Tombs, Scarabs and Negotiating in Egypt!

In ancient Egyptian religion, Egyptians viewed the humble dung beetle as a symbol of renewal and rebirth, they used scarab amulets to protect the living during daily tasks and the dead as they journeyed to the afterlife. The scarab (kheper) beetle was one of the most popular amulets in ancient Egypt because the insect was a symbol of the sun god Re.

Since my first African Journey, I’ve been fascinated and somewhat infatuated with dung beetles. Their lifestyle is not particularly attractive, Scarabaeus sacer are known for their peculiar habit of rolling balls of dung even larger than their actual size and depositing them in their burrows. Once there, the females lay their eggs inside the dung balls that would serve as nourishment for the larvae. Once totally consumed, young beetles would emerge from the ground suggesting they came from nowhere. In Africa, they are enormous bugs with striking iridescent bodies, awfully intent on rolling the dung ball up and down hills and through fields.

In Egypt, the beetle was associated with the divine manifestation of the early morning sun, Khepri, whose name was written with the scarab hieroglyph and who was believed to roll the disk of the morning sun over the eastern horizon at daybreak. 

Valley of the Kings, Tomb of Tutankhamun (KV62)

The ancient Egyptians believed that these beetles came from a spontaneous birth from the burrows. This made the populations worship them as the Khepera or “He who came forth” – an aspect and function associated with creation god, Atum. One needs a degree in Egyptology or a detailed spread sheet to keep track of all the Egyptian gods. I’m certain our very informed guide, Haytham, frequently detected glassy gazes when he enthusiastically inquired ‘do you remember this God, Horus who…?’ Tracking the deity, Kings, Queens, mothers of, is mind boggling, particularly on 8-hour tour days in the hot Egyptian sun.

Valley of the Kings, Tomb of Tutankhamun (KV62) Beetle hieroglyph in left panel

Oddly enough, these critters do indeed have impressive celestial powers. Dung beetles, like the scarab, are astonishing navigators that actually use the sun as guidance when moving their dung balls. Rolling the dung ball along, the beetle will periodically stop, scramble atop its prize, look around to orient itself, and climb back down and start pushing the ball once more. Part of my fascination in watching them in the bush. They are frankly proud creatures which is evident if you observe them.

Valley of the Kings, Tomb of Tutankhamun (KV62) Beetle hieroglyph in upper left panel

I knew the tombs in the Valley of the Kings would have an abundance of scarab hieroglyphs. While touring the museums and temples, I was on the prowl for scarabs and ultimately when ascending into the important tombs, we spotted many. I hoped to find an extraordinary scarab memento. In an alabaster factory near the Valley of the Kings, appropriately named Hapi Alabaster, it was chock a block with objects, some rare, some not so much. Egyptian shop owners are slightly assertive; however, I take my time, contemplate and evaluate. Wandering with our group, the shop owner asked if I would like to visit the room of antiquities – at this point in conversation, any seasoned traveler should depart! A guide will always negotiate, and one understands the guide will also profit for delivering a customer. The firms we work with are particular about tourist shopping, I tell our teams – we want authentic items, and for most trips, never a rug shop! In the ‘antiquities’ room behind a closed door, I discovered an exquisite bronze Anubis canopic box, the sides adorned with vivid lapis scarabs, a jackal sits regally on the sliding top; uncover the lid to discover four small urns with animal heads used to hold body remains in mummification. Frequently seen in the tombs and museums, canopic jars were used by the ancient Egyptians during the mummification process to store and preserve the viscera of their owner for the afterlife.

The canopic jars were identified and protected by four different gods who were the sons of Horus. The names of the Sons of Horus were Imsety, Hapy, Duamutef and Qebehsenuef. The canopic jars were four in number, each for the safekeeping of particular human organs: the stomach, intestines, lungs, and liver, all of which, it was believed, would be needed in the afterlife. There was no jar for the heart: the Egyptians believed it to be the seat of the soul, and so it was left inside the body. It’s important to remember that the Egyptians understood their cosmos in terms of cycles, so death was necessary for regeneration and life to continue.

I was besotted with the bronze Anubis canopic box with the lapis scarabs, however, I didn’t want to reveal my enthusiasm, I made a small mound of chosen objects to ponder. The owner asked, would you like to see the secret room, my late father’s private collection? Did I mention depart when one hears certain phrases?  I exclaimed: you are selling your father’s treasures? Calling to one of my travel friends, come to the secret room!  We entered another closed-door storeroom; poking through a cardboard box, I unearthed a small scarab. A hand carved bone scarab wrapped in silver, with carvings on the back. I’m ready to depart, time to negotiate!

