Egypt, Coffee and Pyramids

PyraspinxIf you talk about Rome you have to talk about Egypt.   

This journey stirred emotions in me I had not felt for a long time.  I grew up in the 60s where every school boy and girl travels to Egypt upon their imagination, as well as  painted pyramids and villages made in papier-mâché.   

That is how kids from the Midwest grew up, they time traveled on the backs of museums and dioramas of the past.  

It was in Egypt that for the first time I laid eyes on the Mediterranean.   It was very blue.  It was so BLUE that it hurt my eyes.  I am serious.  Never had I seen such an intense color of blue.  I stared at it, ate it and drank it.  My eyes were blued in the exposure.   


While I was there I got sick.   The night before I woke up barely able to take a breath.  The sand was so fine it had coated my lungs.  I stood with my head hanging out the window sucking in air.    The doctor gave me some meds, and I spent the rest of the time in Egypt with a scarf around my neck, which easily wrapped my face on occasion to keep out the sand.   

Not Rob of the Sahara, but in truth a  guy with a touch of bronchitis brought on by a sandstorm.

One or two times I closely inspected the sand, and thought it looked like it was mixed with sea life (shells and the like).  Is that possible?  

Sand devoid of water, but not devoid of the remainders of life.  

One day I was assigned to escort some students onto a military base.  They were college kids, wanting to see a bit of the outside world, maybe to see Americans (who knows).  They were out of Cairo, smart, and intelligent and they took in everything.

Papier-mâché villages still sat in my head, and I spoke highly of their history, their ancient history.

“You Americans,” he said, “All you see of Egypt is its ancient past.  We have been around a long time, and have done many things since then.”

And he is right.

I go to Cairo to see the pyramids.  It is a chance I cannot let go, or dare too.  The ride is long, almost death defying through the streets of Cairo.  “Watch out!” We cried out more than once to the amusement of Abu Kareem our Egyptian driver. 


The God RA leading Nefertitia

However…before the pyramids, we shop.  We stop at a papyrus store a place of ancient Egyptian paintings, hieroglyphics and images from the distant past.  Ra in his splendor, gods of snakes and wolf heads, animal heads on human bodies at rest, in chairs, at worship.   The colors are beautiful, a tourist gift no doubt, but hard to resist.  The owner walks up and asks if I would like some coffee.  I don’t drink coffee.  I hate the stuff, but I am in another country, so I accept.  He hands me a glass cup, a glass held in a silver receptacle with handle.  There is a cinnamon stick sticking out like a spoon.    I figure I will just take a sip and walk about the paintings until I make my choice.     Only one painting caught my eye.  It is the God RA leading Nefertitia, both holding hands.    At the time I was single and sentimental. 

“I’ll take that one,” I said imagining it on the wall of a house where the Mrs. and I might someday live.

“Very good, sir.”

I drank the dark coffee expecting not to like it, but instead I find it very sweet, and wonderful.  It is almost candy, liquid black, and I enjoyed the cup surprised not only by the taste but by the fact my heart began to race.  CAFFEINIE HIGH!!!!!!!!!

For now on, I drink Egyptian coffee – nothing else.   

Off to the pyramids.  Finally.

Again I am surprised.  The sizes of the structures are unbelievable.  All the dry dimensions listed in a book can not  prepare you.    

The following is from Wikitravel

§  Great Pyramid of Khufu (Cheops) – the last surviving representative of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, originally 146 m (479 ft) high but now slightly reduced to a still awe-inspiring 137 m (449 ft). Over 2 million blocks of stone were used to construct this edifice, all through manual labour.

§  Pyramid of Khafre (Chephren) – slightly smaller than the Great Pyramid, though appearing from some angles to appear larger owing to a better position on the desert plateau

§  Pyramid of Menkaure (Mycerinus) – the smallest of the Giza Pyramids at 62 m (203 ft) high (originally 66.5 m)

§  Sphinx and the Temple of the Sphinx – the colossal, recumbent human-headed lion was conceived of by the ancient Egyptians as the sun god Re-Horakhty – “Horus of the horizon”. The Egyptians call it Abu el-Hol, the “Father of Terror”, and even the Greek name Sphinx is the less than pleasant “Strangler”. 45 meters long, 22 meters wide, and carved from a single giant block of sandstone, the Sphinx is considerably smaller than the Pyramids around it.

