mattbell: (Default)
One sect of Islam, the Sufis, is much more mystical than the other prevailing sects of Islam.  They emphasize music and dance as a way of gaining a greater emotional connection with Allah.  One particular group of Sufis (aka the "Whirling Dervishes") uses repetitive spinning to achieve a trance state for an even stronger connection.  This spinning is usually done to music involving a group of drummers and a reed flute. 

While I'm guessing the costumes and the spinning were glammed up for tourists, the look is quite good and at times rather kitschy.

So, let's review:
- Drum circles
- Crazy colorful costumes
- Spinning something as a performance
- Inducing trance states through ecstatic dance

Sounds like Burning Man to me.

I think a psychedelic revival of Sufi dancing should be the next big thing to hit Burning Man.  I'm thinking blacklight-sensitive op-art robes... or perhaps a kevlar robe with a flame wick sewn to the bottom so that you can be a flaming whiling dervish.   

mattbell: (Default)
I saw some of the oldest tombs in Anciient Egypt on my last day there. The carvings on the walls were a bit wackier than usual. Here's one that caught my eye -- it appeared to be a man and a pig getting some hot tongue-on-tongue action.

Upon inspection of other carvings, it appeared that the tongue-out look was their way of portraying an animal as dead. So it's more likely a priest kissing a *dead* pig (with another priest washing the pig) before offering it as a sacrifice.

mattbell: (Default)
I learned the Arabic numbering system on my first day in Jordan by looking at the hotel room numbers on my floor. It's come in handy many times. For example. in a supermarket in Luxor, Egypt:

Me: How much does this cost? (70 in Arabic is written on the basket of nuts, but it's unclear 70 per what)
Salesguy: 400 Egyptian pounds per kilo.
Me: No way.
Salesguy: It says right there. 400 pounds per kilo.
Me. No, it says 70. Can't you read Arabic?
mattbell: (Default)
"This is your captain speaking.  We're just beginning our descent.  The temperature on the ground is a pleasant 70 degrees Celsius. 

Ah, Americans are so cute.  It's a good thing he didn't have to figure out whether to turn on the de-icer.

Also, my flight number was 747.  Looking at my ticket quickly, I expected a much larger airplane.
mattbell: (Default)
After mostly abandoning headscarves in the 1970s as part of Women's Liberation, the Egyptians have re-embraced (or perhaps re-imposed) them as part of the resurgence of Islamic fundamentalism.  However, teen girls are teen girls, and they (on average) want to look pretty and distinctive.  Thus, the headscarf becomes a fashion accessory that has to be matched with other parts of the outfit, and there are lots of ways to do it. 

A friend and I wandered through a very interesting park on the eastern side of Cairo a couple of days ago (more on this park later), and during our visit were accosted by a swarm of what were presumably middle-school girls showing off various headscarf fashions.  We were presented with a socially acceptable opportunity to take their picture, so we did:

One fashion not in this photo involves putting the hair up in a topknot or ponytail and then putting a headscarf over that, giving the head an elongated shape.
mattbell: (Default)
Today I saw a woman walking down the street in a full hijab (black head-to-toe with just the eyes showing) with an antique desktop Singer sewing machine balanced on her head.

And in other news, Egypt has decided to ban travelers from Gibraltar from entering Egypt, citing their clear and present danger to  the aggregate revenue of the tourist industry.
mattbell: (Default)
p1050738 by you.

Taken in Cairo airport, Egypt.
mattbell: (Default)
For security reasons, Egypt restricts tourist travel in many sections of Egypt to convoys.  When you're in a convoy, you can't stop by the side of the road and take pictures of the amazing scenery... unless the bus at the head of the convoy breaks down.  I feel really bad for the people in the bus.  They missed getting to Abu Simbel (an all-day trip) and had to sit in the middle of the desert with no air conditioning for some period of time.

I will say that even in springtime, the desert is extremely hot.  A direct overhead sun is noticeably hotter than the puny ~30 degree angle sun we get in the summer. 


Oh, and here's the world's loneliest bus stop, as seen through a very tinted window.  Aside from the power lines and road, there were no signs of civilization for 100km in either direction:


The driver said that nomadic tribes use them to get into the city.


