Friday, June 1, 2012

An Enormous Articulation

To me it feels like every post I publish hasn't finished gestating, they're pushed out early and raw, some should have been aborted from their inception. I know that this blog is a good exercise for me, someone who is ridden with anxiety over every word that dares leave the brain through hand or tongue. But oh it's grueling. If not for the strict but arbitrary deadlines of when I will and will not have internet access (and the nagging insistence of one certain maternal figure), I would stew for nine hours over a syllable that no other soul would ever see. I'm loathe to put something out there that I don't consider a finished thought, but the problem is that I never finish thinking...

This afternoon we visited Luxor Temple and shockingly, hauntingly, amazingly, my two team members and I were the only people there. The last time I visited the temple, several thousand tourists were milling through the high pylons every day, it was impossible to get a picture of anything without fifty red faces and bulky asses crowding in the way.

 Five years ago I would have given ten years of my life to be able to see the temple devoid of people. By what divine providence I received this gift, I'll never know, but it was certainly a capricious deity, for the experience didn't quite invoke the feelings I had expected. The columns rose skeletal like the lithified rib bones of an antediluvian whale, petrified in a scorched wasteland that once teemed with fecundity and violence as a prehistoric sea.

Seeing it bustling with tourists felt sacrilegious, seeing it empty and stark was certainly poignant, but didn't really bring me closer to the past, as I had expected. The enervate vestiges made me realize just how unreachable and unknowable the Egyptians really are. 

That said, it was still breathtaking...although here, just stepping out the door is in a sense 'breathtaking.'

Adjusting to Egypt is like learning how to breath underwater. The air is so thick that at first, you choke. I'm not embroidering some extended metaphor here, you quite literally choke! The miasma slumps over the city, torrid and almost viscous with odors and dust. It's nothing like the sterile heat of tucson, there's a pleasing purity to that heat. The heat here feels noxious and diseased. As I put words to this, I feel as though most will find this to be a negative description, but it's not. Somehow the repulsiveness is strongly alluring. It's horribly appealing. Perhaps you may be thinking sultry an apt descriptor, but it is not remotely so. There's no sensuality in the air here, just a seething clammy presence that clambers onto your shoulders and constricts its heavy arms around you neck in a savage embrace. It's a sensation that words can't really convey if you haven't experienced it in some place or capacity.

Now that I'm rereading this, I know one person who would understand exactly what I am trying to say, and has articulated it with far greater truth and visceral power than I could ever command. This is what Werner Herzog (some people who know me well may be rolling their eyes) had to say in his perverse encomium to the Amazonian jungle, which surely must have been latent in my mind when I was writing this post:

"I wouldn't see anything erotical here. I would see fornication and asphyxiation and choking and fighting for survival and growing and just rotting away. Of course, there's a lot of misery. But it is the same misery that is all around us. The trees here are in misery, and the birds are in misery. I don't think they sing, they just screech in pain. It's an unfinished country. It's still prehistorical...It's like a curse weighing on an entire landscape. And whoever goes too deep into this has his share of this curse. So we are cursed with what we are doing here. It's a land that God, if he exists has - has created in anger. It's the only land where - where creation is unfinished yet. Taking a close look at what's around us there is some sort of a harmony...And we in comparison to the articulate vileness and baseness and obscenity of all this jungle, we in comparison to that enormous articulation, we only sound and look like badly pronounced and half-finished sentences out of a stupid suburban novel. A cheap novel. We have to become humble in front of this overwhelming misery and overwhelming fornication, overwhelming growth and overwhelming lack of order. Even the  stars up here in the sky look like a mess. There is no harmony in the universe. We have to get acquainted to this idea that there is no real harmony as we have conceived it. But when I say this, I say this all full of admiration for the jungle. It is not that I hate it, I love it. I love it very much. But I love it against my better judgment." 
-Werner Herzog, Burden of Dreams

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