Another Egyptian Cat Mystery; or, Following Rick and Scotty around Cairo
David K. Vaughan
I believe I am safe in saying that I am the only visitor to Egypt who has carried a copy of The Egyptian Cat Mystery in his pocket while walking the streets of Cairo. I did so because I was interested in discovering whether and in what form the locales and settings of the Rick Brant story, published in 1961, still existed in January 2003, over 40 years after the book first appeared. I was able to do this because my wife Rosemary and I were in Egypt on a combination of vacation and business. We were seeing the sights of Cairo and the river Nile for a week or so before I was scheduled to give a presentation at the American University in Cairo. Ever since I had known I was coming to Cairo, I had been re-reading the Egyptian Cat Mystery, the 16th book published in the Rick Brant Science Adventure series, and checking the guide books to identify specific locations that I wanted to visit to get some idea of where Rick and Scotty, the youthful heroes of the series, might have stood (at least in the imagination of Hal Goodwin, aka John Blaine, the author of the series).
I wanted to visit all of the locations mentioned in the book but wasn’t sure whether I would be able to locate them. I needn’t have worried. Most of the locations selected by Hal Goodwin as the key locations of the story have been perennially popular tourist attractions: the Egyptian Museum, the El Mouski market, and of course the Giza Pyramids, located just outside Cairo. But the most important element of my effort to retrace the route of Rick and Scotty was to see whether I would be able to find the real Egyptian cat—not one of the plastic or plaster models Rick and Scotty carried with them, but the original version, the one that sat on a shelf in the Egyptian Museum.
A picture of this cat is prominently displayed on the cover of the book and in two of the internal illustrations. I can report from personal experience that it is easy to buy a nearly exact copy of that cat in any one of the hundreds of gift shops and stalls that exist in Cairo or along the river Nile. Higher-quality models are cut from stone and show the front legs separate from the body (as depicted in the illustrations), while the less-expensive models are solid (no space between the legs and body) and are made from dark composite materials (not plastic). Some models can be found in other colors and even carved out of wood. Some models also feature a cobra snake erect between the cat’s front legs. I assume these models existed when Hal Goodwin visited Cairo.
Readers of the series will recall that most of the story describes the efforts of various assailants to forcibly take possession of the Egyptian cat Rick and Scotty have brought with them after they arrive in Cairo. Before they leave New York, they are given the cat by an Egyptian importer, Mohammed Bartouki, with instructions to deliver it to his “associate” in the Mouski section of Cairo, Ali Moustafa, a “great jolly man” who looks like Santa Claus. According to Bartouki, Ali Moustafa will use the cat to make models to sell to the tourists. However, the boys are unsuccessful in their efforts to find Ali Moustafa, and decide to keep the cat until they can deliver it to him personally. As a result, their hotel room is searched, and they are assaulted in front of the Egyptian Museum as well as inside the great Cheops pyramid. Rick and their Sudanese driver and guide, Hassan, are even kidnapped and taken into the desert on camels before the Egyptian police successfully intervene. At the end of the story the boys discover that inside the cat is a small lead container holding 200 tightly rolled thousand dollar bills, intended to be used in efforts to overthrow the Egyptian government.
The science aspect of the story has to do with efforts to determine why a new Egyptian radio telescope is receiving strange signals on a hydrogen-line impulse frequency. The Egyptian astronomers believe that the signals may be caused by a problem with the installation of their antenna and have asked the scientists from Spindrift Island (home of Rick and Scotty) to assist. Dr. Winston Parnell has been dispatched, bringing Rick and Scotty along as technician assistants. The new radio telescope has been built near Giza, which makes it convenient for some of the action of the story to take place near the world-famous pyramids located there. A radio telescope is shown on the dust jacket, the only book in the series with cover art that presents a symbolic representation of a Rick Brant story (but very effective and evocative as cover art, I think).
Goodwin explains aspects of the Egyptian/Arab culture in the book, giving details about political history, local customs, manners of dress, and the Arabic language. Goodwin presents these details in a positive light, never at any time, for instance, suggesting that Cairo is anything less than an exciting and interesting city in which to live. In fact, many parts of Cairo are under-developed and lacking in good sanitation; refuse removal appears to be almost unheard of in some areas. Cairo now has a population of between 17 and 18 million people, as many inhabitants of the African sub-continent have come to Cairo hoping to find work and better lives. The city’s infrastructure is hard pressed to cope with these numbers of people.
