Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Christmas Day in Gerusalemme

This thing about "cultural identity" has become very clear to me: I now know where to place myself culture-wise (because of my upbringing and formative years!): Northwest European and tinged with Christianity ...
So here in Jerusalem I miss the pretty Christmas trees and the magical lights that shine out through  dark winter nights; I miss the carol singing and Bach's Christmas Oratorio; I miss the way people become more cheery and wish you "Merry Christmas" -- even if it's only for a few days; I miss the warm mince pies and of course the stuffed turkey and the sprouts and parsnips; the holly berries and the paper chains decorating the living room; the stocking hung at bedtime on Christmas Eve; the magic of the bumpy parcels in the grey dawn; even the soft crunch of snow beneath boots; the quiet afternoon and the Queen's speech; slowly munching tangerines, walnuts and hazlenuts, dates and chocolates; snapping crackers and pulling out the flimsy paper hats and the ridiculous jokes. Traditions that pass on and on. So unimportant. Carrying such weight of warm bright memories.
But this year for the first time in my life I am in Jerusalem on Christmas Day. People are at work as usual, the students attending lectures, the stallholders in the souk selling their fruit and vegetables and much else...
I feel something missing; and I know all my shadowy traditions are absent. People are acting according to their own memories and rituals, not mine.
So I went to Bethlehem. No crowds of tourists. Very pleasing. A quiet church, dimly lit. Maybe a little too much silver and gold for that poor shivering Baby who only wanted his mother's warmth.

Bethlehem, house of bread, a name to conjure with...
Under my breath I sang the carols that I know so well: Hodie, Christus natus est, and many more. Prince of Peace; that's the part I really go for. In the adjacent church of St Catherine, mass was being celebrated. Inside the church of the Nativity there was hardly a voice to be heard.

Then out into the dark square where there was a huge Christmas tree and a few friendly families. After a glass of peppermint tea, home on the bus through Beit Jala where the churches appeared shut, back along the winding roads, across the wadi and up the hill to the Damascus Gate.
I think about all the people packed onto the bus as we drove out to Bethlehem. Chatty women carrying their shopping home, dressed in long skirts and wearing head scarves. As in the pic below:
Looking much like some of the people we see in Kusadasi. I want to hear their stories, to ask them about thier lives... Language incompetence proves quite a barrier! But we smile, I say my few words of Arabic, generally eliciting a response.
In the end, I realize, I can only tell my story. I am busy with that.
Investigating the interstices, gently removing the stones, uncovering, unfolding.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Ephesus, that great city, part 2...

Still digesting... City-shock, something like the Persepolis experience... Pause to meditate on time and people's achievements, and the destruction caused by geographical factors -- earthquakes, the sea silting, and so on...
Empty streets and market places, where once the throngs gathered, where once Paul preached (we found a doorway with a cross above the lintel!); huge theatre, reminiscent of Epidauros, and the amazing 'Terrace houses' with their mosaics and painted walls, all recently uncovered.
Not to mention the impressive Library, recently restored (see below).

(Found this lost passage so here come some more pix)

That's David in the blue woolly hat, walking towards the sea...
Next batch will show pix of the Terrace houses.

Ephesus, that great city ...


I have lost my first musings on time and transience, but will see if I can revover them... meanwhile, here four pix  of Ephesus, the last showing a cross above adoorway. The top one shows ceramic pipes used in the heating system...

Thursday, 13 December 2012

And all is bright again..

Just to remind us that we are, more or less, on a Mediterranean sea coast, the sun returned this morning, blazing in a bright blue sky, and we enjoyed breakfast sitting outside in the cockpit... But wind still a little chilly, so David borrowed my scarf...
I meanwhile, gazed contendedly at the light on the gently rippling water, sipping my tea thoughtfully and musing on the enormous influence climate and geography in general has on the history of humankind... Rest assured, my meditations grow less lofty as the day advances...!
(I'm actually thinking about to when to do the next load of laundry.)

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Cakes in Kusadasi

This ancient coastal city facing westwards towards the isles of Greece is gradually becoming like home. If possible, we go for a walk every day (sneaking a patch of dryness in between the many downpours). On market days, that is, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays, we set out with empty rucksacks on our backs, honing in towards the radiant piles of vegetables, shiny scaled fish, coloured spices and gleaming fruit. We are always amazed at how low the cost for such superb quality. Close to Kusadasi is the meandering river Meander (hence our word!) flowing through a fertile plain. But not only the fresh fruit and veg is of magnificent quality: so too is the bread, which comes in all shapes and sorts, including our beloved wholemeal with sesame seeds spinkled atop; and of course, the cakes, pastries, and Turkish Delight. There should be a picture here, of our joyous expressions as we munch yet another succulent pastry filled with a mixture of chopped nuts and honey and apple.
Oh yes: and the tea (Turkish: chay!) served in small glasses placed on a ceramic saucer. It is Indian black tea, and I have succumbed to a lump of sugar in this otherwise too-bitter hot drink. It is very good. We are offered it in almost every shop we enter. Otherwise pay one Turkish lire (about 50 eurocents) for a glass, sugar included!
Below a picture of the market held on Wednesdays, offering clothes, textiles and household articles, a vast colourful entertainment.
Street after street, this market continues, selling everything from babies booties to steel eggbeaters...
We try to time our outings so that we can enjoy the radiant sunsets, seen across the bay of Kusadasi, looking towatds Samos, the nearest Greek island. The sun goes down close to the end of the Bird Island whence the Turkish name Kus Adasi, a bird being kus in Turkish. Recently there have been huge exciting cloud formations, racing along through the glowing golds and pinks.


