Monday, December 26, 2011

Roaring Camels

This morning the camels are roaring. That's the only word for the infernal racket they're making. Well, actually, I think it's just one camel making all the noise.

Two doors down from me, on the corner, is a camel stable. They sell camel rides to tourists. On camelback would be a pleasant way to see the west bank of the Nile here. I didn't try it yet. Although I have ridden a camel twice before. Once out a short way into the Sahara desert in Tunisia. Once out into the edges of the rocky Sinai desert.

In my novel-in-progress, I refer to camels bellowing. When I arrived in this neighborhood, I was pleased to find that this is as close as I'm going to get to representing their noise. But this morning the camel isn't bellowing. Well, he or she doesn't sound exactly like a lion either. But the closest representation of the noise is roaring. And it gives me another word to use for camel sounds, to give some descriptive variety. Onward & upward! All grist for the mill.

I was out walking my dog yesterday. We passed a camel which was loose, ambling along the Nileside path. It was a young camel. Not the full-grown height, and with hair that is still a little curly and fuzzy. Later we passed it calmly waiting outside the stable. Not tethered. I guess camels aren't always recalcitrant. Maybe it was mealtime!

Still hoping to finish first revision by Coptic Christmas. On a little hiatus. I'm past the crisis and its immediate aftermath, but I have a feeling I'll have to revisit this section before moving on. After all, I can't see where I'm going if I don't see where I've been. Which is part of the reason for studying history, and for writing or reading historical fiction!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Crisis: Gateway of Opportunity

Gateway at Dendera temple (photo by author)
Remember Victorian novels? There's the severe fever, and then the terrible midnight moment when the doctor says, "This is the crisis." And you know that the outcome of this moment will be life or death.

I'm in a crisis! Because my book revision has reached the crisis (or climax). The terrible confrontation, the moment of truth and shame. Where my hero protagonist acts despicably.

Precisely, my challenge is writing the unwinding or unraveling after the crisis. The denouement, we called this, in English class.

For my character, this unraveling could lead to madness or death—already his constant fears. Will the outcome be negative or positive? [Clue: title of this blog post!]

My protagonist represses his feelings, but now he's up against a wall. Under pressure, he must express some interior activity. But how much, and where?

Then there's the sequence and number of  confrontations/conversations after the crisis point. I need to delineate damaged relationships and their slow healing (to the extent that they do heal). As I reread my draft, I realize that the relationships heal  too quickly and effortlessly.

I've started a blank page for reworking this material. I'll throw up a skeleton of events, and then see which thoughts and feelings weave themselves into this skeleton as a kind of connective tissue, and which are unnecessary or uncharacteristic or should remain unexpressed.

The first 8500 words of revision of part 3 went pretty smoothly. And now—aargh! But if I nail this section, it's my opportunity to make the book shine!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Laugh for Everyone

Still not putting up a serious post. Focused on getting first revision done by Coptic Christmas, Jan. 7th--inch'Allah.

Meanwhile, here's a fun one, which I found via Nathan's blog:
Some hilarious Amazon product reviews. OK, that's ambiguous. Both the products and the reviews are pretty funny. If you don't get a laugh out of something here, I'll give you something free--I just haven't decided what, yet. (Brooklyn Bridge, maybe?!)

What's your favorite product/review? Please comment!

Just enjoyed browsing through these crazy reviews again. Which is good, because I'm in a bad mood today. Partly, or mainly, because I'm up to the section of the book where my protagonist acts despicably (about one-third of the way through the 3rd & last part). Right at the very beginning, before I knew that these ideas were going to be a novel, I was shocked when I realized that the "hero" acted this way. He did it just once, but that was enough. To me, this is the only logical conclusion, based on the historical record we have.

I am planning to do some posts on various ancient Egyptian temples, etc. Thanks to blog readers who requested more local color. I'll try and put something together soon for you.

In case you're wondering, the Yemen trivia does relate to my novel. My hero spends some time in western Yemen or southwestern Arabia, snow-capped mountains & all. Snow on the Arabian peninsula. Who knew?
And here's another Yemeni photo for you, courtesy of Wiki: A typical city.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Worst Book Plus Trivia Answer

OK, y'all, it's about time I did a serious post.

Meanwhile, I couldn't resist this funny one, which I found via Nathan's blog.
The "reviews"--LOL!

By the way, the answer to both our recent trivia questions is--Yemen!
So now you know that Yemen has high mountains, and ancient bridges, and green fields.

