Thursday, September 29, 2016

From ‘Of Sadhus and Spinners. Australian Encounters with India’ Edited by Bruce Bennett, Susan Cowan, Santosh K Sareen, Asha Kanwar

The Mohammedan Mother by John Lang

The scenery is more beautiful than that of Simlah, for Mussoorie and Landour command a view of Dehra Dhoon which resembles (except that the Dhoon is grander and more extensive) the plains of Italy as seen from the ascent of the Simplon.

I have seen a storm on the heights of Jura – such a storm as Lord Byron describes. I have seen lightning and heard thunder in Australia: I have, off Terra del Fuego, the Cape of Good Hope, and the coast of Java, kept watch in thunderstorms which have drowned in their roaring the human voice, and made every one deaf and stupefied: but these storms are not to be compared with a thunderstorm at Mussoorie or Landour.

Black and White by R. Francis Strangman

All spoke at once – not to each other, but apparently to everything and anything inanimate which happened to be near them (For in India it is always so when ten or twelve are gathered together.)

Mrs James Greene by Ethel Anderson

Indian men do not admire Englishwomen – white women, that is to say. Their pasty faces, they assert, look anaemic and unwholesome; beside the honey-coloured and flawless skins of Indian beauties they lack brilliance. Their hair, too, seems dull and lusterless in contrast with the satin-sheened oiled and raven tresses of zenana belles. Their figures (they consider) are bad; their heads, hands, and feet are too large. They have, in short, no grace of movement, no subtlety of rhythm in dancing, no charm of expression in their colourness, washed-out eyes.

Indian men admire above all things bravery in a woman.

Meeting Mister Ghosh by Haydn M. Williams

He darts hither and thither along the map of his rhetoric while we all strive to retain, though half-lost, some of the more lucid pronouncements: ‘Take toilet paper with you if you travel by train. Ignore beggars and lepers. Respect habits of prudery among the women. Watch out for pickpockets. Buses are overcrowded, but sometimes one has to ride on top of one. If you hit someone ‘with your motor’, don’t stop but abscond! Do not torment or injure cows. Note that there are seats reserved for women. Avail yourself of a rickshaw should you be trapped in a flooded street. Watch out for deep holes in the streets of Calcutta.’

A Foot in the Stream by David Malouf

We leave the city at last, but the stream of pedestrians does not diminish as one might expect. It thickens, moving in both directions at the side of the road…..all moving at the same easy pace, in the stately, straight-backed style that makes walking look so good, so natural. There are no slounchers or shufflers here. They walk with purpose, and it is this that makes these crowds so odd to the Western eye. Where have they come from? Where are they going? They suggest some important rendezvous up ahead……the stream never thins out. It might go on like this right across the country. The whole of India seems to be on the move between its borders, endlessly tramping, even when we are far out in the countryside.

Occasionally, at the edge of the road, a casualty. One truck is tipped forward with both its front wheels removed; it has been brought to its knees. Another, further on, with its off-wheels missing, is an elephant on its side, this is not just fancy or ‘a way of putting things’. One feels here that machines, in joining the animal forms of transport, have entered a single stream of creation that includes, men, beasts, birds, insects, trees. The inclusiveness of the Indian, and specifically the Hindu view, subtly blurs in the mind as in the eye our usual categories.

Hindoo Holiday by J.R.Ackerley

The other guests left this morning, and just before starting Mrs Montgomery gave me final advice. ‘You’ll never understand the dark and tortuous minds of the native,’ she said, ‘and if you do I shan’t like you – you won’t be healthy.’

Monsoon by Inez Baranay

I was afraid the rest of India would be like Bombay airport, but Bob has told me that nowhere in India is as bad as Bombay airport. It certainly was the most crowded, confusing, chaotic, dirty, noisy, hustling place; the beggars outside: the shantytown slums around it…….

From ‘Twitchhiker. How one man travelled the world by twitter’ by Paul Smith

Wine before beer makes you feel queer, beer before wine and you’ll feel fine.

…..New Zealand….Today, fourteen per cent of the country’s population is Maori, and their heritage is embraced and celebrated in New Zealand.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

From ‘Finding the Demon’s Fiddle. On the Trail of the Ravanhatta’ by Patrick Jered

So many worlds, so much to do, so little done, such things to be.
-          Alfred Lord Tennyson

I met a man who lost his mind
In some lost place, I had to find
‘Follow me,’ the wise man said
But he walked behind
-          L. Cohen, Teachers

The musical instrument created by Ravana – certainly the wickedest demon in all of Hindu scripture – has been employed for hundreds of years by a sect of nomadic priests called Bhopas. They play the instrument as part of their liturgy, to accompany themselves singing the praises of Pabuji, an obscure god. Bhopa priests have been almost the exclusive guardians of the ravanhatta for more than half a millennium.

….an eminent and highly respected musicologist, Professor Joep Bor…….. he said, …he was about to publish a major piece of research, tracking the history of bowed instruments back to ancient India, and to the ravanhattha itself. ……He had become convinced, he said, that it was the earliest bowed instrument still in existence, and as such could be considered a direct ancestor of the violin and all other bowed instruments…….Temples in India, he explained, were crammed with carvings of all manner of musicians with clear depictions of their instruments, but unfortunately very few were clearly of bowed instruments. The problem, it seemed, was that bowed instruments had long been associated with the vulgar pleasures of the so-called lower castes. Even the exquisite Indian box-violin, the sarangi, had only recently been accepted as a classical instrument……as for evidence in literature, the best place to look would be in Sri Lankan or South Indian Tamil documents. There was a wealth of Tamil literature that had never been translated into Hindi, let alone into a European language……..

In the West, the noises associated with the clearing of one’s tubes in readiness to spit are considered to be socially unacceptable. However, noisily blowing a slug of snot into a piece of paper, even in the middle of a busy restaurant, is considered quite normal. In the Netherlands it has recently become acceptable – almost de rigeur – to use a toothpick after eating at a restaurant, as long as you use one hand to shield the proceedings from the casual observer, and to avoid flicking stringy bits of meat into their eyes…….In some cultures belching loudly at the conclusion of a good meal is considered complimentary to the host. In ultra-polite Japan, one would never dream of eating soba noodles without copious amounts of slurping, while in polite Indian society this would be unthinkably rude.

……Lawrence Durrell states that loneliness and time are, ‘those two companions without whom no journey can yield us anything.’

