Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Little Red Mosque Is Still There!

When I was writing my previous post, I was a bit annoyed at my neighbors across the street, taking down their pretty lights right after Ramadan. They remind me of those folks who take their Christmas decorations down on Dec. 26th.

But the little red mosque still hangs above our street. I just couldn't see it from my window. And most streets still have some streamers, a bit dusty and windblown. And a lantern here and there.

Ramadan street, Luxor by ibischild
 Little red mosque, Luxor a photo by ibischild on Flickr. 

And you know, I can't really be angry at my neighbors across the street, for taking down their lights. After all, their garland of colored moons and stars gave me so much pleasure. And the neighbor women covered them with newspaper every day. Oh, but I already told you that, in my previous post.

Every morning while I was asleep, the ladies came out onto the balcony and clipped the newspapers on. And every evening, frazzled from preparing the iftar meal, the ladies took time to come out and unpeg them. A little thing, protecting the lights from the pervasive Luxor dust. Expressing their love of God. Giving people like me a little joy. God bless them for that.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Crossing Tahrir Square

Late one morning, I set out with two friends. My goal was the American University bookstore, which I have never seen but believe to be an Egyptological paradise.Their goal was the American University library.

"Only 20 minutes' walk," they said. So we schlepped across the 6 October Bridge and found our way down to ground level and along the riverside and somehow ended up outside the Egyptian Museum.

My companions wanted to go around the perimeter of the Square. I thought we might as well cut across. After all, there were just a few tents on the huge paved island in the middle of the Square. Really, nothing happening on this hot lunchtime in Ramadan.

A thought flitted across my mind. "Hallowed ground."
"It's just a shortcut," I reassured myself.

Luxor graffiti by ibischild
Luxor graffiti
These painted angels commemorate the people who died fighting for freedom during Egypt's January 25 Revolution last year.

And so we crossed the road and and began making our way across the heart of Tahrir Square. After one or two steps, or maybe half a dozen, I began to have the strangest feeling.

The only time I felt a similar feeling was driving along Route 30 in rural Pennsylavania. I'd just driven through the town center of Gettysburg and was driving across an enormous open green space.  And I began to have a more and more peculiar feeling. Could it be? And then I saw the monument and knew that it was. Gettysburg battlefield. What I felt was the presence of dead heroes.

In his famous address at Gettysburg, Abraham Lincoln said,  "...we cannot dedicate--we cannot consecrate--we cannot hallow--this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it..."

Gettysburg Battlefield is haunted with the ghosts or angels of the brave folk who died there for the cause. Tahrir Square is haunted, too.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Tahrir Hope

Tahrir square, Cairo by ibischildTahrir square, Cairo, a photo by ibischild on Flickr.
A tranquil scene! A street branching off from Tahrir Square. Serene green leaves and a beautiful old apartment building, and sleepy Ramadan shops below.
The perfect backdrop to our blog post!

From the UK embassy, Thom Reilly could hear the tumult of Tahrir Square. Here in Luxor, hundreds of miles upriver from Cairo, things were less tumultuous. The revolution mostly unfolded on our TV screens.

Thom Reilly is the UK Deputy Ambassador to Egypt. He is stepping down, and will miss Egypt:
Hope - Thom Reilly

I wholeheartedly agree with this assessment of the last 2 years in Egypt: 
Living in Egypt through this time has felt like a voyage down an angry river: with every bend I had hoped for a smooth patch of water, yet round every bend there were only more rapids. Yet now, suddenly, Egypt feels as if she may have found a patch of smooth water. How lucky I have been and how privileged to have shared this most remarkable voyage with Egypt.

And now, as the Deputy Ambassador says, there's so much work to be done. Labors of Hercules. Working together, Egyptians can do it.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Happy Eid al Fitr

Ramadan street, Luxor by ibischild
Ramadan street, Luxor, a photo by ibischild on Flickr.