On a map of the Arabian peninsula, you'll see that there's a mountain range running parallel to the west coast and then turning and running parallel to the south coast. Inland of this mountain range is the infamous desert, the Empty Quarter.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Trivia Question: Green mountain fields

Where is this?
Thanks to for this picture.
And thanks to Hawkeye63 for IT advice.

Friday, November 25, 2011


Well, I said there wouldn't be a shark in my tale. And then the shark turned around and bit me.

That is, a shark muscled its way into my tale. Or sneaked its way in. A peripheral shark. Killing a peripheral character.

I wish it hadn't happened. It's a bummer. But that's life.

"Only the good die young." "No good deed goes unpunished." Oh well.

At least all the nastiness happens "offstage". Aristotle would approve.

Doubled the word count of the last chapter─shark and all. The extra words were needed. We had a skeleton  chapter, a sort of plot and character outline taking us from point A to point B. (Or, if you read my "Dolphin" post, from point D to point E.)

Now we have a living breathing chapter, with dialog and drama. At least, I hope that's how readers will experience it.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Trivia Question: Bridge

Where in the world is this ancient bridge?

Hint: It is not in China.

And here is a non-trivial question: How can I download the actual picture from Wikipedia? I type the URL into the photo link box, but Blogger refuses to accept it. Sorry, y'all, I write a blog, but I'm not a nerd or a geek.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Pearl Diving

Sometimes the internet is disappointing as a research tool. Usually, it's more than adequate. With dolphin information, for example.

And sometimes the internet is downright miraculous!

Here's the link for the article: Pearl Diving in Qatar

The old pearl diver who was interviewed in this article was once attacked by a shark. He has a dramatic scar to prove it.

I don't think my story will have any sharks in it, though. (Breathing a sigh of relief!)

This research is for the middle of my book, where my hero travels quite a long way. Not as far east as Qatar though. But it's close enough. I assume pearl fishing techniques are much the same on the other side of the Arabian Peninsula, and have been for millennia.

A vanished way of life, now. It's not easy to mourn the passing of such a lethal lifestyle.

Oh, by the way, I revised the chapter which was to include dolphins--and forgot the dolphins! I was so busy rationalizing time of day, weather, etc.--and so happy with the outcome--that the dolphins totally slipped my mind. Believe it or not!

The chapter did end up with one awkward transition, though, which I was planning to revisit. And later on, I remembered the dolphins. And where do you think they slotted in, very neatly and easily? You guessed it! They moved my hero and his friend, and my narrative, quickly and comfortably from point A to point B.

My subconscious mind had it all figured out, as usual. It was just waiting for my conscious brain to wake up and smell the coffee!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Ancient Dolphins

I'm researching dolphins. In particular, dolphin rescues of humans, in ancient and modern times.

What do dolphins have to do with ancient Egypt, you ask? Well, there are various dolphin species in the Red Sea, including Bottlenose Dolphins. In the Mediterranean as well.

What do dolphins have to do with my book? They come to the rescue of my hero and his friend, of course. One of the good things about writing fiction is getting to write stuff like this!

Click on this link for a beautiful picture of playful ancient dolphins:

On Wikipedia and elsewhere, you can find the tale of how the ancient Greek poet Arion was rescued by dolphins.

And there is a website page called Dolphins Rescuing Humans.

It will be interesting to see whether sharks also existed in the Red Sea in ancient times. This is what I'll be looking up next.

Mongoose Crossing

On the way to Abydos I saw two strange large-ish short-legged animals crossing the road, one after another. They were about the size of a beaver, but not as bulky. More weasel-ish in shape. But, like beavers, they had tails that seemed disproportionate to the size of their body. The tails weren't flat and hairless like beaver tails, though. The tail, like the rest of the body, was covered in brown hair—the same color as a beaver.

I asked the driver what they were. He said "mongoose", without hesitation. In English, no less.

I've been in Egypt a year, and this was the first time I'd seen a mongoose. Very exciting, especially because my novel has a mongoose in it.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised that I didn't see any mongooses before. After all, my guide book to Egyptian mammals says that they don't exist in this part of Egypt at all—only in the Delta and Faiyum. It does say that there are older reports of sightings as far upriver as Asyut—which is a considerable distance downriver from this area.

All I can say is that I saw what I saw. It wasn't a mirage. The driver saw them too. And he didn't seem surprised to see them. So I guess they're not all that unusual around here after all. There just haven't been any official sightings.

I have a postcard of duck hunting and fishing in the marshes─a copy of a wall painting in Menna's tomb. There are various birds flying up from the papyrus plants. There are two animals in among the papyrus. One is climbing up the stalk of one of the plants, and the other is already reaching into a nest for the eggs. Now I can recognize animals as mongooses.

