Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Cool Air Blows

Success! The workmen left today with cool air blowing through the evaporative air cooler. Il-humdu-lilah!* As I sat with my G&T contemplating tomorrow's painting job I realized that I do not have all the necessary equipment. I forgot to buy sandpaper and a edging brush; and I don't even have a stir stick. Tsk. There is a family reputation to uphold here, so I need all the proper equipment . . . with the exception of the paint tray. So tomorrow will be a shopping trip to the 'big city' and maybe I'll be ready to paint on Friday. In the meantime, there is a heck of a mess to clean up.

*Il-humdu-lilah translates as "Thanks be to God". As previously noted, everything is accomplished through divine intervention here so the expression is commonly used. I know a man who ends every sentence with it. For example:
"My name is Shari. Il-humdu-lilah. I have a blog. Il-humdu-lilah. Many people visit it. Il-humdu-lilah. I have 59 posts so far. Il-humdu-lilah."
So as you see, there's a certain logic to it. Il-humdu-lilah.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


I jumped out of bed this morning at 6am, hearing a series of 'whooooosh . . . whoooosh' directly outside the bedroom window.

It's a bit disconcerting to have visitors arrive when one is still in their nightgown. Whoosh became the theme for the day, which has been full of activity.

A fairly stiff breeze blew against me as I bicycled to the vegetable souk. I could do without this whooshing resistence to my weekly workout. At the souk I sat with Sherine's mother for a while and watched the fellow beside her make the sieves he was selling.

Back at home the workmen soon arrived to continue their ransacking . . . I mean, installation. And progress was made. The air cooler is now functioning with water coming from the kitchen on the opposite side of flat. This necessitated drilling a hole through a wall and the kitchen's ceramic wall tile. More holes, more mess. Bokra, insha'Allah, they will complete the job. (I believe I have said this before.)

As the day whooshed by I found myself late this evening in a Luxor paint store buying supplies for my weekend project. "Colour Your World" it's not. They were able to match the colour and I could buy masking tape and paint rollers, but it seems that they had never heard of paint trays. They advised me to dip the roller into a big bucket of paint and just give it a good thwack to remove the excess paint and spread the remaining paint evenly across the roller. I'm doubtful of the success of this procedure. I think a good thwack is going to have orange paint over every surface. Ah! Now I understand all the splatters in professionally painted Egyptian houses and offices! A creative alternative to 'thwack' must be found. Stay tuned.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Could Be Worse

I seem to have hit a technical glitch with Blogger. My day's photo doesn't show although I have uploaded it several times. I can take a hint: I'm obviously not supposed to share the image of the current state of work around the flat. To put a positive spin on it I can say, "It could be worse." Bokra, insha'Allah, the men will return and then I can get my home back in order. Bokra, insha'Allah, things will be better.

7A.M. (the next morning) Update: I woke up with a better perspective and more spirit. With a coat of paint, it will look fine. Painting will be my Easter weekend project. Stay tuned . . . it's bound to be interesting!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

A Hole in the Wall

This evening I am thankful for gin: when mixed with tonic and a sunset, it takes the edge off the day. My heart has been in my mouth with the first nick made in our living room wall by the contractor who has come to install the evaporative air cooler.

Four men, a drill, two hammers and chisels and an hour later we have a big hole in our wall. I don't have the spirit for such destruction. I can only hope that when they finish the job (bokra, insha'Allah)* it will function as designed by the Time Traveller and won't look a mess. Insha'Allah. Stay tuned.

*"Bokra, insha'Allah" means "Tomorrow, God willing." Insha'Allah peppers any conversation in the future tense. It strikes fear and frustration in the hearts of foreigners because it leaves even well-defined plans with an edge of uncertainity. When bokra is added, the odds are 50/50 that something will happen. Living in Egypt, I have come to accept that much in life is beyond my control. For more on the "Insha'Allah Factor" see the news blog Middle East Diary.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

To Town (and Back)

This evening I went across the river to do some grocery shopping, re-charge my mobile phone, and print some photos to give to the fellows at the palm furniture workshop. I found a Fuji store close to Luxor Temple. While waiting, I watched as 3 young women sitting at computers worked digital magic with people's wedding photos. Amazing how a couple photographed in a nondescript studio can be transported to a palace setting with the click of a mouse! And then all sorts of 'trinkets' could be added to the photo for glitz appeal. My simple images looked quite humdrum in comparison, but I was happy just to have them printed.

Walking to the public ferry to return home, I admired the floodlit temple. It is such an impressive edifice -- and I live within sight of it. Imagine!

