Cairo, Egypt Tuesday, February 7, l995
A superior day to say the least. I took my first sleeping pill last night-a good move. We had breakfast in the room and Susan seems to be on the mend. Downstairs I retrieved our passports from the front desk and rendezvoused with the group. There is a family from Argentina that Susan has identified as worthwhile. Alan Warner who is from Brooklyn has been to India, China, Kenya and New Guinea with A&K. Bruce Truex is a lawyer from Michigan. I'll get to the others later as they begin to sort themselves out. Right now we're boarding our bus for the five minute ride to the Egyptian Museum where they charge LE 100 (that's $29.50) to take a video camera inside. Alan pays.
Our first stop inside is at a reproduction of the Rosetta Stone (the original is in the British Museum) with its hieroglyphics, Demotic and Greek script . Demotic was the speech of the people, Heratic, that of the priests. The stone was discovered by Champollion in 1799 and deciphered in 1822. Champollion has a street named after him not far from here.
We plan to tour the museum chronologically circling the main floor counterclockwise and starting with the Old Kingdom. Two large statues flank the entrance atrium. Ramses II on the left dates from the XIXth Dynasty and is carved from granite quarried in Aswan. He's wearing the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt, has a cobra on his forehead symbolizing eternity and is shown striding forward on his left foot, a position we will see in all the kingly and queenly statues. On the right is a powerful statue of Amenhotep, builder of Luxor, with incredibly articulated toes. I asked Mona about this attention to detailing the toes. She said it indicated majesty. Next we gather in front of the King Narmer Palette, a gray stone, shield-shaped carved plaque commemorating the first pharaoh of Upper and Lower Egypt. He is shown wearing the white crown of Upper Egypt while smiting his enemies, the Delta people of Lower Egypt. The Goddess Hathor watches over him in the guise of a cow with huge horns and a human face as does Horus, the falcon. At the far end of the atrium are two enormous seated statues, approximately 10 meters high, of Amenophis III and his wife Tiye. They are the parents of Amenophis IV, otherwise known as Akhenaten, and are remarkably portrayed as the same height-in other words, as equals.
The front of the atrium features a variety of mummified animals in glass cases-a dog, cat, fish, alligator and falcon. We proceed to the gallery on the left and stop at to look inside a stone sarcophagus of a wealthy Egyptian. It's images represent all the goodies that would travel with him to the hereafter such as jewelry, pets, food, medicines, you name it. The poor managed the journey with bread, salt and beer. It was considered enough to sustain them.
Across the aisle is a glass case featuring small statues of workers baking bread, brewing beer and doing other kinds of work. As opposed to the stylized royal sculpture, these are amazing lifelike with stress on the back, legs and arms all clearly articulated. They are wonderful figures and are over 4500 year old.
Nearby is a modest statue of Menkaure, builder of the smallest pyramid at Giza. It is known as the Triad of Mycerinus (Another name for Menkaure. We'll find alternate names for lots of pharaohs as well as gods as we go along.) because he is flanked by two female figures. One is Hathor, the other is the personification of an Egyptian province. They are shown in wonderful high relief stepping forward away from a rear wall. Actually, Menkaure takes a big left step, Hathor a smaller one, and the other figures stands without moving. Interesting symbolism.
Moving along we encounter the canopic jars which held the organs of a mummified body. We'll see more of these later. There is a truly wonderful painted limestone statue of a scribe, seated cross-legged over his papyrus. It has inlaid glass eyes and most of the brownish, orange skin color is still there. It dates from the beginning of Vth Dynasty, 2475 B.C.
We now come to an extraordinary statue of Chephren, son of Cheops and occupant of the second Giza pyramid as well as the face of the Sphinx (or so they say). Chephren is shown seated, with his second toe longer than his big toe (indicating wisdom), and Horus, in full falcon form, perched on the rear of his throne with his wings embracing the king's headdress. It's just plain fabulous.
Nearby is a rarity, a wooden statue with moveable arms, of village headman named Ka-aper. Wood was very rare in Egypt (it still is) so wooden statues were unusual.
Now we come one of the museum's masterpieces, the two painted limestone statues of the high priest, Rahotep and his wife, Nofret dating from the early IVth Dynasty, about 2620 B.C. We're pushing close to 5000 years old here but these statues are remarkable. They're amazingly vivid and alive. Nofret, in particular, looks extremely contemporary in her white gown, necklace, wig and head band. Rahotep is shown in a short white skirt, orange/brown skin with a small mustache and his right arm crossed over his chest.
Next is another well-preserved grouping. This one shows a dwarf with his normal sized wife and children. Dwarfs were prized in Egypt. This one was valued as a goldsmith. Nearby are two unusual metal statues-Pepi I and his son Pepi II who ruled for an incredible 94 years, from age 6-100.