According to the guidebook, while there are many varieties of mongoose worldwide, the Egyptian variety is grizzled. Well, the pair I saw had rich brown fur. Perhaps grizzling would have been visible if I had been closer. The two mongooses in the ancient picture have blond fur. So I suppose there were more varieties in ancient Egypt than there are now.

It's hard to imagine how such a large-ish animals could climb papyrus stalks. But squirrels can perch on flimsy  branches. Their fur makes their bodies look much bulkier than they really are. The same must be true of mongoose.

Apart from eggs, mongooses eat a varied diet—including snakes!

The guidebook is: A Field Guide to the Mammals of Egypt by Richard Hoath, The American University in Cairo Press, Cairo, New York, 2009. A very useful reference with good color pictures.

By the way, I always thought the plural of mongoose was unchanged—mongooses. But Prof. Hoath, Wikipedia, and all say mongooses.

Friday, November 4, 2011


I'm so happy.

Yesterday, I finished first revision of part one. (My novel has 3 parts.) I guess I never really believed it would get done.

I'm close to the tentative schedule I'd set a month or two ago: to finish first revision by the end of this year. Part one took  almost 5 weeks, starting Oct. 1. So I'm about a week behind. At this rate I'll be done with this revision early next year, which isn't too bad. Rushing is counter-productive.

In the dim and distant past, when I presented early chapters (early in two senses) to my writers' group in Texas, there was some feeling, very polite, that things were a little disjointed and hard to follow.

Part of this disjointedness came from presentation one chapter at a time, with two or more weeks intervening between chapters. I told myself that this was entirely the problem. After all, I knew exactly what was happening in my novel and where it was going.

But now that I've finished this round of revision, I can see what they were saying. I've run into all kinds of disjointedness all over the place. That's a lot of what I've been fixing, on this run-through.

I feel like a mechanic. Get this fixed, then get that fixed.

I feel like a visionary. Seeing what isn't there, but is there somewhere in another universe. Gaps that need to be filled, and the material that needs to fill them. A physicist, perhaps, on the hunt for that elusive dark matter.

I feel like a sewage specialist. Getting rid of you-know-what. It's such a good feeling to get rid of  over-written text that doesn't really say anything, or needlessly repeats stuff that's already been said.

Along the same lines, I feel like a butcher, excising tripe. Except that the butcher sells his tripe, whereas my tripe goes in the trash. (Well, it still exists in the heaven of earlier versions which are saved on my computer.)

Meanwhile, I should work on a blog post on Abydos. I finally went on Saturday. A useful visit.

But I'd rather gloat over having struggled through the flotsam and jetsam of my first draft (part one, that is), swimming to the shore of a version that is tight and has momentum. And then, sometime next year, I'll discover it's just a sandbank, and that I won't reach land until I've done more revision.

Onward and upward! The first chapter of part 2 is "on deck" (a baseball term, for Brits and others who don't know what that is--a team member who's ready to come up to bat next is "on deck".) In other words, it's minimized at the bottom of my computer screen.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Impossible Dream? Yes!

The movie August Rush was just on TV. As usual with movies on TV, I missed a huge chunk at the beginning.

I tuned at the point where a committee is informing August that his musical work is going to be performed. And I heard the following exchange [as well as I can remember it]:

How many people will hear it? Hundreds?


Good. Because I need for lots of people to hear it.

Isn't this is what creativity is all about? Sharing our work with an audience.

We self-deprecatingly say that we don't care whether anyone reads our work (or hears our music, or whatever.) Some of us say this, anyway. I can't honestly say it.

It's not true. It shouldn't be true.

If it is true, we aren't making art, or attempting to make art. We're engaged in a narcissistic exercise, or a hobby. Or we're overcome by fear. The fear of looking like a fool.

And because it isn't a narcissistic exercise—and because we don't want to look like a fool—we work and work to make it as good as we can possibly make it. For our own satisfaction, yes. But for the sake of the work itself. Because it's not worth doing if it's not worth doing well. Because we want to enrich people's lives and challenge their thinking with our art.

The impossible dream? Yes.

Tilting at windmills? That's the insanity of art.

Isn't this what movies—and novels—are all about? (The good ones, anyway.) Reaching for the moon, grasping at your dream. And maybe even catching it.

Speaking of the impossible dream, here's a post from the query-letter trenches, On Hope. This post is from Natalie Whipple (and I found it via NathanBransford's blog).

