Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A Wandering Wednesday

If you want to succeed you should strike out on new paths, rather than travel the worn paths of accepted success.
John D. Rockefeller, American industrialist (1839-1937)

With tea in one hand and a cigarette in the other we struck out to visit the woodworkers at Hagaza. This wasn't a Travel Tuesday; instead it turned into a Wandering Wednesday as my plan to follow the directions on my TT post had to be changed posthaste. Seems there was clan trouble in Qena and the police didn't want foreigners being in the wrong place at the wrong time and so were turning them back at a checkpoint located miles from the city. I used to get frustrated with this policy but since the shooting of a Canadian teacher, who happened to be passing by on an excursion to visit the monuments near Qena a few months ago, I understand their perspective. However, since we weren't going anywhere near the troubled city, the policy didn't apply to us -- so we took a quick turn off the main highway before the checkpoint and struck out along less traveled routes, wandering through villages along the desert's edge.

The extreme contrast between sunlight and shadow is hard to balance for the human eye and even harder for my digital camera but the photo captures morning life in an Egyptian village: women buying vegetables from a donkey cart and a young fellow walking miles, trying to make a living by selling carpets and market bags door-to-door.

This village seems very green and shady but these giant eucalyptus trees are rare in the scorched landscape. Just outside the boundaries of the photo there is desert to the right (East) and Nile-irrigated fields with few trees to the left (West). The presence of two and three-wheeled motorcycles, delivery trucks, taxi-pickups, bicycles and people afoot shows that our less-traveled path is, in fact, well worn. With no way to explain this wandering alternative route for those wanting to visit the wood craft center, I can only suggest that you strike out in the general direction of the workshop and ask lots of kind people for directions along the way. Perhaps even stop for a cup of tea -- to go.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Dust-Covered Day

Watch my dust.
Babe Ruth, American baseball star (1895–1948)

This morning I got up from sitting at the side of a 4m deep Roman well being excavated at Karnak Temple and realized that I had better dust myself off if I wanted to be somewhat presentable at my next stop, the bank, but that dust was nothing compared to what I encountered on our balcony later this afternoon when I reached above the cupboard to bring down some boxes that have been stored there for the past year. Whoosh! I was so covered that I had to brush myself off with a hand broom before even thinking about going into the flat to clean up. That's when I happened to look westwards and saw that the mountain and I were one -- she was also shrouded in dust.

Monday, February 27, 2012


The workings of the human heart are the profoundest mystery of the universe. One moment they make us despair of our kind, and the next we see in them the reflection of the divine image.
Charles W. Chesnutt, American author (1858–1952)

Upon reflection, I was reminded that there is good in all those who annoy, harass, and otherwise tick us off; I just need to focus in order to see it.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Old as Time

An archaeologist is the best husband a woman can have. The older she gets the more interested he is in her.
Agatha Christie, British author (1890–1976)

Chatting with one of the young archaeologists newly appointed to the Roman bath site over "second breakfast" of tea and tamayya sandwiches, she asked me how long I had been studying pottery. Remembering the first evening class in pottery drawing in an old house near the university that had been converted into an archaeological lab was easy, acknowledging that it was more than thirty years ago was not. How had so many years passed?! Considering that my companion was not yet thirty, I was as old as time itself; perhaps in her eyes I am as much a relic as the Roman amphorae that I love so much.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

For Medicinal Purposes Only

You know you are a drunkard when . . .
Gin is your tonic.

Gin may have been invented in Holland around 1550 by Franciscus de la Boe, a professor of medicine, who thought he could cure stomach complaints, gout and gallstones with an infusion of juniper berries. Thank you professor! I've been moaning with a low-grade tummy ailment all day until the setting sun reminded me of the medicinal qualities of gin and tonic, along with a dash of bitters. So I sat quietly on the balcony sipping my medicine. I'm not sure that it has cured my troubles, but I'm no longer complaining. ;-)

Friday, February 24, 2012

No Worries Here

Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Matthew 6:34

I arrived an hour early for the service at the lovely Church of St. John the Baptist in Maadi. Opening the pew Bible I found myself reading the message, "Don't worry." Thank you, God. After a thoughtful sermon, full of rainbows, promises and caring for our allies in creation, I ventured out from the peaceful calm of the church into the chaotic vibrancy of Cairo's markets, my aide-de-camp assuring me we could accomplish everything on the list in the five hours before heading to the airport for my return flight to Luxor.

