Shwarma for Breakfast, Kanina’s birthday, Luxor by Land
After excavating my partying self from the Au Revoir Event, kissing dance colleagues and friends I’d made, and heading to my room to pack, I enjoyed one skinny hour of sleep. This is not whining- sleep lost over such amazing adventures is a luxury. Sleep also seems to be a non essential in Egypt.
Yes, morning did find me a little weak at first but I perked up as I washed my hand full of vitamins, probiotics, and a nutrition bar down my throat. I checked out of the hotel, met Kanina and enjoyed a swift cab ride to the airport and an hour-long flight. Thus began yet another chapter of adventure called Luxor.
As soon as my shoes hit the Luxor tarmac, I felt something new that I’d not yet found in Egypt. I was caressed by clean morning air vs. choked by exciting Cairo smog. I was beckoned by open roads and a vast sky vs. entertained by lawless auto-congestion and kamikaze pedestrians. Most of all, my mind was blessed by a single goal which was to tour history. My three Cairene goals of dancing, touring, and working with suppliers for Alimah’s Closet felt far away in Cairo. This was Luxor with it’s Luxorious Oasis feel.
Both Kanina and I seemed to be slipping into a peaceful place where all we felt was serenity, expansiveness, and… hunger. We had planned to begin touring straight from the airport. Go, go, go with bags in tow. But we had to stop for food and a breathe of fresh air first.
Shwarma sandwiches and pepsi for breakfast on the balcony of Snacktime restaurant, was an unexpectedly intoxicating experience. The novelty of a hoagy in the morning on a tippy top table, the fact that we were starved, and the amazing environment began to work a refreshing magic on me – even though Kanina kept cracking me up saying “OMG, this is soooo good”.
Kanina over looking serene street life from Snacktime balcony. p.s. Temple of Luxor stares at her.
Sugar cane on the carriage floor.
“Old and New, Past and Present?” This guy could have easily fit in a thousand years ago. But here he is strolling by the motorcycles with his tahtib (stick).
The gently waking town of Luxor below our balcony was dreamy and hypnotic. Walkers seemed like sages, wise men, or scribes telling a story with each slow step. An occasional donkey cart clip-clopped it’s way past taking a piece of my mind away with it. Horse drawn carriages adorned with shiny, jingling metal tags pulled their slightly British beauty past us (the British occupied Egypt for 100 years, I think).
Even the screaming motor bikes racing through the scene were at half the speed of Cairo’s bikers. Once past, they’d simply slip around the bend leaving a calm, empty street before us again. A truck piled high with vegetables in hand-worked baskets bumped along making me grab for my camera. It was all so rich.
Yes, apparently, Old McDonald has a Luxor delivery boy
This pleasant parade past mammoth Luxor Temple’s pillars and statues was perused by Kanina and I with our morning sod’s in hand. LOL I never drink soda. I think we could have sat there staring at the magnificent and mellowing sites side by side for a long time. Peering down over my right hand railing I could see a shop owner quietly grinding rough rock into smooth stones on a spinning wheel even as my whirling brain disengaged from the rush of Cairo. I was so content I could barely speak but I think I squeezed out a “Happy Birthday, Kanina.”
SIDE NOTE: What a thrill for me to be in Egypt with or without anyone celebrating life. But to have this be Kanina’s birthday, too, brought even more happiness to various moments in the day and the trip. As if “Celebrate life, grab it up, love it” were being delivered to us every day.
Egypt University is everywhere. Having minimal education about Egypt that I recall, having had resisted all fads to Walk Like an Egyptian and sing about King Tut in the 80’s and 90’s, having passed on name dropping the Goddesses of ancient history to avoid being a self-serve hijacker of history I didn’t really know about, I arrived in Egypt quite ignorant of it’s history. I tried reading books to get ready but found it a massive task full of terms I didn’t know.
Our guide and friend, Egyptologist, Said.
