The angle of the eyes is a barometer of attitude.
When we’re positive, things are looking up. When we’re blue, we’re looking down.
But looking down is a survival skill in Cairo.
The sidewalks are not contiguous pathways, more like obstacle courses where a smooth section will have low hanging branches followed by a meter or more drop when the sidewalk makes way for a steep driveway to an underground garage.
Nice people will put up plants in the way so you don’t tumble over the edge in the darkness on your walk home. The way around this is to walk in the street, which has even more hazards.
So, much of the time as I walk here, I’m on the lookout for foot traps. Pot holes. Sudden dropoffs. Uneven stones. Foot-high curbs. Pointy barbs of metal poking up from the concrete.
Charlie Brown had his kite-eating tree. I have my ankle trapping holes.
So I wear shoes with high tops – my Australian boots called Blundstones – even with a suit. And I keep my eyes on where I’m stepping.
When I walk in New York, I’m always looking ahead, seeing who or what I need to get around in order to continue the brisk pace of a guy on the go. When walking here, I spend so much time watching my feet and scanning all directions for oncoming traffic that I rarely look up.
Spending all that time looking down can’t help but affect your psyche. Like the gooky face mom always said was gonna stick if I didn’t stop, a downward cast can keep you down if you’re not careful.
But in Upper Egypt, things were clearly looking up.
When you visit the great hypostyle hall in the temple of Karnak in Luxor, or gaze at the residual 3 thousand year-old paint on a ceiling of a place like Medinat Hebu, you’re forced to bend your neck back and gape. And the rewards are huge.
As my sister, mom and I floated down the Nile on the M/S Nile Symphony, making stops at the great Pharonic sites of ancient Egypt, our guide Rafik was often pointing above our heads. That’s where the gods are after all.
Obelisks jut upward. Massive walls loom with bas reliefs of long lost deities. Columns arch overhead, supporting beams where strategic gaps directed shafts of light to shine on artwork depicting a god’s journey on a barque surrounded by servants and conquered armies turned slaves.
Rafik is a devout Coptic Christian and asked if he could call our group Angels. “Sure,” we agreed, not realizing that every place we went we’d be greeted with a call of “good morning, Angels!” “Over here Angels!” “Look at this Angels.” “Are all my angels here?”
On bus trips, Rafik took a break from his talks on Egyptology to quiz us with riddles or read precious verses, downloaded from the Internet, of rhymed couplets extolling the virtues of angels.