Monday, February 28, 2011

POPOVERS AGAIN?

An ardent follower of my blog posts was somewhat mystified by my description of the popping of the popovers.   (See Marash Girl's Popovers) Although he wanted to try the recipe for himself, he had no laboratory in which to experiment -- even though he's a reknowned scientist!  He came to our door this morning, begging to use our kitchen to see if, in fact, I was telling the truth, and that the popovers would really pop without help from an artificial rising agent such as baking powder or baking soda.  Being a man of little faith, he had to see for himself.  (No, his name is not Thomas.)

Forgetting to give him an apron, I gave him full rein of our kitchen.   As you can see, before I could get my camera (i.e., in 3 minutes), he had preheated the oven, cracked the two eggs using my mother-in-law's favorite method (hitting the eggs against each other  -- yes, only one breaks), found my favorite wire whip on the shelf around the corner
in order to stir the 2 eggs, 1 cup of flour, 1 cup of milk and a pinch of salt, poured the batter into a well greased popover pan, and placed the pan into the very hot preheated oven.
Twenty minutes later, the popovers had popped -- see his grin? and he was a believer.



Even though he wanted to finish all six popovers himself,
he agreed to share; after all, he had used our kitchen. Unfortunately, my husband (not realizing that this ardent follower of my blog posts had made these popovers,) said to me, "Wow!  These are even better than the ones you made for me on Valentine's Day!"  That was it.  Never again will I allow this interloper to experiment in my kitchen!!!!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

ON MAKING SCRAMBLED EGGS

Okay. Scrambled eggs, you say . . . who can't make scrambled eggs?  I had had a bad cold (sore throat, cough) for several days (probably fever, but I refused to admit it), and felt lousy, so I asked my husband to make breakfast.  That would be a first for him.  What do you feel like eating, he asked.  Nothing, I said, feeling grumpy.  No, that's not true.  Could you make me some scrambled eggs?  They're quick and easy and delicious.  Here's how you do it . . . No, stop! he said.  I'll only make them if you come down to the kitchen and tell me how to make them.  Do I have to? I queried, but I already knew the answer.

So down the stairs I hobbled (my legs weren't sick, but I had been in bed for too long) and plopped myself into a kitchen chair.  Okay.  Take out the eggs.  He did.  But how do I break them? he asked.  Just take two eggs and hit the sides together; one will break and one won't.  How do you know that? he asked.  Your mother taught me, I answered.

So he took down one of my favorite orange mixing bowls, and cracked 4 eggs for the first time in his life.  He did it perfectly.  I wonder why only one breaks and the other doesn't, he queried.  You're the scientist, I answered.  You went to Harvard.  You figure it out, and figure it out before we play the Armenian egg game at Easter, because the same thing happens then!

Now what, he asked.  Now beat the eggs with that wire whip.  Okay.

Now pour a tablespoon or so of olive oil into that copper bottomed omelet pan over there and heat it until the olive oil just starts sizzling.  Like this? he asked. Yes.

Okay, now pour in the eggs and when they settle, start stirring them.  With what? he asked.  He turned around and grabbed the largest metal spoon he could find from my container of kitchen tools (almost the size of a small garden trowel).  This should do, he said.

And with a few stirs, and a few furtive adjustments of the flame, and  about a minute more,  the eggs were done.  And I have to admit, they were the most delicious scrambled eggs I've ever eaten.

That's because of the spoon I used to stir them with, he said.  Or was it because he had made breakfast for me for the first time in our lives together.  Or was it because my husband had gone to Whole Foods early that morning and bought Grade A Fresh Large Brown Eggs, Cage free, raised naturally, raised without antibiotics, vegetarian fed with no animal by-products. . .

Saturday, February 26, 2011

INTERNATIONAL HANDBOOK OF WHAT?

Two days before Valentine's Day, while preparing dinner, I received a phone call from a phone number I didn't recognize. Must be a customer, I figured, so I left the soup simmering on the stove and answered. "Hello, how may I help you?" The woman on the other end of the line asked, "Is this OldCornerBooks.com?"  After being assured it was, she asked, "Do you have The International Handbook of Jockstraps?"
I'm sorry? (I said, certain that I had misunderstood.) She repeated, "Do you have the book The International Handbook of Jockstraps?' Thinking that this was a crank phone call, I asked, "Oh, is this for a Valentine's Day present?" She laughed and said, "That would be a great idea! But no, it's for a birthday present for my friend. He's a urologist and he's going to be 70 years old!"

I assumed that I did not have the book; after all, wouldn't I remember such a title had I entered it into my database? But then again, I do have 30,000 books online at OldCornerBooks.com, so giving my customer the benefit of the doubt (I always do), and being a polite and helpful entrepreneur (without fail), I answered, "Let me check; if I don't have the book, perhaps I could find a copy for you." And wasn't I surprised when I checked my database, to find that I did, in fact, have in stock The International Handbook of Jockstraps, but having listed it 10 years ago, I had not remembered the title. My customer was thrilled. She said, "Oh, you must read it before you send it to me. . ." Now I was really getting suspicious -- was this or was this not a crank phone call? Only time will tell, I said to myself. Today I'll go to my warehouse, find the book (if it does, indeed, exist), and get back to my customer, WITHOUT reading the book first!

 

It does exist after all, and significantly this book was written by 'X' and published by 'Group X' in 1975. Here, just to prove that it exists, are the photos of the front and back covers.



I shipped the book in a plain brown envelope, but I'm sure my customer, the gift giver (who couldn't stop laughing as she gave me her shipping information and remembered the book), wrapped it prettily for the lucky urologist who will receive as a birthday gift this humorous, satirical paperback from the 1970's.

Friday, February 25, 2011

FRANK ON SECOND AVENUE

[It's interesting how the recommendation of a restaurant can tell you so much about the recommender.]

NO!  I don't want to have dinner at an Italian restaurant! Italian food?  I've been cooking that all my life! I don't want to eat at any restaurant where I can make what they serve me!
 
Well, I ate my words (no pun intended).  I arrived at Frank on Second Avenue after walking all the way up Broadway from the Financial District . . . through the Village, over 4th Street and up Second Avenue.  Where was Frank?  Just across 5th Street.  A sign on the first door I came to said, 'Do not use this door.' Not very welcoming, I thought.  Okay.  Then what door? Went to the next door shielded by a plastic weather protector. Went through the plastic door, then the wooden windowed door and entered the space -- an old time, tiny, no reservations, barely any room restaurant with pressed tin ceilings
                                           Photo Credit: Frank on Second Avenue
(painted over in white -- remember those from the 1960's?).  The narrow room, not so long, with a short bar on the left, a large bright stained glass window at the far end, and between that window and the bar, a long wooden table which could seat a party of 20, or many small parties of 2 or 4.  I loved it!

Sidling between the wall and the bar, I walked to the end of the room (not a very long walk) where stood the fellow who seated folks.  I told him I was waiting for 3 friends; pleased, he walked me through the doorway on the right which opened onto a room about twice as wide as the one we had been in. 5 tables on each side and a narrow path down the middle leading to the front window and at that window, a table -- my favorite seating in a restaurant -- with a party of three, but not my party of three  -- although, I must say, I was most tempted to join that party after my 1.5 mile walk in 30 degree weather, and after all, it was time for dinner!  No, I said, disappointed that I had to admit the truth.  I don't know those people!  Oh, said the Maitre d' --  I'm so sorry, then I can't seat you until your party arrives.  I was so tempted to talk the sitting-in-the-window folks into including me in their party (and I have no doubt that they may have), but I decided to behave myself and wait. I only had to wait a half hour, standing in the first room next to the stained glass window, long enough for me to absorb the atmosphere of the restaurant (Italian restaurant, dimly lit, no tablecloths on the wooden tables, with rap blaring over the loudspeakers and Spanish spoken by the waiters).  In place of a printed menu, the menu was written in chalk on the blackboard to the right of the stained glass window.  I didn't even attempt to interpret the offerings (which were all in Italian) until my party arrived.  Which was soon enough.

