Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Tranquilizing Sun

Science has never drummed up quite as effective a tranquilizing agent as a sunny spring day.
W. Earl Hall

The morning Sun is progressively getting hotter sooner. By 7 am it is almost too bright to sit outside with my breakfast coffee. And the forecast calls for a high of 38 C tomorrow -- I don't think it is an April Fool's joke.  So I finally got up the nerve to climb the ladder and hang the sun shades today. The Time Traveller is pretty ingenious when it comes to moderating solar radiation. Simple yet effective. Bring on the Sun!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Something Fishy

Chance is always powerful. Let your hook always be cast; in the pool where you least expect it, there will be fish.

What a surprise to see our little canal teeming with fish this afternoon. I don't know what type of fish they are but they are pretty smart because as soon as a school caught sight of me, standing high above, the group would dive out of sight. A shadow of a crow flying overhead caused the same reaction. I don't know why I haven't seen them before. Maybe I wasn't looking in the right places, or maybe they are just passing through. They had better get to wherever they're going fast because the water level is lowering.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Road Trip to Qus

Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.

Today Adel and I visited a town about 40 km North of Luxor. The two of us share the opinion that road trips should be accompanied with refreshments, so we stopped for a tamayya (aka 'felafel') sandwich and a glass of tea. I got a kick out of Adel setting our glasses in what I would normally think of as a coffee cup holder. Just goes to show how perspectives shift slightly in different surroundings.

And we were definitely in different surroundings. I quite liked the town of Qus but the tangle of various forms of traffic and humanity in its streets on market day reminded me why I do not drive in Egypt.

Adel suggested that I buy myself a "Tok-Tok", a three-wheeled scooter with a passenger cabin built on the back. These rickshaw-like taxis are better suited for maneuvering narrow village roads than cars or vans . . . and they're cute. Some are highly decorated with tassels and lights. I don't think they are licensed yet because they don't fit within the parameters of Egypt's vehicular law: they are neither car nor motorcycle. They are a sight to be seen, but only in towns and villages.

While we drank our tea, this young entrepreneur passed by heading to the gates of a local school. He sells juice. To be honest, it's more like sugared water and the kids love it. The drink is dispensed from the clear tanks into a small plastic bag with a straw sticking out the top.

Tuesday is market day and there were piles of garlic on offer in addition to the usual greens.

Adel was happy because he scored five kilograms of onions.

And I was happy to add another door to my collection. The two sphinxes have cute little bobs, a la the 1950s. It was a fun trip.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Mechanical Agility

A surprise this morning was the arrival of the three-wheeled claw to pick up the burnt sugarcane from 'our' field. I usually see this incredible machines beside the narrow-gauge tracks transferring cut cane from the tractor's wagon to the train's wagon. This mechanical creature moves with incredible agility. The driver is able to roll a row of cut cane into a good sized mass, hoist it up, and turn on a dime to carry the load over to the wagon, where it drops the cane rather neatly into place.

You will notice all the egrets that gather around. All the action is bound to stir up a good breakfast for them. All of this I watched as I drank my morning coffee.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Night Meditations

It seemed to be a necessary ritual that he should prepare himself for sleep by meditating under the solemnity of the night sky... a mysterious transaction between the infinity of the soul and the infinity of the universe.
Victor Hugo

I took an evening cup of tea up to the roof. A cool wind blew from the North and a cacophony of traffic noise drifted over from the West but I found a quiet corner to contemplate the awesomeness of the universe.

Thankfully, there is little light pollution and so the stars glistened from light years away. Light years are hard for me to comprehend. The night sky is already awe-inspiring without taking into consideration light years. I looked up and am connected with the Greeks and the Babylonians before them. I too watch Orion run across the sky. So many stars. So many stories. I will meditate on that.

I apologize for this random stream of consciousness. Blame it on the stars.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Speaking of Palm Trees

It is good to know the truth, but it is better to speak of palm trees.
Arab Proverb

I admit to being a bit of a pack rat. I see something I like and save it for the right time and the right place. Years ago I bought tumblers made of recycled glass because I liked their design of palm trees with birds flitting about in between. But they stayed on the shelf when we lived in Cairo. Somehow they didn't quite fit with life in the big city. Now they suit perfectly the ambiance of our Luxor setting and are well used. I just wish I could play the flute in order to sit under a palm and imitate the glass' shepherd.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Watery Order

Water is the driver of Nature.
Leonardo da Vinci

I am told that in a few days the irrigation authorities will stop the flow of water in the canals in our area so that they can be dredged. The dredging operation works just fine: front-end loaders heap piles of rubbish and debris along the side of the canal that are so large in places that they block passage on the subsidiary roads. The problem arises when the dump trucks fail to follow on to collect the dredger's yield. Hence, the piles of rubbish and debris tend to slide back into the canal.

In recent days farmers have been busily flooding their fields before the water ebbs. I'm told they will be without water for a week. Everyone seems to be informed. There is a system in place -- it may not be perfect, but its very existence suggests a semblance of order. This is good.