Even after 16 years of exploring the nooks and crannies of this incredible city, I am introduced to wonderful new, I mean old, areas. Today we happened to drive through el Souq el Itneen and I had to stop to buy some lemons and grapefruit.

I think artichokes are incredibly beautiful, like exotic flowers. I think of them as an expensive treat, yet here in Cairo they are for sale along the side of high traffic routes and at local markets in the city's poorer districts. Although I love to eat them, I have yet to try to cook them myself, so today I just admired their beauty.

The colourful carts that ply the street markets selling refreshments and snacks to weary shoppers, such as this one selling chick peas in a paper cone, are always a cheery sight.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Java Economics

Petroleum and coffee had no value a few centuries ago.
Author Unknown

When walking down the street in the Cairene district of Maadi, one could easily forget that Egypt is in the middle of a revolution, its economy hurting and suffering shortages in essentials such as fuel and even locally produced pharmaceuticals. It boggles the mind how not less than three new coffeeshop/restaurants can open in the past six months to join the multitude of existing coffeeshop/restaurants and pretty much every one of them is doing a good if not booming business, charging prices for a cappuccino that about equal the daily pay of most Egyptians. Here, the middle class that emerged during the Mubarak years is fueling themselves and a java economy.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Archaeological Brain

Lulled in the countless chambers of the brain, our thoughts are linked by many a hidden chain; awake but one, and in, what myriads rise!
Alexander Pope, English poet (1688–1744)

My friends with the antiquities department invited me to visit their work at the Roman baths in front of Karnak Temple. It was good news that at least some government funds are finding their way to pay the wages of at least a few contract excavators so that work can continue at this fascinating site. It felt good to don my archaeological cap, climb down the ladder, crawl through a short arched door, swat down in the dirt and broken bits of pottery that have filled the little room and looking up at the beautiful (to my thinking) brick dome ask, "What the heck is going on here?" That's what archaeologists are always asking themselves; a little question that keeps our brains and imaginations firing on all cylinders. What fun!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Unexpected Paths to Garagous

There are no wrong turns, only unexpected paths.
Mark Nepo, American poet and philosopher, in The Book of Awakening

There are times when it becomes all too clear that I need to be more explicit with instructions. Today's return visit to the potters at Garagous didn't follow the same path carefully outlined in my Travel Tuesday post because . . . well, come to think of, I'm not sure why. Some people might get frustrated but I just shake my head and enjoy the journey along dusty roads, passing sugar cane trucks and three-wheeled tuk-tuks, alongside ochre-coloured houses with azure blue windows and domed sheiks tombs.

And somehow Adel the driver manages to arrive in the town of our objective, its main street bustling with life with the arrival of a lorry full of butagas (natural gas) tanks that will keep the town's kitchens cooking for another week or so. Fuel shortages strike regularly nowadays, keeping people slightly on edge wondering, Will there be gas for the car today? Will there be gas to cook lunch today? The butagas truck is a sight to be thankful for.