Like Rick and Scotty, we began our visit at the Cairo International Airport. Like Rick and Scotty, we weren’t asked to open our bags for the customs officials. This was somewhat unusual given the very tight airport security found at all airline terminals these days (2003) (European and Middle Eastern international airline terminals are no different in this regard than American terminals since the September 11 incident). Our trip into downtown Cairo must have followed the same road Rick and Scotty used, as we first passed the relatively modern suburb of Heliopolis and the railroad station before reaching the central part of the city. Unlike Rick and Scotty, we arrived at our hotel a half hour after leaving the airport; it took them a full hour. But the roads have undoubtedly been improved since 1960; there are now several four-lane “fly-overs” and even a “Ring Road” (or beltway, as we Americans would call it).
When Rick and Scotty arrive in downtown Cairo, Farid (one of the Egyptian astronomers) points out the row of hotels “on the other side” of the Nile. The “other side” of the Nile, in their location, would have to be the east bank of Gezira Island. The hotels described in the story, the Nile Hilton and the Semiramis, were, to the best of my knowledge, located on the east bank of the Nile, not on Gezira Island. The current Nile Hilton is located on the east bank; I was unable to determine whether it has been there since 1960. The hotel in which Rick and Scotty stay, the “Victorian bulk” called the Semiramis, with its “lofty ceiling and chandeliers” and extremely slow-moving elevator, no longer exists. It was torn down many years ago, probably shortly after Rick and Scotty stayed there. It has been replaced by another hotel with the name of Semiramis, the Semiramis Intercontinental, where Rosemary and I stayed. This hotel, so I was told, was built on the site of the earlier Semiramis. Like the Nile Hilton, the Semiramis Intercontinental is located on the east bank of the Nile. It is quite modern, with several excellent restaurants (Italian, Lebanese, Thai, American) and a gambling casino. Our room was on the 28th floor, where we could see the pyramids southwest of town when the morning haze burned off. Unlike Rick and Scotty’s room, ours did not have a ceiling twenty feet high or a closet that could have “accommodated a king’s wardrobe.” But we were very happy with our room where, like Rick and Scotty, we observed that the feluccas that sail the Nile still drop their masts to go under the bridges that cross the river. Like Rick and Scotty, we obtained Egyptian money at the hotel; the Egyptians still use Egyptian pounds and piastres.
We had no personal driver (like Rick and Scotty’s uniquely dressed Hassan) to chauffeur us around. We relied instead on tour guides and tour bus drivers. Except for doormen at the main entrances of the major hotels in Cairo, no one dresses like Hassan, Rick and Scotty’s Sudanese “dragoman,” who wore “blue pantaloons and a short red jacket.” But many of the Sudanese (and there are many in Cairo—Sudan lies just south of Egypt) still sport the tribal scar markings that Rick and Scotty observed. The first place Rick and Scotty ask Hassan to take them is the Cairo market area—El Mouski—where they hope to deliver the cat to the merchant known as Ali Moustafa. In today’s guidebooks, El Mouski (typically spelled El Muski) is only one street (but a major street) in the market area better known as Khan Al-Khalili (Bartouki acknowledges this name among others when he describes the attractions of Cairo early in the book).
This is how Goodwin describes the scene on the street as Hassan drives away from the hotel: “Hassan drove out of the hotel alley into a chaos of horns, pedestrians who flirted with sudden death, wildly maneuvering cars, and donkey carts that always seemed on the verge of being hit by an accelerating truck. It was a normal day in Cairo traffic.” This scene is pretty much true today. It’s a rare vehicle that doesn’t display a wealth of dents and bruises, and the donkey carts are still there, although not so many perhaps as Rick and Scotty saw. Cairo drivers use their horns ceaselessly, but not necessarily because they are impatient or angry about road conditions. There is a kind of Morse code of honking, as there are horn signals to indicate the following actions: (1) Heads up! Here I come! (Passing another vehicle, approaching an intersection, pulling out onto a larger road) (2) Heads up!! I really mean it!! (someone disregarded honk #1) (3) Please open the gate! (when pulling into a secure compound around a hotel or home) (4) Thanks! (for opening the gate) and of course (5) Gosh darn you to blue blazes!!! (the driver really is angry at some blundering stupidity committed by another driver). As Rick and Scotty observed, all taxis in Cairo have taxi meters, and no taxi drivers use them. Instead, you have to agree on a price before you set off.