If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost;
that is where they should be.
Now put the foundations under them.
D. H. Thoreau

……..the most celebrated par painter of all time, Sri Lal Joshi ……He is regarded as an oracle of knowledge about Pabuji worship, and his pars are considered to be singularly powerful. …his eldest son has a burgeoning international reputation…….

The epic of Pabuji is a long and complex tale of heroism and valour, passion and revenge, that takes place in feudal Marwar in the early 14th century. The epic takes 36 hours for a Bhopa to recite…….

By the 14th century, the Sri Lankans (as they are now known) had already been keeping detailed historical chronicles for many hundreds of years. The Mahavamsa chronicle begins to record Sri Lankan history around the 3rd century BCE. There is no historical record of a ruler of Lanka called Ravana in the days of Pabuji.

There is a considerable body of evidence pointing to the likelihood that Pabuji is not merely a mythological character but that he was also a historical figure…….there is credible evidence to suggest that Pabuji Rathore not only existed, but actually did introduce camels into what is now called Rajasthan……..At the start of the fourteenth century, camels were not entirely unknown in India. Muslim invaders like Mahmud Ghazni and Ala-ud-din Khilji were known to have used camels as beasts of burden during their earlier incursions into Hindustan. But the rarity of camels is indicated by the fat that Ibn Battuta presented one as a gift to the Delhi ruler Muhammed Tughluq (1325-1351). At the time it was regarded as a most curious creature.
So in Pabuji’s day, camels were known in India, but were considered to be wildly exotic, alien beasts. However, shortly after the time of Pabuji, camel herding became widespread in the Thar Desert region surrounding Pabuji’s court at Kolu. And it is no coincidence that Pabuji’s faithful follower Harmal, who had been sent on the sortie to locate the camels in ‘Lanka’ …was son of a Raika tribesman…….Since the days of Pabuji, the Raika tribes have been the traditional camel herders of the region, and the semi-nomadic Raika are, to this day, Pabuji’s most devoted worshippers………John Smith intriguingly mentioned that some Bhopas believed that ‘Lanka’ was somewhere to the west of the Indus River, in what is now Pakistan………Ravana…….Bhopa priests generally do believe that the ravanhattha ………was invented by the demon

The next morning in the grey dawn, the Englishmen rose up and shook the sand of Jeypore from his feet …wondering whether a year in Jeypore would be sufficient to exhaust its interest ……
Rudyard Kipling

There is a crack, a crack, in everything
That’s how the light gets in
L. Cohen

Only a monotheistic religion like Christianity can really be monodiabolistic. Hinduism has too many gods for a single devil to be able to handle. But it has many demons. The Rakshasas were an entire race of demons………They would kill for pleasure and devour human flesh. They would defile the Vedic offerings of priests and lure children away…..the biggest and baddest demon of them all was Ravana……

Ravana …….meets his end at the conclusion of the orthodox Hindu scripture the Ramayana – long before the Epic of Pabuji takes place; a couple of thousand years earlier. In its simplest terms, the Ramayana is a fable of good prevailing over evil, although in that very Indian fashion, there is a gray area where good is not always completely good, and bad not always entirely bad.

……..earlier than the 3rd century BCE, burial was the custom in the South.

Bhopal revealed itself to be a laid-back, unhurried place hugging the curves of the lakes. Banyans and lazy old palm trees swayed and rustled in the breeze. People strolled along the promenade, not particularly going anywhere. It was unusual to see people walking for pleasure in India. Were it not for the high density of minarets, I might well have believed I was in the region of Nice or St Tropez. It had all the charm of a Mediterranean town with a promenade to rival the Boulevard des Anglais.

Tamal, like all drivers I have encountered in India, considers a road map to be an interesting curiosity printed solely for the amusement of foreigners.

In Europe the place would most likely be considered as a site of considerable historical and archaeological interest. In India, it is just another site of yet another hill settlement, littered with the religious detritus of another age.

The smashing of coconuts and bisecting of pumpkins and watermelons at Indian temples was introduced to replace the breaking of human skulls and beheadings when such practices were outlawed a couple of hundred years ago. The basic idea, Uttra told me was that in order to be granted something from the cosmos, you first had to give something to it, in order to maintain the cosmic equilibrium. At the Kalighat temple in Kolkata, where one of the toes of the goddess Kali is believed to be preserved, a boy was sacrificed every day for hundreds of years as an offering. Nowadays its only young goats that have their throats cut at Kalighat.

The first Westerner to write about Pabuji, studied and translated Charan poetry in the early 20th century. His name was Luigi Pio Tessitori, an Italian scholar……….His influence in Rajasthan is enormous…..Charan poetry was written in the ancient Marwari language of Dingal. Its unclear if Dingal ever existed as an independent language outside the martial epics of the Charan.

….The Taj Mahal……the most damning criticism…..came from Aldous Huxley……He deconstructed the Taj with his knowledge of architecture - …..sneering that, ‘the marble is only a veneer over cheaper masonry, not solid’. But he particularly hated the minarets…… ‘…..are among the ugliest structures ever erected by human hands.’….final word on the matter was, ‘….it seems to be that anyone who professes an ardent admiration for the Taj must look at it without having any standards of excellence in his mind.’

…if you lie down with dogs… get up with fleas….

Oddly, the people I encountered who trumpeted the virtues of the caste system always seemed to be at the top of it.

Professor Bor…..argues convincingly that the playing bow has its origins in India, and that ravanhattha is the decendent of one of the very earliest of bowed instruments….he presents a startling photograph of a wall carving from the Agastyeshvara temple in Southern India clearly depicting a figure playing an instrument almost identical to a modern-day ravanhattha. The carving has been dated at 10th-to-13th century. To be depicted in a temple, the instrument must surely have had a long-established position in society…….who knows what descriptions are still hidden away in the wealth of early southern Indian Tamil literature.

Once the epic had been set to music, as Komal Kothari believed, it became very difficult to alter. A story that is recited can be easily modified by the teller, as the oral Ramayana had, producing a plethora of different versions. But words that fit to music are much more difficult to change, especially if they rely on rhymes to carry the song. And so the versions of the Epic of Pabuji as sung by different Bhopa families from different parts of Rajasthan remained virtually identical for half a millennium.