As it turns out,  we were seated (not at the window in the next room which would have been my first choice, but) at the far end of the long wooden table bordering the stained glass window and the chalkboard, exactly where I had been standing.  (The lovely young woman who recommended the restaurant reported that the menu changed every day, guaranteeing that the food here is always freshly prepared.) There was a printed menu of appetizers, however, from which we ordered the Italian salad, a mix of fresh crisp greens (arugula and romaine lettuce), sliced tomatoes, sliced red onions and mozarella cheese --  [must have been dressed with an aged balsamic vinegar we agreed, because it was not heavy or sour but ever so vaguely sweet] and the Stracciatella [creamy mozarella cheese with a few slices of tomatoes and a delicious unidentifiable dressing].  Oh, and the waiter brought us freshly baked, crusty Italian bread with a small dish of bland olive oil in which dawdled a few black olives to nibble while we waited for our appetizers.

Can't remember all the choices listed on the blackboard, but the waiter went over every one, explaining with great patience the ingredients in each offering.  (For starters, all the pasta was made right there at the restaurant.)  We finally settled on fettuccine with rabbit ragout, tortellini with asiago cheese in a red sauce,  grilled calamari on black linguini with red sauce, and at my request, a specially prepared grilled calamari on black linguini with white sauce (not on the menu -- lots of fresh sliced garlic and good olive oil) --  delicious, I say, delicious.  Black pasta?  Oh, yes, the waiter said.  We make it ourselves with the ink from the calamari, you know.   (I shouldn't mention the dessert -- the Tiramisu -- because it was the only disappointment of the evening.)

On arriving back at the apartment, my husband realized, as he removed his jacket, that it wasn't his. . . he had taken the jacket on the top of the pile and never cast a second glance as the restaurant was dark and the jacket fit perfectly. Back to Frank by cab to return the jacket to its rightful owner (and, I suspect, to join the party of guys that had taken our places at the end of the table.)  There was a big cheer when he arrived with the host's jacket, he tells me, as everyone moved over to make room so that he could join the festivities!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

REUBENS IN NEW YORK CITY

Reubens for lunch in New York City.

First day at Stage Door Deli.  Reubens piled high with thinly sliced corned beef, lots of cheese and sauerkraut with plenty of mustard and Russian dressing. Delicious. Cole Slaw. Delicious. Whole sour pickles and dill pickles. Delicious.

Next day at Junior's . .  Reubens with thickly sliced corned beef, very little cheese, no sauerkraut, no Russian dressing. Okay. Tiny cup of cole slaw. Okay. One dill pickle. Okay.

Last and least, the Marriott Marquis. Reubens with corned beef, hardly any cheese, no sauerkraut, no Russian dressing, no mustard (even after asking). Not okay. No Cole Slaw.  Not okay.  3 thin circular slices of pickle.  Not okay. Definitely not okay.

I should have stopped while I was ahead.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

BONDING AROUND A BIN - FINANCIAL DISTRICT, NEW YORK CITY

I used to look forward to our trips to New York City for two reasons. One, I could visit my son, and two, I could go to the Strand Book Store Annex and browse their sidewalk sale.  But the Strand Annex closed and in its place opened a Lot-Less, a discount everything store, a store at which I would never shop, but -- hey, it's right around the corner from my son's apartment!  So deciding I needed to stock my son's pantry with herbal teas (he never drinks them, but I do), I headed to Lot-Less first thing. I arrived, but never really got past the first bin, for in that bin (which was placed at at the top of the staircase at the entrance) were thousands of pairs of brand new, packaged, Ergee women's tights, tights which could retail for up to $30 a pair, in all sizes and shades (featured at Lot-Less for only $1.00 a pair), and surrounding the bin were women of all sizes and shades on their lunch hour.  Hey, a party! I decided to join.  And what fun!  One woman was looking for glitzy silver tights in size small -- oh, here's a size small in pink!  Do you want it?  Another for black tights in size tall (she just couldn't find them) -- but others in the party did -- here are 5 in size tall, and all black!  No, you should probably take a medium.  How about these brown ones, they're a size medium -- yes, here they are -- do you want them? Oh. . . Look -- she just found 3 size medium lacey black tights for you . . . Boyfriends and husbands were helping until they were elbowed out by the growing number of female enthusiasts, suddenly all sisters, bonding on their break from work, bonding over lunch hour, bonding over a bin of $1.00 tights.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

ON THE ELEVATOR AT THE MARRIOTT MARQUIS, NEW YORK CITY

My husband related the following story at dinner last night.

This afternoon, I got on the elevator at the Marriott Marquis (Times Square);  a young man was standing behind me. At the next stop, two women and a little girl burst into the elevator, and, spying the young man, started shouting at him:  You weren't where you said you would be, and what are you doing in this elevator anyway? Where do you think you're going? The woman (now next to him & apparently his wife), continued to harangue the young man about the fact that he is never where he says he's going to be;  she was interrupted by the other woman who seconded the first woman's accusations.  That was enough for me.  I turned to the young man, gesturing to the women, and said laughingly, Look, these women never hear what you say; I have deep experience in my own life with my own wife in this matter.

The women were in shocked at my words as I continued to console the young man. Very quickly (because the elevator was on its way down and I guess they feared I was soon to leave), my consolation became too much for the woman who was apparently the young man's wife; she took her black gloves and started swatting me on the arm; once the wife ceased slapping me with her gloves, the other woman, using her bare hands, pummeled my arm. The little girl standing between them looked so confused.  Fortunately, in the middle of the pummeling, the elevator arrived at my floor and I made a fast getaway.

I guess that's what you get for coming to the defense of a stranger in New York City.

Monday, February 21, 2011

DIARBEKIR IN AUBURNDALE

Call McCue's Taxi.  We have to leave by 6:55 AM in order to be sure to make it to Riverside by 7:15.  After all, it's a 3 day weekend, and we were lucky enough to get those last 2 tickets for NYC on the WorldWideBus ($20 each because it was the holiday weekend).

Even truer than their promise, McCue's Taxi arrived at 6:54 AM on Saturday morning, as we were lugging our suitcases over the threshold of our front door out onto the porch.  (Levon and I always switch off -- I pull his small carry-on, while he pulls my oversized suitcase packed to the gills with clothing for all possible weather -- (see Marash Martha's Fluff on packing).  No sooner had I started to make my way down our few wooden front stairs (6? -- see my post on counting stairs), but the cabbie, a swarthy man with lots of salt and pepper hair, jumped out of the cab and, coming around to the back, opened his trunk. As I approached the curb, he offered his arm to help me over the ice.  Thank you, I said, surprised at the courtesy.  He took our bags and placed them in the trunk of his taxi, walked around and opened the rear door for me, waited  until I was settled, then carefully closed the door, and got into the driver's seat of the cab.  My husband and I, now comfortably settled in the back, started chatting with this friendly cabdriver. It's been a long time since I've driven anybody to Riverside, he commented.  We chatted on about the convenience of living so close to the airport, the pretty neighborhoods of Auburndale (Newton Corner has pretty houses as well, but they're built much more closely together, the cabdriver noted), how much nicer it would be to live in the country, though how much more inconvenient.

