Dawn Michelle Baude is a Fulbright Scholar and author living with her 9-year-old son for five and a half months in Alexandria, Egypt. Her "dispatches" take the form of 1,500-word essays on a variety of topics, which she then emails to friends and fellow travelers all over the world. They blend a scholar's observations, a poet's love of language and a true traveler's sense of the erotic. For security reasons, she doesn't blog her "chronicles," so I won't reprint any here ... except to say that her latest, "Pyramids," grew out of a visit to a speech by The Supreme Guide of the Council of Antiquities at the Biblioteka Alexandrina. Dawn wrote, in part:
But like a description of a piano concerto as a fixed scale of sound arranged in mathematical sequence, an empirical description of the monument omits more than it includes. Every time I visit the pyramids I am abashed at the sheer weight and mass of their physical presence, an experience that is felt rather than rationalized, almost as if the physical fabric of space could, at pharaoh's request, alter not only the perception of time, but also the perception of self.Coincidentally, the pyramids drifted through my mind this week. I literally just returned from a brief trip to New York City, where I'd never visited for more than an airport layover. Walking my narrow path in the magnificent canyons of midtown Manhattan, I marveled at the enormity of that place, which was every bit as gargantuan as I had imagined.
My mind develops panoramic images of places I've never visited. These images are often larger-than-life because they don't just employ geography and latitudes; they also comprise great events and historic people. Great drama requires a great stage, does it not? Consequently, when I finally visit, these places tend to be, in fact, much smaller than I imagined. Dealey Plaza, the Murrah Building's block in Oklahoma City, the Parthenon, the World Trade Center's footprint, the Alamo, even the OK Corral ... none as physically colossal as I had imagined. (Dealey Plaza's intimacy was so startling that it dashed any flirtation I'd had with two-shooter theories ... a 12-year-old with his grandfather's misfiring deer rifle could have easily plinked the President from the Schoolbook Depository's sixth floor.)
Not so with New York City ... nor with Giza, where I visited a month after Sept.11, 2001. I'd flown into Cairo to take the pulse of the Arab/Muslim street, and to prepare to cover some international war maneuvers in the Sahara, while U.S. warplanes were bombing Afghanistan. The pyramids were ageless and magical. These were places that matched or exceeded my fancy (or my delusion.) I'll admit that I thought the Sphinx was much arger than its reality, but the Great Pyramids were as breathtaking as I thought they would be. The supremacy of reality or a failure of imagination? Maybe a little of both.