A Blog to Keep the Lizards Away. It's about posting and sharing the things I'm into. Hope you enjoy the show!

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Hangin' With Howard Carter

Sheik Hussein abd-er Rassul in 1999
holding a photo of him, as a boy in 1922, wearing Tutankhamen's Scarab Necklace

On my earliest trips to Egypt, I lived on the West Bank in Luxor and was a regular at the Ramesseum Resthouse, a comfortable lunchtime oasis located directly opposite Rameses 11's Mortuary  Temple, the Ramesseum. At the time, the Resthouse proprietor was an old gentleman Sheik Hussein, an original from the Qurna Village which nestled in the foothills of the Tombs of the Nobles. 

The Sheik was a descendant of the Rassul family and it was his infamous uncles who found the famous cache of Pharaoh's mummies at Deir el-Bahari. In 1874, the three Rassul brothers found the royal mummies of virtually every 18th dynasty pharaoh in a tomb shaft, where they had been hidden from marauding grave-robbers thousands of years before. Their find was only discovered after precious items from the mummies started to turn up on the illegal antiquities market some time after.

For some reason Sheik Hussein took a shine to me and I was invited to stay at his house, meet his family and enjoy many meals and social occasions in their company. I am still good friends with his sons and their families.

Sheik Hussein had a million stories but my favourite was his description of being present at the discovery of Tutankhamen's tomb in the Kings Valley in 1922. As a 12 year old he was working, as a house-boy, in Howard Carter's house, which is located on the entrance road to the Valley and he often told me how Carter would bring pieces home to photograph, in a studio they had set up in the house.

Tutankhamen's Pectoral Scarab Necklace, now in the Cairo Museum collection

This led to to him showing me a prized photo of him wearing one of Tutankhamen's iconic Scarab necklaces. The Sheik had many other stories about Howard Carter and what life was like back then, some more believable than others, but all were very entertaining.

Howard Carter in 1930

Sadly Sheik Hussein passed on eventually taking all those memories with him. When he died the abandoned Carter house had been securely closed for many years and almost in a effort to collaborate his stories I went to the derelict house one evening and persuaded the guardian to let me in for as few minutes. Sure enough it was all there exactly as the Sheik had described. I felt guilty at ever having doubted him.

Not long after, at a New Years Eve function,  I was talking to a Tourism minister and suggested they should restore the Carter house as it was back then and the obvious attraction it would be for tourists. I'm sure I was not the first person to have such an idea, but I took some satisfaction from attending the official opening of the restored Carter Dig House last year.

Carter's Office in his King's Valley Dig House

Of even greater interest was the bedroom quarters of Lord Carnarvon, Carter's benefactor. I can't imagine how the Lord adjusted to such spartan conditions after being accustomed to the grand proportions of Highclere Castle, his magnificent home in Scotland. [recently featured in the television series Downton Abbey.]

Lord Carnarvon's Bedroom in the Carter Dig House

Friday, 8 July 2011

Bolan Boogie

Marc Bolan - Glam Rock Never Looked So Good

Even though he invented the "Glam" genre, Marc Bolan was a lot more than our perception of the typical Glam Rocker. He was a self-made pop icon. He was a superstar with his band T-Rex. Best of all his music is timeless. T-Rex transcends all music genres. T-Rex is still fresh. T-Rex still has grunt.

Marc Bolan [Mark Feld] was born 30th September, 1947 in East London. At the age of 9 he was given a guitar and in 1959 formed a skiffle band called Suzie and the Hula-Hoops, with a female vocalist - 12 year old Helen Shapiro. He left school at 14, claiming they didn't teach him the things he wanted to know. He was signed to a management contract by Allan Warren. Six months later Warren "sold" the contract to property mogul David Kirch for 200 pounds, in lieu of 3 months unpaid rent.

Undeterred by such a inglorious start, Marc bounced around making demos and formed a band called Tyrannosaurus Rex. But it wasn't until 1969 when he was noticed by producer Tony Visconti that it all came together for him. In 1970 he released Ride a White Swan. He expanded his line-up to a quartet and called the band T-Rex, following up with recording songs Hot Love and Get It On, which reached Number 10 in the U.S. charts.

"Bolan likes to rock now. Yes he does yes he does."

In November 1971, T-Rex signed with EMI and recorded Telegram Sam and Metal Guru, both topping the U.K. charts, followed by Children of the Revolution which reached Number Two. Although no T-Rex single ever became a million-seller, in 1972 their record sales accounted for 6% of total British record sales, selling a massive 100,000 records a day.

