366 unusual things: days 239 – 243

26th Aug – Found out that lactose-free cream can’t be whipped.

27th Aug – A 10 year-old told me about a scorpion.  It’s a dirt bike trick where the rider throws his body up off the seat, curling his legs up and back like a scorpion’s tail.

28th Aug – Taught English to an ambassador.  That’s a first!

29th Aug – Read that some of Marcel Proust’s lines are the longest in English literature.

Illustration of a sentence by Proust, from ‘How Proust can change your life’, Alain de Botton, pp. 32, 33

30th Aug – My students never write in cursive (running writing).  One 13 year-old said he had one-hour cursive writing lessons once a week when he was in Year 3 (8 y.o.), but he didn’t like it and prefers to print.  What is truly amazing to me is that teachers give them the choice.


Ailsa's travel photo challenge: Curves

Ailsa has just shown us some curves she captured in her travels:  http://wheresmybackpack.com/2012/08/31/travel-theme-curves/

Now she’s challenging us to show off our own curves.  Here are mine:

La Basilique Notre Dame d’Héliopolis, or the Basilique Church, sits in the centre of Heliopolis, which at the beginning of the 20th century was a planned town built in the desert ten kilometres from the centre of Cairo by the Belgian Baron Empain.  It’s now a suburb of Cairo.  Alexandre Marcel, the church’s architect, was inspired by Hagia Sofia in Istanbul, designing a smaller version of the domed basilica to be the centre of the new town.  The baron is buried beneath the church.


366 unusual things: days 234-238

21st Aug – A Year 12 student arrived for a lesson today dressed in gym clothes with her cleavage pushed up and out like a French Madame from the 1800s.

22nd Aug – Received a letter from Germany with a Queen Victoria half penny stamp stuck on the envelope.

23rd Aug – One of my students wants to become an accountant and travel to the Mediterranean and beyond, using her accounting skills.

24th Aug – Noticed that when I shop at a shopping mall and run into someone, they are always in a hurry to get away.  But if I run into someone at the fruit and vegetable markets, they are free to chat and are never rushing to be somewhere else.

25th Aug – Today I emailed a guy in Heliopolis, Cairo about some photos I have of his suburb;  he was stoked and asked me to send them.  This is the first time I’ve ever communicated with someone in Egypt.


Weekly photo challenge: Urban

This photo from my father’s album of 1941 is captioned by him “Electric trains”.  I initially believed this building was the old Palace Hotel in Heliopolis, a suburb of Cairo, but today I contacted someone in Heliopolis about my photos and he has corrected me.

This building is in the same area as the Palace Hotel which is now one of the presidential palaces, but the photo shows the el-Korba (the curve) district of Heliopolis which was once occupied by aristocratic Egyptians and some Europeans.  The architecture of the area was commissioned by the Belgian Baron Empain in the early 1900s;  the building in the photo was built in 1907.  The architecture is unique, consisting of European-style arcaded balconies and broad colonnaded sidewalks combined with Islamic (Moorish-Persian) domes and geometric and arabesque patterns.  The area was neglected at the end of the twentieth century as a reaction against old colonial influences, but after Heliopolis celebrated its centenary in 2005 the locals began to plan for the preservation of the architecture as part of Cairo’s heritage.  Since 2005 a festival has been held annually to celebrate the Korba district and its uniqueness.  In January this year a group of volunteers established the Heliopolis Heritage Initiative (HHI) with a vision to revive the area’s architecture and culture and to reduce the gridlocked traffic, which was clearly, looking at this photo, not a problem in 1941.

Electric trains, Heliopolis, Egypt, 1941

366 unusual things: days 229-233

16th August – Received a request to translate a very interesting children’s book, unpaid.  (This is not as unusual as I wish it was.)

17th August – Snowed for half an hour.  This is the first time I’ve seen snow in this city for more than 10 years.

18th August – Someone who ‘liked’ one of my blog posts was looking for postgraduates to do a survey on career prospectives.  So I did it.

19th August – Spoke to an Alpaca farmer who had nails painted in a leopard pattern.

20th August – Driving home tonight I heard a meditation therapist interviewed on radio.  He gave a few minutes of instruction in meditation and  I did everything he said, except close my eyes.  I wondered if the other drivers around me were listening to the same station.


