Saturday, March 31, 2012

Mother Nature Laughs

Winter is on my mind
but eternal spring is in my heart.
Victor Hugo, French poet, playwright and author (1802-1885)

The forsythia may have trumpeted Spring yesterday afternoon, but Mother Nature had the last laugh by dumping a flurry of snow upon us last night.

Snow seems to have covered the country as news reports came in from Newfoundland and Alberta of the storm's havoc. Hope, however, comes from "Newfie-land" where the snowstorm following St. Patrick's Day is known as "Sheilagh's Brush". This meteorological phenomenon is said to be the saint's wife sweeping out the last snow from heaven's corners. After Sheilagh's spring cleaning we'll see only blue skies. Laugh, Mother Nature, laugh. (Ha, ha, ha.)

Friday, March 30, 2012

Spring Joy

Forsythia is pure joy. There is not an ounce, not a glimmer of sadness or even knowledge in forsythia. Pure, undiluted, untouched joy.
Anne Morrow Lindbergh, American author and aviator (1906-2001)

Forsythia herald Spring's arrival with colour the equivalent of loud trumpet blasts. "Spring is here!", they call out. Dad took me for an afternoon drive to see a particularly giant display of their springtime cheer along the Old Dundas road. On the return ride home we took note of forsythia blooming all over the place, from tended gardens to wild roadsides.

Spring is here and there's new life to nurture and to hope for.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Guided by a Light

Put it before them briefly so they will read it, clearly so they will appreciate it, picturesquely so they will remember it, and above all, accurately, so they will be guided by its light.
Joseph Pulitzer, Hungarian-American newspaper publisher (1847–1911)

"There is only one rule for writing: Don't be boring." This is just one of the seeds planted in my mind by author and journalist Thomas Froese, a local lad who went off to live in Yemen and now calls Uganda home. Passing through town, Thomas stopped long enough to teach a few classes at a local university, including tonight's public lecture. I'm so glad that I showed up for this marvelous opportunity to spark my brain . . . and hopefully my imagination!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Cookie with History

A balanced diet is a cookie in each hand.

Girl Guide cookies are a favourite around the old homestead and have a pretty long history here considering that I sold them as a wee Brownie. Ever since that time I have always questioned which to take first: a chocolate or a vanilla. These two have been the standard Girl Guide cookies since 1953 with various other varieties being sold since 1927 and chocolate mint being introduced in 1995. I admit to a preference for the vanilla cream but learned early on that I don't like to eat all the vanilla first thereby leaving a line of chocolate in the box, and so I developed the strategy of taking one from each side of the box to maintain a balance. That's my balanced diet. ;-)

Monday, March 26, 2012

Feline Warmth

Good friends are like quilts - they age with you yet never lose their warmth.

It felt good getting the creative juices flowing as I got back to work on the quilt that had me laying out and pinning all the fabric swatches and then rearranging them until I was happy with the effect. Cat had other ideas. Her divinity necessitates that she be the centre of attention so she spread her magnificence out across my work. Oh well -- her company keeps me as warm as any quilt.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

♬ In the Bulb There Is a Flower ♬

In the bulb there is a flower,
in the seed, an apple tree,
in cocoons, a hidden promise:
butterflies will soon be free!
In the cold and snow of winter
there's a spring that waits to be,
unrevealed until its season,
something God alone can see.

There's a song in every silence,
seeking word and melody;
there's a dawn in every darkness,
bringing hope to you and me.
From the past will come the future;
what it holds, a mystery,
unrevealed until its season,
something God alone can see.

In our end is our beginning,
in our time, infinity;
in our doubt there is believing,
in our life, eternity,
in our death, a resurrection,
at the last, a victory,
unrevealed until its season,
something God alone can see.
Natalie Allyn Wakeley Sleeth, American composer (1930-1992)

Just as the daffodils blossoming in the front garden, this lovely hymn fills me with hope so I thought I would share it, here sung by Debra Nesgoda:

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Vernal Flowers Laugh

Awake, thou wintry earth -
Fling off thy sadness!
Fair vernal flowers, laugh forth
Your ancient gladness!
Thomas Blackburn, British poet (1916–1977) in "An Easter Hymn"

I arrived in the homeland to temperatures warmer than those experienced in Egypt and to daffodils and hyacinth blooming. What a warm and cheerful welcome!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Cairo Vistas

The journey of discovery begins not with new vistas but with having new eyes with which to behold them.
Marcel Proust, French author (1871–1922)

My final day in Egypt had me running about the nation's capital. It was memorable for losing (and then finding) my cell phone; having a lovely conversation with Dr. Zahi surrounded by three rooms full of books; standing alongside the packed Al-Azhar street waiting for my taxi while the muezzin called the Shiite faithful to celebrate the birthday of Hussein, and watching live coverage of the Coptic faithful saying their final goodbyes to their father and guide, Pope Shenouda. I was surprised to see banners honouring the pope in the midst of the Khan el Khalili. Perhaps Coptic vendors are responsible, but people of both faiths are genuinely sad at his passing.

One of my favourite Cairo vistas is the view of a series of minarets near Mohamed Ali's Citadel. It is a city that throbs, overwhelms, and fascinates. Farewell, Umm el Dune-ya ("Mother of the World") until we meet again.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Fuel for the Journey

Prayer does not use up artificial energy, doesn't burn up any fossil fuel, doesn't pollute. Neither does song, neither does love, neither does the dance.
Margaret Mead, American cultural anthropologist (1901–1978)

The journey to the homeland begins. One of the nice things about Luxor airport is the cafe in the check-in area. For $5 you can get a good cappuccino and a beautiful tart as fuel for the outbound journey.

There is a fuel crisis across Egypt these days. In Luxor, it is common for gas stations to have no fuel to sell for four or five days straight. When news gets out that a station will receive a load, the line up begins with every size and shape of vehicle imaginable: cars, service taxis, small trucks, big lorries, tour buses, water carriers. I've seen vehicles lined up two abreast for the length of four city blocks at 8:30 in the morning and there is still a line-up at 4 pm. Of course, two abreast means that traffic wanting to pass by must create a 'new' lane in the on-coming traffic. This being Egypt, everyone accommodates the situation and somehow it works.

People find ways to continue to work within the problem. Many, like this service taxi driver, carry an extra supply of fuel in jerry cans on their roofs. Other drivers store larger containers at their homes, which is neither healthy nor safe but the alternative is to be out of work for four days while they wait for the next fuel shipment. It's noticeable that service taxis are not as plentiful on the more distant, out of the way routes as they were before the crisis was initiated as drivers don't want to make the longer trips for the same amount of money. The country runs on this form of public transportation, so the crisis is touching many citizens.

I have been told that the situation wasn't as bad in Cairo, but one lane of the major highway that goes across the length of the capital (the "Autostrad") was a kilometer-long parking lot of people waiting their turn to buy gas at this station. My driver says that there isn't such a shortage for the higher grade, more expensive gas; but, of course, that's not what most people can afford to put in their tank. They are being reminded on a daily basis that democracy comes at a price. Some remain defiant. May their resolve fuel their journey.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Daily Discoveries

We should come home from adventures, and perils, and discoveries every day with new experience and character. 
 Henry David Thoreau, American essayist, poet and philosopher (1817-1862) 

Excitement filled my last morning at the Karnak excavations as the team moved from the Roman bath area just a little to the South to concentrate on the mud-brick walls of a Ptolemaic building that may reveal a third bath complex. It might also be a priest's house. Who knows? In any case, the area is rich with pottery, ceramic figurines and coins. I will wait with baited breath to hear of their new discoveries, which seem to happen on a daily basis here.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Re-visiting Old Friends

