I’m on a small bus for the three or four hour drive from Aswan to Abu Simbel through the Egyptian desert. Completely desolate. Beige sand and outcrops of worn down sandstone with the odd black granite protrusions and interestingly, petrified wood. It is deceptively flat but there are small wadis here and there and faint evidence of water erosion. The only constants are the massive power lines stretching to the horizon, branching out from the power dam at Aswan and the mysterious fences and stone walls which undulate across the landscape periodically – for no discernible reason. This is one of the hottest places on earth in the summer – at 06:30 in the morning we are all freezing in the desert!
This is giving me the time to get caught up – it has been a bit of a whirlwind so far. Cairo is chaotic, noisy and dirty; traffic is insane – no different from a lot of other big cities I’ve been in unfortunately and the first day we set out there was a strong wind blowing in a sand storm which just added to the already amazing air pollution- visibility about 200 metres!
Off we toddled to the Cairo Museum which was both more than I expected and far, far less. The New Museum isn’t yet ready (not particularly surprising) but it is greatly needed and indeed some of the exhibits have been moved out leaving dusty fingerprint smeared cases behind. Practically everything else is a mix of awe inspiring and frustrating. There are – sometimes – faded out cards (from a manual typewriter I suspect) propped inside cases which may or may not relate to the actual contents and some of the most interesting “things” have no explanation at all. The lighting is appalling and very few of these irreplaceable items are in climate controlled cases or even adequately protected from the public. Lets hope the new museum addresses these issues.
Regardless I was completely fascinated – day one we only managed to cover about ⅔ of the main floor. I found that when you look at photos of Egyptian statuary or friezes they seem static and one dimensional. The reality is so individualistic and humane that I was completely taken aback. You can feel the personalities of some of these people as if they were sitting having a good conversation and a drink with you! Of course all the riches and panoply of Tutankhamen are worth viewing but for me they don’t have the impact of looking at Ramses II aquiline nose and arrogant smirk or the intimacy of a long time married couple’s household goods. The casual affection displayed and the individuality of the faces of both men and women is almost overwhelming – they lived, loved and died just as we do – except the embalming part of course!
That afternoon was given over to shopping – surprise, surprise! We wandered around the souk and ended up at a shop selling appliquéd wall hanging. I’m happy to report that although I was tempted – mightily – I managed to resist – however I was probably the only one – LOL!