Monday, October 01, 2007

Long time no write

I have been away for so long that every time I think about my blog I feel guilty.

I haven't even really been consistently away.

I had a trip to London and Birmingham that took in "We Will Rock You" and a visit to the Tate Modern. Both were fantastic - the musical had perhaps the worst-ever story line but great music. I once heard someone claim that every CD left in a car (or perhaps in those days it was tapes?) would morph into Queen's Greatest Hits. The Tate Modern seemed full of tongue-in-cheek art - art that seemed to remove that element of awe and mystery - art you walked on, art that you became a part of - art that involved the viewer while thumbing its nose at convention.

I went to the Festival of Quilts in Birmingham and it was the most exciting quilt show I have been to in a long time. The hall was full of special exhibits. While it was also the first quilt show in ages where I had no formal role I managed to meet a lot of friends. A new quilt for me - Hashim - was on show as one of a group show from the Kuwait Textile Arts Association.

He was popular. I think there were several marriage proposals and some that seemed to be willing so skip anything formal. One trio wandered past and one lady said "He could throw me across the camel saddle any time he likes and take me off to his tent."

Her friend added, "Yes, and I wouldn't care what he did with me there."

I was just a little concerned for my nice and very conventional Egyptian friend, and quickly put in, "I have made him look a bit younger than he is - the leaf pattern on his beard is supposed to look gray and he woudl be in his fifties."

"That is not a problem," said the third. "There are little blue pills if he looks like flagging."


I have dithered about this - but photos were no permitted in most of the show so I am not putting up the images I am tempted to show.

The movies on the Egypt Air flight home were bad enough to be hilarious. At one stage in a really appalling Egyptian soap - which I think had been fed through Babel Fish for the subtitles in English - the hero clutched his chest and said "I love you from my hair tips to my foot fingers."

I came back to Cairo and worked and worked. I had quilts to finish for a show in Australia in November - a whole body of work - and I have already blogged the first one so might keep the others quiet. I had to finish and send my Journal Quilt for Houston and make some new samples for classes there. I am excited about these classes. I have taught in the US before but it was a single long class, so there were very few people to talk about my teaching. I have not really tried to break into the US market - but this is just what I woudl like to do now.

I had about a clear week before my first visitors arrived. These were an exciting stream of visitors - a string of eight textile friends from my quilting world - and while most were Australians one was from America. I had so looked forward to showing them the things I loved here. There was really only a two day overlap and I used this for a White Desert trip. It was all a complex logistical exercise and involved a lot of booking of cars, and trips to the Pyramids. We threw in a couple of extra Australians at one point, and another pair came in on the heels of the big group. At one point every bedroom in the house was full.

There is something so special about watching a friend looking at something you love and realising that it is having the same effect on them.

They went in various directions and so did I - to France with Mohamed Sadek for the tentmaker exhibition. Mohamed is a stitcher by training but has almost given it up as his knees and eyes have problems and he was warned that he would either have to stop or 'pay the tax'. However he had almost come to Australia and had stepped back to let his friend Ayman have the place instead. I felt I owed him - but that was not the main reason for his selection.

Politics in the Khan Khayamiya makes the political activities in Lebanon look like a run-through of My Fair Lady. The pressure for a stitcher to push me in favour of work from only his friends and family, and away from his rivals, is almost laughable at times. Because Mohamed Sadek is out of the current Khayamiya circle he is universally popular. This meant that he could negotiate for for me with the men I chose, and without suspicion. Better still - I liked him. He is funny, has a great sense of humour, is sensible and practical, and his English is good enough for me to know that we would not have problems I could not sort out. Better still, he is a man very much in love with a new wife, and almost a butt of humour in the Khan because of it.

It sounds silly in a western context - but it is important in Egypt that my reputation stay clean and traveling with one man is a risky thing to do. At least with this man those in the Khan knew that nothing odd was going on.

We had been invited to Patchwork Carrefour in Alsace - in the tiny string of towns of the Val d'Argent. They had generously sponsored an exhibition of work for sale, and I had chosen a marvelous collection (see some of it a few entries back). I had been concerned that a good Moslem, in Ramadan, would be working in a French Catholic church, and I was not sure how Mohamed would take this. I wrote and asked the organisers if they had a problem with us hanging a piece of Islamic Calligraphy.

No - no problem as the church was not an active church any longer.

I talked to Mohamed about it and he said that religion was in your heart, not in a building.

You see - I told you he was sensible.

The town was exquisite - Ste Marie aux Mines is nestled between bright green and verdant hills with picturesquely spotted black and white cows walking the ridges. There are pine forests and other lighter forests - possibly beech? Flowers filled window boxes and spilled over in the loose tangles of the end of summer.


A small stream ran through the very centre of town.


We were booked into a small local hotel which was almost like staying in a family home - complete with stone winding stairs to an attic floor three flights up. Mohamed was showing signs of waiting for the boy who would carry the luggage when I broke the news that we would take our own. That was the first shock.

