Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Cairo: April 15, 2010

All material including photographs are ©2010 Ronald Dunlap / Doglight Studios

I got up early, resigned to try to make up for last night's calamity. I had peach yogurt and Twinkies for breakfast, washed down with chips and a couple of Cokes. I grabbed my recharged camera and equipment bag and headed for the parking lot where Magdy was waiting.

He'd arranged to pick up Mr. Idress at a pre-arranged spot on the River Road at 8:15. We made our rendezvous right on time and got to the Serapeum just before 9 a.m.

The Saqqara Serapeum is the burial place of the Apis Bulls. The bulls, mummified in a sitting position, and in gigantic black sarcophagi measuring up to 10 feet high and 30 feet long, were placed in the Serapeum beginning in the reign of Amenhotep III of Dynasty 18.

The driver and Toyota pick-up were waiting. There was a little confusion in our boarding the truck. The driver wanted to put my camera bag in the bed of the truck, but I refused. I said I'd ride in the back but my bag had to ride in the cab on the seat. But no one would hear of that, so he ended up making two trips, one with me and my equipment and the other with Mr. Idress and Magdy.

It was a bumpy ride out to the site, which was about a mile away, just southwest of the Step Pyramid.

I've worked with Dr. Abdel Hakiem Karrar a few times before and it's always been a pleasure. He's a refined gentleman, with a very even temperament. I've never seen him berate his co-workers or the fellahin who do the manual labor. He greeted me with his usual warmth and set about showing me the three small sites that his team was currently excavating.

The first was an Old Kingdom father/son complex. Most of the Old Kingdom artisans who worked on burial chambers were literate. They understood the meaning of the inscriptions they were decorating the tombs with. So during this period there were far fewer mistakes than there were in the later periods, when most of the workers were copyists trying to get many symbols into a defined space. A lot of the time when something didn't fit they just left it out.

I took a couple of overall shots, then made my way down the long sloping stairs to the bottom of the father's tomb. It seemed a bit weird because the team had had to come in from the top, so the tomb's interior was exposed to the sky. There wasn't a name for the tomb yet — that would come after they had studied the tomb inscriptions for a few months to make sure they were getting it right.

I moved to the son's tomb next. It was still in tomb form, more like a cave. I photographed the tomb's interior, offering tablet, and false door. There was still a lot of color on the inscription. I spent a half hour there and then made my way up and out and went over to the excavation's staging area overlooking the third tomb. There was lots of activity here. Dr. Karrar and his co-workers were getting ready for me to document their latest find.

I was shooting extra-cautiously this morning after what had happened last night. I had double cards in the 1Ds Mark III, making sure I had some record that I couldn't f-up.

I spent the next hour moving around the site, checking off the shots that Dr. Karrar had requested. I was especially enamored of the frieze above the entrance to the third tomb. The proportions of the hieroglyphics were beautiful, with that magical quality that has intrigued scholars for the last couple of centuries. After shooting the site I needed a portrait of the good doctor, but he's like me, reticent. It took a while to persuade him to pose.

From there we headed back to Giza. I'd told Mr Idress of the card mishap and said that we needed to reshoot the Giza site. We got there around 11:30 a.m., just as they were closing down for the weekend. I met Dr. Khajagy on his way out. I informed him that I needed to reshoot the place due to the loss of the CF card. He smiled but was not happy. He walked me back to the site just as the workers had almost finished closing down the tomb. He made them reopen the place again, and they didn't hide their displeasure. As soon as the doorway was clear, I did the sand swim again and began reshooting the place as fast as possible. Forty minutes later I crawled out and shot the outside angles as quickly as I could. I then made my get-away back to the inspector's rest-house where Mr. Idress was waiting.

As I neared the rest-house I saw that the gate in the Wall of the Crow was only a few hundred yards away. I'd always wanted a good photo of this mythic gate, so I figured now was my chance. The wall is one of the oldest monumental structures on the Giza Plateau and is believed to have been the original entrance to the sacred precincts. The gate is one of the largest megalithic passageways in the ancient world.

I by-passed the rest-house and walked to the west of Dr. Lehner's deserted excavation. I stopped near the Coptic Christian cemetery and took a couple of shots of a man as he walked through the massive structure that is the gate. The blocks of this wall are solid stone. I've never seen anything more massive.

I also spoke with the woman who was one of the caretakers at the cemetery and got permission to photograph her. I'd love to have been there in the late afternoon, but you have to catch as catch-can.

The road back to Cairo was hot and dusty, but there is a kind of peace in that. We stopped at a roadside stand where I bought refreshments for us all, then I got into the back seat with more Cokes and Twinkies. I just sat back, enjoying the afternoon's warmth and the congestion of the second-largest city in Africa.

It was late afternoon when we got back to the hotel. Soon it would be "Golden Time." I hurried up to my room and dumped off as much stuff as possible, then got back out to the streets, trying to reshoot as many of the photos that I had lost the night before as I could.

Because of all the construction in the area, a lot of steel shops had sprung up in the surrounding streets. Some had been located in the older British-style buildings, and one with a tile facade was especially intriguing. From this area I made my way to the fabric market, where the merchants were still in a good mood. The market was alive with Cairenes haggling over exotic patterned and brocaded cloth. There was an air of open friendliness that often evaporates when people see my camera, but here they were all good-natured and let me snap away.

Back at the hotel I ordered my usual Spaghetti Bolognese from room service. While I waited for dinner to arrive, I stored away the memory cards, making sure they were placed face-down so I would know at a glance that they were full of picture information. After the memory cards were stored safely away, I went out onto the patio and stared into the city, trying to think what I was going to do tomorrow. It would be Friday, which is the start of the weekend in Egypt. All government offices would be closed, so I would have to make my own arrangements.