Venus & Ulysses 2004

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06/05/2004: "Luxor"

Luxor is a small town. We're in Cairo now, so I can tell you that Luxor is a small town. It shuts down every afternoon, at least in the summertime. We totally got onto a siesta schedule, seeing stuff in the morning, sleeping in the afternoon, and seeing something else at night.

Luxor Museum is the nicest museum I've ever seen. It's small, but it sports the cartouche of an Italian architect by the door, and all the pieces in it are perfectly lit. They let you take pictures (without flash, of course). There are lots of statues from various temples and tombs, and various other collections of small objects mostly from Tutankhamen's tomb.

A short walk away is the Mummification Museum, similarly dark, with mummies of people and cats and a crocodile. Also, nice exhibits of the bottles which hold the internal organs removed before mummification, and the coffins that some mummies were stored in.

After the museums, we went to Jem's Restaurant, at the suggestion of the travel agent we booked a tour to the Theban Necropolis. It's a nice old restaurant at the other end of town. It had a reasonably standard Oriental menu [here, Middle East restaurants are called Oriental, Chinese are called Chinese]. There's an interesting somewhat obscure vegetable called molukhiyya they eat here and we asked them if they had it. They said no, but they could get it, and they'd fix us a totally Egyptian meal if we came back the next night, with okra, and Big Chicken, and Egyptian bread and Egyptian salad and Egyptian rice. We put down a deposit on the Big Chicken and agreed to come back a couple nights later.

The next day we toured the two temples on the east side of the Nile. The east side symbolizes life, so temples and palaces are located there. (The west side symbolizes death, and tombs are located there, including the Pyramids of Giza. If they were on the east side, they'd be the Pyramids of Cairo.) In the morning we walked around the massive Karnak Temple, a temple of the god Amun, his wife Mut, and their son Khonso. After we walked in, a guide offered to take us around. It seemed a little weird that he was only taking us to obscure places not in the guidebook, and was impatient with Ray taking pictures. Finally we paid him to go away. He did explain a few things, particularly the frequent image of Amun-Min, a god with one arm, one leg, and a respectable erect penis, not John Holmes really but calling him "min" was kind of a slam. The Egyptians were not into exaggerated bodies like the Y2K GI Joe Hulk. The Pharoahs, none of them had washboard abs, they all had kind of soft bodies by modern biochemical standards.

Anyway, there was some battle that all the men except one went off to, that man impregnated all the women in the village, the men came back and cut off his arm and leg. The gods explained to the men that this man had ensured another generation for this village, and made him a god. The temple has rooms with huge columns, two obelisks, a large pool, many statues, and carvings on every wall, the better ones bas-reliefs (with the images coming out of the wall), the "cheaper" later ones carved into the wall. We could have found several more guides and probably gotten several different interpretations of what each image meant.

Also all the pillars are penises, all the pillars in Egypt. They guidebooks go on about bundles of papyrus reeds but they are being coy.

That evening we went to Luxor Temple, the small temple in the center of town where Amun went from Karnak to visit Mut every year, resulting in a fertility festival for the whole town. It had one obelisk -- it used to have two but one was "given" to the French and stands in the Place de la Concorde in Paris. Many nice statues and wall illustrations, in nice sunset light. After dinner we got some pictures of the moon rising over it.

The next day we got up at 5:30 to go on a package tour of the west side, the Theban Necropolis. We saw the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens and Queen Hatsheput's temple. Much of the time was spent herding the crowd, and the guide was pretty simplistic, but it was interesting to go down into the tombs and see the style of decorations on the wall and the sarcophagi. We were talked out of seeing Tut's tomb, since all the stuff that was in it is in the Egyptian Museum here in Cairo anyway, which we'll go see tomorrow. Of course, the tour featured an annoying stop at an alabaster factory selling cheap schlock. The factory workers sang The Macarena in the impassioned style you see in movies where a drunk cowboy tells somebody to "dance". If the movie is made in a revolutionary country, the sons of the factory workers join some organization that teaches them how to assassinate tourists.

We returned to Jem's as arranged, where we were served an enormous dinner. Big Chicken is approximated by a duck but without fat and much more intense a flavor than Foster Farms duck. We managed to finish the duck, two bowls of molukhiyya, and most of the okra and other vegetables, but we were way too stuffed for dessert.

After a ten-hour train ride up the Nile Valley, which is nice and green unlike the Sahara (Arabic for desert) which surrounds it, we arrived in Cairo, where we'll see the museum, the Pyramids, and the Transit of Venus. More on all of that when it happens, shallah.

with editing by Ray...