Monday, May 29, 2006

Alan's eightieth

I apologise for the steady stream of offers for Viag#gra and beautiful Russian women offering advice for S*X - their strange spellings, not mine! I think I have beaten them with help from blog readers. I haven't stopped them sending the stuff, so have to keep cleaning up my draft box - but at least they are no longer published.

It managed to take my mind off the fact that I had to update my Flickr professional membership so no photos till I can now sort that out!

We have had a wonderful couple of weeks with family - buckets of family - staying. My father and my stepmother and friend Judith have been planning their trip for a long time. Unknown to them my brother Bernie also decided that he would come to Egypt with his girlfrend Claire to coincide with my father's eightieth birthday.

Then Tabbi decided to cut her trip a bit short, and join us. It was also to be a secret from Alan and Judith, and I had to keep muttering 'still in Estonia' to their inquiries about Tabs. I am not a good liar, and was uncomfortable with it - but a confession that she had shifted to London would have meant that they would try to line up a meeting there after they left Egypt - and it was all just too complicated.
There was a delightful mornig when they were sitting in the kitchen eating breakfast, and Tabbi wandered in with a routine sort of good morning and then stuck her head in the refrigerator while they spluttered into their cereal.

We spent the birthday on a felucca. I had been storing a ham since Christmas, frozen in one of our banks of freezers downstairs. Somehow nothing ever seemed like an important enough occasion to use my precious ham. It cannot be served if there are Moslems at a function, and most of our functions have a lot of Moslems. I even hesitate to contaminate the kitchen with it because of lovely Ahmed, my cook. Did I even tell the blog that I now have a cook?

However, an eightieth birthday is decreed as quite special enough so out came the ham to thaw discreetly in a plastic bag in the frig. I removed rind, scored and crisscrossed it with that lovely diamond pattern, studded it with cloves, and slathered it with a marmalade, mango chutney, glace ginger (precious supplies brought from Australia) pineapple juice and soy glaze and baked it until it glistened gold and brown. The house smelt marvelous, rich and savoury and sugary-spicy, but I had surreptitiously done it before Ahmed arrived for the day and felt guilty about the smell.

With Ahmed I made a potato salad with browned onions, caraway and dill, and a chocolate pound cake - my mother's wonderful recipe for a dense and moist cake that keeps well and does not really require icing. However, for such an occasion I mixed a cream cheese icing with a good whack of coffee and was all prepared to smooth the top with it, when it was whisked away and Ahmed covered the top with beautiful scalloped rosettes with a squeezed icing bag! Because candles and feluccas are not a good combination - a wind that moves a large and heavy boat has no problem blowing out a fistful of candles - we put one small candle in a deep glass bowl in the centre of the cake.

I have also been using the time at home to show Ahmed a few other things - so we made a Mrs Harrison's Peach Pie - just because peaches are around at the moment. This is a wonderful pie in the best American tradition - fresh peaches with a light egg,butter,sugar,flour batter stirred through them before they are encased in pastry and baked.

We took the picnic out to the felucca docks at Ma'adi - finished off with smoky roasted almonds as a before dinner nibble, Greek Salad with tomatoes, olives, basil and feta, and a good supply of wine and Egyptian Sakkara beer.

We had had one previous felucca experience. It was good enough for Alan to decide that that was how he would like to spend his birthday. Dagmar, Bob's treasure, had delivered something to our door minutes before we left, and been pressganged into coming too. We had to find a way to finish all that food!

The wind was perfect and we asked the captain to take us downstream past all the islands and as far as the bridge, This meant some heavy tacking and occasional dives to prevent the pie from sliding off the table.

Evenings are wonderful on this part of the Nile. Women come to the edge of the water to wash family dishes in the poorer areas, dresses kilted to their knees, and sleeves rolled as they sluice and rinse. I am always careful never to even dip a finger into the water as it runs through twenty six African countries before it gets to Egypt and has known risks of bilharzia and other nasties. I shudder at the idea of eating from dishes washed in it. Stupid really - as all water in Egypt comes from the Nile. Household supplies are treated though, but we don't drink it unless it has been boiled.

Dishes are not the only things washed in the water. We watched a young woman wringing out clothes and hanging them from a line across her tiny fishing boat. Her husband was pulling in and folding nets, and in a classic multi-tasking she would hold parts of the edges of the net in her teeth for him as she deftly handled the clothes in the river. There were three small children in the boat. Families live on board these tiny boats, curling up in thenets to sleep, and they fish for food and income - and there are very few fish in the Nile at this point.

We passed many fishing boats, nets glistenig as they were pulled in for the evening. There was a good wind and the boat moved fast over smooth water, sliding silently towards reed beds (and I could see Moses caught there in his basket)and swinging around just as I was sure we would wedge in and stick. Birds flew in low and fast across the water, egrets, cranes, ducks, and pigeons, coming in to roost in the silvery evening light. The sun seemed to stick fast in silhouetted date palms as the sky went rose and gold and orange, then dipped behind a building and was gone.