By the way, I don't know how many of you look at labels. Those categories that Blosgspot lets us create for our posts. Well, as you see, I tagged this post Writer's Diary and Writing Life (yawn) and also Love. Because we love our audience and we love our work (on good days) and we love our characters even when nobody else does. And this is why we do it.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Settling in--Revision

Since the beginning of this month, I've been revising systematically, starting at page one of my m.s. And so far I've done a pretty decent revision of 50 pages. At this rate, I hope to have completed a satisfactory first revision by the end of the year.

I hate to tell you all this, because next week I might hit a road block. OK, writer's block. Except that I really don't believe in writer's block. (I might explain in a later post.)

So what was I doing before, you ask? Agonizing about the fact that I wasn't producing any visible revision work, other than a few new chapters.

There are reasons for this apparent inertia. I was getting settled into my new environments. (I've moved three times since coming to Egypt in November.) And I was getting some distance from my m.s.. And my subconscious mind was sifting through the whole m.s. in a miraculous way.

So that now I'm able to be objective about things. See where the order of elements (chapters, paragraphs, etc.) needs to be changed. See what needs to be eliminated. Most amazing of all, I'm seeing gaps. More precisely, I'm seeing the new material that needs to fill the gaps.

OK. So I can't promise to put up regular blog posts.

Because this creative process takes vast amounts of focus and mental energy. As does blogging. And one of the two has to get priority.

Does anyone out there have experience revising any work of art? Any pearls of wisdom?

By  the way, here's a little something from the Barnes & Noble (online) Review.  Effortless-seeming thumbnail sketches of prizewinning books. 44 Bookers in 25 Words (Each) - The Barnes & Noble Review

Friday, October 14, 2011

Settling in--Ramla

OK. There's a reason why I haven't posted lately. Two reasons, actually.

First, I've moved to beautiful Ramla. Which is only about a 5-minute drive away from Medinet Habu. But that's a 5-minute taxi ride which I won't have to hassle with.
Now, when I want to go across to Luxor, I can walk to the ferry in about 7 minutes. Or I can pick up a motorboat taxi after about a 3-minute walk.

I'll miss living among fields and farm animals. (Although my dog won't. She had a terrible infestation of ticks last month. I know, too much information!)

And I'll miss living in the neighborhood of the Pharaohs. The vast Malqata palace site is near Medinet Habu. And all the west bank temples are just down the road. Not to mention stunning Habu temple around the corner.

And I'll miss seeing the mountain out of my bedroom window, in all its moods of light and shadow. The mountain of the dead people. The tombs of the Valley of the Kings and Queens, and other tombs, are carved out of this mountain.

The morning before I left Habu, I received a nice-going away present. The mountain was shrouded in mist. Not a frequent occurrence, these days. In five months living at Habu, I had never seen any mist. Not in the morning, anyway. The horizon is often a little misty in the evenings.

But in ancient times, during the inundation, the mist must have been a usual sight. It was quite something for me, to see the fiery dawn color of the mountain through a thick white veil.

Back to important matters. My dog loves the back yard here in Ramla. She sits on the scraggly grass and surveys her domain.

The yard has lots of shade, including some very clever shrubs with hot-pink flowers that close during the heat of the day and open in the evening. And in the front yard there are a couple of hibiscus bushes with flame-colored flowers.

In case you're wondering, my apartment isn't right next to the Nile. And, being a ground-floor apartment, it doesn't have a Nile view. But that's OK. I'm close enough to the river. I know it's there, just around the corner.

And reason number two─the second reason for not blogging for a little while─will have to wait for my next post….

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

To blog or not to blog?

Nathan Bransford just put up a post about blog-fatigue.
Looks like yours truly is a victim--I haven't posted in a while.
I would be less fatigued if you would comment sometimes!
(And, in case you're having trouble with posting comments, I've added a couple of pointers in the comment window. Hope these might help you solve your problems--with comments, not with anything else!)

My friend hawkeye63 isn't blog fatigued. He's started a wonderful Egypt blog. The current post is a heartwarming little tale of Egyptian hospitality.

And here's a link I've been meaning to share for a while. Not just for parents. This little gem with illustrations is for all writers. The bratty little kid is our nightmare--the kind of writer we don't want to be! Here it is: Pirate Story.

By the way, does anyone know a quick & easy way to get Blogger links to show up in the format you want (color, etc.)? I've revisited the links on this post several times, & still can't get it consistent. So I'm leaving it as is. Of course, if I got a little more sleep, that might help too.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Beautiful Habu Temple

It's about time I threw up a blog post. Sorry, all you avid fans!

