Sunday, November 24, 2013

Gazing at Giza Again . . .

Giza seen from the air (Wikipedia)
When we left Cairo to take a day trip up the Nile to Giza, I was surprised by how close the pyramid complex at Giza was to the actual town of Giza, which is now the second largest city in Egypt at a healthy 7.8 million. One moment, we are in a dense city; the next at Giza, that burial complex of kings.

Seeing these pyramids was absolutely a thrill. We spent just one day exploring these pyramids.
The Terrifying One (Camp 2004)

Dubbed "The Terrifying One" in Arabic, the Great Sphinx remains an awesome sight -- despite its missing nose. I long believed that Napoleon's soldiers shot off the nose around the turn of the 19th Century, but research reveals no additional bullet holes! I discovered that in 1378, well before Napoleon, a Sufi preacher named Mohammed Sa'im al-Dahr, angered by people who worshiped the Sphinx, took a crowbar to the nose to destroy its spirit. For his efforts, he was hanged and buried at the base of the statue.

The Great Sphinx and Khafre's Pyramid (Camp 2004)

Khafre's pyramid is seen above directly behind the Sphinx with its limestone cap still in place. The limestone casing was applied to reflect the sun throughout the day. 

At the foot of Khufu's pyramid, we discovered the excavation site of a solar boat. Layered over with massive stones, the solar boat (now displayed in a museum at the Giza complex) is ready to take the spirit of Khufu to the heavens to be reunited with Ra, the sun god.  

Solar boat excavation near Khufu's Pyramid  (Camp 2004)

Solar Boat Museum, Giza (Camp 2004)
We could walk entirely around this solar boat. Sometimes called a funeral barge or a royal barge, this solar boat was made of cedar wood from Lebanon. It had no mast and no sail, but would be powered by the Pharaoh's attendants wielding ten pairs of oars. What intrigues me about this boat is its purpose, to carry the soul of the Pharaoh to the heavens. I found on Wikipedia that during the time of the Pharaohs, the Milky Way was positioned over Egypt in such a way that in the early morning, the sun appeared at the foot of the Milky Way and traveled along its entire body, at sunset appearing to fall from the tail of the Milky Way. Wikipedia provides an image of the Milky Way as the ancient Egyptians may have seen it.

At the base of Khufu's
Pyramid (Camp 2004)
That's me, standing next to one of these massive pyramids, actually touching the stone. Reverentially, of course! My notes from our visit say approximately 2.3 million blocks were used to build Khufu's pyramid. Each of these stone blocks weighed about 2.3 tons.

Herodotus reports that the builders of the pyramids worked in three-month shifts for 20 years, 100,000 men at a time. The longer the pharaoh lived, the more time he would have to build a lasting memorial and resting place for his soul, but not every pharaoh lived a long life.

Note: I'm writing about a trip we took to Egypt in 2004 to share my memories and photos. I hope you enjoy these virtual trips!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Just another day in Cairo at the Egyptian Museum

A second visit to the Egyptian Museum left us as dazzled as the first.

When we walked in, we were literally overwhelmed by the monolithic artifacts in the atrium, so close together that we pass riches upon riches of ancient treasures. The atrium leads to over 100 exhibit halls where some 120,000 artifacts are either on display or held in storage.

Even now with books around me and the resources of the internet, I find it difficult to decide how to give a sense of these treasures at the Egyptian Museum. I did fall in love with the Egyptian goddess, Nut, her star-spangled body carved into the underside of a sarcophogus, protecting the mummy beneath.

Atrium, Egyptian Museum
Note stone sarcophogus at bottom of picture,
sliced apart, with a mirror below so the visitor
can see Nut carved on the underneath
of the sarcophogus cover
(Camp 2004)
We strolled past hundreds of mummies, joined crowds at the King Tut exhibit, and wandered through as many of the exhibit halls as possible, thankful the signage throughout was in Egyptian AND English.

Hatshepshut wearing Pharaonic beard,
the trappings of office
New Kingdom (Camp 2004)

This was my first real introduction to what researchers now take for granted -- a female Pharaoh, Hatshepsut, ruled for 22 years about 3,500 years ago. Her stone portrait at the Egyptian Museum is beautiful and proud. I am dismayed that those who followed her, defaced many of her statues to remove any reference to a female Pharaoh. It's common to see broken noses on statues -- even the colossal Sphinx, as if that act of violence would remove the breath and power from the entity being defaced.

