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EGYPT | Wednesday, 1 December 2010 | Views [501]

The tourist trade describes three paths through the commercial and social landscape of Luxor. The first, the ruins of the Middle Kingdom capital of Thebes, are what brought European travellers here in the 18th and 19th centuries, and made the fortunes of Thomas Cook and others. The temples of Karnak and Hatshepsut. Valleys of Kings, Queens and Nobles. Monuments once buried by sand and neglect and now restored. In contemporary lithographs – David Roberts being the prime example – you can see the desert sands pushing against the chins of colossal statues and rows of broken columns. At Luxor Temple these columns now stand 20, 30 metres tall. As broad as the stacks of an industrial chemical plant. Massive lintels like bridge girders high above.

The second, though dependent on the first, are those Europeans who come not only for archaeology but to escape the worst months of the northern winter. On CNN today the forecasts were bleak. Snowfalls throughout France, and negative temperatures across the continent. So when your tour has ended for the day, or perhaps even instead of it, there is the choice of pools and deckchairs. Middle class and middle aged, doused in oil, pink under the bright blue sky. Reading books with too many 'k's and 'g's and 'o's on their covers for them to be English titles.

The last is more insidious, and follows from the second's piles of strained and sagging flesh. A young man with a clipboard and laminated chart showing prices for various degrees of massage. Stares from withered queens by the pool. A German woman with too many rings, too many scarves, too many chins, clucking over Gamal on her mobile phone. Nods and whispers. Offers to follow men to the river, boys on feluccas. Whatever you like as long as it is young and male and Egyptian, and you are old and white and paying.

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