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.]