Where did you grow up, I asked the cabdriver, whose not so thick accent I somehow recognized.  I grew up in the country, he said, on a farm.  What kind of a farm, I asked.  A vegetable farm with tomatoes and cucumbers and beans and . . . Any animals, I interrupted.  Oh, yes, he continued, lots of animals -- horses and cows and pigs and chickens and . . . Where was this farm, I queried, becoming curiouser and curiouser.  In Turkey, he answered.  Okay, so I did recognize the accent, but not quite. . . there was a slight difference from the accents of my Turkish friends from Istanbul . . . in fact this cabdriver spoke with the same accent in English as did my father's generation! Where in Turkey? I asked.  Diarbekir, he answered.  Immediately my husband asked, Ismin neddir? The cabbie didn't respond, not expecting, I guess, to hear Turkish from the back seat.  Ismin neddir? my husband repeated, louder this time.  Do you speak Turkish? asked the cabbie, surprised at what he heard.  Evet.  Anam babam Marashda dolmushlar, answered my husband, as he reached for the door handle because the cab had just pulled up in front of the Riverside station. The cab driver, his eyes alight with emotion as he came around from the back of the cab with our bags, asked, MarashlusingEvet, my husband answered. Ermeni.   Ben Kurd'm, he answered, a big smile on his face.  He looked as if he wanted to hug us.  We were family, after all.  We shared ancestral lands and difficult times.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

JUST OFF THE BUS IN NYC

I'm in New York City and true as the myth, there are as many stories in NYC as there are people -- more, in fact (although Newton and Watertown do alright for themselves given their comparative size).  Just off the bus, we were hungry and much to our delight there on the corner stood the  Stage Door Deli (its name a play on the famous Stage Deli that I remembered from the early 1960's).  Bustling in from the wind and the cold, we were pleased to find a corner seat near the window.  It was still early and folks were hovering over their steaming hot cups of coffee, lingering after breakfast in an effort to avoid going into the cold wind and swirling snow flurries. (It was a Saturday, yesterday, and no one had to rush off to work.) The waiters here were not Jewish men with numbers tatooed on their arms from the Holocaust, but rather pretty blonde women with slight Russian accents . . . And the food was almost as good.  For old times sake, I couldn't resist ordering a Reuben -- and I wasn't disappointed. . . my husband and I ending up packing up half of our platter of food (except for the dill pickles and fresh, not over-mayonaised coleslaw which we scarfed down with the first half of our platter of corned beef and cheese and rye), stuffing into our suitcase for future sustenance the wrapped half-sandwiches which had survived our hunger.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

MARASH GIRL'S RECIPE FOR POPOVERS: THE WAY TO A MAN'S HEART!

Did you see the recipe for Marash Girl's version of Pier 4 Marinated Mushrooms (Sunday, February 13)?  When my husband read the first draft of that blog post, he reminded me that Pier 4 not only served marinated mushrooms gratis with every meal, but also popovers fresh out of the oven.  And yes, I remembered that in the late 1960's, inspired by Pier 4,I would often prepare popovers, though never for dinner! They were a quick and nutritious (high in protein) breakfast treat.  (In those days I was preparing breakfasts before I left for work, as my husband, who worked at the State House, would have breakfast meetings with his colleagues at our apartment in the servants' quarters of 89 Mt. Vernon St., Beacon Hill, before my work day or his work day began.)

Next day was Valentine's Day, (yes, I know I'm posting this a few days after the fact, but I got carried away with my tales of Egypt, so forgive me!) and, I thought, what a perfect Valentine breakfast popovers would make!  I remembered my recipe -- simple enough -- (You'll see; you'll remember it, too!) --  Wait . . . did I have a popover pan?  I thought I had stored one on the shelf at the bottom of the stairs in our basement . . . Yup, it was where I thought it was, unused for many a year, but it had room for only 6 popovers, and I wanted to make double the recipe.  Okay, I could use some of my mother's custard cups . . .  I remember we used to make popovers in custard cups before popover pans came into vogue -- (While the popovers were cooking,  I checked to see if I could purchase another popover pan, but all I could find was the non-stick variety, to be avoided in cookware unless you want an unknown chemical in your food!)

So here's that easy to remember, easy to prepare recipe for
POPOVERS
Preparation time -- one minute, baking time 30 minutes.
PREHEAT OVEN TO 450 (it'll take about 5 to 10 minutes to get there!)
IMPORTANT NOTE: If you have a convection oven, especially a Wolf convection oven, as I do, preheat the oven to 425, and after 20 minutes, turn the oven off and leave the popovers in the oven for another 10 minutes.  HOWEVER, it is best NOT to use the convection oven, bake the popovers for 15 minutes in a regular oven at 450 degrees F., then open the oven door, quickly turn the pan around so all popovers get evenly browned, close the oven door, and turn the oven temperature down to 400 degees F.  Cook for another 15 minutes.  Popovers will pop perfectly. 

To begin:

Preheat oven to 450. Then

stir together

2 large eggs, 1 cup all-purpose flour (I use King Arthur unbleached Flour), 1 cup whole milk, 1/2 teaspoon salt.
(It's best if eggs and flour are at room temperature.)

1. Spray popover pan with PAM or grease the pans by hand, making sure the pan is well oiled. (Do the same if you use custard cups).

2. Stir the eggs, flour, milk and salt together in a bowl with a wire whip (just until blended -- don't over beat --  there will be a few tiny lumps of flour -- leave them).

3. Fill cups to about 2/3 full. (You'll have about 6  popovers, depending on how much you fill the containers.)

[One caution, however. The popovers in the custard cups cook differently and at a different rate than the popovers in the popover pan, so I would recommend using one or the other but not both, or if you want to use both, bake the popover batter which is in the pan first, and the popover batter in the custard cups later.  Easier to control the product that way.]
4. Place pan or custard cups filled 2/3 full with popover batter in oven preheated to 450 degrees; bake for 15  minutes (even though most recipes say 30 minutes), or until tops of popovers have begun to pop and begun to brown, then reduce heat of oven to 400 for another 15 minutes. The outside of the popovers should be golden brown, the inside very moist. Keep a close eye on them.  Be careful not to over cook or under cook this old New England anytime treat!
As you can see (above), I didn't even have a chance to remove the popovers from the oven before one disappeared!

Once you master this  recipe, you may want to experiment by adding herbs, or grated parmesan cheese, or some melted butter, or vanilla and almond flavoring, or 1/4 cup of ww pastry flour (the whole wheat flour makes the dough heavier and the popovers less popped) but start with the tried and true, master that, and then experiment to your heart's content!  (Let me know how yours turn out!)

I served my husband popovers for breakfast on Valentine's Day, and in return . . . look!!!!
Orange roses, my favorite color!  My tried and true LeCreuset enameled iron pots AND (my husband insists on my telling you), the new vacuum he just bought me are a deep orange!

ANYWHERE YOU TRAVEL, YOU'LL FIND AN ARMENIAN WHO'LL INVITE YOU IN!

My friend Kid from Alex, who was born in Alexandria, Egypt, tells me that he is reading my blog posts on Egypt, looking forward to hearing what I have to say about the Armenian community there. . .  I can't wait for you to write about the Marashtzis you met there, about the coffee houses, the churches, the hospitality, he said with a twinkle in his eye.

Now that I think back, I believe it was all for the best that Egypt was the one place we never did meet Armenians.  If we had, they would have insisted on our staying with them, on their caring for us, and we would have brought them nothing but trouble!

In actuality, Kid from Alex, I did find the following note at the back of my journal (lost in the turmoil of our visit to Egypt) --  relatives of Nevdone Pasha Pahlevi, one of my best friends in college, and of his mother Diko (my mom's good friend) , and his father Ellis (a friend whom my father had known way before Ellis was married).
My journal note reminded me to be sure to look up

Mrs. Pourbaix, friend of Diko Kupelian, 14 Sh. Ibrahimieh, Lokkani, Heliopolis, Cairo, Egypt
Alexandria - seashore - cousin to Mrs. Kupelian (Diko Esserian)
Mrs. Bahar Der Avedisian (widow), 14 Sidi/Bicher, Alexandria, Egypt

Nevdone Pasha Pahlevi -- Did you know these people?  My mother must have talked to your mother when my trip was in the planning stages, trying to ensure my safety,  but I didn't remember that your mother was from Egypt!  Was she? And anyway, it's a good thing I never contacted your relatives, or they may have been under the same threat that Gail and I posed to our Coptic friends in Alexandria!  [Blog Readers -- to learn more about Nevdone Pasha Pahlevi, please go to my blog entitled Vaht to Do entered on January 4, 2011.]

All our lives, my father used to comfort us and be comforted when he would regularly remind us that no matter where in the world we found ourselves, we could always open the phone book, look for an 'ian' at the end of a name, call that phone #, and be welcomed into the home of that Armenian family as if we were long lost relatives (which we well might have been)!  My brother had had that experience on his travels, but not Gail and I.  (Gail, by the way, would add an ian to the end of her Welsh last name during our trip through the Middle East whenever it suited her, just for this reason!)  We had been in Egypt, after all, we could not read Arabic,  and I had only a dim idea at the time that there were Armenian communities there --  only the Armenian writing we saw on a church in Alexandria, a church which did not seem to be in operation (as we sped past in our taxi on a weekday), called to mind the possibility of Armenians in Egypt.  [I had completely forgotten about the names my mother had insisted that I write in the back of my journal!] Indeed, God saved our Armenian compatriots from certain harm by keeping Gail and me from their doorsteps!

