Michael Divine

Well, we made our way down into the temple complex itself. It’s humbling to view these great centers of religion that have remained through the ages. Their colors faded, their corners rounded by the dusty winds, the great pillars that remain still standing tall. Their stories and symbols, carved deep into the stone, told in languages that must be decoded, of gods and goddesses who have faded into obscurity… Yet, there is a presence and an immediacy. In smooth granite, the lines feel distinctly modern. The carvings are so clean that it feels as if they were carved just yesterday. When you stand at a certain angle, you can see how it must have all lined up and the impression it might have conjured.

Deeper into the temple we found where the Coptic Christians had attempted to fresco over the ancient hieroglyphs – as they themselves rode in on the religion of monotheism. Deeper still, we passed through rooms of carvings into an outdoor area which, with all it’s myriad conjunctions of patterns and carvings, obelisks and heavy stone lintels, palm trees and decapitated columns created such a picture of beauty that we all sat for a while, digesting the what we’d just experienced.

This temple was 4000 years old. The carvings revered at one time. Now it is ruins. Governments still rage on about who should be in charge and religions argue about who has the One True God. The desert sands still blow, waiting to cover it all back up. Days, nights, moons, and suns all pass by. I think that all people should spend time sitting with the ruins of past civilizations. It will help them, I think, to consider the actions of their current times – and consider what actually is a priority – helping others, I think, being a good person.

We wandered out along an ‘outdoor museum’ which we would come to see, as elsewhere, is really just all the blocks and pieces that have been dug up and were found to have something inscribed upon them, now resting on palate after palate after palate in row after row. It’s a well organized antiquities storage area. Who knows if any sense would ever be made of it. But it belongs to the people of Egypt, whoever that might be at whatever given time, and so there it stays.

Hungry for lunch, we stepped out of the Temple intent on returning to the Avenue of the Sphinx and headed to Al-Sahaby for lunch – the little restaurant taking up the wide tiled walk street next to the Nefertiti Hotel. Al-Sahaby has been in business since 1930, as a part of the hotel, and is owned by the same family as well. It has a taste of authenticity and dedication. These alleys are walking streets – all the twisting alleys around the hotel which led into the souk – the market which was mainly filled with crafts and tourist gifts and spice shops and the occasional necessity. Lunch, outdoors under the trellis of grape leaves, peppered with the sounds and sights of humanity humming about us, was delicious. Soon after we headed back to the temple, avoiding the repeating flood of tourist sales and the like.

Wandering about, we traced the Avenue of the Sphinxes (which are really quite small) and then meandered back to the hotel where Violet planned on spending some time grading papers. I headed to the souk with Luna and Jimmy. I regret now not getting some of the treasures I found. I never had another chance, as I thought I would. We went into a jewelry store – the proprietor was so eager to sell and made me promise I would return. Everywhere we went we were affronted, accosted by sales people. Then we looked around and realized that we were the only tourists in sight, and this is a tourist town and we were in the height of the tourist season.

Economically speaking, it’s tough times in Egypt right now. The general tourist population is at about 30% of it’s average for the time of year. After the revolution 1.4 million tourists fled the country, afraid for the instability. Nationalism protests can turn violent in any part of the world. But that void has left countless people living hand to mouth. While we were offered deals on everything, there is a big difference between getting a good deal because the salesman has had a good week and the dollar won’t make or break him, and getting a good deal because the dollar is the difference between his family eating or going to bed with empty bellies. We were approached ravenously, with everyone vying for our tourist dollars. Scarves and spices and alabaster figures and cheap trinkets and camel skin bags. Sadly for most of them, we aren’t the spendy types and don’t buy too many things.

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