"My darling Hossein"
While meandering (somewhat like the river, yes) through the market today, I asked some bright young Turkish ladies if they could tell me where I could "post" a letter -- and held up the stamped, enveloped letter. Unfortunately, their English and my Turksih didn't get us too far, when lo! a beautiful young lady with spectacular black curls tapped on my shoulder and said, "Post Office? Follow me... " and she set off at a spanking pace, with David and me striding after her slim figure... On the way she explained that her "darling" Hossein worked at the Post Office.  It was shut now, she explained, but she would give the letter to one of Hossein's mates. And there they were, four handsome young men, lounging in the entrance hall of the PTT building. Our helpful young lady gave them the letter. She said if we had any problem to ask for Hossein at the PTT. I am just slightly dubious about that letter's reaching its destination in the UK ... we shall see. Afterwards, we sat in a pleasantly unpretentios street-corner cafe and had a cup of chay accompanied by a scrumptious cakish something...

Here David walks along the evening beach...
And here, darkness falls from the wings of the night (Longfellow).

Another glorious sunset. Different every day. Life certainly isn't boring in Kusadasi.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Sinte Klaas Avond in Kusadasi

The good Saint Nicholas, after all, came from Turkey, so they say. Here in Kusadasi the elements remembered the Dutch song about the wind howling through the bare branches of the trees -- and behaved accordingly.
The rain poured down, the cats sped to sheltered spots, we made hot soup on the boat and watched the pretty patterns on the water.
Here a few snatches of grey sky before the heavens opend; and the pontoon's well-fed cat, Blackie, who likes to perch upon canveas sail covers...

And (this one is for Matteo!) our winter home, the fine ship Stroemhella, safely moored and riding out many a storm ...

Today one of our local friends whispered softly that it often rains in Kusadasi every day in the month of January. Right now it's just lightning and the occasional distant rumble. And no snow, so far.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Back in Kusadasi

Possibly now more apropriate to call this: Another return to Kusadasi -- there ae going to be several more occasions when we depart for a week or two...
Left Dubai in the middle of the night, sleeping city still brightly illuminated but the streets dark and still. Trundled sleepily through rows at the airport, tumbled thankfully into plane, and slept again...
Sun accompanied, we found our taxi driver and sped from Izmir airport to the setur Kusadasi marina -- stopped along the way to buy two kilos of the most luscious mandarins (clementinas?) I have ever tasted...
Really good to be back -- we recognize friendly faces, rescue our wilting Turkish and revive it listening to the CD titled Modern Turkish.
David continues entranced by his Magic Squares, I sleep a lot, combatting swollen glands and aching ears ... which gradually recedes.
The wind howls, moans, shakes the masts, rattles the rigging, blowing warm from the south. All ths is due to change soon, apparently.

Today is David's birthday; cakeless, but plenty of succulent Turkish Delight and wonderfully fresh fruit and veg. No complaints here.
Th clouds turn pink around five o'clck. The wind drops.
I never get as much done in a day as I woud like -- have many stories bouncing in my mind, few caught and put into print!
Easier to manage with the poems, in a way...
Dark now. Full moon tonight (will rise later).
Dream of the mighty mountains of Oman...