Anubis canopic box with lapis scarab

Our brilliant guide, Haytham, began the negotiations– i.e. shouting at the shop owner to gift me the scarab and lower the price of the box – she owns a high-end travel firm, she will send her clients – that’s all I deciphered from the negotiations – in the end, I received the little bone scarab as a gift and paid for the Anubis with blue lapis scarab canopic box. Our small group of agency owners stood agape at the ‘transaction’ some were also purchasing and Haytham again shouted, they own agencies! When exploring Cairo a few days later, a local guide told me the scarab was a fine piece of jewelry, she had never seen such a lovely scarab… I love it and was thrilled to have a professional endorse my diminutive scarab.

Bronze Anubis canopic box with the lapis scarabs

The beetle itself was a favorite form used for amulets in all periods of Egyptian history. Scarabs may be made from a variety of materials including carnelian, steatite, lapis lazuli, basalt, faience, limestone, schist, turquoise, ivory, resin, turquoise, amethyst and bronze. Hundreds of thousands of these artifacts have been excavated in Egypt.

A winged scarab might also be placed on the breast of the mummy, and later a number of other scarabs were placed about the body. Perhaps my little scarab will be entombed with me, not certain if the Canopic jars are practical though, I will leave that up to my son!

Bronze Anubis canopic box with the lapis scarabs – the canopic jars from inside the box

https://artsandculture.google.com/exhibit/book-of-the-dead/kgLyHi8MwqOxJQ

Valley of the Kings, Tomb of Tutankhamun (KV62) Anubis Black Dog Jackal Egyptian God of Underworld 

Anubis is known as the god of death and is the oldest and most popular of ancient Egyptian deities. The ancient Egyptians revered Anubis highly because they believed he had tremendous power over both their physical and spiritual selves when they died.

Valley of the Kings, Tomb of Tutankhamun (KV62) Anubis Black Dog Jackal Egyptian God of Underworld 

https://www.ancient-egypt-online.com/anubis.html

‘Amazing Hotels, Life Beyond the Lobby’ – Screen Time

Pandemic Preoccupations. Yes, I’ve enjoyed too much Netflix binging, sharing movie and docuseries faves with friends and colleagues – is Poldark a soap opera, yes! Was Ozarks truly terrifying, yet addictive, yes! My son hung up on me when I inadvertently asked a question that would be revealed in the final episode. Fauda, I adore the lead Israeli actor, Lior Raz, the brooding solider at the heart of the series. He had a nontraditional path to stardom; his role is partly based on his personal service in the Israel Defense Forces. How do I know?  He was in my little Cineplex for three hours every night for 2 weeks! I had scarcely returned from Jordan, the predominantly bleached architecture, a skyline punctuated by gleaming domes and minarets and the sandy landscape was identical to my travels, I had learned a few Arabic words, the costumes, the ethereal call to prayer by the local muezzin, the cuisine and background resonated with my Journey. Wanderlust had barely evaporated. During the pandemic, I’ve adhered to a pretty firm rule of no tv before 5 pm, primarily to maintain my personal dignity; pandemic procedures: cocktails after 5 pm, unless in a foreign country, then no rules apply, or garden lunches – Champers is allowed; all screen binging after 5 pm.

Amman Jordan

Grounded in March after an exquisite 2-week exploration and adventure in Egypt and Jordan followed by several days cocooned at Hotel Bel Air, where I plotted a five-star Hotel Lifestyle – truly, I could live in a hotel for a few weeks every month. Aman Resorts invited me to a travel event, how could I say no? Covid-19 cancelled those reveries. It sounds glamorous, our clients know I stay in every hotel I recommend, but do they know I schlepp a few 60-pound bags with me? Drivers transport me across town and I am warmly welcomed everywhere; my online videos sometimes encourage rivalry between hotels – we can best the elegant Queens Suite in London with the classy Presidential Suite with an immense deck. It’s amusing to arrive and enjoy the furtive smile of the GM and team who surprise me with an OTT (over the top) suite. Champers on ice. Yes, it is a difficult life, and I miss it immensely. Not just the sumptuous suites, but the hotel peeps who have all become my friends, dining with my international partners and catching up on their new exclusive client offerings, wandering to museums, shopping, hearing foreign languages. In between, I perform site inspections at new hotel properties, it’s work, after-all!

My Queens Suite at The Dorchester, London, I shouldn’t have ever left!
The Roosevelt Presidential Suite – where I stayed last year at The Beaumont, London. The fav of one of our clients, he texts when he arrives: Thank you! I know exactly where he is staying!

