Tuesday, October 24, 2006
Finding the Sarcophagus
Some friends are so special that everything you do with them is infused with light and joy. I've been very blessed in my life with a number of these friends and just recently had the pleasure of being able to spend three hours wandering in the desert on an afternoon of intensely clear light taking fun pictures and looking for a sarcophagus with one very wonderful one. Nathalie was in Cairo for about three or four years and I had the very good luck that she found herself at a gathering with another friend of mine a year or so into her stay. She was looking for a place to go riding with her daughter and I was recommended. This was the beginning of a weekly treat for me, as each Saturday morning she and Pauline would come out to the farm and we would go exploring or just whooping it up through the countryside and desert. One of the painful things about living in Egypt is the fact that unfortunately many of our people are transient, and Nathalie and Pauline moved back to Belgium this summer. They did, however, leave me a souvenir in the person of their cat who needed to be boarded for a couple of months until Nathalie could return to pick her up. Last week was the pick up.
We arranged to go out for a ride in the desert (Belgium is a little short on deserts so some sand time sounded good to Nathalie) and headed out around mid afternoon. We took two of the geldings, Nayzak for Nathalie and Pauline's special love Dooby. It was one of those breathtakingly clear days that we get once the heat and dust of summer begin to dissipate and we were delighted that I'd thought to bring my camera along. We headed south towards Sakkara marvelling at the intensity of colour and clarity that allowed us to see all of the pyramid fields from Giza to Dahshur. Generally it's possible to make out the Red and Bent pyramids in Dahshur if you know where to look, but on this day they were simply THERE. It's hard to determine distance on days like this because the air is so clear that details of distant objects are easily visible...but then again on a day like this it's really hard to worry about little things like time and distance.
I can't say that we started out with any particular goal other than to have a good time and store away views and memories for later, but as we rode and talked Nathalie remembered a photograph that she had taken early in her stay in which there was a sarcophagus in the foreground and the pyramids of Abu Sir and Giza in the background. She had wanted to use the photo for a publication but the resolution wasn't sufficient, and I suggested that we go find the sarcophagus and take more photos at a higher resolution. Sounds simple, right? Not exactly. The desert between Abu Sir and Dahshur probably contains a dozen empty sarcophagi just lying around soaking up the sun. The trick was to work out exactly where this one had to be to have those particular pyramids in the background. She was fairly sure that the photo had been taken on a visit to Sakkara during which she had just visited the tombs of Tiye and Ta-Hotep, on the northwestern edge of the complex. That helped to narrow down the area, since Sakkara north and Sakkara south run for about 8 km along the farmland. It was after closing time in the antiquities complex, things closing early during Ramadan, and there was almost no one to be seen anywhere. We took the horses in among the dirt roads that wind around the pyramids, taking care to avoid areas where there might be people working or the holes left over from their work, gradually estimating where the lost sarcophagus had to be from the view of the pyramids to the north. We finally found it near the old guesthouse for the area and spent some time taking pictures of it, first from horseback and then realising the futility of keeping bored horses still, on foot. Having accomplished the purpose so far, we opted to head south turning towards the entrance to the area, as yet undecided as to whether we would return by farmland or by desert. In the distance, we spotted a pair of people also on horseback and I was able to identify them as a couple of friends of mine from the way that they rode. Just as the manner of a person's walk can be so distinctive that they can be identified from a distance, so too can a person's seat in a saddle. We approached them to say hello and chat for a few moments. Still undecided as to our return route, we continued on our way south all the while in awe of the beauty of the afternoon and the views available of the many pyramids in the area. On a hilltop to the south of Sakkara Nathalie called Pauline in Belgium who announced that it was rainy, she was cold and just out of school and that it was perfectly awful of her mother to call from a horse in the middle of the pyramids. Mobile phones are wonderful for keeping track of and irritating one's children.
It seemed that everytime I put away the camera thinking that there was nothing more to capture, we would come across a vista that demanded attention. at one point we found two pyramids that lined up perfectly one inside of the other as we viewed them down a sandy wadi. The setting sun sometimes made it very difficult to see what the camera was pointed at, making us very grateful for digital photography. Eventually, we opted for a return north via the desert as well, because the day demanded a stop at the top of the Japanese Hill. The view from up there simply had to be enjoyed on such a clear afternoon. We rode the horses up the south slope of the hill, the one that they usually go down. I was imagining that we would just ride down the road, but oddly enough both the geldings were so accustomed to coming UP the road and down the hill that it seemed to be a waste of time to argue with them to get them over to the road when we could just pick our way down the north side of the hill. Pick our way down was exactly what we did and then we let the boys rip from the hill towards the pyramids at Abu Sir. As they flew over the sand towards home, I was especially pleased to see Nayzak leading the way. He had a problem with his back earlier in the year and had been on rest for about four months until it was settled, but while he wasn't feeling quite right, Dooby had been beating him in their desert races. He was obviously quite back in form now and poor Dooby didn't have a chance despite his longer legs.
We ambled back through the village just before iftar very pleased with our day. I would take Nathalie over to the farm of another friend of ours for a dinner after which Asmaa would ferry Nathalie and the cat back to Zamalek in the evening to rest before their early flight to Brussels in the morning. And the photo of the sarcophagus? Was it worth the search? You be the judge.
copyright 2006 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani