Friday, October 7, 2011
Pyramids and Water Lilies
I’m looking at pictures I snapped of water lilies in the French countryside back in May, but this wasn't where I was supposed to be. I should have been in Egypt, crossing the Sphinx and the pyramids off my bucket list. But fate decided otherwise.
This had happened before. In 1976 Sue and I were backpacking through Europe. From Athens we could have flown roundtrip to Cairo for a hundred bucks each. At the time it seemed like a lot of money. We were ardent followers of Frommer’s Europe on Ten Dollars a Day and extra money for Egypt wasn’t in our budget. While we mulled it over someone stole our Frommer book and we had to blow our budget by purchasing another copy. Now even further in debt, we reluctantly decided to pass on Egypt.
After years of seeing the Sphinx and those darn pyramids on TV, in movies and in books, Sue and I decided last year that it was time to lug our lumpy behinds to Egypt. With the economy in the crapper, we had to seriously consider if we could afford such a trip, but we weren’t getting any younger so we decided to splurge. We weren’t about to let money again deny us a trip down the Nile.
We pulled money out of our rainy day account, checked to see that our passports hadn’t expired and purchased Egyptian visas along with airfare to Cairo. Two weeks before we were to board our plane we found ourselves glued to CNN watching countless protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square—Arab Spring was in full swing.
I tried to rationalize journeying to Egypt at this time. After all, Egypt has had political unrest for thousands of years, but I admit to fretting over Sue’s safety as well as my own. I’m a bit swarthy and felt I could blend in—ala King Farouk—but Sue is fair-skinned and fair-haired and looks decidedly American. Then the State Department warned Americans to stay away from Egypt. Finally, the decision to risk our lives over a vacation was taken out of our hands when flights to Cairo were cancelled, along with our tour.
On the day we were scheduled to arrive in Cairo vandals broke into the National Egyptian Museum on Tahrir Square. They wanted to get their hands on Tutankhamen’s gold funeral mask, and succeeded, sort of. Evidently none of them had been in the museum before and they didn’t realize they’d broken into the gift shop. They failed to realize that King Tut’s priceless mask wasn’t mass produced in China and didn’t also serve as a cigarette lighter. Thank God the real mask was safely locked away.
The airlines refused to refund our airfare so we had to pick an alternative destination. That’s how I came to be standing on Monet’s Japanese bridge at Giverny instead of savoring the splendors of Egypt. Yes, Giverny was exceptionally pretty and I did manage to enjoy the moment, but I was still smarting from being denied a ride on a camel and snapping a picture of Sue being spit on by one.
Still, there was something remarkable about those floating flowers. Before traveling to Giverny, Sue and I visited the Musée de l'Orangerie in Paris where a giant painting of Monet’s precious water lilies circle the room. I must admit that the longer I concentrated on those fragile flowers, adrift in a swirling cosmos of color, the more sublime they seemed. Instead of witnessing Egypt's testaments to the eternal, I was exposed to shimmering lights and evanescent colors, Monet’s monument to the ephemeral.
I haven’t given up hope of one day visiting Egypt, but I’m glad I managed to cross Giverny off my bucket list. If not for the turmoil in Cairo I might have missed out on something extraordinary. Besides, the Sphinx and those darn pyramids aren’t going anywhere.
If only that darn Sphinx would stop smirking at me!
What destination is waiting to be crossed off of your bucket list?
Posted by Stephen Hayes