I found it an intriguing idea that the demonic origins of the ravanhattha might be the source of the western apocrypha associating the violin with the devil……The earliest clear association I could find between the devil and the violin concerned the Italian violin virtuoso and composer Giuseppe Tartini. In 1713 Tartini had described having a vivid dream in which he made a pact with the devil, trading his soul for the Devil’s favour. During the dream, the devil had played a remarkable piece of music on Tartini’s violin. When the composer awoke, he did his best to write the piece down. The resulting sonata, The Devil’s Trill – a technically challenging piece for the violin – was a great success, although Tartini believed his notation barely did justice to the music the devil had actually performed.……So the western association between Lucifer and the fiddle – as far as I could discern – is most likely no more than three hundred or so years old, with no obvious origin in Indian mythology. However, the western association between the devil and music stretches back much further than this. In mediaeval Europe a chord, the so-called ‘devli’s interval’ or triton, was banned by the early Christian church since it was believed to call up unmentionable (i.e. sexual) impulses (i.e. the devil) in the listener. Not surprisingly, the discordant triton – diabolus in musica – is frequently used in Jazz. Jimi Hendrix based the opening riff of Purple Haze around one.

He looks with curiosity at the long, narrow aluminium case………but doesn’t ask whats inside. In some ways he’s a very atypical Indian. Complete strangers have asked me in the street what it contains…..

And, when you want something,
all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it.
Paulo Coehlo, The Alchemist

In Rajasthan there are degrees of gods. The so-called ‘folk gods’ like Pabuji, of whom there are many, have a more immediate place in the lives of ordinary people than the big hitters like Shiva and Vishnu. Folk gods have a similar role to that of saints in Roman Catholicism: they intervene in the small, personal things in life.

Then a large, jovial man thundered into the room; one of those people whose good-natured presence overrides everything around them, and puts everyone at ease…….Pabuji epic…..a story that was not widely known……had been passed down in his family for hundreds of years and it concerned an ancestor of his, one Saira Bhargani……..In the 14th century, Saira Bhargani was a landowner and trader living on the edge of a village called Lankiye, to the west of Umerkot in what is now Pakistan. Saira had a herd of camels, which had been imported from a distant land. At that time very few camels had crossed the Thar Desert into what is now Western Rajasthan, and they were considered to be very rare and exotic creatures over there. Even in Sindh province, where Saira lived, camels were uncommonly seen, and having a whole herd of them was the mark of a rich man with business interests involving the trade routes to the Middle-East and North Africa.
One day, …….the son of a Rajput……Pabuji Rathore – a rustler – had crossed the Thar Desert  from his brother’s kingdom at Kolu, and had made off with a few of Saira’s best breeding camels……Saira …assembled a posse of his best men and they gave chase………Both Saira and Pabuji….agreed to……fight on human terms, man-to-man…….Among Pabuji’s retinue was a Charan poet by the name of Channan… a break in the battle was declared to permit the two combatants to rest……..the wily Charan…..swapped around their turbans where they lay beside the lake……. Neither noticed he had put on his opponents turban………the act of wearing another man’s turban was the equivalent of swearing a blood-oath of allegiance. It would be unthinkable to wield arms against one another under such circumstances. The battle was halted and the two men embraced…..There was still, however, a problem left to be solved: the stolen camels. What could Pabuji give to his newly made brother… exchange for the camels… it was agreed….The Charan and his descendents would be given to Saira Bhargani in exchange for the camels…Professor Mehar ….had read…..even to this day, a sub-caste of Charan poets were associated with Muslim Sindhi nobles…..the Charan were traditionally Hindus. People wondered how it came about that Hindu poets would sing the praises of Muslims……So that was the true story of how Pabuji introduced camels to Rajasthan, said Professor Mehar. The story related by the Bhopa priests of Pabuji travelling to Lanka, defeating Ravana, and taking his camels was clearly nonsense. …..The story had been written by a Charan poet…attached to the Rathore family. How could he write of Pabuji as a camel rustler…….Professor Mehar told me there was also a saying among Raika tribesmen…. ‘It means, When a camel is unhappy it looks towards Lanka’. We all think of home when we are unhappy, he said, but this was a mispronounciation that had crept in ……The camels looked westwards, towards Lankiye……not southwards towards Sri Lanka………the basic story sounded perfectly plausible…….

If I could change just one small thing about India it would have to be the litter.

Colombo has a smell all of its own. It’s a dark, earthy, fertile smell…..Its the smell of soil that can scarcely restrain itself from letting things grow. Its jungles and vegetation mixed with a saline-and-ozone hint of the seashore.

It is expressly forbidden to climb Kailash, and in modern times this has never happened. Modern apocrypha states that nobody who has ascended the mountain has ever been seen again.

The history surrounding Ravana’s lingam at Trincomalee takes a couple of fascinating twists…. The existence of a Shiva temple on Swami Rock at Trincomalee has been well documented down the centuries ….There has certainly been a temple ……rebuilt at least a couple of times – on Swami Rock for thousands of years, and it is believed to have been one of the oldest sites of continuous worship anywhere in the world. That continuous worship came to an end in 1624.
Despite its isolated location, cut off from most of Ceylon by dense jungle, the strategic importance of Trincomalee as a military base had long been recognized by the seafaring imperialist nations ……Horatio Nelson …..considered Trincomalee …….to be the finest natural harbor in the world….The Portugese had been in control of much of Ceylon since the early 16th century….the Portugese were notoriously intolerant of all religions besides Catholicism, and regarded the worshippers of Shiva as savage heathen…the presence of a Shiva temple – known as the Temple of a Thousand Columns – on Swami Rock……was well known to be one of the richest in all of Asia ……The Temple ……was razed to the ground and its shattered pillars and masonry were thrown over the cliffs into the sea, or were re-used in the construction of the Portugese fort. The lingam given to Ravana, the object of worship at the temple for eons, went missing

In 1950, shortly after the decision had been taken to rebuild the temple, some workmen digging a well …..unearthed …..An image of Shiva……one of the finest examples of Hindu metal casting in existence. Another image of Shiva was one of the oldest and probably Mongolian in origin.

…..Wilson went diving….in the waters off Swami Rock…noticed a carved stone pillar on the seabed….The pillar proved to be a lingam of great antiquity, and was soon authenticated as Ravana’s long-lost lingam. It was also restored to the newly built temple on Swami Rock. ….Ravana’s ancient lingam – bestowed upon him by Shiva shortly after he had invented the ravanhattha, carried by him from Mount Kailash to the Kingdom of Lanka, revered for thousands of years by the inhabitants of Lanka, dumped in the sea by the Portugese, and retrieved hundreds of years later by Mike Wilson – was still housed at the Koneswaram temple on Swami Rock at Trincomalee

The truth is beyond letters and words and books.
-          The Lankavatara Sutra

…everybody in Sri Lanka seems to be very good-looking.