Friday, March 26, 2010

In the Quiet of the Morn, and of Twilight

A hoopoe welcomes the new day from our balcony:

I fully appreciate the peace and quiet that out flat provides. People ask me what I do all day and look at me strangely when I reply honestly, "Sit on my balcony." And I thank God that I have been granted the opportunity to sit on my balcony. What a pleasure it is!

Just before sunset I walked through the banana grove behind our flat to the Nile and turned South. Here there is a flood plain which still disappears under water when the dam at Aswan is opened in the summer. When the water is low, wheat is planted and cattle, donkeys, and water buffalo (called gamoosa in Arabic) graze. Believe it or not, just across the river to the left of the photo is a kilometer of multi-storey five-star hotels. I focus on the tranquility of grain blowing in the wind.

The wheat looks about ready to harvest. I and my walking stick didn't run through the fields of gold; rather we strolled. I garnered much respect for my walking stick with its goat fur base. I purchased it at the Wednesday souk for 15LE ($3) and, although it is not substantial, it makes a statement: I am a local (or nearly so) and one with style (or nearly so). My neighbours get a kick out of that.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Afternoon with Furniture Makers

Thanks to yesterday's promise to show how the stems of palm fronds are used to make furniture and other useful items, I had a very enjoyable afternoon conducting 'research'.

I sat with men at a small workshop about a kilometer away from our flat and across the road from the ancient temple of Amenophis III. Fronds that have been sheared of their leaves are cut and spliced using very large blades. The stems are about 3 meters long so there is a lot of useful wood from one frond. The thick end is used for legs while the narrow tip is used for non-structural decoration and the intervening section is used for crossbeams.

This fellow is making a chicken coop. He pounds the palm shafts through holes that were driven into the crossbeams with a large awl. No nails required.

This bench or day-bed outside a local house has a mat of woven palm leaves to provide a smoother surface on which to rest. A similar design would have been used by the ordinary folks of ancient times for their beds.

All for the sake of research, I stopped by the nearby 3 Jackals Cafe to take a photo of their tables and chairs . . . there just happened to be a piece of strawberry tart and a cup of coffee there too.

And back at home, I have to say that our palm furniture has lasted 12 years in better condition than any plastic I've seen.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Biking in Paradise

For quite some time I have wanted to follow our road South and visit the Wednesday vegetable souk in the village of Balat. It's a whole new world in that direction.

One fellow perched himself high among the fronds to trim the tree, while his co-worker at the roadside sheared off the leaves from the long stems of the cut fronds. The stems will be used to make vegetable baskets and outdoor furniture. Maybe tomorrow I will find a workshop making these baskets and share some photos.

Looking across the canal from the market I spotted a couple of donkeys getting a shave. The barber uses a foot-long blade. Some are very adept with the blade and create designs in the fur. I laughed remembering market days in my youth that included a stop at Tony's barbershop for my dad and brother. I wonder what the link is between markets and barbers? I suspect it is a very long tradition.

This fellow didn't seem too happy to have a plastic lei wrapped around his neck. But his family obviously thinks very highly of him because sometime before his recent shave he had been decorated with henna, hence the orange tint to some of his fur.

Returning home I made myself a tall glass of lemonade. Egyptian lemons are small, round, and packed with flavour. A tool that looks like a garlic press effectively squeezes all the juice from the fruit.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Souk Walk

Tuesday is market day. Sherine is all smiles in her Tilley. I will keep working at getting an exceptional photo of her and her hat. Today I learned that everything she and her mom sell is feed for chickens. Good thing I didn't take the breadcrumbs home to coat my roast chicken!!

Take a walk with me through the souk:

Sherine took me on a bit of a walk beyond the souk to find the bread bakery. Along the way I spotted a Hajj painting with an impressive cruiser portrayed. Someday I hope to meet the "Picasso of Gurna", whose paintings I'm starting to recognize. The red text is a prayer.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Books Arrive!

On my shopping venture yesterday, the woman who takes care of the postboxes called out to me to say that my books had arrived at the post office. Sure enough, I went this morning and picked up the order. Egyptian post offices are a hive of activity because in addition to mail, they handle the government pension and other social security checks. Their service and efficiency improved vastly a few years ago under the leadership of Alaa El Din Mohamed Fahmy. Mr Mubarak recently appointed him Minister of Transportation. Poor man. Now he is in charge of Egypt's notorious train system.