The Nile really is the lifeblodo of Egypt.  Without it they'd be Libya.

Here to illustrate that is my best attempt at the cheesy quintessential Egypt photo... the sort of thing they'd put on the cover of Lonely Planet.


mattbell: (Default)
The Egyptian government, which runs all the monuments, is very stringent about their "no photography" rule.  I can understand not wanting flash photography, but no photography at all seems a bit excessive.  However, sometimes the guards aren't looking:

These are from the tomb of Thutmosis III and illustrate the very methodical and scientific approach the ancient Egyptians took toward religion and the afterlife.  One larde section of the tomb had the appearance of an instruction manual detailing the information necessary for the Pharaoh to reach the Underworld.  The photo on the right apparently enumerates particular forms of a god:


On the left is a depiction  of the sky, as encircled by Nut, the sky goddess. (tomb of Ramses 6)


Inside Abu Simbel:

I love the quality of the chisel work here (tomb of  Userhet):p1050397 by you.

Anyway, I must be going... the guards are always on my tail.  See you next crime.*
p1050704 by you.

*What's that?  Carmen Sandiego has stolen the Great Pyramid of Giza?  Don't worry... a nearby merchant said he heard something about Carmen needing to buy a pair of castanets.  Get on it gumshoe, that's your next clue! 

mattbell: (Default)
I was mentioning earlier about how terrorism stopped the Sinai resort construction boom.  Here are some pictures of what was left behind:

p1050238 by you.

And more: 
p1050261 p1050239p1050245 

A (slightly) livelier bit:

mattbell: (Default)
I had no idea just how much art deco borrowed from ancie4nt Egypt until I saw the Temple of Philate:
   p1050569  p1050572

  Separately, this column was very interesting in that it turned out to be a few iterations of a fractal.

mattbell: (Default)
p1050690c by you.

Photographed on the way to Abu Simbel, about 200km from the border with Sudan.

It reminds me of Laputa - Castle in the sky.

Mirages and fiber optics both work based on slight differences in refractive index between two adjacent materials... in this case, hot air and hotter air..

mattbell: (Default)
Today in Cairo I passed a large bookstore that had numerous Arabic titles on display in the window, along with an English-language modern printing of Mein Kampf prominently placed in the middle. From what I can tell, this is still the most pro-Israeli country in the Arab world, which I suppose isn't saying much.
mattbell: (Default)
I went down to Abu Simbel yesterday.

p1050731 by you.

Abu Simbel was officially a temple to Isis, but it's real purpose was twofold:
- Stroke the pharaoh's ego
- Scare neighboring civilizations into providing tribute.

The temple is filled with scenes of the Egyptian army slaughtering and enslaving other civilizations.  They made  sure to be racially inclusive.. they had a Nubian, a Hittite, a Greek of some sort, an Assyrian etc. 

Anyway, Abu Simbel was very impressive, and well worth the 3-hour drive each way through the Sahara.


So I have this thing about blogging at various ancient monuments and other nice places.  For example:

p1030752  p1030753
Ephesus, Turkey

p1010742  p1010744
Ankgor Wat, Cambodia

Taba, Egypt

Akko, Israel

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Having a laptop has been seriously wonderful.  I chose one (EEE PC 901) that has around six hours of battery life, weighs around two pounds, and costs only $350.  It's good enough to handle email, browsing the web, writing documents, and other basics.  The version of Linux that comes with it is kind of wonky though... any attempt to do something out of the ordinary (eg use an ipod as an external hard drive) has been a pain in th ass.    The computer also crashes half the time when coming out of standby.  Even so, it's wonderful, and it beats lugging around a full size laptop.  It's also a great conversation starter... apparently people haven't seen subnotebooks before.

mattbell: (Default)
My second day snorkeling in Dahab was fairly mediocre – the sea was too rough to see eel garden, or to do much of anything for that matter. However, on the way back in, right near the diver entrance, I met a glorious large octopus. It had the ability to change both its color and texture, and interacting with it was fascinating. It would often attempt to hide by finding a rock, encircling it completely by flattening its tentacles, and then texturing and coloring its body to take on the appearance of the rock.