Ailsa's travel photo challenge: Sunset

Ailsa suggested we post a photo of a memorable sunset this week.  On her blog she has photos of US sunsets in soft lavender, pink and yellow hues:  http://wheresmybackpack.com/2012/08/17/sunset/

The best sunset I’ve ever seen was almost a physical experience.  Unlike the US sunsets, this one was a solid ball of gold in an unclouded New Caledonian sky.  I had noticed the fiery sun low in the sky, just above the ocean, but before I could become too contemplative, it descended into the water and I couldn’t look away.  Only seconds passed from the moment I first saw it to its disappearance below the horizon, as though it had drowned in the sea.  I could almost hear a hiss!  I stood in confusion, knowing that the earth had moved, not the sun.

I’m currently translating a small book of New Caledonian legends by Claudine Jacques, colourfully illustrated by Papou, so when I saw Ailsa’s suggestion of sunset images I immediately thought of late afternoons in Noumea, the capital of New Caledonia.  This Pacific island, not far from the north-eastern coast of Australia, is a French ‘special collectivity’.  That is, it used to be a territory colonised by the French from 1854, but now the people are working towards independence and power is gradually being transferred from France to New Caledonia over a 20 year period, looking towards 2018.  Unless the French can convince them otherwise.

Winter Sunset, Noumea, New Caledonia

Weekly photo challenge: Merge

In 1912 and through the early part of the 20th century, Libya was colonised  by Italians.  In 1940 when Italy entered the war and sided with Germany, the Italians in Libya had to face the British forces (which included Australians) who were moving in from their bases in Egypt.  In 1940 and 1941, after the two sides had battled, lost and won and again lost and won, tens of thousands of Italians were taken prisoner and were marched into camps in Egypt, later to be put on ships and sent to camps in Commonwealth countries including Australia. The photo below shows some of the thousands of captured Italians who were so battle-weary that they willingly followed their captors as prisoners of war.

The theme of ‘Merge’ brought this photo to mind.  The Italians seem to be leaving the battlefield and merging into a stream of men, flowing towards an oasis in the desert.  They wear great-coats because temperatures were low through the winter months, especially after dusk.

Italian prisoners of war, Libya, 1941

366 unusual things: days 224-228

11th August – My oldest son is composing a piece of piano music.  I’ve never known a composer before.  He’s posted it on his blog:  http://lukeworth.wordpress.com/

12th August – Saw a tiny finch digging in a planter box hanging from my porch. I looked in and found a slanting tunnel dug out beside the pansies.

13th August – When we read in a grammar exercise that King Charles Spaniels are named after Charles II, my ten year-old student told me that King Charles II liked to party.  She learnt it on Horrible Histories.

14th August – A male and female finch are sitting on the winter-bare branches by my window.  Now and then the female flits over to the planter box and scrapes a few more grains of soil out while the male stands guard on the branch just above.  Now I have an unusual problem:  how can I water my pansies without the tunnel collapsing?

Male and female finches nest-building in a planter box

15th August – Researched a holiday resort online and found many variations in prices for the same room, same dates.  Rang the resort and told the owner we’ve stayed there several times over the past 25 years;  he gave me a $200/week discount.


Ailsa's travel photo challenge: Signs

Thanks to Ailsa for proposing ‘Signs’ as a theme.  She found some signs giving pretty direct commands:  ‘be kind’, ‘be polite’:  http://wheresmybackpack.com/2012/08/10/signs/

This week I photographed a sign that is also unambiguous.  I was tutoring a student who had to make a brochure to educate drivers on the combination of alcohol and driving.  We talked about ways of preventing people from driving after drinking, and I thought of this sign on one of the freeways in our city and wondered if it’s successful in preventing accidents.  I don’t drink alcohol, so I giggle darkly at this sign and its unsubtle message and try to imagine its writer.  But I’d be interested to know what effect it has on drink-drivers.


Weekly photo challenge: Wrong

Something is wrong about this photo.  When an Englishman stands behind African men in one of their feluccas on their river in their country, when he is the passenger, not the worker, when he’s wearing a white pith helmet and smoking a pipe with his hands on his hips, it’s clear he’s dominating them.  And that’s always wrong.

This confident colonial chap seems to have been living under a hot sun for quite a while;  his skin is almost as dark as the sailors’.

A Colonial in Egypt, 1940s