And in the midst of the bustle is the quiet sanctuary of the Garagous potters, where we found Girgus at his wheel. Ilhumdulila. Business is slow so our unexpected arrival made for a warm welcome. And the unexpected paths taken to get there just made our day all the more interesting.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Tea with Friends

Hot tea in hand, talkin' 'bout everything.
What could be more grand . . . than sippin' tea with these friends?
Sittin' on a porch, with the stars our only torch, hot steam fills the air, tea and friends we share.
Raffi Cavoukian, Armenian-Canadian singer-songwriter, from "Tea Time For Timmy"

It's always a pleasure to sit with friends and re-connect. This evening I buzzed around town meeting with friends here and there, but particularly special was the chance to sit under the clear night sky watching stars arc above the shadowed palm trees as multiple conversations crisscrossed the table at the same time (and arced over my head when in quick Arabic), all with the glorious Luxor Temple as a magnificent backdrop. What could be more grand?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Returning to Hathor's Bosom

There's a whisper on the night-wind, there's a star agleam to guide us,
And the Wild is calling, calling. . . let us go.
Robert Service, English poet (1874–1958) in The Call of the Wild

The Saharan winds (and Egypt Air) returned me to the ancient land of pharaohs and gods. Our flat bears the name of the cow-goddess Hathor and after a long absence I have returned to her bosom. Known as Lady of the Western Mountains, she stood at the door leading into the mountain, welcoming souls into the next life.

The ancient symbolism remains strong as I watched the last glimmer of Ra as he stepped over the ridge in his onward voyage.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Alley Wandering

Find life experiences and swallow them whole. Travel. Meet many people. Go down some dead ends and explore some dark alleys. Try everything. Exhaust yourself in the glorious pursuit of life.
Lawrence K. Fish, American businessman

One of the great pleasures of Cairo is wandering the alleys of its various business districts. Retaining the tradition established centuries ago, multiple companies belonging to the same industry congregate in a specific area, cheek by jowl. It certainly makes shopping easier if you are looking for something specific.

In comparison to going to the lifeless department stores in the homeland, I much more enjoy the experience of meandering my way through an area, admittedly usually in circles, in the fresh air and sometimes in the rain as today, looking into each small shop. One gets an immediate sense that there is energy here; nothing could be staid when a rocking chair sits atop a china cabinet. And although my trusty aide-de-camp accompanied me on this trip, I felt completely safe in my meanderings -- as I have always felt in the past. Ilhumdulila!

I get a kick out of going to areas of the city that most Cairenes don't know exist, such as the cardboard box district where almost any size can be bought for around a dollar each, and I enjoy the surprised looks I get when explaining to a local where to find something that they've been searching for.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Cairo Cooking

Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions. You run into someone, you ask what they are doing, you say, 'Wow' and soon you are cooking up all sorts of ideas.
Steve Jobs, American pioneer of the personal computer revolution (1955-2011)

I just had an idea: I should begin another blog featuring Egyptian food. There is certainly a lot of good food to wax eloquent about, although not all of it originates here. I'm thinking of the delicious beef cooked in balsamic vinegar with arugula and parmesan that I enjoyed at Condetti restaurant this evening with its fascinating table tableaux.

I will try to re-create the meal a little later and I will keep the blog idea on the back burner for now; at the moment I must focus on another project. This afternoon's meeting in a coffee shop with my #1 aide-de-camp has me believing in the possibility of success as we cooked up a plan. Ilhumdulila! Achieving success is so much easier when you're surrounded by good people. Ilhumdulila! You can't say that enough around here. Thanks be to God.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Same Same but Different

Chaos often breeds life, while order breeds habit.
Henry Adams, American journalist and historian (1838–1918)

One of the earliest expressions that I learned upon arriving in Cairo 16 years ago was "Same same", usually followed by "but different". As it was spoken in clear English, it was the one 'Arabic' expression that I picked up quickly from my cleaning lady who otherwise didn't have much English. It's amazing how universal this expression is because we had often signed the same expression with our Portuguese friend and now I learn that it is the title of a German movie about a Cambodian woman and her foreign boyfriend. These convergences must mean that the expression characterizes a shared human condition, across continents and cultures. Life: it's the same, but different.