The decorations are down now. There is one lantern still up, diagonally across the street. But I'll no longer be able to look out of my study at night and see the pretty crescent moons and stars in colored lights, hanging from the clothesline opposite.
These decorations across the street were hidden during the day, with newpaper clipped over them with clothespegs. This was to protect them from Luxor dust. At sunset each evening the women of the house would come out on the balcony and unpeg the newspaper. Voila.

Mini Arabic lesson
Root: FTR
Fitaar = breakfast
Iftar = generous meal breaking the Ramadan fast each evening
Eid al Fitr =
a time of celebration and feasting, breaking the fast of the month of Ramadan
So now you know!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Have fun! And don't litter!

Couldn't resist sharing this fun video!
CONO Amusement Park TVC اعلان كونو الملاهي - كونو متفائلين - YouTube

You'll recognize the pyramids and the Nile, then Tahrir Square.
Egyptian Museum.
Karnak temple.
Hatshepsut's temple.

At the end, the man says, "Masr beledna helw--Our country Egypt is beautiful."
I can't understand the rest, but I think he's saying something like, "Let's keep it beautiful." [Helw, at the end, means Beautiful.]
As you know, there's a big anti-litter campaign going on in Egypt.
Glad CONO is supporting this.

This commercial is typical of Egyptian commercials, by the way: young target audience, youthful fun vibe. The Egyptian population is much younger than the American or English population. Median age in Egypt is only 24.3 years! [This linked web page lists Cairo's population as just under 11 million. They must be restricting the count to Cairo city limits. Estimates of Cairo's population typically range from 18 million to 25 million.]

Enjoy your weekend.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Coptic Museum, Mar Girgis, Cairo

The trouble with the Coptic Museum is that it's too distracting!
Not the exhibits. They are tastefully spaced and grouped.
The trouble is, the museum interior itself is too beautiful.
Each exhibit room has its own wooden ceiling, hand carved in the traditional style. You can see a photo of one of these ceilings in this article.
And the means of light control is unique. One wall of the museum contains stained-glass windows. Each window on the other wall is filled with a carved wood mashrabiya screen.
You are so busy looking up at the ceilings and around at the windows, that you forget to look at the actual exhibits!

Good things about the Coptic Museum:
Air conditioning!
Handicapped/wheelchair accessible (as far as I could tell.)
The exhibits are presented in logical groupings as you proceed along a pathway.
Temperature/humidity controls in many exhibit cases.
Beautiful ancient textiles.
A couple of remarkable bishop's chairs, with mother-of-pearl inlay.
Ancient geometric designs painted on plastered walls.
And so much more....

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

A Ride on the Cairo Metro

"Mar Girgis", I said to the ticket seller at Sadat Metro station. He indicated how to get to the correct platform. Between my basic Arabic, the ticket sellers' basic English, and many gestures, I'm always able to find my way around the Metro. The signs are excellent, but Sadat station is a hub and is a bit disorienting. The ticket sellers should get a raise!
On the Metro platform, look for a clump of women and go and stand with them. If you're a woman, that is. Because the women know where the women-only cars will pull up. I never had any problem on mixed cars; but you cannot make eye contact with men, since they think you're flirting. On the women-only car, you can look around you happily, without worrying about what signal you might be sending. Sometimes you might even get in a little conversation.

Crossing the bridge over the tracks at Mar Girgis station, this is what you see:
The foreground wall is the wall of the Metro station. The background wall is across the street. It is the wall of a Roman (yes Roman) fort or pretorium.
As you can see, the outer wall of the fort is curved (yes curved.) I can't remember a curved wall on any other Roman fort. But perhaps my bloggees know of one...?
This curved wall, to me, shows that the fort was built by Nubians, who never build a straight line when they can build a curve. Domes, barrel vaults, groined vaults. Nubians from Esna or beyond (upriver from Luxor) build these challenging curves without any blueprint or any measuring or angle-fixing device of any kind.

Mar Girgis is a predominantly-Christian neighborhood, named for the church of St. George (Mar Girgis). St. George was an Egyptian saint long before the English adopted him as their own. In Mar Girgis neighborhood there are several delightful churches and a synagogue, all of them historic.

