127 STEFANO FARAVELL I As the God Thoth teaches Asclepius (in the Corpus Hermeti- cum ): “Egypt is an image of heaven, or, to speak more exact- ly, in Egypt all the operations of the powers which rule and work in heaven have been transferred to earth below.” Egypt, therefore, all of Egypt, is like a temple, the dwelling place of theophany and revelation. A sacred earth, because it is the projection below of what lies above. The infinite enclosed within the finite. But then Thoth says something else. He utters a dramatic prophecy on the fate of this land: “O Egypt, Egypt, of your religion nothing will remain but an empty tale, which your own children in time to come will not believe; nothing will be left but words carved on stones... The de- ities will ascend again to the Heavens, and in that day men will be weary of life, and they will cease to think the universe worthy of reverent wonder and worship.” And this is precisely what is happening to Egypt in an era marked by the decay of all images and the loss of the aura of the most sacred places – how many tourists, breathless and distracted, wander among tombs and temples! An era when “the real world becomes appearance” and the in- finite repetition of appearances has made (even!) pyramids and sphinxes trivial. The withdrawal of the divine sphere announced by Thoth is relevant to every era: in a deeper sense, it lies within each one of us, but also within the horizons around us. A beautiful thing that disappears, a disfigured landscape, an age-old way of life that has been distorted... Humanity is increasingly unable to admire and worship. I travel the world and the way I admire and adore it is to recount in my sketchbooks this endangered beauty. These pages are therefore not an impromptu exercise in technical prowess but, above all, the narrative of the spiritual experience of a vanishing country. They are an attempt to enclose this fragile world within a book and offer an ideal viewer the miracle of experiencing a journey while sitting perfectly still. This is why I have entrusted the sensitive instruments of my portable atelier, the brushes and nibs, papers and watercolors with the task of capturing the theophanic side before it disap- pears, of discovering hidden gods and unmasking those that have disguised themselves. They are the children of Luxor, the Sufi of Aswan, the two fellahin who were conversing at sunset sitting in a field of clover, the toothless old custodian of the temples, of Abu Simbel... And the animals, the dawns over the Nile and in the desert, the old talking stones, landscapes spared by the acceleration of the modern world, the pockets of timelessness. God is hidden within them! Travel notebook 26 MAY 08 The pink limestone of the Libyan mountain gleams with yellows and oranges. This chain forming the backdrop to the paradise of palm groves is the frontier of the most desolate land I have ever seen. As the Sandal sails lazily down the ultramarine Nile, it is easy for me to paint the landscape flowing past on the bank. – When the Arus en-Nil approaches the strip of green the senses dissolve. With the warm wind comes the scent (the “balmy forests” of Aida !). Kubanya and Sheikh Fadl