Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Easy Rider

The streets of Cairo never fail to surprise me. Here, the term "chopper" takes on a new flavour.

Hope that everyone has a marvelous New Year.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Big Brother Is Watching

I was out riding with some friends one afternoon and the brisk winds had blown away every shred of Cairo's pollution. Clear days like these used to be the norm here in winter but thanks to the diesel engine, no more. We rode by a modern village graveyard with its little domes and when we looked back could see quite clearly the Great Pyramid at Giza overshadowing them. You may need to click on the picture to enlarge it.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Winter Shoes

It's too cold for sandals now and the shoe stores are displaying more seasonal shoes. Rather than simply displaying them in the window, this imaginative shopkeeper has hung them all over the front of his shop with bright lights for evening shoppers to take their pick.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Step Into My Office

One of the endearing traits of Cairenes is their ability to make themselves comfortable almost anywhere. A corner, a sunny spot in an alley, a shady spot under a tree.....any of these places can be converted into a workspace with a table, chair and maybe a water pipe.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Air Up There

Living around Cairo, one spends a lot of time in the car. I'm constantly amazed at the odd things that I see simply crossing the Nile on the Moneeb Bridge. On this lovely clear crisp day a group of men sat, stood, and worked on top of an immense advertisement for Vodafone. I'm not entirely sure what they were doing there, but I was glad that it was them and not me.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Tree of Every Season

The Muffler Tree of Cairo is a tree for every season, displaying new mufflers for needy car owners to check out. So much more interesting than a shop window.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Walker

Like someone from an enigmatic movie, an elderly man in a galabeya walks across the desert sand. Probably a rather routine explanation for his travels is that he is working as a watchman at the antiquities site on the hill behind and to his left, where the archaeologists have identified the ruins as being the tomb of a pharoanic queen.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Sandy Picnic

Three village girls share snacks on a sunny hillside near the Step Pyramid. The edge of the desert is a favourite play area for the children.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Reflections On A Winter Day

Cairenes often think of the canals of the countryside with disdain. They are, indeed, the repositories of much debris, although most of it is vegetation that will decompose and simply make the canal water liquid fertiliser to help produce our marvelous vegetables. With prices soaring, farmers are even more reliant on the natural sources of fertilisers. I think of the canals as the Nile Valley's circulatory system on a mechanical end and as the windows of its soul on a day such as this.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Stairs in a Courtyard

In traditional architecture handrails (if they are found) are put against the wall leaving the outside of a staircase open to the air and everything else. While this would probably put the insurance companies in the US right over the edge, visually it is very pleasing.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Truly Air Cooled

Cars in Cairo are an endless source of entertainment if you can avoid being totally terrified by the traffic. This ancient VW bus runs around Giza with it's engine open to the air, apparently to improve the cooling.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Autumn Canal

There is something about water that I can't resist. The canals in the Nile Valley are, in my opinion, totally under-appreciated. True, they end up with entirely too much plastic and trash in them, but perhaps if people had a better appreciation for their possible beauty they would care more for them. As it is, they are the circulatory system of Egypt, for better or worse.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The New Face

Not everything is old in Cairo. The Orascom buildings on the Corniche in northern Cairo gleam in the afternoon sun.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Cruisin' Through Traffic

Cairo is probably one of the few major cities in the world where horse traffic can be found in the downtown core. This was taken on the Corniche in Cairo near the Conrad Hotel, one of our many horse carts moving bags of something heavy among taxis, buses and cars. Most of these horses are Arab crosses, sometimes with a little draft or thoroughbred to increase the size. And horse people think that Arabs are spooky? Not here.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Time To Dye

Driving into the Wissa Wassef center the other day I found lovely red wool hanging off the palm trees. It must be the season to be spinning and dyeing the wools for their tapestries. They do their own dyeing from herbs and plants grown on the property.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Eat Your Heart Out, Yas!

This is my tea mug. It's big. It contains enough tea to jumpstart my brain in the morning. The even larger object sitting on my chair next to my tea mug is a 2 kg mango. I ate it for breakfast. It was delicious.