Monday, 26 November 2012

Days in Dubai

Swift-footed time... just a couple more days here and then we go back to Kusadasi. There, I read on the internet, the temperatures are in the upper 'teens; ah, farewell to the glorious balmy air of the Emirates!
This evening David and I walked through the Jumeira Beach Hotel and out the back to where the sea laps upon the golden sand (no kidding). The sun was setting and we climbed one of the man-made structures at the end of a short causeway. Sorry no photos, will have to see if the same effect is achieved tomorrow evening...
It was glorious. The sun a bright red ball sank behind the distant Palm and the cranes and the misty mini skyscrapers. Gradually the sky turned soft pink. We saw a dugout canoe with ten paddlers (Europeans apparently keeping fit) quite impressively paddling in time...
Looking the other direction from the sunset we see Burj Arabi and the towers of the downtown business centre, also misty in the distance. The slender spires of many minarets illuminated from within, pierce the darkening sky. A violet light
I think about Dubai: it strikes me as sprawling and tangled, full of spaghetti crossovers, the incessant traffic zooming and hooting along the many highways, rushing to somewhere, busy, hurrying, the air polluted with carbon and commerce.
But there are the cultural oases. A couple of days ago Judy and I went to a good concert given by the Dubai Chamber Orchestra. Programme contained Haydn's cello concerto No. 2 in D (astonishing digital acrobatics required!) and a beautiful piece by the Polish composer Henryk Gorecki; finished with Prokofiev's symphony number 1 opus 25. Most enjoyable.
One can forget the ubiquitous sand and the artificial greens and the chaos of traffic and construction work, and the waste of energy and food, and the consumerism run riot...
Here in Umm Suqeim 3, the district where Judy lives, the ocean is nearby. Close to the open sea, the land gains context.
It often makes me think of Lego Land: the houses so similar, so cleanly plastered, the tall towers so shiny with their countless gleaming windows, the many cars lovingly washed daily, everything seeming so new...

Sunday, 25 November 2012

A night in Muscat

The hotel lived up to its Lonely Planet promise... And only one cockroach.
Very spacious rooms and a warm and welcoming atmosphere.
And how about this for environmental awareness??
Having unpacked and sorted out our early morning departure for the next day, we set off to look for somewhere to eat. An abundanceon offer! We found a Pakistani-run restaurant seving the most delicious dal for me and grilled fish with rice for David and what the waiter told me was Tandoori bread. Water to wash our food down, and to finish a wondrous sweet dessert somewhat resembling halva. All for three euros.
While we ate the men streamed out of the mosque across the road and into the restaurant. A mixture of Pakistanis, Indians and Omanis (I go by their clothing...)
Then back into the dark and to our hotel for an early night (after grateful hot shower in our room).
We like Muscat!
This was out spacious room...
Tomorrow back to Dubai.

Jebel Shams and meeting Omanis

It's not just the overwhelming grandeur of the rocky heights that impressed us about Jebel Shams. We met lots of people there and heard (and told) colourful stories about adventures in many places.

Muneer and Majid
They were both qualified travel guides, very articulate, most kind and helpful. Both of them multi-lingual (I was very impressed by their French and English). They were "local boys", knew a lot about the area round Jebel Shams; I realized what a pity it is that we are staying for so short a time. There is much to see (David regrets, among other things, missing the turtles who lay their eggs in the sandy beaches further south in Oman.) Maybe we'll come back...

Here is Muneer with me outside the dining room at Jebel Shams.

We met some other (like us, retired) couples: one evening Pam and John, two mathematicians from Oxford (we worked out they had been up just after me) who told us some if their stories, fascinating (including a visit to Libya a while back...) and on the morning we were leaving had a long chat with Alain and Betty from Hyeres, also boat people...
I always wonder if we'll ever meet again, but it's possible...

We left around lunch time and Majid came in the car down the steep roads with us to be dropped outside his home in the wadi below.
Here he is with his house in the background. He told us his family was the Baluchi tribe, originally (long ago I gather) from Pakistan.
So we reached Nizwa, arriving several hours before the bus left for Muscat. An impressive Indian said his friend was just going to drive to Muscat and asked if we'd like to have a lift. Well, yes, we would...
We waited while they went to fetch the friend's car.
He turned out to be a young man born in Oman of Indian parents. So although he'd spent all his life in Oman, he didn't get Omani nationality. This seems the general rule in the Gulf states (like, Nathan was born in Dubai but no way could he become an Emirati).
His name is Maroof Khatri. He drove us (excellent driving!) from Nizwa to the bus staion in Muscat (near where he lived). On the way he told David (who sat beside him in the front of the car) about his schooling, his work, what it was like living in Oman, his ideas about finding a wife (we judged him to be in his late twenties) and how his mother was all alone since his father (who had smoked too much, he recounted!) had died.
A most instructive journey.
Dusk was beginning to gather as we stepped out of his car and made our way up the marble steps into the Sun City Hotel, where we'd booked for the night (all too brief, morning rise of 5 a.m. to catch the bus back to Dubai).

