The Egyptian Navy is doing drills in the water around Qait Bey so foreigners are prohibited from diving around the harbor for the next five days. In place of diving among the stones of the ancient Pharos lighthouse, I set myself the task of collecting every image of the lighthouse I encounter: plastered around town in numerous iterations and found in internet cafes, brightly painted murals, buses and university logos. I go to a silver shop to have a coin of the lighthouse made, using an image found on ancient Roman coins. After much discussion with the owner, he asks me what the image is suppose to be. I say rather off-handedly, “It’s a lighthouse.” Then, realizing I’m in Alexandria I add, “It’s Pharos.” His face lights up and he yells to a person tucked away in the back room. A teenage boy appears carrying the Pharos lighthouse, in pure silver, 2 kilos in weight, 60 centimeters high.

His face is beaming as he says, “I made it for, for, for…”

I expect him to say he made it for the French archaeological team that works on the Pharos site and I don’t anticipate the end of his sentence:

“I made it for…for…for Mubarak!”

Belief in divine will, or destiny, is contagious when living in Egypt and I can’t help but feel utterly grateful to the Egyptian Navy for putting a wrench in my diving plans which lead me to stumble upon this particular silver shop amid all the other silver shops in the area. Though I wish divine will had intervened by reminding me to pack my audio recorder that morning and I desperately want to press pause on our conversation, run home, get my recorder and the resume his story. My mind wanders to this possible scenario and I miss a bit of his story but I remember he said that the final silver Pharos sculpture for Mubarak was 90 centimeters high and what we are looking at now is the maquette.

Not wanting to second guess destiny, I figure leaving my recorder at home meant a second chance, a pre-meditated meeting and after a couple of days of hounding I get my companion, fluent in Arabic, to come with me to the silver store to get the story recorded. She remembers the shop as a child and mutters under her breath that the owner isn’t too friendly. She’s surprised that this is the man who I described as beaming in front of his creation the other day. After preliminary discussions about the progress of my coins I sheepishly say that my friend would very much like to see the Pharos. Again the call to the back room, again the teenage boy carries the statue on its wooden plinth and sets it down on the glass vitrines stuffed with silver amulets of eyes, palms and verses from the Quran etched onto pendants.

Naturally, the Arabic version of the silversmith’s story is elaborate and detailed. The main points being: the Egyptian Navy wanted to give a present to Mubarak and they decided on the lighthouse. The silversmith, not knowing what the lighthouse would have looked like, is given a picture–the classic Herman Thiersch image from 1908. The silversmith designed the sculpture as a hollow silver structure. Inside he inserted a red light to mimic the illumination of the lighthouse. The sculpture was housed in a small wooden closet and when the doors were open, the red light was suppose to emanate. Unfortunately, the electrical component of the the sculpture was cut, as governmental security did not allow presents for Mubarak containing electricity. My companion asks if he had known about the lighthouse before and he said “yes, but I did not know what it looked like. I have only heard about it.” He says he grew up in Tabia, an ancient quarter on the sea which is now, after thousands of years of changing sea levels, joined with what was once Pharos island. He remembers that as a boy, if they didn’t have electricity the lighthouse was so close to their window that it gave them light at night.

 I came prepared for this interview with my own sculpture of the lighthouse– consisting of three geometric shapes: a cylinder, octagon and square. Based on archaeological evidence, there isn’t much besides these shapes that we can be sure of. As I place my sculpture next to the ornate silver Pharos, I hear in my head the voice of the head archeologist-architect of the French mission who has for years been working on Pharos and whose proportions I used for my portable lighthouse sculpture. She said to me in an interview, “You know, if you think about it the lighthouse was really ugly. Really ugly.”

Placing my lighthouse next to the silver lighthouse brings an awkward, befuddled silence to what had seconds ago been an animated conversation involving everyone who works in the store. I have my companion explain why my lighthouse is the way it is and hearing that it has done nothing to overturn the prevailing silence, I hurriedly take a photo of the two sculptures side by side and shove my sculpture back into my bag.