Augustine's Luxor Photo Journal - January 5-12, 2005
photos and text ©copyright Natalie d'Arbeloff 2005
LUXOR STREET SCENES
Having spent the first part of the week dwarfed by the colossal size, weight, light, darkness and hypnotic magic of ancient Egypt's tombs and temples, I wanted to see something of ordinary life as it is lived now in this place formerly called Thebes, most of which still lies buried under the sand, under the concrete and mud and detritus of not-quite modern Luxor. Taking a calèche ride was the best way of seeing without being too visible. The calèche (horse-drawn carriage) is in Egypt a thing of joy and beauty, my favourite means of transport forever and wherever. A fairy-tale contraption all silver and gold baubles and brilliantly painted wheels and patient, docile, mournful horses making that wonderful clippety-cloppety sound at the bidding of their laughing, shouting, singing, pirate coachmen.
Below is Ahmed, the calèche driver who rescued me from a heated haggling match with half a dozen rival coachmen, all demanding different exorbitant amounts for taking me on a slow clip-clop around the city. He agreed to the 'correct' price and I ended up giving him double since he was so nice.
We make a stop for fuel - i.e. green leaves for Ahmed's horse obtained from mates sitting on the ground smoking hubble-bubble pipes (the men do a lot of sitting and squatting here and the women a lot of carrying things on their heads). Everyone knows everyone and there is much yelling of greetings as we weave through the honking traffic. All conversations sounds like arguments and real arguments can't be distinguished from mere conversation.
There are innumerable half-finished or semi-demolished buildings in Luxor and I'm told that it's because their owners run out of money after one or two floors. Someone else tells me that the government stopped all building work because there are still unexcavated archeological marvels under the ground. Someone else says it's because they want to build luxury tourist hotels everywhere. All of this may be true or false.
The experience of colour in Egypt is ecstatic, orgasmic, caressing the five senses and the sixth one as well. There is a spontaneous, always harmonious juxtaposition of primary hues with subtle earth tones brushed against the brilliant blue backdrop of the sky. Away from the tourist areas, even the extreme poverty of the environment is not ugly. Crumbling walls are splashed with faded blues, pinks, greens. Brilliant patterned rugs and washing hang from balconies, proud flags, proof of the survival of the poorest.
Ahmed, his horse and I are stuck in a traffic jam. The yellow truck carrying men (armed with sticks or rifles?) is blocking the street. It's all very relaxed, nobody's in a hurry, it's warm and I'm happy because I can take a picture from the comfort of my princess carriage.
Is this not pure, eye-watering, unadulterated, unselfconscious beauty? Did somebody paint those pipes red and those doors that particular shade of blue because they look fantastic against the turquoise wall? Or did it just happen, like the women in black and the red, white, black and blue washing and the green leaves for Ahmed's horse's lunch?