More tales from Oman

We reached Muscat in the dark. The outside air was warm when we climbed off the coach (I love this part of the world at this time of the year!) The coach we travelled on from Dubai (Deira) to Muscat had stopped in Oman to pick up a young woman, carrying her baby under her arm, two bulging bags, and two suitcases on wheels...She sank down exhausted onto the seat behind David and me. I offered to hold her baby for her while she recovered. The baby was very smiley; in fact, I never heard him cry the whole time we were with her. She told me his name was Altan, meaning gold. She came from Kazachstan; the baby's father, it later emerged, was Nigerian. I never learnt her whole story, but what she told was enough to raise many questions for me: where had she met her husband, why had she wanted to marry hime, how long ago was it, why had she decided to become pregnant? She told me they had been travelling in Arab lands for about three years, presently in Oman where she had a resident's permit valid until ealry 2013. The baby had been born in Muscat in May (I saw his birth certificate, complete with Omani stamp; half in Arabic and half in Russian). She said her husband (who was apparently studying at an Omani university) had hidden her passport and that of his son, so she was now waiting for a new one to be issued via her Embassy. I phoned her embassy in the morning and they knew her story. I also phoned the Netherlands embassy to see if there was any place equivalent to Shelter, where she could take refuge until her passport arrived from Kazachstan. There wasn't, and since she isn't a Dutch national, her only recourse was through her own country's embassy. She was clearly afraid her husband would find her. But there seemed to be nowhere she could go. We paid for her night in the hotel, and then (alas, faute de mieux!) left to keep our appointment; we had to catch a bus to Nizwa, where we would be met by a driver who would take us up to Jebel Shams resort (about an hour's drive from Nizwa). So I left Sulu with her baby in the hotel. Happily, it was run by a kind and wise Indian. He and I know so many stories like Sulu's. Young mothers, women of all ages, whose husbands beat them. I sat in the bus to Nizwa, pondering about the extra mile... and sad unfinished stories.

At Jebel Shams resort
Nowhere like it in the world. At first we couldn't locate our driver in Nizwa. But a very kind local Omani listened to the instruction on my mobile phone and led me at a spanking pace from the bus stop where David and I had been dropped, to the large carpark beside Nizwa's Friday Suq. And there we found our four-by-four. By then the sun was setting. I am so relieved we drove up to Jebel Shams in the dark. I was pretty scared when we drove down in the daylight, two days later. It was quite a long way, the road zig-zagging higher and higher, the air growing chiller. Finally we reached the sandy plateau where the resort is built.
It consists of small one-storey chalets and tents, has a swimming pool and a dining room. Paved paths facilitate movement across the sand (!). There is a children's playground area. And despite the cattle grid, the over-friendly goats trip across (who's that crossing over MY bridge?...) and leave their droppings discreetly on the crazy-paving pathways.
There is a row of chalets, with windows facing west. To watch the glory of the sunset. Westwards lies the desert.

In the picture above you see David reading about travels in Afghanistan, while waiting in Jebel Shams...
There are many possibilities for adenturous expeditions while staying here. David and I chose to do the so-called Balcony Walk. Alone and unaided. It was quite an experience... sheer drops from the narrow stony path; not always clear which track to follow -- but fortunately very clear stripes in the colours of the Omani flag, painted onto the rocks to guide us. And scary as it was at times, it was worth every heartbeat! Most of the time very quiet, the occasional crow's cawing, or the wind in the trees below. Then silent once more. Only our footsteps crunching on the rocky path.
It took us about two-and-a-half hours to reach the abandoned houses and the terraces where formerly people had cultiavted subsistence crops. We sat down to enjoy our lunch -- and lo! from afar the goats appeared. Billy, Nanny and Kiddyo. They were extremely friendly.

But we did manage to shoo them away. And set off to retrace our steps. This time I looked in the other direction (that is, to my right and away from the sheer drop..) and steadfastly watched David's ankles pacing onwards through the sandy dust...
We reached the landmarks we had passed on our outbound journey -- the small cairns marking the halfway point, the covered wooden table and benches.

And here I am, somewhat painful feet, but elated!
What is it about the rocky mountains, memories of where I was born, maybe? More following...

Birthday for my grandson

I remember the day he was born; hardly seems long ago. Now he is three years old, able to converse with me about the Gruffalo, Super Worm and other heroes... He has a tremendous sense of the absurd, and is altogether (most of the time) a delightful companion.

His mummy (my daughter) organized a wonderful children's party for some other three-year-old friends and the fun began with Isaak and Nathan in the paddling pool, before guests arrived.
Being Dubai, it was not surprisinly a multi-ethnic gathering of children and parents. Judy made a splendid birthday cake (chocoltae of course), cut it into a rocket shape and adorned it with Nathan's name. We all sang Happy Birthday and wished him a long life in de gloria: this is the Dutch addition which I am never quite sure how to interpret... "Long may he live in glory" ??

Nathan was amazingly calm about this momentous day and walked round smiling contentedly and saying to himself "Happy birthday Nathan". The gold-medal-winning present was from Rose, who comes from the Philippines, and has looked after the boys for the past three years. She (brilliantly) gave Nathan an aeroplane that lights up and makes a whirring noise. Joy of any small boy's heart.
Most astonishing of all, throughout the day there was hardly any howling or screaming; of course, from time to time parental intevention was required. But on the whole, Maria Montessori would have been pleased.
Birthday Boy contemplates his red balloon...