Rick (and I) tried unsuccessfully to read the street signs, but they are few in number and almost always in Arabic. When Hassan stops the car they find themselves in a square with dozens of merchants selling wares in carts. Hassan waves the merchants off and tells the boys to follow him into a narrow alleyway where “merchants hawked their wares with raucous cries, charcoal braziers smoked under assorted foodstuffs,” and the air was “redolent with the odors of food, people, and the accumulated living of many centuries.” Along the narrow streets and alleys of Khan al-Khalili there are shops offering “textiles, foodstuffs, tinned copper, brass, leather goods, inlaid work, rugs, shoes of strange designs, clothing and a variety of antiques.” The Khan al-Khalili area is pretty much the same today; the merchants’ carts have disappeared and the charcoal braziers have been replaced with more modern cooking devices, but the odors and levels of noise are about the same, especially during the cooler hours at dusk, when most shoppers—tourists and natives alike—visit the area.
The square where Hassan parks the car is probably the square known as Midan Hussein, which features a large mosque, whose tall towers could serve as navigational landmarks, except that they are difficult to see in the narrow maze of streets. The merchants in the area do not wear head-dresses or fezzes of the kind depicted in the line drawing in the book. Ninety-nine percent of the Cairo natives wear western clothing—long-sleeved shirts open at the neck and long pants. (Out of the city, however, the farmers and workers still wear long robes called “burnooses” (or “bornosses,” the term Goodwin uses.) But the press of merchants (now referred to as “vendors,” not merchants) is intense. (When Rosemary and I went on a Nile cruise between Aswan and Luxor, Rahbi, our guide, took us to see the Valley of the Kings near Luxor. “But before we visit the Valley of the Kings,” he said, “we first have to pass through the Valley of the Vendors.” He was so right.) Many Egyptians depend on tourist money to make a living, either from the sale of (often over-priced) souvenirs or from receiving tips (“baksheesh”). One tips for everything in Egypt, even (especially) the use of bathrooms. And one quickly learns to negotiate prices for items to be purchased, usually started at half the first price mentioned by the vendor.
When the boys are unsuccessful in locating Ali Moustafa, they ask Hassan to drive them out to the Giza site of the radio telescope. Hassan advises them to wear warm clothing. The need for coats allows Rick to conceal the cat while carrying it, a necessary plot device. In fact, it can be quite cold in Egypt in the winter, especially in Cairo. Rosemary and I wore our jackets every time we went out for the day, usually taking them off during the middle of the day, and putting them on again in the evening. On the way out to the pyramids the boys see soldiers, “dressed in British-style uniforms,” carrying Sten guns, “vicious little submachine guns.” Hassan explains their presence by saying there is a camp nearby. In fact, these soldiers are everywhere, at every road intersection, and they all carry machine guns. They are not there to direct traffic (though sometimes they do that); they are internal security forces, checking on suspicious people and vehicles that might come by their checkpoint. They typically wave the tour busses through without a problem, however.
When they arrive in the vicinity of the pyramids, Rick sees the obvious difference between the river and the desert and makes the following completely accurate observation: “Egypt consisted of the Nile Valley and the desert, with nothing in between.” Hassan brings them to a point where they see the Sphinx in the “immediate foreground.” The Sphinx faces east and serves as a kind of guard to the three pyramids which lie behind it to the west. (When the Sphinx was built, the Nile flowed immediately in front of it.) After they watch a camel complain about lifting an American lady tourist for a ride (camels in fact often complain about doing work), Hassan drives them around a hill, past the Mena House Hotel, to the largest pyramid, the Pyramid of Khufu, as Goodwin refers to it. The boys see the two smaller pyramids, the pryamids of Khefren and Mankara (to use Goodwin’s terms). Visitors today will see other names used for these pyramids. The largest is now called the Cheops pyramid, the next largest is called the Chefren pyramid (almost the same name Goodwin uses), and the smallest is the pyramid of Mycerinus.
Since we are discussing the pyramids, let’s see if we can determine how much reality exists in the description of the fight inside the Great Pyramid, which is the main event of Chapter 10. After attending a meeting at the Sahara Wells radio telescope site, which lies beyond the pyramids, the boys have some free time, and they decide to see the pyramids and then have lunch at the Mena House before returning to work. When they arrive at the great (Cheops/Khufu) pyramid, there are few visitors about. Rick “had expected a considerable number of tourists and guides, but apparently it was too early.” Too early for tourists at 9:30 in the morning? Come on, Hal. Well, we can’t complain about Goodwin’s attempt to manipulate the facts a little. He wanted to have a fairly deserted setting when the Arab assailants attack the boys in the pyramid.