The Sri Lankans have always been a remarkably literate nation, leaving detailed records of their history…In the 5th century, a Buddhist monk named Mahathera Mahanama began to collect historical records and compile them into a single volume which became known as the Mahavamsa (Great Chronicle of Ceylon). The Mahavamsa begins in the 3rd century BCE. This extensive work, written in the Pali language, was added to by later monks …..forming a historical record spanning more than two thousand years. The later chronicle became known as the Culavamsa. The Mahavamsa mentions a religious site on Swami Rock during the rule of King Mahasena in the 3rd century CE, when Trincomalee was still called Gokarna.

….Sri Lankans are just so disarmingly polite and friendly.

Most of Sri Lanka is immaculately clean and tidy.

….in folklore and Hindu scripture, ‘Lanka’ has never been one of the many names that Sri Lanka has actually possessed…The only place in Sri Lanka, notes Sankalia, that has ever been known as Lanka (or Illankurai in Tamil) is a tiny and ancient port, still in existence, on the North East coast, just to the South of Trincomalee.

…..Samuel White Baker. He concluded that: ‘Bathing is a great enjoyment but the pleasure in such a country is destroyed by the knowledge that sharks are on the lookout for you in the sea, and crocodiles in the rivers and tanks…’

….I had found no genuinely old references to the existence of any historical ruler of Sri Lanka by the name of Ravana….The Mahavamsa chronicle makes no mention of him. The chronicle admittedly records Sri Lankan history from only 300 BCE onwards. But surely some passing reference should have been made to such an important historical figure …..The later Culavamsa chronicle mentions Ravana only passingly as a figure in the Ramayana. In fact, it is not until about the seventeenth century that Ravana is independently mentioned in Sri Lankan literature at all……the Ramayana really does not occupy anything like the position in the collective consciousness of the Sinhalese as it does for the Tamils and Indians in general.

But the Ramayana does have a place in the oral folk traditions of the Sri Lankans. In rural communities the ancient occult ritual the Kohomba Kankariya, or Devil Dance, has been performed for more than fifteen hundred years…..During the rites, various oracl folk-tales are recited, including parts of the Ramayana. In this folk-Ramayana, Ravana is presented in quite a positive light…..for many Sri Lankans, the status of Ravana as an evil demon is merely the spin put on the tale by the victors in an ancient conflict.

Demon worship has a long history in Sri Lanka. There are two definitive books on the subject…..neither of which even mentions Ravana among the many demons worshipped, appeased, and feared on the island…….

…..the Lankavatara Sutra…..its one of the central scriptures of Mahayana Buddhism…..the Ravana mentioned in the Sutra – who invited the Lord Buddha to Sri Lanka -  is rather different from the demon of Hindu mythology….it is believed to have been written down around 2-300 CE… the first Chinese translation was made in 420 CE….the Lankavatara Sutra travelled with missionary monks from Sri Lanka to India where it was translated into Sanskrit….several Chinese translations were made between 420 and 704….and most of which contain the so-called ‘Ravana chapter’ ….. The Lankavatara Sutra was the only text that Bodhidharma considered to be absolutely essential. His teaching of it became the basis of what would become known as Ch’an Buddhism – Ch’an being derived from the Pali word for trance, dhyana. Ch’an Buddhism later travelled from China, via South East Asia, to Japan. In Kore it became known as Son; in Japan, as Zen. The Lankavatara Sutra is the very foundation of Zen Buddhism……the deplorable condition of the Chinese monks at the monastery on Mount Sung…..Bodhidharma taught them a series of martial exercises……on Mount Sung was the famous Southern Shaolin monastery…..the Shaolin monks honed and perfected the movements they were taught, developing the various styles of kung fu…..Shaolin kung fu travelled to Japan…..where it was simplified and shaped into what was called Shorin-ryu (Shaolin) karate - …..Bodhidharma is also revered by students of kung fu and karate as the founder of their martial arts….the Ravana chapter ….is present in all but one of the earliest Chinese translations, which make it 4th century at the latest…..the earliest existing written version of the Ramayana dates only from around the 11th century, more than 600 years after the earliest written version of the Lankavatara Sutra. One of the earliest references to the existence of a written Ramayana was by Xuan Zang in the mid-7th century

Indians have a national genius for subsuming, for integrating, for assimilating, on all kinds of levels.

Jesus said, ‘Have you discovered, then, the beginning, that you look for the end?’
The Gnostic Gospel of Thomas

As we weave our way around Jaipur picking up passengers, it moves from standing room to scarcely breathing room only. But there is none of the irritation that you might expect to encounter in a crowded bus or train in Europe. People in India are used to being crammed together into small spaces and always remain good natured in such situations.

From ‘Things I've Been Silent about. Memories of a Prodigal Daughter’ by Azar Nafisi

……..a strong part of Iranian culture to never reveal private matters: we don’t air our dirty laundry in public ……..In one way or another we articulate what has happened to us through the kind of people we become.

And so, heartbroken, weeping for the past,
He lived tormented till Death came at least.
O world, from end to end unreal, untrue,
No wise man can live happily in you –
But bless’d is he whose good deeds bring him fame;
Monarch or slave, he leaves a lasting name.

On Naderi Street and in the surrounding area, most shopkeepers were either Armenian, Jewish, or Azeri. Many Armenians were forcibly removed to Iran in the sixteenth century …….Some Armenians and Jews migrated from Russia after the revolution; some came from Poland and other Soviet satellites after the Second World War….it was also natural for some families to shun the minorities because they were “unclean.” The children knocked on their doors, singing “Armenian, the Armenian dog, the sweeper of hell.” The Jews were not just dirty, they drank innocent children’s blood. Zoroastrians were fire worshippers and infidels, while the Baha’is, a breakaway Islamic sect, were not just heretics but British agents and spies who could and should be killed…….the bloody nature of this hidden discord was fully revealed later, after the Islamic Revolution, in 1979, when the Islamists attacked, jailed, and murdered many Armenians, Jews, and Baha’is and forced restaurants to carry signs on their windows announcing “religious minority” if their owners were not Muslims. But we cannot blame everything on the Islamic Republic, because in some ways it simply brought into the open and magnified a preexisting bigotry.

