LUXOR: My Home

I encountered an absurd number of machine guns on this trip. There were the patrolling guards around the Osireion, then the bodyguards of the Minister of the Interior, and then today at the sleepy Mummification Museum in Luxor. Really, you wouldn’t think that I would have to face so much artillery in the pursuit of archaeology, but the world can be a peculiar place. I am getting ahead of myself, though.

After the wild day before and the wild journey to Aswan the next, I decided to take it easy. As you and I have discovered, I don’t take it easy easily. So I made plans to go to both the main museums in the city. For me, there are few better ways to spend the day than roaming through halls of Egyptian treasures, so this suited me right down to the ground.

I tried to catch up on some blog writing before starting the day, but clearly this didn’t work out as I anticipated because the events I’m chronicling occurred nearly half a year ago. I really never thought it would take me this long to get everything done. There’s still another week to detail about my trips to the south of Egypt. We haven’t even discussed the crocodiles, yet! All in due time, though, faithful reader.

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I took a leisurely stroll through the gardens and checked in on my rabbit friends who, for some reason, live in the same aviary as the cockatiels. I talked to them, but they took no notice of my presence, and I suppose that I can’t blame them. Rabbits don’t thrive when it’s 110 degrees out like I do, I suppose. Oh well. I sauntered around the pool, remembered that I brought along a bathing suit, and decided I should hop in one of these days. I never did. I don’t rightly know why. I was always too tired when I returned from my journey’s to take a refreshing dip.

I tidied up and hit the town. The first museum I went to was not at all easy to get into. This isn’t because it was hard to find, it’s just that the hours were perplexing. It seemed to have a siesta time built into their schedule, but it wasn’t easy to understand. The hotel had called ahead for me to check if they were open, and allegedly they were, but when I arrived, I found a shuttered gate. This didn’t bode well, but the gate opened, and I wound down the stairs to the lower level of the Corniche. I never knew this part of Luxor existed! There is a whole stretch of shops and cafes along the river. How marvelous for the next time!

Downstairs I encountered a sleeping guard holding one of those machine guns I mentioned. When I arrived, I seemed to startle him out of his daydreams, but he wasn’t too perturbed by my appearance. He muttered something at me and gestured toward an abandoned ticket counter. This didn’t bode well either, I thought, making my way over. I stood here for quite some time, but nobody showed up. Eventually a harassed-looking man came down the stairs, gave me a peculiar look, and then managed to explain to me — in German, no less — that the museum was not open. It would be open…later. Neither of us could think of the word, and he didn’t know French or English. Eventually it resulted in a game of charades. He brought a chair from the office, pointed at it for me to sit, slapped his wrist, and then started flashing his hands. Eventually I determined that he was trying to say that the museum would open in a half hour. I was in no rush, so I smiled gratefully and took a seat.

The half hour went by speedily enough, I caught up on some reading on my phone and scribbled in my journal and looked at the Nile drifting by and wondered if the machine gun was loaded or not. Finally, the kindly khaki-clad man gestured me to the counter and I bought my ticket for the Mummification Museum.

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I was distinctly underwhelmed when I entered the museum, as it was eerily dark and quite small. My impression changed dramatically as I began to explore the exhibits. The artifacts on display were the finest examples of their type, which is supremely helpful for the tourist. For me, I enjoy seeing every single piece ever dug out of the Egyptian sands, but so many other people just want to see the crème de la crème, which is totally all right. When you see the best, you get a better appreciation for what the ancients were capable of.

This museum, as the name implies, is dedicated to the art of mummification, and so there were fabulous examples of human and animal preservation. The mummy of a high priest of Amun Ra was just lovely, but after seeing mummies all over the world, it wasn’t entirely thrilling. In addition to the mummies themselves were tools devoted to the craft and objects taken into the Afterlife. I was particularly taken by a complete set of canopic jars in a beautiful state of preservation.

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And then I saw something that utterly captivated, something that would light a new passion for me, something that I never expected to find as delightful as I do: a crocodile mummy.