Hassan leads them down the passageway that thieves created centuries ago. According to Goodwin’s narrative, they “left the tunnel cut by the thieves and found themselves in a broad concourse with high ceiling and walls that still held the remnants of ancient decorations.” Hassan points to where a side passage leads “upward”; he tells them that it connects to a room where the Queen was buried. Soon they hear noises as “Arabs erupted from the entrance through which they had come.” There is a fierce fight, which goes badly for the boys until it is stopped by the arrival of Kemel Moustafa, who claims to be the brother of Ali Moustafa, and they adjourn to the Mena House for lunch. This is a significant amount of activity to occur inside a pyramid, and it invites the question, does such a room exist in the Cheops pyramid and would it be large enough to accommodate a fight involving eight to ten grown men?
A detailed diagram of the passageways in the Cheops pyramid found in many guidebooks does not really match the description given by Goodwin. There is a descending passageway into the interior of the pyramid, but it does not feed directly into a “broad concourse.” There is a “Grand Gallery” section inside the pyramid, but to reach it, the boys would have had to follow another passage—an ascending passage—which begins halfway down the descending passage. And even the “Grand Gallery,” while probably large enough to accommodate all of the combatants, is built on an upward slope. There is a so-called “Queen’s Chamber” in the pyramid, but it lies beneath the “Grand Gallery,” not above it. It is difficult to see how the interior features of the Cheops pyramid fit Goodwin’s description.
The passage to the interior of the Cheops pyramid was closed during our visit, so I could not verify the interior features personally. However, I was able to go inside the smallest pyramid, the Mycerinus (or “Mankara”) pyramid. The entrance to the interior of this pyramid is also via a descending passageway, which is quite small—about one and one-half meters high, one and one-half meters wide, and 31 meters long. It descends at an angle of 26 degrees below the horizon, though it felt steeper than that when I went in. It is extremely awkward to descend, because you have to bend over, but you have to bend sideways, not forward, otherwise you will bounce your head off the uneven surface of the rough granite rock (as I did more than once). It is much easier to ascend through such a passage than to descend. It did not help that the passageway was filled with other tourists eager to get in and even more eager to get out. It would be very difficult for a number of grown men to quickly maneuver through such a passageway. It is interesting to note, however, that the passageway connects to a rather large chamber that could conceivably accommodate the kind of fight Goodwin describes. In fact, the interior plan of the Mycerinus/Mankara pyramid more closely matches that of the Goodwin description than does that of the Cheops/Khufu pyramid. However, it is not at all realistic to have a fight occur inside a pyramid. It is just not feasible or practical. It would have been more effective to intercept Rick and Scotty as they came out of the pyramid. But that would have resulted in a much less sensational fight scene in the story.
When the boys first visit the observatory at Sahara Wells, they decide to take advantage of the facility construction materials they find there to make three concrete replicas of their cat, which they hope will confuse their pursuers. While the astronomers try to determine the cause of the mysterious signals they are receiving on the radio telescope, Rick and Scotty are attempting to determine the meaning of their Egyptian Cat. They are not sure about what to do with the original (plastic) cat until they visit the Egyptian Museum shortly afterwards. There Rick sees an older, more historic version of the cat on a display shelf in the museum, and he decides it’s the perfect location to place their cat for temporary safekeeping. The episode in which Rick and Scotty visit the Egyptian Museum is one of the longest in the book, and their adventures on the way to and inside the museum are among the most detailed and interesting sections of the story.
When they leave their hotel to visit the Egyptian Museum, they walk “past the Nile Hilton Hotel, then across the heavy traffic of the bridge circle to the open park before the museum.” There they realize that they are being followed, and decide to take the long way into the museum. Instead of going straight into the museum, they cross the street that runs on the east side of the museum and walk up the street called the Kasr El Nil. At the end of the block they turn left on Gami Sharkas street and then turn left again onto Shampelion street, which they follow back to the entrance of the Egyptian Museum. They have essentially followed a triangular route, “with its apex at the square in front of the museum,” as Goodwin describes it. Rosemary and I followed the route as well.