My father describes in his memoirs the prevalence of a certain form of paedophilia in Iranian society, one that arises from the fact that, as he sees it, “contact between men and women is banned and the adolescent male cannot be close to any women other than his mother, sister, or aunts.” His view is that “most lunacies are rooted in sexual deprivations.” He goes on to explain that such deviancies are not limited to Iran or to Muslim societies but occur whereve sexual repression exists – for example, in strict Catholic communities.

There is a pain – so utter
It swallows substance up –
Then covers the Abyss with Trance
So Memory can step
Around – across
-          Emily Dickinson

Some families try to cover up their tensions in front of strangers, but for Mother, a woman otherwise so insistent on social etiquette, no such niceties existed.

[Forough Farrokhzad]
Weary of divine asceticism,
At midnight in Satan’s bed
I would seek refuge in the downward
Of a fresh sin

All day I cried in the mirror.
All day I fixed
My life’s eyes
On those two anxious fearful eyes
Which avoided my stare
And sought refuge in their lids’ safe seclusion
Like liars

It did not take me long to understand that wedding ceremonies are the exact opposite of what they are made out to be; joyous and harmonious celebrations of love and family.

At this point both Shirin …..and my mother were admirers of Khomeini. Mother furiously defended him……She could find no wrong with a leader who practiced her religion, as she put it. “Your religion!” someone shot back. “Nezhat Khanoom, if he could he would have you and your daughter and every single woman in this room wrapped in black from head to toe.”
My mother rejected such conjectures…….”He is firm, he knows how to rule.” Impatient recitations about the latest outrages committed by the revolutionary guards did not move her. She insisted the violence was not Khomeini’s will but the work of a few extremists who would soon be punished.

-          From ‘Things I've Been Silent about. Memories of a Prodigal Daughter’ by Azar Nafisi

“Objects have tears in them,” Virgil’s Aeneas said.

………that’s how it was with her – facts were malleable inconveniences.

When Father left, a great silence seemed to fall over us, like the silence after a major explosion. All around our apartment house there were new craters of silence that gradually gave way to my own muted questions.

Our parents’ old age shocks us in the same manner that our children’s growth to maturity does, but without the joy; there is only sadness. I thought suddenly how vulnerable she was and alone. Then a thought crept in and took root. I will soon lose her.

…….when, at the age of four, I instinctively and with some desperation realized that I did not even have the power to move my bed to my favourite spot in my room, my father taught me to regain control by traveling to that other world no one could take away from me. After the Islamic Revolution I came to realize the fragility of our mundane existence, a sense of self and belonging, can be taken away from you. I learned that what my father had given me through his stories was a way to make a home for myself that was not dependent on geography or nationality or anything that other people can take away from me. These stories could not guard me against the pain I felt at my parents’ loss; they did not offer consolation or closure. It was only after their deaths that I came to realize that they each in their own way had given me a portable home that safeguards memory and is a constant resistance against the tyranny of man and of time.

From ‘Stealing the Scream. The hunt for a missing masterpiece’ by Edward Dolnick

On the roster of international illicit trade, art crime is number three, trailing only drugs and illegal arms.

In all the world there are only 36 Vermeers. Of that tiny number, three – The Concert, The Guitar Player and Lady Writing a Letter with Her Maid – have been stolen in recent years.

A museum of stolen masterpieces would rival any of the world’s great treasure houses of art. The Museums of the Missing would fill endless galleries; the collection of paintings and drawings would include 551 Picassos, 43 van Goghs, 174 Rembrandts, and 209 Renoirs……

In 1989…..the superintendent of an apartment co-op in Queens found a stolen Manet still life called Bouquet of Peonies, valued at up to $5 million, hidden in the basement behind a washing machine.
But most stolen art is gone forever: the overall recovery rate is about ten percent. The lone bit of good news is that the better the painting, the better the odds it will someday be found. For the greatest paintings of all – which are the hardest for thieves to unload, since they can never find legitimate buyers – there is the most reason to hope.

Security is neglected….because even the greatest museums face chronic money shortages.

The great majority of stolen paintings are small, because they are easy to hide and to carry.

In the world of art crime, London is one of the great crossroads……The law varies from country to country…..In Italy, for example, if a person buys a painting in good faith from a legitimate dealer, the new owner immediately becomes the rightful owner whether or not the painting was stolen. Japan is nearly as permissive: after two years, all sales are final. …..In the United States, in contrast, the rule is that “no one can sell what he does not own,”……If an American buys stolen art, even unknowingly, the original owner is entitled to reclaim it.
The result is that stolen paintings and sculptures travel a long and circuitous route through the underworld…..

Hard as it is to believe, a great many paintings worth millions of dollars are not insured…The rationale is that “You do not spend Treasury money twice.” In other words, the public, having provided the funds for the purchase itself, should not be further burdened with buying insurance.
When great paintings travel from one museum to another for an exhibit, they are insured, but the insurance is “nail to nail.” …..Theft, which rarely involves more than a painting or two at a time, is seen as a matter for guards and cameras rather than insurers. The Scream was not insured.

….especially those who have inherited paintings worth a fortune, may lie low in fear they will draw the notice of the taxman. Still others are once-grand aristocrats, nowadays rich in land and property but poor in cash, who choose to put their money into replacing a two-acre slate roof or modernizing centuries-old plumbing rather than into insuring dozens of dusty canvases passed down through generations.
Surprisingly, in light of how many people choose to do without it, insurance for art is a bargain. The going rate is a few tenths of a percent, roughly on a par with homeowner’s insurance…….But the rates are low because the risk of thefts is low, and many owners take a chance. The Duke of Buccleuch, for example, owns an art collection worth some £400 million. One painting alone, Leonardo da Vinci’s Madonna of the Yarnwinder, stolen in the summer of 2003, was worth perhaps £50 million. The duke had insured his entire collection for £3.2 million

The police, always strapped for money and facing crises on every front, have to choose which crimes to pursue…..The public, too, prefers that the police focus on “real” crime rather than on stolen art. Unsolved assaults are scandals; missing paintings are mysteries.

….the Art Squad has learned over the years, thieves steal art to show their peers how nervy they are, and to gain trophies they can flaunt, and to see their crimes splashed across the headlines, and to stick it to those in power. Thieves steal, too, because they use paintings as black-market currency for deals with their fellow crooks

Vermeer, like Shakespeare, is a genius whose biography is almost completely unknown to us……. “The greatest mystery of all,” in the words of the historian Paul Johnson, “is how his works fell into a black hole of taste for nearly two hundred years. He is now more generally, and unreservedly, admired than any other painter.”