"Metal Guru has it been
Just like a silver-studded sabre-tooth dream."

Some say Marc Bolan and T-Rex did not reach their full potential. However two of his albums T-Rex The Slider and Bolan Boogie are still regarded as epitomising the "Sound of the Seventies."

And Marc's unique guitar sound was highly admired, imitated and sought after. Ringo Starr asked him to play on his Ringo album and Marc played on Ike and Tina Turner's Nutbush City Limits.

Marc mostly played on Gibson Les Paul guitars and occasionally picked up a black Gibson Flying V and who can forget his Veleno all aluminium guitar, which was in the Hard Rock Cafe Sydney collection and on the wall before the venue closed in 2009.

"What can I do. We just live in a zoo.
All I do is play the spaceball ricochet."

On September 16th, 1977, Marc had dinner at Morton's Club in London with his love Gloria Jones, with who he had a two year old son Rolan. Marc did not drive, so after a few drinks, at about 4am, Gloria and Marc climbed into her purple Mini GT and Gloria drove them home. On the way, travelling on Queens Ride, South London, Gloria lost control in thick fog, the car left the road and hit a tree. The impact was all on the passenger side and Marc was killed. A genius lost.

Marc's funeral was attended by Rod Stewart, Elton John and David Bowie. His ashes were scattered under a bush in the Keats Rose Bed, at Golders Green.

"And when I'm sad
I slide
Watch me now I'm gonna slide."

Friday, 1 July 2011

Sphinx Avenue of the Gods

 Once again basking in the Egyptian sun after 3,000 years buried under the sand

3,500 years ago when the Egyptian city of Luxor was known as Thebes, the female pharaoh of the day, Hapshepsut  [1502-1482 BC] built a ceremonial avenue between the ancient temple complex at Karnak and the now Temple of Luxor. The 18th dynasty Queen Hapshepsut lined the 2,700 metre long avenue with over 600 Sphinx statues on plinths, all with faces fashioned to her likeness.

100 years later, the boy king Tutankhamen, who was renovating the Luxor Temple, continuing the work started by his grand-father Amenhophis 111, also renovated the Sphinx Avenue by paving its way with sparkling white alabaster. Tutankhamen then re-dedicated the Sphinxes and staged another opening ceremony to coincide with the annual Ophet Festival.

In what must have been an amazing spectacle, Tutankhamen and his entourage paraded the full length of the Sphinx Avenue, strewn with garlands of flowers for the occasion.

Twelve dynasties later, Pharaoh Nectanebo 1 rebuilt the Avenue and replaced the sphinxes to carry his likeness. He also added temples and rest stops along the way and re-dedicated the strip with great ceremony.

The Avenue of Sphinxes. Work continues to be ready for October 2011. 

Sadly, however, over the next 2,000 years the Avenue was lost. The Greco-Romans cleared a section of the area, building wine factories and workshops using the paving stones as materials. Then centuries of  encroaching sand gradually buried what was left. Medieval squatters built houses over the top, some using the Sphinx sandstone blocks as foundation stones and streets constructed to criss-cross the area.

Ten years ago the Luxor Governornate embarked on an ambitious and highly controversial plan to convert the city of Luxor into the world's greatest Open Air Museum. Built up areas around all temples and sites were to be cleared and Luxor was to be restored to look like it did in Ancient times.

The plan called for the mass demolition of historically significant 18th and 19th century era residential housing, every major street widened and thousands of people to be compensated and relocated. Entire villages were torn down. People were forced out of houses their descendants had occupied for generations and the compensation paid did not allow them to re-settle into suitable alternate situations.

Excavating the Sphinx Avenue seemed an impossible task as it lay under one of the most densely populated areas. The main road to the airport ran parallel for a distance and more importantly a very old mosque had to be re-located. And the archeologists were not sure what they would find. Fortunately, after the houses were cleared and they sand removed, they discovered the remnants of enough sphinxes to make restoration worthwhile. Some were complete, some sawn into blocks and able to be resurrected, others destroyed with just the plinths remaining.

The end result will be worth it - if you prefer history presented as a "theme park" The local egyptians who paid the price don't think so and neither do the regular visitors to Luxor who liked the "quaint" vibrant village life that gave the city a soul.

The good news is the restored Sphinx Avenue is scheduled to be completed in October this year. An amazing feat and a wonderful sight to see the statues exposed after all this time. I for one cannot wait to make the walk from Luxor to the Karnak in the footsteps of the ancients.