Then the family Labrador - a big black dog - wandered out. I thought Mohamed was going to climb on my shoulders. He just could not believe that a dog would live in the house.

This is a serious problem for a Moslem. Egyptians are also among the most devout Moslems so any ruling tends to be carried out to the letter. Mohamed coped bravely but after a day the signs of pressure were starting to show and the dog was picking up on his distress and growling whenever he entered the house. It was earnestly explained to me that if a dog touched him with its mouth or tongue it meant he could not pray for forty days - and Ramadan - the most holy of all months - was about to start. I contacted our sponsors and said we needed to find him a place without a dog.

He moved into a small room above the local dentist - with a lovely lady hostess who liked to talk. Unfortunately Mohamed spoke only Arabic and English and she spoke only French, but she followed him and talked to him regardless, to his utter mystification.

Next day we had almost hung the show.

It was just a little disconcerting to get to the church and find people stepping in to pray - and lighting candles, and we almost dropped an appliqué piece in the holy water when trying to hang it - so it had a distinctly wet corner.


We had lined up work on the pews and it was a good idea to see how the colour worked. People from the municipality helped and the work went up quickly with only a few changes.

We opened. Mohamed wore the Egyptian galabeyiah and a small cap traditional in Upper Egypt. He was fasting - so working from 8.30 am till 7.00pm meant such a long day.

IMG_8646.JPGMohamed the Pied Piper

He drew crowds. we had hordes - perhaps as many as 17,000 through the exhibition. It was interesting to see a Moslem sitting quietly stitching in front of the altar of a very gorgeously decorated Christian Church.


The reaction to the show was amazing - as it was in Australia, though I have decided that the French do not buy as easily. An Australian who likes something will buy it just to own it. The French want to know exactly where it will fit, and that the colours are exactly right.

This was tragic in some ways as I have been encouraging the workers to make the best and most beautiful work they can and they have responded with stunning pieces. Unfortunately what sold was the smaller and cheaper work - so that is what they will now make, and the best will be folded away and not repeated.

He was deeply unpopular with his landlady for filling the (shared) bathroom - all of it - with three inches of water in the usual process of washing before prayers. I broached the subject over dinner and he argued that it was the Moslem way. I pointed out that he could sit with his feet in the bathtub, not out of it, to wash his feet. He said again that it was the Moslem way. I said he didn't have to unplug the shower hose to use it outside the bath. He said again that it was their way!

There is no drain in the floor in French bathrooms so water from the three inch deep pool that had been the bathroom floor drained into the ceiling of the French dentist's surgery below, and dripped on the first patient of the day. The patient said he had water in his mouth. "Yes," said the dentist, "From my spray". "No," said the patient, "from the ceiling".

The landlady kept saying in amazement "Comme la piscine!!!" - like a swimming pool. Again and again as she followed me around the exhibition as I fielded people wanting to know prices and sizes of the work. I was starting to feel somewhat stressed and my effusive apologies in terrible French did not seem to be helping. Intermittently she approached Mohamed and the magic words "Comme la Piscine" emerged periodically from the long streams of fast French. He answered in Arabic. I intervened saying that she didn't understand him as she didn't speak Arabic. "I don't speak French either", said Mohamed with irrefutable logic, "and I speak Arabic better than English. "And," he added, "she does not understand my English so why not Arabic?"

She also complained that he left on the lights, he left open the windows, and he slept on the bed - not in it - so no wonder he was freezing.

Dijanne Cevaal won a prize for one of her stunning quilts and it was lovely to see her there.

One quiet brag - I am in the last stages of setting up a first textile tour of Syria and Egypt. This will be marketed first in Australia but there might be more! I am really thrilled with it - it does the usual Nile Cruise and other things like it - but so much that is right off the usual tourist track. I will put details on my blog of this too when I have a moment to breathe.

I had a few days back after our return to pay off the men with the money they had earned, and recover a little.

And that is it for now - but just to warn you - since this trip I have also been to Libya and Tunisia! More later.


Blogger Lindi said...

Your Hashim quilt looks fabulous, Jenny!
I loved the telling of your adventures with the show. What a shame the better quilts didn't sell.

4:28 pm  
Blogger Laura said... breathtaking. My first visit to your site and I am hooked--what infinitely skilled art abounds! The Kuna Indian women of Panama create their own textile wonders known as mola. If you have time drop by

11:12 am  
Blogger Del said...

Nice to have you back, I've missed you and I imagine many others have also.
I'm ready to read about all your adventures, anytime. Del in California

12:44 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Welcome back! I am so utterly jealous, you know,to be surrounded by so much fabric, so many adventures, and bless you Jenny, you do find the absolute most wonderfully fascinating and complex people to share your journey with! And then you come home and share it out like sunshine in winter or drops of rain in a desert, and it makes my mouth water and the Gypsy is reaching for her shoes.
Thank you for sharing your life, visions, friends and ideals, Jenny.
And welcome home!

12:55 am  

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