On the island we watched cows and donkeys settling for the night, and people as they milled around small huts. Barges and cargo boats moved past, disturbing the water with their wake. One huge load of hay (?) seemed about four times the size of the boat, and extended on a wide platform well over the boat's sides.

It was a magical night, and rare in felucca terms. Last month we had a ride where there was so little wind that the captain simply punted out and anchored in midstream and the the picnic was a 'people smorgasbord' for the ravenous mosquitoes able to pour in in the absence of the wind!

This was perfect, and a fitting birthday for my father.

Then next day we went to the White Desert - so more to come!

Monday, May 22, 2006

Help!!! Don't open any odd looking links

I am being hijacked by odd drug companies. Please don't open any strange looking links that promise Viagra and other temptations. I DID NOT put them up, am changing passwords daily to no avail, have cleaned adware off my computer and would love assistance from anyone who knows how to stop this. I would also love to work out how to contact Blogger for assistance and cannot find a link.

It is very very annoying, like a bad attack of bedbugs. Silly irritating parasites.

Friday, May 19, 2006


I am back in Cairo with that very curious sense of relief at homecoming. It makes little sense when you realise that I am Australian and was recently at home - in Canberra - with my some of my children, grandchildren, mother and dog. There is a very simple delight in having someone on a plane sit beside you telling you how important he is, then have a driver meet you at the plane door to take over your hand luggage and passport processes while Mr Important struggles with the paperwork on his own! Glee is not a nice emotion, but definitely satisfactory.

It is hot, but not as bad as I thought it might be. I have visitors. My father and stepmother arrived only twelve hours after I did, so I am off and racing. My youngest brother is also here with his girlfriend in the lead up to my father's 80th birthday. Dad is not doing too badly - he walked into the Red Pyramid a few days ago and that is not an easy climb.

We allowed ourselves a quiet day yesterday - a catch up day for postcards and shopping in a desultory way locally as we had several hectic days in a row and jet lag was starting to really catch up on me!

We were sitting together in the study when a very loud hammering started surprisingly close. I didn't take too much notice as this is Cairo - but then there was the sound of falling rocks just outside our window. More hammering was followed by more rocks. Veronica appeared to tell us that the apartment next door was making a new window.

I have put images of our house up on the site, but they are carefully taken from exactly the one angle, at the front gate, on the up-traffic side, with my head and camera practically wedged in the gate to get the one and only view that shows the house without too much high-rise gingery grey apartment blocks wedged in tight around it. They are there though. The odd window looks in our direction from the right side, but on the whole the building is as discreet as a very solid eight storey wall only ten metres from the house could be. The odd window is actually very odd. When someone in Cairo wants a window they just pick up a large sledgehammer and make one.

To be fair, we had received a letter asking permission as the law does decree that this is done. The usual trick is to start work a day or so after the letter has been delivered so they can point out that they asked - even though there is not often an attempt to wait for an answer.

This is what had happened this time. The rain of rocks signalled a new window and were actually large lumps of bricks falling from the fourth floor. We were assured that the window would be one metre, and certainly this is what it originally looked like - a neat rectangle about one metre wide and considerably higher surrounded by somewhat rough and ragged wall. Obviously it was impossible to walk down the side of our house while the work was going on as most of these pieces would have brained an elephant.

So with the window done we waited for peace and quiet. Then the hammering started again. A new hole appeared, about two metres from the other one, first a few bricks worth, then enough to show the arm with the hammer on the follow-through of the swing, then enough to show the torso of the swinger! Another hole appeared, about the same size as the first, nicely lined up with it. So - two one-metre windows. Unfortunately for the owner, the windows had appeared half behind our mango tree so possibly didn't have as much light as they might have hoped. They also looked in through our large (actually huge) sand-blasted art deco window beside our central stair well. I didn't like it much but thought it a bit hard to reverse the procedure.

The mango tree is not a thick and lush one. It might have been one, but it also hung over our flat roof (where my studio is)in our predecessors' time. Not only did it deliver large and sticky mangoes in great plentitude in season, but it also delivered to the roof area the rats who climbed the tree to eat them and made themselves homes around the studio rooms. The tree was cut back hard with a lot of enthusiasm and not a lot of finess, and has not really recovered. It looks sad and a bit straggly and some of its limbs have very few leaves. It is still sulking from the rough treatment and has not fruited since, but the rats have also gone.

The next step in the window operation should have been predicted. I guess if I had been up there on that fourth floor gazing at my two new holes, I might have had a similar series of thoughts. First - how nice it was to have light and air. Second, pity about the trees. Third - maybe we can cut them down? Luckily they dismissed this one. Fourth - lets join those two windows together and just have one much bigger one.

So - we now have a three metre window looking through a sparse mango tree into the centre of our house. It has already settled into something I can live with, but it was not fun at the time. Didn't I say that living in Cairo is never boring?
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