It took 77 years to stand before the Pyramids of Egypt. Gosh. The closest I’d been to a pyramid was that gauche thing of once mirrored squares in Memphis, now a Bass Pro extravaganza with an interior elevator to the top of the point, which i wouldn’t dare to ride because there is no way to get down if you get stuck up there. Like a carnation on a man’s jacket, there is a statue of Rameses II outside the local pyramid, which once held Grizzlies basketball games, just to let tourist know we know our Egypt stuff.
Pyramids are complicated. The big 3 don’t hold golden tombs with hieroglyphics on the wall and possessions of kings. They are pretty much just there as architectural masterpieces. Stand by one of the stone blocks, and you get the idea that this thing is huge. But there are many pyramids, and each has something unique, which draws tourists and Egyptologists and the faithful and those anxious to ride a camel in the desert. The almost eternal blue sky, the technicolor haze, the endless distance facing West, the songs of silence in the breeze, these accompany the dazzle and dust of the ambience of the Pyramids.
The first night after we arrived, the super guide Ramirez dragged us to the nightly light show actually at the foot of the Pyramids, right on the border of Cairo. Right on the border is not an exaggeration and that was depressing. According to National Geographic photography, the Pyramids are surrounded by miles of rolling desert. Ha. It depends on how you focus that camera. On the Eastern side it’s all polluted, massive city with sky-high rising hotels. In the small open-air theater, hundreds of chairs had been set up for a light show with drama. (It doesn’t rain at this time of year so no one worried about getting wet.) I was dealing with heavy eyes and unrestrained tiredness since this nation was out last stop on a long complicated journey, but we were given front row seats – we were the only ones in those seats, alas – and so I realized I had to perk up and be interested. Ended up spending the entire “show” trying not to let my head bobble into sleep. The light show told loudly the ancient stories of Egypt and the Pyramids with heavy acting over a loud speaker, and impressive colored light images. Normally the place is standing room only (it is outside and the air cools down once the sun disappears) but now is the time of no tourist because of terrorism and political disorder. Everyone fears suffering or being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and so It’s mostly locals who show up.
Primarily, I was astonished that the Pyramids weren’t larger, and worse the Sphinx looked like a child’s doll in comparison to the Pyramids, at least in the dark of night. The Sphinx with its smashed face and oversized lion paws in front is not what it seems. But our guide kept insisting truly these were enormous miracles and just wait till we see them in the daytime. I was so sleepy I didn’t care much one way or the other.
Our last day in Egypt was the day of pyramids and tombs. We set out early through massive traffic. Of course, we had to visit Memphis, which is just on the outskirts of Cairo, on the West bank of the Nile. Once again, size shocked me because I thought it would have a huge spread of its own. In the environs, one goes to a park like square where there are statues of Rameses 11 and a giant reclining one whose thigh is probably as big as my garage. but this was the real thing, not the copy. We arrived so early the Bedouin merchants had not gotten their rather simple, brown booths opened, where many small quartz pyramids and scarves and scarabs and King Tuts and whatever souvenir you can imagine needed to be set up. And once done, they were in our face, which I don’t like about the local markets in Egypt. Not much to do in this small area of statues but we wandered there and sat a minute and signed in on Facebook. And our guide told me that the pyramid on the dollar bill was because George Washington liked Egyptian architecture and the obelisk evolved as Washington monument. On the seal there is one eagle and one pyramid. The Masons studied Herodotus who wrote an account of Egypt, and put a gold and silver summit on the pyramid on the dollar so it didn’t have a flat top. The Eye looks for new rising nation, sunsets behind.
Memphis was important as a commercial and industrial center and in this area limestone was first used on a large scale basis. Still a lot to be unearthed here because it was once the third dynasty and the first golden age of ancient Egypt. We diverted to Saqqara on the west bank of the Nile and burial place for supreme royal officials as well as for the Apis bulls sacred to Ptah, the principal deity during the 18 and 19 dynasties of the new kingdom. Many old kingdom private tombs are here but what is awesome is the step pyramid, Djoser’s complex tomb, the first royal tomb in the form of a pyramid. Djoser was known as the inventor of stone architecture. The step pyramid symbolized a stairway reaching up toward heaven or thrown down from heaven to earth to permit the heavenly ascent of the pharaoh, much like the step decor we saw in Petra. Almost all the caves and tombs in this area are filled with hieroglyphics and art – some we had to crouch through low tunnels to get into but few are accessible to the public so as not to cause further desecration. Our guide had keys and we were able to enter a number of chambers with walls filled with carved images of daily life of the kings and some still with color.
I was told if we had paid a few thousand we could have had access to many decorated tombs in that area, but I just bought the paperback and looked at them there.
We passed through towns where bamboo and papyrus grew abundantly next to date palms – and we saw a few young men climbing barefoot up the highest palms to save the bunches of dates in bags tied around the branches. We were also able to see the Bent pyramids and Snefru’s Red-Pyramid but nothing holds court and dignity like the big three pyramids of Giza, which ache for a camel ride to get close to, which I did, but was told, once the animal had unfolded himself, that it was only for a picture, not a ride. It was in the waning day breeze that, hot as it was, I was fitted for another camel-rider’s head gear, which I like a lot. And the camel moaned a bit but I grabbed the front and back handles and shifted weight as he shifted his weight so he could get up. What else can one ask for? The bucket list checked off, and after conversation with the Sphinx, which really wasn’t such a disappointment after all, we called it a day and headed for a dinner boat ride on the Nile, which was the worst thing I have ever experienced – the music so loud ear plugs didn’t work, and everyone was locked inside with the food and entertainment (yes, belly dancers and whirling dervishes with neon light capes). I found my niche outside the barge on a step where the breeze was beautiful and the water within a finger tip reach and I could watch the brilliant lights of all the dinner and party barges traveling up and down the Nile, which once flooded the fields around it and made the soil rich, but now is confined and stoggey because of expensive dams that keep the waters in place. Kinda loses it’s charm, I think.