Monday, December 29, 2008


No, no, Sophie, look over here....
Oh, that's great!
But now your brother's gone goofy.

Actually, this picture sums up the two of them rather well, also.

Perpetual Motion

We went to Muir woods on Sunday.
I was trying to get a nice family portrait of my sister, her husband and kids, all dressed up after church, among the lovely trees.
Well the trees were fine, and the clothes were fine,
but the light was low,
and moreover it was extremely difficult to get pleasant expressions on everyone's face all at once.
Either Ethan was pulling faces,
or Sophie wasn't paying attention,
or their parents were admonishing them.
Or Sophie was moving about.
Sophie moved a lot.
This ended up being my favorite picture,
both because everyone has (at last) a reasonably pleasant expression,
and because everyone is still except Sophie,
who is slightly blurred.
To me this picture just sums up three year olds.

California Christmas

And color on the trees!
(And some rain...)

Sunshine and yucca plants!

And lemon trees!

Aunt Elaine's Christmas Decorations

View from the yard in through to the Christmas tree,
and view of the tree.
When I was a kid and visited Aunt Elaine she had made a rainbow tree, too.
It's quite pretty.

Out by the pool are three more trees:

And here's the house front,
complete with reflected lights:

St. Mary of the Assumption

This has got to be one of the most unusual cathedrals in existence.
It's in San Francisco and I've seen it before,
but on this trip I made an effort to visit it, with Dad's good Nikon camera.
The interior has the most amazing concrete 'dome',
crisscrossed with a ribbon of stained glass forming a cross.
The dome rises high,
but lowers at the edges,
and so approaching the center of the building feels heavy and low:

The church is more closely tied to congregational than traditional principles,
with the emphasis on the seating benches,
and the shared space of the community in the center of the dome.
From the exterior, the 'dome' appears like the keel of a ship:

I quite like this building.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Merry Christmas cactus

I love Christmas cacti!
I have several colors of them: red, yellow, pale pink.
They are so very cheerful, especially at this time of year.
And the best thing is:
They THRIVE on neglect
(that's about the only kind of plant I can keep).

Monday, December 8, 2008


Egypt is a land of amazing contrasts.
The lush green palm trees and sugar cane fields, made possible by the Nile and irrigation, just stop abruptly where the water ends and the land turns absolutely barren. Not even a tumbleweed or cactus.

These fun aerial views came from a hot air balloon ride that I took with the tour group- I have always wanted to go up in a hot air balloon and this was a really amazing experience! Balloons are smooth and quiet except for occasional blasts of hot air/flame that are really loud. And you can glide in much lower than you could with an airplane. It's totally different.
I was disappointed that we did not get to glide closer over the Luxor West Bank ruins (like the Ramesseum and other temples and tombs visible in the distance of the above photograph) but we did go in close over one of the local villages, and it was fascinating to see the houses:

Because devout Moslems abhor being in debt (even for a house mortgage) many of them build their houses piecemeal. Multigenerational families live in houses, usually with grandparents on the ground floor, parents on the upper floor and the third storey in process building for their oldest son, to get ready to kit out for him when he marries in his late twenties or early thirties- it can take 20 years or so to furnish out this new floor, all paid piecemeal as the money trickles in.
So there's a lot of temporary looking parts to a typical Egyptian house, since many of them are works in progress (and since by zoning law they are supposed to indicate the final height of the building even if it takes 40 years building the rest of the structure up to that point).
It's a totally different feeling- one that Americans would consider sloppy and unkempt.
But that doesn't mean that they are destitute.
Look at the difference between the thatched straw roof areas and the TV satellite dish!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Egyptian Fancy Dress Night

On one of our tour boat nights we all dressed up in galabeeyahs (the traditional Egyptian robe) or something similar and had an Egyptian buffet meal.
Pictures of the meal are gone (alas)- there was a lot of eggplant and cucumbers and bhabha ganoush (spelling?) and some dish whose name I can't remember composed of rice and lentils and pasta all mixed up together.
Here is our entire tour group in the cruise ship lobby.
They had a "pro" take it and he sold the prints the next morning.
In this case, it was $3 I'm glad I spent.

I quite like my galabeeyah which is nicely embroidered and a bit better constructed than the average shoddy stuff sold in the bazaars. I also bought a belly dancer's hip scarf with jangles and a beaded cap but after trying them on and looking in the mirror I decided firmly that I would keep those for my nieces to play dressup, thank you. (They survived the theft and have joined my costume collection in the spare bedroom closet.) So I asked one of the nice housekeeping staff to help me tie my hair up in a plain scarf, which he did. (All of the housekeeping staff were men. I rarely saw women out working, or even selling things in the market, though there were plenty of women out buying things.)

Charlotte in the ship lounge with cruise pals Sandy, Tina and our guide, Eman (her robes were velvet and gold, the real thing).

And here's the "professional" cheesy portrait by the stuffed camels. One is smoking a hookah pipe, the other a camel cigarette. Of course.

I must say, though by the end of the cruise my Introvert Self was dying for more time alone, it was jolly to go on a trip with a group where I had people to talk to, help take pictures of me (and share theirs), and eat with at meals. Usually my trips are so very solitary, and I end up eating granola bars in a dark hotel room at the end of a marathon day at an archive somewhere. I might go on a guided tour again- but ONLY to a country or place where I am not an expert or I would go mad with the small amount of photo time at the art/historical sites.

