Perfumes, pyramids and palm trees

Day and date uncertain, but I think it’s a few days after New Year.  My address is: Second palm tree from the left, Red Sea, Egypt

 I have decided that I love palm trees and I shall have to have one!  Lying underneath one you get a fabulous perspective whether in sunshine or a night sky: grace, strength, tough and itchy surface with an airy-fairy head – I do love them!

We’ve had a lot of first experiences on this trip: first time in Egypt, first view of the Pyramids and the Sphinx (or of many sphinxes, because there are an awful lot scattered around), first impression of the desert.  I say first experiences, because I am sure to return.  This is a fascinating and spicy place.  Standing on the edge of the Nile  is inspiring.  The desert is awe-inspiring in its vastness and its ever-changing facade, and at your back is a mass of palm trees surrounding a fertile farming community which thrives and depends on the Nile.  I looked at the desert and wondered what secrets it was keeping from me – it has let us share a few pyramids (around 160) but how many more is it keeping for itself?  It’s like it’s teasing us with its changes: “I’ll let you have that, but I’m keeping all this for myself!”

The first pyramid – the step pyramid at Saqqara– is so much more impressive than number 5 at Giza.  Less people, less confusion, less knowledge.  Giza and the Sphinz is a tourist trap, but an impressive one nonetheless.  I liked Saqqara because you are on the cusp of the desert and the green Nile rather than on the edge of Cairo.

Now there’s a city!  It’s huge!  It’s polluted, it’s crowded, but it’s fantastic in all those things.  The greatest thing that I will remember is the smell of the bazaar which should be bottled as a marketing ploy.  We plunged down dark alleyways where people try and wrap you in belly dancing outfits, and wave perfume bottles at you, to find ourselves in sultry back alley that looked like an opium den or an Aladdin’s cave full of battered genie lamps.  The smell is unique.  Each city has its’ own smell and this is Cairo’s – tobacco and other products from the smoking pipes that everyone from tourists to dark eyed old Egyptian men seem to smoke; tandoori, paprika, onions, grilled meat from
the food stalls; perfume and oils and several other things that it is impossible to identify.  Weaving in and out of these smells are men carrying mountains of filled pitta breads for the shopkeepers’ lunch, and the sound of prayer time starting.  It all adds up to a sense invasion that will be Cairo for me. 

And now the Red Sea smells of salt and sand and suntan lotion, but I’m expecting new smells when we venture out into the desert a bit.  Now my palm tree is calling me to rest in its intermittent shade and to stare through its spiky leaves.

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