Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Taxi driver

I had another odd taxi driver incident yesterday.

"Where do you live?" said the driver.
"Do you have an Egyptian boyfriend?"
For a moment I wasn't sure I had understood him. then I thought he must have thought that I was living here with an Egyptian.
"No, I have an Australian husband."

"Give me your mobile." This was said with such authority that I was reaching for it before I even thought about it. Then I realised how idiotic this was.

"Why?" I asked.

So I can put your number in mine and give you my number so I can be your boyfriend."

I said very clearly that I did not want a boyfriend and ignored him. His hand was creeping down the back of the passenger seat towards my knee so I hauled my large bag of shopping onto my knee, feeling somewhat pleased when it belted him on the hand.

When we pulled up I handed him ten pounds as I got out. Now this was well and truly enough for the fare and in fact about twice what a local would pay.

"Not enough" he shouted.

Then added "I don't want you for my girlfriend, you don't pay enough!"

At this stage my large and very serious looking guard, Ahmed, was heading towards the car looking decidedly focussed on the driver, so he took off. Ahmed apologised for the badness of some Egyptian men.

I am OLD. Too old anyway for any off this nonsense and I get so fed up with it. I am well past the average use-by date, large (though that is often an asset here)and have no pretensions to beauty. Mind you, this guy was no catch and was missing most of his front teeth.

I can't answer questions privately when they are added as comments. So - answers for some of you for whom I don't have email addresses. If you want a private answer give me an address in the text of the comment.

For the query about genital covers - I don't know why they put them on babies - actually both sexes wear them but they are different. It is not a Middle East tradition, and no longer a tradition anywhere as far as I know. The pieces in the photos are antiques from Sri Lanka, and they had them in Malaysia too.

Now my very good friend Helen from Canberra - you are just NOT to say that it has not been a good week. I have been worrying for days. Please tell me by email what is happening to you.

I howled with laughter over my son's blog with the triple soup! He writes brilliantly - as do Tabbi and my other daughters, Karmen and Kim. Isn't it lovely when your children can surprise and amaze you with their talent?

More later - I have LOTS of photos of St Simeons and the Citadel in Aleppo (both Syria).

Click on the photo below for a set of photos on the road to Aleppo.
Road to Aleppo, Syria

Click on the photo below for a set of photos of the Beit Wakil Hotel.
Beit Wakil Hotel Aleppo

Click on the photo below for a set of photos of the Citadel.
The Citadel, Aleppo, Syria

Click on the photo below for a set of photos of St Simeons.
The monastery, chapel and village near St Simeon's

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Flashback to Kandy

I have never talked about a wonderful antique shop we found in Kandy. I am going to let the pictures do most of the talking, but it was run by Waruna and Yumi, and was a visual feast. It wandered up and down and in and out of small rooms in a single shop – and we just loved it. We were supposed to be looking at jewels in a ‘museum’ but after we discovered this that idea went flying! In fact, we also dropped the visit to the botanical gardens so we could call back in next morning.

Remember - one photo is ‘the tip of the iceberg’ and clicking on it will lead you to a group.

The heart shaped silver pieces at the bottom are genital covers for baby girls - worn until they are about two.

Kandy Kandy, Sri Lanka

Kandy, Sri Lanka
Sam and I became 'drive-by shooters' here, as we found that firing random shots towards the street gave us some interesting photographs - even if they were not perfect!

Saturday, September 24, 2005

From the Downright Tacky to Lush and Gorgeous

There is a theme park on the Corniche – the road that runs beside the Nile. I have looked many times at the archway to the Pharaonic Village with its brightly painted hieroglyphs and suppressed a mental shudder. We seem to zip past it regularly. Other than wondering if the men inside really did wear those tiny see-through pleated linen mini skirts (and no, I am not panting) I have managed to suppress my curiosity.

Last week I managed to find out. A group of Australian artists have arrived in Egypt with a tour being run by a lecturer in photography. Oddly enough I had been hearing about this group for some time, as people who have known one or other have told me about it. The first was at the Sydney quilt show. Then I worked with Matt Dwyer – a quietly talented Queensland silversmith with a real gift for teaching and a quirky and elegant witticism in his work. He and his girlfriend were on the trip.

