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Tony Grist

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Been there, Done That.... [Mar. 16th, 2007|11:25 am]
Tony Grist
kishenehn is in Egypt doing all the stuff I did twenty one years ago. Including bombing around in scary, clapped-out taxis. Cool.

He doesn't mention the horns though- I remember Cairo as just a cacophony of horns. Parp, parp, parp, parp, parp!

I had a thing about Egypt. I really don't know why. Something to do with roots. I had to go see it for myself.

My wife said she wasn't interested. Truth is she saw my going away as a brill opportunity to spend lots and lots of quality time with her shiny, new girlfriend.  So I took my mother instead.

What I remember most vividly is the third-worldy stuff. Like seeing pre-adolescent kids working on road gangs. Like having some tout collar me on the street with over-friendly gush about Manchester United, steer me into his shop, then bully and cajole me into buying perfume. Like having a policeman in the grounds of the Cairo museum come up to me- quite unsolicited-  point out some statue or other and demand baksheesh. 

He  was a starved-looking, big-eyed tourist policeman- a sulky village boy dragooned into doing his national service and  wishing he was any place else.  I could  have had his head on a platter if I'd reported him to the authorities.

I also climbed up inside the Great Pyramid and saw the Tutankhamen gew-gaws and flew to Luxor and visited the Valley of the Kings- which is just the hottest place I've ever been in my life.

Know what? I'm kind of bored by ancient Egyptian art. You've seen one colossal statue of Rameses II, you've seen them all.  Same with tombs. Same with pyramids.

Inhuman, impersonal, fascistic. 

The only things in Egyptian art I really connect with- really love- are the Graeco-Roman mummy portraits from the Fayoum. They're so alive. So  individual.  I look into the eyes and think,  Yes, I know you-  we've met before - and, yes, I totally believe in reincarnation.

Image:Fayum-18.jpg

Whose were the lips were laid to mine
Last night in dream?
Against the dark, against the day,
Dead faces stream.

O come in rags, O come in lace,
Under what stars you will.
Eyes I last saw in painted wax-
I'll recognise them still.

So, anyway,  I came back from Egypt and- smack bang, like I'd tripped over my own front door step- plunged into personal crisis. First thing I saw was that my marriage was over. Second thing was that I didn't believe in Jesus any more. Within weeks I'd tumbled into adulterous lurve and was ringing up my bishop to say "sack me!"

So I became a little crazy and a bachelor of sorts,  with a picture of Isis- painted in an Egyptian sweat-shop- nailed up over my bed.
linkReply

Comments:
[User Picture]From: momof2girls
2007-03-16 01:20 pm (UTC)
So you left your wife for a mummy?!
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-03-16 01:32 pm (UTC)
That's one way of looking at it. :)
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[User Picture]From: thewayupward
2007-03-16 02:40 pm (UTC)
UNDERSTANDABLE. The mummy portraits are beautiful. I love this entry.

Question, lame but if I don't ask I'll go nuts: where's the poem from?
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-03-16 02:43 pm (UTC)
Thanks.

The poem is one of mine. I wrote it over 30 years ago.
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[User Picture]From: thewayupward
2007-03-16 03:18 pm (UTC)
I love the poem. :)
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-03-16 03:34 pm (UTC)
Thank you.

It's never appeared in print before. In fact, up until today, it only existed in my head.

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[User Picture]From: pondhopper
2007-03-16 02:56 pm (UTC)
What an evocative collection of memories. Thank you.

The portrait is lovely and it has such a realtively modern air about it, really. Reincarnation indeed.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-03-16 03:07 pm (UTC)
They're among the most moving artworks I know.

There's a great gallery of them here- http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Fayum_mummy_portraits
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[User Picture]From: pondhopper
2007-03-16 03:17 pm (UTC)
Thank you for the link. The last portrait in the 6th row down looks like an aunt of mine. (Dark hair drawn back with bags under her eyes and a similar longish face.) So many of them look like familiar faces.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-03-16 04:02 pm (UTC)
She's great, isn't she?

