The Slatest

The Best Photo We Didn’t Use This Week: Before the Big Boat Got Stuck …

A lone Egyptian soldier holds a gun and stands in front of five towering clown floats on the banks of the Suez Canal
Big ol’ floats. Mohamed el-Shahed/AFP via Getty Images

Slate’s homepage editors spend a lot of time looking for editorial photos to put on our site. Those searches sometimes yield unexpected results: random, perplexing, and mesmerizing photos that don’t belong on the homepage, but that are too good not to share. Every week, we’ll publish the weirdest photo from the wires.

I miss the big boat that was stuck in the Suez Canal.

Now that the Ever Given has sailed on, I have been desperately seeking something to fill the container ship–sized hole in my heart. And I think I’ve found it, in the form of several giant clown floats on the banks of the Suez Canal.

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The decorations in this August 2015 photo were installed in the Egyptian city of Ismailia to celebrate the completion of a major canal expansion project. The $8 billion project, which included widening and deepening the main waterway, was a crucial part of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s controversial agenda to revitalize Egypt’s flagging economy by prioritizing the canal. The grand unveiling was a nationalist spectacle, with a fighter jet flyover, officials decked out in military regalia, and flag-waving crowds in Tahrir Square. Little did anyone know that six years later, a 220,000-ton ship would run aground in a section of the canal untouched by the renovations, casting the festivities in a whole new light.

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So the Ever Given wasn’t the only absurd thing to happen to the Suez Canal in recent memory. Take a closer look at these cartoonish floats and they even seem to foreshadow last month’s hubbub.

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The lone soldier wields a gun, yet appears puny before these monumental structures—a testament to humans’ capacity to create and be eclipsed by those very creations. These teetering bowling pin figures remind us of the canal’s vincibility and our own. (After all, it was a full moon, not sheer human willpower, that ultimately saved the day, giving tugboat operators the high spring tide they needed to dislodge the Ever Given.) Yet they are smiling and raising their inflatable arms, as if to say, Why so serious? You’ll get that boat unstuck! The clowns are in on the joke of oversized objects showing up in places where they don’t belong.

Humans plan, they say; big ol’ clowns laugh.

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