Thursday, November 9, 2017

Field School Week 2

Well, if you haven’t guessed by now, we can inform you that Will went as Obi Wan Kenobi and JJ went as R2D2 to the Chicago House Halloween party. Compared to some of the costumes at the party, we were relatively restrained! Amongst some of the guests was the god Serapis, the Wicked Witch of the West, the horror movie doll Anabelle, the Egyptian singer Om Kalthoum, a team of clowns, a team of 1920s flappers, and even the god of wine, Baccus amidst the usual assortment of ghouls, ghosts, and mummies. It was a beautiful evening under the stars and a full moon in the courtyard at Chicago House. One of the Spanish teams contributed several vats of homemade sangria which, unsurprisingly, was gone 2/3 of the way through the evening. It was lovely to see so many of our Egyptological colleagues, or at least those we could recognize!

Despite a late night, we still managed to put in a, somewhat shortened, working day at Chicago House on Friday, and enjoyed a lunch with friends and colleagues in the Chicago House courtyard which, amazingly, bore no signs from the goings on of the night before. JJ restrained herself and resisted the call of the famed Chicago House koshari in order to save her appetite for the meal at Sayed’s home, to which we had been invited earlier in the week. Expecting to be the only guests, we were pleasantly surprised to find both Hassan and Hazem invited as well, so we travelled together across the Nile by moonlight. One of those evenings when you have to pinch yourself and are reminded of the extraordinary beauty we take for granted in Egypt.

Yet again, a lavish meal was prepared by Sayed’s wife. Seeing as we had requested no red meat, we were taken aback to realize that option had been replaced by an entire duck, an entire roasted chicken, and a selection of Egyptian “fried” chicken in its own “secret recipe”. Sayed's young daughter Jena flirted outrageously with Hazem, as only a 3 and-a-half year old can do, in light of the fact that he ate the last kofta at the last dinner he had at their house, and she will never let him forget it! We also met the newest addition to the family, a lovely 2nd daughter named Malak, who at only 8 months old happily fell asleep in JJ’s arms. It was a lovely evening for everyone.

On Saturday, Hassan continued teaching the students how to master Illustrator and the tablets at the Karnak Lab. Hazem’s uncle, Reis Mahmoud, surprised us all with an amazing second breakfast, that rivalled what we had been eating on the west. It also gave our worker Mostafa a better idea of what we’d like every day!

The location of Karnak Lab, tucked behind the Khonsu Temple

Reis Mahmoud and Mostafa display the breakfast spread

JJ's daily reaction to Abu el-Yazid's customary 
free-association riff at morning tea

After breakfast, but before returning to the digital teaching, our students Nadia and Shaimaa who had completed 4 months of training at Chicago House as artist trainees, displayed their portfolios, including many of their practice pieces and explained the Chicago House “method” to their fellow students. Will confirmed that he had learned in exactly the same way when he was working at Chicago House in the early 2000s and had very similar practice pieces framed to put on his walls at home. As Abu el-Yazid said, “he never expected to see fellow Egyptian colleagues succeed in mastering the extremely difficult, but highly respected, Chicago House style of epigraphy.” We are very proud that they just happen to be our own students!

Nadia and Shymaa presenting their Chicago House portfolios

At the end of the workday we surprised the students with an invitation to celebrate Sayed el-Rekaby’s birthday with drinks on the roof of the Sharm el-Sheikh coffeeshop. A place that is fast becoming our preferred post-Karnak Lab retreat. Abu el-Yazid took over the role of Master of Ceremonies, and praised Sayed for his recent work at re-writing Egyptological history at Kom Ombo. Stay tuned for the official announcement, but here’s a hint – it has to do with Hatshepsut and Thutmose III! After the coffeeshop, Will and JJ headed off for lunch at the Oasis, where we normally dine in solitary isolation. But on Saturday we found we were sharing the green dining room with another diner enjoying the quietude. As we were leaving she enquired of JJ about the location of reliable ATM machines, and in the course of the conversation we explained something of our work, and learned that she herself was from New York and working temporarily in the Unicef office in Cairo. An hour later, after a fascinating and insightful conversation with the woman, whose name we learned was Kay, we made our way home, discovering that the later departure from Oasis meant that we had a cool evening breeze coming off the Nile as we walked the pedestrian Corniche. It had taken us two-and-a-half years to realize that this was the preferable walk home, as opposed to the 4-lane highway we had ordinarily used. And we wondered why we did not do this sooner!