One of the varieties of mango grown in Egypt is known familiarly as beid el tor, or in English bull's balls, for fairly obvious reasons. These enormous mangoes ripen more slowly than many other types and are usually used to make mango juice. When someone brought me one the other day, however, it was popped into the fridge until the following morning, when it was devoured with much rejoicing. Poor Yas, living in frosty New York where there are no good mangoes.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Colours of Tools

The other day while taking a scenic route out of downtown Cairo we passed through Septeya, a district that is basically the giant Home Depot of Cairo. This wonderful area specialises in tools and construction materials. As a life long hardware store addict, I'd rather go to Septeya than City Stars. The brilliant yellow of the storefront and the glitter of metal and colour hanging out to view caught my eye.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Empty Eyes

In a crowded city in a crowded country it is always a mystery why there are so many empty apartments staring down on busy streets. Some are built by parents for children who decide to live elsewhere, others, well who knows the story.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Canal Cleaner

We have large machines that move around the canals cleaning the water hyacinth and other interesting objects out of the canals, but sometimes they need a tidying between mechanised visits. As I was out riding the other day I noticed a man in a row boat steadying the boat near the shore of the canal while a boy scooped handfuls of hyacinth out of the water, tossing it onto the shoreline.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Jazz Old And New

We just recently finished a jazz festival in Cairo, ten days of free jazz in some of the most interesting venues in the city. I saw the first night at Manial Palace, but getting up at 6 am on a farm isn't conducive to late nights listening to music however fun. This was a Spanish/Cuban group playing with some Nubian percussionists on the first night. The mix was wonderful and rich. But then that is the whole idea, to have music bring people together.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Instant Tooth Decay

For me, cotton candy was an unusual treat of sorts, something only available at a carnival. In less wealthy sections of Cairo or Giza boys can be seen carrying tall sticks with plastic bags of cotton candy stapled to them. Just what the dentist ordered.

Friday, November 14, 2008

A Sign Of The Times

This simple shot is for people who know Cairo and more specifically Maadi. Lucille's is an American hangout, a transplanted diner where you can get great cheeseburgers, apple pie and cheesecake. It's a tiny place and the "smoking" vs "nonsmoking" designation was always a bit of a laugh, but now things are changing in Egypt and it will all be nonsmoking.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Another Traffic Jam

I went riding with a friend to the pyramids of Giza the other day when on our way into the Nazlit Semman area we found ourselves in a narrow alleyway with a heavily laden donkey in front of us and facing the donkey a wide truck taking up most of the alley way in front of the donkey. An Egyptian standoff that the equids eventually won when the truck backed up to a wider spot.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Night Walk

The Manial Palace has an amazing garden, at least as seen by night. The walk to the area where the jazz concert was being held was surrounded by enourmous banyan trees with air roots that formed tunnels and weird shapes. Wonderful.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Just A Cottage

I went to a jazz concert at Manial Palace the other night, the opening night of a European/Egyptian jazz festival. There was a reception before the concert in a palace that had belonged to Prince Mohamed Ali, a fascinating space covered in gold and marble with a bedroom containing a solid silver bed. Just a weekend place I guess.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Learning From A Master

One of the biggest problems facing Egypt is the rather sad state of its educational system. Most children do start school and many get to a point of basic literacy, but much fewer actually survive the entire process. This fourteen year old boy attended school where he learned the basics of literacy and basic math but then he decided to leave and learn a trade. He's fortunate that his father is a master brick layer, an artist with bricks, who specialises in constructing unusual shapes. I can vouch for his skill and artistry, as I've used him on my farm. Here he is instructing his son in the method of constructing a dome out of bricks. At only fourteen, the boy's work is beautiful.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Yep, It Probably Is

Sometimes you see something and just have to look and wonder. I was at a neighbour's farm and some workmen arrived in a pickup truck which they parked in the driveway. As I was leaving I glanced at the windscreen and did a major double take. Dongrous? Probably.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Riverside Afternoon

A pair of young friends or lovers converse while a man sits waiting for something and an old man sells snacks near the stairs that go down to a felucca landing. A warm sunny autumn afternoon in Cairo.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Cairo Tower At Night

There is a story about the Cairo Tower on Gezirah Island (another one of those repetitiously named places like the Sahara Desert since Gezirah means "island"). The story is that the Americans paid Gamal Abdel Nasser a chunk of money to influence him in some way and he used it to build the tower as an expression of independence from American influence. Like many stories in Egypt, it could just be a story. The outside of the tower is a concrete filigree and an elevator takes visitors to the top from which vantage point there is an extraordinary view of the city spread below. Recently the shaft of the tower was surrounded in scaffolding for some time and I was fairly curious why. I had to go into the city the other night and as we drove by the tower I saw that it had been "improved" with lights that gradually change colour around the shaft of the tower. It is fairly dramatic.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

