Flying large Air Force cargo jets provides a marvelous tour of diverse cities world-wide. I found few as I expected them to be.
One of the most unexpected proved to be Cairo, Egypt. This Nile River city is unique for the advertised features such as the Pyramids, and they were impressive, but I found other memorable aspects of the city that I had not anticipated.
Mankind”s first great city, Cairo remains perhaps the most essential human enclave.
Laying at the nexus of three great continents, this city has been at the center of human society since our first dim history was written 5,000 years ago. Its rise under the Pharohs made it the center of the civilized world, and while it lost that accolade long ago, it has remained the crucial crossroad of human commerce and social interaction.
Many empires have taken up temporary residence in Cairo to add to its diversity, from Alexander the Great, to the Romans (Anthony and Cleopatra), to the armies of Napolean (that looted substantial relics for the Louve Museum), to the British and assorted other conquerers over the ages.
Cairo possess geographic diversity as well.
The Nile river surges up from the depths of Africa bringing a narrow four-thousand mile-long strip of jungle green through the barren North African desert to the shores of the Mediterranean Sea at Cairo.
The Nile also brought the first humans north from our origins in Eythiopia perhaps 100,000 years ago. For nearly as long as there have been humans, there has been Cairo where the first magic spark of creativity, imagination and ingenuity produced the initial city to hold the first great empire. Before humans could spread world-wide, they had to pass through the city now known as Cairo.
My first encounter with Cairo left unexpected memories.
Arriving at our hotel, the Mena House, near the base of Cheops Pyramid on the western edge of the city, I saw a pair of riders galloping across the desert dunes far in the distance as the sun set behind them in rich tones of red and gold. A silent stillness seemed to lie across the vastness of the desert as the day came to an end.
The next morning, as I stepped out onto my hotel balcony overlooking a large rectangular courtyard, I sensed a morning as might have been experienced in Eden. The sunshine was impossibly bright, and the air impossibly clear and clean. The courtyard boasted grass only abundant sunshine coupled with abundant water could turn such a deep green.
Flower gardens that surrounded the manicured lawn spoke of tropical Africa with their multitude of vibrant shades of red, yellow and violet, a riveting combination of jungle and desert that is Cairo.
The air held the last vestige of the cool desert night that would soon become overwhelming heat that would drive me back into my air conditioned room. But for this special morning interlude, the world could not have been brighter, more pleasant or more serene. When the world weighs on me, my mind returns to this morning in Cairo where I found it impossible to harbor any negative emotions and where I thought all things marvelously possible.
Later, a statue in the Cairo museum brought me a message from antiquity. This simple work about 18 inches high shows a man of ancient Egypt standing erect holding two poles in his hands, as if pulling an unseen cart. Beside and just behind him, a woman stands with her hand on his shoulder facing forward with him.
I studied the pair, not grasping what they were telling me, but suspecting they had a message. Slowly it came to me. The man, larger, and in the foreground, initially seems to dominate. But the longer I studied the pair the more I saw the woman subtly begin to assume that domination. She seemed to control the scene despite occupying a secondary physical position.
I gasped. Suddenly I saw the intricate male/female interplay the artist wanted to convey and I trembled. I had received a sophisticated message of universal interpersonal relationships from an Egyptian artist 4,000 years dead, yet alive in his work to speak to me. “I understand, brother”, I thought, ” by god, I understand!”
There are many cities more beautiful, more affluent, and more modern than Cairo, but there is no city more intricately tied to human social evolution and none more important to experience.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.
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