Celebrating Sayed el-Rekaby's birthday with selfies

Sunday proceeded much as Saturday had, with Hassan teaching the students in Arabic, while JJ had an “office workday” at the back of the lab and Will tried to remember his Illustrator skills and master his own tablet, failing miserably at the tablet and incapable of remembering Illustrator. At the breakfast break we were pleased to see that Mostafa had taken our request to heart and brought a spread similar to what Hazem’s uncle had provided the previous day. Although we love having fuul and tamayya every day, it appears our students are not quite as fond of it when working in a darkened lab at computer screens. Instead, they requested a “light” breakfast of fruit, bread, and cheese; tamayya and fuul makes them too sleepy for all the concentration required for digital epigraphy (we only discovered later that Abu el-Yazid considered chicken to be fruit - so much for “light lunch”)! During the week of planning, there was a lot of discussion about why it was never a good idea to have to cut a variety of acetate sheet sizes from a 60” wide roll. So, we felt it necessary to show the students exactly how easily the acetate can be torn, and at the end of the day, before we let the students escape, Will demonstrated the ins-and-outs of cutting the acetate used for traditional epigraphy; how to do it properly, and how doing it badly can cause it to tear, repeatedly. There was many a gasp of astonishment at how easily a straight edge can turn into a complete disaster! All-in-all it was a successful working day, which Will and JJ celebrated by going to Pizza Roma for pizza and cold beer.

Will trying very hard to enter the 21st century


Will demonstrating the difficulties of cutting the acetate

On Monday, after coffees and teas at Karnak, Will and JJ bade a fond farewell to their students to head back to the west and TT110. While our students continued in Karnak Lab under Hassan’s instruction, we spent the morning taking detailed photographs in TT110 of all the cartouches and areas of the tomb that had been intentionally hacked. This would give Will a clear photographic reference to accompany the notes we had made last week when he re-worked the inked drawings back home. Mission accomplished, we ended our workday by visiting the wonderful tomb of the Huy, the viceroy of Kush during the reign of Tutankhamun.

Image result for tomb of huy
A scene from TT 40, the tomb of Tutankhamun's viceroy of Kush, Huy

We headed back east towards Karnak for a brief meeting over coffees with Hazem and Sayed at the lovely Sharm el-Sheikh café, catching up on all the days events and generally discussing how the field school is going, which, by all accounts, is great! We ended the day by having dinner at Hazem’s sister Ahlam’s new home, along with the entire family. Ahlam showed off not only the beautiful new apartment that she and her husband Abdullah have, which is located just across from Hazem’s family home, but also her cooking skills. Everyone agreed that she is quite the cook, and Abdullah makes a mean tahini. Having had so many wonderful meals prepared by the wives and sisters of our team, we have decided to create a “TT110 Cookbook”, with each of our students as well as our teaching team and staff, contributing recipes. It will fit in quite nicely with Djhuty’s title as royal butler, seeing as part of this job was overseeing the foodstuffs that came into the palace!

On Tuesday a new member of the team joined us, having arrived the night before from Italy, Marco Repole, a student at the university in Florence who is here to investigate the possibilities of pursuing a PhD research topic involving 3D modeling of ancient remains. It is his first time in Egypt and he came into Karnak amazed to actually be arriving in a place he had known only from photos. Every time we turned around we realized he was heading the opposite direction taking pictures, and we had to drag him back with promises that he would get time to properly visit and photograph the temple, but as far as we were concerned it was just a shortcut to the lab! He had no sooner met the students and other members of the team, and drunk his first cup of heavily sugared Egyptian tea, before we dragged him back out of Karnak to take the boat across the river to the west so that he could visit the tomb. With eyes wide with wonder, Marco was amazed to find that our commute took him the length and breadth of the Nile with vistas of Luxor and Luxor Temple to the east and the Qurn rising, pyramid-like, over the tombs of the west. Quickly completely the prerequisite paperwork and collecting Amany at the teftish, we reached TT110 in time for, guess what, breakfast! Marco was introduced to yet another Egyptian tradition, with Abu Hamada providing a mini-buffet of tamayya, fuul, batates, sliced vegetables, and eggs, along with aish balady. As he was to find out throughout the course of the day, we need to eat every 3-4 hours! We spent the morning giving Marco a crash course in Egyptology 101 with TT 110 proving the ideal time capsule to explain something of ancient Egyptian funerary beliefs, architecture, and decoration, as well as a brief history lesson. Before we knew it, 1pm and our car had arrived, meaning it was time for lunch. Today it was a working lunch at the Oasis, bringing together all the disparate members of the team, in that the last two additions, Owen Murray and Hilary McDonald, had just arrived in Luxor. Working as freelance photographers for many projects, we had asked them to advise our students about the use of photography in digital epigraphy, so the meeting allowed all the older and newer members to meet and begin to thrash out a teaching syllabus for the remaining 10 days of the school. Ayman reorganized the furniture and set aside the entire green room as our boardroom, allowing all 9 of us (JJ, Will, Marco, Owen, Hilary, Hassan, Sayed, Yaser, and Hazem) to sit together and talk whilst having giant fresh lemon drinks and eating the Oasis’s delicious food. Two-and-a-half hours later we staggered out, fed and watered, as well as having a teaching program sorted involving work for the students both back in the tomb and the lab.

