The Sinai desert

“Toward afternoon we are very high up in the remote wastes of the Sinai peninsula. New spaces unfold on all sides; this tangible sign of their immensity increases our understanding of what wilderness is, but it also intimidates us more.

And it is an almost terrifying magnificence . . . In a distance that is much clearer than usual earthly distances, mountain chains join and overlap. They are in regular arrangements that man has not interfered with since the creation of the world. And they have harsh brittle edges, never softened by the least vegetation. The closest row of mountains is a reddish brown; then, as they stand closer to the horizon, the mountains go through elegant violet, turning a deeper and deeper blue, until they are pure indigo in the farthest chain. And everything is empty, silent, and dead. Here you have the splendor of fixed perspectives, without the ephemeral attraction of forests, greeneries, and grasslands; it is also the splendor of almost eternal stuff, freed of life’s instabilities. The geological splendor from before the Creation . . .

From another height at evening, we discover a plain with no visible limits, composed of sand and stone, speckled with spindly reddish bushes. The plain is flooded with light, burning with the sun’s rays, and our camp, already set up out there with its infinitely tiny white tents, becomes a pygmy village dwarfed by this magnificent wilderness.

Oh! The sunset this time! Never had we seen so much gold spread out around our lonely camp for us alone. And as our camels are doing their usual evening foraging, they loom strangely large against the empty horizon and have gold on their heads, on their legs, and on their long necks. They are completely edged with gold. The plain is all gold. And the bushes are gold . . .Then comes the night, the clear silent night . . .

And now you feel an almost religious fear if you wander away and lose sight of the camp. But in order to be absolutely alone in the black emptiness, you separate yourself from your little handfull of living things lost in this dead land. The stars shine in the cosmic void but are closer and more accessible than before. In this desert the stars are permanent and ageless; looking at them here, one feels closer to understanding their inconceivable infinity; one almost has the illusion of truly being united with universal permanence and time . . .”

By Pierre Loti, the pseudonym under which French novelist Julien Viaud wrote in  Le Désert (1895).


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