The expression came to mind today as I visited friends at my former workplace. Yes, the buildings were the same and yes the people were going on with their usual activities; but at the same time, the landscape has changed dramatically. Gone are the multiple troop carriers that used to fill one side of the square to guard the nearby American embassy. They have been replaced by ambulances that I can suppose are standing ready to carry away hurt revolutionaries from Tahrir Square, that is only one block away. For years this area was a 'protected' zone, ensuring that all was safe and quiet around the compound of Egypt's #1 ally; to see banners supporting Omar Abdel Rahman, imprisoned in the US for attempting to blow up the World Trade Center in 1993, now filling the streetscape stopped me in my tracks: same same, but shockingly different.

In order to arrive at the office, I walked through Tahrir Square having been assured that I wouldn't get caught up in the political struggle as long as I didn't go on a Friday. I don't know how to express my feelings returning here for the first time since the celebration of Mr. Mubarak's departure one year ago. It is the same square but gone is the palpable pride. Several Egyptian friends coming from different walks of life later commented that the people now in the square are not the same ones as a year ago. Every one of these friends supports the revolution, even under the current difficulties; but every one of them feels that an unsavory element now occupies Tahrir and that its objective has nothing to do with democracy. Yet hearing my friends talk about how they now pay close, minute-by-minute attention to what's happening in Parliament when they were once complacent shows that democracy is budding. I just hope it has the chance to grow.

I wiled away the afternoon drinking tea and conversing with my favourite crazy brothers who offer congenial hospitality and shared wisdom in the treasure-filled shop established by their grandfather. Today's conversation centered on the medicinal merits of Royal Jelly and eating dates, honey, almonds and raisins. Every visit hosted by Essam and Mohsen over the past 16 years has presented a fascinating learning experience and a fun search through the jumble of new and old brass, copper and silver: same same, but delightfully different.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Don't Blink

In the midst of movement and chaos, keep stillness inside of you.
Deepak Chopra, Indian doctor and author (1946- )

Yes, I'm back in the concrete and metal jungle of Cairo; the jungle that doesn't echo with bird calls (except those from cell phones) but throbs with the cacophony of a million horns, sirens and people shouting. Whew. The air is heavy as overhead clouds cast a pale grey haze over everything and hold down the bad air making it hard to breath. Perhaps it is the weather, but the friends that I have re-connected with also seem to have a grey cast to them. They look older and weary. But don't blink in the midst of this chaos because you'll miss moments of beauty and calm as a roadside vendor smiles down at his sons, surrounded by a display of gorgeous artichokes.

And as five lanes of cars jockey in a four-lane roadway, don't blink or you'll miss a flash of refreshing oranges and sweet bananas. Ah Cairo: a city of a million facets, all unique. This evening a wise friend advised me that in the face of all that surrounds us it's imperative to maintain inner peace. I recall the Time Traveller also advising that the calmest place is to set oneself at the very centre of chaos. So here I am.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Grand Travel Companion

To sit alone in the lamplight with a book spread out before you, and hold intimate converse with men of unseen generations - such is a pleasure beyond compare.
Kenko Yoshida, Buddhist monk (1283? - 1350?)

The first half of my journey has passed quickly thanks to the lively conversations found inside a good book. From the lamplight illumining the cramped confines of an economy airline seat to that of a familiar corner in Frankfurt airport, my travel companion entertains and enlightens as books bring together a small community and lighten the hardships of war. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society has certainly lightened my journey. Onward!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Dancing with God

Bizarre travel plans are dancing lessons from God.
Kurt Vonnegut, American author (1922-2007)

Why am I here? What am I doing? I find myself at the airport again, ready to embark on a crazy mission that got into my head a mere two weeks ago. None of it would make much sense to a sane person but somehow I feel it's what needs to be done. I'm dancing with God . . . I just have to learn to follow.* More anon.

* The Time Traveller will be laughing hysterically at the thought.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Handsome Walks

Finding fun in simple ways makes the happiest days.

