Ozymandias…look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair…


 In 2008 an English software engineer named Julian Haynes did something which makes the line about “Mad dogs and Englishmen” quite understandable.

Perhaps in the grip of a mid-life crisis, perhaps just downright balmy, he moved to the Amazonian  city of Iquitos, in Peru. His move was prompted by a hallucinogenic vision resulting from a dose of the native drug, Ayahuasca, in which the ghost of the Pharaoh Cheops had commanded him to build an 80 foot pyramid, which would become  a center for shamanistic healing and spiritual growth. Apparently grandiose visions and Ayahuasca go together like chips and onion dip.

He set about building the pyramid on a floating raft of 1000 logs, and built an intricate network of  scaffolding from local trees. Overcoming an almost Herculean set of obstacles (including the fact the city of Iquitos had insufficient electricity to run his tools and welders), he actually came close to completing the structure before a flooding Amazon destroyed it.

“Ozymandias” is a Greek transliteration of part of the name of Ramses II, an Egyptian pharaoh. The poem, by Percy Shelley, describes a giant stone head in a desert, all that is left of the arrogant monarch who expected his works to last forever. Haynes was obviously enthralled (or enslaved) by his vision,  and came close to realizing his grandiose scheme, only to have it swept away by indifferent Nature. It reminded me of Shelly’s poem, which points out the impermanence of man and his works.

The feature that most fascinated me about his structure was the juxtaposition of the rough, organic scaffolding, a complex maze of interlocking forms and the simple, precise architecture of the pyramid, patterned after the Great Pyramid at Giza. The scaffolding was actually the most interesting and engrossing feature of the original, overshadowing the rather pedestrian geometry of the pyramid itself.

Interesting that those human works of art that have survived the longest are the European cave paintings…simple and hidden.

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