Sitting on a boat basking in the heat, the smell of diesel oil fused with the sun. The stillness of the water, so completely flat at this time of the early evening, you feel you could walk on it. In Luxor I boarded, awaiting to embark on a tortoise-paced slow cruise along the Nile. The honk of car horns, incessantly sounding, brings me back to the moment. You can never really escape these days. My phone has WiFi and signal too. The melodic hum of the boat’s generator changed its record and we set sail.
Driving to the boat earlier through the streets of Luxor, the contrast between old world crumbling buildings with modern advertisements and petrol stations was striking. The decaying architecture like elderly relations, once strong and now deteriorating, ready to collapse, it was only a question of when. Horse-drawn carts dancing a brutal ballet with battered cars.
The wooden boat chugged along and my eye was awash with detail, people working in the river basin, cleaning clothing and themselves, a simplicity. Water drenched oxen, lapping up the river. The universal language of children at play needed no translation as they were bombing into the Nile. The occasional desolate construction, stone half-built, abandoned projects now drowning in green foliage. A sand-scape laced with emerald vegetation. Burning bracken in the distance, dramatic flames of orange ripping into the darkness. These observations along the way imprinted on the mind’s eye, the hard drive of the brain. Images flowing steadily past, like the waters of the river.
Memory is fleeting and can leave as the storage capacity in the mind reaches its limit. A standout moment for me had to be at one tomb in the Valley of the Kings.
Pulling my sun-soaked torso firmly upwards along a fragile ladder. Lazy body fatigued from a day of leisure, the antithesis of the treadmill I am used to. At the top, the guide offers me a piece of cardboard, a makeshift fan. I descend into the bowels of Egypt, the heat confines, chokes, cavernous, claustrophobic. If the stone cavity caved in this narrow stairwell, with tourists in transit, what would I do? What could I do? An obituary, a meagre couple of lines, syntax in the rags that don’t read right. My existence summed up in a catastrophic headline and perhaps a paragraph in the newspaper. Paranoia, but it is probable, really. Nietzsche had it right, disaster can strike whenever, embrace the now, it’s all you can be sure of. The past can be re-aligned, edited, re-structured.
I continue to burrow further down. The history and fables radiate, bounce off the theatrical landscape of decorous tombs. The heat enforces evermore. So much intrinsic detail, the eye can only take in so much. I close my eyes and try to capture for a moment, the feeling, the sensation of being the first to discover, to transform a sandy slab into a hint to the past, a re-connection with a time before. Take away the tourist paraphernalia, the electric lights, steady walkways and wooden floors to leave an infinite darkness. Imagine chipping away, seeking to discover, the feel, the delight.
To dedicate a lifetime, an obsession to reveal more, to peel back the boundaries, the mirror glass backwards, float through Time’s door. It is something of an honour, to see a bygone time. To be deep down in heaven, a sensationally charged place. To confront and cajole ancient ancestry boldly face-to-face.
In Qena, there is a temple dedicated to Hathor, goddess of love and joy. The alleged site of Cleopatra’s bath. I descended the uneven 30 metres down to what was once the bottom of the bathing pool. Three date trees now grow from the surface cracking through, reclaiming the land. The heat caused a barrage of dates to fall on my head. I chuckled, Cleopatra was signaling from somewhere in the universe: get this rapscallion out of my tub.
On the last night of my cruise along the Nile, I stood at the back of the vessel, the engine purring like a contented cat. The moonlight beamed down ricocheting off the waters. I stood, drink in hand, evaporating into the warm breeze. I thought of a Kate Bush song and agreed, I am in love with Egypt.