Then in Egypt I met someone else who had a friend on the trip. She commented that she was going to join them for the first part of the tour, and did I want to come. I was a bit reluctant to push in, but decided to join them for the Pharaonic Village.

I arrived to the puzzling realisation that there was nothing inside the gates but an empty space, shops, and ticket boxes. A quick phone call located the group already loaded and waiting on a barge with tiered seating. We pushed off into the Nile and chugged on our platform down the river and across a narrow channel. Then down a papyrus lined channel with very large Egyptian statues of gods like Anubis and Horus and Pharoahs like Akenhaten and Ramses 2. The boat passed in front of each piece while a voice on a loudspeaker on the boat told us about each statue. It was nice being out on the water, and this was surprisingly pleasant. Not wanting to push in with the group I had slipped into the back row of the boat so didn’t join the group jostling for the best photographs from the front row.

There was a flurry of excitement at Cleopatra’s statue when a really lovely kingfisher came to sit briefly on her head before flitting back to Ramses 2. Then another barge approached towing what was obviously a sick cow on a platform to the mainland – I hope for veterinary attention.

We chugged on and arrived at the village. Most of this was intended to be viewed from the water. I can’t remember most of it, as the tourists were far more interesting to watch.

I realised immediately that I was not going to see men in tiny white skirts. They had erected a board beside each display showing a copy of a tomb painting to give the source of their information. This was interesting. However, somewhere between the time of the pharaohs and now the garb for men had changed to long sleeved white shirt with rolled up sleeves, long wrap ‘skirt’ and a red and white striped headscarf – fetching but not what I had hoped to see. Women instead of bared bellies and a tight skirt wore long white robes with braid around hems and long sleeves, and long braided ‘wigs’ which I felt would have been more appropriate on staff in palaces than women in a peasant village. It was a compromise in a Moslem Egypt- but twas a pity!

The first display I remember (thought there were potters and builders and plasterers in there somewhere) was a display of ploughing. A simple wooden plough was yoked to a cow and being driven by a man on foot while a young girl hurled seed into the furrows behind him. They were followed by a group of stolid looking sheep who trudged behind – and according to the voice-over pushed the seed into the soil. Unfortunately for the farmer, the sheep were followed by about one hundred pigeons happily eating the seed thrown by the girl, who followed the farmer, who drove the plough, before the sheep that trod the grain and so on. They had obviously strayed from the display of pigeon houses next door. At the end of the row everyone knew the show was over. The cow stopped. The farmer stopped. The sheep dispersed with as little enthusiasm as they had been treading grain, and the pigeons swirled into the sky over our heads and proceeded to create a rain of droppings over the tourists.

On a bend in the river a young man enthusiastically thwacked the water with a large stick. It looked like an odd way to earn a living, but the voice over assured us that he did this to frighten the fish into the nets (and it was backed up by the tomb painting so it must be true). A moment later the voice over was saying “Let us see how lucky he is today” and right on cue he hauled in the nets to reveal four large fish, which he managed to make look almost alive with rapid jiggling of the nets and a broad smile in our direction. As he jiggled they flopped around, and the boat paused again to allow the front row to take photos, then the middle row surged forward to have a go. By the time the back row was trying to get shots his arms were wearing out and his smile was decidedly sheepish as the fish would surge up then lie limply while he gathered more strength in his arms for another hurl.

You are probably getting a feeling for what this was like. We did get of the barge and walk around through other exhibits, but it was all a bit ordinary. There was a model of King Tut’s tomb – but the group was going on to see the real thing so interest was more focussed on when they would be fed.

It was fun, and very entertaining, but I wasn’t sure how much of the amusement I felt was tinged with sympathy, and that vague feeling of commiseration at an embarrassing situation.

We had a big reception at our house that night. Suffice it to say that from 4.00 pm (and it took two hours to get from the Pharaonic Village because of one of the worst traffic jams I have struck) when the staff arrived from the Grand Hyatt it was a breeze and a delight. It has to be the most efficient catering service ever. They are well dressed and so professional. One even walked quietly past when Bob was addressing the group and blew out a guttering candle as it was making a noise.

