Thursday, January 24, 2008

"The Palestinians left us with nothing. It's true, they are dear to us, but today, they were like locusts." – Jan. 24 BBC quote from an Egyptian

We saw the soldiers out yesterday - lined up, bulletproof vests, rifles, headgear. But everyone else was proceeding as normal – selling produce, begging, crossing streets with briefcases and ties, honking and gesturing, smiling as we ordered koshary. You wouldn't have known that just a few short hours previously a bunch of Muslim Brotherhood members had staged a nonviolent protest in support of the Palestinians breaching the Gaza border to get simple supplies from Egypt, having had electricity and water cut off by Israel, being punished for the isolated actions of a political group. You wouldn't have known that the Egyptian protestors were chased down the streets, arrested, that batons and tear gas were used. We were at Khan-il-Khalili while this was going on, and we came downtown in the aftermath.

Oh, it's nothing, I said to my parents as we crossed Tahrir Square, as we got redirected through the underground Metro tunnel by a few cheerful policemen so that we wouldn’t exit near the Arab League building, as I asked a vest-wearing soldier if we could walk on the sidewalk, as we boarded a boat and took in the strange quiet of the Nile and passed under bridges brim-full of traffic. Probably just the president passing through, I said. Shows you how used to soldiers I’ve become, even when they’re dressed in the accoutrements of riot suppression.

The season of guests is officially over. I slept until 4pm today after an early morning of seeing off my parents as they continue their journey - a few days in London before returning home. They were not at all like locusts, but they are dear to us.

You'll find photos below of our day at the pyramids (Tuesday), which was rainy. I was disappointed at first, thinking how the photos would not show the beautiful blue sky against the structures, but it actually made the pyramids seem more mystical than usual. Also, we managed to see a bunch of those guys who drive the horses and carts go a little nutty - they were racing around the site whipping the hell out of the horses. The tourist police stopped them, and there was arguing, and one guy got his horse taken away. I think it was a slow day at the pyramids, so they figured - hey, why not race?

That day concluded with a visit to the Museum of Antiquities. From the pyramids, we climbed into a cab seeing its last legs and listened to the driver grumble for an hour and spit mucus, deep from his lungs, out the window. He fell asleep in a long moment of stuck traffic. His window wouldn’t go up, and rain and wind dripped in, and the streets, unprepared for rain, puddled with dirty water. Despite what may seem like a complaint, I was thrilled because it felt like true autumn, a season I really miss. My mom, on the other hand, experienced something I have stopped thinking about, which is how when you are in a grimy cab like that one, you feel as if even your lips need a good scrubbing.

The museum is chock-full of stuff from pyramids and tombs, so full that the extras stored in the basement are literally sinking into the ground and will have to be excavated when the museum moves from downtown to the Cairo exurbs. As the rain poured on the building, we saw it dripping on stairs and leaking on ancient statues. The whole place feels outdated, which is charming. It is badly-lit, and many of the typed, yellowing descriptions neglect to identify the time period of the exhibit. The best part of the museum (and I'm counting the beautiful gold sarcophagi of Tut) is the mummified animal exhibit, where you will see a gigantic crocodile and a monster fish, among other animals – birds, dogs, cats, baboons, and even scarab beetles. Honestly, you feel as if Indiana Jones will come around a corner at any moment, particularly on that dank rainy day.

I'm worried that they'll make the new museum too flashy. I'm worried that, in the quest to entertain and indulge waning attention spans, we will lose a musty feeling of discovery, in favor of flashing lights and touch screens and interactivity. I felt that way upon hearing that the Bell Museum in Minneapolis, with its beautiful and under-lit and sometimes misrepresented dioramas, was going to be moved and some of its exhibits thrown out.

Sure, I would like the statues of Ramses to be protected from the leaky ceiling. But I don't need Ramses to speak to me via computer or something. You sense strangeness and greatness in the Museum of Antiquities without either outdated or updated placards. When you have to squint and bend to the floor as you peer into a dark glass case, you feel like maybe you're the first one to notice the badly wrapped foot of one of the mummies in the Fayoum portrait room. Even the better-lit Tut room lacks order – you push and shove past Russians and Japanese to the sarcophagi and have to read small print upside down to understand which of the two in the room held the mummy.

Anyway, enjoy the photos below. The last one is my favorite.



Susan said...

Amanda, I have really enjoyed the pictures & your commentary of your parent's visit. I am so happy they made the trip & hope their London visit is as enjoyable as their visit to Egypt.

Stephanie said...

I thought of you this morning as I listened to an NPR story about the breach and wondered if I'd find something about it here. How it must feel to need to literally break down walls simply for the supplies you need to live.

Though I don't have the energy or time this morning to even try to be as beautifully articulate about it as you, I'm with you with regard to the museums. This was wonderfully said: "I'm worried that, in the quest to entertain and indulge waning attention spans, we will lose a musty feeling of discovery."

moonlight ambulette said...

Cute! And thanks for the update - the news had me worried.

Writing Sisu said...

Great pictures! I'm glad you had a lovely visit with your family. I've always wanted to be the grand and knowledgeable host. Did you feel grand and knowledgeable?

A said...

I definitely didn't feel grand and knowledgeable, but it's a unique experience to have guests when you can show them spots where the usual tour groups don't go. I also spoke more of my very limited Arabic when my visitors were here than I've spoken in months.

K said...

Great photos. I also like the next to last one, where your Dad appears to be contemplating challanging the Sphinx to a "Sphinx-off."