National Geographic : 1964 Jan
An 18th-century visitor reports: "These vas sals take care of the monks' gardens and do other affairs for them as they have occasion." Recalling medieval times, the Gebeliyah owe the monks service, and the monks owe them maintenance and protection. We our selves participated in the system. The ten or twelve Gebeliyah assigned to us as cooks, waiters, and general assistants showed a de votion to their jobs and a gentle protective ness toward us. We reciprocated by a personal interest that seemed more important to them than the moderate wages they received. As time passed, we relied more and more upon our Bedouin assistants. They soon learned to erect and dismantle our intricate scaffolding, and to help with our cameras and our lighting equipment. Most remarkable of 98 all, our Bedouin friend Sa'ad became an ex- HS EKTACHROME ) NATIONAL G cellent photographic assistant. Although un able to read a word of English-not even the figures on timer and thermometer-he was soon processing color film with perfect aplomb. After the initial confusion of installing our selves, life rapidly settled into a daily routine. It always reminded me of life aboard ship. The completely isolated monastery, caught in its valley as in a trough between two granite waves, seemed to steer a course across endless seas toward some unattainable port. The monks moved to and from church services with nautical precision, almost as if changing the watch. Our own way of life was equally regular. Work commenced as soon as the sun sur mounted neighboring mountains; it ended as dusk suffused the valley. One morning a crucial experiment began in the best-lighted room we EOGRAPHIC SOCIETY could find. We set up a labo ratory for preservation of the monastery's precious icons, many so ravaged by time, re varnishing, and candle smoke that their subjects were hard ly recognizable. We had persuaded the Fogg Museum at Harvard to assign conservation expert Carroll Wales to the expedition. Not only was Carroll a sociable addition to our party, able to speak Greek with the monks and soon equipped with an elegant black beard that ri valed theirs, but he performed near-miracles on the icons. Wearing an eyeshade and high-power lenses, he patient ly lifted the dark films which, like cataracts, dimmed the clear-eyed intention of the artists. The brilliant reds, blues, greens, and golds that emerged convinced one monk that Carroll was actually re painting the icons (page 114). At the same time, we pushed forward on an architectural Subterranean arches supporting four floors show the skill of sixth-cen tury engineers. A Bedouin, Sa'ad, holds the end of a measuring tape for Profes sor Forsyth.