Tuesday, August 11, 2009
The Most Select of People in The Most Select of Places - HU in Luxor (Ipet Isut)
Amid the many benefits of a summer study abroad experience is the challenge of staving off fatigue—intellectual, physical, psychological or emotional fatigue. The first few days roll along easily out of sheer momentum. The next few days find people getting comfortable with each other and adjusting to the surroundings and all that that entails. Then, the venturing out begins. You try new food. You learn a few words. You begin to understand how the people move through their space. By day 3 or 4, you forget that it’s not typical that you spend 16-18 hours (depending on how long our day is) with the same people day after day.
Once the newness wears off, a subtle shift occurs. You start to think of home. You begin to think about what must be done and by when. So, here, in our final stretch—in Luxor—we’re forced to find new ways to inspire ourselves. Aswan was quiet and peaceful. The Island and everyone on it exuded an air of calm. Here, everything around the hotel is moving fast. The energy, quite simply, is different. Yet, in many ways, the best is yet to come. So, Doc and I have to find new ways to light the last little bit of fire under this newly burning kindle.
Those students who have been reading all along are in good shape, in terms of their academic/intellectual/historical awareness. So, for them, no inspiration is needed. They can sense the coming together of the last few days. But for those who are coming along slowly but surely coming along, Doc and I both probably called on every ancestor known and unknown to help up meet the challenge of reenergizing the group. Search though we might have, we would have never been able to generate the energy Ipet Isut (Karnak) generated all on its own.
No sooner than we got off of the bus and headed toward the open courtyard lined with sphinxes (after a short stop in the visitor’s center to see the model of the complex) did the same students who swore we were punishing them by announcing the 5:30am wake-up call! begin to leave us, walking ahead to see in person the statues they had only seen pictures of. As we entered the courtyard, they marveled at the sandstone columns and the obelisks. But first, a quick detour to White Chapel…
Last night, we had a good session that prepped them for what to look for especially, since you could easily spend 2 hours in a single temple in the complex, and each temple or memorial is only one of many. Everyone who came into power would leave something there. Since they knew that White Chapel was a crucial site and that we’d try to get over there quickly and get in even (we’re inventive in finding ways to get around the ropes!).
Once they saw how crowded it was at the complex generally, even at 7:30am, they began to concede that we wouldn’t be able to do anything but roam around the open air museum. “We’ll get in,” I kept telling them. And not because of anything mysterious or magical but because everyone heads for the big and shiny stuff, leaving the most select of the select places to the most select of select people. Sure enough, when we headed toward the largest open air museum in the world, not a single group of people were to be found. We had the White Chapel all to ourselves. We poured a libation, and in we went… literally. I tried to hide excitement (of our group of 60+ last year, only Dr. Carr was persistent (and sneaky!) and Nubian enough to get in). Hide it though I tried, I’m sure there is now a picture somewhere in the world of me with my eyebrows raised, my mouth agape, and my eyes peeled and moving slowly (but only so slow; we made the deal for a 5 minute no-so-covert operation) across these limestone/alabaster walls. And all the energy we needed to make it through the morning was granted to us.
Once we came back toward the court yard, we examined the columns and ceilings in the hypostle hall, the obelisks, the attempts to hide and deface my girl Hatshepset, and more temples within the complex (including Ramses II’s and a brief stint in the Kiosk of Taharqa); then we walked to the Sacred Lake, and we eventually made it back toward the bus.
All of that, and the day is still young… I haven’t even had lunch yet.
Tonight, we head to the Luxor Temple, which was dedicated to Amun Re and which is refered to as Southern Opet [Place of Seclusion]. As it goes, the Amun of Karnak visited the Amun of Luxor yearly during “The Beautiful Feast of Opet,” which was linked to the Nile flood season. There we will see reliefs created by Shabaka; the birth room of Amenophis III [birth mound of Amun]; the colonnade of Amenhotep III; and the shrine of Alexander of Macedon (oh joy!).
Since I’ve never seen the temples lit at night, it should be interesting. A part of me thinks we shouldn’t sacrifice the day-time experience for seeing it in the night since there was no electricity then. It would have not been lit during its years of use, so we’re seeing it differently. But the other part of me thinks that if ancient peoples of Kemet could have imagined the edifices themselves, surely they could have imagined a day when there would be artificial light, if they didn’t generate it themselves and declare it useless.
Perhaps after the evening is done, I will have decided if visiting a temple at night (surely it will be cooler) is “to be or not to be.” Until then, I’ll enjoy my view of the Nile, while sitting on the balcony in my suite, the wind blowing in my face, and Hatshepsut’s mortuary temple (which I can see with a simple glance to the right) stealing my imagination for the rest of the afternoon (or until I sojourn there again in the morning)…