By 10.30 pm our guests had left, and it would be normal to walk up the stairs to bed. I walked up stairs, put on more glitz and better evening clothes, and we went to an Egyptian wedding.

We arrived at The Heliopolis Intercontinental before 11.00pm, but the bride and groom had not yet arrived. The actual wedding was earlier, this was the reception. Egyptian weddings are notoriously late, noisy and fun.

We walked past a huge and somewhat ominous circle of drummers and musicians with traditional instruments in to a magical room. It was the size of the largest ballroom you could possibly imagine and with the ceiling hung with long shimmering strands of deep turquoise tiny lights – millions of them. The hotel has a Pharaonic theme but it is elegant and beautiful and so well done. The theme colour for the wedding was obviously blue. There were about forty five tables, and each held ten with seats covered in white satin and tied with a silver lame and blue chiffon bow. Each had a high tower of cascading flowers in blue and silver and white coming from large bowls on the ‘towers’ – so high you could easily see people on the opposite side of the table. Suspended from the bowls were candles floating in deep blue water in turquoise glass holders. More of these were studded around the table top. The tables were covered in snack food and about half the guests were seated – we were quite early (at 11.00pm).

Crudités were coiled into large brandy balloons like amazingly layered terrines and ice nestled among them. There were samosas, stuffed vine leaves, boreks, and a variety of mezze platters.

We realised that the huge flat screens around the room were showing details of the wedding celebration. After about half an hour the pictures changed and we were watching the arrival of the bride and groom. It was a good hint that there was suddenly an extraordinary level of noise. As if the drummers and pipes themselves had not been enough it was being amplified by the speakers all around the room. It took them nearly an hour to actually walk in. All the younger guests were outside and bride and groom danced in the centre of the group to the musicians.

Then the musicians came in and the ear-splitting noise went up ten fold to almost the level of pain. There were a series of formal dances with professionals doing the dancing. A group of young women did something graceful and slow and deliberate that was beautifully evocative of Ancient Egypt and the tomb paintings, but so well done that there wasn’t a glimmer of an embarrassed smile in sight.

A stately procession of slaves in short linen wraps and bronze chest plates ( a much better way to cover all that embarrassing flesh than a long sleeved shirt) carried in the bride and groom on a golden platform. The music accelerated and a long line of waiters arrived with fully laden trays of brightly striped fruit drinks – golden yellow and scarlet and glowing in the spotlights. They formed a ring and started to circle slowly to the music and the beating drums. As the drums sped up so did they – faster and faster as they whirled around with their trays. It seemed a very difficult way to stir a drink – and not efficient either as the layers stayed firmly layered. In fact, I wondered at one stage if the glasses were glued down and the so-called fluid was not!

Nope – it was, and they peeled off and delivered trays to each table, one waiter per table.

The bride’s father came to greet us personally. Then a large ice bucket was delivered to the table, and a set of tall glasses. Then a large bottle of Scotch arrived. This costs a fortune here where alcohol other than beer has a 500% mark up. We were busy wondering if we could possibly afford for our daughter to marry in Egypt a calculating the cost of a bottle per table when we realised we were the only table to rate Scotch. What is it about the Australian reputation?

I am running out of energy typing, and still have a lot of wedding to go. I think I have to summarise with the fact that there was another adjoining ballroom full of enough food for most of Cairo, all delicious and perfectly cooked – including whole lambs so succulent the flesh just fell apart but was still moist and delectable. It was 2.00 am when we were fed and if I am honest I was so weary that I was really no longer hungry.

We stayed only another hour and left with our ears strangely numb and not working very well, and just as the entertainers for the floor show were arriving.

It was odd to have such a very dodgy Pharaonic experience in the morning, and such an exclusive and elegant one in the night. I guess if the Ancient Egyptians were seeking immortality they have it, if only because they are still being imitated in so many ways.

We were exhausted when we fell into bed, and have decided weddings are to be attended only when we know the happy couple in future, as we did this time. It is just too hard with a working day next day!

Monday, September 19, 2005

From the Ambassador's Wife's Diary


First let me show you a bit of my diary for the last week.


10.00 - Morning coffee at the Women's Association in Zamalek.
This is a fairly dressed-up occasion at a club for expatriates and Egyptians. It is what I always think of as a 'lady' day - makeup and a jacket despite a 39 degree temperature.

