Friday, April 30, 2010

Contrasts


The former incarnation of our kitchen had one short set of cupboards and little counter space.


I'm in heaven with all the new cupboards and counters -- the last one being installed yesterday evening. I'll ascend to seventh heaven when the carpenter adds some more shelves and builds a spice rack . . . but in the meantime, I can get cooking after a week's hiatus.

And what was the first meal made in the new kitchen?


Cat food. Poor Cat had to eat dry food yesterday when we ran out of the good stuff. Cat was anxious that I get started grinding the chicken.


After reading an article about the poor quality of dry food, I began making Cat's food. The recipe has recognizable ingredients: ground chicken legs, bones and all; liver; water, iodized salt; vitamin B; taurine, and cod liver oil. Cat seems friskier and her coat is silky. She also seems to like the taste, so it's worth a couple of hours of upper body workout every month.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Quiet Moment


Waiting for the marble men to arrive to install the final countertop (they were 3 hours late), I decided to enjoy a cool drink on the balcony. Of course, two sips later, there was a knock at the door. As I write, they are still cutting the marble out on the street as the sun sets.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Ful: Full of Scent


I wish I could capture scents to share the incredible perfume that this tiny flower and a few of her neighbours emited into the air this morning. It is known as ful in Egypt. I do not know what its proper name is but I think it may be related to the gardenia. There is a love song titled, "Make me a bed of ful and seduce me." Certainly, the scent is intoxicating.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Searing Sunshine


Today we were treated to a tour of the archaeological excavations being conducted by Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) between Karnak and Luxor temples. The solitary Shower of Pink (Cassia javanica) tree in front of Karnak Temple offered a little shade and a beautiful view skyward.


Much of the SCA's resources (which are not plentiful) are dedicated to excavating the Avenue of Sphinxes in support of the Governor's development plan for the city. The process has been difficult as many fine edifices and many homes have been demolished in order to uncover the ancient promenade. From our view today, it is obvious that the Coptic church, where we attended Easter service, and an Evangelical Protestant church behind it will also come down. On the other hand, the SCA is finding wonderful stuff that is re-writing the history of Luxor. Change is difficult. Just ask me. ;-)

Monday, April 26, 2010

Luxor Commerce


I went off to the city today to buy a few things to help organize the kitchen. There is a two-storey plastic store that has almost anything you could want -- as long as it is made of plastic.


The Time Traveller joined me and I got caught in his timeless vortex. Six hours later I returned home with my plastic bins and a few groceries. Wandering through back streets we happened upon a shirt tailor. Of course we stopped to investigate.


Then we browsed in the city's biggest appliance store to check out new refrigerators. And just when I think we can transport ourselves home we meet a young Japanese fellow who is travelling around the world on a Honda 750cc. Amazingly, he has travelled through Siberia, across Europe to Spain, around the African continent and is now making his way North towards Istanbul before continuing the journey westwards. His adventure has kindled some wunderlust deep within me. I'm sure to dream of trains, planes and buses (and probably Italian vineyards) tonight.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Eternal Fertility


Today I was struck by the productivity of the Black Land -- the pharaonic name for the fertile Nile valley. In one field, farmers cut the wheat crop . . .


. . . while in the neighbouring field, a farmer flooded the new sugar cane crop. This is the same field that just a few weeks ago was ablaze with fire.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Silver Lining Revealed


Day 4 of kitchen renovations begins with the arrival of the plumber . . . on time(!). Turns out that the water for the clothes washer and the dishwasher needs to come from the valve for the hot water tank. It's a good thing that the granite was not laid on the one counter yesterday because the granite man will need to cut a notch for the new hose. The silver lining for yesterday's problems is revealed.


7:30PM UPDATE: The plumber's name is Barakat (Blessings). Thankfully, it is not nougat (leaks) -- blessings are more sweet. Barakat arrived at 9:30am and left 10 hours later. What a day! In the end, the new sink, washing machine and new dishwater are installed. Tomorrow I will clean and put everything to the test. No nougat, insha'Allah.


We must wait for the final countertop before shouting, "HURRAY! DONE!" But I am already cheering.


Cat was happy as soon as she found a new perch from which she can watch all the action.

While the men worked, I enjoyed the sunset from our balcony. The colours seemed particularly saturated this evening.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Looking Good!


The carpenters arrived before 9AM this morning. Father and son have been hard at work and the results give us hope that kitchen will be attractive and functional. The Time Traveller is making regular checks of measurements and I am serving tea with lots of sugar. As I write, the granite man is downstairs on the street grinding the stone for the countertops. Step by step. Stay tuned. Updates at 11.