A bigger factor working against Vermeer was his tiny output. No one knows why Vermeer painted so little. The technical perfection of his canvasses – his achievements in capturing the varied textures of cloth and bread and the tile and skin, for instance – reduces even the coolest critics to invoking “miracles” and “mysteries” that lie beyond technique. In the face of such seemingly effortless mastery, it seems natural to assume that each canvas took countless hours. But scholars who have studied Vermeer’s brushstrokes, sometimes with the aid of X rays, believe that he did not work especially slowly, he often applied fresh paint on top of paint that had not yet dried. The biographer Anthony Bailey suggests that for long periods Vermeer did not paint at all. (He notes, too, that Vermeer was a painter obsessed with the play of sunlight, and gray and rainy Holland may often have left him waiting in frustration.)

The novelist and ex-prosecutor Scott Turow ….called cops “our paid paranoids.” “A copper sees a conspiracy in a cloudy day,” Turow wrote. “He suspects treachery when you say good morning.”

F.Scott.Fitzgerald famously observed that “the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”

….art historian Robert Hughes points out…the idea of art as an investment scarcely existed before the twentieth century. “One bought paintings for pleasure, for status, for commemoration, or to cover a hole in the ancestral ceiling,”…….. “But one did not buy them in the expectation that they would make one richer.”

Christopher Burge, the president of Christie’s in the United States, told….. “A $1 million sale once was thought scandalous and shocking – then it was $2 million, then $5 million, then $40 million….The $6 million Renoir is now worth $20 million, and the most important of his paintings would go for a lot more (In 1868 Renoir traded a portrait for a pair of shoes.)”…… “Great Impressionist canvasses, worth as much as Rolls-Royces in the 1970s ………now trade at parity with Boeing 757s”

… the spring of 2004….In an auction at Sotheby’s in New York City … anonymous bidder purchased Picasso’s Boy with a Pipe (The Young Apprentice) for more than $100 million ……Picasso painted it at age 24, in 1905. His world-renowned paintings would come much later …..Boy with a Pipe – “a pleasant, minor painting,” in the words of one Picasso scholar.

Almost everything written in Shakespeare’s hand has been lost, with the exception of six signatures (each spelled differently). With Shakespeare out of the running, the record price for a handwritten document currently stands at $30.8 million, paid by Bill Gates in 1994 for a seventy-two-page manuscript by Leonardo da Vinci.

Often the biggest purchases at auctions are cloaked in secrecy; the bidding is done by an agent on behalf of a buyer whose identity is never revealed. That is a modern development. In the Gilded Age, for example, tycoons gloried in flaunting their art collections……

…..the historian Ben Macintyre observes …. “the ownership and whereabouts of the four most expensive paintings in the world are all unknown.”

In real life, nearly all art thieves fall into two categories …..Either they are bumblers ….or gangsters….

Bruegel produced a great many paintings, but in the nearly four and a half centuries since his death all but forty have been lost…..

Adam Worth was the greatest thief of Victorian England. He provides the single unimpeachable example we know of a thief who stole a beloved masterpiece and kept it locked away, for his eyes only. More than a century ago, Worth stole the world’s most expensive painting and kept it with him, without every trying to sell it or telling a soul, for twenty-five years…….Gainsborough’s portrait of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire ……..Georgina, an ancestor of Princess Diana, was sexy and scandalous, by reputation England’s greatest beauty.

….the amount of art stolen by modern-day gangsters is dwarfed by the amount stolen by the Nazis…..In France alone, according to Hector Feliciano……the Nazis seized one-third of all art in private hands.

….one British art investigator…. “Your average criminal in England, even some of the nasty ones, if they’re stung by another criminal, then, yeah, they’ll kill him. But the Serbs and the Albanians will kill his family as well. And his kids, and the dog, and the cat. And then burn the house down.”

Duddin….explains….that although art is always easy to steal, stealing from Britain’s grand and stately homes ….is easiest of all. The homes are colossally expensive to keep up, and many of the owners have decided that their only chance of survival is to open up to ticket-buying visitors…. “…your own house ….Would you take several thousand people around it, and then think it was secure?”

“Count no man happy before he dies” the ancient Greeks said, by which they meant that even the most successful life can fall apart in a moment.

From ‘Down the Nile. Alone in a Fisherman's Skiff’ by Rosemary Mahoney

I had been endlessly informed by people ……that foreign women who came to Egypt and dressed in a provocative way (there are, in fact, many who do) would be considered promiscuous, unprincipled, fair game for harassment and disrespect.
And yet, having spent a total of three and a half months in Egypt…I could not deny that, although I always wore long trousers and long-sleeved shirts and conducted myself as decorously and seriously and modestly ……I had never visited any country in which sex had so often arisen as a topic of conversation; had never witnessed more bald nudity (including not one but two men openly masturbating on city streets, dozens of bare breasts proffered at the howling mouths of infants, men and children freely relieving themselves wherever the need struck them); had never received so many offhand proposals of marriage and professions of love from mustachioed strangers, more swaggering requests for a dance or a kiss, more offers of romantic dinners; had never been the target of more wolf whistles and catcalls and distinctly salacious whispers emanating from behind dusty clumps of shrubbery. Nowhere else in the world had a smiling stranger approached me and a friend on a busy street and said, “I want fuck you,” with the idle geniality one might extend in saying, “Looks like rain.”

The Nile was a consisten, stately river that flowed up the continent from the south while the prevailing winds came out of the north, a rare phenomenon that for centuries had allowed easy passage in both directions.

…the Description de L’Egypte, published between 1809 and 1828, an enormous nineteen-volume summary of the country, complete with highly detailed measurements, etchings, and drawings……Thanks to Napoleon’s expedition, by 1820 Egypt was the best-mapped country in the world….The country that had been lost to the rest of the world by a thousand years of Arab rule, which had essentially barred foreign travelers from the Nile Valley, quickly became the favorite destination of explorers, scientists, tourists, and notables alike.

….Egypt …..A country of sixty-two million people whose chief source of income is tourism.

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. If a foreigner complained of having had his money stolen by one Egyptian, some thirty Egyptians would be jailed for a month. …..The foreigner’s word was rarely questioned in Egypt, and the essence of that custom remains even now.

