Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Map for the Tentmakers of Cairo

Finally I can really show people how to find the Tentmakers of Old Cairo. Or how to locate Khan Khayamiya, or Kayamiya - as they are all the same thing.

My son Sam made a wonderful map for those who wish to walk. Or for those who wish to get a taxi to Either Khan El Khalili, or from Bab El Khalk (or Bab el Qalk as the pronunciation is the same). Taxis know both of those locations.

You will see Bab Zuweilah marked on the map and it looks like this.


This is the single most wonderful street to visit in Cairo to let visitors get the feel of the modern city, and of the incredible humour and kindness of Egyptians. You will not be pushed to buy and can visit, drink tea or kakadeh, and chat, and watch a wonderfully interesting world go by.

They do not make tents so much nowadays - but the work that they make now is derived from from the colourful appliquéd linings of tents of the old days, when the tentmakers (or Khayamiya in Arabic) made brilliant linings, ceilings and covered screens for the streets. They are still used:


as screens in the desert to provide essential windbreaks for cooking, eating and sleeping,


and at weddings and henna parties like this amazing one in a Cairo street.


And funerals like the one in the City of the Dead in Cairo,


and any celebration that needs to look like a celebration.


The street is beautiful. It was built in 1647 for shoemakers, but now is the domain of the men who make beautiful hand appliqué.

These are a few pieces to get you inspired.


A piece of calligraphy, from the Koran to be hung on a wall.

This is a very traditional piece here, and with traditional colours.



You can see a Flickr photoset of all of the images I took for one exhibition.

If you really feel like browsing through a LOT of photos of all sorts of things and have a few hours to spare the link to all my organised sets is here. Syria, Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Italy and India - and lots more.

But please remember - if you know someone visiting Cairo, print off the map for them, and tell them to take a cab to:

either Khan El Khalili and start from the street opposite the green bridge on the OTHER side from the Khan,


To take a cab to Bab El Khalk where you will walk up the road from the police station to Bab Zuweilah and the Tentmakers Street.

The latter is my pick as there are wonderful things to see on this street. But that is another blog.

Tell them to go without a guide. Guides demand a commission form the men for bringing tourists - and the price will go up a lot.

Say hello from me.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

India and the "Untouchable" Village

I do know that the term is not currently considered appropriate. I could say something, like "the people previously known as untouchables, or Dalits - or whatever. The mere fact that there is a new term for the same group still implies a social status.

This village, near Udaipur, gave me the most joyous experience of my trip. I am being selfish in not giving its name as I would hate to see hundreds of tourists visiting there, and it would change the way the people relate to tourists. We were the first visitors since I was there in May. It is made of 'found' materials, except for some roofing tiles - stones and mud and mud brick and mud plaster.

In May I took a lot of photographs. It was late afternoon and the light was almost silvery, even though it was Summer. We had a few sweets for children but we hardly got out of the car and most of my photographs were taken through the car window. However, we had met some of the people on the road and photographed them with their animals. I had a big pile of prints to hand back, and I had asked the group to keep shampoos and toiletries from hotels for the women of the village.

It was cooler in November, and we made it our first stop of the day.

I think it is easier to simply add photographs and let those tell the stories.



Mr Sheik from Thomas Cook was our guide and can be contacted through Thomas Cook Udaipur if readers wish.





















If you want to join me one day in India - you are very welcome.

This was just one morning of a very rich and wonderful day.

Check details on my website for the itinerary - though there may be changes from year to year. You can contact Stephanie or Nina at Impulse Travel in Sydney, Australia, and we work with Namish Sharma at Thomas Cook (TCI) in Delhi, India. If we have enough people we run the tour!

Anish Kapoor and Watching the Watchers

I was lucky enough, courtesy of my lovely husband, to have a week in London recently - and I was not even working. He had a meeting, some points in his Frequent Flyer account, and a lovely hotel on the edge of Sloane Square.

I used the time blissfully wandering London, and saw some wonderful exhibitions - the British museum, the V&A and its Maharajah exhibition, The National Gallery, and I went to see Anish Kapoor's huge solo exhibition in the Royal Academy.