Wednesday the students continued on their merry way with Hassan’s teaching, and we introduced Hilary and Owen to TT110. The purpose of their visit was to sort out how best to instruct our students in “quick and dirty” photography in order to prepare digital images for epigraphy, but they also advised as to how to potentially photograph the tomb for additional digital epigraphy as well as utilizing ImageJ and D-stretch enhancement, which might allow us to include drawings of the walls that were too fragile for the conservators from which to remove the soot and oils. After talking it all though, and enjoying a lovely second breakfast spread thanks to, guess who, Abu Hamada, Will and JJ spent a working morning under the tent going through applications for next year’s field school while Hilary, Owen, and Marco returned to TT 110 take test shots using 3 different camera types – proper camera, iPhone camera, and ordinary cell phone camera. The goal was to see what kind of rectified images could be obtained from the three different camera types so they could better present the possibilities to the students on Thursday. Seeing as it was Marco’s birthday (happy 28!), and he has not been in Egypt before, we decided to treat him to birthday drinks at the open terrace bar of the Old Winter Palace, and time it in order to watch the sunset over the Nile. Sayed, Hassan, and Hazem all joined us, and a lovely evening drink was had.

After drinks, Will and JJ left to have dinner with Jen Kimpton and Keli Alberts (both from Chicago House) at The Lantern, our other favorite Luxor restaurant. It gave us all a chance to catch up while eating wonderful British home cooking very much out of context in Luxor, which is part of its surreal charm. Particularly the desserts – sticky toffee pudding and apple crumble with custard. While we were indulging in a calorie binge, who knows what the boys were getting up to. Hazem had promised at the Winter Palace to show Marco an “Egyptian evening,”  and as we left them they were discussing which Egyptian restaurant would be the best at which to have dinner, the evening almost certainly concluding with shisha at Om Kalthoum café in the souk. This had led to an explanation to Marco as to who Om Kalthoum was, with everyone explaining her role as an Egyptian cultural icon from the 40s and 50s, one of the greatest vocalists ever produced in the Arab world. An impression sorely compromised by Hazem’s vocal rendition of Om Kalthoum’s most famous songs!

Still digesting the night’s dinner, Will and JJ finished off the week conducting interviews for potential students for the next year’s field school, facilitated by Hazem and Yaser at the Luxor Museum. Yaser, acting on behalf of the Scientific Centre, represented the Ministry, as had been done in previous years by Ms. Hamsa Dwidar and Mr. Shabaan Abdelgawad. Traditionally, we always ask the Ministry representative as to where they would like to have lunch, and in the past it had ranged from McDonald’s to the Oasis. This year, Yaser suggested a local Egyptian café called Om Hashem, within easy reach of the Luxor Museum. It offered some of the best local Egyptian food, including a rare delicacy – pigeon soup!

Meanwhile the students headed west with Owen and Hilary, who spent the day with them at TT110 giving instruction as to how to take photos that would be suitable for digital epigraphy. Marco joined them in this process, adding his own digital expertise and experience to the mix. By all reports it was a successful morning, and the students came away with a solid sense of how to use any camera available to them to take pictures that they could then use for epigraphy purposes.

Photographic training on site at TT110 

Rather than end the day at the tomb, the students headed back to Karnak Lab to round out the photography instruction by learning to create rectified images from the photos they had each taken in TT110. However, they also apparently took a 3-hour lunch featuring an all-you-could-eat buffet of shwarma sandwiches, a traditional Middle Eastern sandwich of chicken or lamb that is shaved off a spit. And this after we were told that eating meat in the middle of the day made them sleepy and unable to concentrate on their digital epigraphy. More fool us! The lengthy lunch meant that they were working right up until the bitter end, only leaving the temple precinct around 5, upon threat of being locked in for the night!

Will, JJ, Hazem, and Yaser joined the students at Karnak Lab, finishing off the day by announcing the location of the fieldtrip tomorrow (Friday). We had managed to keep it a secret for nearly 2 weeks, and the suspense was driving everyone crazy!

Stay tuned to find out where we went …