If laid beside a stone, under shelter of this cliff, they would, no doubt, remain unmolested till the disappearance of the storm should permit me to revisit this spot in the afternoon or on the morrow.
Charles Brockden Brown, American author and historian, in Edgar Huntly

I had the opportunity to re-visit two old friends today: one a talkative colleague and the other a silent monument and both with interesting stories to tell. A mutual friend had us on a mission to collect some sand from Deir el Medina and so we approached from a quiet route, walking over the pebbly desert hills rather than driving up the asphalt road with other visitors. Our route gave a sense of the desertedness that the site once enjoyed, hidden from the valley below. Here lived the painters of the tombs of the pharaonic kings. A community still lived here in the third century B.C. when the Greek-heritage Ptolemies built a small but exquisite temple. Here lived monks for centuries, both within and without the old temple walls, hence the name Deir el Medina: "Monastery of the City".

I need to make a habit of re-visiting old friends, to be reminded of their wonderful characters and to discover new fascinating things about them. I had such a nice morning with my friends, the antiquities inspector and the temple. Here crowned vultures fly across the ceiling's night sky.

Although the temple is dedicated to the goddesses Hathor and Maat, Osiris figures prominently in the wall decoration. His royal robes, here portrayed as beaded, makes for quite an impressive specter. I was happy to re-make his acquaintance.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Night Tour

And the night shall be filled with music,
And the cares that infest the day
Shall fold their tents like the Arabs
And as silently steal away.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, American poet (1807–1882), in "The Day Is Done"

Having spent the entire day indoors cleaning, I felt the need to get out and about even though Ra had long passed into the depths of the underworld on his nightly voyage. So Adel picked me up at 8pm and we went off for a short night tour of the lights of Qurn mountain.

This dramatic night presentation of the mountain and its antiquities is the brainchild of Egypt's former Minister of Culture, Farouk Hosni. He wasn't much into antiquities (my personal opinion) but he was/is an artist who appreciated beauty in many forms. So back in 2010 he commissioned Egypt's Sound and Light organization and a French lighting company, Architecture Lumière, to create a night spectacular across the length of the Theban mountain range, from the Valley of the Queens to the South all the way to the town of "New Gourna", located beyond the Valley of the Kings to the North.

The star of the show is El Qurn mountain, raising some 490m above the valley floor. And, if I'm not mistaken, that's Venus and Mars hovering above for added spectacle. Every night, from dusk to midnight, 922 lights illumine the night landscape. Some have questioned the economic sense and environmental impact of the project that cost LE 56 million ($10 million) to set up and an ungodly monthly electric bill in an area where the electric current bounces up and down all day long. No doubt the show has its drawbacks, but I must say: it's quite breathtaking.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

An Orange Day

Orange is red brought nearer to humanity by yellow.
Wassily Kandinsky, Russian painter and art theorist (1866–1944)

Popping out of bed and running to get my camera from the living room, I was in time to catch the Sun rise just above the horizon on a day clear enough that I could see the mountains that border the Nile valley on one side and dive into the Red Sea on the other.

Looking up from my email before 6:30AM, I caught the colourful balloon sailing by. Even after three years, the sight of balloons never fails to excite me.

And just about 12 hours later, I caught the setting Sun from my rooftop perch. It was definitely an orange day. Orange is my favourite colour. Other favourites are red, yellow, blue, and green. ;-)

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Real Thing (or not)

Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.
Abraham Lincoln, American president (1809–1865)

Someone brought soft drinks as a treat for this morning's "second breakfast" at the excavation. At first I thought I was being offered Coca-Cola; declining in favour of tea, I happened to take a second look and found it was not in fact "The Real Thing" but a local knock-off called Lina-Cola (note that it is a "Registered Trademark"). I have it on good authority that it doesn't taste very good so the moral of the story is: keep with what's real.

In my world, the baby donkey and his friend the egret are real. They live just to the south of me.