The packaging was a bit worse for wear. If they could only tell the story of their journey to southern Egypt! It took almost 2 months from the date that Amazon shipped them. Last week, Amazon was good enough to refund the shipping charges since the estimated arrival date had long passed.

So sitting on the balcony with a cool lemonade I pondered which one to read first. Decisions. Decisions. No matter which comes first, all will be savoured.

7P.M. Update: Burning Fields

Just before sunset, two men set a series of fires around the perimeter of the harvested sugar cane field behind our flat and the skies filled with smoke. The man had just finished cleaning the pool so he was not pleased. Black cinders now float on the water's surface.

The men dragged bundles of dry cane leaves to spread the fire. The whole field was burned in about 15 minutes.

This is my first attempt at video. When I informed the Time Traveller that 'our' fields were being set ablaze, he said that now was the time for me to learn. I will try to improve the quality with more practice. Stay tuned.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Out of Eggs!

This morning two fellow expats stopped by for coffee. I wanted to bake cookies before their arrival but found I was out of eggs. I had no alternative but to serve them my upside-down pineapple-coconut-guava cake, baked yesterday with the last of the eggs (tsk). Yes, I'm still working through the surplus of guava. Unfortunately, the guava gave the cake a heavy texture, hence I would have preferred to hide it from guests but the ladies were kind enough to say that they liked it.

Nonetheless, a trip to the city supermarkets was necessary in the face of an egg and coffee shortage. Omar Market is the largest grocery store in town. Its shelves overflow (mostly of things that I don't eat or of one particular item, such as jam) and its narrow aisles are an obstacle course of unshelved products and staff lounging across the boxes but I can usually find the basics at good prices. So I'm thankful that Omar exists.

A few blocks away is Arkwrights. I'm told it is British in origin. It's the only one in Egypt and I'm thankful that it is in Luxor because here I can buy Folger's coffee, Lavazza Rossa espresso, and tonic. Admittedly, one can of Folger's costs more than the a bag of groceries purchased at Omar Market, but I consider it an essential.

After grocery shopping, I usually stop in at my favourite cafe before heading home. It has the best cappuccino in town and is truly an oasis amidst the craziness of Luxor.

After a cappuccino and a chocolate chip cookie, my view of the world straightens out. And life is good.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Any One Thing in the Creation

What an awesome sunrise I had the pleasure to enjoy this morning! I was struck at how far North the sun has 'moved' (apologies to Galileo) because just a couple of months ago it was rising well to the right of the palm trees. Ah, just another indication of how time passes . . . much too quickly.

This little foal is our new neighbour. She is a ball of fur and I think her ears are adorable!
Any one thing in the creation is sufficient to demonstrate a Providence to a humble and grateful mind.
Epictetus (A.D. 55 - 135)
I can't believe that this is post #50! I'm having a lot of fun recording special moments in each day and then having a reason to smile again weeks later when I look back at the earlier posts. Thanks for joining me and adding to the memories with your comments!

Friday, March 19, 2010

A Stroll with Friends

Friends who once lived in Cairo returned to Egypt for a celebration. It was wonderful to see them after so many years. Together we wandered through Luxor's back streets commenting on the friendliness of people that we met along the way. One young girl shouted from her door, "I love you!"

Vibrant colours liven up the narrow (hence shaded and cool) streets. These wood-screened balconies are beautiful and provide privacy too. Their design has evolved from the mashrabeyya panels that screened medieval windows and the women inside.

During our stroll I added to my collection of "Doors of Luxor" photos. Perhaps I will print a poster as suggested in a comment to an earlier blog. It will be enjoyable research.

The Coptic crosses protect the family that live in this home. I don't think the home has been abandoned, although the doors all appear to be ajar.

I particularly liked the mailbox on this door. And note the usual motorcycle helmet that fulfills the letter of the law, if not its intent. Drivers will put these construction helmets on their heads only if police are present.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

From the Furnace into the Freezer

A fierce cold wind blew in from the North early this morning. It had me awake at 4am and out of bed by 5:30 when it became obvious that I would not be able to sleep. And it has continued to blow all day. With choppy waters crossing the Nile, I was glad to count 2 liferings for the 150-plus passengers on board the public ferry. I'm glad to have had those swimming lessons in my youth.

I needed to visit the 'big' city for essentials: tonic, espresso, and Raisin Bran. I also picked up some of our favourite soup. The grocery store stocks brands familar in NorthAm but we go for the 300gr blocks of "Sphinx" (in Arabic he is called "Abu Hol": Father of Terror) soap that follows the traditional lye formula with no perfumes or other additives. Great quality for about 10 cents.