My excuse is that I'm getting ready to move to Ramla, which is only 5 or 10 minutes down the road from here. [Here is Medinet Habu.] Ramla is much more convenient for getting into Luxor. Much less convenient for seeing all the beautiful ancient monuments on the west side of the river.

So this morning I finally visited beautiful Habu temple. How did I stay away for so long?

I visited the temple over a year ago, when I was in Egypt on a tourist visit. I was blown away by the relative peace, since most tourists don't make it over to this temple. And amazed by the remaining original paint and so much else.

I wrote a new chapter this morning. It comes in the opening section of the book. Revision is going slowly. Lots of re-evaluation.

Just letting my blog readers know that I'm still here!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Birches--and your point is...

On Sunday I was in a schlock shop. Schlock, not kitsch. Kitsch is sentimental bric-a-brac.

Several on-line dictionaries define schlock as being shoddy. In my personal idiom, though, schlock might be quite tasteful, but meaningless. Shlock is bric-a-brac which has no emotional or historical connection with its owner--items which are just a means of ornamenting a space. An interior designer's dream. Someone else's late-Victorian nightmare.

There are schlock shops everywhere in the world, I think. The style of the merchandise differs, of course.

OK, so I was in a schlock shop in Luxor with a friend shopping for a wedding present. Which is not schlock, in the end, because the recipient is emotionally attached to it.

This schlock shop isn't for foreign visitors to Luxor. Not a pyramid or a bust of Nefertiti in sight. The merchandise on sale here is for Egyptians decorating their dwellings.

Waiting for my friend to select her present, I looked around at the various tchotchkes displayed on tables and elsewhere. Finally, my eyes wandered up to the walls. And I saw paintings.

There were a few abstract paintings toward the back. But most of the paintings for sale were scenes of green forest glades or leafy lanes between trees, with a gentle hint of sun filtering through.

It seemed bizarre to see these paintings in a shop in Luxor, Egypt. Even more bizarre to think of these paintings adorning the walls of homes here. Incongruous is a more exact term, I guess.

It seems that people living in rainless sun-soaked Luxor feel nostalgia for landscapes which most of them have never seen. Green deciduous forests dappled with indirect sunlight. There's a German word for the feeling. The word escapes me. Whatever it is, it seems I've been attacked by this Luxor malaise. And that's why I'm mesmerized by the photo of Robert Frost's farmstead in Derry, New Hampshire.

Oh, and I just remembered the German word. Sehnsucht. The longing to see something which you saw long ago, or have never seen, or will probably never see again.

Saturday, August 20, 2011


The birches I remember from the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

Leaves gleaming gold in the fall sunlight. A solitary tree shooting up to the sky like a golden firecracker. Or a stand of trees shining against the blue autumn sky, golden as a leprechaun's dream.

The warmer maple colors are wonderful too—reds oranges browns purples magentas and colors unknown to the dyer's art.

But there's something special about birches.

There are green trees in central TX. An abundance of them. Many varieties of oak. Rugged old trees, each one spreading a broad canopy of shade and greenness. But their leaves don't change color.

And in Egypt there's plenty of green too. Climactically, Egypt should be a desert. In fact, most of Egypt is desert. As Herodotus said, fertile Egypt is the gift of the river.

The trees in Egypt are date palms, of course, scattered lavishly around the landscape. Also lush tall spreading sycamore fig trees, which are indigenous since ancient times. I haven't seen many of them, though. And you see various types of eucalyptus, which are not indigenous, of course. And the tough little acacias which even grow in the desert and are protected by thorns.

But there's something special about birches.

To see a birch-tree photo, click on this link:

More to come…

Thursday, August 18, 2011


The strange thing is: I just can't take my eyes off this picture. Why? I wonder.

This is a picture of Robert Frost's farm in Derry, New Hampshire.

For me, a familiar sight from the dim and distant past.

I lived in Derry for only a few months, during the winter, and the fall, and possibly the spring. But it was a gray spring, and gray weather all through, as I remember it. Except when there was white snow, but still with gray sky.

Which is why I ended up in central Texas, and now in Egypt. Because in my blood is a craving for sun, and for dry weather.

But there's a part of me that feels a twinge of nostalgia at the sight of this photo. As I said, I can't stop looking at it.

The photo shows Derry as I never remember seeing it, in brilliant sunshine. And it shows the farmstead as I never remember seeing it, in its gleaming white fresh coat. Photographed from a vantage point which I never enjoyed--from a field on the other side of the road, giving an attractive foreground of greenish grass and piled gray stones. (You see, there is gray in the picture, after all!)

