Saturday, August 13, 2005

Heat Rashes

When the traffic is so bad that the cab drivers get out of their cars to cool off while they are backed up, it's time to find another way to travel. On the good days this summer, the temperatures are about 35 C or 95 F. Those are the good days. We have a bunch of the bad days coming up over then next few days where the predicted highs are around 40 C which is about 104 F. Today the heat was just starting so I figured that I'd get in some riding time in the morning with a friend. I've been checking out the horses prior to having my clients start back since they've been enjoying some time off, eating lots and getting plenty of rest. Mostly I need to make sure that they are not so frisky and silly as to endanger anyone. So far, everyone has checked out very nicely. Dorika and Bunduq went out to help trim some of the overhanging mulberry trees along the trails last night. They were remarkably calm as branches and twigs came falling down on their heads from the hedge clippers wielded by Ahmed, my head groom, and the pruning shears that I was using. Maybe they were calm because they assumed that we were cutting all these goodies for their enjoyment. The horses love mulberry leaves and fruit. Today we took Nayzak, my 6 yr old gelding out for his first time in about a month. The trail we took seemed to be specially designed for testing him as the fields next to it were draining in ditches filled with running water that had to be jumped every 50 feet or so. When he slipped in one and splashed water all over me and Cristina who was right behind me, it actually felt pretty good.

These hot days are making the Nile Valley's inversion layer even worse than usual. I could see a deep grey cloud over the valley as my plane approached Egypt from the sea on my trip home. We still have an easier time of it at the edge of the desert than people do in the city because of the prevailing winds but you can see from the photo the cloud that covers most of Cairo. I'm very happy not to be living under it. This is the season for allergy medications for the dust and pollution, for cold drinks, cold beer, ice cream and for bridges. Bridges? In Cairo, yes, bridges. Cairenes have a love affair with their bridges. In the summers the bridges over the Nile are crowded with people escaping hot apartments and looking for any bit of fresh air that they can find. By 9:30 or 10 pm there are cars parked all along the sides of the Moneeb Bridge, the newest and broadest bridge over the Nile. One might think that the police would move the cars along, but I've never seen them bothering anyone. Whole families set up picnics on the sidewalk of the bridge, old men go fishing off the side and young couples wander back and forth whispering sweet nothings long into the night. For those who just stop a car and haven't any of the necessary equipment, there are men who rent out plastic chairs, sell lupini beans soaked in salt water (termiss), make tea and coffee, rent out fishing poles. I can understand the fascination with the bridges. The Nile is a wonderful river and I could watch it flow forever.

Rivers are extraordinary creatures. I hope that we never lose them through our human stupidity. People seem to do their best to lose them. We have a mystery island in the Nile near Maadi. It was built by someone, planted with trees and grass and remains unclaimed due to the public outcry over the lack of wisdom of blocking the flow of the Nile with this new object. Someday we will find out whose "brilliant" idea it was and hopefully he/she will be crucified.

Meanwhile, if you have any really good mangos, here's a great heat beater. Take two fresh mangos, 200 gr of nonfat yogurt, and about 10 ice cubes. Put the mango into the blender with the yogurt, and ice and blend. However, for this to be really, really good, you need really, really fresh mangos right off the tree. It doesn't hurt for them to be the wonderful sweet/tart mangos like the ones that I'm currently scarfing down for breakfast, lunch and dinner. A mango smoothie is a real treat, or you can do like my neighbours did while I was gone. Pick about 20 mangos from the tree, wash them in the faucet and dig in while sitting on the grass in the shade. This way when the juice dribbles off your chin and down your arms, you don't have to worry about getting furniture sticky. And when you are all done, lie back and groan with happiness.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

The Sense of Fun

New York is a very serious town. That's not to say that there is nothing fun there. On the contrary, there are lots of wonderful things to do. My daughter and I went to visit the newly renovated Museum of Modern Art where I cursed the dead batteries in my digital camera. The art was marvelous, room after room of painting, sculpture, photography, even architectural drawings, but even more marvelous were the people in the museum. Some were there out of interest and wandered about fascinated by the exhibits, while others (including two memorable young boys in day glow orange sweatshirts) were there under duress apparently to judge by the rather bored expressions on their faces. There is the usual summer fare of movies, Shakespeare In The Park, and other entertainments, but as I wandered the streets of Manhattan I realised that if I lived there, I would probably spend more time working than I do in Egypt. And I'm not sure that is such a good thing.

You can lock yourself away in offices and work continually here in Cairo, but much of the time when you are out of a strictly working environment, fun pokes its fuzzy little head into the oddest places. Tracy took a visitor to a shop specialising in scarves and blown glass perfume bottles the other morning. A regular there, she was nonetheless surprised to find the young men working in the shop practicing head shots with a soccer ball inside the shop. At first concerned about the glass shelves and delicate objects in the store, she demurred when invited to join but as a former girl's soccer player, the temptation proved too much and when they assured her that it would be all right (the mother in me says, "Famous last words!") she joined in for a while. In the end, nothing was broken and we got this great shot of what not to do in a store.

On another day a trip was made to Nazlit Semman, the area of homes and shops that has grown up around the pyramids on the Giza Plateau. At one time this was one of the sacred lakes left behind by the Nile as it slowly moved its bed to the east over the centuries, and the kings used to come and hunt quail along the lake shore. The name means "Quail Landing", but the only thing landing here these days are tourist buses and taxis full of visitors. Tracy's visitor had been watching out for camels for some days and when she spotted this one in one of the side streets, she was so delighted that Tracy stopped the car and they arranged to take Morgen's picture on it. Camels have an awesomely alarming method of gradually unfolding those mile long legs in a couple of stages that involve tilting the rider extremely to the front and then extremely to the back. It's a guaranteed squeal from most novice camel riders. The boy attached to this particular camel found Morgen's squeaks of concern so entertaining that he ended up climbing back onto his camel and standing up in the saddle to show how easy it was to balance on a camel's back. Morgen's assessment? Maybe she'd try that on the next trip. Another of those "don't try this at home, kids" moments with which Egypt abounds.

The day after I arrived from New York a felucca ride was planned so that Morgen could experience the beauty of the Nile at night. Various friends and neighbours converged on the felucca docks of Maadi with a cooler of beer and various dishes of food for a light dinner and we all set out for a two hour sail at dusk. Temperatures had been in the high 30's and low 40's for some time, so most of the felucca's were already out on the river filled with people trying to escape the heat by the time we showed up. One family was obviously out to go fishing for the evening and had all their equipment in a small boat that headed up river from us. Once upon a time the fishing in the Nile was pretty spectacular. Nile perch given the right circumstances can grow to the size of a small car, and the old timers here are fond of telling stories about some specimens being stranded in ponds after the floods and being sufficient to feast a village. Now, unfortunately, with the decrease in water quality from upstream polluters, the fish around Cairo are nothing to write home about and definitely nothing to eat as far as I'm concerned. But people do anyway. In Aswan they harvest the really big Nile perch from Lake Nasser and the water there is clean enough that these are still some of the best eating that I've sampled in a lifetime of fish eating. Despite the problems of the pollution, fishing is still a favourite sport and I see all sorts of people sitting along the canals with cane poles to catch smaller perch.

Not all the river-watchers are fishermen, though. Some are just there for the breeze from the North and a congenial spot to chat, like this group that had taken over an old barge on the shore of the river. I remember spending most of my childhood summers in southern California either at the beach or on a dock somewhere with a fishing pole hoping to catch the little ocean fish. Last time I looked the docks were all marked "No Fishing". Happily, in Egypt the general state of chaos still allows these summer pleasures.