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(HOST)Commentator Madeleine Kunin recently visited Egypt. She says it was everything she expected – and much more.

(KUNIN) There are two kinds of vacations: one where you relax and laze in the sun in soothing surroundings, and the other where you plunge into new surroundings, and every cell in your body works to absorb fresh stimuli.

That’s what it was like for my husband and me to go to Egypt.

First, we took ourselves back in time to 3,000 years BC. That is when a sophisticated civilization, capable of great art and architecture, ruled Egypt.

We know them by what they left behind in their tombs – exquisite wall paintings, carvings, treasures created in homage to the gods.

For thousands of years, the Egyptians themselves and the world at large had lost all vestiges of this great civilization. Only grave robbers had a clue.

It was archeologists in the late 19th century who began to dig it out, stunning the world in 1924 with the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamen.

Every school child has seen pictures of the pyramids and the sphinx – what’s so different about being there?

The enormity of the structures rising from the wavy line between desert and sky, appearing to float on the plain of Giza like a mirage, and the mystery of their construction.

The pyramids, the temples, the treasures had one purpose – to assure life after death.

All their art, energy and wealth were dedicated to the afterlife.

In one sense, they succeeded, because five thousand years later, we know who some of them were.

When we look at the beautiful golden mask of Tutankhamen, see his chairs, gaze at the golden goddesses guarding his sepulcher, we are moved that he died so young – only nineteen.

When we see the statue of Ramses II looming up in the sky, we feel his power. Inside the temple, we can take pity on the indelibly carved rows of prisoners, shackled together, being beaten by whips.

Looking carefully, we find women sitting on birthing stools, pictures of medical instruments, a small vignette of a doctor tending a soldier’s knee.

These monuments speak to us and leave us astonished.

There is also a sober lesson to be drawn from Egypt. Great civilizations rise and fall – even disappear.

And what about our civilization? What will the archeologists, three thousand years hence, sift through to figure out what we built, who we were in the 21st century?

Egypt is a transforming experience. It changed my sense of time, taking me back into biblical times, almost able to see Moses hidden in the bulrushes as we floated up the Nile. Egypt heightened my views of mortality and immortality – and, most of all, intensified my belief in the enduring power of art.

This is Madeleine May Kunin.

Madeleine May Kunin is a former governor of Vermont.

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