N.B.  Today I learned from the internet that the Egyptian-Armenian Community and the Armenian Apostolic Church of Egypt has constructed a monument to the victims of the Armenian Genocide (1915-1922) in the courtyard of the Saints Peter and Paul Armenian Church, 12 Baidawi Street, Alexandria, Egypt.  Had I been more persistent, and made the effort to stop the taxi and read the Armenian writing on the front of the church, I could have visited and photographed this Armenian place of worship that bears the name of my father Peter and his brother Paul.  They would have been so pleased.

















Friday, February 18, 2011

LAST DAY IN EGYPT, 1964, & OUR PROMISE

Driving back to Cairo at 3 in the morning, we saw the pyramids by moonlight, and had some trouble making the curves because of the desert which was attempting to straighten those curves in the road by covering half of the curve with sand!  . . . If we ever thought midnight on a country road was lonely, we had never experienced two o'clock in the morning on a desert road!  Gail and I laughed and sang all the way back [behavior assured to avoid any possible trouble.]  Arrived at the hotel in Cairo (which by that time we were calling home)  at 3 AM, to bed at 3:15AM, up at 4 AM. Dashed to the UAR office at 4:15 AM, in time for the airport bus.  That accomplished, we had to wait at the airport until 7 AM.  (That camel the Libyans had gifted me on our first day in Egypt was a big success!)   [See blog for Saturday, February 5, 2011 - Libyans & Alexandria, Egypt, August 16, 1964]. 
                                                         ( Images below  courtesy of Numismondo.com)
And we discovered that the international gift shop of the Cairo Airport would NOT accept Egyptian currency. What blatant admission that Egyptian money was without value!

An hour later, at 7 AM, we arrived in Beirut to the happy surprise of my cousin Garbis at the sight of Miss Gail . . .

I have forgotten to write about perhaps the most important feeling of that day -- freedom.  On arriving in Beirut, Gail and I felt we had truly reached the freedom land, the freedom land we had been so hopefully (and prayerfully) singing about for the last week.  

We're on our way to the freedom land
We're on our way to the freedom land
We're on our way to the freedom land
We're on our way, praise God
We're on our way.

 The burden of the police state was lifted as we walked onto the landing strip in Beirut, Lebanon.  

America, we love you, and praise God for you.  It may sound exaggerated and soap opera-ish but the feeling is more real to me than any I can  remember.

Here ends my journal entries on our trip to Egypt, 1964.

 It is interesting to note that the trip to Egypt I describe in my journal from 1964 was in sharp contradistinction to the joyous days, Summer 1964, I had spent (without Gail) in Paris & Istanbul,  and (with Gail) in Amman, Damascus, Beirut and Teheran.  We loved the Middle East.  But Egypt -- that was different.

After our trip, Gail and I made a pact: we promised each other that since we could never return the kindness and generosity, the selfless hospitality that we had received during our trip throughout the Middle East, we committed  to 'passing it on'.  In fact, to this day, my husband and I welcome friends and relatives, friends of friends, and even strangers, to our home, treating them like family, just as we had been treated.  (Yes, my husband has done his share of traveling, but not only to the Middle East.  When he was just out of college,   -- he actually traveled as a merchant seaman to  the Far East to Armenia and throughout the Middle East . . . AND he had the advantage of being able to speak Armenian, Turkish, Arabic, Russian, English and French!  I wish he would dig up the journals he kept during that trip!)

And just an aside.  The pact I made with Gail was nothing more than reinforcing the code that I had been taught by my mother and father growing up . . . Being Armenian, (and, of course Marashtzi), I could do nothing less than open my home and my heart to others, just as my father and mother had, and their fathers and mothers before them.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

WHIRLING DERVISH, BELLY DANCERS, & SHISH KEBAB, SAHARA CITY, EGYPT 1964

Monday - Dr. & Mrs. Ishmael and their two sons (Cassa's brothers) and cousin picked us up and brought us to their home for a lunch of chicken; we learned how to eat mangos properly.  We returned to the hotel, had our hair done (???) but didn't have time to finish because we rushed off to see the Klines (Director of Fulbright there) and their daughter Vicki who was attending the American University of Beirut (AUB). They asked us to stay for dinner but we didn't because we had to go back and pack and the boys picked us up at 10, (despite the fact that they were told that we weren't there because the hotel was trying to protect us from strange young men!) We went to Sahara City through the desert via the pyramids. 

Tuesday, August 25 -- Assuming a day begins at midnight, there I shall begin.  For this day had no real beginning.  At midnight, then, Gail and I found ourselves at a table about 5 yards from the dance floor of Sahara City, finishing off a 'small' order of shish kebab (under a tent, no less) with the two young (one actually not so young) Egyptian men -- Haani and Moustafa.  Dinner, belly dancers, whirling dervishes, African dancers, a girl with candles on her head and a table in her mouth, the congo line and the whirling dervish (who, by the way, invited Gail to dance with him -- she foolishly said no).   Indeed it was more like a carnival or a circus than a nightclub.  The belly dancers were more covered than any public dancers we had ever seen. Boston's El Morocco belly dancers supercede in face, figure, dance and costume.
The one good dancer at Sahara City was African (5 years ago the religious of Egypt clamped down on scanty, bikini like costume and now the belly dancing outfits resemble 1950's strapless evening gowns with straps.)  The whirling dervish whirled about 2,000 times for us (interested by a dead drunk 'belly dancer').  The Africans performed a cross between a mock battle and the American 'twist', and the finale consisted of every performer grabbing a customer, jumping around on the stage, and finally forming a congo line around the room.  (I cringed when one of the dervishes asked me to join the line!) The little children joining in made the whole fete seem a bit like a degenerate orgy, but the dance was saved by a young sporty mid-Western strawberry blonde girl who happily and innocently danced with the whirling dervish.  After this display, Gail was sorry she had refused when the Dervish asked her to join.

The above was taken directly from a journal entry written during my 1964 trip to Egypt.  Tomorrow read the last of my journal entries written in Egypt in 1964.

Photo Credit:  Egyptian dancer Ashea Wabe, performing as "Little Egypt", photograph by Benjamin Falk circa 1896, courtesy of Wikipedia. Note that belly dancers were more scantily clad in the Egypt of 1896 than in the Egypt of 1964!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

BACK IN CAIRO: WE TOURISTS VISIT THE SPHINX [EGYPT, 1964]

In Cairo.  Up in the morning, eggs for breakfast,  and to the American Embassy where they assured us all was o.k. as long as our passports were stamped.  Then we discovered that BOAC would not take our money (because we had no paper showing we had bought it in Egyptian banks, and not at black market rates -- by the way, while with the Libyans, we were brought to a black market Jewish tailor who sold money on the side -- the rest of our money we had bought in Beirut and smuggled in).

Then to the Garden City Hotel which was run by Italian-Egyptians.  We explained that we wanted the least expensive room that they had, so they gave us a tiny back room with two beds in it (they moved an extra one in) for $1.50 a night.  They were very kind to us, and they gave us a free supper.  We were embarrassed because we felt we had unintentionally misled them.


Met Fuat (the conductor) at the BOAC office -- but John never showed, so that evening with them was cancelled.


Sunday -- shopping and a trip to the Great Pyramid of Cheops, starting out from the Nile Hilton, the most modern hotel in Cairo,  where we joined a group of tourists for our trip to see
"Son et Lumiere" (Sound & Light) -- During the "Son" part, the Sphinx spoke to us in the unmistakable voice of John Gielgud, an Englishman who in Nasser’s independent Egypt, intoned, “Man fears time,  but time fears the pyramids.”   The place was crawling with tourists -- all kinds (including us)!  On our return from the show, we went into the Hilton to find a very expensive gift shop run by -- who else -- Armenians, of course.  [Note: This was our first time meeting any Armenians in Egypt, even though my friend KK tells me there was a large community of Armenians there in the 1960's.] We splurged on a tuna salad dinner in the hotel's outdoor cafe, and feeling very guilty about our hosts at our humble hotel, and feeling very full, headed for what was now our home base.