We now move on to the Middle Kingdom and King Nebhoptre, XIth Dynasty, 21st Century B.C. He is the first pharaoh to build his tomb in Luxor and is portrayed seated with powerful stumpy legs and black skin wearing the red crown of Lower Egypt. Another sarcophagus is decorated with images of ankhs (the key to life) along with mirrors, jewelry, jars of unguents and the magic formulas in hieroglyphics required for the journey to the next world.
As we converge around some nearby tombstones, Mona tells us that the images we see are designed to show the most flattering aspects of the body. Hence the head is seen in profile, the body is frontal, the hands from the back, legs and feet in profile with big toe always on the outside striding foreward. Here, finally is an explanation of why Egyptian art looks like it does (it also puts Steve Martin's King Tut and the Bangles' "Walk Like an Egyptian" into context). Further information: The pharaonic beard is straight when depicting a living king and curved when showing a deceased one. Sphinxes have the body of a lion, representing strength, and the head of the king, representing wisdom. We pass several representing Amenhotep III.
We have now arrived at the New Kingdom and the remarkable King/Queen Hatshepsut. She is the stepmother of Tuthmosis III and managed to rule for nearly 20 years as King before the Napoleon of Egypt assumed his throne. I've read about these two and am still waiting for a satisfactory explanation of how she managed to keep him under her heel for so many years.
There is a wonderful chapel dedicated to Tuthmosis III with a statue of Hathor as a cow in the front. The white arched chapel is covered with colorful images and hieroglyphics. We see a wonderful small white statue of a kneeling Tuthmosis III holding two round globes-offerings of milk and honey. In the next room is an Hatshepsut sphinx and then a full-sized kneeling Tuthmosis III. I'm getting teary as usually happens when I'm this overwhelmed by what I'm seeing.
We're now in front of a large stela (Mona pronounces it stee'la) wherein is found the only mention of Israel. Our maitre d' last night at Felfala told us about it. It dates from the period of Amenophis III of the XVIIIth Dynasty just before Ramses II.
Mona tells us of a project she is involved in with some professors from Seattle who plan to trace Moses' route out of Egypt. They will be digging in Goshen about 150 km east of Cairo.
We enter a side room dedicated to Amenophis IV otherwise known as Akhenaten, the first monotheist ruler, who overthrew the God Amon, replacing him with Aten. Statues of Akhenaten show him with a long aquiline face and a strange misshapen body. Not only did he overthrow the old gods but he overthrow the old art, replacing idealized images with realistic ones.
His wife was Nefertiti and he had six daughters. After Nefertiti died he married his third daughter. After he died she married Tutenaten who shortly thereafter rejected Aten, restored the priests and the God Amon and changed his name to Tutenkamon. Mona believes the priests bribed the young king to restore them to power. This would explain the extraordinary riches discovered in the tomb of a minor pharaoh who died at the age of 18. The tomb itself was discovered accidently during the excavation of the tomb of Ramses VI in the Valley of the Kings which was directly above it.
The burial chamber contained four gilded oak boxes set within each other like Russian nesting dolls. Inside the last one was a stone sarcophagus. Inside that was a painted wooden coffin, inside that another one and inside that one of solid gold. The mummy was next with over a 100 pieces of jewelry amidst the wrapped linen. Today, the mummy rests in one of the wooden coffins inside the stone sarcophagus in the original burial chamber. All the rest is here and it's as wonderful today as it was when we saw it two days ago.
We're now upstairs in the King Tut treasure room. The mask is amazing. He looks like the teenager that he was. The jewelry is breathtakingly beautiful. The winged figure on the coffin and on the boxes is Isis. Outside in the corridor is the gold pained wooden box protected on four sides by small golden statues of goddesses. The box held an alabaster box holding four jars with the goddesses as jar covers. Inside the jars were four jeweled figures of the king which are inside the treasure room. These were the canopic vessels holding the king's organs. Occasionally there is a black and white photograph on the wall of the tomb just as it looked when it was discovered. I find these photos fascinating.
We move on past the mummification beds, the leaves that turn poisonous when they dry which were placed in the tomb to discourage robbers. We continue along a gallery of chairs, boats, a folding bed (with Aten written on it), the gold throne with leopards, cobras wearing the double crown, Mr. and Mrs. Tut rendered in precious stones plus the solar disk of Aten. Apparently they started to create the funerary furniture and other stuff as soon as the king took the throne. These pieces were created before Tut reverted to Amon. Mona says they just forgot about it and never bothered to go back and change the god. I'm skeptical. Egyptian history is too loaded with examples of obliterating previous images for the answer to be that simplistic. This area also has wall cases full of 365 small Tut figurines as well as 36 larger ones-one for each 10 of the smaller ones. There are also two small sarcophagi for dead babies of approximately five months and seven months that were found in the tomb. By the far entrance are two black and gold life-size images of the king acting as guardians to the burial chamber. There is also an impressive Anubis, the god as jackal, on a box also acting as guardian.