And, OK, there are no birches in the photo. But Frost wrote a wonderful poem about them. And they'll be in the next post. To be continued…

Nathan Bransford, Author: What Is the Most Important Quality for a Writer?

I just have to share this discussion from Nathan's awesome blog!

Nathan Bransford, Author: What Is the Most Important Quality for a Writer?

Friday, August 12, 2011

Photo--Traditional Musicians

Putting up a picture for a change!

Here are some traditional musicians in front of ancient Luxor temple. (The temple view somewhat obscured by a modern performance stage.)
The temple is over 3000 years old.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Silence and Ghosts

It's quiet. I just realized that it's quiet.

It's mid-afternoon on the first day of Ramadan. [This post was written yesterday.]

We're in the country here on the west side of the river, among farms and also"villas" for foreigners. So the noise level is nothing like the loudness of Luxor, on the east side.

Farming is quiet here, because the farmers don't use machinery. Occasionally you see an antiquated tractor. I suppose farmers rent these as needed. But mostly farming is what it has been for thousands of years—backbreaking time-consuming labor.

But now I'm missing the background hum of voices. And animal noise. Bleating goats. Braying donkeys. Roosters proclaiming their authority. And the friendly horns of motorbikes and minibuses, from the road that parallels the canal, across the field from my apartment.

I opened the door to let the dog out, and heard the voices of neighbor children playing. And then there was the mid-afternoon call to prayer. And I let the dog back in, and the children's voices were silent again.

I suppose I should now talk about how, in our culture, we're uncomfortable with silence. And so on. Which is true, I guess.

But here, the silence is haunted.

When I first moved into this apartment, I was aware of rubbing elbows with ghosts. A vast crowd of them. The people that lived and worked here, millennia ago.

The Pharaoh's palace was here, in the 18th dynasty, in an adjoining village. And so the west bank of the Nile was highly-populated and very busy, while the east bank was more rural. The opposite of the modern situation, and hard to imagine.

This afternoon, in the silence, the ghosts begin to crowd the edge of my consciousness. I saw one once, at night, from my bedroom, standing in the doorway. He was in the dark of the hall, so I couldn't really see him. But I knew he was there, watching, looking. Not in a threatening way. Just wondering what I was doing there, in his space, in his time, and with such unusual clothes and such a strange haircut.

This is what ghosts are, I think. (I'm not talking about malevolent entities, which are different.) They are the electromagnetic signature of people of another time. Their time and our time somehow intersect, and we have an anomalous situation.

Now that I've written my post, I think I'll turn on the TV and let noise and electronics dispel the ghostly silence.

For more on intersecting warps of time, read Louis Sachar's book Holes. Brilliant.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Mystery fruit

On the ferry there are usually one or 2 little kids selling pocket packs of tissues. Tourist price one Egyptian pound each. Locals get two packs for that price. There are roughly 6 Egyptian pounds to the U.S. dollar right now, by the way. So the price is less than 20 cents for one or two packs, depending.

For the past couple of weeks, other little kids have been selling clear plastic bags filled with laymun. The price of these is one Egyptian pound per bag.

I thought these little green fruits must be limes. The Arabic word laymun sounds similar. And these fruits look like limes, although not exactly like any limes I'm familiar with.

So I finally got up the nerve to spend big bucks and buy a bag. The seller—a boy maybe 10 years old—told me, in English, "eleven". Sure enough, there were eleven items in the bag.

So, what is a laymun? Or what are laymun? The word laymun is the same for singular and plural, I'm told.

Laymun are indeed limes. But not like any limes most of my readers have ever seen. These limes are small, and more round than ellipsoid, but not perfectly round either. The length and the diameter are each less than 2 inches (4 centimeters or less.) The color is a vivid green or yellow-green.

These limes are certainly tart! I suspect that these are similar to the limes that the children craved in Little Women, by the way. And I bet these limes would make wonderful limeade, if I knew how to make lemonade or limeade. But on the internet I found the suggestion of pouring boiling water over a lime (cut open), making a refreshing summer beverage. I'll have to try that. It should be very healthful, too. Limes are supposed to be beneficial in remedying all kinds of medical conditions.

Believe it or not, sampling these limes is also research! These tiny fruits are probably much less hybridized than their giant supermarket counterparts. (I'm just guessing about this.) In other words, these limes would be genetically more ancient. So I'm hoping that they're similar to the first limes to be cultivated in the Middle East/North Africa region, a little more than three thousand years ago. Limes were the first citrus fruit to be cultivated, by the way. I believe they came from the Far East.

