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Friday, February 21, 2020

What's for Dinner


One of our favorite meals is taco pie. It's low in carbs, easy to make and delicious. (It's also Keto for those interested.)  This year we have found sour cream readily available. I was prepared to make sour cream this year so I was pleasantly surprised to find it. Another surprise find was salsa.
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With all the correct accompaniments in the house, I decided to make taco pie for dinner tonight.
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The addition of the ubiquitous Mediterranean salad and some spicy pickled egg plant made it a complete and satisfying meal.
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Tuesday, February 18, 2020

What's Inside the Pyramids, Part 2

Last July, the interior of the Bent Pyramid at Dahshur was opened, with much fanfare, to public inspection for the first time in over fifty years.  (See, for instance, this Smithsonian Magazine article.)  I could hardly wait to return to Egypt this year,  anticipating a visit to see it.

The Bent Pyramid was the second attempt by King Sneferu (2613-2589 BC) to build a suitable pyramid for his final resting place.  His first attempt was a few miles away at Meidum (we visited it in 2018.) and his third attempt was just a few hundred yards away, the Red Pyramid.
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But the Bent Pyramid remains one of the best know monuments in Egypt due to its tapering shape.
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Our group of Egypt travelers visited the Bent Pyramid on the final day of January.  As we were circling the base of this pyramid, over three hundred feet in height, I heard the pyramid calling to me to come inside.  Or, maybe it was just the guard and young man at the top of the 40 foot tall entry scaffold.  But I was sure that I should make a quick inspection tour.
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Aziz was the name of the young man at the entrance who would accompany me through the inner passageways and chambers.  At the base of the descent along the very long entry ramp he quickly told me, "No camera!  Only phone!"  We soon came to an understanding of what he actually meant, "No camera, no tip!"

As we prepared to ascend the internal scaffolding to the next barrier, Aziz proved to be a capable camera handler, himself.
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It turns out that the Bent Pyramid has a more complicated interior structure than other pyramids,  All pyramids have an entry tunnel on their north side facing Polaris, the North Star.  This pyramid also has a second tunnel entering from the west side which descends to a large (possibly) burial chamber.  The two tunnels do not meet!

Distinguished Czech Egyptologist, Miroslav Verner, in a book published originally in German in 1997, had this to say about the two tunnels:
'... they were connected only by a narrow, irregular tunnel roughly hacked through the masonry of the pyramid core.  It began in the lower chamber and came out in the western descending corridor … " 
Somehow this didn't seem to be deemed worthy of mention in that Smithsonian article.  Well, I didn't come this far to not reach the final chamber.  "Let's go!" I told Aziz.
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I got about two thirds of the way through this very tiny tunnel - there are no climbing aids installed - when I visualized possible headlines on an article in newspapers:  "American tourist suffers third heart attack while exploring..."  I checked my pocket for my Nitroglycerine tablets.  Present and accounted for.

Scrambling out of the tiny tunnel, Aziz and I resumed our descent, finally arriving at another tall scaffold in the corbel-vaulted final chamber.  Looking around, I wondered, "what are those spots on the wall?"  As my eyes adjusted to the light, I recognized them - bats!
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And the ceiling was covered with them.  I didn't stay long.  Just long enough for a good picture taken straight up.  All those tiny black dots are bats.
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The reverse climb out is not bad as I expected.  Even with several rest stops along the way, the whole trip in and back out took only about sixty minutes.  I would recommend it to anyone who is not bat-o-phobic.  But, bring good climbing shoes for that roughly hacked connecting tunnel.

Once again, a picture is easily worth a thousand words.  We go to the incredible R. F. Morgan, courtesy of Wikicommons.

Robin Morgan's YouTube video of the computer-generated Bent Pyramid can be found here.  Please do follow the link.  Robin's work deserves a great many more views than she has received so far.



What's Inside the Pyramids? Part 1

The short answer to that question is "Not much!"  The typical content is simply an empty burial chamber.  There is almost nothing in the way of interior decorations with a couple of important exceptions.

But that shouldn't dissuade you from making the trip into the heart of at least one to see for yourself.

I had been inside of three prior to this year and added a fourth during a recent tour of the Dahshur pyramids.