UPDATE:

The granite installers did very professional work. But we had an 'ooops' moment. Seems that the carpenter had not shown the granite man all the components for the East wall cupboard and so he did not have enough stone to complete the work. Worse, he says that the red granite matching our colour exactly is no longer available in the market. He suggested that he cobble together 3 small pieces to create the countertop today. We didn't want a 'cobbled together' look, so we agreed that after 2 days he will bring one piece of granite that is slightly lighter in colour to cover the cupboards on the East wall. Insha'Allah, it will look good.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Beautiful April Day


What a pleasant day we awoke to! A cool wind blows from the North. The air is fresh and the view is clear. From the balcony I could see the path that the Time Traveller treks to the top of Mount Qurna. He pined to make another expedition today but, alas, there is work to be done.


This is what the kitchen looked like this morning. I have gone AWOL again. I'm sitting in a cafe, sipping cappuccino and writing my blog while the Time Traveller awaits the carpenters to install the new cabinets. They were only 5 hours late when I left the house this afternoon. Stay tuned for updates!

8PM Update: I returned home to find the kitchen full of cabinets . . . however, they were not on the wall as expected. The Time Traveller, looking a bit dazed, could not explain. What's to explain? So, (altogether now) . . .
Bokra. Insha'Allah.

Abu el-Haggag Mosque


Forgive me for loading up a number of photos of Abu Haggag Mosque. I was so impressed with what I saw yesterday that I want to share the experience. In a small way, I hope that this post spreads acclaim for my friends in the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), who have achieved something truly wonderful in the conservation/restoration of this mosque.


The mosque was built above the ruins of Luxor Temple. Centuries of debris had filled in the temple up to its rafters. It was not excavated until the French Egyptologist Auguste Mariette cleared it in the 1860s. By that time, the mosque was centuries old.

Sheikh
Youssef Abu el-Haggag (1150-1243) was a Sufi scholar who moved from Babylon to Luxor, a village with few Moslems at the time. He was revered for his wisdom then and yesterday, when I visited his tomb inside the mosque, groups of women sat on the floor around his tomb as if including him in their conversation, seeking his wisdom and his blessing.


The lintels of Ramses II's court of Luxor Temple support the roof of the mosque. They have been hidden under thick cement and plaster until very recently. Almost two years ago, a devastating fire ruined the interior of the mosque. When the SCA went in to assess what could be done to restore the 19th century building they were shocked to find the pharaonic images appearing under the scorched plaster. The images are very important historically. Above, Ramses II inaugurates the rising of two obelisks in front of the pylon he built as an imposing entrance to the temple. That pylon and one of the obelisks still stands.


The mosque is a beautiful oasis of tranquility amid the ruckus that consumes Luxor. The man lying on the floor was reading the Koran aloud with a beautiful voice that was quiet, yet filled the prayer hall. On either side of the minbar, upon which the imam preaches the weekly sermon, are mithrabs pointing towards Mecca. Note that the earliest mithrab, on the right, was carved into the column and capital of the pharaonic temple.


And above the capital is a lintel with pharaonic figures. The SCA found a creative and sensitive solution to expose the pharaonic images for public viewing and yet have them recede into the background so that they do not disturb those who have come to worship Allah. Lights behind the glass can illuminate the images more clearly on request.


Adjacent to the prayer hall is an area for contemplation. Between the columns you see the back of the pylon. In the past I could only see the images by craning my neck from some 30' below.


The SCA also restored the mosque's two minarets. This, the oldest minaret perhaps dating to the 11th century, has been given a coating of mud plaster that is more authentic than previous paint jobs.


The 'newer' minaret, dating to the 19th century, also received conservation treatment that integrates it with the mosque building. And the whole mosque, which was once a bit garish, rests in harmony with the ancient temple.


All the details, such as this window looking down into the temple precinct, are beautiful. At first, the community was against the antiquities authority intervening in the renewal of their place of worship. The head of the authority in Luxor, Mansour Boraik, is a masterful negotiator and a thoughtful person and his team has skillfully met the needs of Egyptologists and worshippers. Certainly, the community is proud of their 'new' mosque.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Escape!


The scheduled arrival of a demolition crew to remove our old kitchen counters had me running out the door at 2pm. Although this is a prelude to better things, I abandoned the Time Traveller to deal with the chaos that I only want to imagine, not experience. I'm told the crew will saw the granite counters away from the wall. Ye gads! The noise! The mess! I will preserve my sanity at East Bank cafes. I'm writing this post from Snack Time, looking across at Abu Haggag's medieval minarets and Ramses' pylon for the Luxor Temple.


I worked last night to empty the kitchen. For the next 5 days we will be 'camping'. All the kitchen essentials are in the hallway. I've also left the Time Traveller enough tea and sugar to keep the work crew working.