1.00pm - Lunch at the Canadian Ambassador's for another club - this time Ambassadors' wives, Ministers' wives, and the wives of senior journalists.
Even more dressed up (add significant jewellery and a bit more glitz if you have some!)but a delight, as the Canadian Ambassador's wife is a very good friend and so are many others now. Also her house is brilliant - a beautiful old mansion in Zamalek which is also beautifully furnished - and her cook is excellent. This was a lovely lunch. Whole salmon, iced gazpacho, lots of fresh salads and a couple of different quiches, topped off with some sinful desserts. Chocolate mousse that was almost black in tiny demi-tasse cups (great use for these since I never use them for coffee now) and angel cake with platters of fresh fruit.

Evening at home on my own as Bob went to the Qatar National Day reception. Very few women go to these.


9.00am - Organise flowers and set up house and table for a catered men-only lunch. Meet caterers and the new Executive chef for the Grand Hyatt who has just arrived in town - another Australian for our little community.

11.00 am - Picked up by cab with two friends - one a newcomer to Cairo whose husband is the new head of the British School, and one her sister. Explore the back areas around the El Azar Mosque with its old houses and great stonework, walk through the very grotty small vegetable market and into the tentmakers souq. About 40 degrees and no shade for much of the walk. It was wiltingly hot. Watch tentmakers sewing and was pleased to see that my friends were buying some small pieces.

2.00pm - Slink into the house tousled (cab windows wide open as no air conditioning) and windblown and sweaty and try to skulk past groups of men (BHP BILLETON, Egyptian businessmen as the VERY SERIOUS level, embassy staff) in suits chatting as they wait for their lunch. Check process in the kitchen and breathe a sigh of relief to see that Mohammed from the Grand Hyatt has everything under his usual smooth and calm control. Grab a bowl of lentil, eggplant, mint, tomato and pomegranate salad with a lime and olive dressing left over from the day before and hide up on the roof in my studio. The men are eating Tasmanian Salmon, HUGE steaks with leeks and asparagus and a divinely rich mushroom sauce, then coffee and hazelnut icecream triangles with diced mango, tiny biscuits - one of a fat filling, thimble sized, of dates, encased in thin pastry and rolled in pistachios and the other small rough rocks of chocolate and walnuts.

4.30pm - The men have walked out the door, the gardener, Gamal and I grab a ladder and start hauling down quilts. We give them a good shake - whoops - I should have done that outside as there are clouds of Cairo dust - and pack them for the exhibition. They want the rods as well and that will be interesting in a small Peugot taxi.

5.15pm - In cab with an unsecured case with all my quilts bounicing around on the roof, and a secured and waving loose bundle of metal poles threatening to spear passers-too-close as we weave our way urgently through traffic to the American University of Cairo.

6.00pm - Arrive home in time to walk in with our next visitors, a retired Foreign Affairs officer and his wife who are visiting Cairo. Once we all have drinks I frantically rustle up a tray of nibbles - old standby Philly cream cheese with sweet chilli sauce poured over it decorated with huge clusters of fresh basil, strips of red and yellow peppers which are wonderful at the moment, olives and crackers.

8.00pm - Leave with our visitors who we will drop off on the way. I have had a quick shower and changed into evening clothes for the Mexican National Day. This si at the Pharoah - a boat moored down by the Nile. There are good things and bad things about receptions on boats. Good is that it is usually cool, even though it must still be close to forty degrees at 8.00pm. Bad is that you are locked on the boat until the boat moors.

This time the reception is not actually on the boat when we get there - it is on the very gorgeous reception areas on the dock. There are margaritas encrustred with salt and Corona beer with a wedge of lime jammed inthe top being handed out as we arrive, and marvelous Mexican music blasting from loud speakers. Waiters are in huge sombreros, and I am lucky to be short - taller men have to swing sideways as waiters walk by. Not so good is the fact that most of my evening clothes are synthetic, and the dock is walled completely in glass so it is like an oven. I manage just enough time - about an hour - to hear the speeches and the rousing cheers, and persuade Bob that I am wilting and need to go.