A Simple Restaurant

Egypt doesn't really have zoning laws or functioning building inspectors. Sometimes this leads to problems, like when a building collapses, but thankfully that doesn't happen all that often. What we do find is some extremely interesting and creative decoration schemes...but probably no worse than a giant moose or something. This restaurant is found in Khan el Khalili. I've never tried the food but I like the brass, wood and tile.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Concealed Shelter

This is not a model of a rocket but a folded umbrella out in front of the mosque of Hussein in Khan el Khalili. The shape models a minaret and when opened the umbrellas provide shelter for the overflow from the mosque during prayer or for people in the plaza below. The umbrellas are a modern addition to a very old mosque but somehow don't violate the design.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Pyramid Housekeeping

I was riding by the pyramids of Abu Sir not long ago and found a work crew cutting the grass and bulldozing the sand in front of the pyramid. Long ago this area was a lake bed where the water from the inundation would collect and stay over the winter, so tough grasses grow in the low land in front of the pyramids. I guess someone important is coming to visit. I rather liked the grasses myself.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A Family Home

In the villages a house is rarely a single family dwelling and if the Cairenes, or at least the older generation, are given a choice, they will build their children apartments in the same building as the parents. Visitors often remark on the many unfinished buildings in Cairo and Giza, and this multigenerational living is one of the reasons for them. The upper floor is often left unfinished until the son marries, and then it is finished for him and his bride. Daughters will often go to an apartment in the groom's parents building.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Just A Cupboard

The ingenuity of Cairenes never fails to impress me. This gentleman has a lock and key shop that is literally only a cupboard against a wall...but then how much room does a locksmith really need?

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Leading By Example

Crawling along in traffic, it really warms one's heart to be passed by one of Cairo's finest giving a friend a ride on his motorcycle while smoking a cigarette with the one helmet on the bike hanging off the handlebars. Sigh.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Baron's Palace

Around the turn of the century...the last one, that is...a Belgian Edouard Louis Joseph Baron Empain bought six thousand feddans of land from the ruling family of Egypt to establish a new city outside of Cairo. Heliopolis (meaning City of the Sun) is commonly called Misr Gadeeda or New Cairo/New Egypt locally. It was a luxurious suburb of Cairo, then separated from the city by desert, but now closely connected by rapid transit and roads. He commissioned a French architect to build him a palace designed after a Hindu temple, although the rest of the area had a quite distinctive architectural style. The palace was nationalised after the revolution, and recently was retrieved from some foreign buyers by the government to renovate and use as a public building, perhaps a museum. It has always been one of the odder landmarks on the main road into Cairo from the airport.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

That Time Of Year

Each fall they open the canal between the Nile River and the lake at Dahshur to flood the lake bed for the migrating waterfowl. It isn't entirely altruistic as the military have duck blinds on the lake that are rented out for totally exorbitant rates, but the rest of us and the birds that are lucky enough to avoid the hunters do appreciate it. The village boys are probably less thrilled since their goalposts are clearly visible on their now very soggy playing field. The lake bed will slowly dry over the winter.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Night Traffic

I lost my little Sony camera that is so handy for my daily photography and a friend who was in Dubai for a business trip picked me up a new one. The big camera is great when photography is all I'm doing, but multi-tasking photography is better with a smaller camera. So as I was out doing various errands all day in Cairo, I was trying out the new toy, and coming back to Giza across the Moneeb bridge after dark I played around shooting the traffic out the front window. No, I was not driving at the time.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Old And The New

An elderly Egyptian gentleman enjoys a cup of tea and the autumn sunshine at Fishawy, my favourite coffee shop in Cairo, next to some young tourists. Fishawy has been the classic Cairo coffee shop for many decades and at one time he probably would meet his friends there for a tea, some conversation and time out.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Disturbing The Bath

Water buffalo, known as gamoosa in Egypt, are called water buffalo for a very good reason. Imported here from India by Arab traders, they are a mainstay of farm life providing high quality milk, butter, and cheese for farm families, as well as providing disposable income from the sale of the extra milk. Young male water buffalo are usually sold for meat, which is lower in fat than beef and very tasty. It's sold in many grocery stores and butcher shops. In the countryside the animals come out to the fields with the farmers to eat fresh forage all day and then return to a room that is built next to the house in the village at night. But a nice swim on a hot day is always appreciated.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Don't Drop It

Glassmakers in Cairo make some lovely objects that drive people crazy when they are buying souvenirs. How can you carry these things home without breaking them, bubble wrap or no bubble wrap? Tiny tea cups, wine glasses, perfume bottles, Christmas ornaments...the glass stores just suck you into them like black holes.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Felafel Man

