Thursday, February 22, 2018

Field School Week 2

Like always, we spent Friday working at home and at Chicago House, running errands, and finishing up the weekly blog. On Saturday we returned to the west bank, which will be our based of operations for the remainder of the school. The introductory courses and trips are now finished, and we can begin to start the real epigraphy teaching. Beginning in the morning, and after Abu Hamada and his young assistant Mohamed had cleared away the morning tea and coffee detritus, Mr. Will brought out the infamous “5 Epigraphy Steps”, of which no doubt the students had been hearing rumors from the friends in previous field schools. We spent the morning under the breakfast tent going painstakingly slowly through each step due to much useful discussion and clarification from Sayed and Hazem in Arabic. In light of the fact that we have taught this in two previous schools, we now better understand what needs to be gone over in more detail from the beginning. Insha’allah this will mean that there the students will move more quickly once they are really working in the tomb. So, it will have been time well spent. Mr. Will managed to make all 5 steps last until exactly 1pm, in time for our mass exodus via mini-bus. While all of this was happening in the breakfast tent, Yaser continued at the illustration tent, introducing his students to the principles of object drawing. Our Inspector Safaa, who had previously been learning pottery drawing with Yaser, has now joined the epigraphy portion of the school with Will and JJ.

When we arrived on site Sunday morning quite the sight greeted us - several balloons drifting low across the edge of the gebel, over the tomb. Although the sight of early morning balloons is not that unusual, we had never witnessed them so close to our work before - it was quite a surreal welcome. After tea and coffee we began the day by having a look at Alaa’s tomb (TT 108), located just below the illustration tent. As some of you might recall, we had consulted with Alaa in previous years about the epigraphy needing to be done in his tomb. So, we asked him to explain the work he had done to the students, including our returning illustration students. Once Alaa had finished, Mr. Will picked up the baton and explained how they would approach a tomb like Alaa’s before actually beginning to draw, looking at things like shape, condition, damage, decoration, etc. A kind of prequel to what we will introduce them to in TT110. Once again thanks to the many questions asked by our students, as with Saad, what we thought was going to be a short session took the entire morning. After the breakfast Yaser’s students returned to their illustration instruction and we took the students down to TT 110 where Will walked them through the tomb, focusing on the stone, nature of the restoration and conservation, ancient plaster remains, etc., so that the students could begin to understand the difficulty of drawing the tomb walls and learn what they will need to look for before beginning their own drawings.

Balloons over TT 110 

Alaa explaining his tomb to the students 

After the work had finished, Will, JJ, and Sayed stopped in at the New Memnon Hotel, just behind the west bank ARCE office, so that we could meet up with the MMA Malqata team. Over sodas and chipsies on the roof of the hotel, with a spectacular panorama view of the west bank, we chatted and caught up with the team, many of whom are old friends, including Susan Allen, Catharine Roehrig, Janice Kamrin, Jan Picton, as well as Piet Collet whom we had expected to have already left Luxor but had delayed his trip. We extended an invitation for them to visit our work, so hopefully we shall see them again at TT110. What was meant to be a short 20 minute stop turned into a lovely and leisurely extended conversation with many anecdotes and funny stories being exchanged, as is so often the case after Egyptologists get together after a long absence. Consequently, there was very little turn around between a quick and light lunch at Oasis and the appointed time to meet Jen Kimpton (Chicago House Egyptologist/epigrapher) and Keli Alberts (Chicago House artist) for an early dinner at Lantern. As many of you know from before, the Lantern serves traditional English roasts on Sunday, and all but Will partook of the generous portions of roast, mashed potatoes, roast potatoes (English-style), vegetables, and gigantic Yorkshire puddings, all with gravy, plus dessert! We had last seen Jen and Keli at the Lantern in November, so it was a chance to resume our conversation where we had left off.

In case you were confused, this is NOT the Lantern, but Chéz TT110

Monday we continued in much the same vein as Sunday, beginning with Alaa showing and explaining the drawings that he had made in his tomb to all of the students, and with Will, JJ, Sayed, and Hazem fielding questions as they arose. As before, this took the entire morning, and just before we finished both Fathy Yassin, General Director of Antiquities on the West Bank, and Ezz el-Noby, Director of the Middle Area, came for a visit. So they were able to observe the discussion and meet those of our students who are from the East Bank and further afield since they were not known to them. They stayed for breakfast, and Fathy marveled over the extensive spread and wondered how the student could possibly do any work after all that food. Fortunately, we have three tea kettles going alatool (i.e., non-stop) to supply teas and coffees for the assembled multitudes (see above)! After breakfast, as on Sunday, Yaser’s students returned to drawing, while the new students were given a display by Mr. Will of the drawing process, using the façade of the tomb to demonstrate the 5 steps of epigraphy. Yet again, while 5 steps don’t sound like much, by the time it had been done in great detail it took right up until 1pm. We finished the day off by having our lunch meal with Hazem and his family, as we had done last week.

