Egypt

The waters of the Nile being already low my dahabiya - delayed by strandings - had not been able to reach Luxor, and we had moored ourselves, as the darkness began to fall, at a casual spot on the bank.

"We are quite near," the pilot had told me before departing to make his evening prayer; "in an hour, to-morrow, we shall be there."

An impalpable dust floats in a sky which scarcely ever knows a cloud; a dust so impalpable that, even while it powders the heavens with gold, it leaves them their infinite transparency. It is a dust of remote ages, of things destroyed; a dust that is here continually - of which the gold at this moment fades to green at the zenith, but flames and glistens in the west, for it is now that magnificent hour which marks the end of the day's decline, and the still burning globe of the sun, quite low down in the heaven, begins to light up on all sides the conflagration of the evening.

The feeling, almost, that you have grown suddenly smaller by entering there, that you are dwarfed to less than human size - to such an extent do the proportions of these ruins seem to crush you - and the illusion, also, that the light, instead of being extinguished with the evening, has only changed its colour, and become blue: that is what one experiences on a clear Egyptian night, in walking between the colonnades of the great temple at Thebes.

by Pierre Loti

Translated from the French by W. P. Baines

 

It is two o'clock in the afternoon. A white angry fire pours from the sky, which is pale from excess of light. A sun inimical to the men of our climate scorches the enormous fossil which, crumbling in places, is all that remains of Thebes and which lies there like the carcass of a gigantic beast that has been dead for thousands of years, but is too massive ever to be annihilated.

A night wondrously clear and of a colour unknown to our climate; a place of dreamlike aspect, fraught with mystery. The moon of a bright silver, which dazzles by its shining, illumines a world which surely is no longer ours; for it resembles in nothing what may be seen in other lands. A world in which everything is suffused with rosy color beneath the stars of midnight, and where granite symbols rise up, ghostlike and motionless.

King Amenophis II. has resumed his receptions, which he found himself obliged to suspend for three thousand, three hundred and some odd years, by reason of his decease. They are very well attended; court dress is not insisted upon, and the Grand Master of ceremonies is not above taking a tip. He holds them every morning in the winter from eight o'clock, in the bowels of a mountain in the desert of Libya; and if he rests himself during the remainder of the day it is only because, as soon as midday sounds, they turn off the electric light.

Ragged, threatening clouds, like those that bring the showers of our early spring, hurry across a pale evening sky, whose mere aspect makes you cold. A wintry wind, raw and bitter, blows without ceasing, and brings with it every now and then some furtive spots of rain.

This evening, in the vast chaos of ruins - at the hour in which the light of the sun begins to turn to rose - I make my way along one of the magnificent roads of the town-mummy, that, in fact, which goes off at a right angle to the line of the temples of Amen, and, losing itself more or less in the sands, leads at length to a sacred lake on the border of which certain cat-headed goddesses are seated in state watching the dead water and the expanse of the desert.

They are almost innumerable, more than 3000, and this great town, which covers some twelve miles of plain, might well be called a city of mosques. (I speak, of course, of the ancient Cairo, of the Cairo of the Arabs. The new Cairo, the Cairo of sham elegance and of "Semiramis Hotels," does not deserve to be mentioned except with a smile.)

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