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Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Journal / Letter to home / 14 November '74

14 November Luxor

Dear Ron and Laura,

I give you warning that this letter is likely to ramble quite a bit, tending to sound dreamy and disconnected. The explanation is that my mind right now is exactly that way. It is now 7:30 a.m. and we are in our comfortable, though pleasantly seedy hotel room in Luxor, the site of ancient Thebes which is in Upper Egypt—which is really South of Cairo and ancient Memphis, the sites of Lower Egypt. I told you this would be disconnected and about as rational as anything else here.

..I am obtaining an education I never received: in art, architecture, history, religion, politics, philosophy.

We have stood in the place where The Buddha stood; walked the path Christ walked to the Cross; touched the rock upon which Abraham is said to have been ordered by God to sacrifice Isaac and from which Mohamed is said to have risen to heaven.

We’ve stood on the hill where Orestes was tried and acquitted for matricide and Socrates drank his hemlock and where St. Paul preached his first sermon to the Athenians.

We’ve stood on the stage of the theater where the Greek tragedies were first performed. I have hiked in the hills to seek the birthplace of Theseus.

I’ve run the track in the stadium at Olympia and we've driven through the Pass of Thermopylae and the crossroads where Oedipus gouged his eyes out in despair.

We’ve sought guidance from the Oracle in Delphi.

We‘ve seen the hair of Mohamed, the skull of John the Baptist, touched the “tomb” of Christ.

Somehow, doing all that gives me a thrill of vicarious participation in history and, if not a grasp, at least a “feel” for what the events must have been like.

In the Egypt Museum we viewed the mummies of Rameses and other pharaohs, their gaunt blackened skin and dusty hair still on their skulls., puny and human, telling more truth than the giant monuments they dedicated to their glory, the pyramids and colossal statues, pretentions to Godliness.

Yet standing under the pyramids or riding past them as we did on swaying camels, I could sense some of the awe people over the ages have felt in these achievements.

One can be cynical about many of the ancient monuments and much of its art from a modern perspective. Almost all the “wonders” were built by slaves, ordered by the few incredibly wealthy while the many suffered unrecorded deprivation. The Art was created mostly to promote belief and worship of deities and rulers and therefore to encourage the superstition and subjugation of the masses.

One can also be callous to the structures themselves: next to New York’s skyscrapers, the pyramids are mere bungalows. The Temples to Apollo or Amun-Ra, the sun-gods of Greek and Egyptian, seem silly next to our conquest of the moon.

I have heard other tourists speaking in very blasé terms while looking at the Taj Mahal or Parthenon. I have expressed the cynicism myself in my moments of reflective depression.

You cannot avoid feeling the ironic paradox of the remnants of glorious civilizations amidst the squalor of the present; or viewing the striving for perfection and rationality of the Ancient Greeks while also experiencing the crudeness of contemporary people.

But there is more. Ancient Egypt was one of the earliest attempts to grope for something civilized. Not long before in Man’s history was the stone age—prehistoric Man little more than animal. But something stirred his mind, his imagination, daring that he could try to solve the riddles of the universe.

Reading all that over, I see that I have expressed it very poorly; it sounds like a lot of pretentious drivel, full of hackneyed phrases and muddled ideas. But it is some distance from my first words uttered when seeing these things: “fantastic” “incredible” or merely “wow.”

Maybe some day I will be able to communicate more interestingly. I am still too close to the experience to express it any other way and my emotions stand in the way of my ideas. I am sure that my “insights” are far from unique—my intellect inadequate to say something new or “important.” All I can say is that it has been a revelation to me and I suppose nothing is known unless you know it yourself.

Of course—and again I doubt that this is an original thought—even if I was totally ignorant of all of history, I would still be its product and participant in its continuum. All the experiences have given me is the awareness of that fact and some tiny inkling of my place in it.

That is only one level of my thoughts on this trip. There are others. There are observations of the ways of life in other places and there is the personal search for my own.

It has been hard to learn how people live in Japan or India or Turkey during our brief visits, as tourists, not speaking the languages, or knowing anybody who lives there. My views must be from scanning the surface, developing an intuition from endless walks on the streets of the cities, talks with merchants and others we contact, riding the ferries, boats, buses, eating in the restaurants, going to the movies.

Other places we have gotten to know better: talking to and living with people who reside there, staying a longer time, seeing more than just the centers of big cities. I feel I got to know Israel and Israelis pretty well—enough to form some judgments—enough to want to come to see Egypt.

Today, at the temples of Karnak, we saw a huge wall filled with bas-relief depictions of (what most scholars believe is) the destruction of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem and the submission of the Hebrews—the beginning of my heritage?

After a month in Greece, viewing its physical beauty and variety of life styles, from Athens’ city bustle to Metsovon’s peaceful pace to Idra’s careless community of artists, I have come to imagine what it might be like to live there.

But we have a lot more to see and we have only tickled Europe.

There is another—maybe the most important— aspect to this trip: the wondrous development of my relationship with Bijou. Together every moment of every day, coping with one another and the outside world, arguing, looking at things from our individual viewpoints, we have grown together in subtle ways, learned some patience, better consideration of one another.

Despite some trying times of ill temper and occasional sniping that break out into full scale war, we have decided—at least at this point—that we do love each enough, that is completely—and more amazingly, we like and respect each other.

But, as I say, we have eight grueling months to go. ...

Love, Mort & Bijou.

1 comment:

  1. Just wanted to leave a comment to let you know I'm reading - between writing of my own. As always, is fun & informative & thought-provoking to read your thoughts - old & new & in between. Keep it up!