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New Yorker Festival

Old meets New in Egypt
May 6, 2000

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Rudy: "We began our journey in ancient China and pretty soon we're going to hear about traveling in outer space. But first, another mix of the old and new. Egypt is currently staging a high-tech light show to revive the glory of the 3,000 year-old temple of Ramses the second at Abu Simbel. Joining us with details is Michelle Kholos, with this week's Culture Watch. Hi Michelle."

Michelle: "Hi Rudy. You're right. This really is a marriage of old and new. We're talking about a nightly show using computer simulation to set the four giant statues on the front of Ramses' temple on fire."

Rudy: "Not for real..."

Michelle: "Not remotely."

Rudy: "So, how does it work?"

Michelle: "Well, to get the full effect you have to visit the temple near dusk. And as the sun goes down, it's like a mirage. The temple disappears for a moment and then it re-emerges from the surrounding desert sands bathed in computer-generated shades of blue, red and yellow that were worn away by centuries of sandstorms."

Rudy: "David Copperfield in on this one?"

Michelle: "No, but here's the really cool part. See, there are four statues of Ramses flanking the front door of the temple. There are two on each side. Well, the statue to the left of the entrance lost its head during a bad earthquake and now the people putting on this show are using sound and light effects to re-enact the fall of this massive statue's head. The statue, by the way, is 65 feet tall."

Rudy: "So Ramses had a big head, huh?"

Michelle: "Apparently, so the idea is that the show is supposed to return the temple and its statues to their original glory back during Ramses rule from 1304 to 1237 B.C."

Rudy: "We know the Egyptians spared no expense building those temples in the first place. What's the price tag for this latest display?"

Michelle: "Well, it took 12 months and 19 million Egyptian pounds, that's about $5.5 million, to put this together. But it's all in the interest of tourism. The hope is that the daily crowds will go from 3,000 to about 9,000."

Rudy: "Now this area is sort of off the beaten path, isn't it? Couple hundred miles away from Cairo?"

Michelle: "About 750 of them actually. That's why government officials have really been hyping this. If it works, they plan to do the same thing at other cultural sites around the country. And that's this week's Culture Watch."


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