Toritto at the pyramids and the sphinx - January 1995
So I’m on assignment in Cairo for the Great Anerican Travel Company - (Don't leave home without it!) - for the second time in 4 months.
Last time I was here I made the "mistake" of making a number of recommendations which I thought would create efficiencies at the office. Local management promptly called my boss in New York and asked that I come to Cairo to help implement my recommendations.
My boss was ticked off. She loaned me to Cairo for 6 weeks.
So here I was ensconced in the Cairo Marriott in January 1995; formerly the palace of King Farouk and since converted to a hotel.
The Cairo Marriott - Zamalek
With all these weekends on my hands it was time to see the pyramids. Close up. Believe it or not I had been in Cairo before and not seen the pyramids. Tsk tsk.
So as an employee in good standing I dropped in the office of the Great American Travel Company, flashed my employee I.D. card and took a spot on the tour bus. Off we go.
Most folks who haven’t been there think the pyramids are in the middle of a vast desert. It's the picture angle. Actually they are only 12 miles or so from downtown Cairo and urban development goes right up to the line demarcating the antiquities site. The pyramids are in the burbs.
The pyramids in the 'burbs. That's Giza in the upper half of the photo.
Tour buses and tourists out the wazoo.
I get off the bus and look - my God, they are enormous. You simply cannot visualize how big. The pyramid of Cheops is most likely the largest structure ever built on earth.
One immediately has to fight one’s way passed the trinket sellers, food stalls, and camel jockeys offering you a picture and a ride.
"No thanks. Maybe later on my way back to the bus" Trust me. The trinket seller will remember your face on your way back. Hey, everyone has to make a living.
I walk up to the Cheops pyramid and gaze up - approximately 2.4 million blocks of stone each weighing tons. The tallest structure on earth for thousands of years.
I sit on a block and zen the moment. I light a macanudo and have a smoke perhaps where Cleopatra held Antony’s hand and where millions of others have come over the centuries.
This pyramid is over 4,500 years old. It was 2,500 years old when Cleopatra saw it. Considering we are just over 2 millennia since the birth of Christ gives one a perspective - these pyramids were ancient when Caesar walked the earth.
I want to enter the pyramid but the Cheops pyramid, the largest, is closed.
Kefre’s pyramid, number two in size is open. The Kefre pyramid actually appears larger because it is built on a more elevated portion of the plateau. So Kefre’s pyramid it is.
We are organized into small groups so as not to crowd the passageway. Each group will enter, spend a few minutes in the burial chamber and then leave. We are warned. We will have to bend over while walking, there will be a downward slope, a level portion where we can stand up and an upward slope into the chamber. There are metal pipes which will serve as handrails. We will be walking on plywood boards with cross pieces to assist with footing. It is not an easy jaunt for older folks. But hey I’m only 53 - I can do it!
Off we go on the downhill slope, holding on to the bars and careful of our footing and our heads. We are bent over under a low ceiling. The passage is lit by small light bulbs in metal cages. The claustrophobic feeling comes over everyone.
The thought of those tons of rock over our heads brings out the macabre jokes.
On to the level portion of the passage, we can stretch a bit and catch our breath. Then the upward slope and a lighted end to the tunnel - the burial chamber. We step inside.
It is oppressive. It is relatively softly lit. It feels close and you are very aware that the passageway is the only way out. Nothing but the sarcophagus remains in the room.
The ceiling is vaulted and consists of limestone beams - holding up this space for thousands of years. The room is rectangular - about 15 plus yards by 5 plus yards. There is humidity in this room from the breath of tourists that is absent outside.
On the wall a desecration - the name of Giovanni Balzoni, the Italian who opened the tomb on March 2, 1818. Name and date carved in the wall. Graffitti plain and simple.
The space is close and stifling.
Time to go.
We go back the way we came, hunched over and walking carefully so as not to fall. Holding onto the handrails.
Light. Then outside.
I didn't know I had a bucket list. Cross this one off.
Now for the trinket men.
I get my picture taken. I buy some Arab garb I would wear to a Halloween party a decade later. I buy a papyrus replica from the Book of the Dead at a nice shop where the bus stops. Now framed, it hangs in my home.
I have walked where the millions have walked - the important and the not so important. I am one with the infinite.
These Pharoahs wanted to be remembered forever. They are.
We still speak their names. And I'm writing about them.
Four thousand five hundered years later.