Well you know all about Friday from my last entry - this was Jewellery Exhibition day at the house.


am - Drive to Pyramids and have a look at the wonderful Solar Boat from 3,200 BC. Finally work out where the track to the Sphinx emerges.

4.30pm - Use an Embassy driver to go to the more public Jewellery Exhibition to see how things are going.

6.00 pm - Meet Gallery staff at Falaki Gallery to see how the exhibition hang is looking. My Quilts are all up and look brilliant. I had forgotten how different gallery lighting can make things look.

Home. Eat leftover steaks from men's lunch as they are so much better than anything I could cook.


12.00 noon - Meet a group of Australian Tourists who are starting a tour of Egypt. One is a good friend from a workshop in Blackall in Queensland - a talented silversmith. Click here to look at his website.

Tour the Pharaonic Village. This is a blast - somewhat dodgy, and more about it in a blog of its own. This is getting too long. Left at about 3.00 and managed to get totally stuck in one of the worst traffic jams yet - about two blocks in an hour and a bit - then suddenly it freed and we arrived home.

4.45 pm - Walked in to a strangely deja vu scene - a loungeroom full of elegant men in black suits with Nehru collars. These are waiters for the reception for fifty or so tonight. Give them carte blanche on furniture moving to create enough space for guests to walk around with drinks. Organise a frantic buying of extra soft drinks, mixers and juices as we are low on all of them. Contact Bob to collect these on his way home and suggest it should be soon as he has the key to the wine cellar and they want the wine. Locate chmpagne glasses as the chief waiter apologises for forgetting wine glasses. He didn't actually - we didn't tell him we would be serving champagne. However Grand Hyatt waiters are so wonderful that they take the blame for your mistakes! Watch somewhat bemused as the lounge turns into a reception space, with elegant clusters of bread sticks, crudites, nuts and Japanese crackers - with an evil blast of wasabi stuck in the cluster I picked up which left me with watering eyes, cleared sinuses and unable to speak for several seconds.

7.00 pm - Farewell reception for about fifty at the house for two wonderful Embassy people who are going home. On feet till nine thirty.

Quick change in to more dressed up glittery stuff!

10.00pm - Left for the wedding of the daughter of our major Egyptian importer of Australian meat. This is another whole blog on its own. Enough to say that it was a wonderful party - absolutely no-one parties like Egyptians. It was loud and happy and absolutely joyous, we ate at two thirty am, left at three - just as the entertainers were arriving for the floor show - but we were too tired to stay.


10.00am - Call on the British Ambassador's wife in a stunning residence on the banks of the Nile.

5.00pm - Leave for Bob to go to Tunis to present his credentials while I go to my first exhibition opening - Cloths From Heaven - in this country. If I didn't know so well that Bob can do nothing about this it would be a problem. As it is, a diplomat's wife becomes enured to disappointments and changes of plan!!

And there you have six days in my life. More on the Pharaonic village and the wedding tomorrow, but my fingers are wearing out, and I have had three hours sleep. A siesta in good Egyptian style is calling - or maybe I should pack for Bob as he is running late from the office.

We interview a possible cook next week and I can hardly wait.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Gold, cognac diamonds and elephants


As we speak my home is being transformed into a very up-market jewellry display space. I almost said shop but that was not elegant enough.

I had known that we were having a reception this evening. I had been told that it was something Trade was going to organise and look after, and that it would be a reception to support an Australian group who wished to break into the jewellery market in Cairo. I hadn't actually realised that the jewellery would be here with them.

I had retreated, somewhat miffed that I had slept till ten and effectively wiped out a perfectly good 'Sunday' as it is our day off. We were trapped between furniture movers arriving at 1.30pm to shift furniture around for the reception and the fact that I had slept in and there wasn't really enough time to do anything much in the middle.

I guess I should have realised that if we needed furniture movers we probably should have expected other furniture to move in. In a way I had lots of clues.

Clue number one was the number of Ambassadors' wives at last night's function telling me that they were really looking forward to seeing the jewellery display next day. Luckily I had just made non-commital noises while intending to ask more questions later.

Clue number two was a phone call to Bob at the reception last night to say that the cases for the jewellery were to be delivered at 11.30. I thought that meant am - but it didn't, they brought them close to midnight. They were left out in ferocious Cairo sun, dust and humidity.