Thursday, March 24, 2011


A smile costs nothing but gives much. It enriches those who receive without making poorer those who give. It takes but a moment, but the memory of it sometimes lasts forever. None is so rich or mighty that he cannot get along without it and none is so poor that he cannot be made rich by it. Yet a smile cannot be bought, begged, borrowed, or stolen, for it is something that is of no value to anyone until it is given away. Some people are too tired to give you a smile. Give them one of yours, as none needs a smile so much as he who has no more to give.
Author Unknown
What a gift a smile is! This afternoon I visited the upholsterer's shop in a nearby village to see if he could make cushions for patio chairs. Business concluded (I'll have the cushions on Saturday), I happened to look across the street. There two boys sat on the ground at the edge of the road sewing the ribbing around sofa cushions. They called me over to take their photo. Who could resist such cheerful smiles? They made my day.

The second boy wanted to have a serious, professional appearance for his portrait but somehow the corners of his mouth still look like they are about to jump up. :-)  Have a Happy Day everyone!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Street Food

Food to a large extent is what holds a society together and eating is closely linked to deep spiritual experiences.
Peter Farb, Anthropologist

Yesterday's "Travel Tuesday" took me to a local koushary (pronounced koosh-ah-ree) restaurant. I won't say more, because you can check out Travel Tuesdays . . . on Thursday. ;-)  While writing about koushary, I got to thinking that I had not seen the colourful carts selling this hearty meal. Hours later, through some cosmic karma, I found myself standing in front of a cart at an intersection in the old section of town. The photo suggests no business, but crowds of children were seen getting a healthy meal on small stainless plates to take-away plastic tubs.

A short while later, I walked past a foul (pronounced fool) cart. From the giant urns using broom-stick sized ladles, the vendor scoops stewed fava beans into plastic bags for home consumption or into bread slices for a tasty sandwich.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Up, Up, and Away

Man ... can go up against gravitation in a balloon, and why should he not hope that ultimately he may be able to stop or accelerate his drift along the Time-Dimension, or even turn about and travel the other way.
H.G. Wells,  The Time Machine

A beautiful summer day dawned on this second day of Spring. Several colourful balloons rose on the northern horizon. One drifted overhead.

And when I turned around, the Time Traveller had vanished. It seems the breezes lifted him right off the balcony and into the azure blue sky. Farewell. Fare well.

Monday, March 21, 2011

A Bird's World

In order to see birds it is necessary to become part of the silence.
Robert Lynd
I was honoured by the arrival of a pair of hoopoe (Upupa epops) yearlings on our balcony. They are a spectacular creature and a bringer of good luck in my own personal mythology.

They are extremely flighty birds but I could enjoy the view of these marvelous creatures through our mirrored glass window. I believe this one is admiring his reflection. (I actually don't know whether this is a male or female.)

Late this afternoon we watched the egrets hunt for food along the leading edge of a sugarcane fire. They would approach very close, where it must have been very warm. But there was no roast egret for dinner. Evolution must have weeded out the ones who couldn't sense when they were too close.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Out in the World

Finally! I was out of bed (albeit, not until 10 AM) and doing something today. I will not treat the tiny peanut so casually ever again. The Time Traveller took me on a walk through the banana grove.

Banana flowers are sooooo exotic!

Through the banana grove, across the river, and up to the rooftop patio of the Susanna Hotel to watch the Sun descend and plumes from sugarcane fires rise.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Sun Setting, Moon Rising

I managed to haul myself out of the flat today. My journey took me to the roof to watch an astronomical phenomenon: Supermoon! And the biggest full Moon rises and the Sun sets within minutes of each other. Due to a murky eastern horizon, I caught the sunset before the moonrise.

But a short while later the Moon shone big and bright above the haze. His facial features were clearly visible to the eye, if not to the camera lens.

The Man in the Moon had his head tilted downwards. I think he was watching the blaze in a sugarcane field near to our flat. Always a spectacular sight.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Moon over Luxor

As the Moon rises, I get out of my sick bed. The view was worth the effort -- even with all the smoke from sugarcane fires. Tomorrow, I will be better. Insha'Allah.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

If I've Gotta Be Sick

. . . this is where I want to be -- stretched out on the bed on the balcony. I've just got a bit of tummy trouble. The Time Traveller puts it down to one too many (bad) peanuts. He could be right. It happens. I'm going to sleep it off. See you bokra.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Contented Cat

Philosophically he sits and spreads calmness about him; there is no music more soothing than the soft thunder of a contented cat.
Louis Untermeyer

This is one of those days that flashes by in an instant and leaves me wondering where the time went. But at the end of this day I can feel fulfilled because Cat is content. She keenly watched me make her food and expressed her pleasure at not having to eat "Friskies" any more. After eating her chicken dinner she curled up on the chair to perform her ablutions while I watched the Sun set. All is right with the world.

