bus, stopping for refreshments (they were expensive, I paid 10 LE for a can of pop!!!) and another forced march through the bazaar. I happened to be with Mostafa, who's Egyptian, and Frances, who, like me, was trailing behind him. As we passed one of the shopkeepers, he made an motion to accost us but instead made some comment about our apparent attachment to Mostafa and backed off. Thus, the harem was born, for those of you wondering about the picture, and we added Jema to it later, she being a a classmate of the other two. Much fun has been engendered from our fated grouping ;-)
Anyway, back to the bus we went, slept for a while longer, and arrived back in town with a few hours left before supper. After checking into our cabins, which were smaller than those on trans-oceanic liners, but comfortable enough and clean (no room for a couch) and inspecting the bathroom (again, pretty decent), Lesley and I decided to explore town a bit, knowing we were setting sail the next evening for Luxor. Like all cities on the Nile, Aswan has a lovely corniche lined with plenty of tourist shops, a few of which we visited, but our aim for the evening was actually the Nut Roastery we saw from the bus. Apparently, Aswan is famous for its peanuts, and we were determined to ascertain the verity of this claim. Finding the store, we were slightly disappointed with its dingy, grocery market appearance, but, upon entering, spied the heaps of nuts in the back and were sated our nutty desires most satisfactorily. On the way back, I bought a few scarves and stopped at a little grocery stand to stock up on snacks and pop. I actually had to barter for my food! I've never had to do that before, but when the guy wanted 5 LE for a bottle of pop, I balked, and only got him down to 4, but it was the principle of the transaction that mattered, right? This, was if you'll recall, Thanksgiving Day, and we weren't sure what to expect in the way of nourishment on the ship, but we were all thoroughly pleased to find carved turkey for dinner. Actually, every meal on the ship was exceptionally good, and there was always some sort of plain rice/potato dish and meat that I could eat, as well as scrumptious deserts like meringue, fruit and jello, and some sort of flan-like thing that I also enjoyed, as well as multitudinous others eateries for non-gluten-free peoples. After calling home to Minnesota, I went to the top deck and socialized, found the party winding down too early up there, so I descended to the lounge to hang out with my harem for awhile and then finally went to bed, but not before I experimented with the shower, which had an infamous (or so I found out later) propensity to suddenly vaciliate from temperate water to scalding hot.
The next morning we awoke to our 8 am wake up call, rolled out of bed, munched down some breakfast, and piled on the bus to visit the Nubian museum, which was constructed in 1997 and is one of the more beautiful musuems I've seen in terms of layout. Provided with a detailed account of Nubia, we admired the artifacts, statues, and other artifacts-actually, here I should probably mention again that due to the Aswan High Dam so many of the great antiquities and relics of Nubia were forever darkened with the silt-laden waters of Lake Nasser, and, although UNESCO moved many of the temples, including Abu Simbel, the daily aspects of life were lost. Thus, the museum is attempting to preserve not only Nubia's past, but also its present.
After rushing through the beautiful gardens out back, pondering the uniquely Aswan landscape of giant granite boulders scattered across a tumbled green land, I climbed back on the bus to head toward the temple of Philae, one of the first of several Greco-Roman temples that we were to visit.
Situated on an island in the Nile, the temple is accessible by cavalcade of puttering, black smog motorboats, and ours only broke down once ;-) Approaching the temple compound from the water, I was first struck by how astoundingly intact it was, with walls soaring many stories into the sky and colonnades and courtyards existing in much the same manor as they did 2000 years ago. Of course, in antiquity, the courtyards and walls were slathered with bright paint and teeming with priests, commoners, and pilgrims. Today, the temples are occupied by horridly dressed European tourists in tank tops (slutty ones), and short shorts; well, not everyone is inappropriately attired, but I've seen far more ruddily tanned Europeans in the last week than I have in my entire life. Anyway, you've all read my tirades on dress in Egypt, I'll abstain from further didactic rants ;-)
The temple was beautiful, with gray stone courtyards lined with intricately carved pillars (I remember some had faces on the capitals) , an impressively high pylon and pillar forest (that is the very non-architectural name I give for the second hall in the temple, usually covered by a roof and resembling the great redwood forests of California due to the abundance of pillars filling the innards; I could almost feel the soft leaves underfoot and smell the sweet incense of loamy earth and freshly crushed grass (I think that maybe I'm missing the forests of the north a bit too much ;-) . One of my few complaints about the trip is that our group was just too large to truly tour a temple; with over 60 students milling about in periapatetic fashion, it is difficult to hear what the guide is saying and easy to become distracted. At the end of each lecture, our guides wisely gave us about 15 minutes or so to snap our crazy photos and race through the narrow hallways and up passageways and into catacombs to delve into whatever mystery the temple still guarded.