I find that these limes improve a cup of tea. Just divide one almost all the way through, and then perch it on the rim of your full-to-the-brim tea cup. It adds a subtle zing.

I wish the internet could transmit flavor, so your teeth could be set on edge by one of these little babies!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

A Reminiscence by Author Lee Child--and by the Ibis Child

Please click on the dove-gray print above, to see Lee Child's article. They won't let me change the color or even underline, for some reason.

I just had to post a link to this article by author Lee Child. He grew up in much the same postwar England that I remember. Although I grew up in London (and Oxford for a couple of years) and he grew up in the country; and although I was a more sedate child than he was.

My favorite library books, at one stage, were the hilarious "Just William" series. My parents thought these books were a bit silly, I think, but they were happy that I was reading. I also enjoyed a series of books about twins. Each book was a novel about twins from a different country or culture in the world.

My parents bought me Ladybird books, as well. Even on a tight budget, they could afford these books  (priced at 2/6 each and very well produced.) Each book had the same format: text on one page and an illustration on the facing page. There was a series of 3 books on British birds, one book on wildflowers, one on garden flowers, books on various kings and queens and inventors and so on.
There was even a series about a family traveling by plane (very exciting, in the early 60's) to each of the 5 continents. This little series of books is so politically incorrect now that it's quite funny.

My TV watching was limited. My father watched The Lone Ranger with me. And then we watched a silly cartoon called Top Cat where all the cats had Bronx accents. To us, these accents were hilarious. Little did we know that we would soon be moving to the U.S.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Camel Skeletons II

I've finally started reading Samuel W. Baker's book The Nile Tributaries of Abyssinia. And I'm wondering why it took me so long to begin reading this book, because it's packed with useful information about trekking through the desert.

Baker was one of the Victorian explorers, by the way—a contemporary of Burton and Speke. Baker mentions that his intrepid wife came with him. Being a man, and therefore obtuse in certain areas, he neglects to mention what sort of clothes she was wearing. So, at one point, where she is suffering from what today we would probably call heat exhaustion if not heat stroke, we can't tell whether or not her clothes were partly to blame. On the other hand, perhaps Baker doesn't mention her clothes because he is drawing a veil over certain common-sense improprieties in her desert get-up.

Baker's account of crossing the Nubian desert (in today's southern Egypt/Northern Sudan) is full of dead camels, of course. He refers to "withered heaps of parched skin and bone…; the dry desert air had converted the hide into a coffin."

He answers my question about garbage disposal in the desert: "There were no flies here, thus there were no worms to devour the carcases; but the usual sextons were the crows, although sometimes too few to perform their office." The crows perched on the cliffs, and presumably found shelter there. I doubt that you would even find crows in the Empty Quarter of the Arabian Desert. Time and desiccation alone would do the necessary work.

Baker counted an average of about 8 dead camels per mile. Camel carcases [using Baker's British spelling] are more abundant near the watering hole, since the camels keep going somehow until they reach water, and then revive or die. In the hottest part of the desert, there are sometimes heaps of half a dozen dead camels.

For some bizarre reason, Baker was crossing the desert in midsummer. It's so hot that the water evaporates at an alarming rate through the pores of its animal-skin containers. In one of the chapters of my WIP (work in progress), the men drink a little date wine. This will have to be changed. If water evaporates in desert heat, then volatile alcohol doesn't have a chance.

The above information is taken from pages 10, 11 & 13 of Baker's book. [I have omitted a tale of collective self-destructive behavior induced by a mirage. Not on Baker's expedition, though!] The edition is an e-book (Barnes & Noble), which does not include any of the original publication information.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Flood and Flame

The ancient Egyptians had a tale of how the earth emerged—one of their many tales of how our world came to be.

They envisioned a great watery chaos. And in the middle of the swirling waters appeared a little earthen mound, called the Benben. And standing on top of that mound was the Benu bird (or Bennu bird), the Gray Heron. And the earthen mound grew and grew, larger and larger, until it became the wide earth that we walk on every day.

This tale seemed strange to me until the other day, when I was on the Nile ferry. A clump of weed was floating down the river. And an egret was standing tall and serene on that rapidly-floating clump of weed.

Now it all made sense. When the Nile flooded, great clumps of mud with vegetation floated down the river, with long-legged avian passengers standing on them. This flood brought the rich black soil which made possible the harvest, without which life would be impossible.

So the Benu bird was a symbol of life born in the flood-waters.