This is why I was very excited when our tour guide introduced himself as a college graduated, certified Egyptologist. A chance to learn from an expert was upon me. Said was an articulate, proud Egyptian, who was also an incredibly efficient teacher.
Taking us to Karnak Complex first, our tall, twenty-something, highly-educated, multi-lingual teacher sat us in the lobby for quite a long time tutoring us to the relevant history. Said broke the chronology of Egypt’s ancient history down on a small note paper for us. He spoke slowly as he pointed to his paper.
In this first lecture and all others, Said would always leave room for questions every few sentences and read our faces to make sure we were following along. Said was never thrown by any question no matter how simple minded. When we answered his questions correctly or interjected something which we observed, he would answer “Excellent” in a voice that had an inspiring mix of pleasant approval and professorial “this is serious business”.
Said and Kanina
SIDE NOTE: Said was so attentive to our needs that later in the day, he re-worked the entire plan for us bc he could see we were getting tired. He made sure we could get a nap, eat, and see Luxor Temple by night when it was lit up instead of during the day – which was amazing, by the way. What a blessing it was to have Said to lead our tour. Worth every single penny.
***If you are going to Luxor, you must look Said up and book his services. Contact me or Kanina of Rhode Island for his info***.
You always remember your first Egyptian ruin. Karnak, my love. Being totally unschooled in these matters, I could not get my head around the fact that huge architectural structures were buried in sand, or partly buried, some had been so deeply buried that other structures were built on top of them by accident. I could grasp losing a statue or two in a sand storm, but, these buildings were like losing the entire pentagon.
Ram headed sphinx lead the way to Karnak
What was missing from my brain, was the concept of how long “thousands of years” really is. I’m still digesting how many sand storms, religions, occupations, floods, earthquakes, growing seasons, migrations, and families might be born in a few thousand years. These make it possible to lose a couple of CrioSphinx, I guess.
I don’t even know the name of the town my father came from in Italy without looking it up so I guess it’s entirely possible to lose track of building over time. maybe.
Next, I could not get my head around the fact that the ancient Egyptian people could create all of these works without computers or gasoline driven machines. Some of the blocks used in this complex are 200 tons. This stuff is gigantic.
Tiny Kanina walking the 134 columns of Hypostyle Hall; Karnak. This is the largest room of any religious building in the world.
The massive architecture and artistic expressions at Karnak include 8 story high stone kings, gods, goddesses, wall sculptures, and hieroglyphic story telling on pillars and walls that span 61 acres. Karnak complex is so large it would hold 10 average European Cathedrals. All made without a single gasoline powered crane.
With all due respect, please forgive me for saying it, but if 4000 years ago people could move 200 ton rocks and create perfectly proportional art upon 22 meter high pillars, what the hell is wrong with us? Why are we unable to go to work if the car has a flat tire? Why is the ceiling on the big dig falling down on motorists? Did our civilization get in the wrong line when God was passing out engineering genes? Are we the bumblebees of civilization barely keeping it in the air, or what?!
Seriously, it’s nothing short of astounding how big the Egyptian ruins are.
Lotus style pillars – what a perfect day we had.
Queen Hatshepsut’s Obelisk, the tallest ancient Obelisk standing in the world.
Size aside, the fact that through floods and earthquakes, the carvings and paint remain and this was another brain burner for me. The explanation to that was easier to grasp thankfully.
First of all, stone is a great medium if you want your artwork or building to last forever. Alabaster, Granite and Sandstone compose most of Egypt’s ancient architecture and artwork. Even the paint is often made of ground stone mixed with a fixative.
But, stone aside, it’s the climate. Dry, warm, and sandy Egyptian conditions make for keeping mummies, artwork, and architecture alive. If it had rained there all the time, no such luck – especially with the sandstone.
Libyan captives. See how they are tied at the elbows? Amazing detail due to dry, warm, climate.
Something else that really excited me was that, in some cases, we were able to see these amazing works “in progress”, or unfinished.