At Philae, Lesley and I, well, mostly I, were fascinated by the Nile, so I positioned myself inside an archway with the Nile behind, but, unfortunately, a group of several men wandered into the picture, stopped, stared for several moments, didn't listen when I told them to go away (Imshee!), and engaged us in conversation for a few minutes until they realized I really didn't care. Sigh, the picture was eventually produced, and then I went wading in the Nile! Did I mention that the Nile is fairly clean around Aswan? There is actually a sparkle on the water that reflects not pollution and garbage but lucidity, as in the ability to penetrate beyond a few inches but almost to the bottom.
We left Philae via motorboat, drove to the cruise ship, ate lunch, lounged briefly on deck, and were awoken to the revels of a Nubian dance troop, who, unfortunately, accompanied us down the pier, into some motorboats, and on a tour of the islands in the Nile. With the paucity of pollution, the breatheablelness of the air, and the bronzing sun cradling us in her warmth, the cruise was delightful, especially since many of us climbed on the roof and amused ourselves by jumping between the two boats and trying to act cool.
Then came the Nubian village, my least favorite part of the trip. Perhaps it was an 'authentic' town full of real people, but the moment our boat grounded on the shore and lowered the gangplank onto a muddy shore, my expectations rapidly dissipated. Indeed, we were led through the village, past shopkeepers selling their wares, past little children begging, following, and tugging at your clothes, through narrow alleyways littered with garbage and animal manure, past stagnant irrigation canals harboring god-knows-what diseases, and eventually to a 'house' where we climbed the roof, stared at the unassuming rooftops, and entered the home to accept a welcome drink. After that, for the next hour we were held captive as they plied us with their wares and services, including henna painting (which I got done), jewelry, hats, bags, and other items that most of us desired not. Eventually, as twilight descended on the village and the shadows swallowed up the wistful patches of light, we marched back through town (I had made the mistake of bringing food with me (which I usually did on the tours, because I/my harem had to tendency to get hungry) and obliging one of the ladies, after she rudely asked, with some tootsie rolls for the children. As I was leaving, she again pointedly asked for more candy, and then all of the women and children began chanting bon-bons so that I had an aggrevating entourage of children for much of the walk to shore). A few of us did hasty shopping in the bazaar conveniently placed on the way back and then sailed back to the cruise boat.
Prepared to set sail at 8, we nevertheless had about two hours to wander into town and stock up on 'supplies'. You see, although the ship had an amply stocked bar, drink prices were rather outrageous, so most of us ended up hunting for alcohol during that time, and my harem eventually found some at a random hotel restaurant and cleared them out of their beer rations. With about an hour left, Jema and I visited the souk and bought some pretty silver necklaces (mine's an Ankh, more on that later, hers is the eye of Horus), trashy t-shirts, and made it back in time to set sail. After a fairly uneventful evening, and another battle with the shower, I tucked in fairly early, well, by midnight or 1 or so for the early morning.
Yes, we had a 6 am, 6 AM! wake up call because the first stop on our voyage up the Nile was the temple at Kom Ombo. It was worth the accursed hour when we sleepily stumbled off the gangplank and into the bright morning sun. What made this one so distinguishing? I think that it had the best preserved reliefs and color of any of the temples along the Nile; plus, it was partially devoted to the crocodile god, Sobek, and there were mummified crocodiles at which to gawk. The structure itself was very well preserved, and I still marvel at how 3-7 story walls and building have survived unscathed for centuries. Chahindra, our guide, pointed out some unique features that differentiate a Greco-Roman temple from that of a pharonic one. In Greco-Roman temples, the figures are carved with more of a, well, figure, and the women have little tummies and the men have more muscles; they are not quite the nubile, lithesome bodies that the Egyptians so adored, although there are no grostesque visages or obese figures. After all, they are still gods.
