It was held in a really marvelous Palace - the Mohamed Ali Shubra Pavilion. In fact Pavilion is a good word as it has no living quarters. It is a square building, huge and open to the sky in the centre - which is filled with water. Imagine covered walkways all around the sides, but as wide as small ballrooms, with beautifully painted ceilings and white columns. The corners all have enclosed rooms as do some of the side and these are gilded and painted and wood paneled - and not as over the top as some Egyptian palaces.
The central open square is a marble lined pool, with cascades in some corners and a marble island in the middle. This has no permanent access, but last night a walkway covered in blue had been built to allow access for the Presenting of the Colours and for the US Ambassador to walk out to give his speech without having to wade through above-the-knee water.
There would have been thousands of people there. The military band on the island played songs from American musicals - could you call The Sound of Music an American musical? Wafts of sound reached us through the noise. A young man with a tattered collar approached Bob with great enthusiasm to ask if he was an ambassador - I guess it was hard to miss when you have arrived to the VIP entrance in an armoured dark BMW with a flag flying, been scooped up by a waiting hostess and walked direct to the US ambassador and his wife to be greeted - cutting off the long and winding queue who looked daggers at us to my intense embarrassment. There are times when I like my life here and times when it is awkward. Australians do not queue-cut with panache.
Back to the young man with his frayed shirt and brown suit and enthusiasm. He introduced himself as a journalist.We had both shaken hands and Bob had confessed to his position. The young man asked for a business card from Bob. bob said he woudl give him one if he could have one of his in return.
The young man (he actually did not give us his name) fumbled in his pocket then laughed as he confessed that his wife had them. Bob smiled and said he would be further up the reception area with a card waiting for him when he found his wife and his cards and walked away. I was a bit surprised as Bob is usually happy to give out cards - but apparently Ambassador cards are sought after in card collections and he is getting sick of going through boxfuls as handouts for no good reason. Card collecting is a local sport.
It was HOT. We have not had the really horrible heat of last week where it was well over forty every day, and touched 49 one day according to our driver. It would have been about 36 all day and was still well over thirty. However evening clothes in Egypt are never cool. They have to be in evening fabrics, and sleeves have to be at least three quarter length, and I wore my coolest outfit which has a silk sleeveless top in blue, black pants, and a floaty sheer thingy on top in blacks and blues. With people starting to pack in it was still an the air coming through the windows rarely reached me. I had a fan and noticed that others were sidling closer to get the benefits of it - and the programs being handed out at the entrance were more useful as fans than programmes. In fact, the double fold centre pages were all sponsors for the event which surprised me a bit.
In keeping with the mix of US and Egyptian the food reflected this. At one stage I found myself holding a large drumstick (verging on turkey sized) of southern fried chicken and trying to juggle that with the fan and glass of wine I had been given. It was wrapped in a napkin which the waiter had suggested I take first in order to pick up the drumstick, but it was hard to eat politely, and people, as they do at cocktail parties, kept coming up and shaking hands - or almost shaking the drumstick. I kept having to shift it to the other hand and tuck it between two fingers that were not holding the glass. I truly regretted that piece of chicken. In fact I would not be surprised if it was responsible for the series of bad dreams that resulted in my sitting here at 5.00 am Egypt time to write a blog, rather than risk going back to sleep.
The presenting of the colours was done with appropriate pomp and deliberation. We had five minute and one minute countdowns and requests to turn off mobile phones ready for the formal ceremony. The ambassador walked down the new blue bridge. Two marines (who from my position looked like one man with four feet moving in unison) marched two flags - one the Stars and Stripes, and one a red and yellow flag I did not recognise but must be US based in some way - across the bridge. Phones rang all around me and most of the crowd talked at the top of their voices. Those nearest the water tended to be watching and those unable to see just talked - some on their mobiles.
They played two national anthems which were sung by an Egyptian singer who I must find - he had a FABULOUS voice - and the most marvelous rolling, pure, full tenor. The Egyptian national anthem is good anyway but stunning in that voice. The US national anthem was equally enthralling. Actually people stopped talking for that. Then the Ambassador stepped to the podium and everyone resumed their conversations. He spoke, and then requested an additional silence - had he been listening??? We hadn't had a silence! Anyway - an additional silence while the flags left the space. That seemed odd as there were fixed US flags fluttering right in front of him but no-one took them away. The flags left in a slightly subdued roar of conversation and it was strangely endearing. Even the Might of the US had not been able to command a silence of stop the incessant ringing of mobiles. It made me feel a bit better for the Ambassador making his farewell speech at another dinner a few nights ago, when one person in the room not only had her mobile ring but took a whole long conversation without even attempting to lower her voice.
Then the Japanese Ambassador was apologising to the Spanish Ambassador's wife and to me that he had to take French leave of us. That seemed funny, especially when he went on to explain that in French it is called English leave. We were at an American party in Egypt with the Japanese Ambassador taking French leave of Australian and Spanish women in perfect English.
The water looked so cool and good. An earlier discussion had decided that if one person jumped in the rest would follow in rescue. A dry voice pointed out that you would only have to stand up to rescue yourself. At one stage I was tempted to be the jumper. Only the thought of emerging in clinging chiffon from water in front of a crowd of thousands actually deterred me.
We left shortly afterwards, driven off by the heat.
We have a lunch at the house today for twelve, followed by drinks for another dozen or so this evening. It will be a busy day and I am in charge of flowers. The predicted temperature is 37, but the house is air conditioned and cool.
I need to leave at some point as I am desperately searching for gold lame to try a technique I saw in a marvelous quilt in Kuwait. The talent there is awe-inspiring. I have a couple of gold fabrics, but neither is right - and the lame I need is bonded to a backing of white fine knit that feels almost like plastic - straight nylon. You quilt a layer of this over the top of any cotton quilt, then use a soldering iron to cut away the parts you don't need. The quilt underneath does not burn, but the lame cuts clean and the edges seal at the same time.
And - speaking of seals, I am tempted to include a photograph my daughter just sent of herself on a beach in the Galapagos Islands surrounded by equally stretched out seals and sea lions. But I won't as she was not wearing a lot and would kill me!