May 7, 2012

Lotus and Pyramid, 1927 | Walking Through Egypt

Lotus and Pyramid, 1927
Constance Sitwell

Great Pyramid Of Khufu
I was sitting on the window sill of my room eating sugar cane. It was so juicy and fresh one could go on nibbling at it all day. The Soudanese servant, in a green cap and full green trousers, just now brought in a basket-full cut up into pieces, and set it down on the floor with a wide smile. My window is high above the ground; beneath, the white-washed walls of the hotel ache in the midday glare; across the sand I can see the two great Pyramids, all their colour bleached out by the fierce light. But early this morning they looked very different. Just as the sun rose I came to this window and saw them standing there drowsily splendid, a tigerish gold set on the tigerish sand.

When I first drew near the Great Pyramid it was with a feeling of real shrinking. My mind was bludgeoned and I lifted my bewildered eyes; it was almost painful to realise that this was the work of men’s slight hands. One wanders along the base, wondering insanely at the vast blocks so perfectly placed along the bottom courses, one stops at the comers to gaze insanely at the fabulous line that goes slanting up and down into the sapphire blue.

The sun beat down on that stupendous slope of stone, and up on it a scattering of tiny men were crawling like sluggish flies; and presently I too began to climb up; we were making for the small opening that leads downward to the King’s

Chamber. We reached it at last and the Bedouin in fluttering garments, who was a guide, slid down the polished shaft, at the bottom of which he lit some magnesium wire which showed a narrow gleaming passage going steeply down into the core. The unnatural light played pallidly upon the smooth dark stone as we followed after him. How hot it was in the thick darkness! As we plunged deeper into that stifling fastness of stone an awful oppression seized me, and at last when we came to the solemn bat-infested chamber which contains the royal sarcophagus the sense of the weight pressing downwards became almost more than I could bear. There was something terrible in the thought of the monstrous walls that surround the little empty tomb of sombre reddish granite.

That was my first impression, but later the pyramids grew very familiar. In the evening of the day before we started up the Nile I found my way to a little pyramid, half ruined, near by, and I climbed on to a rock at its base to sit and draw there. A tiny Arab boy came along behind. He was dressed in black with an old black cloak and had a round dirty-white cap on his head. His face was round too, and his smile always ready. When I sat on the sand he jerked off his ragged cloak in an instant and spread it on the ground, and while I sketched he sat holding my paint-box in one hand and my paint-brush in the other.

He had some friends who joined us: a boy from Tunis with pale golden- brown skin, and a diminutive donkey-boy dressed in a stained garment of yellow who dragged the dusty donkey behind him without even one necklet of beads to adorn it. He was seven years old, he said; his donkey looked a hundred. His small wrinkled face was as yellow as his dress, and his name, he told me with some importance as he lit a cigarette, was Abbas. I thought I should never forget that prematurely old little creature who never smiled but puffed brazenly on his cigarette.

The boy from Tunis said that he could divine the future. He stared at me and then drew the sun’s disk with rays spreading all round it in the powdery sand. Stooping lower and lower over the circle of his sun with an absorbed face he kept counting these rays, and muttering words that the others tried to translate. Having reached his conclusion, he straightened himself and pronounced: “Not happy, if too much thinking.” I thanked him but replied that I did not agree. For the moment, after taking my coin, he looked at me in silence, then kicking away the traces of his sun with his hard feet, he walked off apparently heading for the empty desert.

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