Sunday, January 30, 2011

A Gardener's Travelogue First Stop-Egypt

First stop  -  Egypt.

Thank God we had both been on the extended luxury tour of Egypt at
other times in our lives, or else this whirlwind, greatest- hits visit would have never been sufficient….  
 We can’t quite figure out what they saw in the King Tut exposition in Times Square that has been drawing crowds for eight months  because everything really extraordinary is still right there in the dilapidated dingily fabulous old Cairo Museum.  Even without any lighting and crates of antiquities piled slapdashedly about — the gold, the grandeur, the King Tuttiness of it all is just breathtaking.  I won’t go on and on about Egypt because there are libraries of books about Egypt and everyone has already seen a thousand pictures of the pyramids in Giza (well, here’s a few anyway) 

and Karnak in Luxor.  
What we did have in Egypt was the most fabulous guide imaginable who brought every legend to life with stories and pantomimes…I strongly suggest that if Egypt is on your itinerary of future places to go…to definitely see it with him and no one else.  His name is HANY, he is based in Alexandria, he is a wry, sly, tall, stylized Egyptian  and you will thank me……Alex City Travel.

This is Sekhmet…vying to be my favorite god, even
though I am generally a dog girl

And aside from some tatty and tired out old palm trees
And one white-trunked extremely gracious tree at a fancy Giza hotel
There was only one interesting gardening allusion in Egypt and in order to appreciate it, you really needed a stretch of faith
But it was much more believable that The Burning Bush that we encountered the next day in the Sinai after a 3 ½ hour ride parallel to the Nile and through the Sahara to get to St. Catherine’s monastery.
Unbeknownst to us, November 25th just happened to be the feast day of St. Catherine, so we were not the only ones to trek through the desert…let’s just consider the jostling and the crowds a pilgrimage of sorts.
We couldn’t see much of the Church (and of course no pictures, just like in the Egyptian tombs and other sacred places) except for the glittering ostrich-egg crystal chandeliers, but the little museum upstairs is filled with glorious gilded icons and several codexes (codeci?) that were fragile and magnificent.
St. Catherine’s Monastery is said to be built upon the very same mountain from which Moses carried the tablets.  No one seems to know exactly which mountain it might be, but maybe this one?
The overland part of the journey had almost ended, but on the return to Safaga (the port of Sharm el Sheikh)  we stopped somewhere totally fact,  Dahab you could say has sprung up out of nowhere but is clearly the invention of some smart developer has definitely been to Miami Beach.  There were three infinity pools…three!
And in these pools were all sorts of bathing costumes…
  Now it was time to board our very nice ship, the
Aegean Odyssey, more like a big yacht than a huge scary 
“cruise ship” and we were very pleased with our trappings
And even though we travelled with ubiquitous all-look-alike rolly-wheely suitcases because the nice luggage that once was a hallmark of voyaging in style has been relegated to the closet or made use of as a bedside table
 because there is simply no one to help you carry them anymore,  but we were extremely pleased with the young classical
scholars who were on board to assist us…
Under an almost full moon on the Red Sea our little ship left Egypt
surrounded by masses of white birds against the inky dark waves which were a slightly different black than the night sky.  It was really thrilling and the next morning we made our way through The Suez  Canal surrounded by all
sorts of seagoing stimulating things
Though we were actually going the other way and leaving Egypt

There were many instances of coexistence between the Western World and the Near East,  old and new civilizations, Christians and Muslims.  This was an especially poignant one on the banks of the Suez Canal just as we were leaving it and entering the Mediterranean



Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Gardener's Travelogue Part I

An Old World Expedition:
Prague, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Southern Turkey and Athens
           November-December 2010


Even though there was not one, but two shark attacks in the Red Sea at Sharm-el-Sheik only days after our visit there, and though we had extraordinarily beautiful weather for every day of the three weeks, one week after we departed the eastern Mediterranean there were 30 foot waves, and while we did experience a mini-encounter in Athens that closed the parks and shut down the museums — one week later there was bloodshed and an all-out protest — but when we were in these places — dare I say? — it was perfect.  
So I recount a non-spine-tingling, but  thrilling trip to the MidEast.  We saw the remnants of great (and indulgent) civilizations and in some cases, so much of the city still standing that you could almost sense the way of life, or expect some languid first-centuryt-Syrian to come peeping from behind a massive column.  
What would be left of New York, I kept thinking, the Library Lions, the Post Office on 8th Avenue, maybe.
So, on the way to Cairo where our journey began, we stopped in the fairy-tale city of Prague where in the last ten centuries it has risen in the intensely beautiful topographically ideal situation of hills around a river and has been adorned  with a magical combination of history and art that encompasses Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Empire and every other romantic notion in between.

To attend the premiere of a Robert Wilson extravaganza, The Makropoulos Case, starring the legendary Czech opera star, Sona Cervena , along with many connoisseurs and cognoscenti that follow Wilson’s work around the globe.

The production was held in the very same jewel-box, the Estates Theater where Mozart premiered Don Giovanni in 1787.  Can you imagine how gorgeous? The audience was rapturous and the reviews ecstatic.  Our hotel room had a 14 foot wide crystal chandelier (Bavarian, of course) and the dinner hosted by the French Embassy for Bob Wilson on the opening night was replete with every rococo  detail you might expect from a French embassy in Prague, including footmen and the most delectable foie gras one might ever savor.
Coinciding with the premiere, Bob had an installation in a small but special museum that could be seen across the Vltava River from every important vantage point of the center city

To get to it we crossed the Old Town Bridge.unlike any other bridge in the world — filling us with great doses of Christianity before arriving in the B.C. world of Egyptian pharaohs ..

 Bob’s exhibit was wonderful.  I cried at the sight of so much of his monumental 
work on display in one place at one time 
We crossed Prague by foot, revisiting a courtyard with
an extraordinary cross
And what appears to be the namesake of the Crown of Thorns.  
I think it is a Euphorbia.  Does anyone know?       

In the midst of this old bohemian city bursting with architectural treasures and art from 
all ages…there is one museum, the Rodolphinium, that is a haven for contemporary art…. 

The beauty of the Old World helped prepare us for the even older world…

Friday, January 7, 2011

DIRT on a snowy, winter day.

If you miss gardening during the long, cold months of winter, why not check out
As you sit in front of the cozy winter fire, DIRT will keep you company and 
entertain you, as you peruse the seed catalogues and make your plans 
for the next growing season.

Happy New Year!