My favorite is the Red Pyramid at Dahshur, just about twenty miles south of our winter home.
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This pyramid is almost 350 feet tall.  There is an opening in the north face of the pyramid about a third of the way up, just a bit to the left of where Linda is standing in the picture.  A trail and stairway lead to the opening.

In past years, Egypt's best mounted police stood guard at the foot of the pyramid while helpers stood at the actual opening ready to assist visitors in navigating the narrow passage.
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The passageway is only about four feet wide and four feet high; it descends over a length of perhaps 300 feet to around ground level.  This is best traveled in reverse, holding on to a railing during the descent phase.
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About halfway down, the thought will occur that you have to go back up the same way, bent over.  It is a bit like descending into the Grand Canyon, the hard part comes later and you can't quit part way through.

Once you are at the bottom, you are not "there" yet.  Two chambers, slightly offset, are connected by a small passage and then a tall wooden scaffolding awaits you.
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At the top of the scaffold, another small passage takes you to a the third chamber and the probable final resting place of king Sneferu.
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The construction style of these chambers is apparently known as "corbel vaulting."
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That final chamber is disappointing as a final destination, if you were expecting something like the tombs in the Luxor area.

Poor Sneferu - this was his third attempt at building himself a pyramid and no one has yet found his grave for certain.

If my description of the route was hard to follow, perhaps a picture would help.  Fortunately, we have this diagram available on Wikipedia.


Now,Linda thinks that I spend way too much time getting pictures ready for the blog.  But notice what R. F. Morgan has done here - prepared a 3D computer model of the pyramid with detailed sketches of those chambers and passages!  Most people would simply capture this image from Wikicommons and move on.  Not I!  Who is R F Morgan and what does this person do for a living?

Robin F. Morgan is a feminist and author who was obviously bitten by the "Egypt Bug" as so many visitors to this country are.  She has drawn 3D models of most of the pyramids and the tombs at Valley of the Kings.  And, the models actually include YouTube video to take you inside.  Here is the link to her Red Pyramid tour. You can easily get to more of her YouTube models from there.


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If the descent and climb into the Red Pyramid sounds like too much effort, there are two smaller pyramids at Saqqara that you might like to tour.


The pyramid of Unas and its ground-level opening would be easy to miss while you are looking to the north toward the giant step-pyramid.
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Likewise, the pyramid of Teti could be easily missed while heading to see nearby temple drawings. It is not a pile of dirt you're seeing in this photo. It's a crumbling pyramid.
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The descent ramps have modest slopes compared to the larger pyramids.
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The final tomb chamber is reached by another of those very low passages.  But the wall of this tomb is inscribed with the famous "Pyramid Texts."  The words "magic" and "spells" are frequently associated with these writings - approach with caution!
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Monday, February 17, 2020

Here Birdie, Birdie

When at home in Minnesota, we are avid bird watchers. Living, as we do, on a pond, we have seen many birds during the three years we've lived in that location.

We're excited by the different kinds of birds that Egypt has to offer. Photographing birds is not the easiest thing but these are some that we've managed to capture with the camera.
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Little Green Bee-eater                                                       Rock Dove


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Cattle Egret (sitting on a camel)                                     Cattle Egret


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White Wagtail


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Trio of Hoopoes

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Pied Kingfisher


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Egret                                                                               Black-winged Stilt


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Gray Heron                                                                       Cormorants


Wednesday, February 12, 2020

What's for Dinner

When in the US we eat salmon 3-4 times a month. It’s something we miss while in Egypt. No longer. During a recent shopping trip we were excited to see that our favorite store, Spinney’s, now stocks frozen salmon. A quick conversion of the price of 211 LE translated to $13.00 for a half pound. That’s nearly the price we pay in Minnesota so it’s considered very expensive here. We’re sure we are the only ones in our building eating salmon tonight and probably the only ones on our street (maybe even the entire neighborhood!).
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In Minnesota we typically grill our salmon on a plank. We don’t have a grill here so we cooked it in our cast iron pan. It looked appetizing as the fragrance filled our apartment with anticipation.
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To accompany the salmon we prepared a typical Mediterranean salad consisting of cucumber, tomato, green pepper, onion, cilantro, cumin, olive oil and vinegar.
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Potatoes and squash rounded out the tasty meal.
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