6:30PM Update: I took my hot toddie up to the roof to watch God's closing credits for the day. The weatherfront contributed to a spectacular afterglow.

Day is done, gone the Sun,
From the lake, from the hills, from the sky;
All is well, safely rest;
God is nigh.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Sunset by the Nile

It was almost cool enough to warrant a sweater as I biked from the flat into the village this evening. What a change from a few nights ago when it was too hot to sit on the balcony at sunset. Today I watched the sunset from the terrace of the Nile Valley Hotel, capturing as a memento the last felucca of the day as it sailed past Luxor Temple. The police presence is for the protection of tourists at the motor boat dock. Mind you, they don't 'protect' tourists from the presistent touts wanting you to use 'their' boat or 'their' taxi. Oh well, from my vantage point, all was peaceful and I enjoyed listening to la lingua bella of the Italian group that was also enjoying the view.

As part of the grand master plan to beautify Luxor, we have a new public garden beside the Nile. It offers refreshments, a gigantic screen for watching soccer matches, and one umbrella against the scorching sun. Luxor has a few of these popular 'electric parks' (so-named by the Time Traveller) that teem with families on weekends.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A Road Less Travelled

I had been warned: don't take the side road to the Qurna souk because you'll have to dodge barking dogs (check), women throwing wash water out their front doors (check), children running alongside the bike asking for baksheesh* (check), slippery cane detritus strewn across the road (check), and donkeys and cattle leashed not quite on the side of the road (check). What I failed to steer clear of was a palm frond that got wrapped up in my rear wheel and disengaged my chain. Who would've thought?? So there I am, not quite in the middle of nowhere but feeling very isolated, trying to coax the chain back onto the gear. This was one of those times when I ask myself, "How did I get myself into this?" Thankfully, I had seen 3 hoopoes this morning so I had luck on my side.

Along the way, I was able to check out the date of a Hajj painting that I posted on February 23. In the blue text above the door it says that pilgrimages were performed in 2001, 2002 and 2004. In my second look I also spotted the artist's detail of the Egypt Air plane, with its Horus logo on the vertical stabilizer.

Along the route, shamsi (sun) bread was raising beside the canal. This delicious and hearty bread is craved by 'city folk' who are stuck with the gluey store-bought variety. The bread's flavor is enhanced not only by the sun but also by the fresh air with just a hint of straw and dirt. Women set aside one day to make enough loaves for the week. Unique are this woman's 'donuts', which I suspect were made as a special treat for her children.

Sherine is my souk friend. She helps her mother sell bread crumbs and other food coatings that I haven't yet figured out, as well as corn and other chicken feed. They sell it not by kilogram but by small basket, which is a standard measurement in the souk. Their baskets are always heaping so that customers know they are getting a good deal. From my first visit, Sherine adopted me and helps out in any way she can. In gratitude, I gave her one of my Tilley hats because she is always sitting under the hot sun. She thought it was quite beautiful.

5PM Update: Still Life with Guava

My trip to the souk resulted in A LOT of fruit, including 2kgs of guava. It's a good thing that I like guava juice, for which the fruit is whipped up in a blender and then de-seeded through a sieve. Lemon juice and a little sugar bring out the flavour and I add orange juice just to be extra healthy. ;-) I also came home with green melons. My attempt at cold melon soup spiced with cardamon and ginger rated a passing grade but some tweaking is required. What a Garden of Eden I live in!

*Baksheesh: I thought this was the quintessential Egyptian word; however, I have learned that it is actually Persian in origin. It means everything from a charitable gift to the poor, to a tip (whether or not services are rendered), to an outright bribe. It is well ingrained in Egyptian society. Children, who can barely walk (or talk for that matter), toddle over to me calling out, "Hello. Baksheesh?" Perhaps I should use a period rather than a question mark at the end of their request because it comes across more as a demand than a request. Read more on the TourEgypt website.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Into the Sultry Haze

The Time Traveller has vanished again. He left behind his socks and sandals so I figure he'll be back. In his place a dove came to visit, sitting on the living room window frame and panting as the temperatures edged their way towards 40C. High 30s are forecast for tomorrow. Cool! . . . in comparison.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Cooling Off

Mother Nature tricked us this morning with cool winds from the North. With lovely winds blowing through the flat, we figured the temperature would not reach 40 as forecast. Wrong. Around 11am the wind died and the temperature soared. I returned from a short walk to laundry presser soaking wet. I took my first plunge in the pool. Most refreshing!