There was a the pillar that appeared to be just a stack of unpolished, rough, round rocks standing next to a whole row of smoothly polished and shaped finished pillars.
Pillar on far right is “work in progress” and it’s still gorgeous. Not shaped and polished. Just a stack of rocks.
There was a pile of mud brick that the workers climbed up onto in order to build a high wall or cut the artwork into the wall. The mud brick pile was never removed and looked very unfinished.
Mud brick pile was used to get up to the wall and do work. Still sitting there.
I felt thrilled by seeing these works in progress and gleaning insight into how the structures became what they were. Seeing things undone made the artisans more human, it gave me more ability to appreciate and understand the work that went into the finished products.
In retrospect the mud brick wall and unfinished rough pillar made me think of those last two days of rocky dance with Randa. I wondered if I could choose to view these unpleasant patches of dancing “In progress” as highly cherished snapshots in someone’s photo journal – almost more valuable than the pics of the fabulous finished products. It seems important to cherish the journey and respect the effort vs resent it and feel ashamed of the mistakes. In my love of the unfinished pillar, could I glean a different point of view of my own life’s works? I found several interesting thoughts related to art, life, and the value of the jagged edge. I’ll stop rambling here. You get the idea.
SIDE NOTE: I came here to Egypt first and foremost bc I loved the music and dance. Now, though, I plan to continue reading and studying about the architecture, art, history, past and current culture and politics. Forgive me, fellow Masri (Egyptian) for my ignorance and know that I am now a devoted student and fan of this amazing country.
Sofra for dinner: If you go to Luxor, you might enjoy dinner upstairs at Sofra as we did after Karnak and a nap. A tray of small glass bowls of delight – our appetizer sampler was an unforgettable start to our meal. Using fire-baked bread, I shoveled one amazingly spiced, sauced, and mysterious bite after another into my mouth.
Pots of fire heat Sofra
Perfectly imperfect lights are everywhere
Scratchy, vintage Oum Kalthoum music drifted through the air. Coals afire in big metal bowls burned for heat. A small but vividly painted ceiling dome in the ceiling’s center was crowned with an old, cut metal lamp. Dark brown, antique, arabesque-carved wood chairs and couches were arranged around large trays on legs used for tables. Outside the window was a dusty street with rebar topped, unfinished buildings. Honestly, this was beyond culinary paradise. It was Casablanca Fantasy meets 2012 reality.
We stayed for two calls to prayer (Call to prayer happens 5 times a day) and had to be pried out of there by our guide to go see the Luxor Temple. I’d be there this very moment if I could be – still toasting, “Happy Birthday, Kanina” forever!
Luxor Temple by Night: Our after-Sofra tour began with Said taking us to The Avenue of the Sphinx. Fifty-eight gorgeous Sphinx with human heads were lit up and waiting for us on either side of this avenue. My imagination became drunk when Said told us that over 700 sphinx were once lining this processional road connecting Luxor Temple to the Karnak Complex. Queen Hatshepsut, who insisted on being buried with the kings vs the queens, used this Sphinx road for processionals for the Feast of Opet and other processionals were here, too.
A few of what was once over 700 sphinx lining the road
Like the Mass Pike flows next to Newton, this ancient statue lined processional road sits smack dab in the center of Luxor’s active township. You also can’t miss two gigantic statues of Ramses II and countless immovable pillars and temple structures reaching to the heavens. Right there across from Snacktime with motor bikes screaming by on their modern day missions sits all of this, The Temple of Luxor. If you like having your mind stretched like elastic, this old and new place is for you.
Two, huge Ramses II statues flank the Temple Entrance
Inside the temple which has open ceilings is amazing artwork and detail remaining thanks to the desert climate. Even though the Romans used the Temple and destroyed some of the work, even though a muslim mosque was built right on top of some of part of the structure, this temple still stands intact enough to silence the average chatting tourist.