The Egyptian temperament – invariably gregarious, humorous, and welcoming – is also spiked with a heavy dose of intrusiveness. Curious and paternalistic toward foreigners, Egyptians watch over their visitors with elaborate concern – a sweetly self-important trait, as though one could not possibly survive without their attentiveness and advice.

….it is nearly impossible for a foreigner to proceed down an Egyptian street without having to answer the same dozen investigative questions shot from the mouths of six dozen people within the span of, say, five minutes…. In Egyptians, this trait seems derived not only from a wish to try out the few English phrases they’ve learned but also from a particular conviction that they know far better than you do what’s good for you. Confronted with foreign tourists, Egyptians become noisy and nosy, bossy and brash, intrusive and terribly friendly.

…..its southern ethnic region of Nubia, the city of Aswan feels more African than any other Egyptian town….Aswan’s desert air seems to caress the town with warm promise, lending vividness and meaning to manifestations of poverty and human struggle that would elsewhere be considered ugly. The piles of garbage, the heaps of smoldering ashes, the scatterings of broken glass, the architectural rubble, the human excrement, the sun-bleached plastic shopping bags and rusted tin cans that seem to ring all Egyptian villages and besmirch every empty plane between them are, in Aswan, softened by the sheer volume of sun and water, color and air. … Aswan even the lowliest laborers always looked recently washed and laundered.

….between the years 646 and 1517 Egypt’s Islamic rulers had closed the country to virtually all outsiders. A few traders and pilgrims managed to enter the Nile Valley during this thousand-year-period, but reliable information about Egypt was scarce. To the average European, the place was as arcane and mysterious as the moon. In 1517 when Egypt fell under the rule of the Ottoman Empire, it became more accessible to Europeans…..

Far from being an insufferable saint, Nightingale was a woman of deep opinions, discriminating, decisive and sometimes unkind. Her observations could be harsh but were clear eyed and unsentimental. She was also democratic. If she was capable of writing this of the Arabs: “an intermediate race, they appeared to me, between the monkey and man, the ugliest, most slavish countenances”…. she was also capable of criticizing her own beloved Anglican church….Florence Nightingale was so interesting, daring and intelligent…..

….flirting, the favorite Egyptian preoccupations.

A woman came down the street pushing a baby stroller, and it struck me that the women in Aswan who could afford strollers – most women simply carried their babies astraddle one shoulder – were always dressed in the Islamic veil, the long cloth wrapped around their heads and under their chins. No hair showing, no neck, just the face revealed. The veil hung down to the backs of their thighs over a black gown that hung to their ankles. They had noble faces, full voices, and walked with straight backs.

In the center of his forehead he bore the raised and darkened callus that came of frequent prostration in prayer; the unofficial term for it was zabib, which meant “raisin.” The callus was worn proudly as a sign of great piety and devotion. The more you prayed, the bigger the raisin. It was widely known that in an act of religious vanity some men rubbed the spot with a stone in secret, deliberately and falsely increasing its size. On some Muslim men this callus was so large and so dark it looked like a horrible hematoma.

….in Egypt the Arabic word hashshasheen, which meant “users of hemp,” was often applied to “noisy and riotous people,” and that during the Crusades the name hashshasheen (the origin of the word assasin) was given to Syrian warriors who used mind-altering drugs to confuse and disarm their enemies.

The modern Coptic Christians are the descendants of pharoanic Egyptians who had been converted to Christianity by Saint Mark in Alexandria. It is believed that the later pharaohs spoke the Coptic language, a modern form of Egyptian heavily influenced by Greek. Copts now make up only 15 percent of the Egyptian population. ….I asked Safaa why all the tailors in Egypt were Christian. She said disconsolately….when Nasser came to power he stole the important jobs from the Christians and gave them to the Muslims……Florence Nightingale writing in 1849, “Abbas Pacha is so furiously Mahometan that he has just dismissed all Christians from his service ….besides 900 Coptic scribes who are fallen into the lowest poverty thereby.”

Safaa…began to speak with rueful envy….Egyptians were too obsessed with sex and marriage and family. And women couldn’t do anything on their own. For Egyptian women, marriage was the only way you could really get out of your father’s house…..She clucked her tongue in disgust. “Women here cant do anything alone.”

Amr told me that when his parents were young, before the [Aswan] High Dam was built, the river water was extremely sandy because of its great volume and turbulence. When his parents scooped up a jug of water they had to wait half an hour for the sand to settle in it before they could drink. Flaubert, who marveled that the water of the Nile was very yellow because of the soil it carried with it, would probably have appreciated this detail and would most likely be disappointed to learn that now, since the construction of the High Dam, the sand and silt were gone.

The Aswan High Dam, built in 1964 just above the first dam, had radically changed the mood and pace of the Nile; it had brought the natural annual inundations to an end and had altered the style of Egyptian farming. Before the arrival of the dam, the Nile flooded once a year, allowing farmers only one opportunity to plant crops in the rich silt the receding river left behind. Though the onset of the Nile’s flood always remained constant, occurring usually in mid-June, the size of the flood did not, and for millennia predicting the amount of water the flood would bring had been one of the most important preoccupations of Egyptian life. Too little water meant drought, famine, and death, yet too much could be equally devastating. Unable to control or predict the behavior of the river, Egyptians had been utterly at its mercy.
During the nineteenth century, with Muhammad Ali’s campaign to modernize Egypt, the population began to grow for the first time in three thousand years, and at an astounding rate – in a mere hundred years it boomed from four million to ten million. It soon became obvious that Egypt would need a more efficient system of agriculture and a more constant and reliable supply of water…..the life expectancy in Egypt at that time was thirty-five. In 1960, financed by the Soviet Union, Abdel Nasser’s revolutionary government began construction of the High Dam just above Aswan. On completion of the dam in 1970, the Nile flowing up the African continent backed up and spread into the red desert of Nubia, forming Lake Nasser, which now covers an area approximately eight miles wide and three hundred miles long and holds enough water to meet the needs of the Egyptian population for approximately three years.
With the flow of the river under human control, Egypt suffers no drought……….Egyptian farmers have more cultivable land and are able to produce two or three crops a year instead of one; famine has been eradicated; electricity is cheap and widely available; and the once devastating Nile floods are controlled. But with these gains have also come heavy losses. One hundred and fifty thousand Nubian people who had lived for centuries in the desert of southern Egypt were displaced by the High Dam project; their villages – along with many important pharaonic structures – were submerged under the waters of the lake; and much of their ancient and unique culture was destroyed. With controlled flooding, the valuable silt once carried by the river to the floodplain of Egypt now sinks in the still waters of the lake and settles uselessly there. Deprived of the soil that essentially created a garden in one of the world’s harshest deserts. Egyptian farmers are now forced to use toxic synthetic fertilizers, and though their crops are more frequent, the quality and yield of these crops have been addition, the present constant irrigation of the soil has caused the underground water table to rise, oversaturating crops. And without the flushing action of the natural flood, the soil has grown increasingly salty, a threat to both crops and the ancient stone monuments.