In looking back on our stay in Egypt, it seems that most of the time we lived on free Cokes and stale bread. . .Every shop that we walked into offered us Cokes or tea (the wise Middle Easterner drinks hot tea to cool off), wanted to know if we had American money to change (they could give us a good rate, they told us -- though their rate was only 1/2 as good as the one we got in Beirut!)

N.B. Years later, back here in the States, I learned that the erosion to the Sphinx and the pyramids caused by the sands of time over thousands of years was equalled by the erosion caused by air pollution (yes, there is air pollution in Egypt) over the last 40 years!  Or did I learn that then?  Not sure!

Stay tuned for more Egyptian adventures recorded in my  1964 journal.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

FLEEING FROM LUXOR, "GOOD AND SCARED" - EGYPT, 1964

Egypt, 1964: my journal continues through the valley of the shadow of . . .

. . . We were sure these men were leading us to some dark alley, which they did, then up some stairs.  Just when we were sure the men were leading us astray, we came to a door at the top of the stairs which announced the local police captain.  He questioned us as to where we had stayed during our visit to Alexandria.  We pretended we couldn't remember the names of the hotels, so we were taken back to the hotel in Luxor on the pretext that we would find a bill, or something, with the name of the hotel on it.  We sat in our hotel room, trying to think what to do, to make plans, hide the money -- we were followed by the guards (hotel men) who kept knocking on our door and insisting that we hurry . . . our conductors didn't dare speak to us, and we were good and scared.


We were unceremoniously ushered back to the Luxor Police, still not knowing what to do, except knowing that we would not reveal the name of our hosts.  The police questioned us as if we were criminals.  I explained to the man exactly why we could not tell, and that we would not tell, but he kept questioning us.  Who were our friends in Alexandria? Did we have friends in Luxor?


An hour of questioning -- always the same question -- "Who were your friends, Egyptian or American?" (The hotel "guards" kept telling us to lie and give the name of any hotel, insisting that we should say anything just to get out, but we, being stupid, honest Americans, would say nothing.


We never told, and finally the Police Captain wrote a report in Arabic (assuring us it was what we had told him) which we signed; he stamped our passports, and we left, relieved though ready for trouble ahead.


We returned to the hotel to find our conductor friends gone, and lizards crawling up the walls of our room.  
 [We didn't know at the time that for the Egyptians, the lizard represented divine wisdom and good fortune, that the lizard was one of the Egyptian god Atum's symbols, that Atum was often represented as a lizard -- that amulets and small reliquaries of lizards were often worn in honor of this god in the  Late Period 664-30 B.C.E. -- now we know why!]

We wanted out.  As a matter of fact, we wanted to get to an American Embassy pronto!  And the closest one was in Cairo.  We ran to the train station at midnight, just before the train was about to leave, and found our conductor friends who gave us their compartment on the train so that we could get out of Luxor that night.  They returned to the hotel with us, got our bags for us and we checked out.  The people at the hotel wanted to know why we were leaving, where we were going, what train, etc. etc.  We felt watched and pursued ("The night had many eyes") and at the mercy of everyone.  The conductors not only gave us their bedroom on the train, but bought us cheese sandwiches and watermelon and we had a party of five.  They decided they wanted to see the moon and kept turning the lights off in order to see the moon, so we kicked them out.
More tomorrow from the 1964 journal I wrote during my travels through Egypt with my friend Gail.

Monday, February 14, 2011

EGYPT: FROM THE VALLEY OF THE QUEENS TO THE VALLEY OF THE SHADOW OF ???

Returning to my journal written during my travels in Egypt,  August, 1964 . . .

The erstwhile guide kept assuring us that 'the donkeys know the way.' Apparently the guide didn't! Some assurance. He insisted we go by (NOT buy) the Colossus of Menon -- we could have cared less at that point. It was the last thing we wanted to see. We were almost falling off the donkeys, this time from the sun -- the only time in our journey throughout the Middle East that we were suffering from sunstroke.


All the people we saw along the way were walking toward the railroad tracks, because the freight train was due in very shortly. We sat in the men's coffee house (don't know why they allowed us in) where they ate filth, and apparently so did we [and here I quote from my journal word for word, as I have been doing all along.] The men wanted to know how much money a Mexican peso was worth. . . We took the boat back and we were never so happy to see our two clean neat European-looking conductors waiting for us on the other side of the Nile. They took us in the carriage to the hotel where we were informed that we would have to go to the passport authority at seven o'clock that evening. (We had failed to have our passports stamped in Cairo when we first arrived -- hence the trouble.) Luckily, we were told by our conductor friends not to say that we had stayed with friends in Egypt, for they (our Coptic friends in Alexandria) would then be liable to a fifty pound fine and six months in jail.
Not particularly worried about the imminent trip to the passport authorities, we continued our tour and went to the Karnak Temple (pictured above).


Just too much of that for the day. The sacred lake with fungus and mud and no water and lots of Colossus and ankh (a cross with a loop at the top, also known as the Key of the Nile. ...) which we saw everywhere and a honey bee [see yesterday's blog] and all the hieroglyphics.
Ceiling Heiroglyphics: Ankh (the Key of Life) & honey bees, at the Temple of Amun, Karnak (Luxor), Egypt - Source of Above Photos: Internet

We decided not to go to the Temple of Luxor.

We went back to the hotel and took a shower and a 15 minute nap, and then two men belonging to the hotel rounded us up to go to the police. They practically barged into our rooms, and insisted that we go then and there. [Luckily we were dressed.] We finally went, walking through the streets of Luxor, a guard on each side, feeling like prisoners, not knowing what lay in store for us. We were sure these men were leading us to some dark alley, which they did . . . then up some stairs . . .

Sunday, February 13, 2011

MARASH GIRL'S RECIPE FOR PIER 4 MARINATED MUSHROOMS

Mushrooms were on sale last week at Russo's, our local greengrocer. The white mushrooms, so fresh and clean, medium in size. . . I knew I wanted to buy them (who wouldn't?) but I wasn't sure what I wanted to do with them. At the very least, I knew I could make a delicious dish by sauteing sliced onions in butter or olive oil or a combination, (butter alone burns too easily), then adding the washed sliced mushrooms, sauteing the lot, and adding the juice of one lemon. Delicious! Or perhaps . . .

Okay, Marash Girl. . . so buy the mushrooms and worry later about how you're going to prepare them.

As I drove home with 6 pounds of mushrooms in the boot of the car (a little over zealous I was, I admit), I remembered the last time I bought that many mushrooms at one time. Levon and I were recently married, living on Beacon Hill, and walking to the North End on Saturdays to do our fruit and vegetable shopping. There we could buy a pound of mushrooms for (25 cents?). But of course we never bought only one pound because in those days, Pier 4 Marinated Mushrooms were in vogue, big time. Pier 4 Restaurant was the restaurant of choice for many of us because when we ate there, we would be served freshly baked popovers and marinated mushrooms before we even ordered!

Everyone wanted that mushroom recipe, and one day, the word got out that the Pier 4 Marinated Mushroom recipe was printed in the food section of that day's Boston Globe. My husband, the historian, reminds me that many of us ran to get the Globe for that recipe, but we were disappointed to find that it did not appear in the largest morning circulation of the Globe, as the word on the street had suggested it might. It turns out that Anthony, owner of Pier 4 Restaurant, and others at Pier 4, saw the recipe in the earliest and lowest circulated edition of the Globe, and were able to (probably through lawyers) have it removed from the succeeding morning editions. By the time the main morning edition of the Globe was published, the marinated mushroom recipe was missing. All of us newly weds on Beacon Hill were frantic, looking for that earliest morning edition, and if we were lucky enough to find it, or know of someone who had it, we clipped out the recipe for Pier 4 Marinated Mushrooms and, before filing the recipe away in a safe place, prepared the most delicious marinated mushrooms, a replica of the very mushrooms we ate at Pier 4, mushrooms that we served throughout the late 1960's and early 1970's every time we had guests (which was often in those days on Beacon Hill).

