Regrettable though it may be to be the harbinger of bad news, I must bring it to your attention that the ancient craft of Egyptian Papyrus Art is on its last legs. Having survived over four thousand years as the medium of choice for all of your literary, documentary and home furnishing needs, it has inevitably fallen victim to the tides of fashion, modern technology and lately, the Muslim Brotherhood. Here in Luxor, the venerable institutes that litter the highways and byways of the West Bank now lie neglected, forlorn and on the verge of extinction. But, like the Spartan 300, there still remain a plucky few that will not lie down.
Now, being English and of good character, I am happy to lend a hand to any beleaguered cottage industry I stumble across on my travels. Within reason. I do, however, expect something of inherent value in return, however menial. Trouble is, the product is utter pants, and I do not say this lightly: We’re talking Bridget Jones pants here. Imagine an irate Torremolinos donkey stamping on your straw hat until it is as flat as a pancake. As a substrate, it is then passed on to a team of artworkers with a nascent knowledge of tomb paintings, coupled with a selection of brightly-coloured pens and a honed understanding of exactly how much shit tourists can handle before bailing. And, in case there is any element of doubt, the 20% discount for my good friend should be enough to have you to reaching for the Amex before you’ve had time to do the math.
It takes a very special skill to sell something this garish to a market that really doesn’t want it. But, let us not forget, there is also a long line of Grand Tour idiots that came before us. Any visit to the Valley of the Kings or Queens is invariably preceded by a gauntlet run of young men in galabiyas attempting to sell concertinaed postcards, alabaster scarabs or offers of marriage, rejection of which does not seem to deter them one iota. But here you will not discover your purveyor of reedy goods, oh no. He is by far the sharpest knife in the drawer and sets his ceiling way higher than the vulgar smash and grab brigade. The potential punter is lured into his lair willingly, and after a brief history of the process (scythe down/hit with hammer/lay out in strips), the cut and thrust of African business acumen kicks in.
A naked realisation that you’ve been had is counterbalanced with a keen desire not to offend. This enables the vendor to sit back and relax as the hapless patron wrestles with his/her conscience, before opting for the second cheapest in the least available colours (plain, sadly, is not an option). A second, slightly smaller offering is added gratis at point of sale to show willing, much to the escalating distress of the client. But, inshallah, you’re nearly done. Only a few more backslaps and handshakes to go before you can retire to the comfort of your hotel and work out the most efficient method of disposal. I recommend Christmas, or failing that, it must be said that it adds a riot of colour to the small room. And due to its Herculean strength, it is indeed the gift that keeps on giving.