Friday, January 1, 2010


Add to Google Reader or Homepage

As we walked between tombs in the Valley of the Kings just west of Luxor, we passed a young woman wearing a Santa hat. It was only then that I realized that it was Christmas day. Not being aware of the date or the holiday is one of the aspects that underscores this vacation to Egypt. The loss of orientation is not simply the luxury of vacation and forgetting the day, it comes from the cultural slap upside the head – and my head is still spinning.
 My head is still spinning because we left the quiet life of Vaison la Romaine and have come to the second largest city in the world. And the third world. And the home of 5,000 years of documented history. And the place where the dust raised in the desert and in the streets of the cities never gets washed off of leaves or buildings because it never rains. And where the smog can be so thick you can’t see the pyramids. And where the first “wake up” call is the Moslem call to prayers at 5:30 AM. And where the calls to prayer come from so many minarets in so many mosques that they compete for your attention. And where city services have failed to keep pace with population and that means, among other things, garbage is not collected. And where the pollution from plastic – be it plastic water bottles or plastic bags – is overwhelming. And where I feel safer than I do in most cities in the US…

At the same time, my head is spinning because it is amazing to view the temples and pyramids, fortresses and early mosques and try to fathom the skill, craftsmanship and engineering required for their construction. For example, red granite was quarried in Aswan in the south of Egypt and then transported on the Nile to the sites where it would be used as coffins or sarcophagi or as a statue or obelisk or as part of a wall… One of the obelisks from Luxor (Karnak) is at the center of the Place de la Concorde in Paris. Another obelisk – “Cleopatra’s Needle” – stands in Central Park (New York) both transported from Egypt via modern ships (I think)… Our guide told us that some of the pieces weighed more than 200 tons. What kind of boats did they have 4,000 years ago to carry such weights? And then once at the destination, where did they have to go to rent a crane to lift it into place? The pyramids, the Sphinx, and the burial tombs and the elaborate drawings and carvings therein have been preserved well though the relics and icons did not fare as well due to centuries of looting. Archeologists and Egyptologists continue to uncover more sites…

My head is spinning because I thought that France was the “scarf capitol” of the world. After seeing the creative ways women here wear scarves, I am beginning to think that Egypt seems closer to the scarf fashion epi-center. The majority of Moslem women – the majority of women here – have their heads covered. They create fashion statements with the scarves that they wear. Most younger women wear multiple scarves which are always beautiful and well-coordinated with their other garments.

Whether in Cairo or in Luxor, internet connections are readily available and that makes my head spin too. Skype, e-mail, Google work here as well as in France or in the US. Technological advances in communication cross the divides faster than air mail. We were talking about movies and learned that within 24 hours of the release of a movie in the states, bootleg copies are available in the markets here. When I stop being dizzy from spinning, I return to a state of amazement. Awesome vacation. Awesome world.

1 comment:

  1. Now MY head is spinning! How beautifully and succinctly you write here of so many differences! Thank you so much!