After touring the temple, a few of us girls were distracted by the scarves in the bazaar, once again, conveniently placed next to the pier of our boat. Even as the boat was airing its horn to hurry us up, I quickly bargained for some beautiful soft shawls, one white and the other blue/black. Considering the transaction was conducted in the space of 3-4 minutes, I probably didn't get a great deal, but I only spent 40 LE. We set sail soon after, chugging up the Nile in a long line of similarly destined cruise boats (there are around 300 or so that troll the waters between Aswan and Luxor) and chomping down breakfast. I discovered, in my own words, that I'm a bit of a white food supremist, particularly at breakfast, but we didn't dwell too long on that revelation, as the top deck was beckoning. For most of the morning, we dozed, listened to Ipods, chatted, admired the view, and read in the lounge chairs up top, meeting some of the ship's other residents but mostly sticking to ourselves. The banks of the Nile are lined mainly with agricultural endeavors, and it is truly fascinating to watch the felaahin plow their fields with oxen, cultivate and reap their fields by manual labor, fish in the river using nets and poles from rickety rowboats, and generally live in a mode of existence that has not transmuted for the past thousands of years. For sure, there are no cell phone tours dotting the landscape, and the occasional power plant, but the huts, irrigation canals, livestock, and rites appear unaltered even in this modern era.
After lunch, our ship pulled into the port at Edfu, home to yet another temple, and ALI had somehow decided that we would take horse and carriage rides from the dock to the temple. Walking through the other ships moored closer shore (often, because berth space is limited, ships dock up perpendicular to each other and connect using gangways so passengers sometimes end up entering one or two other vessels before shore) we emerged into consummate chaos. I found my other three friends, climbed into a carriage, was given breathless directions by and AUC staff member, and trotted off through the town. Because the weather in Upper Egypt tends to be rather sultry ;-) I had rolled up the sleeves of my otherwise demure shirt to my shoulders, and, as we passed thorough Wust El-Belad, I felt increasingly more like object fit for a brothel than a tourist, which slightly soured my opinion of Edfu. Eventually, we arrived, clambered out of the carriage and waited for the group to coalesce for the tour. Chaindra's group, as always, had aggrandized considerably by the time we made it through the ticket line, and she kicked us out! So, we were stuck with the other tour guide, who actually proved fairly knowledgeable and more succinct than Chaindra.
Edfu is undeniably an impressive temple, the most intact one structurally in all of Egypt because much if it was buried beneath mountains of sands until discovered in the 1800s. All of the roofs and walls still stand erect, and it's slightly unnerving to stare into the inner sanctum and know that this same spectacle was witnessed 2000 years ago, that once an ancient priest observed the esoteric rites of his order in the holy shrine and lived in the barracks outside, that the ground that thousands of common tourists now tread every day was once restricted only to the pharaoh and the highest priests of the time. We all trickled back to the open plaza slowly, enduring the bazaar with resolute equanmity, found our same carriages and made it back to the ship with no further incident.
For the rest of the day, we sunned on deck, took our tea at tea time (I'm beginning to like tea ;-), watched the sun drift languidly behind the far off hills, and shivered as the temperatures plummeted with the sunset. Around 6 or so, the ship stopped at a town along the Nile that didn't look like Luxor, but, what else could it be? Before we could proceed, we needed to wait in line for permission to pass thorugh a series of locks further up river. Cool, the breeze had abated and the top deck was far more pleasant, although the muzzeins from the mosques in town were so horribly tone deaf that their cacaphony was enough to drive anyone to the drink.