Seeing a few statues of a queen next to a king, with her hand on his shoulder or tucked under his arm, I gave pause. I asked Said if this was affection as we know it? His response was that the gesture was more about supporting the king than of romance and fulfillment. It seemed a slightly uncomfortable moment bc I realized every time I had said “how sweet” about these gestures, he may have been thinking “how dopey” about my western fantasy of love ever after. Marriage and reproduction, it seemed, were a higher calling than love? I don’t think I handled this topic too smoothly but with admiration flowing all over that luminously lit temple, I think we got along ok.
The Surprise: As we piled back into our waiting van and headed back to our hotel, I found it odd that Said kept telling the driver to pull over and saying to Kanina and I, “Would you please excuse me”. He’d jump out and go to a store or something. I didn’t pay that much attention to it but it was becoming noticeable when he said, “Will you excuse me for the third time” with a little apology mixed with aggravation in his voice. I felt bad the poor guy had to keep stopping but we were having a great time people watching and going over the amazing sites we’d seen.
Said got in the van after his third stop and we drove off only to hear him to tell the driver in Arabic to pull over again. This time, however, by the side of the road and not a shop, we came to a stop. It was at this point that I began to have a hunch… after some crinkling of plastic bags in the front seat Said turned to us saying that they wanted to do something special for Kanina’s birthday. Said went on to produce a red flower for each of us, some white frosted cake, plates, plastic wear, and even special party music. Kanina was squealing, we were both laughing, and… y’know, I was crying. I was just so happy for Kanina who was totally surprised and we were both so completely moved by the kindness, the effort, and the sweet heart of our Egyptian hosts – now friends.
A mini party was on. I took pictures on Kanina’s camera bc my battery fainted from all this happiness. “thank you” and “oh my goodness” went around and around as we ate the white cake with marshmallow flavored frosting. It was light and yummy and not as stiff as marshmallow back home.
Then, when our hearts had settled a bit, Said produced yet another surprise, a gift for Kanina, a mini pyramid with a hawk Goddess (Hathor?) floating off it’s peak via magnet. Hathor, for protection, I think. He apologized that it was made in China – it was all he could find at this point in the evening. China had been a topic at some point in our day so this comment was really quite funny. Our head’s were shaking in disbelief that in Said’s very calculated and thoughtful manner, he had this one more surprise up his sleeve. Kanina was smiling from ear to ear and back again. And, I was just a tearing up mess.
This act on the part of Said and our driver felt like a gift reaching not just from tour guide to tourist but rather from human to human, from the heart of one country to the heart of another country. Global values of human kindness were filling our hearts and our van. Need I say it? Happy Birthday, Kanina?
I just LOVE Kanina’s birthday!!!!!!
The Nightcap: Could it get possibly get any better? Well, yes, it could and it did. All night we’d been noting a perfectly crescent shaped moon just like you see in Arabic artwork, mosques, etc. This moon posed and flirted with us up there all night long from Sofra to Luxor Temple and now this. As we entered our hotel room, each with a beer in hand from the downstairs bar, the moon had perched right outside our room reflecting itself in little undulations on the sleepy Nile river. It was a poetic, rusty orange crescent that hung just sweetly hung over our balcony specifically for us.
We wrapped up in blankets and sat out in the cool desert breeze with our beers. Chatting about this and that, we sat staring out at the sinking moon until it disappeared into the clouds next to the sillouette of a palm tree. I tried taking pictures of Kanina but neither of our cameras were equipt to capture the low-lit wonder world we were drenched in. This day began on a balcony and it beckoned us to end the same way. We’d just have to keep the memory in our hearts and in our journals.
If you EVER get to be anywhere near Kanina on her birthday, do not miss it. Amazing things happen. This was by far one of the most amazing days I’ve ever lived.
Thank you all for reading this blog, sending support of this trip, and for sharing this fabulous journey. You are all in my heart as I write.
Wait til you read the next entry: Luxor by Hot Air Balloon – Oh yes we did!