OK, by now I guess I had realised that there would be Jewellery. Capital letter intentional.

At 1.30 I was up on the roof in my studio happily sewing. I heard sounds in the front of the house and looked out the window of my eyrie. My front entrance looked like the opening of a movie, with suits converging on the curved stairs in the entrance. From above they looked imposing, especially the really enormous ones with shaved heads and huge shoulders. I have never met furniture movers who arrive in suits, so I turned off the machine, stopped on the first floor to run a brush through my hair, slipped my feet into shoes, and put on some over-large Bedouin jewellery.

Downstairs the hall seemed full of people and Bob was welcoming them. For a horrifying moment I thought that the reception actually started at 1.30 and someone had the time wrong - and we had no waiters, no food, and no drinks. And I was wearing cropped cotton pants and a short sleeved cotton shirt.

No - this was the designers - about ten of our top designers, already in their best clothing and ready to set up. Plus three very very very large security guards. Plus four furniture movers. Plus two from Austrade, including my good friend Joseph. That was before the carpenters arrived to help set up and wire the cabinets.

We put out water and ice and glasses. They opened all the outside doors to allow easy access of diamonds and jewellery cases, and guards, and dust and heat and wind and leaves. We turned air conditioning up and poured lots of water.

Furniture movers and guards muttered that they were hungry, someone came up with the idea of ordering in some food, and we foudn the book with all the magic phone numbers. food was ordered.

Then two trucks turned up with the caterers at the back door. Immediately those who had ordered food wanted to cancel the order as now the caterers could feed them. I pointed out that the caterers had been asked to supply food for an evening reception, not lunch for men who looked like sumo wrestlers.

I looked at some of the jewellery being laid out on my dining room table.


I never thought I was really interested in fine Jewllery. There was a collar of gold and diamonds including fourteen large cognac diamonds and champagne diamonds that would have covered my little fingernail that I would have given four large quilts to own. Unfortunately it cost more than a million dollars. A ring of a huge dome of pave diamonds, a ring with one huge champagne diamond emerald cut and framed in tiny diamonds. So much glitter, and so much money!!!!

At the moment there are about forty people moving around the ground floor. I have moved out of the way and I am hiding. Half our lounge room furniture is piled in this study so I have a chair teetering somewhat on a pile of large rolled rugs.

I asked, half joking (only half) which piece they wanted me to wear and was immediately offered my choice. I am not sure I want the responsibility of any of it.

I will let you know how it goes.


I am still moving slowly through Sri Lanka. We left Columbo early on our third morning and stopped mid morning for a look at the Elephant Nursery.

I had been warned that two young elephants were quite damaged and not to be distressed about them. One is a little baby with no ears - he was attacked by a leopard when really small. The other is an older female who trod on a land mine and is missing a large part of a leg. She struggled for three days to get to a place where they run an elephant medical clinic for mahouts to bring working elephants with injuries. I found this almost unbearably touching.

We arrived and headed up the hill. At the top large groups of elephants were moving huge lumps of foliage around and stripping off leaves. Trucks brought the branches in. It is very efficient. You sniff along the piece that takes your eye with your trunk until you decide if you really want to eat it. Then you put your foot on the thick end of the branch, curl the two finger like protrusions at the end of your trunk around the branch, and run them to the end, tightening as you go. This effectively leaves you with a trunk full of leaves, which you swirl to you mouth in a single movement and swallow. Then step to the next nearby branch and start again.

Whole families of elephants were arriving. Apparently elephants who come as orphans stay and marry and settle and have more babies.

They are just beautiful. They are so tender and caring with their babies. It was easy to see the difference between the Sri Lankans who grow up with elephants, and visitors who don't. Foreigners tended to stay put as large elephants lumbered towards them and only moved away somewhat indignantly when mahouts shouted at them. You can almost see them thinking "Silly bugger just wrecked a good photo!" The locals move away fast when elephants veer in their direction. It is actually quite funny as whole lines bend and curve like vertical Mexican waves.

The babies are bottle fed in another enclosure and there was a three day old - so tiny and wobbly and dear. I fed a baby - and it was just wonderful. Its little trunk curled around my arm to push the bottle in further.

