Monday, June 06, 2005

The Flame Trees of Cairo, and Assorted Fruits

The Poinciana trees are in full and amazing flower, great arches of scarlet and green vault over the roads and gardens of the city in a sort of high gothic exuberance. Crimson flowers cover the roads and pavements. They are called flame trees here, but are not what I usually call flame trees. On each flower the longest perfect petal is scarlet and gold or scarlet and white. My lawn has a sprinkling of the last of the purple jacarandas and the first fall of scarlet. It is amazing how good this untidy city can look draped intermittently in scarlet. It is enough to tempt me to try a hibiscus behind my ear sometime.

Bob is in Libya and I am on my own this evening. There was a cocktail party invitation, but it would feel a bit odd to brave one of these on my own. I am not sure why, as I am always on my own from the first minute, as groups of men and women always seem to talk separately, but I have chosen to stay home.

I have been at a friend’s house this afternoon, making wedding invitations for her daughter’s wedding. There is a wonderful paper suq here where they make invitations to order, and they have a huge selection of plain cards and envelopes. You are supposed to choose a blank and have them printed, but my friend bought blanks, and has stamped them in a beautiful elegant blend of gold with a hint of colour through it. She has printed the invitation of clear vellum (onionskin?) which we were trimming and tucking inside with two tiny spots of glue. We punched two holes in the front and threaded ribbon through them, tying it in a soft reef knot. My friend commented that she didn’t know why she hadn’t just ordered printed invitations.

As we worked we talked about the things we do while away to try to make sure our families know that we are trying to still be part of the family. I vividly remember making a wedding dress for my daughter Kim, in a hotel in Cyprus where we were evacuated during the first Gulf War. I couldn’t get to the wedding, but it seemed so important to me to make the dress.

I walked home. At six o’clock, it was still 34 degrees and so humid that my linen pants were sticking and sweat was running down my legs. I walked past a young woman. She was in the traditional long skirt and long sleeved top, and wearing a white headscarf – the outfit known as hijjab. As she walked she was sobbing quietly. It has absolutely rattled me. I asked her if I could help and she looked at me for one moment with bloodshot eyes and tears pooling on her lower lids - just a long look full of silent desolation. Then she moved on, and I did too, minding my own business.

I feel as if I have taken on a portion of her misery. It came down like a black cloud as she moved away. I can only hope that she feels a bit better.

It is my mother’s birthday tomorrow and I wish I was home. I will be in just a few weeks. Less actually, I leave on Monday.

We had an interesting trip out to a farm at the weekend. We had lunch with a group of Egyptian businessmen and their wives. We drove through desert on a highway until suddenly there was a green area on one side of the road, and nothing but sand on the other. The whole area was all farms. It is extraordinary to me that you can pour water on to plants in the desert and they will just grow. There seem to me to be no nutrients, and nothing to help hold the water. However, in this sand our host grows thirty four different types of vegetable and fruit.

There was a large blue tent set up for us. It was lined with ‘Persian’ carpets – not the real thing, but there must have been thirty large rugs. One this were tables and chairs and a formal square of deep blue velvet chairs for the men.

Lunches here follow a pattern. The invitation was for twelve o’clock, and we left home at eleven as it was a long way. We drank soft drink and talked. There were only a handful of people there for the first hour and a half, our host, and two of his friends, and us. Then some more men arrived. At about two his wife and sons and their wives arrived just when I had absolutely decided that this was supposed to be a men-only lunch and Bob had got it wrong.

The women moved to a different table and I joined them. At about three there was movement among the men, though the women did not stir. Bob doubled back to tell me they were going out to see the fish. I joined them.

It was about thirty seven and humid, and we were in full sun as we walked towards the rows of fruit trees, unfortunately still too small to give any real shade. Our host took us on a tour of his orchards, with frequent tasting of the fruit – and the peaches were so succulent and delicious. The grapes were fat and green and will be ready in a few weeks. Figs and mangoes were still a long way off. Pomegranates were each individually wrapped in gaily printed pages from an Arabic women’s magazine and tied with string to save them from the birds. We decided against the apricots as he broke one open to show us that they were crawling with grubs – which were invisible from the outside.


Blogger Helen from Canberra said...

Hi Jenny,
I would love to see those flame trees they sound just gorgeous. I think perhaps that you should have gone to that cocktail party as you sound a tad homesick to me. The fruit looks luscious and makes one wonder why we use so much fertiliser. As for the ostriches!! Aren't they haughty and flamboyant looking creatures?
It is 10o in Canberra this morning. quite mild, just maybe we are in for some rain. Here's hoping.

Regards Helen

8:19 am  
Anonymous said...

Hi Jenny,
Just a note to thank you for writing such an interesting blog. I feel part of it all and the photos add to it. I have been to Cairo once on one of those short trips they run from Cyprus and I wish now that I'd been reading a blog like yours then. It would have added so much to my visit.

10:36 pm  
Blogger Diane said...

I've always wanted to see flame trees...One of my all-time favorite books is The Flame Trees of Thika by Elspeth Huxley.

11:06 am  

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