……..the second-story syndrome, a phenomenon ubiquitous in Egypt: fully inhabited houses with the uncompleted skeleton of a second floor clapped onto the roof. These second floors were always hastily constructed brick walls with rusted rebar bristling out of them …….A second floor was a sign of status; everyone had to have one.

Like most of the cats in Egypt, they looked as though they had slid down a dirty chimney and hadn’t eaten in months.

………I noticed bloody dropping handprints on the doors and fronts of shops and houses. I had seen this same thing elsewhere in Egypt ………. “Means it keeps away the other people’s jealous. When they build maybe new house, they take the goat blood and put the hand on the house. For keep away evil eyes.”
I knew it was an Egyptian belief that other people’s envy could bring a person down. Admiring another person’s infant was considered bad manners, for it represented a threat and a bad omen, and some Egyptians deliberately left their children dirty in order to ward off the evil eye.

The Egyptian mania for tea is matched only by the Irish mania for it, and if you refused an offer of tea, the Egyptian host would react with disappointment and disbelief.

The women had to be isolated, contained, and controlled; it was a longstanding matter of pride and power among the men. Florence Nightingale had been horrified by the state and status of the Egyptian women: “She is nothing but the servant of a man…the female elephant, the female eagle, has a higher idea of what she was put into the world to do, than the human female has here.”…………Flaubert wrote …….. “The oriental woman is no more than a machine: she makes no distinction between one man and another man. Smoking, going to the baths, painting her eyelids and drinking coffee – such is the circle of occupations within which her existence is confined.”

No one executed pranks and jokes better than the Egyptian men.

Like most Egyptians, Amr swam in a hectic, slapping way, not fussily cupping his hands…….but kicking and thrashing, as if sheer motion would keep him afloat……..

In all my time in Egypt, I had only once seen a woman swimming in the river. And never had I seen a woman operating a boat, large or small. But that was nothing so new, for its generally true that just about anywhere in the world watercraft are operated chiefly by men……..Perhaps its because women don’t know that its fun. Perhaps its because they don’t know that they can.

When Napoleon’s soldiers, who had never seen a photograph of any kind, rounded a bend and caught sight of the Temple of Karnak for the first time, they were so moved by the marvelous sight that they burst into spontaneous applause.

……..of the one million people who lived in Aswan, only twenty thousand were Nubian……In the 1970s, Nubia, which was once a string of small villages stretching up the narrow banks of the Nile …..was buried forever under Lake Nasser, its displaced people scattered throughout Egypt and the Sudan. For centuries Nubia had been a source of slaves for the Arab world…….Because of that association with slavery and domestic servitude, Egyptians tended to perceive the Nubian race as ignorant and inferior. Dark-skinned, culturally more African than Egyptian, Nubians had once been the object of considerable prejudice and disrespect in Egypt, and vestiges of that still lingered. 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.

Egyptian men seemed inordinately attached to the official documents they carried.

By the time the nineteenth century rolled toward its end………foreigners….commented in dismay on the huge number of one-eyed, nine-fingered Egyptian men…….. “Sooner than serve as a soldier,” Hopley explained, “a man will cut off his finger or pluck out his eye.”

Wherever you were on the Nile, whatever you saw along the banks, the ever-present ridge of the desert loomed beyond the greenery, walling the floodplain on either side….

Egypt occupies an area of one million square miles, only 5 percent of which is habitable, which means that these narrow banks of the Nile…..have been among the most densely populated places in the world.

The lenses of his glasses were so thick they were almost opaque; they refracted the sunlight in a distracting, prismatic way. Many older Egyptians wore these government-issue glasses, and their clunkiness, their utilitarian crudeness, always made the wearer look vulnerable and weak and a little bit wounded.

I asked the guide if he would kill his sister if she lost her virginity.
Without a pause, as though this was a reasonable and even a common question, he said, “I, for myself, would not kill my sister. But I would put her out of the house and disown her because she had shamed the family name.”

Egyptians drove in a fashion that could only be described as chaotic. They seemed compelled to position their car in front of the one ahead of them at any cost. At night they drove with their headlights off until an oncoming car approached, at which time they helpfully blinded the opposing driver with a sudden flash of the high beams. And Egyptian highways were minefields of disaster. There were always skinny figures leaping across them at just the wrong moment, entire families sitting down to picnics in the middle of them, cars speeding along them in the wrong direction, men stopping their cars to pee in the fast lane, sudden pointless barriers stretched across the road, or wayward oil barrels, or boulders, or a huge herd of hobbled goats. Every ten miles or so the hideously crushed hull of a truck or car would appear …….

Egyptians as individuals have a great genius for fixing things. They are capable of repairing anything at all with whatever happens to be at hand.

After a long silence he said to me, “You are very beautiful.”
Nice words, those – words that anywhere else in the world one would be pleased to hear, but in Egypt you hear them and your heart sinks a little in boredom and apprehension. Exactly twelve Egyptian men had said the same hollow thing to me that day. I told Adel that. He didn’t seem to care. He stepped closer.

….in Luxor, the trickery capital of Egypt, where the shopkeepers, sailors, and carriage drivers skillfully seduced the custom of tourists with elaborate schemes and stories.

…….in Arabic there is little distinction between the words like and love.

“Travel does not make one cheerful,” Flaubert wrote …..Travel never makes one cheerful. But it makes one thoughtful. It washes one’s eyes and clears away the dust.

A conversation with the author……….
Its also true that Egyptians are incredibly friendly. When they see a foreigner in an unusual place, they all come flocking.
……I found it depressing, the way women are forced to live in Egypt. They are basically not respected. They are treated like children and not allowed any independence……It’s the sense that women are property of the men. Therefore it’s a man’s job to control and protect them. It’s a matter of education. And its tradition. A lot of Egyptian women don’t know there is another way of life. The poverty in Egypt is quite serious.