We are still, in these early days of our month-long visit, struggling with sleep deprivation, staying several days in Cairo. In the afternoon, we visited the al-Azhar Mosque and a book market to find several books on Egyptian culture, in English.

Our lunch at Akher Sa'a (near the Windsor Hotel) was fabulous. We found it a little difficult to order with our limited Arabic, but Allen ordered soup and, in French, eggplant. For 28 cents, literally a feast was spread before us, each dish unique and delicious -- lentil soup with nuts, tahini, spicy pickled carrots and cauliflower, eggplant dip, eggplant pickled with cold parsley-lemon potatoes, and eggplant in a rich tomato sauce, a salsa of cucumber and tomato, and a basket of hot fresh pita bread. All impossibly fresh and delicious.

More about the al-Azhar Mosque next time.

The Gallery at  Tour Egypt gives a sense of the scope and breadth of museum artifacts.

Read a little more of Hatshepsut at Wikipedia.

Friday, November 08, 2013

Drooling at the Egyptian Museum . . .

The Egyptian Museum, in the heart of Cairo, was stunning in so many ways. We spent two whole days exploring these iconic and unforgettable artifacts of Egyptian history and culture. We entered with a crowd to find a jumble of works everywhere, with connecting rooms leading in all directions.

Sky Goddess Nut protecting
the Earth and all its peoples (Wikipedia)
I was entranced to discover the Goddess Nut, carved on the inside of the top of a stone sarcophagus, her long body connecting earth with heaven, her star-spangled body protecting the mummy beneath her, visible only by mirror.

The Museum featured Pharaoh Tutankhamun's funerary exhibit, just before it traveled to the United States. We stared at wealth beyond measure, making our way through crowds, thin glass protecting golden masks, crowns, jewels, masks, and coffin covers.

King Tut's solid gold funerary mask (Camp)
Tutankhamun, popularly called King Tut, lived from 1341 BC to 1323 BC, a short 18 years. Yet the wealth found in his tomb was stunning. Here we saw shawabtis, those small (nearly hand-sized) carved stone figures called 'answerers' because the decreased could call on these shawabtis to do any work. Their main purpose to wait upon the now deceased Pharoah throughout eternity.

Shawabtis found in King Tut's tomb (Camp)
Researchers in 2010 revealed that King Tut was the son of the revolutionary Pharoah, Akhenaten, who ruled also for roughly 17 years, from 1353 BC to 1336 BC. Compare the classic funerary mask of King Tut above that of Akhenaten.

People were shocked by Akhenaten, his stone portraits astonishingly different from previous pharaohs, personal, intimate, as shocking as his belief in one God. No wonder the priests rebelled against Akhenaten when he moved the capital to Armana in the desert. But his successor, Tutankhamun,  reinstated the priests, traditional worship, and moved the capital back to Thebes.

Full of history, we walked to the Nile, explored neighborhoods near our hotel, ate lunch and dinner at open air cafes, and braved death to cross the street, pedestrians and motorists in some elaborate game of chicken. Next challenge: the Metro.

My goal is to share pictures and memories of our trip to Egypt with you throughout November. Have you traveled to Egypt?What memories do you have of the Egyptian Museum?

Read more about the Goddess Nut, King Tut, and Akhenaten on Wikipedia.

And here's a link to Reading the Past which features an interview with Anne Cleeland, talking about 19th Century fascination with Egypt, and her latest book, Daughter of the God-King, which tells the story of a young woman whose parents disappear while digging away in the Valley of the Kings. It's on my to-read list!

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Landed in Cairo . . .

We landed in Cairo after 24 hours on the plane. We were exhausted, more than ready for a sleep. But first, we haggled for a taxi and then were treated to a hair-rising ride through Cairo at night, cars passing on the right and the left, a mad bumper-car-ride through town at 70 mph, with all of the cars heavily dented from what looked like the national contact sport.