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It was perfectly preserved, reader, and stunning. I think there’s nothing quite so lovely as a crocodile with their scaly, leathery skin, and their massive mouths filled with dagger sharp teeth. If I could have one as a pet, I would be the happiest man alive. Well, I’d be happier with my own camel on the farm. Can you picture it? When I retire, and what I’m about to write is completely serious, I want to live in Luxor as you know, but I want to start a small camel rescue. I want to take in those beautiful beasts when they are no longer wanted or when they’re ill, and I want to let them live their best lives in idyllic conditions on my villa on the West Bank. I’ll have a small staff of camel devotees and we will spend our days in bucolic bliss, grooming camels and leading exclusive tours through the desert for locals and tourists. It’ll be fabulous and I’ll wear a galibeya and I’ll serve a desert picnic, and it’ll be fabulous. Maybe it’ll be a small hotel, too? Oh yes. I like that, don’t you? I’ll have a small hotel with a camel rescue and maybe a little crocodile or two and it’ll be perfect.

What was I even talking about?

Oh yeah, crocodile mummies. I thought it was a beautiful thing, but back then I couldn’t know the mummies I would soon see, the crocodiles that would rhapsodize me, the wonders I would experience as I made my way to Egypt’s southern border. Then, I was just delighted by this simple mummy. And I was really quite pleased with the entire museum. It was not large, like I said, but the content was truly fabulous. There was a complete set of mummification tools, and I found that the tools they used looked very similar to modern surgical implements. The scalpels could probably still be effectively used in surgery. Isn’t that wild?

Another fabulous thing that I hardly expected was a mummified head cut in half.

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This was done to show the embalming process and what it looked like inside the cranium without any brain. It was just hollow aside from a bit of resin and linen. I thought it was wonderful. I thought that the entire museum was wonderful. I completely rescind the qualms I had about the place when I first walk in. Yes, it’s quite small, but the Mummification Museum is an Egyptological jewel box.

I wasn’t done indulging in museums yet, so I climbed back out onto the Corniche and leisurely strolled along the Nile, making my way to the glorious Luxor Museum.

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The sun was hot and delicious and I was in great spirits as I remembered my last journey to the museum. I had gone down to the Thomas Cook offices to exchange some money and rolled my ankle so severely that I thought I had broken it. But I was a brave and noble and determined to carry out my adventure all those years ago, so I foolishly hobbled halfway across Luxor. I was accosted by a particularly aggressive hustler that day, which increased my painful irritation, but I made it to my destination and spent hours hopping from one statue to the next. I was quite pleased that I was in good shape this time around, though I did watch for anything suspicious underfoot that might trip me up. Nothing did, thanks be to Allah.

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There was next to nobody at the museum when I arrived, which was hardly unusual, and I enjoyed myself tremendously. Since my first foray into my beloved Egypt, I have learned so much more about their history. I can now read cartouches with relative ease, I have an even better grasp of the chronology, and I have a deeper appreciation for everything that I see. Back then, I had all of these things, of course, but they were not at all fine tuned. It took seeing it to really focus my passion, and that trip changed my life. So now I looked on Amenhotep and Tuthmosis III like old friends rather than beautiful strangers. I stared gobsmacked at the fine tooling of a monstrously large alabaster statue of Sobek.

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I stood in reverent silence before the probable mummy of Ramses I and remembered the peculiar life his mummy has had. For decades, he was something of a sideshow attraction in a museum at Niagara Falls. Not really what you’d expect from one of the illustrious dead.  But life is weird, even for those of us who have been dead for a few thousand years.

As I admired the various statues, I finally realized what my dream body was. Remember when Tyra Banks gave me an eating disorder and then I was sickly skinny and my arms looked more like twigs than twigs? That messed me up considerably. But I decided I want to look like a New Kingdom pharaoh. I’d quite like the taut and lean physique of Tuthmosis III.

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It was graceful and lovely and strong and imposing, but it managed all this without the rippling musculature that so many people associate with masculinity. Looking like a pharaoh would suit me down to the ground. And, oh boy readers, do I ever have a story to tell you about this on a genetic level. (Long story short, I have northern African genetics in my DNA. It’s a very small amount, but it’s measurable, and I am beyond pleased. Ancestrally, I have North African ancestors, which means all my years of longing and craving for Egypt and this region of the world is not entirely nonsense. It’s genetic memory! That might not be a real thing, but this has convinced me!)

The Luxor Museum was absolutely fabulous, and I had a marvelous time wandering through, examining the sarcophaguses, the tools, the statues, the ostracon, and everything in between. I was enchanted again, just as I was the last time, by the talatat blocks that were parts of Akhenaten’s additions to Karnak Temple that were later razed by Horemheb and used as filler.

