A gift for the eyes! From the restaurant deck, I could see cruise ship deckhands in blue sailor blouses, carry ing heavy boxes and bundles of supplies on the napes of their necks, bounding barefoot up the gangplanks. Rosemary Mahoney likes three things : 1. In the early nineteenth century, if a foreign visitor was murdered, every Egyptian within walking distance of the event would, without trial or investigation, be put to death as punishment. It is believed that the later pharaohs spoke the Coptic language, a modern form of Egyptian heavily influenced by Greek. That struck me as very sad. It was a strange brand of sailing, one in which we spent long minutes parked in trembling stasis, while the water rushed past and beneath us, and the wind strained forward in the sail with equal force. Only her eyes were visible behind a black veil.
Seconds later, coming through a narrow passage between two small islands, the prow of a felucca called Smile glanced off the stern of my boat and spun me around like a pinwheel. In On the Nile, the author writes beautifully of the connections between culture and history-though critics note how reluctantly she shares details of her own life outside her travels. Another hot day in a palm-ringed cove on Elephantine Island, the largest island in the Nile at Aswan, I came upon a young man sitting in a rowboat anchored in the shade in shallow water. Like most Nubian women she wore dangling gold earrings. Visit people and places with reverence and respect for their traditions and way of life. During the nineteenth century a group of people called the Howling Dervishes had a house in Aswan; they met there on Fridays. Across the glittering ribbon of the Nile, the Temple of Hatshepsut and the Valley of the Kings lay blanketed in the pink morning light.
Since I love to canoe, this book about a trip down a river captured my imagination. He nodded knowingly and said that at one time the government had given the people of Aswan assistance with garbage removal, but for some reason they stopped helping and so now there was no way to get rid of it. We can take you sailing. At the top of the island, I was dazzled by the sight of twenty white rowboats anchored in the shallows below the ruins of the Temple of Khnum, every boat freshly painted, and every one perfect for my purposes. This was not like any other body of water I had rowed on. They had noble faces, full voices, and walked with straight backs.
The book is peppered with historical and geographical tidbits of the area. Six hundred miles south of Cairo, a mere hundred miles from the Tropic of Cancer, home to many dark-skinned Nubians, and marking the border between Egypt proper and its southern ethnic region of Nubia, the city of Aswan feels more African than any other Egyptian town. The tea glasses had once been jam jars, and the saucers beneath them had been lifted from an Aswan hotel. Passenger steamers and mail boats from Alexandria also disgorged their cargo there; the docks crawled with stevedores, merchants, captains, sailors, and hurrying travelers. Dressed in little more than ragged dish towels, they were big-eyed, auburn-haired, seemingly weightless, and irresistibly beautiful in the rickety, knockkneed way that newborn calves are beautiful. She's an excellent writer, and this book can be a quick read.
I pushed off from the dock and began to haul the boat upstream. The device allows readers a backward glance at the Edwardian travel accoutrements of sumptuous riverside dinners, staggering supplies of alcohol and food, trunks of books and commodious accommodations. At a mile long, Elephantine Island forced the Nile to divide into two channels on either side of it. Between the town, on the east bank of the river, and the High Dam just to the south of it, granite bedrock and massive boulders whip to life a river that everywhere else in Egypt moves slowly and uniformly, like an intransigent bank of fog. Like the mother, the sister was dressed in a long black gown. He had had no overnight trips so far that season and was restless to get out of Aswan. Her observations could be harsh but were clear eyed and unsentimental.
I felt coordinated and strong, and the world seemed huge and vibrant. More often than not, the soldiers are skinny, vaguely staring pubescents who carry their guns slung over their shoulders like cumbersome schoolbags, wear flip-flops for shoes, and spend a lot of time napping on the job. My attempt merely to purchase a boat would prove nearly more arduous than the trip itself. Nubians, said by many to be the true pharaonic people, were Muslim, were Egyptian citizens, and yet they would never feel that they were truly Egyptian. When I asked Hoda if she would accompany the other girls to Aswan that evening she made a sour face to indicate that such a pursuit was boring and beneath her. Standing neck deep in water, she began splashing her face.
Safaa brought me mango juice, a cup of hot karkady tea, and two pears. Triumphantly, instructively, she showed me hers. Still, it intrigued me that what would never be acceptable for an Egyptian woman was wholly acceptable for me. Having seen again and again the salubrious effect of a small contribution, I found it impossible to be stingy here. These second floors were always hastily constructed brick walls with rusted rebar bristling out of them ……. When I commented on his skill, Amr only shrugged again and said that like most sailors in Aswan he had been sailing since he was a small boy.
A man riding a bicycle and carrying enough lumber on his head to build a modest dance floor turns at full speed and without mishap through a crowded intersection, squeezing between a truck and a bus, one hand on the handlebars, the other steadying his boards. The majority of pages are undamaged with minimal creasing or tearing, minimal pencil underlining of text, no highlighting of text, no writing in margins. His gallabiya was torn and dirty, and that was surprising, for in Aswan even the lowliest laborers always looked recently washed and laundered. Semicomatose figures lay sprawled under trees and awnings or flopped over in doorways. In Aswan I had seen an anomalous few feluccas with the names Hash Family, Rasta Famely, and Jamaica Famely. A great deal of the book is about the difficulties of a woman in Egypt even buying a boat. Still, Mahoney's voice is direct and honest, her Nile as evocative as Paul Bowles's desert, her wit a counterbalance to the unease engendered by such a profound cultural divide.
They maneuvered their boats with breathtaking precision and finesse, making sudden one-hundred-eighty-degree turns with a simultaneous and contrariwise two-wristed snap. Christians were a tiny minority in Egypt, were persecuted and maligned, and yet they had managed to air on national television this incendiary polemic portraying Muslims as fanatical murderous maniacs. I gave it a kick and sent it flopping into the bow. Because of the deep dovecote ceiling, a particularly Nubian architectural feature, the room was cool as a wine cellar. This is travel writing at its most enjoyable: the reader is taken on a great trip with an erudite travel companion soaking up scads of history, culture and literary knowledge, along with the scenery. The rushing water slewed and whirled beneath my boat, rocking me slightly.