Hotel Humor and Silver Linings

On the cruise ship during my Nile voyage, the crew were very diligent about spiffing up the room and making sure we had plenty of clean dry towels and so on.
And they did humorous things with the cloth runner that draped over the foot of the bed.
One day they folded it into a crane, one day into a heart.
This was my favorite:

I owe this picture to the kindness of one of my fellow tourists, because, TRAGICALLY, I lost most of my pictures.
It's a long sad story. In brief, I was foolish enough to keep my filled-up camera cards in my checked luggage and the checked luggage got sent on a long roundabout trip to Santiago, Chile (SCL) instead of Salt Lake City (SLC) and six days later when I finally got the luggage back, I found that someone with a TSA lock key had opened it, rummaged through it, and taken anything of immediately saleable value. I am sad that I was robbed, but I trust that the airline will make good on the value of the perfume and the camera charger and converter devices and so on. But the camera cards weren't worth much monetarily- I think they were $12 each on Amazon- but the pictures on them were irreplaceable. That really hurts. I'll be ready to speak up at the Last Judgment, believe me, and tell all about it when the thief is finally revealed.
Anyway, the silver lining is that there were a lot of nice folks on the tour, some of who were almost as snap-happy as I am (even if none of them were die-hard enough to use a tripod, so all the night pictures are pretty much a total loss). It helps a little, even if my carefully composed angles are all gone, to have SOME views of the things I saw and did.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Hatshepsut's Temple at Deir-El-Bahri

This is a detail of a statue of Hatshepsut, the only woman pharaoh in antiquity.
In order to make her claim to be a ruling pharaoh, rather than just a regent or a queen, she depicted herself as a man in art and in (self-created) mythology.
This statute detail of her in the guise of Osiris (Egyptian god of the dead) shows traces of red-orange paint on the face, which was a masculine color. (Women were painted yellow, to show the difference between an indoor feminine complexion and an outdoor masculine suntan.)
Also, she is shown wearing the false beard of pharaoh's (male) authority:

There is a whole row of these statues on the upper facade of her funerary temple at Deir-El-Bahri. Her feet are close together and her arms crossed on her chest, just like a mummy's (Osiris was usually shown swathed as a mummy in art).

Here is a view of the temple as a whole, from further down the valley:

During Hatshepsut's time all that barren rock was enlivened by a small cultivated oasis of greenery, including trees she brought from the fabled land of Punt, where she opened trade to revive the Egyptian economy. My guide book says that they were myrrh trees. You can still see the remnants of their roots at the entrance (they look kind of dry and pitiful, today, but must have been lovely in her time).

Evening Light at Karnak

Our tour visited the great temple of Amun-Ra at Karnak during good evening light, which made me very happy.
The columns in the hypostyle hall are HUGE.
Notice the conveniently placed scale-model person:

Originally the hall was roofed. Only a few of the roof beams survive but some of the slit window panes are still in place. The windows are small (and unglazed), but in that latitude, a little bit of light goes a long way toward illumination.

This view is the hypostyle hall from a distance (out in the court by the eighth pylon, or gate):

Sunset silhouettes palms and the ninth pylon:

Karnak is immense and very grand.

Not in Kansas Anymore

One more post from the Fairmont Hotel in Heliopolis (Cairo suburb near the airport).
There's something unusual about the bedside table.
Look closely:

It's this sticker.
'Qiblah' is the direction devout Muslims face when they pray- toward Mecca.
In a mosque this would be indicated by a mihrab niche.
In a plush suite in a five star hotel, they provide it for you.
(Just so long as nobody moves the furniture around!)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Egyptian lunch buffet

Here is our guide, "Amy", peering over coffee grounds at one of our lunches out in Cairo.
(Apparently the belief is that one can discern events, if not tell the future, from doing this.)

I did not photograph the buffet itself (I had taken lots and lots of other buffet pictures and they all looked the same- I hope to post some of those later). Here is what I got from the buffet:

Yeah, that's right. Eggplant, rice, a meat patty (fried somehow- rather dry) and THREE pieces of baklava. I ADORE baklava and this was particularly good baklava, crunchy and buttery and not just soggy.
I also had a fresh date:

These are much crunchier than the dried variety. It was Interesting.
I didn't eat a lot of dates on this trip (they weren't around much) which kind of surprised me because Egypt grows 84 varieties of date.
We also had to drink bottled water, everywhere.
We even had to brush our teeth with the bottled water.
It was kind of fun to see the water bottle labels in Arabic:

Monday, December 1, 2008

Aerial Desert

Here are some views of Egypt taken from the plane trip from Luxor to Cairo.
It's as dry as the proverbial bone down there, but there's variation from sand to rock to cliffs.
The Nile area is green and lush, but I didn't see the river from my plane vantage point.

Cairo Street Shops

These are some more typical Cairene street scenes.
Fruit vendors:

Fruit and bread sellers:

A street full of shops:

The flea market (as seen from the bus):

All of these pictures were, in fact, taken from the bus windows.

Khan el Khalili bazaar scenes

We finished our tour of Old Cairo and Islamic Cairo with a short visit to the Khan el Khalili bazaar. I wish we had gone there earlier, as I had no energy to do more than take a couple of pictures (and then I opted for a quick visit to the nearby Al Hussein mosque built 1154), but here are some views.
This is a typical street of the bazaar complex:

The butcher at his work is very picturesque but I can't say that this open-air display strikes me as salubrious:

The spice shops too are picturesque but you can't see the flies very well in the photos:

This is an interior of one of the shops.
At the bazaar you can get brass pots, slippers, knicknacks, fabric, belly dancer outfits, jewelry, and much much more... most of it of very low quality.