Years have passed since I've thought about marinating mushrooms. It was on that ride home from Russo's that I remembered my love affair with Pier 4's Marinated Mushrooms. But where was that recipe? Couldn't find it anywhere. . . so I went to the internet, God bless it, and typed in Pier 4 Marinated Mushrooms. Not a solution. None of the recipes that I found matched my memory of the ingredients or the method I had used years ago. Okay . . . time to put on my creative wings and fly. And here's what I recreated.

Marash Girl's Recipe for Pier 4 Marinated Mushrooms

Marinade for 1 pound fresh small white mushrooms

1/2 cup apple cider vinegar (in which a garlic clove has been sitting for a week or more, or wine vinegar in which a garlic clove has been sitting for a week or more, BUT if you use red wine vinegar, BEWARE: your mushrooms may turn pink)
2/3 cup olive oil
2 tsps. combination thyme, oregano, marjoram, basil, rosemary and sage (which may be purchased in one bottle labeled 'Italian Seasoning')
1 tsp. Aintab red pepper (my adaptation, available from Armenian or Middle Eastern Stores)
1/2 tsp. each kosher salt, sugar and black pepper
Juice of one lemon, squeezed and added after marinade is boiled.

Method:
Wash and trim l pound small white mushrooms (if not small then cut into quarters). Place mushrooms in a heavy iron pot (I use le Creuset), barely cover with cool fresh water and bring to a boil. Simmer a minute or two. Drain off the liquid [and keep that liquid in the freezer for a delicious addition to your next foray into the world of soup making].

Combine all ingredients of the marinade, bring to a boil, turn off heat, add freshly squeezed lemon juice and stir.

Pour the marinade while hot over the hot drained mushrooms, store in a glass container, and let sit for a day before eating.

Hey, wait a minute -- mentira! You don't have to wait. My husband could smell the marinade cooking from his third floor office -- I could hear him heading down the stairs -- and sure enough, there he was, eating them right out of the pot. 'Delicious!', he said. 'Taste just like the Pier 4 mushrooms!' What better recommendation can I give you?

P.S. These mushrooms will last for months in the refrigerator IF you can resist finishing them off in the first week!

N.B. If you cheat and use canned mushrooms, don't blame me when you are disappointed with the results!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

WBUR & CURT'S PHOTOS, HONEY BEES & EGYPTIAN HONEY

Yesterday I volunteered at WBUR's Valentine Fundraiser (yes, we met our goal!) and my friend Curt, as he often does, after treating us all to Lox and Bagels, announced that he had brought in photos he had taken and printed as gifts for volunteers and WBUR staff. There was a mad dash for the table which sported the photos as we scrambled for our favorites -- Robin Young selected
or was it this one? (I can't quite remember . . .)
and I chose the photo below, photographed by Curt in Oregon in early summer, (reminiscent of summers in Wilbraham, Massachusetts.)
Photo taken off route 26 "Sunset Highway" traveling west from Portland, Oregon to Seaside and Cannon Beach. The stream site is near the turnoff to Saddle Mountain State Park, the photo a testimony to Nature's ability to heal after fire, in this case, the Tillamook fire in 1933.

But my least favorite photo was a magnificent closeup of a bumble bee hovering over a daisy. I couldn't bear to look at it.
Photos Above Courtesy of Curtis Bryant

Why did I find this beautiful photo so upsetting? WBUR volunteers admonished me: we need bees in order to survive, we need bees in order to pollinate plants so that we can eat; we need bees for honey! Well, of course I knew all of this; I had grown up with bees in three beehives in our back yard, and helped my Uncle Paul care for them . . .
Photo above pictures a beehive which needs a good painting after wintering over into spring. (Not ours -- my Uncle Paul always kept ours painted a beautiful white.)

The bees pollinated my father's vegetable garden, my uncle's apple and pear trees, and cured my father, my aunts and uncles and grandfathers and grandmothers of arthritis. Yes -- didn't you know? Bee stings cure arthritis!

Every summer Sunday, among our many visitors, would be an aunt or an uncle who wanted the cure. Mary Baju, one Sunday, would bravely bare her knee, Uncle Khosrov, his elbow, while Uncle Paul, protected under his beekeeper's screened hat, long pants, long-sleeved shirt and gloves, smoker at hand, would pick up a worker bee with his tweezers, and hold it to the arthritic knee, the arthritic elbow. The worker bee would then do her duty and sting that arthritic joint, giving up her life so that the joint would be healed. I always wondered whether the bee sting hurt so much that the arthritic knee no longer felt the pain of the arthritis. . . but my uncles and aunts, and my father, all survivors of the Armenian Genocide 1915-1922, swore that the cure was a cure.

The only problem was that after years of the remedy, my father became allergic to bee stings. Now what . . . his brother (and the garden and fruit trees) were committed to apiculture, and my father would die if he were stung by a bee -- die, that is, if he didn't keep epinephrine at the ready by his side as an antidote to the sting . . . which, of course, my fearless father would never do!

What happened? The garden thrived, the trees thrived, the bees thrived, the relatives thrived. Uncle Paul became famous as he performed in full regalia for years before Claflin Elementary School students (who walked as a class to the house from the old Claflin School in Newtonville Square and later from the new Claflin School across the street from our house), giving them a dramatic 'hands on' lesson on bees and honey which they remember to this day. (Thanks be to God, the bees never stung the children!) And the bees who did NOT sting folks, those bees died of old age, as did my father who died in March of 2010 at 97 years old, having survived the arthritis and the allergy to bee stings without ever having to use the epinephrine which he so disdained.

Oh, and the Egyptian connection. . . As Mark Andrews reminds us, and you may remember,
ancient vessels that were uncorked by 20th century archaeologists in the Valley of the Kings still contained . . . honey that was almost liquid but still preserved its scent after thousands of years.

I wonder if our bees, the bees that resided in hives on Lowell Avenue in Newtonville, Massachusetts, in the 1950's and 1960's, were descended from the bees of Ancient Egypt . . .

Friday, February 11, 2011

RETURNING TO LUXOR FROM THE VALLEY OF THE QUEENS, EGYPT, 1964

Heading back home from the Valley of the Queens, [I can't believe I was calling the lizard ridden hotel home, but I did -- it's right there in my journal -- any port in a storm, I guess] -- the guide insisted on giving us the complete treatment and taking us to the tombs of noblemen -- no matter how much we begged him to take us directly home, he told us it was only a short visit, and he wanted us to take full advantage of the trip; also Gail was somewhat more game than I was. [I wonder why!] So we went, but I stayed on my donkey and waited in the shade, while Gail took her little tour. The tombs were part of a small village, evidently -- or rather a group of huts where people lived -- and in front of the huts were round mud-looking constructions. We were told that these were used to sleep in when it was too warm to sleep indoors; however, I was never convinced by this explanation.

After about a half hour ride on the donkeys, we came to a rest house which had no water. The second one had some, but not to drink, and not in the faucets -- this water was brought to us by a girl (to whom, of course, we paid bakshish) -- we thankfully splashed our faces with that water. . .

At this stop I saw several hand-carved alabaster vases for 50 cents each, but I thought that was much too much, and finally bought three of them for a dollar.

Everywhere we went there were lots and lots of pictures of Nasser and many of Nasser with Khruschev, though not in Cairo.

The men were always pulling up their robes, for one reason or another, and they wear great pantaloons underneath. Turbans on their heads -- many wore sheikh headdresses -- they keep pulling those up also.

We saw a new village, one that the government was building, so that an old dilapidated one could be evacuated, but already the people were filling in the windows with rocks. We took a short cut home over very caked and cracked earth --
the donkeys kept slipping into the cracks and we kept holding what little breath we had left. Here the Nile had flooded and receded and left mud caked over the land.


Above taken directly from my journal written in 1964. Taking a break over the weekend to share my adventures at WBUR this week (actually, an Egyptian connection) and a recipe. More on Egypt on Monday.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

VALLEY OF THE QUEENS, EGYPT, 1964

Saved by the donkey from a burial fit for a queen . . . My journal continues.