But the fire of the sun is essential for life—as essential as water. So the ancient Egyptians also believed that the Benu bird was born in the flames of a burning tree in Heliopolis, the city of the sun, near Memphis.

The ancient Greeks adopted this Gray Heron as the Phoenix, born in flame. Herodotus reported that the Phoenix lays an egg in the flames, once every five hundred years, and the new bird hatches from this fire.

The Sothic cycle is an ancient-Egyptian cosmological pattern that repeats roughly every 1500 years (or three times five hundred years).  The ancient-Egyptian priests in Heliopolis may have used the legend of the fiery Benu bird to express their knowledge of the Sothic cycle or of some other cosmological cycle. The tale was a kind of code, revealing to the inquisitive Greek stranger the fact that they possessed this knowledge, without revealing too much of the knowledge itself.

So there we have the opposites, flood and fire, united in the paradoxical tale of the Benu bird or Phoenix, symbol of life.

[Wikipedia has an article about the Bennu bird. We have linked to their really cool picture. wh
Wikipedia also has a comprehensive article on the Sothic Cycle.
Also an article about the Phoenix, including the relevant quote from Herodotus.]

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Hungry Hungry Geckos

I've heard that, in the southwestern U.S., many people think that it's good luck to have geckos in your house.

Well, don't say that to my Brazilian friend who lives here in Luxor. She recently killed a gecko. Her account of the killing was pretty gruesome.

She's obviously scared of them. She says that there are geckos in Brazil, and they're hungry and mean. They'll eat any food you leave lying around. They'll start gnawing on your arm, if you let them.

I have the impression that, in the Amazonian region, all the wildlife is nastier than wildlife anywhere else. Nevertheless, geckos are insectivores, not carnivores. So my Brazilian friend is safe. But she probably won't come to visit me anyway, knowing that I have geckos in my house.

My geckos stay away from me. I stay away from them. So we all stay happy.

The geckos eat flies and any other bugs that they find. (They even eat up dead flies. Geckos are more efficient than a vacuum cleaner.) So I have all-natural, chemical-free, pest control. At no cost to me except disposing of the occasional little dry dropping.

So we're all happy. But the geckos still give me the creeps.

I know why creepy aliens in science fiction are often reptiles. For one thing, they have no odor. This should be good, but it's weird. My dog doesn't react to them at all. For her, they don't exist.

My geckos are putty-colored, which is unpleasant, somehow. If they had any definite color--say, like the little green lizards you see around here--that would be slightly better.

But my geckos are remarkable. You'll find a congregation of them on the domed ceiling of my living room. I've spotted as many as 6 up there. But lately I think they've decimated the insects in my house to such an extent that many of them have gone elsewhere to forage. I'm left with a skeleton crew of 3, I think.

They walk around up there on the domed roof as if they're on a floor. They run around. They move incredibly fast. This speed, combined with a long tongue, helps them catch flies. But I think they also must have some way of actually attracting the flies. Although I can't imagine how they could attract flies, since geckos have no odor.

The most amazing thing is their communication. Geckos use clicking noises, a bit like dolphin noises only at a lower pitch. Sort of "tut-tut" noises. Sometimes it's just the gecko in the kitchen telling the one or two geckos in the living room, "I'm here, if you're looking for me." But sometimes they're milling around together on the domed ceiling and clicking away, and I wonder what they have to communicate to one another.

I suspect that Mr. Samuel Morse heard geckos communicating. And that this may have helped give him the inspiration for Morse Code. Even if he was unaware of the source of his inspiration.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Writer's Occasional Diary--Cooking

Well, part of the impetus for the "Exposure" post (June 16, 2011) was the fact that I hadn't been revising. Or at least, not producing any written product. And this inactivity made me feel like a fraud, calling myself a writer.

But since last week, revision has been cooking nicely.

I've got a new chapter to replace my most problematic chapters. One chapter instead of three or four. What was a plodding narrative is now a brief tale of a friendship.

And today I woke up with a brand new chapter in mind. For the sliver of crescent moon, like a fingernail shaving, which I've been puzzling over for weeks. And now the crescent moon has its own little 230-word chapter.

So now I'm not a fraud. I'm a writer again. And all's right with the world. Even what's wrong with my world isn't so bad, really. Because I'm writing again.

A little green lizard—a baby—showed up this morning to help me with my chapter. A real live lizard, I mean. Really. In my living room.

This lizard wasn't a gecko. It was a dark green lizard with a pale green stripe. It's gone now. But it's a good segue to my next post, about geckos.