After about two hours of waiting, I became impatient and climbed down the ladder to visit the bridge and ask the captain when we were leaving, because, on Nile cruise boats (or at least on mine), anyone can visit the bridge. I found the instrument panel and wheel strangely bereft of control and found the captain and his colleagues contentedly sitting on the floor outside of the bridge enjoying dinner. After chatting for a few minutes, in Arabic of course, I asked timidly when we'd set sail. In'sha'allah in a half hour, they said, but the smirk on their faces and indolence of their postures made me rather pessimistic.
Actually, within about 45 minutes we were sailing, albeit slowly, so I joined my companions for dinner. Around 9 o'clock a gallabeya party commenced in the lounge, although most people wore their normal clothes. I decided I was too cool for that (although the obnoxiously, bone-jarringly, ship-shaking loud music and orgie-like dance floor may have influenced my decision) and some friends and I had our own party up top using the bar for a wind break. As Lesley had managed to secure some vodka in Aswan, and I braved the ship's lounge to purchase massive quantities of mango and guava juice (the staff was slightly suspicious, especially when I took it all and left, although they really don't mix well taste or volume-wise, most of the vodka goes right to the top for a very strong first few sips ;-), and we still had a few beers of our own, we had a good time on deck, staying up until Luxor, real Luxor, came into view, which to my horror when I finally checked my cell phone, was 1:30 in the morning!
Our 7 am wake up call came far too early, but I certainly wasn't going to miss the Valley of the Kings, so I rolled out of bed, munched on some peanuts, and cringed as our bus pulled out of the parking lot and down some very rutty roads. What can I say about the Valley of the Kings? For one, you need more than 2 hours to do it justice, at least a day. The contrasting arrid, dessicated lands of the cliffs juxtaposed sharply against the verdant farms that press up against the cliffs, creating a rather dramatic panorama. The main section of the Valley of the Kings is actually rather small, although, when you stop for a moment and permit your eyes to follow the trails wandering among the hills you realize that there are untold numbers of caves and mountains to explore. The tickets for the Valley only allow you to enter three tombs among the 11 or so that are open for visitors, but, unfortunately, King Tut's costs extra and ALI didn't cover that expense. Intrepid adventurers that we are, we dashed off to the first tomb that required the most climbing, entered the suffocating burial chamber, sweated it out for a few minutes, and ascended out quickly, drinking in the pure oxygen of the outside. That tomb, Tutmose III, I believe, had had to be decorated quickly because the pharaoh had died suddenly, and so the images were literally stick figures crawling across the walls and into the afterlife. The other two tombs were more impressive image-wise, although they were so crowded that the throngs somehow distracted from the funerial atmosphere and aura of mystery that should surround the tomb of an ancient, powerful ruler. On our way out, I saw a mountain/tall hill that needed climbing, so I left Mostafa and Frances and sprinted up the shale slope, slightly tearing my skirt along the way and arriving breathless to the top. To see the entirety of the Valley, and the gaping mouths of less visited tombs dotting the landscape above and around the main section was a sight not to be missed, and, of course, it was fun to gaze down on the minions and wave from on high ;-) I took a different, less steep route down, was briefly solicited by Egyptian, brushed him off (perhaps here I should mention the thriving sex trade in Luxor; apparently, a sizeable amount of foreign women come to Luxor looking for love, find it with a young Egyptian man, buy him plenty of gifts, and find their hearts torn asunder when the bank account runs dry. Similarly, Luxor also has a large homosexual male sex trade, leaving all of my straight male friends out of the loop ;-)
Visiting Hatshephut's temple next, we all nearly fainted as we climbed out of the bus. At some point, the temperature had risen severely and the merciless sun made this a very warm, somewhat sweaty tour that had us all seeking shade and hugging the cool stone walls. Poor Hatshephut, ruling in stead of a young male heir, she was eventually deposed, murdered, and had her name and face scratched off every stone her heir could find. Our guide for the Luxor portion of the trip (remember, Chaindra had disowned us) had a slightly wry, somewhat perverted sense of humor. For instance, when referring to Hatshephut's lover, he used the phrase lover boy liberally, which had me sniggering in the ranks, but he was very nice and we had a good chat about Luxor while waiting for the bus to leave. In 1997, a group of about 40-60 tourists had been mowed down by machine gun-wielding terrorists on a rise overlooking the temple, which truly fascinates him, and he confirmed it with a glimmer of bemusement in his eyes. Anyway, the temple was quite large and built at the base of a cliff with several levels lined with beautiful colonnades and statues. Khalaas, you've heard enough about temples, and we've still got two more today.