. . . The saddle slipped to the side of the donkey, I fell off, and the donkey fell on top of me (apparently saving me from imminent death -- the Lord does work in strange and wondrous ways!) Had I fallen one moment earlier, I would have fallen over the ledgeless edge into the Valley of the Queens, and joined the queens forever.

I tried to lead my donkey the rest of the way down, but he insisted on stepping on my toe every so often. Between the two accidents, I was so shaky, I could hardly get myself, let alone the donkey, down the mountain. The beautiful view Gail says we saw from the mountain passed me by unnoticed.



1960's Coca Cola Advertisement we envisioned on our long trek over the mountain

Our guide led us to the long-awaited Coke stand which turned out to be another dirty (literally) Arab with a dozen Cokes in an old bucket of melted ice. All the Cokes were hot. This was the last straw -- so when the man opened the Cokes (before we had ordered -- a trick we found throughout the Middle East, especially at borders, etc., an effort to force the tourist into buying), we refused.

We went into the tombs of the Valley of the Queens -- this was after going into all those ombs on the other side of the mountain, where everything was meant to be so beautiful and where they had some interesting hieroglyphics -- bees and scarabs and such, where it was not at all like what Gail had recently read -- described by a woman who had been there and talked about how you went down from the bright sun the glaring dusty yellow desert, down the dark steps, into the brilliantly lit tombs with the clear, exciting hieroglyphics of the olden days so beautifully visible. . . I don't think so!

At this point we were bored by the markings on the walls of the Queens' tombs -- our sense of humor had left us -- so much so that when some wise guy Russians made comments to us, we were disgusted. We did welcome the Queens' tombs, however, for the cool shade, and we took advantage of that part of the trip to relax and cool off.

By this time, I was convinced (and I still am) that the best way to see the markings on the walls of the Egyptian tombs is through a picture book in an air-conditioned room -- the pictures are clearer, one is in a better frame of mind to appreciate them, and the information in the books is far superior to anything told us by the tour guide.


Dear reader, I beg your indulgence as you continue reading my journal, written in 1964 during my trip to the Middle East. The narrative continues tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

ON DONKEYBACK TO THE VALLEY OF THE KINGS, LUXOR, EGYPT, 1964

I sit at my computer today, thankful that I am alive to tell the tale. My journal from 1964 continues thusly . . .

I woke up feeling ill, because the air-conditioner [yes, there was one on this train from Alexandria to Luxor in 1964] was bringing in stale air, or some such thing. (Gail got sick in the middle of the night and took 2 penicilin.) Big breakfast of omelet and rolls (we couldn't have been that sick)! By this time we had arrived in Luxor -- the Ammun Travel Agency man was ushered to us ceremoniously, but he went off without us -- where, we don't know. So we got John (one of the conductors) to take us in a carriage to a good but inexpensive hotel--"Hotel de Famille", which certainly sounded respectable enough. [But the reality?] Flies, dirt, and lizards crawling up the walls. But cheap and a cheap tour arranged. [The lizards were there to catch the flies, I suppose -- reminds me of that Pete Seeger song: I know an old woman who swallowed a fly -- I don't know why she swallowed the fly; I guess she'll die. Funny Pete Seeger never mentioned lizards in that song!] We discovered that we could have had a free tour and a half price railroad ticket if we had known enough to tell the travel agency that that's what we wanted, or if they were good enough to offer us the option.

We were given a guide (a skinny old man in a long white gown) with whom we headed off for the boat to take us across the [Nile] river to go to the Valley of the Kings. Flies on all of the donkeys and the people, walking across the open eyes of children, open sores, in open mouths, on lips, etc. Reminiscent of what on would expect to find in India along the Ganges. Flies and heat.


Vintage postcard circa 1910 of saddled donkey (NOT the one we rented, although perhaps it was the same one we rented, just 54 years after the photo was taken).

We rented donkeys on the other side of the [Nile] river, and went jogging (on the donkeys) along a desert road to the Valley of the Kings -- no green in sight -- about 110 degrees, and we had no hats, no water. We were very thirsty. We went past villages, cliffs . . . drier and hotter as we got farther from the Nile. not many live here. Only tourists and tombs. At least an hour on the donkeys -- no full skirts blowing in the wind, for although we were wearing full skirts, there was no wind! We arrived at the Vally of the Kings, too hot and thirsty to want to go any further, but we decided to postpone drink and rest time until after the momentary visit to the underworld. Lots of steps down to the tomb which was, in despite the open doorway, nearly suffocating. When we finished our visit to the tomb (which, by the way, was thoroughly unappreciated by Gail and me), we went seeking a glass of water to the shiny new concession-restaurant. There was no water to be had, no matter how much one was willing to pay for it. We settled for a Coke (exorbitantly priced) and dawdled over it, not wanting to move from the slight relief offered by the overhead shleter. We contemplated buying another Coke, for our thirst was at that point unquenchable, but our guide assured us that his friend on the other side of the mountain -- in the Valley of the Queens, sold Coca Cola for much less money, and anyway, we would be really thirsty by the time we got there, and would appreciate the drink more. So off we went, up the steep mountain trail (we got off the donkeys and led them up -- the sand mountain was covered with small pebbles which slipped underfoot and started miniature landslides at every step). At the top of the mountain our guide told us it was now safe to mount the donkeys, as we went for a way along the ridge. I felt very unstable atop the donkey atop the mountain, but my guide assured me all was safe, and when I continued expressing my fears, the dirty old man held me on the donkey. That was enough to convince me that I was safer in my precarious position atop the donkey than I was anchored on the donkey with the aid of the old man. As we started down the mountain, however, the saddle slipped to the side of the donkey, I fell off (nearly into the Valley of the tombs of the dead Queens) and the donkey fell on top of me.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

BACK IN CAIRO, BUT NOT FOR LONG!

My journal continues: In Cairo, we were met by the rather 'atrocious' man from the travel agency. . . He introduced me to the train conductor, John. I couldn't really believe that John was the conductor -- he was tall, young, and very good-looking (and clean looking). Having become accustomed to the kindly old men who are usually train conductors in the Boston area, I withheld my trust until future proof, which came soon enough.

Our trip from Cairo to Luxor: We boarded the train and went directly to the dining car, where we took some lovely pictures (after the train had started) of the sun going down behind the palm trees and the pyramids, and began talking to Fuad in French -- also clean-looking and nice, who evidently had been a tour guide. He got us bread, and more bread (at our request . . . we were envisioning days of starvation ahead). We ordered a dinner of pea soup, macaroni casserole, meat pate, mixed vegetable salad, and watermelon WITH seeds (there was a standing joke in Lebanon about watermelon without seeds, but can't remember what it was.)

We sat for a long time over dinner, and the two young men (who it turns out actually WERE the conductors) sent us some beer, we toasted back and forth across the room, and then went to our room. They came by to talk, and we went to their room for Greek wine (John was a Greek Egyptian). The bed had been made but they turned the bed into chairs again. The Greek wine, by the way, was made in Egypt. Nicolas joined us. They grabbed more dinner for us, and some pears; they began to feel the wine so we left. (According to Gail, we had some time leaving, too, though I can't remember.)



Marash Girl (on left) & Gail (on right), Jiita, Lebanon, August 1964, just before traveling to Egypt

Monday, February 7, 2011

THURSDAY, AUGUST 20, 1964: LAST DAY IN ALEXANDRIA, EGYPT

Thursday -- We went to the Coptic Church (which is illegal -- the church, that is). They want to get government permission and build a real church, but there'll be a long wait, if permission ever comes through at all. The lady who was our hostess was extremely obsequious to the priest, who was, by the way, married. The priest told us all about the church which was the church of St. George. At this point it was just brick with a tin roof, that the Coptic community had renovated. We met the priest's wife and a crowd of local women. On the way home, we noticed that there was a communal television in the square where everybody was watching a football game -- in the open! We went back to the casino, then to our hostess to whom we said goodbye. She gave Gail a small camel (plastic covered and somewhat flea bitten) and admired Gail's hairbrush (good old nylon and plastic - USA). [We didn't know enough at the time to gift her the hairbrush! Oh, the ignorance of the young!] Our hostess went around telling everyone about my answer to the question of whether or not I would marry an Egyptian. [I can't remember what the answer was, but I'm sure it was in the negative!] She asked us to write. . .


