The Orton's on the Nile - 2005

Stone and Paper

Stone and Paper

On our second day at Aswan, with the well received lie in, we got to see the famous granite quarry (sample on view in front room – somewhere!!!) where they carved out the great obelisks and other blocks for Pharaoh’s statues because of the great durability, and after all they were to be immortal. Sounded quite dull by comparison to the regular run of temples, but was surprisingly interesting.

However, I get ahead of myself. We had a more leisurely breakfast and being more with it that at four in the morning I noticed they had some grilled tomatoes, egg and sausage of some description. To my disgust they had grilled cheese on top of the tomatoes – chef must have been from the academy in Berlin, and the sausages were the disgusting things you find floating in a tin of baked beans. Never mind, there was always the cakes!!! Note here for Mr. Bernard Matthews, after several days of continental style food, I was ready to kill for bacon, sausage and eggs fry up (or grill – I can eat healthily). I know that our uncrowned turkey king does a passable turkey bacon rasher and sausage and with a good slap of daddy’s sauce it is a passable substitute and will cause no offence to the Muslims as there ain’t an ounce of pig in them. Come on – what a market opening – all those British tourists craving a bacon sanie.

So, breakfast over, ritually loaded with enough water to top up lake Nasser, we set off on the short hop to the quarry. It is laid out as a walk round attraction and you do not hit the pushy salesmen until you are on your way out again. There is clear evidence everywhere you look of the way the rocks were carved out, blocks lay all about half finished or simple outlined ready for them to start cutting away. You follow the winding path up the hill to the main attraction, an abandoned obelisk all but cut free from the rock face.

It was recently featured on the BBC Egypt programme and I am sure the History dude said it would way over a thousand tons and was definitely the biggest they have found. Strange thing is there is clearly a fault line running through it that would have caused it to break when they tried to raise it upright, but they had so very nearly cut it free you have to wonder why they continued cutting so deep. Near to this great rock and some smaller pieces were some black rocks as near as damn it 6 pounder shot. Luke asked me what they were and on examination they were next to some fine powdery fragments of granite and I supposed they were for dressing the stones face.

Well, they were just lying around so we both had a go and to my surprise we could quite easily grind down the granites surface and smooth it out. If Annette had not been in such a hurry we would probably have finished the obelisk on our own. Anyway, we wondered on around and Annette had decided she would go off in search of some shade, cannot think why, it was a cool 38 degrees, nearly chilly. So we carried on the path upwards and back down the other side before I noticed Annette had retraced her steps and gone back down to sit under a tree. I asked Adam if she knew she had gone the wrong way and he insisted she knew how to find her way out. Alarm bells were ringing in my head, but like most married blokes I ignored them and carried on having fun.

We eventually made our way back down to the customary market and for once I was ready to barter, I needed a new hat. I had been struggling with my old floppy pork pie come fisherman hat since I arrived and all the damn thing was doing was soaking up sweat like a sponge and providing little relief from the heat. Bob was kitted out with his cricket hat folded up at the edges like a cowboy, Luke had his safari hat with wide brim, Adam had a straw Stetson Annette had brought back from Turkey and all looked considerably cooler than me. So I was out for some sort of wide rimmed hat with a self life expectancy of 8 days.

Adam went on ahead as recon and found me a straw cowboy thing for a reasonable price so we set about haggling and I grabbed my bargain and binned the old one straight off. Luke had by some miracle walked away from one trader who had tried to sell him a baby crocodile and we were all heading back to the bus. Where was Annette? Good question. Adam still insisted she was taking a short cut and new it was time to go, but by now even I could sense the coming storm so I started back to look for her just in time to get the full treatment as she had been left to walk the gauntlet of traders all on her own as she had to retrace her steps to catch up with us. Luckily for me Adam did own up to saying we thought she was ahead of us.

Back on the air condition bus Annette soon cooled down and all was well. We were off to see how they make Papyrus. Yet another back hander for the tour guide, but I have to say it was amazing how decorative their art work was and how easy it is to make the papyrus itself. Quick demonstration accompanied by free drink, everyone plumped for mint tea over gunge berry surprise.

The plant has a square stem so you peel it with a knife like strips off an onion and soak it in water to release its natural starches that then form into a natural glue. You lay strips of the papyrus down vertically and then overlay them with equal amount horizontally until you have the size of sheet you require. Next, out with the rolling pin to compress the strips together and remove excess water. Leave to dry and you are ready for the artwork.

Ways of telling the genuine article from the near perfect banana leaf copies: 1) you can roll it up it will not crack, 2) it is very strong 3) if you wet your finger tip and gently rub at the paint it will smudge if it’s the pukka deal. The fakes are printed although I have to say I thought the prices were very reasonable and although you could not haggle there were many levels of BOGOF deals. We came back with cack loads of Egyptian art now mostly adorning our living room. The shear vibrancy of the colours makes you realise just how bright the tombs must have looked when they were first finished. Put the faded remains on the temple walls in to a magnificent perspective.

For once we were virtually dragged out of a shop and forced back onto the coach. We were off back to the boat for yet more food and relaxation. We would even be treated to a night of entertainment; Nubian dancers. Had not got a clue what to expect from a Nubian dancer so was not truly bothered but, as with so many other experiences on this trip it was worth taking in.

How can you describe the main act? Only thing that came to mind was a whirling Dervisher. Very difficult really – rather like a human spinning top. A young lad, didn’t look much older than Adam, was dressed with two heavy woollen skirts over his trousers and traditional costume and he basically span round in circles raising the skirts up to various levels in time to three old blokes thumping away at a dilapidated old bongo drum, a weird flute and mini two string Arab equivalent of a violin. It does not sound like much but was visually fascinating because I knew had I turned round that quick I would have staggered all round the room like I had enjoyed several gallons on Newcastle Brown Ale.

Put that together with the skill with which he made the skirts rise up or down according to the dance rhythm, where by at one point he looked like a whirling hour glass. His final act was to remove the skirts without slowing down and sinking to the floor nursing a baby he had made from the discarded skirt. Perhaps it was the lack of television that made the entertainment so absorbing, but at the end the kid walked away without the slightest sign of dizziness and I am still impressed.

All that was left of the evening was a few more pints, a chat with Sean, hearing of his many travels and then off to bed. I have to say there is something to be said for the bachelor life Mr. Morris as you all seem to be very well travelled. Both Sean and our Brummy had been to some pretty distant lands including Kenya, Thailand and India. Ah, well I still have Berlin!!!

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Copyright 2005 D.J.Orton and A.G.Morris