We walked out of the Semiramis (which is located across the street from the Nile Hilton) and down the street that runs past the east side of the museum. We reached a point across from the entrance of the museum after a walk of less than ten minutes. Then we walked up Kasr El Nil, still clearly marked on the maps and on street signs. At the end of the block we reached the Midan Talaat Harb, a reasonably busy traffic circle. At that location there is a restaurant called Groppi’s, a gathering place of some fame in years past, but now a pretty nondescript place with uninspiring décor. It’s a little surprising that Goodwin did not mention it, since he often included cultural observations while telling his story. He tells us, for instance, that Rick and Scotty walked past the Modern Art Museum and the Automobile Club on the Kasr El Nil. They’re not there now; the Modern Art Museum has moved to a much more upscale Gezira Island location, and the Automobile Club has disappeared (at least from that location). We were not able to find a street called Gami Sharkas. Instead we found a street called Mahmoud Bassiouni, probably named after an Egyptian of unknown (to me) fame. Turning left here and proceeding for another block, we came to Shambulyian/Champolion street, which leads back to the Egyptian Museum. It seems likely, as Goodwin suggests, that this street is in fact named after the Frenchman who deciphered the Rosetta Stone, thus making translation of Pharaonic hieroglyphics possible.
Rick and Scotty cross the street and finally enter the Egyptian Museum. It was interesting to me to see how much detail Goodwin provides about the location of the Museum’s Egyptian cat. It is as if he wants us to follow where the boys go. When they enter the building they see “great stone figures and huge stone sarcophagi.” In front of them is “a great hall filled with giant statuary.” This is in fact what one sees on entering the Egyptian Museum. It is a large, dark, cavernous building built in 1902 and scarcely modernized since. Instead of proceeding into the large open area on the main floor, Rick and Scotty go up the left-hand staircase to the second floor, where they begin to wander through the “countless rooms of the upper floor” (there are only two floors in the museum open to the public). Each room is filled with “antique treasures that were impossible to identify,” for there were “few cards of explanation.” (Things have improved since 1960. Now there are more cards. But there is still not much information about the displays. You have to know what you are looking at. Or have a tour guide, as we did.)
Rick and Scotty examine a collection of “brightly painted miniature clay soldiers” and then move to another room containing shelves of assorted clay and stone dishes and utensils, where Scotty sees an Egyptian cat “partly hidden behind a clay jug.” On a sudden impulse, Rick decides to leave their cat beside the original antiquity, thinking it will be the safest place possible. While Scotty diverts the guard’s attention, Rick places their cat on the shelf alongside the original. Before they leave the museum, they take the time to review the precious relics of Tut-Ankh-Amon, whose tomb had been found intact in the Valley of the Kings in 1922. When they finally leave the building, they are knocked to the ground and quickly searched by a group of four men who look unsuccessfully for the cat they have just left in the Museum.
When we visited the Museum, we were escorted by a very competent tour guide, who purchased our tickets and led us into the museum grounds, which are surrounded by a sturdy iron fence with locked gate, apparently erected after Rick and Scotty’s visit. Before entering the museum, we had to pass through a security post where we and our bags were thoroughly screened. Then, before we passed through the doors of the building, we were screened once again. No vendor carts were in evidence in the courtyard—only lots and lots of tourists waiting for the doors to open at 9:00 AM. Once we went inside, our guide led us immediately up the stairs to the Tut-Ankh-Amon section, where we beat the rush of tourists to see the truly impressive collection of items found in his tomb. His death mask of beaten gold and lapis lazuli defies description, especially when seen in the context of the other items included in the display.
After our guide had concluded the formal portion of his presentation, he told us we had a half hour to walk around on our own before we moved on to the next portion of the tour. Although he had led us into a number of rooms in the museum, we had not yet spotted any item resembling an Egyptian cat, and I decided I would follow the path described in the book. Rosemary and I went back to the left staircase and commenced our search on the second floor. I found two rooms that had miniature soldiers, but none that I would call “brightly painted.” We quickly walked through all the rooms between the left staircase and the Tut-Ankh-Amon display (which is located at the right rear of the second floor). No luck. So we started through the rooms on the right side of the second floor. Initially I had thought that that would not be a profitable area to search, because the account in the book suggested the left side of the upper floor was the more likely location.
When we first entered the museum, I had noticed was that there were no open shelves, where someone could reach up and touch an object on display. This did not surprise me, as it would be very easy for a museum to lose its display items if they were on unprotected open shelves, regardless of the vigilance of its guards. I mentioned to our guide that I had read a book published 40 years earlier (before he was born, as it turned out) that suggested some items were displayed on open shelves. I asked him if he thought that was true. He said yes, in years past items had been displayed on open shelves, but that since he had first visited the museum all displays had been in glass cases. That suggested to me that if items were now displayed behind glass cases, there was a very good chance that items had been rearranged, as well. It was very unlikely that an item displayed in one place 40 years ago would be located in the same place today. (Though in the Egyptian Museum it would be very easy to believe nothing had been moved—or even touched—in years.)