We left in a taxi for the Cairo train station. We had to fight off the porters (Gail nearly kicked one). The train ride back seemed longer. We tried to take pictures out of the window -- somewhat of a failure. We slept and people kept pulling the shutters on the windows up and down, blocking the view. They thought we were crazy to let the sun in for the sake of looking out the window. From the train window [when the shutters were up], we saw a little village which looked more like little burial mounds in England. We gathered that that was so as not to take up room for cultivation of the land. The flat roofs of the buildings were covered with straw -- to keep the heat down; even on top of the city buildings you saw this.


Thanks for reading . . . More from my 1964 journal tomorrow.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

FURTHER IMPRESSIONS & ADVENTURES IN EGYPT, SUMMER 1964


Observations: People sleeping on ground everywhere -- smell of the drains -- local dress appears to be like our pajamas, less stylish than the Bedouins. Many women in modern dress. Dirt everywhere! Candles & carts at night (?), round hats. The men who pushed, the women who kept poking us with their fingers to get through the crowd. The ocean and the trees, the canals and the buffalos in the water across from Nassar's palace.

The Libyans don't even trust the Egyptians that they know personally.
Went to the zoo with our Libyans (where Gail thought the zookeeper was so nice for letting her feed the camels -- she didn't notice the Libyans paying him off for every peanut she fed the camels!) Then visited the hospital which was VERY clean. The Egyptian "friend: of the Libyans kept announcing in every store that we wanted to change American money (this is illegal save in the banks). He had been taken along to help us bargain, but we soon discovered that we did better by ourselves, without the help of a native who knew the customs or spoke the language.
We were told stories about the secret police, the great no., the disguises, the great percentage -- the story about the three brothers, all of whom were secret police, none of whom knew the others were!

Everyone wanted us to change money -- give us hashish & whiskey (?) The boys we were with said that Libyans in general were wealthy, but had no place to spend their money. There's a huge American Colony there (Firestone -- with a semi-govmt., etc.)
You always have to pay bakshish -- even to park on the street. The boys left us, or rather dropped us at our house, and we slept. Then went to the stupid post office.

Impressions: flies, sores on the feet, bad eyes, but in some ways not as bad as we had thought, or expected we might find. Although we would eat the food we would find in stalls in other parts of the Middle East, we were afriad to do so in Egypt.

Then we went to the little casino by the sea, we spent hours drinking lemonade, eating kebab, salad, grapes. The fruit is very different -- very sweet -- like nectar, or perfume. Almost everyone is barefoot.


N.B. Yesterday, on WBUR, heard about an Alexandrian woman poking a reporter with her finger, and I was interested to note that the behavior I recorded in the first paragraph above persists to this day!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

LIBYANS & ALEXANDRIA, EGYPT, AUGUST 16, 1964


To Alexandria by train. Big fight [on the train]. . . a woman screaming at a man there, and a kindly man in a white gown who was shocked at the scene, and later helped us make phone calls in Alexandria to locate [the famous] Badawi using an Arabic phone book.[Neither Gail nor I spoke, understood, or could read Arabic. The only words we knew were La said with the toss of the head upward and backward) (No!!!) and Shukran (Thank You). Two very useful words, especially when used together!] We never did find our friend Badawi!

We descended [or literally ascended] upon an unsuspecting Egyptian Greek Copt woman who was the mother of a friend of Debbie's (Gail's sister). We arrived on her doorstep with all of our possessions, the cab driver carrying our bags to the 4th floor of the apartment house where she lived. She and her husband were very hospitable. Her husband, having greeted us in his pajamas, insisted on changing into street clothes and greeting us again. Their son was not at home -- he was in Libya, but I guess their philosophy was, "Any friend of a sister of a friend of our son's is a friend of ours," because they took us in (not that they were left with much choice!)

Bazaar -- bargained for key chains (which Gail bought) and a camel made of rabbit's fur [a stuffed camel, as it were] which was too expensive. We met two Libyans at the camel stall who bargained for and bought the camel, and gave it to me as a gift from Libya. They told us how horrible they felt the Egyptians were -- black market, etc., and how dangerous it was for two girls to be walking alone in the bazaar... The Libyans don't even trust the Egyptians that they know personally.
Running back to the travel agent (had to be there by five) to pick up the tickets, and we were running so fast, we ran right past the agency! Back in time, though. Bought leather pocketbook for $1.50. (I almost lost my camel there!)



N.B. As you may remember, above are transcribed notes from a journal I wrote while travelling in Egypt in 1964. More from my journal tomorrow . . . And just a note on the famous Badawi -- The Badawi that we sought was Mohamed Badawi, a scholar from Alexandria, Egypt, whom I had gotten to know when he was a participant in the Harvard International Seminar, and I was an assistant to Dr. Henry Kissinger for that Seminar during the summer of 1962.

Friday, February 4, 2011

OUR FIRST DAY IN EGYPT, AUGUST 15, 1964

Our first day in Egypt, from the  journal I wrote during a trip to the Middle East, Summer, 1964.
[Saturday, August 15, 1964] Plane to Egypt [from Beirut]-- flew over the Red Sea and the Gulf of Suez(?) Arrived in Cairo with all our money hidden in Tampax tubes, straps of bathing suits, etc. [because of Egyptian governmental monetary restrictions]. Looked for customs and asked the nice man who had just stamped our bags where customs was.
"I am customs," he said. Off we ran through another gate where an officer asked whether we were looking for anyone in particular. Badawi, we said. On hearing the name Badawi, he broke into a roar of laughter. [For those of you who are in the know, you're probably laughing too!] Badawi is as common a name in Egypt as Smith is in the United States.
... Into the city by taxi, we were relieved that we had successfully smuggled [young and foolish as we were] our money into Egypt, but almost disappointed with the ease of the operation. We were made to feel at home when we saw on the side of the road a huge stone church

 on which there was Armenian writing; but in retrospect, I do believe that the church was abandoned. (Thanks to Kid from Alex, we can all see above that the church was NOT abandoned--picture compliments of the Kid.) Cairo is alive with dark men in long white gowns. . . walked with the porter from BOAC to the hotel (a good 10 minute walk in stifling heat) which, we were soon to discover, would cost us more than a taxi would have -- either that, or we paid the porter more than we should have . . .!

It took us most of the afternoon at the Amman Travel Agency to arrange a trip to Abu Simbel -- which we couldn't arrange because the Nile was flooded -- a small point which nobody had bothered to tell us. However, in good Middle Eastern style, the ticket agent bought us a Coke and finally arranged a trip for us to Alexandria, Luxor (& Aswan?).

No mail at the American Embassy, so we went shopping, in our typical fashion, 'to drown our sorrows, or something'. I bought a lovely necklace and earring set (orange and turquoise stones set in brass, reminiscent of an Egyptian Queen) which I later found in another store for 1/3 the price. [Yes, I know, I'm talking like an American tourist; well, that's exactly what I was, even though it was the '60's!] The other store, by the way, was owned by a very nice man who, after a while realized that we thought he was very nice, because we kept going back -- and (of course) he started raising the prices. Actually, he was responsible for our staying alive a good part of those days in Egypt -- amazing how much nourishment there is in one Coke! [By the way, Cokes were ubiquitous throughout Egypt!] Even a taxi driver bought us Cokes -- the only man who wasn't looking for free sex, money, information or something that we could give him from the good old US of A! This taxi driver was so nice that he even tried to refuse the tip we gave him!

That evening we went to the movies to see BELOVED INFIDEL with all the obvious awkward cuts in it.
Beauty is a gift in the young, an achievement in the old. [A quote from BELOVED INFIDEL]
We sat on the first floor in the cheapest section of the theater. Young men kept fighting for the seats next to us, until we discovered that our seats were meant to be up in the Loge where the seats were better anyway, and where we would no longer be [and in fact were not] bothered by rambunctious young men.

Back to the hotel for lemonade and a good night's rest. Next morning to Alexandria . . .

N.B. The above entry was taken directly from the journal that I kept (at my father's insistence) during my only trip to the Middle East in the summer of 1964. I'm so thankful that I took the trip when I did, and that I followed my father's advice!