Friday, December 17, 2004

Is This Any Way To Make A Living?

PaulineAbuSir.JPG, originally uploaded by Miloflamingo.
Yesterday two of my favourite clients came by for a ride before going back to Europe for Christmas holidays. Pauline, the girl in the photo, is just fourteen, but she is fearless and cheerful no matter how long the trail. She's a joy to ride with. We took three of my geldings out to have a gallop in the desert and found ourselves racing the storm clouds across the desert to the south as they rolled in from the north.

The light was extraordinary. We had the sunlight coming in on our backs, from the northwest where it was setting. The wind was pushing the storm front south along the eastern cliffs of the Nile Valley, and the pyramids along the valley were briefly illuminated against the clouds as the sun and storm cooperated to give us a light show. I got some wonderful pyramid pictures but I wanted to get a shot of Pauline against the pyramids of Abu Sir and the rainbow that seemed to be starting just at its base.

Today there was a 40 km endurance ride over much of the same ground, but the weather was much kinder. After about 8 am (we'd had to arrive at 6:30 since we were working at the vetchecks today) the sun was warm enough to shed the sweaters and jackets that we'd bundled into. It was perfect riding weather and the horses were really enjoying themselves. They love the combination of sun and cold wind.

Life is good.

Monday, December 13, 2004

The Joys of Looking

Well, my bloody computer had to be reformatted once AGAIN. Hopefully this time it will be all right. And a neighbour pulled some strings with the local telephone central to have our lines checked, finding that there was indeed a break in the line sufficient to keep the gerbils from being able to work properly. Maybe things are looking up.

Driving into Maadi this morning, however, I had time to think about vegetables and fruit. Okay, that doesn't sound very exciting, but it was pleasing. My yoga class is at 9 am twice a week, and I have to be on the road at about 8:15 am. This is the same time that many of the farmers are on the road with their pickup trucks and donkey carts carrying the day's crop to market. Somehow a donkey cart loaded with a perfect pyramid of snowy white cauliflowers is much more conducive to thoughts of cauliflower au gratin than a cellophane packet in a supermarket. So maybe I'm weird, but the utter freshness of the produce inspires me.

I passed a couple of carts parked by the side of the road with golden oranges and the redder clementines stacked next to yellow guavas and stacks of local bananas. Our winter fruit are usually yellow and orange. The best apples here right now are Iranian and Syrian yellow apples, crisp and flower-scented. Strawberries are coming into season and the sales of whipping cream are soaring. Our winter vegetables; spinach, peas, beans, at least 8 types of lettuce, sweet red and orange carrots and new potatos tempt the laziest cook to toss together at least a salad and soup.

I'm beginning to plan my soon-to-be-purchased parcel of land where I will build a small house with room for my visiting daughter and other guests and a proper kitchen that I can work in with pleasure. High on the list of things to have is a good vegetable garden, fruit trees for shade, and a poultry yard. Oh, to eat my own tomatoes!

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Messing About With Horses

Hortenseposing.JPG, originally uploaded by Miloflamingo.
This photo was taken by Merri Melde while she was visiting me last February. I have lots of photos of Hortense being silly on a horse, but I think that Merri got the best one. Hortense is one of my neighbours, a young French woman who is utterly fearless on horseback, as is pretty obvious from the picture. The horse is Maximus, a rescued cart horse. She teaches lessons, trains horses for other owners, and competes in local competitions, both jumping and endurance. None of these competitions are very important, nor are they very serious. She has a good time, the horse has a good time, everyone enjoys themselves.

When I was a little girl I harassed my poor parents into buying model horses, broomstick horses, even into bringing two skulls home from a camping trip so that I could have a "horse" in the garden. I even fed the poor bones daily. When I was about 8, they finally gave in to the extent that I was allowed to take weekly riding lessons for a year or so. I was about 12 when we moved from a city to a small town where horses almost outnumbered humans. A couple down the road from us sheltered rescue horses and they were happy to have some demented child come to ride them and feed them treats.

At roughly the same time, I was reading rather large quantities of books about archaeology and ancient civilizations, with Egypt being right up there on my reading list. I bored any number of horsey friends silly by going on about pyramids and pharoahs as we rambled around the dirt roads and mountain trails on whatever horses could be collected. Despite all my entreaties, my parents never lost sight of their sanity and actually bought me the horse that I pleaded for. I had to come to Egypt to own a horse.

I spent twenty horseless years going to university, working and having children. Canada is a pretty expensive place to own horses, so it wasn't ever really an option. I was forty or so when my husband came home to tell me that he'd offered me as new owner for a chestnut Arab mare who had been owned by a friend of his. I didn't know whether to be delighted or horrified. I'd met the mare once and she wasn't exactly the friendliest creature on the planet, but in the end, a horse nut is a horse nut after all. I found a place for her in a stable in Alexandria and found myself a new group of friends who undertook my retraining as a rider so that I wouldn't kill myself with this green filly.

All of that was about 15 years ago. I still have the mare, Dorika, as well as two of her sons. I also have the son of a lovely white mare that I bought soon after acquiring Dory, a couple of gift geldings, one purchase who is worth his weight in gold for his patience and reliability with novice riders, and a filly who is growing up to take Dory's place as top mare someday. The horses are beginning to earn their carrots taking people for trail rides, but their real value is in maintaining my sanity.

Today I decided that I'd spent enough time doing errands and whatnot, so I called Hortense's husband, Morad, to see if he was free for a ride. He also trains and competes with local horses, so their work schedules often have holes in them that allow rides. We took two of my boys out for a trip around the local stables, stopping for tea here and there, trying out a nice looking mare, and generally fooling around for a couple of hours, but at the same time working on the training for the horses.

We made one stop for tea at a house near Morad's new place. The fellaheen who own the house buy and sell horses on a very small scale. There is usually a young stallion or mare tied outside the front door between training sessions with a cart or saddle. Today there were three horses there, an older mare being shod, a young stallion and a filly. I was riding my younger gelding who didn't really get the idea that he had to stand still while I was drinking a hot cup of tea and we had to walk in a few circles before he decided to cooperate. Thinking about it now, drinking hot tea on a horse is probably something that I should tell the kids not to try at home, but at the time it seemed like a perfectly reasonable thing to do.

At my age, I really shouldn't be doing silly things I suppose, but I find that life is much more interesting when I do. That's one of the things that the horses give me, a chance to play. I go exploring, I play games like trying to pluck flowers from a wall, I go fruit picking with four-legged ladders during mulberry season. It's fun and the horses don't ever turn around to me and tell me that it's time I grew up. Partners in crime.