Egypt 4: Luxor, next day

First, let me say that despite the fantastic antiquities, and other than the Winter Palace (now the Winter Palace Hotel), Luxor is not a particularly nice place. Unlike Cairo, there’s nothing to do except either be a tourist or cater to one. It’s a major stop on package tours, and our hotel was full of Brits ordering their fish and chips and lager; and when we went for a walk, we passed a row of English-style pubs and restaurants serving British fare. There were even two jewelry stores side by side called (no joke) “Yorkshire Bob’s” and “Lancaster Jimmy’s”. I am an absolute Anglophile but I was reminded of the Monty Python sketch in which the tourist agency customer complains about English tourists:

“I mean I’m fed up going abroad and being treated like a sheep, what’s the point of being carted around in busses, surrounded by sweaty mindless oafs from Kettering and Boventry in their cloth caps and their cardigans and their transistor radios and their ‘Sunday Mirrors’, complaining about the tea, ‘Oh they don’t make it properly here do they not like at home’ stopping at Majorcan bodegas, selling fish and chips and Watney’s Red Barrel and calamares and two veg and sitting in cotton sun frocks squirting Timothy White’s suncream all over their puffy raw swollen purulent flesh cos they ‘overdid it on the first day’!”

and so on. But I digress.

We went to the Temple of Karnak in the morning and the Temple of Luxor in the afternoon (with a stop at a papyrus “institute” in between. It’s actually fascinating to see how papyrus paper is made – the technology was actually lost until about 27 years ago – but Abby and I had already been treated to the sales job in Cairo). Photographs will describe the Temple of Karnak better than I can:

The main walls, and a ramp in the interior (because the ramp inside the walls was never cleared away, archaeologists were able to understand how the Egyptians built these massive walls); a row of ram-headed sphinxes, representing Amun-Ra; ancient graffiti. When Napoleon’s armies arrived in Egypt, the temple was nearly buried under sand, so the soldiers and subsequent explorers were able to carve their names into the level that is now half-way up the wall.
The columns of the first sanctuary. (The roof is long gone, of course.) The columns are massive – you can park a car on each capital – and decorated all the way to the top. In fact, there was almost no surface in the temple that was not carved or painted.
The colors are still incredibly fresh.

Unavoidably, after the Temple of Karnak, the Temple of Luxor was less grand. It did have some interesting features: it was once connected to the Temple of Karnak by an avenue flanked with sphinxes; Alexander the Great had himself carved into one of the walls as an Egyptian diety; the Copts used it as a church and covered one of the rooms with frescos; and many centuries later, after the temple was covered in sand, a mosque was built on top. Still, it just didn’t compare in terms of scale or color.

An excavated stretch of the Avenue of Sphinxes; columns in the sanctuary; the mosque built atop the Temple; Alexander the Great’s carving; the Coptic frescoes. The story behind the Avenue of the Sphinxes is that during the Sun God festival, the priests would bring a small golden idol of Amun-Ra from the Temple of Karnak up the Nile by boat to the Temple of Luxor, which was his wife’s temple. After he had – presumably – enjoyed his conjugal visit, the common people were allowed to carry him back along the avenue so that they could have their once-a-year view of the god.

After the Temple, we parted ways with Mohammed and Devinia, and went to the nearby Luxor Museum, which is in a modern building and has extensive labeling on the exhibit cases. Well worth a visit.

Our final tourist activity was a ride on a felucca up the Nile River at sunset. Our crew consisted of two young men who gave us the usual tourist patter, offered us some delicious mint tea, and then spent about 3o minutes playing their cell phone ring tones to each other to share the latest downloads. Not quite relaxing, but they stopped right before we were about to snap and chuck their phones into the river. They also tried to get us to alight at “Banana Island” for a half-hour visit to look at a tree-covered island along the route that’s nice for picnics. We had heard three different prices quoted for entry to the island that day (they increased with each quote; I assume that each guide was adding his cut to the base price). We declined and the boat’s pilot didn’t insist, but he spent the next 15 minutes pointedly not insisting that lots of tourists enjoyed visiting the island. However, as the sun began to set, we were able to really settle in and enjoy it:

Abby took these.

From there, it was back to Cairo and a long wait in the airport. As we were waiting, Abby noted that despite Mohamed Ali being an Albanian, only a minority of Egyptians have heard of Albania. “Where are you from?” “Albania.” “Armenia?” “No, Albania.” “Alemania*?” “No, Albania. It’s north of Greece.” “Ah.” Still, it was easier than saying we were from America, since we could then pretend we didn’t know English and ignore the street vendors. And in fact, as we noted sadly to each other on the plane, it’s a rare trip when you’re actually looking forward to getting back to Tirana, but that about sums it up. Kaq.


But is it art?

No, but it beats spending all of my time playing on-line backgammon: I’ve taken up oil painting again after a hiatus of seven years. This is week one’s output:

(I realize that this is the electronic equivalent of putting my work up on the refrigerator, but what the hell.)