Luxor Photo Journal - January 5-12, 2005
photos and text ©copyright Natalie d'Arbeloff 2005
HATSHEPSUT TEMPLE, DEIR-EL-BAHRI
You may be able to see my tiny movie of a group of tourists moving slowly towards Hatshepsut's temple at Deir-el-Bahri. I find this fleeting ballet hypnotically fascinating.
As some of you already know, (see November 12, 2004 post: Hatshepsut and We) I have a fixation about the ancient Egyptian egomaniac Hatshepsut and the reason I went to Luxor was to go back to that ancient time and place where I believe I once belonged and was her and commanded things to be done. Like building this stupendous temple to make sure I wouldn't be forgotten by future generations. And behold here they are those future generations, in their touristic thousands, walking up and down clicking their cameras, the name Hatshepsut always on their tongues - Arabic, Japanese, Chinese, Russian, Hebrew, French, German, Italian, Polish, English, Dutch, Spanish, Greek, Swedish and all. You can hear my/her name bouncing off those corrugated masterpieces of geological design, the sandstone cliffs of the Valley of the Kings. You might be thinking that a small cartoon personage born from the head of a four-foot eleven inches artist (by no means a household name though possessed of considerable talent) would,naturally, imagine having been a larger-than-life celebrity in a previous incarnation. Or you could take my questionable word for it.
To get to Valley of the Kings and Deir-el-Bahri you have to cross from the East to the West Bank of the Nile and I chose to make the journey by taxi. I have a phobia about group travel and guided tours. I prefer to be alone - especially when I am about to meet my alter ego's alter ego. The driver was blessedly silent during the longish ride and I didn't have to answer the usual quiz (where from? First time Luxor? Are you married? Where is husband? Do you have daughters? Are they married?) ). Instead I could devour the landscape with my eyes and think my ancient thoughts.
first thing you see when you arrive at Hatshepsut's
temple is the parking lot: first disillusion. Crammed with tour coaches disgorging
their chattering cargo though it's only 8:30 AM: second disillusion. Next you
see the market stalls lining the long path before the gate where you show your
ticket: third disillusion. What did I imagine? That it would be like the Old
Days? Move on! This is 2005 A.D. not 1500 B.C. Get used to it and don't be such
a snob. So I moved along with the crowds, looking for a meaningful something
I could take home, and picked out this 5 x 4 cms stone from the rubble on the
ground. The eye shape was probably carved by time and weather rather than by
I walked very slowly, trying to imagine what the long avenue looked like when it was new and spectacularly lined with trees and brilliantly painted statues. On approaching the ramp to the first terrace of the temple what I felt was neither awe or any transcendent emotion: only ordinary familiarity. The kind you would feel if you were building your house and came by every day to see how the work was going, checking materials, talking to the workmen, making changes. That kind of day-to-day intimacy with a place and a project. And sadness, because this too shall pass and all that's great shall be brought low. And outrage, because of the car park and marketeers and chattering hordes. But mostly ordinary, smiling familiarity, here and now.
Here she is with her colossal head cut off while my small one still sits firmly on my shoulders. Goes to show you that it's safer not to get too big-headed in this world. But then ancient Egypt was more concerned with the afterworld and making a big impression in this life guaranteed you'd get star treatment in the next. Little did I know that I'd come back as a small blogger with a tiny (but devoted) audience. You have to admire the hutzpah which motivated such stunningly confident monuments to the self. That's what struck me as I wandered around Hatshepsut's temple and the other famous remains in Luxor: the astonishing civilization of ancient Egypt was built on a certainty that the Self endures eternally, irrevocably linked to divine forces which, though super- human, are also material. Spirituality was not mystical but literally down to earth - the neck-twisting, mind-bending, often oppressive size and weight of these temples, tombs and statues attests to an unshakeable belief in the physicality of the divine - or the divine in the physical.
Behind the tourist posing beside a 'real Arab' for her husband's snapshot, which will be pasted in their family's album of memories, the faded bas-reliefs remember Hatshepsut's exploits and I, hidden in the shadows, capture this moment, later entering it into cyber-memory so that you can now step back in time with me though I am no longer there.
I could not resist giving immortality to this humble machine, a work of art in itelf, sitting forlorn within a stone's throw of our grandiose mortuary.