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It’s funny how much the ancient Egyptians saved by trying to destroy the history they weren’t so fond of.  There was a young woman sitting in front of a statuary remain of Akhenaten, and I couldn’t help stand there and gape at the strange king for some time. I think he’s wonderful.

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He stared regally down on the viewers, and you can’t help but be swept up in the mystery of his life and the revolutions he brought to Egypt. I wonder if the woman was feeling the same things I was? We didn’t exchange any comments or even a glance, but like everybody in the museum, we were united in Egyptological fervor

I hoped then, and I hope still, that whoever is behind the elegant Mummification Museum and perfection that is the Luxor Museum, has been called on to work for the Grand Egyptian Museum, the GEM, being built on the Giza Plateau. It’s going to be amazing to see the new museum when it’s finally done. I don’t know when that’s really going to be. It’s so past due. If it lives up to the glories in ancient Thebes, then it is going to be an amazing destination. My next trip to Egypt is definitely going to revolve around visiting this museum and returning to my beloved Luxor and all the friends I’ve made here. I miss them every day, and I’ll miss Debbie and Hassan and Mina and Abdul and the other Hassan until I see them again. Luxor is perfection.

I needed to gather up considerable amounts of money for the trip down to Aswan the next morning, which proved to be a bigger challenge than I had at first predicted. I assumed that you just go to the ATM and withdraw the needed money as I always have. The issue was that I needed about five times more money than I normally took out. So, every time I went to an ATM, it told me that it could not process my request. This freaked me out, dear reader. Have you ever felt like you were penniless in the middle of a desert in a nation with a language you can’t even hope to decipher? It’s not amusing.

Finally, I learned that the ATMs only hold a limited amount of money, and that I was requesting more than they contained. So, in order to get the required funds, I had to visit about five different banks and order up smaller amounts of money. I found this tiring, but quite amusing. I mean, I was so rich (and remember, not rich because the Egyptian pound is hella weak) that I was emptying ATMs all down the Corniche.

Worn out by this fiscal exercise, I decided to get an early dinner and an early bedtime. Of course I didn’t go to bed early because that’s not something that I am physically capable of, but I am able to eat at any time of the day, so it was no trouble to leisurely stroll down to The Lantern just as soon as the sunset finished. I had to watch that from my balcony, as I tried to do as often as possible, it was just too beautiful to miss.

Walking down Television Street and then the wonderful madness that is Medina Street, I longed to speak Arabic more than ever. I kick myself daily that my lifelong study of Egypt has focused so intensely on the ancient world. I never thought to give the modem people much thought until a few days before my first landing in Cairo in 2014. What a fool I’ve been. So, odd as it is, I better understand the dead language carved into the temples than the common language of the living. I mean, I know a few words, but I want to be able to speak Arabic like I can speak French and English. I want that beautiful language to be my own. I know there are classes to be had back at home, so maybe I’ll sign up. Or better yet, maybe I’ll go to one of those intensive language schools in Cairo where they utterly immerse you in the language. I would absolutely love that.

Debbie had no cheddar onion tarts that night, but she winked and promised me one on my return from Aswan. She introduced me to her husband who is from Aswan, and his clear love for the city really got me excited. It’s one of the places that I have always known is down there, but never called strongly to me. Same as Alexandria. I still haven’t gone there, even though I must. It’s always been Luxor for me. For me, there is no place finer in the world, and no matter what the state of the economy or politics or tourism, nowhere calls to me like Luxor. It has some kind of magnetism that I can’t escape. I love it with all my soul, and Debbie’s husband felt the same about Aswan as I do for Luxor. Her husband, Nasser, and I would be in solid agreement after my whirlwind visit the next day.

Debbie chatted a while, we gossiped, Mina brought me another gin, and reader, I felt like a prince. I felt pampered and loved and part of a community in ways that rarely happen. I was at home. Luxor was my home. Luxor is my home.

I took a shortcut back to the Winter Palace, that goes along the Corniche road. It was dark and romantic and lovely, and I felt complete peace with the world. I had found a place where I belong, a place that I love. I hope you visit, dear reader. I hope you someday visit me there. And so, with complete and total satisfaction, I looked out onto the Nile, fell into my plush bed, smiled at the flowers that had been changed that afternoon, and beamed. Life is too good too me.

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