Living in hotels may belong to novels, these alluring lifestyles have uniquely disappeared, a lingering getaway once belonged to eras past; to the well-heeled, faintly neurotic characters of one my favorite authors, F. Scott Fitzgerald in Tender Is the Night. Or the legendary Gilded Age’s ladies of leisure who sailed with custom Vuitton trunks to Europe every season. A few years ago, in New York, Louis Vuitton presented an enchanting exhibit “Volez, Voguez, Voyagez” or, “Sail, Fly, Travel” – a captivating look at the brand’s history. Subsequently a book was published on the exhibit: ‘Travelers Tales, Bags Unpacked’. It is a beautiful description of travel in another era. The garments were all there: day and evening dresses, clouds of tulle, muslin, feathers, kimono jackets, velvet jackets – essential attire for a certain lifestyle.

“Volez, Voguez, Voyagez” or, “Sail, Fly, Travel”. Manhattan

To alleviate my five-star Hotel Lifestyle withdrawal, I’ve discovered a fun British series: ‘Amazing Hotels, Life Beyond the Lobby’. Presented by television host and writer Giles Coren (How to Eat Out) and chef and restaurateur Monica Galetti (Monica’s Kitchen: Exciting Home Cooking for All Occasions), are globetrotters who visit extraordinary hotels across the globe. In addition to giving viewers a glimpse of hotel areas that are rarely, if ever, seen by regular peeps, Monica and Giles spend time with hotel staff to learn about their work, the establishment, its impact and more — and then take on some of the staffing duties. Season 1 episodes find Monica and Giles visiting Mashpi Lodge in Ecuador, Giraffe Manor in Kenya, Royal Mansour Marrakech in Morocco, Fogo Island Inn in Canada, and Icehotel in Sweden; in Season 2 they travel to The Brando in French Polynesia, Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort in Oman, Grand Resort Bad Ragaz in Switzerland, Ashford Castle in Ireland, The Silo in South Africa, and Hacienda Vira Vira in Chile, plus Kulm Hotel in St. Moritz, Switzerland, in the Christmas special.

On arrival, before the suite becomes lived in, take photographs for future blog posts and social media, unpack, respond to emails. Test the bed and scrunch the six pillows, yes, six plush pillows, to form a comfy cocoon, who knew we needed six king size pillows? I belong to The Tribe of the Bed Girl, and work in bed. A king size bed offers bountiful real estate for sleeping, mounds of glossy hotel magazines, work and dining. At home, I sleep in an antique French double bed, purely room for sleep and not much else! Hotel Lifestyle will instill a scrumptious pillow addiction. Of course, the linens are perfectly pressed, and someone watches your whereabouts, if you slip out of the room, all is tidy again on return. One pandemic directive I’ve followed: make my bed every day, to feel slightly civilized. Although my Covid-19 wardrobe has been limited…jammies for winter, sundresses for summer, the gate has been locked since March.

Men of Egypt could have been in Fauda!

Hotel Lifestyle: commute time for client meetings is eliminated – close laptop, mosey amid the tree lined paths or the row of loungers, if I’m in my pool suite and pad down to Wolfgang Puck. When I stay in Beverly Hills, I offer clients and friends a generous invitation – breakfast, lunch cocktails or dinner – at my hotel: Hotel Bel Air or Beverly Hills Hotel, I don’t move, once I arrive, I’m in. For a bit of variety, I may take the hotel car between the sister hotels for meals…my darling niece lives a mile away, she plops at the pool with me for hours of catch up and sharing travel fantasies, her first Journey to Africa was with me – oh, the tales we can tell – lions at our door, and in her magazine bag, spitting Cobras whose venom can blind you, and yet we survived!

Brando Island – amazing property

Hotel Lifestyle – Room service – anything you desire will be delivered with a quick call or iPad swipe. My away from home comfort food used to be a hamburger, over the last few years, Club House sandwiches have reigned. Food I never eat at home, who would prepare and serve? Bacon is not a staple of a plant-based diet! I’ve learned to order a CH sandwich before a travel industry event, much easier to sip wine, gather collateral and chat without an intricate balancing act.

Giraffe Manor, a client favorite Karen, Kenya

I have no intention of replicating the series hosts performing work duties, suite inspection is my specialty! It’s a light fun series with stunning hotels interiors and exteriors. Seeing how local Omani’s have adopted the hospitality business is heartwarming, one grizzled old Omani man is the expert in making rose water for a variety of uses in the hotel. Monica, the chef host, goes to the local animal market to inspect and negotiate the sale of goats for a celebration dinner, who knew you should look at their teeth to understand the age of a goat. You will learn how to pry open a goat’s mouth to calculate its age! If you find hotel towel art droll, several hotels have resident experts, who radiate immense pride in this creative skill.

You can find the series on an Appletv app: Journy.

I find travel the absolute essential antidote to everyday routines. Fresh vistas, foreign languages, interesting foods, curious customs, and people in indigenous dress – seeing places I’ve never seen before. A pleasing adventure of searching new locales for client travel, the pursuit never gets old.

Warning: Wanderlust May Overwhelm you. Be safe, we will wander again.

The Brando Hotel – paradise!