Admittedly, this is not his best angle, but even from the viewpoint of his derriere my canine friend deserves the pseudonym "Handsome". For the past week or so, he and I have communed over long walks around the neighbourhood. In truth, although we walked together he didn't pay me much attention as he found trees, signposts, fire hydrants and bushes much more fascinating. Although my presence went pretty much unheeded, I nonetheless enjoyed our daily meanderings around the park and will miss the outings now that his 'parents' have returned home. Canine friends are good for body and soul.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Art Opening / Minds Opening

It should not be hard for you to stop sometimes and look into the stains of walls, or ashes of a fire, or clouds, or mud or like places, in which... you may find really marvelous ideas.
Leonardo da Vinci, Italian polymath (1452-1519)

New and different experiences exhilarate just by being new and different from the well treaded path of life. Attending the opening of the art exhibition Perceptions of Promise: Biotechnology, Society & Art widened my vision and provoked my mind to think about things that I wouldn't have otherwise considered as a group of nine artists used imagery in a variety of media to pose visual questions about the issues and potential of stem cell research.

All of the art caused my brain to think along different lines and the perspectives of the scientists and artists presented during the opening's panel discussion were fascinating. Walking within the tent-like, chapel-like structure created by artists Liz Ingram and Bernd Hildebrandt, being enveloped by juxtaposed images of rushing waters, human bodies, stem cells and poetry, and looking down into its mirrored path, one feels a part of creation. The sensation of being a part of the art and part of the question of creation was comforting and a bit disorienting; as in this image, which is actually upside down. Experiences like this open eyes to different perspectives and minds to new and marvelous ideas. Bravo to all!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

You Gotta Eat Here

If a man knows not what harbour he seeks, any wind is the right wind.
Seneca, Roman philosopher (ca. 4 BC – 65 AD)

My soul flows with water thanks to growing up in a city that literally looks out to its harbour and being raised in a family of sailors and stevedores and so it always feels good to visit the docks and exciting to stand in the shadow of the lakers. I, myself, get seasick every time we sailed out of the harbour into Lake Ontario but nonetheless the freighters stir feelings of exciting adventure deep down in the depths of my stomach where emotions churn.

It was my stomach that brought me and out-of-town friends down to the bay area where a local restaurant has done the hometown proud by being featured on a TV food show called "You Gotta Eat Here". I didn't see the show but the local paper heralded the news in a full-page spread that not one, but two of our dining establishments rated among the country's outstanding eateries so it was a natural choice to give my friends a taste of hometown cuisine.

"Cuisine" is perhaps not the right word for the good food that comes out of the Harbour Diner's kitchen. With a menu featuring meatloaf and shepherd's pie, eating here on mismatched kitchen tables, sitting on 1960s vinyl-backed chairs, is like going to grandma's house for dinner: it's nourishing, it's plentiful, and it tastes good. I'm not sure I would tell people they have to eat here, but I would certainly recommend it . . . followed by a long walk along the docks to burn off a few of the mashed potatoes. ;-)

This town's got a lot going for it.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Full Moon in Leo

When we long for life without difficulties, remind us that oaks grow strong in contrary winds and diamonds are made under pressure.
Peter Marshall, American TV game show host

Each morning's entertainment includes the horoscopes from which I reap sage reminders for everyday living (such as "pay attention to your budget" or "avoid gossip"), guffaws ("your charms will mesmerize"), and sometimes insight, as in today when it was revealed that a full moon in Leo is what is causing my life to overflow with activities and to-do lists of activities yet to come. It is comforting to know that it's not my fault. ;-)

Friday, February 3, 2012

Movie Night

Life is the movie you see through your own eyes. It makes little difference what's happening out there. It's how you take it that counts.
Denis Waitley, American motivational speaker

A glass of wine and Mr. Darcy . . . what a lovely way to spend a Friday evening.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Kindness for God's Creatures

We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.
Immanual Kant, German philosopher (1724-1804)

Having chauffeured Cat to her pedicure appointment, much to her displeasure I might add, I happened to look up at the back wall of the clinic and notice the hospitality of the feline vet for our feathered friends. She might have blocked up the old ventilation opening but instead turned it into a well-bedded resting place. Only a good person could be so kind!