There is a tiny hole in the wall foul and ta'ameya (felafel) shop in Khan el Khalili, down a narrow alleyway from Hussein Square on your right as you are headed for the famous coffee shop Fishawy. I usually go upstairs on some of the world's steepest and smallest stairs to sit at one of the four tables above the shop for lunch, but today I was with a friend and we decided to sit outdoors with our sandwich. The menu is limited but the output is delicious. The patties of ta'ameya are fried in oil in a deep copper pan at the ground level of the restaurant. In the winter this warms the entire passageway, though it isn't so great in the summer.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Just Above The Road

Visitors to Khan el Khalili are usually so overwhelmed by the millions of tiny shops filled with everything from toys to jewelry that they don't look up from the walkways and roadsides. But the buildings in the area are wonderful old creations with marvelous features. These old wooden balconies over look the square in front of the mosque of Hussein. The odd little roofed room on the roof may well be an air vet letting the hot air of a Cairo summer escape from the rooms before.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Stocking Up

With the northeastern Sahara out the front door, sweeping sand out is a national pastime in Cairo and Giza. In the cities people buy their brooms from a shop but out in the farm areas the shops come calling. We were driving back from town and saw the broom seller riding his bicycle along the road, so we stopped to get a couple of palm branch brooms for the garden.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A Bad Angle

I've had computer problems at the worst possible time lately. The end of Ramadan is celebrated with a roughly four or five day holiday, Eid el Fitr (the Feast of Fastbreaking...known in our household as the Cookie Feast), and woe betide anyone who needs a computer tech as it starts. So my good laptop got very ill and I'm using an old one for daily emails...but my photos all upload sideways. I'm off to the Apple folk today.

If you can figure out how to get the direction correct (and I can't despite spending hours and hours beating my head on the keyboard) this is a photo of the sunrise prayer, the special prayer done on the first day of the feasts under the open sky near Abu Sir. Children play in the desert while older brothers and fathers pray.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Catching A Ride Home

At least once a day I see something that takes my breath away having spent years as a mom trying to keep kids in one piece. But it's very much a case of beggars being choosers. If all you have is a bicycle...a bicycle is what you use.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Waiting Room

With all the dust and sun in Egypt, eye problems have always been endemic. For myself, it's a simple matter of getting old and needing glasses to see anything closer than about a metre and a half (yeah, that's getting pretty old). For other people it can be cataracts caused by too much sunlight. I was utterly delighted to be introduced to the Maghrebi Eye Hospital by a friend when I needed my most recent check up. For LE 50 (less than $10 US) my eyes were checked by a technician with the latest computer exam and then I saw a doctor who checked what I needed for corrective lenses, checked the eye for any signs of damage or disease, and then offered suggestions for the best care of my eyes. What a bargain! And if they find a problem, the hospital is fully equipped to handle it. This place is a gem. They have one hospital in Dokki near the Shooting Club and another in Saida Nefisa square. And at those prices, most people can afford to have proper eye care.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Collecting The Crop

The farmers here have very tiny plots of land, usually less than an acre. The miracle of the Nile Valley is that it grows so much food in so little space. One of the primary summer crops is okra which grows on stalks that get taller and taller all summer while bearing lovely cream coloured flowers with deep burgundy centers. The okra plants are covered in fine irritating prickles, necessitating the women and men who pick the okra pods to be covered almost entirely in the summer heat. The okra then is carried to a central weighing station where it is bought on its first step to the market or to the processing plant to be frozen or dried. After the last harvest to go to market the remaining pods are kept for seed for the following summer and the woody stalks are cut to be dried for firewood during the winter.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Cleaning The Drain

Many of the larger farms have huge diesel pumps to draw water from the irrigation canals with inlets set in concrete. While out riding the other day I spotted this man squatting on the concrete box of the inlet while fishing bits of vegetation out of the inlet hole. From the other side of the ficus trees along the canal bank, he was spotlighted against the water.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Ramadan Decorations

In the villages and the more crowded sections of Cairo and Giza streamers of shiny paper or cutout shapes are strung from house to house during Ramadan, reinforcing the resemblance to a long Christmas holiday. A friend recently told me that during Ramadan in Jordan being caught eating or drinking in public, even for a foreigner, can result in jail time. I guess they must not have much tourism during the month. Not so here where life is rather more easy-going.

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