If you don't believe me, have a look at this well-known but still stunning video:

Its movements (via squirting propulsion) were also completely alien. Not to anthropomorphise too much, but its behavior and mystery lent it an air of great intelligence. Apparently large octopi are actually quite smart, and there are numerous tales of their feats of intelligence.

Tangentially, their tentacles are so complicated that they have their own minibrains, and the central brain issues them high-level commands like “grab the rock”.
mattbell: (Default)

The Pharaohs believed that the more times their name was written down (protected in a capsule-shaped cartouche), the more likely they were to achieve immortality. They weren't far off. Many early tombs were only identified with particular pharaohs because workers wrote things about them in the tombs.


Based on what I've seen so far of numerous ancient empires, I now present Matt's guide on how to achieve immortality (or at least the closest thing to it) when you are the ruler of an ancient empire:

Have your minions carve monuments to you out of solid rock. Simply building the monument out of stone blocks, however large, won't do. (1) Preferably you should have several such monuments in various locations. Also, make sure that you find the driest climate possible for these monuments. (2) Cover these monuments with carved (not just painted) text describing the details of your life. Make sure there's something for everyone... laws, art, engineering, wars, politics, administration etc. Even though everyone knows your name, mention it lots of times. Also make lots of realistic statues. Now, even though your language is dominant, write (err... chisel) an identical summary of your life in several popular languages. (3) OK, here comes the weird part. Cover it all in plaster. (4) Also, don't bury a pile of treasures with you. (5) Everyone already knows how rich you are.

(1)Later civilizations often tore down the temples of prior civilizations because it's easier to quarry stone from some nearby heathen structure than a distant mountain. Earthquakes, invasive plants, and other problems have damaged stone block temples. Note the preservation of solid-rock Petra and Ellora.
(2)Stone in wet climates degrades much more quickly due to lichens, mosses, plants etc as well as erosion from sand and mud running over the stone.
(3)The Rosetta stone, which had the same proclamation in three languages, was the key to unlocking ancient hieroglyphics in the early 1800s.
(4)Many of the best-preserved ruins were well preserved because later empires covered the offending images in plaster.
(5)Almost every grave, however well hidden or booby-trapped, was eventually robbed.

Future empires will so surpass yours that they will view you as a curiosity rather than a threat. If you're interesting enough, they will be curious enough to study you.

What's that, you want true immortality, o great ruler?

Primitive cryonics? )
mattbell: (Default)
The most impressive tomb I've seen so far is the Tomb Of Sennefer. Sennefer was the keeper of the Pharaoh's gardens. His tomb walls are filled with lush scenes of Egyptian gardens and feasts.  (Unfortunately the pictures in the link don't quite do it justice)  The tomb is up on a hillside; it's more or less unmarked, and there are no roads or even clear trails to it.* It's surrounded by a ramshackle village - the inhabitants are the keepers of the tombs. Because it's not easily accessible, it's not a good spot for tour groups., and tour groups make up literally 98% of the visitors. Besides, they all want to see Tut's tomb, which is small, not that interesting, and staggeringly expensive at over $30.

I was in Sennefer for over 20 minutes, and I was the only one there.

If you must go for a big royal tomb, go for Ramses VI or Tuthmosis III. Both of them have an interesting “control room” feel – the walls are meticulously laid out with diagrams and writing related to the afterlife and their system of gods and goddesses. It's very interesting seeing their precise approach to religion, a relic of a time when math, physics, meteorology, and other scientific disciplines were deeply intertwined with religion. This mix persisted up until fairly recent times – Newton, co-inventor of calculus, also wrote extensively and methodically on how the Holy Trinity was actually just one God as well as other topics. This was deeply heretical material, and he ended up keeping it unpublished. (You can learn more here: )

*(well, there were signs but someone painted over them. Coincidentally, someone offered to guide me there for a significant fee)


mattbell: (Default)

February 2011

   123 45
67 89101112


RSS Atom

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Sep. 25th, 2017 01:16 pm
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios