Let the Punishment Fit the Climb?
Tourists—whether from the more provincial ratholes of American life or not—are always showing their contempt or ignorance for famous monuments around the world. Posing naked, scratching graffiti into stone, or otherwise desecrating places stalwart and sacred is often a favorite pass-time of the more shiftless global gadabout.
I encountered some real dimwits in my own travels. One in particular comes to mind: at the ancient Egyptian site of the Philae temples (dedicated to Isis and her dysfunctional family of deities) I was fortunate to have the entire glorious archaeological site entirely to myself during one visit. I prowled about for hours exploring nooks and crannies of the fabled temple complex, reading hieroglyphics and gazing in wonder at the reliefs to my heart’s content—an experience I shall never forget, without question.
There were only one or two discreet Arab custodians in the island along with me; I had arranged to enjoy the site in near-complete privacy for the day. The custodians were retiring types guarding the dignity of that mysterious and resplendent collection of great temples at Egypt’s frothy southern frontier near what had once been the First Cataract of the Nile. Tourist-markings on the stone walls dating from the end of the ancient Roman Empire (“Romulus was here!”) could be spotted on the majestic temples along with prayerful supplications known as dipinti.
Tooling around that glorious island was an exercise in pure, unadulterated wonder, especially with the knowledge that I was on my own in the heaviness of the mystical silence, dwarfed by towering pylons and stately columns dedicated to the great goddess of magic and her entourage. As mentioned, the custodians respected my presence and kept a careful distance. I had free run of the turf.
Except … I was not alone on Philae.
After about two hours of climbing chapel foundations and slipping into once-secret corridors devoted to arcane rituals, I heard a ululating noise coming from one of the main temple’s exterior chapels, known as the mammisi—a special “mini-temple” devoted to the island’s resident child-god, Horus, and his coterie of protective deities and genii.
It was a woman’s voice, braying as loud and as piercingly as a donkey’s, echoing off the eerie sandstone walls inside the shrine. She was chanting something stupid and off-key in French. Mortified, I approached the entrance of the little sanctuary and found one of the local custodians; he was about to have a conniption at the scene he was beholding within. The poor Arab’s eyes and sensibilities were essentially beside themselves. Here’s why:
Some dumb bunny—a neo-pagan lass with a head of hair as red and bramble-wild as a used, rusted Brillo pad—was on her knees inside the chapel’s inner sanctum. She had lit a few candles and placed them around herself and, with flabby arms outstretched, was bowing her head repeatedly to the weathered stone floor as she howled her hymn/prayer to one of the carved reliefs of a deity on the interior wall.
More astoundingly, this eager acolyte was completely naked, with the ends of her tits brushing against the dusty floor with every bow and shiver of her spiritually transfixed body. The Muslim temple custodian and I looked at each other in horror, speechless, as she genuflected and murmured, shook her boobies and cried out in something approaching a strangled yodel. The custodian looked as if he was about to cry or else run for the nearby Nile and throw himself in.
The woman herself paid no heed to our obvious, aghast presence. She was putting-on one hell of a performance and didn’t care who saw or heard her clumsy ministrations.
The custodian looked at me helplessly, his mouth contorting in a mixture of disbelief and accusation, as if I were somehow responsible for this fanatical—and frankly nutty—interloper. I could only shrug in obvious protest, given that my Arabic was pretty basic and I was rendered speechless by the gyrations of Ms. Titty Titty Bang Bang, anyhow.
The scene became even more surreal. The woman soon began grabbing her nipples and lifting her breasts up and down as if to offer them to the deity portrayed on the wall. The custodian nearly fainted and I grew redder than the oncoming Egyptian sunset with embarrassment.
Turning my eyes away and one ear closer to the spectacle in front of me, I could easily make out the words of her French caterwauling. She was offering a hackneyed, impromptu hymn to Isis, the chief goddess of the entire site, which made sense (if anything about that tableau could approach the merest outskirts of “sense” in the first place.) Unluckily for me, my French was and remains fluent. This precious petal of pagan praise was saying:
“Oh, Isis, I offer you my breasts in sisterhood! Bless the fullness of my swollen flesh and send your spirit through the eternal cavern between my legs. I have come to your holy of holies to offer you my wholeness.”
All of this was just quaint, of course … except for the fact that the large relief of the deity to whom Barbara Bazooms was offering her very finest was not Isis at all, but rather Hapi—a male god of the Nile itself who owned a pair of ta-tas as drooping and malleable as those of his devotee. She kept calling this lesser deity “Isis.”
“My gosh!” I said, turning to the gobsmacked custodian. “This poor woman doesn’t even know who she’s praying to!”
As if this revelation would elicit some spark of awareness in the shocked custodian and he would suddenly respond by saying, “Ah! Well that explains everything. Hitherto I had been without a clue. Let us leave her to her curious gyrations, shall we?”
Except he didn’t say that. He just kept looking on the verge of a nervous breakdown: his job as custodian was being thwarted, challenged, and subjected to obscenity. He was worried about repercussions. A man could lose his position over something of this brazen nature. His family might starve.
“She’s not American, I can tell you that much,” I offered, as if my assurance would diminish the astonishing offense. “We can do some pretty wild things when abroad, but I’ve never seen one of us do that. She’s French. Just listen to her!”
The poor man couldn’t distinguish French from Yupik Eskimo.
Meanwhile, I scrutinized the rest of the women’s galling (Gauling?) escapade.
She had mentioned being in the “holy of holies” during her yurt-squawk. But this was not the holy of holies in the temple. This was a subsidiary chamber, far from the true ritual sanctum of the temple’s divine owner. Performing a trumped-up ritual in this adjunct birth-grotto made about as much sense as ordering Thanksgiving Dinner at the counter in a McDonald’s, ritually speaking.
The sad sack couldn’t even get her “life is a cabaret” paganism right. Good God, the French.
By this time, the other custodian arrived from a distant part of the island, no doubt drawn by fumes of sacrilege in the air. This guy was not as diffident as the first custodian. His eyes nearly popped out of his head and he gave me one brief accusatory glance. I held up my hands and shook my head in horror. “She’s not with me! Not with ME!”
This seemed effective. The newly arrived custodian began clapping his hands wildly at the groveling paganess, shouting words of warning at her in Arabic. He had every right: the stupid woman was breaking all sorts of laws with her flagrant display. In case anyone isn’t aware, Muslims don’t exactly go in for public female nudity (or public nudity of any sort) and the defacement of any ancient Egyptian site is a serious crime. He entered the chamber and started clapping his hands at her as if trying to chase a cawing bird from the premises.
Perhaps sensing her imminent stint in a dusty Egyptian jail far from any French consulate, Madame Mammary quickly roused herself from whatever whacked impulse had overcome her being, gathered her candles, clothing, and marched out of the chamber without a shred of dignity, though her head was held high, as if she had just enlightened me and the custodians with some exclusive glimpse of a genuine ancient Isis-ritual, instead of some half-baked notion she’d cooked-up in the failing noodle-cooker atop her shoulders.
I was going to say something condemnatory to her in French as she exited, but thought better of it. She was insane, after all.
I think she went to one of the boats stationed at the island’s little harbor. I saw no accomplice. The custodians chased her naked self all the way, harping and hooting. She just lumbered along. Arrogant and stupid. Like most tourists.
For my part, I made tracks and sequestered myself in another part of the temple, my own composure ruffled considerably. Later that night, at the hotel is Aswan, I told some fellow visitors about the experience. They were duly shocked. The tour guide I informed, however, was not.
“You wouldn’t believe how often that sort of thing happens,” he said. “We’ve had to throw people in jail. Sad. Very sad. Usually, it’s Americans.”
“She was definitely French,” I added meekly.
I never learned the fate of Mademoiselle Goddess-Glory, but rest assured that tourists are still up to the same old tricks. A woman at one of the step pyramids in Mexico recently scandalized guides and tourists by doing a dangerous and apparently drunken jig atop the perilous steps. She had to be escorted down by authorities while fellow travelers chanted that she deserved to be sacrificed for her impudence. That seemed a bit much, if you ask me, but at least the reaction was in keeping with the historical accuracy of the step pyramid itself, where savages regularly ripped the still-beating hearts from their victims and kicked their decapitated heads down the pyramid steps like soccer balls.
There’s something to be said for awareness of historical accuracy. Perhaps there’s hope for certain tourists, after all.
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