Then the whole lot troop down to the river to be washed. I loved seeing mahouts who bond to their elephant for life - of whichever dies first. They crawl all over these great creatures. The elephants headed, single file, to the other side of the river where there were huge mud pits, and came back looking hennaed. Then rolled around being scrubbed with coconut fibre till they looked pink and polkadotted.

These are just a couple of the photos - click on any of them to view the whole set...
Elephant Orphanage Elephant Orphanage
Elephant Orphanage Elephant Orphanage

Monday, September 12, 2005

Problems with Plumbing and Remembering Sri Lanka


We have men all over the house doing security related stuff. We also have three men in the kitchen trying to fix a hot water system. It is mounted on the wall in there and drips steadily all the time, leaving large pools on the bench and floor. It has been fixed before. Now they will try a part from Italy - instead of the one from Egypt. This is obviously meant to be an improvement. This is a heavenly old house, but so heavy on maintenance. We have several dead air conditioners, and the parquet flooring upstairs which is quite new has developed undulations new our doorway - perhaps linked to the flood when the hose came off the toilet while we were away.


We spent our first day in Sri Lanka in Columbo with my lovely nephew and saxophone player teacher extraordinaire, Grant, and his lovely wife Louise. She is expecting their first baby and still working long, long days in tropical heat while Grant does the 'trailing spouse' thing. People like musicians and quilters do this better than some!

I had expected it to be rather like Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia but it isn't at all. It is much smaller and sleepier, more third world and no fast freeways. It is an endearing place, friendly and intimate, with some seriously good shopping if you like glorious timber work and textiles.

My darling husband decided I needed a sapphire and I was not going to argue. We had a lovely morning shopping and I now have a beautiful blue sapphire with diamonds in white gold. The shop was amazing. I have never been wildly interested in jewels but it would be easy to go that way in Sri Lanka. Did you know that basically sapphires and rubies are the same thing - corundum? They had wonderful 'tennis' bracelets with a rainbow of gems, lime to yellow to gold to orange then reds and purples and blues and deeper greens that ran the length of the bracelet and all were corundum. And did you know that tourmalines come in a rich and wonderful range of pinks, reds and deep olive greens?

Columbo, Sri Lanka Columbo, Sri Lanka

In the afternoon we went out to a really beautiful Buddhist temple and I will just talk about that with photos! Click on one of the photos below for a whole set of photos of Colombo and the Buddhist temple. In this set, the first temple pictures are a Hindu temple that we stopped to photograph on the way. After that - the Buddhist temple.
Buddhist Temple, Colombo, Sri Lanka Buddhist Temple, Colombo, Sri Lanka
Buddhist Temple, Colombo, Sri Lanka Buddhist Temple, Colombo, Sri Lanka

It was seriously hot - even after Tehran. I had taken to carrying a small handtowel for heavy-duty brow-mopping.

One short story though. There are crows everywhere in Columbo. They tend to crowd around the Buddhist temples as people always arrive with lots of flowers, and the crows sometimes eat the centres of the big lotus flowers. These are exquisite - pure white with that luminous green in the shadows of the petals, always limpid with splashed water and drooping softly on the marble and stone surfaces. Sometimes they bring the most amazing deep rose or blue-purple ones too and these are even more stunning. They are heaped, with jasmine, in front of the Buddhas and symbolic, as they open in the morning, and die at night when they close forever, representative of the Buddha's life. Attendants remove older flowers regularly to make way for the newer gifts, taking away the most fragrant garbage bags you could hope to see or smell. Some flowers, especially those in pots of water, are left longer.

One crow was obviously thirsty. We watched as he balanced on the rim of a big blue pot and tried to reach down to the water inside. He was obviously not successful. He tilted his head on the side - for all the world as if he was considering the problem. Then he took off and circled the pot. He landed on the stone surface beside it, then jumped onto it with his wings beating. I thought he was taking off again - but no - he was rocking the pot. After a minute over it went - and he drank his fill from the water just inside the pot lying on the ground, now nicely accessable.

