A site at night
Visiting the Luxor Temple at night, I was reminded of a similar jaunt a few years ago when we, with a different group, visited the ruins of the Roman city in the national park at Beit Shean, a few hours’ drive from where we live in Ma’ale Adumim. In both places, whoever is in charge used lights and special effects to create a magical moment, something different from the prosaic impression one would get in broad daylight. But here at Luxor, the only sound effects one could hear were those made by the tourists, lots of them, visiting the site. The volunteer guide at Beit Shean shone his laser beam at a spot near the top of a very tall pillar. Where I’m pointing, he said, that used to be ground level, and the little bit of the pillar that was above ground level was one side of our goal post when we played football.
All the sites we visited in Egypt had the same thing in common. Over the centuries, over the millennia, since there was no one there to sweep and dust, the desert sands kept piling up, until only the top part of the pyramids, the tombs, and the temples were above ground, awaiting the European archeologists who painstakingly excavated the sites, so we can see what lay beneath the debris. And while the kids played ball in the ruins in Beit Shean, people lived on the sites of the Egyptian temples, the way they still do in the vast cemeteries. Someone as savvy as Migo could point out evidence of where said Egyptians had camped out in this large and plush temple site, which was started by some random pharaoh but finished in grand style by Ramesses II (he of the Exodus). I don’t remember who this enormous statue was supposed to be of, but I do remember one factoid that our guide had discussed days before (although I don’t remember where or when). Take a look at the pharaoh’s head. He seems to have a beard, something which you see on any similar Egyptian statue of the period. But that’s not a real beard, it’s some fake thing attached by a string to the pharaoh’s face. If it’s straight, that mean’s it’s referencing a live person. If the end of the fake beard is curled up, that means that the person being depicted is already dead. So now you know!
We stayed at the temple for a while, soaking up the ambience. If only I could tune out the distractions, it might be possible to imagine being on that spot 100, 500, even 3,500 years ago, when everything was whole and in one piece, before all the obelisks were carted off to London or Central Park in NYC. But I couldn’t.
Just like matzoh brei
We got back on the bus, and I assumed we were heading back to the hotel. Wrong. We were off to a papyrus factory. At various places on our tour, we were shown papyrus plants growing in the swampy places where they hang out. If someone had asked me what part of the plant is used to make paper, I would have guessed the leaves. But that would have been one of those rare moments (extremely rare!) when I would (gasp!) have been wrong. The first thing they did at the factory, after giving us a warm welcome, was take us downstairs to a demonstration of how to turn thin, triangular shaped stems into something you can write on. First you slice them.
Then you soak them for a few days. After which, you drain them, the same way you would drain the matzoh you have soaked for matzoh brei (coming soon to a Pesach kitchen near you). Then you place each strip neatly next to one another, one row horizontally then another row vertically, and so forth. Then you let the thing dry, and, voilà, you have something you can write on, or draw on, or print on, something that in the dry desert climate will survive for thousands of years, as at Elephantine Island.
This may come as somewhat of a surprise, but the factory had on display – and for sale – a few examples of their artwork on papyrus. Did I say a few? How about lots? How about a factory filled with examples for sale in all sizes, shapes, and styles? Plus a whole bunch of salespeople, who magically appeared right on cue to assist.
And did they have the right audience! As I think I have intimated in previous posts, this group was not shy about spending their (mostly) dollars on trinkets, bric-a-brac, and other kinds of souvenirs. Barbara and I looked around. You know, there’s some nice things here, and they’re not expensive. I was given the go-ahead, as chairperson of the Art Selection Committee, to pick out something to buy, which I did after much deliberation – a small, attractive print for the whopping sum of $18. (It cost me more, 120NIS, to have it framed in Jerusalem.) I’d like to show you what we bought, but I’m reluctant to take a picture of it without permission, so I won’t. It’s hanging in our upstairs hallway, if you get the chance.
But there’s more. For $1 – $1! – we could obtain a bookmark with the name of a person of our choice written in hieroglyphics. As long as we had opened our wallets, why not? We were sure that our son-in-law’s daughter would appreciate such an unusual gift for her birthday, along with the necklace we had bought for a pittance on the boat a few days before. That’s L-I-E-L. And that’s all for now. Sunday morning would see us off to nearby Karnak, another awesome place to be.