 Alaa discussing his tomb epigraphy with the students

Fathy and Ezz observing Alaa's tomb drawing presentation

On Tuesday the day dawned grey and overcast, which made it cooler, but also uncertain of what the weather might become. Initially this was a good thing as we planned for the students to be drawing in the courtyard of TT 110. But it proved ultimately to be too much of a good thing because it actually started to rain! And as you know from previous blogs, this is a VERY rare occurrence in Luxor. However, rather than stop the work, we found places for all the students to draw underneath an awning draped over the entire façade of the tomb, which was meant to block the sun, but today served well as a rain shield. After Will’s initial introduction demonstrating to the students how to recognize and document damage, the students were all assigned particular places to draw under the awning, and had done some of their initial cleaning and prepping by second breakfast. As with Sayed, we belatedly celebrated Mahmoud Abdel Nour’s birthday a day late, this time with two chilled magnificent cakes. We have found that this is a guaranteed way to surprise people – celebrating their birthdays a day late – and has nothing to do with our inability to check the dates of their birthday in advance! Seeing as two of our students are Christian and currently fasting, and thus unable to eat meat or dairy, and as Egyptian cakes tend to come decorated with chocolate, whip cream, and also fresh fruit, the other students always save the fruit for Mario and Amira so that they can still participate in the celebration. Funnily enough, Mahmoud was totally surprised! After an extended second breakfast due to the arrival of the cakes, the students returned to drawing their own individual areas of damage, and fortunately the rain held off until we were packing up, just after 1pm.

 Mahmoud and his two cakes!!

In the evening we had arranged with old friends Julia Harvey and Jaap van Dijk to meet up for dinner. They were in town for only a few days at the end of their time in Egypt before returning to the Netherlands. Since they were staying on the west, we collected them at the ferry landing and took them to our old reliable water hole, Pizza Roma, for pasta and a beer. It had been over 2 years since we’d last seen them in Luxor, so there was a lot of catching up to do, with many anecdotes and shared traveling horror stories, but Julia and Jaap won hands-down with the story of how they both forgot their passports when traveling to Ireland, and then trumped that story with the account of how Julia inadvertently left her passport in the seat pouch on the airplane in LA and it went to Boise, Idaho without her! Miraculously, it was returned by FedEx a few days later. Will’s advice: never travel with Jaap and Julia! Stories finished, and beer drunk, we said our goodbyes with promises to visit each other in our home countries soon.

Wednesday morning we had another grey start to the work, but at least this time without any rain! As the students had so impressed us with their progress the day before, we decided to divide them into their two appropriate groups, which took a bit of doing. This meant that while half would continue practicing in the forecourt, the other half began to make notes about the section of the tomb they will be drawing. And, of course, we also had to decide where in the tomb each student would be placed so as to comfortably situate everyone in our tiny, tiny tomb! It also meant that we needed to string extra lights in the tomb in order to prepare for drawing. Fortunately, Hazem knew exactly how to do this since we have done it in previous field schools. The two groups carried on working until second breakfast, after which we had them swap places for the remainder of the work day. Thursday continued in much the same fashion, with each of the two groups having a chance to continue practicing in the forecourt, and also work on their notes and hand sketches inside the tomb. Now that the groups are divided and beginning to work inside the tomb, it was also time to assign each student a tomb “job”, as we have done in previous years, in order to be sure that at the end of the day we left the tomb as found it – ready for tourists. Thursday also marked the last day for Yaser’s illustration students, who have now finished their two-week program in pottery and object drawing. Even though they won’t be joining us on site anymore, we’re sure we haven’t seen the last of them!

Group 1: Mena/Mario; Hussein; Walid; Safaa; Hala; Rasha

Group 2: Alaa Talaat; Ahmed el Nasseh; Mahmoud; Amira; Rehab

Abu Hamada assisting Hazem with the electric for the tomb

Hala studying her 5 steps
Hussein examining the wall

Amira begins her hand copy

Will and Walid 

At the end of the day, JJ, Will, Sayed, and Hazem adjourned to Sheikh Ali for the weekly staff meeting. Yaser joined us about an hour later, as he needed to finish up with his students, and review their drawing exams. They all passed with flying colors, until he asked them to draw a top plan and section of a pen … Fortunately, after a bit of hemming and hawing, one-by-one they worked it out!

  Alaa drawing an object

Yaser discussing Nadia's drawing

And that's our week. Friday of course we expect we will spend largely at Chicago House. Stay tuned to see what interesting things happen next week, seeing as that will be when the students will, insha'allah, start real drawings. The "proof is in the pudding" as they say ...