Syria, and Sinai
I would love to see huge signs up in many languages giving an idea of a fair price for a taxi ride, for a guided tour through a tomb, or a ride on a horse around a pyramid. I have heard quotes for the latter varying from forty pounds to five hundred Egyptian. Worst of all are the ones who negotiate prices, and when the time to pay comes insist on Sterling, not Egyptian - a massive increase. I feel so sad for the hundreds of thousands of good and gentle Egyptians whose reputation is forever tarnished by the sharks who go into feeding frenzy at Giza.
However, I am allowing myself to be distracted.
I have been in a blog vacuum. Parts of my blog were used in ways I never expected, and it was hurtful enough to have me curl up against a wall (metaphorically speaking) and refuse to write again. I have now more or less recovered and will continue to write, but much more carefully.
I took my visitors to Syria and they loved it. It is a wonderful place - kind and thoughtful and generous with both its treasures and the access to them. We went to the Krac de Chevaliers again and I love this place. It has to be one of the best crusader castles anywhere. We also went to Palmyra and it is years since I was there. My daughter has been visiting on her way through to a tour of Turkey, the Ukraine, Russia, Estonia and Latvia, Lithuania and down again through Poland and Czech Rebpublic. I am proud of her, but concerned and very grateful that she is travelling with an old friend.
Her old friend is a young male law student, a year ahead of Tabs in his studies, who is good looking in a tall and clean cut way.
He was very nearly mobbed in Palmyra. There was a girl's school visiting from Aleppo, and I would love a pound for every girl who wanted a photo with them both - but seemed to manage to be beside Peter. Tabbi said that it was like trying to travel with Johnny Depp. The schoolgirls were enchanting. They were noisy and effusive, singing and happy, swarming around us like clinging bees and showing off to each other. Syrian people are faireer than Egyptians, and the Crusader heritage in so many areas is obvious in the beautiful light eyes, charcoal rimmed with long lashes, but grey or ice blue or the most haunting of greens. The girls are so beautiful, lithe and sinous in their movements, and wearing surprisingly close fitting clothes even when they wear head scarves.
The best thing about the trips to Syria is sumptuous food. While much of Egyptian food is excellent it does not have the huge range of the fare available in Damascus, with the local regional variations in each different town. Also while Egypt has gone the whole hog and banned all poultry sales in the wake of bird flu here, Syria does not acknowledge a problem. It was nice to be able to eat chicken again (well cooked of course). There is a fabulous dish in Aleppo of meat balls with sour cherry saice, and I left Tabbi with enough money to provide a meal there for herself and her friend. We always come back feeling stuffed, and certainly these are two kilo trips.
We went to the MFO headquarters on the far side of the Sinai on our return, for a dining in night. It said 'Dress, Dinner Suit" on the invitation, but on walking in I was immediately concerned that someone had made a mistake. The uniform most worn by the MFO was short sleeved khaki and I felt somewhat overdressed in a long sleeved lined silk jacket which was also far too hot. I often decry men's suits as a stupid garment to have to wear even in summer - but there is precious little available to women that is much cooler in a country where shoulders and arms have to be covered.
We had driven across the Sinai to almost the border with Gaza to get there. As we reached the Peninsula black clouds were massing overhead, and the horizon glowed pale with sand dunes against the deep grey blue of the cloud. The wind was fierce over the sea and white tops capped every wave. Two large white birds were whirling about each other overhead - almost like two sets of white undies in a dryer. It was hard to work out how much of their crazed flight was deliberate, and how much was the wind.
The villages in this region are small and poor, and there is no glass in the windows, just shutters. In one village a woman in traditional embroidered dress was struggling to close her shutters against the wind, while her skirts lashed at her legs with their blue on black embroideries, and her shutters kept swinging out of her hands and back agaist the house. The light was that strange light before or after storms, so the pale mauve shutters glowed against the yellow ochre house. It was such an odd colour combination, full of discomfort and discord, but amazingly beautiful. As we went passed I had to twist in my seat to keep her in view and was so relieved when she managed to clip the shutters closed.
Just beyond the village another woman walked the skyline of creamy dunes. The edges of the dunes were lifting in the wind, with the pale sand flowing aross the edges and down the sides. She had a pile of kindling strapped together on her head. It was such an unwieldy bundle, twigs and branches sticking out like one of Andy Goldsworhty's nests, and as she walked her skirts whipped at her ankles like bad tempered terriers.
It was a lovely drive - and I really like to visit the MFO. You know, we talk so much about those of our boys in the army who are willing to give their lives for our country. When I look at places like this I wonder how many would so willingly do the far less dramatic thing of offering to live in dreadfully restricted conditions in often horrific heat, living out a year in boredom and clerical work to help to hold a fragile Middle East peace together. They are so admirable and so laid-back in their attitude to what they do that I almost burst with pride in our young Australians every time I go there.
OK. I am blogging again. I will try to do a few lines a day until I feel back into the swing of it!