I am not going to try to write a review for Anish Kapoor as these things are done by people far more proficient than I am.

I want to talk about just one element - ‘Svayambh’ (meaning ‘auto-generated’). The language is Sanskrit - which is like using a Latin title as the language is a dead language even in India.

A huge block - 20 tons - of red wax moves slowly through three galleries on a straight track. It moves very slowly, but the movement is easily visible and it takes about two hours to move from one end of its track to the other. It is shaped like a large loaf of bread with a curved top, as this is the shape of the arched entrances that it pushes through.

I watched it come through the final room at one end, over about twenty minutes as it reached the end, packing lumps of previously dropped wax against the end of the track and the wall, then reversing to start the slow slide back. Clumps stuck as it moved away, and seemed to creep after it, dropping off slowly to leave big lumps on the track. Small pools formed in the dips, wet and oily. A guard told me that the wax was mixed with Vaseline to make it softer and sticky.

It was inexorable - the original irresistible object. As it dragged through the beautiful arches between different rooms it left thick traces dragged against the marble arches, and lumps sheered off on the fronts and backs of the arches. The object was shaped by the arches - and it moved like a huge and very slow paintbrush, dragging softly, wetly, against the entrances and leaving its colour and sludge behind.

I went to the far room and just sat for about one and a half hours. It was still a long way away. People would walk in straight to the red track, with the detritus of previous visits piled against the wall and its small sludgy pools gleaming in the pure whiteness of that beautiful gallery. The ceiling's beautiful plasterwork is gilded and the floor is parquetry - the feeling of the space is pristine and the globs of oily sticky wax feel like a violation.

People would step straight over the very insignificant white narrow wooden strip which paralleled the track and peer down the track to see how far away the monumental block of wax was, to estimate how long it might take to arrive.

When I first walked in I had done the same.

I sat to watch people, more that the work.

Some stood for a while and talked. Older women often looked appalled at what they saw as a terrible mess.

There was a woman leaning against the wall. Her arms were folded tightly against her body, and her mouth was turned down and sullen. She had long brown hair. She did not seem to be in uniform and it wasn't until she started growling at people for stepping over the white line that I realised she was a guard.

I cannot believe that Anish Kapoor ever meant his audience to be harassed - but I watched in amazement as what might have been interesting and pleasant became very much otherwise for many of the audience that morning.

British audiences are polite and usually moved instantly and apologised when growled at. Some did not actually realise at first that she was speaking to them and looked guilty as they jumped back. She almost verbally attacked a woman who took a call on her mobile - despite the fact that at that stage I was the only other person in the room. One woman asked a question about the art work and she snapped "I do not know because I am not an artist".

Right on the hour the guard changed. The new guard was younger, polite, and tended to keep reiterating "Please keep behind the white line, Sir, please keep behind the white line." She was in uniform, her security tag was clear and visible (no folded arms and resentful body language here). It was a gentler harassment - like being on the platform as the train approaches on the Tube. It almost turned into insistent background noise and as more and more people came in she was often ignored.

On the next hour the guard was a young man. The wax was now in the next room so it was clearly closer to arriving, and more and more people were walking in to check on it. He was young, and positioned himself in the space between the white line and the track, leaning against the end wall so he could sight straight down the forbidden space. He seemed not to be worried by people stepping in to look. I talked to him and he told me about the Vaseline in the wax to make it malleable, about the latex they had used to protect the white paint and arches and which would peel away later, and that he had no real problem with people looking as long as he felt there was no immediate danger. If people looked as if they would touch the wax he would stop them - usually on grounds that it was sticky and hard to remove.

People asked about the work and he answered and asked them questions to elicit what they thought about it. He pulled people in, made them interested and involved, and he used the paintbrush analogy.

I realised that I had seen three very different experiences, just because of the guard. I wondered briefly if that was actually an intention of the work - but I am sure it was not. I think it was just different interpretation of a gallery's need to keep its clientele safe from twenty tons of moving wax.

Other exhibits forced us to weave through a crowding of work, taking quite careful movements to prevent physical contact.

I am sure Anish Kapoor would have preferred the third guard.
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