Buddhist Temple, Colombo, Sri Lanka

Grant also introduced us to King coconuts - large golden coconuts that sell everywhere at the side of the road. For about a quarter the coast of a can of Coke you can have the top lopped off and a straw inserted. It is lighter than most coconut milk I have drunk - almost as clear as water, slightly nutty, slightly sweet, almost salty and cool and delicious. It is absolutely thirst quenching and it occurred to me that it must be the perfect electrolyte drink - a bit of salt and sugar. How clever that in such a sweaty place nature provides such a perfect drink in such copious quantities. In some places they took an extra slice off the coating of the nut to make a flat scoop 'spoon'. When you finish drinking they slice the whole thing open with one slash of a lethal looking knife (it would make Crocodile Dundee's knife look like a Swiss Army Blade) and offer it back to you to scoop out the rather gelatinous coconut form inside. The curve of the scoop exactly fits the inside of the shell.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Cairo and remembering Iran

I am back in Cairo and it feels as if I have been living out of suitcases for the last three months. In a way I have - there was a short week at home after Australia (home is now where the stash is since I have family all over the place) followed by a ten day teaching trip in Tehran, then Sri Lanka, then just long enough in Cairo to repack and Syria.

I have an exhibition opening in a week at the American University of Cairo Gallery. Other than this I have nothing heavy in the way of commitments until I go to Malaysia in late October.

I have decided that the only possible way to catch up with my blog is to run two parallel streams - one on what is happening now, one a flashback to our travel! I have to do this as I have so many photographs to show!


We arrived back last night to find that we have no water. There was an ominous gurgling in the shower, and a very large series of copper coloured splats of thick brown mud hit the floor. It reminded me of visiting elephants in Sri Lanka - but that is in another flashback. Then intermittent spurts followed by a significant water hammer. So - we are unshowered until it can be repaired.


I taught two groups of women in Tehran. The first was a group sponsored by the Ministry of Education. They were eighteen quilting teachers from all over Iran, and were an absolute delight to teach. Most of the work had been done before my arrival by Patch Iran - the local quilting Guild. Michelle Gilder from the guild was my co-teacher and translator and organiser and – well – everything. She is a talented teacher, and Patch Iran started from a group of her original students, and now has its own premises and courses.

Michelle had organised an initial ten days with the ladies before my arrival, and had worked through a really brilliant short initial course, where most of the pieces they made were put together as a bag to hold their mat, ruler and cutter. Even the straps were Seminole pieced.

However, other than the few ‘taster’ photos in the next few days, you are going to have to wait. The Quilters’ Companion, an Australian Patchwork Magazine, is gong to run a story on the course and it will be available for all to read. I will let you know which issue it is appearing in for those who wish to follow the story.

I took over the students at the intermediate stage, and taught two classes. Then the Patch Iran students and others arrived for the Advanced class – a four day course.

Between the two Bob and I were able to escape for a day off. We hired a car and driver and drove down to Isphahan – so had one precious day there. I have told you about some of this, but had no access to photos when writing it up. Because of this I actually avoided talk of the incredible patterns of this exquisite city. So – feast your eyes! More will follow in the next few days...

Click on each of the photos below will take you to a set of more photos on that theme.


Our guide, Mr Shansavandi, realised how interested I was in patterning. I guess this wasn't hard after the way I was twisting and turning at the Chelun Sortun Palace...

We wound through the back streets to a really old mosque, the Hakim Mosque, with the entrance and door from the from the Buyid Period - it is Isfahan's oldest mosque and dates from the tenth century. This was really fascinating, especially the entrance with its deep incised patterns...

The Imam Mosque...

Ali Qapu Palace...

Isfahan Bazaar and tearooms...

Metalsmiths in the Isfahan bazaar...


Sunday, September 04, 2005

In haste and so so hectic

I am so sorry for my avid blog-watchers that there has been so little activity on these pages. All will improve in five days when you can prepare to be deluged.

We have had an unbelievable time - twelve days in Tehran teaching (read about it in Quilter's Companion), followed immediately by meeting our son Sam in Columbo and a whirlwind seven day tour of Sri Lanka. We arrived home at night the day before yesterday, and the taxi is now at the door to take Sam and I to Damascus.

Sam has managed to update his blog more often than I have - so click the link at the side to see that to catch up if you are interested.

I have more than one thousand photos - you can be worried!!!
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