Egypt?, I said…

(Deep breath followed by long exhale.) OK, here it goes…what goes, however, beats me. I’ve been back from Egypt for about a month now, and still I haven’t been informed or inspired or motivated to write about the experience. Yes to all the usual questions:
Yes, it was a fantastic trip.

Yes what we saw and did was exciting.

Yes the guide was knowledgeable, communicative and responsive to our individual needs.

Yes, the other folks, all 14 of them, were fun to be with–each in his/her (there has to be a more graceful if politically correct way to say members of both genders) way.

Yes, the trip truly took me far outside of myself, that self being pretty much lost for two weeks while the overwhelming presence of Egypt dominated my thinking, feeling, understanding and being.

Yes, this caused me great and delightful confusion, watching some of my more fundamental truths crushed under the weight of 5,000 year old antiquities. Somehow my entire world before Egypt has been moved from the categories of “a while ago,” “back in the day(s),” “a long time ago” and “way back when” into a new folder labeled “Current Events.”

Sense of humor has been moved from the “Nice thing” folder into the “Survival Skill” area, as in “We-were-ruled-by-others-for-a- millennium-and-if-we-don’t-find-a-way-to-find-it-funny-we’re-all -going-to commit-suicide” category. This manifests in the 21st century as everyone being able to laugh and provoke laughter. Little kids, in the middle of trying to sell me souvenir papyrus bookmarks, would flick my nose. Waiters would insist that they’d deliberately brought the wrong order–not that which I’d mistakenly not ordered but that they wanted me to eat.

Yes, the Egyptians, both the downstream folks and the upstream Nubians are remark-
ably cool. Cairo has 21 million people, and at times it seems that everyone has either a car, a truck, a donkey or a camel and wants to ride it at the same time as all the others. Cairo has maybe 3 traffic lights and they are regarded as suggestions–not commands. The lane lines painted on the road, we were told, were there strictly for decoration. Consequently Cairo drivers are remarkably skilled and courteous. After decades of incessant horn-honking this practice has largely been abandoned in favor of simply slowing down to allow another to move ahead. Even in traffic conditions of no movement whatsoever a remarkable hornicular silence prevails.

As for the antiquities (not ruins, and you’ll do well to remember that) without sufficient background and concern, I did find almost all of them blending into one great package of statues, columns, wall carvings and hieroglyphics.

Sure the Great Pyramids, The Sphinx

and Abu Simbel stand out because of the pre-visit hype they’ve received,

but all the other temples

as beautiful and exciting and dramatic as each is–and each is–tend to merge in my memory-reduced brain into one big collection of–as I mentioned–one great package of statues, columns, wall carvings and hieroglyphics.

Yes, there were special moments on the trip. For me they were riding a camel across the sand to a Christian antiquity, St. Simeon Monastery…

…and visiting 2 new museums, the Nubian Museum in Aswan and the Luxor Museum, which both treat each exhibited item as a featured work of historical art. I’d never before seen antiquities so beautifully and thoughtfully displayed.

The truth is high points were everywhere:

Luxor by night by caliche

Ibn Tulun Mosque

Breakfast at sunrise
Shopping–yes, shopping…

… and Mother Nile!

But the highest high point of all came on the last day of our two week stint, when for 3 hours I went off on my own into Khan el-Khalili, the Cairo souk, to wander aimlessly through it’s narrow streets, into those areas which do not sell goods aimed at tourists, those sections where cattle, sheep and chickens walked the streets, where food and foundries were to be found in abundance, and I was gently noticed but not pounced upon (not that I minded that, but it is another story.) Just walking among the folks and the animals and the rough narrow streets of the Khan-el-Khalili.

So, here’re my questions: walking through khan el-Khalili,what year is it? What century? What millenium? and, finally, what does it matter.

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Published in: on September 20, 2008 at 7:09 pm  Comments (2)