Our driver, in heavily accented English, welcomed us to Cairo and brought us safely to our hotel, The Windsor, according to Lonely Planet, a former British Officer's Club with a 'lift' style elevator that goes up smoothly, but that defies gravity on the way down. Our room (in 2004, a thrifty $53/night) was cut out of a larger toom, two twin beds for short people, archaic phone, a bidet in the bathroom, really old watercolors of the Nile on the walls, an amazingly large armoire (big enough for several dead bodies), and very high ceilings. The windows look out over a street scene that had men sitting at an open air tea house at midnight. We are within walking distance of the Egyptian Museum, and I can hardly sleep.

We were enchanted. Our room, dark but welcoming, seemed a bite from the colonial past with its wooden shutters and antique furniture. We were too exhausted to care, simply slept those first 10 hours away.In the morning, I opened the wooden shutters, startling these lovely large birds -- black winged with gray bodies, that flew up out of the courtyard. I learned later they were considered 'garbage' birds, crows, more technically, the black-hooded crow.

Black-hooded Crow, Cairo (Wikipedia Commons)
 I looked across the street at the neighborhood cafe to see perhaps that same group of men gathered around small outdoor tables, wearing galabaya (traditional long, flowing robes), smoking waterpipes, and drinking hot tea. We begin our month stay in Egypt and are at home in Cairo for about a week.

Early Morning

I awake bleary, too many hours on the plane:
Only seven am and already the streets are noisy.
Cars are driven fully here, horns, brakes, shouts!
Pedestrians leap out of the way.
Dirty city streets make a brown city
yet a side street has locust trees
and large gray birds with hooded black heads and black wings.
Horus, the falcon, protector of the Nile,
how did I come to be here,
half way 'round the world,
where your day is my night?
As the sun rises, the buildings
turn creamy yellow,
night becomes blue sky day,
the tea houses open.
For thousands of years,
people have lived here,
in this city by the Nile, the pyramid an icon
of past splendor, the desert close,
the Nile no longer floods.
Last night from the plane I saw
hundreds of small communities
scattered in the desert like jewels,
small pinpoints of light glistening in the dark.
Today the pyramids are new,
the sun has risen,
the Egyptian Museum beckons.

This month, I'm revisiting a month long visit to Egypt in 2004 with pictures, an occasional poem, and commentary. As a first stop, you can visit the Windsor Hotel in Cairo. Would I return to Egypt today? In a heartbeat!

Snake Charmer at Aswan,
wearing traditional galabaya (Camp 2004)

Saturday, November 02, 2013

From the Moon to Minnesota . . .

Now that winter is bringing those temperatures down, do you think back to summertime? Sandy Brown Jensen's recollections of her trip to Minneapolis this summer just might provoke you to hit the road. 

Minnesota has always been as far away as the Moon for Northwest Me.

I'd referred to the entire Midwest as "flyover space" as if I were some kind of bicoastal commuter rather than a Eugene, Oregon community college teacher firmly tied down to the ground by the tethers of the school calendar.

Gracious hosts Dr. Jeff and Kathy Larken
How my husband Peter and I got Minnesota friends is lost in history, but said friends, Jeff and Kathy Larkin, suddenly pulled up stakes, folded up the tent of their Eugene life, and disappeared back whence they'd come: Minneapolis, Minnesota.

"Come visit!" they said, so come visit we did.

The humidity at the airport hit me like a wet wool blanket; I felt like someone had thrown a sheep in my face, making it about that easy to breathe. Fortunately, we were whisked into an air-conditioned car, and the sheep was kicked back into the street to mug the next unwary tourist.

As this was our first visit, Jeff and Kathy had made a laundry list of local can't-miss icons.

Okay, for starters, I want to say that Minneapolis in the summer is insanely beautiful, as long as you don't want to breathe. Who knew? The city is built around twenty lakes and wetlands, many with estates and old money mansions around them. Jeff told me Minneapolis proper contains America's fifth-highest concentration of Fortune 500 companies, which explains mile after waterfront mile of architectural gorgeousness.

And apparently I am the last person in the contiguous U.S. to know this biggest city in Minnesota is on the upper reaches of the Mississippi River.

St. Anthony Falls on the Mississippi River
from The Stone Arch Bridge
It was a big thrill to cross this famous river on the Stone Arch Bridge, a former railroad bridge that affords a great view of St. Anthony Falls for pedestrians and cyclists.

All the lakes and wetlands are connected by parks that make up what is called The Chain of Lakes and the Grand Rounds Scenic Byway. This is the plentitude of water that turned the wheels of what was once the world's biggest flour milling capital.