On the way back for lunch, we stopped at the Colossi of Memnon, two occultly deteriorated, seated figures now resting in the middle of a farm field. Interesting, but, come on, after Abu Simbel...
So, after repast and repose on top deck we headed to Karnak temple, the largest temple complex in the world with copious buildings, statues, obelisks, and, of course, a truly beautiful pillar forest that far superceded those of our previous temple visits. Already rather clogged with tourists, our group of 60 or so strolled down the main passageway past rows of seated sphinxes and rams, past the daunting main pylon and into the pillar forest, where I guide proceeded to detail many scintillating tidbits about Karnak and ancient Egypt in general. For instance, I learned that the Ankh draped about my neckis a symbol of a) a man's organ and woman's joined together (basically, I'm wearing a phallic symbol, but it's a meaningful phallic symbol ;-), and through this, the key of life depicted in every relief in every temple in Egypt b) the image of a preganant woman cradling her womb protectively (to demonstrate this, he told Jema she was pregnant and pretended to attack her and then told us that a pregnant woman will protect her baby first and then herself) and c) now is used as the symbol of the Coptic church. And then, as he was describing the intricate detail of female goddess statue across the way, he used vivid words to illustrate how sheer her dress really was. The man was hilarious, and he provided an excellent tour; for instance, I know that over 17 rulers had their hand in the construction of Karnak, that the vast walls and monuments in Egypt were built using ramps, and that Egypt had no slaves, among other things. After the tour, a few of us wandered up to the sound and light show grandstand (a bit of an anachronism, I know) and snapped our pictures of the temple and the sacred lake, waited until finally one of the rows in the pillar forest was empty of persons (and took those pictures) and admired the priceless works of art that litter the temple like detrius.
Finally, for the last temple of the trip, we visited Luxor temple, my personal favorite for its sheer beauty and pillars. As we arrived, the sun was setting and bathed everything in a muted glow. Much smaller than Karnak, it only took two pharaohs to chisel it from granite, although the results are at least as impressive, as giant seated statues greet you upon entering, pillared walkways guide you through the temple with galleries and statues inviting you to stray to the side, and eventually, the covered halls with glorious reliefs painstakingly etched into the stone. As the sky faded into a deep cerulaean and the lights magnificently outlined the temple in a golden halo my fingers found my capture button far too often but the lighting and ambiance of a temple at night was too irresistable. A little ways from the temple is the Sphinx road, no mostly destroyed, but once in lead all the way from Karnak to Luxor bordered by grave sentinels carved in the image of a sphinx. Having read about these in my trashy historical fiction novels, I was almost overwhelmed by the beauty of the sphinxes, but, happily, it was dark, and Frances is used to my outbursts.
All too soon, it was time to be back on bus, back to the ship, pack the bags, walk to the store on shore and haggle for groceries, spend a few more stolen moments on the top deck gazing at the Nile, then bordering the bus and heading to the airport for another round with EgyptAir. As I've noted in previous posts, I have a tutor for Arabic, and he happened to come along on the voyage, why, I'm not exactly sure. He may have expected me to spend more time with him, but I'm a brash American, and somewhat ignored him (sheepish grin) and/or only made small talk and fled to the sanctity of my harem. Still, as we were bordering the plane, he told me he'd see me in class on Wednesday, which was strange, because, tomorrow being Monday, we were supposed to have class. No class tomorrow, he said, you'll be too tired. Well, that encouraged my truancy, so I skipped class on Monday (in my defense, so did a large portion of my fellow travelers), made it through till Thursday, had a fun night of Cafe Spectra (they've got Mexican food), fellow ALIers, and Arrested Development last night, hit the gym this afternoon, and I've got a party in a hour. And then the land lord invades tomorrow and I vacate the premises. Salaam!