Mist on the field looked a lot like frost this morning. Little incongruities such as this cause the eyes to open a little bit wider and the head to shake the brain awake. Coffee then sets everything straight. ;-)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Scenes Along Country Roads

It was a beautiful day for wandering narrow country roads alongside irrigation canals in search of woodworkers. Kingfishers perched on electrical lines strung across the canal, keeping watch for their breakfast that might swim past. That we were in farming territory was obvious by the traffic that filled the narrow roads: tractors 'piggy-backing' two wagons of sugar cane, donkey carts carrying penned chickens, pickup trucks with young bulls in the back, and motorcycles carrying freshly cut fodder from the field for some lucky animal back home.

Two scarecrows protected a wheat field while the farmers reclined in the shade under a nearby palm tree. One scarecrow was also lying down on the job. Even in a nondescript van, we were an anomaly on these roads as all the reclining farmers sat up and waved as we passed.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Sunset with Stella

Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky.
Rabindranath Tagore

The Time Traveller and I contemplated the future through the glistening prism of a Stella, which makes everything look golden.

Without assistance, the sunset dazzled in many golden hues. I never tire of the view. Each day is unique and each is glorious.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Spring in Egypt

The day the Lord created hope was probably the same day he created Spring.
Bern Williams

Spring in Egypt is heralded by the blooming of the bombax tree. Tens of meters above the ground, large hand-sized flowers open to the Sun. They are a stunning sight; a sight made all the more precious because the trees blossom briefly. When the bombax blooms, you know it's Spring. I've read that the flowers are cultivated for their 'cotton' and are used in Chinese tea. Here in Egypt, they are cultivated solely for their beauty.

The male date palms have also begun to bloom. Their flowers should be harvested soon and tied to the female trees to manually pollinate them. Creation is certainly blowing in the wind.

Saturday, March 12, 2011


Trust in Allah, but tie your camel.
Arab Proverb

This noble beast stood by the road as I hauled home my purchases of vegetables and bread. He kept his eye on me, as I kept my eye on him.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Sfumato Morn

Light and shade should blend without lines or borders in the manner of smoke. (sfumato)
Leonard da Vinci

Cat and I woke to a smoky morning (the Time Traveller continued to sleep). It reminded me of a landscape by da Vinci. It was stinky, but lovely.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Luxor By Night

I often think that the night is more alive and more richly colored than the day. 
Vincent Van Gogh

Riding in a service taxi through Luxor streets at night, I'm fascinated by the scenes outside the window. The trip passes too quickly. I share Van Gogh's sentiments about the richness of life at night. Bicycles by lamplight become so out-of-the-ordinary. Even parked, they seem ready to get up and go.

The small shops shine into the streets and their keepers provide fascinating vignettes such as this shisha salesman who obviously enjoys his work -- or else a free smoke is a fringe benefit of the job. Ordinary life takes on a different vibrancy in the night light.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Day and Night

The mountains, rivers, earth, grasses, trees, and forests are always emanating a subtle, precious light, day and night, always emanating a subtle, precious sound, demonstrating and expounding to all people the unsurpassed ultimate truth.

7 A.M. A balloon floated on the cool morning breezes and the trees and grasses emanated a subtle, precious light.

7 P.M. The Sun had passed over the horizon and the mountain and river emanated a subtle, precious sound.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Many Faces of Adel

Extraordinary people survive under the most terrible circumstances and they become more extraordinary because of it.
Robertson Davies
Meet Adel (and Mish Mish). Adel is my trusty driver on Tuesday adventures hither and yon. Between his little English and my little Arabic we manage to understand one another. I learned over tea that six-month-old Mish Mish ('Apricot') has a special place in Adel's heart. They seem to understand one another too.

Without communicating that he thought I was mad, Adel guided me in a search of potters. I wanted to meet the potters who make ballas, jars that have ancient precedents. And, to my delight and against all odds, we found them!

Adel then added to the magic of my day by taking me to visit the nearby Monastery of St. George. The church is a modern masterpiece with powerful images of Old and New Testament stories spread across its multiple domes. Thanks to Adel, I have two stories for my Travel Tuesdays blog. Please be patient as this may take some time. ;-)

Monday, March 7, 2011

Life's a Gas on Cleopatra Street

The Time Traveller and I strolled down Cleopatra Street to visit with a friend who is opening her own mercantile venture -- which shows hope for the future of Egypt. Along the way I caught sight of another beautiful old door to add to my collection.

But there was much more excitement as the street rang with the sound of rolling butagas canisters. Kids had fun helping their mom.

 Women came in twos down the street trying to keep their canisters rolling in a straight line.

 Others hauled away their canisters on their shoulder, on bicycles, and on donkey carts.

Finally, we came to the alley leading to the butagas distribution center. A shipment must have just come in and it appeared from the crowd that it had been long awaited. I don't think I exaggerate to say that 99% of all Egyptian stoves run on gas and only some Cairene homes have natural gas connections so these butagas canisters feed millions daily.