Weekly photo challenge: Surprise!

You might think all the men in these photos are Arabs.  Surprise!  One of them isn’t.  It’s my father in disguise.

The names are taken from the photos in his war album.

Hassan, Egypt, 1941
‘Hassan’, Sîdi Gâbir in Alexandria, Egypt, 1941
Ron the rodent, Egypt, 1941
‘Ron the rodent’, Egypt, 1941

Weekly photo challenge: Changing Seasons

Grave of a Flight Lieutenant, North Africa, c1941

Ecclesiastes 3:3,8:  To everything there is a season … a time to kill and a time to heal … a time for war and a time for peace.

My father Ron Bruce, nurse & cat, Aust. Gen. Hospital, Kantara, Egypt 1941

Weekly photo challenge: Green

The green moss on this rock brought out the amateur photographer in me.  Outdoor workers call it high-visibility green and wear vests of this colour, all the better for us to see them with, but it doesn’t make them as pretty as these rocks by the sea on the south coast of New South Wales.

Weekly photo challenge: Renewal

Another photo from my father’s World War 2 album:  it’s not a sharp image, but it’s about renewal, and that’s what matters.

During the presence of Australian troops in Egypt, house boats on the River Nile were used for officers convalescing or on leave.  Earlier this year I posted a photo of Shepheard’s Hotel in Cairo where officers also spent time relaxing and renewing their spirits. On the same theme, Dad wrote a poem about time-out for officers and privates, called Seven Days’ Leave, a few verses of which I posted here.

Officers’ Convalescence, River Nile, Egypt, c1941

Geometry: Andalusian Garden, Cairo

As the Nile flows through Cairo it is divided in two for a short space by Gezira Island.  And on this island there’s a public green space with a geometric layout called the Andalusian Garden.  It was designed by the architect Mahmoud Zulfiqar Bey in 1929 as a gift to his wife, and was originally used as a roller skating rink by members of the royal family.  In 1935 it was opened to the public, and in 1941 when my father was in Cairo during the war he visited this Moorish garden.  The park is now protected by a heritage classification.  Unfortunately the pool in the photo is now dry, but the terraces are still decorated with coloured mosaics which are not evident in this black and white photo, but photos on this blog site show the beautiful colours of the tiles and the excellent design of the garden.

Thank you Ahmad Omar for telling me the name of this garden.  The photo is from my father’s collection which he brought back from Egypt in 1942.

Andalusian Garden, Gezira Island, Cairo, Egypt, 1941

Weekly photo challenge: Foreign and Spooky

When I saw the themes for this week’s photo challenges, Foreign (WordPress weekly challenge) and Spooky (Ailsa’s travel photo challenge), I knew exactly which photos I wanted to submit. They’ve given me the creeps since I was a child paging through my father’s war album from the Middle East.  While I’d linger over photos of pyramids, camels and Arabs, I’d glance quickly at these two, shiver, and turn the page.

The Foreign theme:  The photos are owned by me, an Australian, and it depicts a palace built in Egypt in Hindu-style architecture designed by a Frenchman for a Belgian, Baron Empain.  The architect, Alexandre Marcel, was inspired by the temples of Orissa in India and Angkor Wat in Cambodia.  The palace’s sculptures of Hindu divinities, mythical creatures and erotic French maidens are so out of place in this Muslim country that they attract the attention of looters and vandals.  The palace is in Heliopolis, now a suburb of Cairo, but at the time of building, between 1907 and 1911, it was a town apart, designed by the Baron out of a stretch of desert he bought from the British colonial government.  The Baron is buried under the Catholic basilica in Heliopolis, also commissioned by him, which you can see in a previous post.

The Spooky theme:  Where do I begin?  Both the interior and exterior of this reinforced concrete structure are crumbling and graffitied.  Once decorated by Georges-Louis Claude in the French style, it had frescoes, parquet floors, gilded ceilings, gold-plated doorknobs, Belgian mirrors, and a spiral staircase in a tower sitting on a revolving base.  It must have been beautiful.  Now it’s bare, the only inhabitants bats and stray dogs.  And ghosts.  Not only is the palace said to be haunted, but some say Satanic rituals are practised there and that some of the mirrors are stained with blood.   The Baron’s sister died when she fell from the tower and his psychologically disturbed daughter died in one of the basement chambers.

Its dark history has kept the palace closed to the public.  Since 2005 it has been owned by the Egyptian government which has made a few attempts to find restorers, but plans have always come to nothing.  This year, however, the government announced a definite restoration project to transform the palace into a cultural centre…

Baron Empain palace gates, Heliopolis, Cairo, c1941
Baron Empain palace, Heliopolis, Cairo, c1941

More photos of the palace exterior in its present decrepit state can be found here.

And Ailsa’s spooky photos can be found here.

Weekly photo challenge: Big

There aren’t many things in the world bigger than these:

Sphinx and pyramids, Egypt, 1941

For a size comparison, see the people walking ‘between’ the pyramids.

Not sure why the barbed wire was there.

Weekly photo challenges: Happy & Animals

Today there are two photo challenges that I can meet with one photo:  the weekly WordPress challenge to find a Happy photo, and Ailsa’s challenge to show animal photos.  She has posted some excellent animal snaps to celebrate World Animal Day on 4th October:  http://wheresmybackpack.com/2012/10/05/travel-theme-animals/

My picture does for both challenges.  It comes from an album of WWII photos that my father brought home in 1941.  Beneath this one he wrote ‘Syrian Bint’.  The dictionary tells me that ‘bint’ is colloquial and perhaps offensive, but then, its origin is Arabic, meaning girl or daughter.  So I’ll leave it as it is.

She’s beautiful.

Syrian bint, c 1941

Weekly photo challenge: Mine

I’ve been reluctant to respond to the theme of ‘mine’ – it struck me as a request to show how self-centred and unsharing we can be sometimes.  However, I’ve just realised that I have something I’m pleased to call ‘mine’ because I’ve been using a borrowed one for 15 months.  I don’t need to hang onto it very tightly:  it’s one of those things that no one else would ever want!

In June last year I began working on the translation of a story, reading from a library book which I was the first to borrow since the 1980s.  The story was so good that I soon tried to buy my own copy.  But it’s such a peculiar title and edition that my worldwide search turned up nothing.  Until 2 weeks ago.  I was reminded that persistence pays.

Here’s the library book I’ve been using, printed in 1980:

‘Un Hiver à Majorque’ in ‘Oeuvres Complètes’, George Sand, printed 1980

And here’s ‘mine’, the edition which rewarded my relentless searching.  It came from a bookshop in Geneva complete with an old folded 1920 invoice between its pages.  I was thrilled to find that the book is the original of the library version, meaning the page numbers are the same and I don’t have to rearrange my notes.

‘Un Hiver à Majorque’ and ‘Spiridion’, George Sand, printed 1867

My book is so fragile that page shards are appearing on every surface where I work with it.  But it’s mine and I don’t have to return it to a library.  Every one of its readers from the past 145 years is inspiring me as I translate its words for a new century of readers.

Weekly photo challenge: Solitary

Another photo from my father’s war album.  Table Mountain in Cape Town looks like a good place to be solitary (unless you’re with troops on their way to war).

This nurse wears the military uniform of Queensland nurses who joined up in 1940 and 1941 to accompany troops to the Middle East.  I don’t know her name but I hope someone sees the photo some day and recognises her.

My father praised the nurses in his poetry.  And when he returned home and married my mother, he wanted their first child, my sister, to be named after a particular nurse who had cared for him in the army hospital in Kantara near Cairo.