Around to the left with a separate admission is the room of royal mummies. Examples of the mummification process (sacred water, wrapping, molten resin), burial ceremonies and Anubis, the god of mummification are depicted on the walls of the hallway before you enter the room. Up a few steps is the room itself, a darkened chamber with eleven glass cases containing the following mummies: Segenentree T'aia, XVIIIth Dynasty; Amenhotep I, XVIIth; Queen Merytamun, wife of Amenhotep; Tuthmosis II, XVIIIth; Tuthmosis IV, XVIIIth; Sety I, XIXth; Merenptah, XIXth; Ramses V; XXth, Ramses II, XXth; Queen Henuttawi, XXIth; Queen Nedjemet, XXIth. The last two queens have glass eyes.
This completely blew me away. Ramses II, Tuthmosis, Sety. I could see their faces. They looked royal, imperious, in a way undefeated by death. From beyond history as I'm used to it, to a time almost beyond comprehension, here were these mythical creatures from this mythical civilization and I was looking into their eyes, I couldn't drag myself away. The group was long gone before I left the room.
Outside, we stopped to marvel at a tiny statue of Cheops, apparently the only statue of Cheops. Mona pointed out the irony of the builder of the largest pyramid with only this tiny statue to show for it. We exit the museum and buy an Egyptian Museum book on the way out. The bus heads back to the hotel, but we head off on our quest for Espace and Senouhi with Bruce Truex in tow,
Up Kasr el Nil once again. At Tarlat Harb Square I ask in the bookstore if anyone knows the location of el Sherifein Street where we hope to find Espace. They talk among themselves, then one elderly gentleman says he knows where it is an volunteers to take us there himself. No, no. Yes, yes. I remember hearing that Egyptians will go out of their way to get you where you're going (was this Doria?) so we relent. He's in the perfume business. His company extracts oils from flowers in the Fayoum Oasis southwest of Cairo. A side street leads us to his shop/factory and soon we're inside the Palace of 1000 Flowers drinking tea. He turns us over to a charming confederate and soon we're selling ourselves on Lotus essence from Upper Egypt and Papyrus essence from Lower Egypt for LE 180. We've been had in the most agreeable way. I've also got perfume essence on my pants and it won't evaporate because essence is the pure stuff, no alcohol to evaporate.
Armed with the address in Arabic and our essences we head back up Tarlat Harb and then turn right. Hey, we've been here before-it's the street with the stock exchange and the bayonets. Down at the far end is #1 and a sign for Espace upstairs. We climb up the dingy stairway to discover the Ramadan hours: closed at 2 PM, open again at 8 PM. We note the location and head out for Senouhi, given to us by both Doria and a three year old New York times article from Janet Cohn.
By now I'm an old hand in this part of town. I immediately find the pedestrian shopping street from last night (a sign on the side of a building reveals it to be the Champs Elysee). We take it up to Adel Khalek Sarwat turn right and a few blocks later find #54 and a sign for Senouhi on the fifth floor (we're experienced enough to know that means 6th floor in this part of the world).
We climb the stairs eschewing an invitation into the tiny elevator. At the top of the stairs people are putting down prayer rugs in the hall and facing east. Behind us a closed door says Senouhi. Susan presses the bell and an elderly man opens the door. A woman sits inside. Senouhi is two rooms full of jumbled stuff-crafts, paintings, puppets, dolls, jewelry, tapestries, silver, brass. Senouhi (I assume she's Senouhi) has been here for 39 years, speaks excellent English and is charming. I look at old etchings while Susan gets into trouble in the back room. She emerges with a Wissa Wassef tapestry for LE 1000. It's quite lovely but I look for smaller cheaper ones. No, this is the one. I don't have enough money on me but Bruce covers us for $295 in traveler's checks.
After we leave I realize that I didn't get a receipt so I pant back upstairs and get one. On the way home we stop at American Express for money to pay back Bruce but they won't do the transaction without a personal check. Back at the hotel, thoroughly gritty and hungry, we stop at Night and Day for soups, beer and coke (nearly got ice-cubed but caught myself in time). The waiter says to Susan, "Have a nice soup!"
After baths and rest time and lots of journal writing we headed for the Grill Restaurant downstairs for our opening night dinner. It's one of the fanciest restaurants in Cairo and the food turns out to be quite good, although Egyptian wines turn out to be just as bad as promised. The view is similar to the one from our room and quite lovely at night with everything lit up. The el Tahrir Bridge leads across the Nile to the Cairo Tower with its revolving restaurant on top, the new opera house and the Giza Sheraton with its crenellated top and a large cartouche, both in neon.
We arrive fashionably late and have to sit by ourselves. Mona arrives even later and sits with us so we have a lovely evening. After the meal, Bruce came over and we spent some time with him. Afterwards I changed some money. Tomorrow we hit the road.