Friday Dec. 7th, left Cairo at midday for the pyramids.

December 7th, 1849, 12am

Maxime is on a white horse, who shakes its head up and down, Sassetti on a small white horse, myself on a bay horse, Joseph on a donkey. We pass along the gardens of Soliman Pasha. Roda island. We cross the Nile on a barge; while we’re busy pushing the animals up in the boat, we’re passed by a corpse carried in his coffin. Vigor of our rowers, who sing - they lean forward and reverse back shouting boldly. The sail is inflated and we go fast. - Gizah, earth houses as in Afteh, palm trees. Two waterwheels, one turned by an ox, the other by a camel. Now before us a huge, very green meadow, with squares of black earth, spots recently plowed and the last left by the flooding, which stand out like China ink on the solid green. I think of the invocation to Isis: “Hello, hello, black earth of Egypt” - the earth of Egypt is black. Buffaloes graze - from time to time a muddy stream, without water, our horses sink into the mud up to their knees - we soon cross big water ponds or streams.

Arrival. About 3 and a half, we come nearly to the desert where the three pyramids stand. I can’t stand it anymore and fire up my horse, which goes galloping, wading in the marsh. Maxime, two minutes later, imitates me. Furious race - I shout unwittingly - we climb up to the sphinx in a whirlwind. At the beginning our Arabs were following us, shouting “σφιγξ, σφιγξ [sphinx], oh - oh - oh” - it was growing, growing, emerging from the ground, like a rising dog.

Sight of the Sphinx = Abou el-Houl (“the father of terror”) The sand, the pyramids, the Sphinx, all grey and drowned in a great pink tone; the sky is all blue; the eagles circles slowly around the tops of the pyramids; we stop before the Sphinx - it is looking at us, terrifying. Maxime is all white; I’m afraid my head could spin, I try to master my emotion. We start again, fast, mad, carried over among the stones. We circle around the pyramids, at their very feet, walking. The luggage are slow in coming. Night falls.

[picture of the Sphinx by Maxime Du Camp, 1849]

David Wade said thanks.

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Gustave Flaubert

"Travel makes one modest, you see what a tiny place you occupy in the world." [extracts from Flaubert's travel diary written in 1849-1851]

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