So Rosemary and I started to search the rooms on the right side. I was feeling a little discouraged, as we had been in some of these rooms with our guide and had not seen any cats. We were about to give up when I realized we had not visited the room immediately next to the main part of the Tut-Ankh-Amon display. We ran in (time was running out) and Rosemary said, “There it is!” Sure enough, prominently featured in the top level of a display case in the middle of the room, sat our cat. I say “our cat,” because it looked exactly like the cat I was expecting to see, sitting smartly upright, ears raised, its front legs extending downward. Rosemary photographed the evidence, me standing beside the cat with a pleased look on my face. So my trip was a success. That wasn’t the only reason we had come to Cairo, of course. But if I hadn’t found that cat I would have been profoundly disappointed.
By the time we left Egypt I felt that I had successfully tracked Rick and Scotty (and Hal Goodwin) across Cairo. But there was one element that eluded me, and it had to do with the scientific aspect of the story. In the story, the Egyptian astronomers (with the help of the Spindrift scientists) gradually realize that the signal they have been tracking on their radio telescope is not an aberration but really has been emanating from deep space. Suddenly, however, the signal disappears as mysteriously as it appeared, and there is no explanation for its cause. The signal moved at an extremely high rate of speed and seems to have been caused intentionally. But the scientists are at a loss to explain its origin. Rick suggests it was a space ship. All they know with any certainty is that it took over five thousand years for the signal to reach earth, so that it was generated even before work on the pyramids began.
When I went to Egypt, I expected to see the radio telescope sitting on the horizon not far from Giza. But I didn’t find it. Because it isn’t there. It never was. The radio telescope doesn’t exist. The location that Goodwin calls Sahara Wells doesn’t exist. The Egyptians have never had a radio telescope, although they are talking about building one now. The Egyptians do have an astronomical observatory, which is located not far from a town called Helnan, on the east side of the Nile, approximately across from where Sahara Wells would be if it existed. The observatory at Helnan was being built at the time Goodwin was writing the story.
When I considered the details of the story in the context of the buildings and monuments of Cairo and the surrounding area, I realized that, in the scientific aspect of the mystery, Goodwin wanted to tell a story that hinted at the possibility of life on other worlds. He tells us elsewhere that at the time he was writing the story, he had been interested in the activities involved with the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence (SETI). He could have based the scientific aspect of his story in any part of the world he wanted to. But he chose Egypt. He decided to construct an imaginary radio telescope in Egypt so that he could draw a thematic comparison between the distant life of the Egyptians and the possibility of life beyond the solar system. He wanted a setting that combined elements of the very old and very new, the primitive and the sophisticated, the low tech and the high tech. If you read it carefully, you will see that the story occasionally provides comments reinforcing this theme.
Rick and Scotty never visited the Step Pyramid at Sakkara (located near the ancient site of Memphis, not too far from the Helnan observatory), but Rosemary and I did. (It is called the “step” pyramid because it rises in a series of step-like plateaus.) The Step Pyramid is an early forerunner of the larger pyramids at Giza. It is a wonderful place to visit, because the great majority of tourists, having seen the Giza pyramids, do not venture farther down the Nile to Sakkara. There are almost no tourists (or vendors) at Sakkara. So when you visit Sakkara, you feel as if it really is just you and the pyramid. It is an impressive feeling to visit a pyramid when you do not have to fight your way through crowds of other tourists or pass through valleys of vendors inviting you to take a camel ride.
When you are standing on the desert plain at Sakkara in relative isolation, it is much easier to develop feelings of awe and inspiration at the efforts of the Egyptians who lived thousands of years ago. And it was easy for me to imagine a modern manmade structure, a radio telescope, sitting on the horizon, tilted up, an inverse pyramid, searching the skies for signs of life from space, listening for that extra-terrestrial spaceship as it made its way from one star to another. Put the two images together, the dish of the radio telescope and the pyramid, and you have an hourglass, the classic symbol of time.
Oh yes. In case you want to find the cat—it’s on the second floor of the Egyptian Museum, room 19, case Y, top shelf, facing east. It should be there for a while. But you might not want to wait too long. It might be on the move again soon. Our guide told us that the Egyptians plan to build a new national museum, a much more suitable facility for displaying the treasured artifacts of the cultures of the valley of the river Nile. Apparently it will be located near the Giza pyramids, a most appropriate location for the repository of the history of the area of which the Egyptians have just begun, literally, to scratch the surface.