To me she looks Victorian. Like she's stepped out of the pages of Dickens or George Eliot.

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[User Picture]From: aellia
2007-03-16 02:57 pm (UTC)
I enjoy your writing, and I understand about the picture. Is the poem yours?
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-03-16 03:01 pm (UTC)
Yes, it's one of mine. I believe I wrote it in 1972.
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[User Picture]From: sovay
2007-03-16 10:35 pm (UTC)
Against the dark, against the day,
Dead faces stream.


I am reminded by these lines of Swinburne, which is a good thing.

I do like ancient Egyptian art, but the mummy portraits have always looked amazingly vivid; more than anything else, I think they put faces on the ancient world. You could meet people like that in the street. You already have.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-03-17 10:13 am (UTC)
I love Swinburne. I discovered him in my teens and learned chunks by heart.

"Thou hast conquered, o pale Galilean- the world has grown grey with thy breath."

Glorious stuff. I think he's the most woefully under-rated poet in the canon.
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[User Picture]From: sovay
2007-03-18 12:05 am (UTC)
Glorious stuff. I think he's the most woefully under-rated poet in the canon.

I learned of him in high school, when our madrigal group performed some of Atalanta in Calydon newly set to music:

For winter’s rains and ruins are over,
And all the season of snows and sins;
The days dividing lover and lover,
The light that loses, the night that wins;
And time remember’d is grief forgotten,
And frosts are slain and flowers begotten,
And in green underwood and cover
Blossom by blossom the spring begins.


I was in love.

It's entirely possible that some of my fondness for Elizabeth Hand's Mortal Love stems from his presence as a supporting (and scene-stealing) character.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-03-18 09:18 am (UTC)
My boarding school was on the edge of the Sussex Downs. On fine afternoons I'd climb the hills and chant Swinburne into the wind.

When with flame all around him aspirant
Stood flushed as a harp player stands
The implacable, beautiful tyrant
Rose crowned, having death in his hands...

Sooo transgressive.

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From: manfalling
2007-03-21 05:49 am (UTC)
I remember the night you got back from Egypt- or at least, I think I do. It blurs into a double-dream of me waking and you being there, or me waking from a dream of knowing you were going to return, then you returned, and I felt like the dream had presaged it. Was granny with you?

Did you get back in the early morning, or at night?

I remember the scarab beetle you gave me. I've still got it, somewhere.

Also had no idea that things were winding up between you and mom then. Timelines as a child are a bit muddled I suppose. I don't have any surrounding memories. Not of you leaving, even. Just of you coming back.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-03-21 09:54 am (UTC)
I left Grannie behind in Kent and travelled all day to be back in Manchester. I know it was evening when I arrived because you guys weren't around and your Mom was watching TV.

I didn't know things were winding up either- not until I got back home and felt the chill....
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From: manfalling
2007-03-21 10:05 am (UTC)
So what happened after that? You might not want to talk about it, and I respect that, and probably you don't want to talk about it here. But I am curious. Being a kid, I didn't realy have a clue what was happening. One minute I was getting a scarab beetle, then next we were in Pat's house I guess and she had this cool room with a ward-robe that filled the wall and looked like- hmm, was it the front of a train?

Maybe.

Then we were in Blackburn Rd. and trying to get along there. It was pretty tough to settle in, as you probably know. I think we all had a tough time of it, really.

So, yeah. Just a general time-scale of what happened would be really interesting.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-03-21 02:08 pm (UTC)
It was an adrenaline-fuelled two or three months.

I don't remember the exact time-scale but things moved pretty fast. Your mother and I started off agreeing to try to hold it all together, then found we couldn't. She was seeing Pat and then I started seeing a woman called Wendy- whom you won't ever have met. The strain became too much and then I resigned- or was sacked- from the Church and you guys went off to live with Mom and Pat.

I didn't know she had a wardrobe shaped like the front of a train. Cool.

It was a rough ride for all concerned- Pat included.

Sorry.
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