Eclipse 2006

On March 29 an estimated 8,000 tourists, astronomers, NASA scientists and Egyptian officials gathered in Sallum, a town on the Libyan border usually visited only by workers and truckers entering and exiting Egypt.

The hotel in Mersa Matruh was 2 1/2 hours from the eclipse site and we rose unspeakably early to the pre-dawn rumble of motorcoaches and diesel fumes outside the hotel. “This reminds me of the Marine Corps,” groaned Ralph as we staggered from bed to bus seats in the dark.

At half past noon the moon passed before the sun in a perfect and cloudless sky. I’m now five for five.

I noticed that the shape of the corona—which is different every TSE and has something to do with sunspots and the solar magnetic field—exactly and mysteriously mirrored the design of the winged sun carvings on the back of my chair in the Nile Hilton dining room. I kept this observation to myself.

Above: Shades

Below:

Path of totality, 2006

Back on the bus

Press tent

Observing at Sallum. (Ralph. Get UP.)

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Mubarak

The official viewing site for the eclipse was in Sallum at what appeared to be an abandoned air force base under heavy checkpoint surveillance near the Libyan border.

The early waiting and partial phase hours in Egypt were more entertaining than at any other eclipse: an elaborate preparation was underway for the arrival of then-president Hosni Mubarak. Young soldiers in smart parade uniforms were arranged in rank, then in file, then re-aligned. Superior officers inspected and fussed and dusted: tunics were jerked, collars straightened, caps adjusted to the perfect angle. The soldiers finally stood in solemn formation in anticipation of their leader.

A large, multicolored seating area was assembled with gilt furniture, gold-potted plants, and a red carpet stairway leading to a massive portrait of the president’s big ol’ face.

Events took a turn in the minutes before his motorcade pulled up: a team of men in jumpsuits scrambled to dismantle the stage and hustle the red carpet and other decor to a low and modest tent adjacent to the showy grandstand—which I’m assuming was a decoy all along, presumably to deter an assassination attempt (!) Travelers to the site that day, was that your impression?

Mubarak, his wife, and several Ministers, Egyptian officials and various governmental hangers-on soon pulled up in their sleek motorcade and observed the eclipse from the lesser enclosure. Mubarek boarded a black sedan shortly after third contact and waved “wadaeaan” from the window.

Above: That’s him

Below:

Welcome to Salloum—however you spell it

Egyptian military at the ready

Mubarak’s viewing area—not Mubarak’s viewing area—Mubarak’s new viewing area

Bye now, gotta go stand trial