March 2001

Brief Interlude in Luxor

Not long after returning home in October Jenny and I were presented with the opportunity for a week in Luxor in the spring. It was a very cheap charter flight, and we figured if we stayed on the West Bank we could have a short inexpensive holiday and not have to wait until autumn for our next visit. Unfortunately, even the best made plans are apt to go wrong, with Jenny becoming ill a couple of weeks before we were due to leave and unable to travel. Luckily she could transfer her plane ticket to Mary, a lady who belongs to our Egyptian Society who had long wanted to visit Egypt.

Mary and I shared a room at my old haunt, the Gezira Hotel on Luxor’s West Bank, a home from home for me where the staff knew me well and I felt comfortable. It was a restful time in which I introduced Mary to some of the monuments that she had read about but never seen. For much of our visit the springtime weather was perfect for wandering about among the ruins, or just sitting in cafes enjoying the sunshine, but it was also the time of the Khamsin, when a fierce wind would suddenly whip up out of nowhere, driving everyone indoors, shaking trees and buildings as though they were naughty children. At these times the dusty atmosphere of the West Bank, being on the desert’s edge, became unbearable and everything was quickly covered by sand which scraped against the windows at night and leaked in through the mesh-covered balcony door.

Village houses on the West Bank

A couple of our days were spent on the East Bank, crossing the Nile in the morning on the old battered ferry for a whole day at the temples of Karnak or Luxor, or just wandering in the suq chatting and drinking tea with the stallholders. On the West Bank we visited Deir el-Bahri, the Ramesseum, Deir el-Medina and the Valley of the Kings to take photographs and see what, if anything, was new. We walked in the Theban Hills, soaking in the timelessness of the ancient necropolis and visited the isolated Sanctuary of Ptah and Meretseger. We spent one lovely day with my English ex-pat friend David, who came over to the West Bank to visit me. Sitting in the garden surrounded by the vibrant multicoloured bougainvillea that climbs up the hotel walls, he read us some of the new short stories about his life in Egypt that he had written since I last saw him.

If our days were spent in the monuments, our evenings were social occasions. Mary and I were invited to the homes of several Egyptian friends for meals and conversation and we were never once allowed to experience the feeling of loneliness that often descends in Egypt as evening falls. We visited my friend Nubi and his wife Zeinab who proudly showed off the newest addition to their family, their fourth child, Haga and shared delicious cobs of corn, roasted on an open fire in their garden. We sat in the Rameses Cafe overlooking a floodlit Medinet Habu Temple and ate plates of rice and vegetables or watched television with the staff in the back room. We talked Egyptology with Salah, who was completing his degree. One evening we walked to Malqata to watch the sun setting over the site of Amehotep’s palace and drink mint tea with the guardian of the French House, one of my favourite pastimes.

In no time at all, it seemed, the holiday was over and Mary and I were speeding in a taxi back through Luxor to the airport for our flight home. Last year’s holiday in September and October was almost four weeks long, which made this visit all too brief, but still a very welcome break.

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