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.