Machu Picchu was beautiful, and challenging, and beautifully challenging: navigating for four weeks in Peru with elementary Spanish, deciphering the bureaucratic ticketing system, climbing the stony severe heights of Huayna Picchu, carrying enough water. Looking over the stone towers, mathematical terraces and close-cropped lawns, I pictured the Incas that designed Machu Picchu, ruled it, and labored to build it. I wondered at the evidence of their culture in the engineering and design of the site. How have their ideas continued and evolved? What of their lifestyle and philosophy has been lost? Is modern humanity really that different? We don’t commit human sacrifice any more, but what is the modern equivalent? And what have we lost when building steel high-rises that might have been achieved with the slower and cruder shaping of the earth? and of course the epic question, What if the Spanish had never come to conquer this area of the world?
Witnessing the tombs and temples of kings and queens around the Nile in Egypt also, simply, floored me. I hadn’t done much research beforehand (besides a few years of teaching World History and a childhood being fascinated with anthropomorphic deities), so I was wonderfully surprised when we stopped at our first temple (I think it was Luxor) early on after leaving Cairo. Walking up to the stone pillars towering on either side, topped with fierce-eyed falcons, and seeing ahead of me tall stone buildings covered on all sides with intricate and precise hieroglyphic lettering-I understood the awe of an Egyptian, but I may have felt more awe as a 21st-century American. I have never said “Wow” so many times in one day. The precision, the intention, the symbology… It was one thing to read about it and another to see being physically present. In some of the tombs, the paint was still there in the whorls and curves of ancient hieroglyphics. Some of that paint is 5000 years old!
In these places, and in the caves at Pech Merle, and in front of Notre Dame, I am moved by history.
Even in the US, this past January.