Friday, November 7, 2008

Finish what you start...

We fly into Aswan

to join our cruise ship the MS Sherry Boat. The boats that ply the Nile are large four deck affairs – not as big as the ships that cruise Alaska or the Caribbean – neither of which I have experienced – so this is the largest boat I have ever been on. Lounges, dining halls the whole shebang.

The rooming situation is a bit different form the spacious apartment given us in Cairo by the American College. We are now, three of us, inside a room the size of one of the three bedrooms that were in the apartment. Fortunately all we are using the room for is sleeping – so it is kind of like camping – except we do have our own bathroom.

We are on a package tour with a guide – the ship sails for about four or five hours at a time and then we disembark and tour historical sites with an English speaking guide named Magdi. We are in a group of a dozen or so strong of other English speakers from the US and Canada. Our first stop in Aswan is a visit to see an unfinished obelisk. An obelisk is a giant pointed stone structure – think of something the shape of the Washington Monument. These sculptures were roughed out in the quarry from where they were extracted, transferred to the Nile and then floated to their final destination where they were polished and inscribed.

The reason this particular obelisk was left unfinished is that it cracked during its extraction. This defect occurred even though there were painstaking processes in place to verify the stability of the rock before the quarrying took place. Three further attempts were made to remove smaller portions from the original attempt and they too failed. Again I was surprised by the sheer scale of the operation. This piece was at least three times bigger than I was expecting. Perhaps it was over ambition on the part of the original designer (if the effort had been successful – it would have been the largest of its kind ever produced in ancient Egypt) of this particular obelisk that doomed it from the start.

This led me to speculate the conversations between the laborers when the cracks appeared.

“I knew it would crack, I told them so – but did they listen to me? – Noooo, Mr. I Designed the Biggest Obelisk Ever just went ahead and tried anyway. But what do I know I’ve only been cutting these things out of this pit for thirty years, my father cut obelisks, my grandfather cut obelisks – but do they want MY opinion? Fancy Cairo education – book learning, that’s all they know. They ain’t got a lick more of common sense than one of those baby crocodiles in the market. How ‘bout you come on down in the pit and insert the cedar wedges? Not a chance, they might get some granite dust on their starched white skirts – I told them so.”

His long suffering buddy just sighs, “I know you did.”

And the foreman shouts down into the pit “We’re not paying you in beer to flap your lips!”

Finished Obelisk @ Karnac Temple
notice man in bottom right corner

1 comment:

Eva said...

I think you could be right about what went on in his head, that is maybe universal, but it could never have been spoken out loud -too dangerous! And when I saw this obelisk, the guide told us the stone worker was executed for failing ...