This time, however, I'd come to visit the Coptic Museum, which is next to the Roman fort. There was no-one in the ticket office, so I went away to get lunch (overpriced, though quite good--some sort of kofta.) And during the whole meal I had that guilty feeling you have during Ramadan, when you're eating and drinking publicly and so many others aren't. On the TV was a service of noonday prayers--this was Friday--with President Mursi in attendance. I felt bad for him, devoutly saying his prayers with the cameras on him. I suppose he'll get used to it, though.

After lunch, I went back to the Coptic Museum and was able to buy a ticket. But my visit to the museum will have to wait until the next post.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

On Twitter

Loose donkey--on Twitter!

Decided to go with Twitter rather than Facebook.

For observations too brief for a blog post! Word snapshots.

Saturday, August 4, 2012


I've been meaning to write about Cairo. I was there last week. Not this past week. The week before.

The thing is, Cairo's kind of disorienting. The big city.

Cairo is a city of over 20 million people. Possibly as many as 25 million. (Estimates vary widely.) So I'd always thought I'd never want to live there. But, in a sense, you don't live in a city, you live in a neighborhood. So it's just a matter of finding a livable neighborhood.

I was staying in the lovely relaxing guest house of the Anglican cathedral. It's in the Zamelek neighborhood, on an island. And you do feel a bit isolated there. A little bit away from the hustle and bustle. Although you're a jump over the river bridge from Tahrir Square, and in the other direction from the busy Dokki neighborhood.

If you've guessed that I'm thinking of moving, you guessed right. If I can find a livable neighborhood for me and my dog. Luxor is a lively small city with a thriving community of foreign residents. Many foreigners have left, but many have stayed, and many continue to return for the winter season every year--escaping the miserable British/European winter. But little Luxor can feel like a pressure cooker sometimes.

Believe it or not, the place where I was staying in the heart of Cairo was less noisy than my little street in the heart of Luxor. Both are side streets. But you get motorbikes racing up and down our street showing off a variety of excruciatingly-loud horns. In Cairo there was the dull roar of traffic, but none of the motorbike mayhem.

I wanted to chill in Cairo, and I did. Literally. It's significantly cooler there. In spite of greater humidity, this was a relief. And I chilled figuratively, without a schedule.

But I did revisit the Egyptian Museum, that amazing higgledy-piggledy warehouse of wonders.

And I visited the amazing Coptic Museum for the first time. But I think this could be a separate post.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Odds & Ends

My street is garbage free, at least for the time being. And now the street around the corner is looking spiffing as well. This is because people in Luxor and all around Egypt are cleaning up their neighborhoods. President Morsi is encouraging this effort.
This video shows people working away in a neighborhood not too far from the Giza pyramids (and a long way from Luxor.) ‘Clean Homeland Campaign’ in Giza | Egypt Independent

My street is looking pretty in the evening, with Ramadan decorations. The dog barks when the firecrackers go off, though.

Yesterday, I viewed the movie Salmon Fishing in the Yemen at our local social hub, the Regal Lounge. Quite an entertaining movie, but the basic premise is flawed. The movie assumes all of Yemen is a waterless rainless waste, though rocky in parts.
But I've been researching the Arabian mountains, traversed by the hero of my tale. The mountain slopes are green. Wiki says::
"The western highlands have peaks reaching around 3000 meters [around 10,000 feet], with relatively fertile soil and sufficient and plentiful rainfall."
Oh well, I guess, as a writer, I have to support artistic license, but I think there are limits!

On the way home from the movie, I bought a 6-liter bottle of water. I walked on home cradling the bottle in my arms, shifting the weight from one arm to the other. 6 liters is fairly heavy. I  was wishing I knew how to carry the water bottle on my head. That's what many women from around here would do. It would have been much easier.
Of course, the easiest would be a shopping bag on wheels. I saw one on my way home yesterday, but didn't buy it. There's another shop I want to check. But now this post is getting really trivial...