 End of excerpt.

 YOU MUST see it in person to get the idea of how big it is.  Size on the TV does not speak to real size or their real dimensions.  Do you HI-Def on your TV?  No, that won’t even help.  To judge the size, to really judge the size you have to stand there looking at it, and comparing yourself against the size of one block of this immense structure.  

Photos and documentaries on TV always photograph them as if they are sitting isolated in the desert.  It’s like photographing your cousin Betty always from her best side.   Cairo actual comes right up to them. 

This is can be deceiving, and I have made this mistake before.

I visited a friend who lived in Las Vegas for the first time.  I actually thought all those years I was speaking to him on the phone that there was the strip, and everything else was desert.  My conception was 1950s Vegas and not the Vegas that is there now that is surrounded by a booming suburban sprawl (one of the largest growing cities in America by the way).   Cairo was that way for me.  I had expected the pyramids to be isolated, but instead they sat in a huge desert park with Cairo coming up right to it. 

Let’s travel thousands of years into the past (yes, that time machine…again).  Imagine you are a native tribesman living out in a desert, and all you know is the small territory that surrounds you.    Your world is a tree, a river maybe, and the horizon.  To you a tree may be tall, or the height of your camel.  BUT…you one day get taken to the land of the Pharaohs and see these burial crypts.  What do you think? 

The Pharaoh is a god, after all.   There is the proof.  It sits before you.  

It was perfect political and social propaganda at its best.  The pharaoh must be a god to have been buried in this.  Building such a structure was a social and political tool for social dominance.

I don’t accept this they were built by aliens crap.  Man is a smart creature.   Man built them, with intelligence, with ingenuity, and with the sweat on his back.  When I was growing up I was told they were built by slaves, but recent research and some graffiti found on the site says they were built by work teams quite proud of the achievements.   

I spend a lot of time just looking at the sight.  Around me life goes on.  A guy on a camel wants to know if I want to take a ride…a policeman dressed in a white coat, headdress, and small whip chases a boy away.  I am not sure if it is for real, or for show.    A guard prays to Allah facing east on his prayer rug. 

The driver takes us home.  We ride through the streets of Cairo.  I remember glimpses, snap shots in my head.

Snap: Tall young men and woman out for a walk.  The women in beautiful hijabs – covering their heads  — out for a respectable date on a Saturday night.

Snap: Pious men in prayer in road side mosques.

Snap:  A man crossing the street and barely missed being hit by the cab.  Life and death played out like a ballet.  

I got a friend to take a photo of me in front of one of the pyramids.  It’s now on my wall.  I am in shadow, by an entrance next to some lesser structure, with a pyramid rising up and imposing itself across the background.  It is hard to see me, as if I am in hiding, but in truth I am simply in shadow.  I am the only living thing in the photo, the pyramid is the past…I am the present…but its mere presence is overwhelming and makes me…



  • Fred Kiesche · September 30, 2010 · 7:21 am

    “Middle Eastern coffee” (Turkish, Lebanese, etc.) rocks.

  • Michele · October 20, 2010 · 4:02 pm

    Thank you for talking about Egypt. People tend not to realize how much of our modern culture comes from Egypt (and before that, from Nubia) through Greece and later Rome. I know that it isn’t your main focus, but it would be great if you could talk a bit on the impact of Egypt (and other non-European civilizations) on Roman life and culture, and on how we live now.

  • Rob · October 20, 2010 · 6:22 pm

    Yes! I want to a podcast about Candace of the Menoe. I read an account that a peace treaty was laid out between her and Augustus. Your idea of the impact of non european civilizations on Rome would make a GREAT podcast. I will give it some serious thought.

  • […] the blog and podcast we delve into other subjects:  Ancient Troy, Egypt, and Greece.    The show is usually divided into three or four parts: a dramatic narration, a […]

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