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Lance Esplund

Postcards from Egypt


In October 2000, I traveled to Egypt to write an essay about the pyramids for Modern Painters. The following are excerpts from postcards and a letter I wrote to my wife, the painter Evelyn Twitchell.


Postcard 1

First night * October 13 * 7:00 PM * Pyramid Time* ^^^*
Dear Evy—My Love —I am here. Cannot believe it! Everything pretty okay as far as trip/travel is concerned. I was whisked through customs— treated like (and told that) I was a VIP. In the morning I meet my driver and guide and go to the pyramids ^^^s. I can see the ^^^s from my hotel window, as well as the hotel pool—beautiful blue tile sloping from shallow to deep end. Palm trees surround our courtyard (poverty and a strong military presence just over the wall). I miss you ♥ —wish you could see this light!!!! Unique and spectacular—as always. I arrived at sunset (not as dramatic as on this postcard) but beautiful just the same. The ^^^s appeared to be transparent in the dusty, yellow-orange light. Camels, donkeys, goats—men who sit like pyramids!—can you believe it? This place is so old—everything crumbling around me. City seems to be shedding one skin after another. You could do so much in Egypt with the color-range here: sand, cream, ochre, tan, yellow, dust, dust, dust, haze and more dust. The sun seems to be tethered to the ^^^s—as is all time. You can feel the cycle of ages here—magic—extreme calm. The sun is smaller than the pyramids ^^^s. Don’t you just love this stamp? These Egyptians love to smoke. Local beer is good. Traffic here is crazy! You will smell the pyramid ^^^ dust on me soooo soon. From the Pyramid capital of the world ^^^ love you—miss you. Wish you were here, Lance


Postcard 2

Day 2—Pyramids Today—October 14, 2000
Egyptian Art my new love. Dear Evy —The ^^^s are beyond description. What will I say? Light, color, camels’ humps rising out of the sand. I went inside the big one—King’s chamber, Queen’s chamber, etc. Steep, hot, haunting! It rained while I was looking at the Sphinx—one of the greats as far as sculpture goes!!! Even though missing its nose. The gaze penetrates beyond this world. It can see through you to New York and beyond probably knows your dreams. The Sphinx looked so far beyond me through me, through the sun through this time through all time. And it rises slightly on its haunches—as if it were going to strike— but as if for all time! I ♥ Egypt. The ^^^s are the most impervious, beyond, most self-effacing architecture ever built. I have not looked death in the face, but the Sphinx looks through death—is a portal into and beyond it. Dust. Death. Every color of sand flashes every color of fire. I don’t know if the pyramids envelop the light or the light envelops the ^^^s—but something is going on here. I’m on the case! Tomorrow: Egyptian, Islamic and Coptic Museums. I saw some spectacular sculpture—at sunset in the rain—looking at the Sphinx!—Rilke is right: “A face in which a god and a star stood in total communion” (or something like that)—Rilke is always right. ♥ Love, Lance


Postcard 3

Day 3—October 15, 2000—Dear Evy, Full moon two days ago. Pyramids by full moon! Who can stand it!—Mummified monkeys, kings and queens. Relief sculpture. Cairo’s Egyptian Museum: crowded, great stuff in corners and overlooked. Death, Death, Death, King Tut—sculptures that won’t stop […] Indiana Jones-crates, machineguns, dust, tourists, guides, more tourists and guides. My guide kept trying to convince me that 5 hours in the museum was stupid—HA! […]

LANCE ESPLUND is the chief art critic of The New York Sun and serves on the editorial board of Modern Painters. He has taught at the Parsons School of Design, Queens College/CUNY and Rider University. His essays have appeared in Harper’s, Art in America, Modern Painters, The Yale Review, The Threepenny Review and The New Republic.

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