And although it may seem unreal, the afterglow of an Egyptian sunset is very real. I'm thankful for my reality. I'm blessed. Ilhumdulila!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Moving Forward

We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we're curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.
Walt Disney, American animator and film producer (1901–1966)

I'm taking a few things with me when I depart next week.  ;-) Everything - well, almost everything - was packed, wrapped and organized before the truck and crew arrived at noon.

No need for a forklift when you have eight strong men willing to hoist a load into the truck. This was the last skid and it had to be put together outside of the truck for lack of space.

I had a great team helping me. They worked hard for hours hauling heavy boxes down to the truck. Their energy and positive attitude made what could have been a difficult day stress-free for me. Yay Team!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Bird's Eye View

Be like the bird who, pausing in her flight awhile on boughs too slight, feels them give way beneath her, and yet sings, knowing she hath wings.
Victor Hugo, French author and statesman (1802–1885)

From my rooftop perch just before sunset, I delight in all the activity of the final hour of light. The shepherd, who visits this same patch at sunrise, brings his small flock for a final munch.

The farmer drives up on his motorcycle and takes a look at his land. Today he brought a small sickle and trimmed the lower leaves of the yearling banana plants.

And the path across the way is well trod as people make their way home at a pretty quick pace. While all this activity bustles on all sides of my perch, a hundred birds sing praises to the day. Cheers!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Happy on the Nile

Only buy something that you'd be perfectly happy to hold if the market shut down for 10 years.
Warren Buffett, American businessman, investor, philanthropist

With a smile, I crossed the "Happy Nile" in order to board "Hatshepsut" for a 10-minute ride south to the Sonesta St. George Hotel, which is conveniently located across the street from the bank. The journey is significantly less expensive by land using the city's service taxis, but it is significantly more pleasurable using these small boat taxis and staying on the Nile for as long as possible.

From my Nile viewpoint I was surprised to see all the development along the West Bank that has gone up since the revolution and the absence of any authority. Before the revolution, then Governor Samir Farag had begun to tear down buildings along the waterfront, citing them as illegal constructions because land immediately adjacent to the Nile is government property. So what will become of these new buildings when Egypt has her new president and authority returns? Obviously, these investors are willing to gamble.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

That Sinking Feeling

All the water in the world, however hard it tries, can never sink the smallest ship unless it gets inside, and all the evil in the world, the blackest kind of sin, can never hurt you in the least, unless you let it in.

It has yet to be reported how the water got inside the M/S Nile Crocodile, one of the vessels that cruises the stretch of the Nile between Luxor and Aswan. Launched in 1989, the Crocodile has been resting on the Nile's riverbed since Thursday, and it doesn't look like it will be going anywhere soon. Nor will the boats docked between it and the Corniche.**

My day started on better footing than the captain's, with a glorious sunrise thanks to the smokey atmosphere.

Visiting the excavations at Karnak Temple I was impressed by the troweling skills of the workmen. Mud brick is difficult to see and to uncover properly but this fellow revealed the beautiful line of a mud-brick wall. Admittedly, some people may not consider this art, but I'm an archaeologist so this stuff is beautiful to me.

** The Next Morning Update: I should have mentioned that there were no passengers on board when the leak 'struck'. There are suspicions that the sinking is insurance related. Let's call it "Nile Lightening".

Friday, March 9, 2012

Smokey Day

Youth is in a grand flush, like the hot days of ending summer; and pleasant dreams thrall your spirit, like the smoky atmosphere that bathes the landscape of an August day.
Donald G. Mitchell (a.k.a "Ik Marvel"), American author (1822-1908)

Since the winds have finally settled, farmers are able to burn the stubble of their harvested fields with relative safety and so the landscape becomes bathed in a soft smokey haze, creating a sleepy atmosphere on this quiet day of rest.

The smoke also intensifies the colours of Ra's departure over the mountain as seen from my rooftop perch.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

It's Party Time!