With surplus furniture that will go to a friend piled in the living room and living room furniture in the bedrooms, the whole place is makloub (upsidedown). To preserve a little bit of sanity, we have left one corner of the balcony untouched. A quiet refuge. Stay tuned, and check out the Time Traveller's blog for the gory details . . . that's what I'm going to do. ;-)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Wake Up and Smell the Isis Coffee


Inquiring minds (and caffeine addicts like myself) would want to know: how was the coffee? Not bad. That I drank a second cup is an indication of its good flavor. So, Isis brand continues to maintain its good name . . . even in coffee . . . and I can motor through my day. Today that includes Gurna market and I must get there soon because the temperature will raise to 40C (104F) today. It was already 22 (72F) at 6am.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Flag Day


Wow! It's been an exciting day seeing so many new visitors arrive on the blog! I suspect that this reveals the network of an extraordinary person with many, many friends. Thank you!

The purpose of this evening's trip to the big city was twofold. While the Time Traveller had business in the industrial zone, I went off to purchase those imported products that make life feel not-so-foreign in a foreign land: Raisin Bran, Folgers coffee, and tonic water. It's always uncertain what will be available in the grocery store and, alas, tonight the shelves were empty of Folgers. So, tomorrow morning I'll be waking up to Isis brand organic coffee. The Isis people make great herbal teas but coffee is a whole different ballgame. I'll report back if it suceeds in starting my day with sufficient umph.

I usually use service taxis to get around town. Below is a 1-minute clip from of my return trip. There's never a dull moment!

video

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Against the Grain


A hoopoe cooed incessantly at the bedroom window at 3:30pm. I figured that this "messenger from God" was telling me it was time to get up. A headache and a queasy tummy had me in bed all day. I can only think that the gin served at the hotel last night was the local brand: "Gordoon's Gin" - and of questionable purity.


Wanting some fresh air, we walked a little in the fields surrounding our flat. The wheat is being harvested. Sheaves are tied up in neat little bundles on a scale far smaller than the Canadian Prairies; so small that I can't believe that these fields are for anything other than family consumption. I have seen small mills in the villages where it appeared that families could turn their grain into flour for those shamsi bread loaves they bake. A few years ago I worked with a friend on a report examining wheat imports and was surprised to learn that a great deal of Egypt's wheat comes from India and Pakistan, in addition to Russia and USA.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

End of Studies


Coming back from the government grocery store I headed into a sea of white and blue school uniforms. When school lets out at 12:30, our road is full of young girls and, seemingly, many less young boys. They are the morning shift at the nearby school. Older girls attend the afternoon shift and older boys go to a different school. Egypt has millions (literally) of children under the age of 16 and not enough schools so most go for only half a day, six days per week. In Cairo, I've seen students heading home at 8pm at the end of a third shift.


This is the school on a quiet Friday. The school looks well maintained and a new one is being built on the main road. Education reform is ongoing in Egypt, so I won't comment on the quality of their learning.

I was able to make this shopping trip, pushing myself away from the computer, because I have finished the draft of the pottery report. Hurray!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Blue Nile, White Shirts


The river looked particularly blue tonight as we crossed to the city for dinner and then to check if the Time Traveller's new shirts were actually finished.


Lo' and behold they were! This is the tailor's workshop, opening onto the street with an iron shutter door. Two men work at the sewing machines in the front room. A young boy (the tailor's son?) works at a machine in the back room. This tailor's specialty are robes worn by the men participating in the Coptic church services, as seen in the Easter service. Tonight it appeared that they were working on decorative draping for a church.


And the highlight of the walk was spotting another door with protective crocodiles.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Nothing and Then Some


Books in 3 days! Life has definitely improved! A friend recommended "The Mistress of Nothing" and when I bemoaned the fact that it would take 3 months to get here via Amazon she recommended that I order it through Kotob Khan, a bookshop in Cairo. Two emails later, the book was delivered to me at Oasis Cafe as I sat with my cappuccino. What a life! I'm looking forward to reading this novel based on the diary of Lady Duff Gordon, who lived in Egypt in the 1860s. But the author takes the maid's perspective. hmmmm.


Luxor's streets glow at night. The Time Traveller and I passed by his shirt-maker to see if his order was ready. Bokra, insha'Allah.


Perhaps because I no longer take electrical power for granted, I am intrigued by other peoples' house connections.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Egyptian Pruning


Some fellow with a hachet really went to work on these palm trees along our road. Yesterday they were fully "fronded". Today they stand as burnt out candles. My heart breaks every time I see the aftermath of an Egyptian pruner. Most times the tree survives; but sometimes, like our lovely jacaranda tree in Cairo, their torturous cutting kills the tree. The bits of new growth left as 'wicks' on these trees provide some hope that they will rebound.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Sunset Walk


We strolled together across different fields this evening. The Time Traveller headed off to inspect progress on the new kitchen cabinets at the carpenter's workshop and I headed to try a local 'restaurant' whose lentil soup came recommended.


The wheat field beside our place looks ready for harvest. I look forward to exploring that stand of date palms. They were so beautiful today with their fronds blowing in the breeze.


Focusing on the symbiotic relationship between the sheep and egrets, I never saw the farmer resting while his 'flock' (do five sheep make a flock?) ate their evening meal.