Monday, May 28, 2007

The end of Egypt and Bulgaria

Having run about Cairo, we met a friend's college pals. The expat community is chummy in Cairo, and they welcome travelers with a relaxed interest and antique charm. My friend Nevine took us out and around and we visited a beautiful restaurant on the nile. The next day, we visitedthe Pyramids, Sphinx, Step Pyramids in Sappho and Memphis. The nile valley is much like the Egypt Museum. Hyrogliphs and statues are everywhere. Papyrus and papyrus painting institutes are also everywhere. The nile floodplain is a lush tongue of land sitting between rocky, desert ridges. Sand literally pours down to the edge of plantations and forms a night/day stark/lush boundaryline. Date palms line the edge of fields and (away from sitting water and canals) the air carries the warm, slightly sweet aroma of subtropical agricultre.

The pyramids are astounding. I saw them from a distance at first, as they slowly emerged in the landscape through the smog. In one of my favorite old movies, a depressed and lost character says, "Ive seen the pyramids and the other wonders of the world. They aren't so wonderful." His wise uncle replies, "Then you haven't really seen them." Before leaving Bulgaria, I had been afraid that my recent apathy towards antiquity (which is completely out of character for me) would poison any enthusiasm I had for the wonderous sites I would see. I've kept this odd numbness secret for awhile because friends and family would know that it is a symptom of discontent and perhaps depression. I can understand where the character could catch this sort of touristic blindness and I was afraid that it was happening to me. Petra might have overwhelmed my historical senses, but the pyramids reanimated my intense love of history and archaeology. These have been mysterious wonders for nearly all of written history, and it struck me that I was about to join the legions of travelers that, through centuries, have made the same journey. The enormity of the Great Pyramid and its neighbors makes one forget that they were man-made. Seeing grown men scamper up its blocks like puppies on stairs reminded me how small each of us is in the shadow of history.

While wandering through the pyramids, a sandstorm hit Giza. Although it was mild, the conditions were difficlut to bear. Dust got into everything. If the eyes were at all opened, even but a crack, dust stung them incessantly. Tears turned to mud at each end of the eye and breathing, though through cloth, tasted like dust. Describing the conditins do them little justice; I do not want to ever experience a major sandstorm.

I entered a pyramid at Sappho. The heiroglyphs were nearly perfectly preserved, and still showed the individual scratches of their authors. On one wall, one passage was repeated ad nauseum throughout the inscription. The sarcophagus was still there, opened and eerily empty. Heiroglyphics decorated its inside, which was big enough to lie down in (about 6 feet long and 2 1/2 feet wide). The tombs in Sappho are intricately carved and painted. Many aspects of life and personal character along the nile are depicted, from special ritual to daily life, war to sex, slave to god. I hadn't heard how extensive they are. That night, from Cairo, we left on a train to Aswan. More on that later.

I have been very busy in Bulgaria. When I returned to Bulgaria, I had my work cut out for me. Reports and project proposals had already started coming into my email for peer review and advice, and my own project entered its implementation period. Over the first week after I returned to Bulgaria, I was up late nearly every night working on something and up early for a meeting or deadline. I went to sofia to see a friend off at the airport and deliver the second edition of my Bulgarian folklore books to eager customers.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is my favorite entry so far.

As you are busy and you cannot "feel" what you know about your work, try to remember with your will that there will be very quiet and calm times in your life when you will have almost nothing to do and will look back on this time with wonder. I pray you will also look back with a quiet pride that you took joy in the hard work and sleepless nights. I currently do this when I look back at teaching and coaching because now a small boy naps in the other room; while I might be frantic to get things done, I must conserve emotion for the disobedient and tantrum times. Life is calm, and so I read about yours and remember and dream.

12:59 PM  

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