On with the dance! let joy be unconfined;
No sleep till morn, when Youth and Pleasure meet
To chase the glowing hours with flying feet.
Lord Byron, British poet (1788–1824) in Childe Harold's Pilgrimage

Whether a wedding or a shop opening, multicoloured lights let every one around know where to find the party. As I was walking along the street I noticed this pick-up truck and I couldn't help but smile at the thought of the festivities to come. Nevertheless, I'm quite happy that this is nowhere near our flat because the lights are most certainly accompanied by high decibel music going on well past my bedtime . . . 8:30 P.M. ;-) "No sleep til morn" is modus operandi around here.

Just down the street I visited with my favourite bakers. They have expanded their repertoire but, alas, my favourite cookies were not in sight. Probably a good thing too, with respect to my waistline.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

One Small Step

When in doubt, just take the next small step.

It may not look like much but I'm very proud of this box because it signifies one small achievement in containing odd-shaped belongings into something that can be put on a pallet-skid. Several other articles are waiting in the wings; step-by-step I'll get them boxed and "Saran"-wrapped.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Breakfast of Champions

Work at the excavation stops at 10am for "second breakfast". "First breakfast" is taken at home and is normally just tea and maybe a biscuit or two, so after working hard for two and a half hours the team needs nourishment. Tamayya (the Egyptian falafel) sandwiches are often purchased but today we had fuul (baked fava beans). The presentation was beautiful with the bread, onions, and hot pepper and salt on the side for individual seasoning, reminding me of the overflowing offering tables depicted on tomb paintings. I wasn't hungry but the fuul was so tasty that I ate the whole serving, spooning up the beans with pieces of bread. Delicious! And nourishing too!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Ode to an Egyptian Cat

Beloved Bastet, mistress of happiness and bounty, twin of the Sun God,
slay the evil that afflicts our minds as you slay the serpent Apep.
With your graceful stealth anticipate the moves of all who perpetrate cruelties and stay their hands against the children of light.
Grant us the joy of song and dance, and ever watch over us in the lonely places in which we must walk.
Ancient Egyptian Prayer to the Goddess Bastet

Sitting on the balcony with my afternoon espresso, I miss Cat; but I know she is being adored with head rubs and Temptations treats (and, I suspect, some blood sacrifices too -- ouch!) so she is content where she is.

I woke up to a beautiful view of the sacred mountain lit with the rays of the sunrise which make Hatshepsut's funerary temple stand out against the rugged landscape.

Today marked the first time that I saw more than one or two balloons aloft. More than a few had already sailed by before I caught this photo through our tinted windows that accentuate the colours of the morning. A million dollar view right from my desk.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

A Sparkling Smile

Laughter sparkles like a splash of water in sunlight.

After spending the morning playing in the dirt, helping to excavate a latrine, it was lovely to sit on the top deck of the ferry in the afternoon sunlight, gazing at the sparkles on the water and wonder at their message. There seemed to be a message in their formation but perhaps it was just, "Smile!"

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Don't Forget the Teddy Bear(s)!

If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day, so I never have to live without you.
A. A. Milne, English author (1882–1956) in Winnie the Pooh

Sitting with a cappuccino, flipping through a New Yorker magazine looking for the best parts -- the cartoons -- I happened upon one of an Egyptian theme. Thinking back to the contents of Tut's tomb and its vast amount of "stuff" packed for the king's voyage into the next life, I don't recall a Teddy bear in the inventory. The priests obviously missed something. All this chatter of forgetting something is relevant to 2012 as I pack for another journey and hope that I'm not forgetting anything. And, as a matter of fact, the bears are not yet in a box, carefully inventoried and labeled. Bokra.

A related quest for garbage bags and plastic wrap had me wandering Luxor's back streets this afternoon and I found myself standing before an abandoned house buried knee deep in new development. Poor thing; it's lovely door looks like it is sinking in the quicksand of time.