Walking the Stone Arch Bridge
What is cool is the way that urban architecture of a previous century is now integrated into modern ideas of architectural art. The Guthrie Theatre, which Jeff pointed out to us from the Stone Arch Bridge, is a great example.

Out of the "dark, satanic mills" looking industrial brick walls of the old mill buildings thrusts a 178-foot cantilevered bridge (called the "Endless Bridge") to the Mississippi.

Micro-slice of the Mall of America
Thanks to my hair stylist in Coburg, Oregon, I did happen to know The Mall of America is in Minneapolis, although nothing could prepare me for the sheer scale of the monstrosity--seven Yankee stadiums could fit inside.

Nickleodeon Universe
In the middle is Nickleodeon Universe, which is a major theme park.In the lower level is Sea Life Minnesota, an aquarium like the one in my local Newport, Oregon, complete with a 300-foot underwater clear acrylic tunnel with sharks and rays gliding above and below.

Eyes of wonder
In a feature called The Mysteries of the Rainforest, Spectacled Caiman, Poison Dart Frogs, and Piranha all at eye level gave me the serious "I am prey" willies.

The day we were there, we were accompanied by hundreds of very small school children with high piercing cries and upturned faces of wonder: the latter made enduring the former marginally worthwhile.

And a side trip to Duluth. Mine hosts decided our trip to Minnesota wouldn't be complete without the three-hour trek north to Duluth to see Lake Superior. Yes, there it was, blue and calm and stretching away to the horizon.

The highlight of our Duluth side trip was a tour of the Glensheen Historic Estate, memorable for being the site of a double murder. That turned out to be a sad and tawdry tale and the estate itself the real star of the show.

Glensheen was built in 1905 in the Jacobean Revival style on the exterior and Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau styles on the interior. The original furniture brought into the mansion in 1908 stands where it was dropped, so touring the house is like entering a time capsule full of rich details; for example, some of the wall and ceiling coverings are made of wool, silk, filled burlap, and gold leaf--just a seriously improbable combination of materials.

The art collection owned by Chester Congdon and still on the walls at Glensheen, intrigued me. I saw an original by American Impressionist Childe Hassam as well as beautiful silk embroidery done by Japanese artist Watunabe.

Food is a highlight of any trip, and ours was no exception. I loved fish tacos at the Longfellow Grill next to the Mississippi, where I learned that even though Longfellow himself never actually made it to Minnesota, the locals are crazy for Hiawatha place names: Minnehaha Falls, The Inn on Gitchee Gumee, the Hiawatha neighborhood, which is part of the Longfellow community.

Minnehaha Falls

Bronze of Hiawatha carrying Minnehaha across the mere

Tacos at Stella's 
We also ate at Stella's Fish Cafe and Prestige Oyster Bar, on the rooftop with a view of uptown Minneapolis. The waiters wore tee-shirts that said, "Get It Yourself! I'm Crabby!"

Memorable T-shirt at Stella's

Garrison Keillor's brand of Lake Woebegone humor is everywhere evident.

On our last night in town, Jeff and Kathy took us to see a musical called, "The Basement Ladies (Last) Potluck Supper." Acted by an indefatigable ensemble of five actors, this comedy delivered laughs of the Lutheran humor variety, music, and good old-fashioned delight.

Okay, if you are going to Minnesota to encounter the natives for the first time, here is what you need to know about their communication style: Minnesotans are famously "nice"-- so nice that they will rarely come right out say what they mean, and, in fact, will often say the opposite of what they mean.

For example, when I complimented my host on our cool basement room, such a relief after the constant sheep mugging of the hot, humid days, he immediately assumed I must mean the opposite and went to turn up the heat.

There is no understanding this, and it blindsided me every time. But you can be sure their hearts are in the right place because it's true--

Minnesotans are nice; remarkably nice!

Thank you, Sandy, for your words and photos that bring these memories back home. I want to walk over the Stone Arch Bridge wearing one of those t-shirts from Stella's Fish and Prestige Oyster Bar! 

Sandy is an extraordinary digital story-teller and creative writing teacher. Read more of Sandy's writings on her blog Mind on Fire or check out my writing blog which through the month of November will feature Sandy's thoughts on creativity.

Any memories of Minneapolis or Duluth to share?