46 Great Opening Lines: 21

On an exceptionally hot evening early in July a young man came out of the garret in which he lodged in S. Place and walked slowly, as though in hesitation, towards K. bridge.

Opening line, Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, translated by Constance Garnett

Last night I could have written:

On an exceptionally hot evening early in January a middle-aged couple came out of the house in which they lodged in H. Street and walked slowly, as though in hesitation, towards C. bridge.

Yesterday evening and this evening are the endings of exceptionally hot days in Canberra. Today, 39 degrees.

Commonwealth Avenue Bridge, Canberra, dusk yesterday

Perhaps you didn’t imagine Dostoyevsky’s character walking towards a bridge like this one. Rather, since I don’t have any photos of Russian bridges, you might have seen him heading for a bridge resembling this old one in Cairo, where the evenings are undoubtedly hot:

English Bridge, Cairo, nightime, c1941

I confess I haven’t read Crime and Punishment though I have read other Dostoyevsky works. But when I compared the opening line translated into English by three different translators, I thought it was worth writing about. My favourite is Constance Garnett’s 33 words in a succinct sentence, quoted above. Compare it with the 46 words of Katz’s translation:

In the beginning of July, during an extremely hot spell, toward evening, a young man left his tiny room, which he sublet from some tenants who lived in Stolyarnyi Lane, stepped out onto the street, and slowly, as if indecisively, set off towards the Kokushkin Bridge. (Translated by Michael Katz)

Plenty of detail, but I was lost after ‘sublet’. In my humble opinion there are 13 words too many. That said, I can’t read Russian and therefore can’t really say if there are omissions or additions. Now look at this one by Oliver Ready:

In early July, in exceptional heat, towards evening, a young man left the garret he was renting in S–y Lane, stepped outside, and slowly, as if in two minds, set off towards K–n Bridge. (Translated by Oliver Ready)

The number of words is similar to Garnett’s, but what it loses (for me) is the immediacy in her first words, “On an exceptionally hot evening…”. The other two translators tell us first off what month it is, but that’s not as good a beginning for a great opening line.

Perhaps I’m presently susceptible to Garnett’s first words since it’s about 10 pm and the temperature in my house is still 30 degrees.



The Nile, 1941/42

A reader of this blog, a maritime archaeologist writing a PhD, expressed an interest in some of the photos I’ve posted here over the past five years, especially images of the Nile and its boats. So this post is about the Nile River, Egypt, in a particular period, 1941/42. The photos are from my father’s album, from a time he was stationed there for seven months with the army (not counting the couple of months to get there and back). He took photos and swapped photos with his mates, stuck them in an album and left them for his family to do what they wanted with them. Many of these photos have been on this blog before, with a couple of exceptions. Where there were captions beneath the photos in the album, I’ll repeat them. Where there was none, I’ll write what I know, if I know anything. The photographers of these photos are unknown. Some were taken by my father, some were not. I don’t know which is which.

Canal sailing, Nile River
Imbaba opening bridge, Nile River, Egypt
Nile Bridge
Weir in Nile River
Felucca, Egypt
“English Bridge” Cairo, daytime
“English Bridge”, Cairo, nighttime
Camel bridge, Great Delta Barrage or Alkanater Kheireya, Nile River, Egypt
Officers’ convalescence, River Nile
Showboat celebrations on Nile, flood
Sunrise on Nile
Sunset on Nile
View to a village across the Nile

I love all my black and white 1940s photos, but I totally love the feluccas and never tire of looking photos of them.  Thanks, my reader, for asking me to take another glimpse into 1940s Nile history.


Weekly photo challenge: Frame

Two photos from the old war album. The captions are as I found them, written by my father. The photographer is unknown: they might be my father’s photos, or they might have been given to him by a mate.

Western Desert, Egypt/Libya, 1941/42
Western Desert, Egypt/Libya, 1941/42
Nile Bridge, Cairo, c1941
Nile Bridge, Cairo, c1941

The “Nile Bridge” is the Abou el Ela Bridge, Cairo – construction completed in 1912, demolished in 1998

Thanks WordPress for prompting me to post photos of framed shots.









Weekly photo challenge: Curve

This week’s photo prompt, Curve, immediately made me think of the semicircular arches on the Catholic Basilica in Heliopolis, Cairo, or Basilica of the Virgin Mary. I’ve written about it and posted a few photos in other posts, for example here and here and here, but I have a fourth one from a different angle. It’s a church that’s not particularly Roman Catholic in a western European sense, but rather more like the Byzantine basilica, Hagia Sophia, in Istanbul, which also has large semicircular arches on its sides, and multiple domes. The Heliopolis basilica is deceptively cake-like in this photo and doesn’t look too monumental, that is, until you look at the little man walking down the road!

Roman Catholic Basilica, Heliopolis, Cairo, c1941
Roman Catholic Basilica, Heliopolis, Cairo, c1941

I post these images for those who are interested in not-so-ancient Egyptian history; they are from my father’s war album, a collection of photos he took in 1941/42 as well as photos from his mates.


Japanese Gardens, Helwan, Cairo

In the 1800s, the town of Helwan was Egypt’s winter resort for the wealthy.  During the Second World War, British, Australian and New Zealand soldiers were resident in the area and visited these gardens constructed in 1917 by the architect Zulfiqar Pasha, who gave them a Japanese theme with about forty Buddha statues, elephants, a Japanese-style bridge and pagodas.

Japanese Gardens, Helwan, Cairo, c1941

After the 1952 revolution the gardens were neglected and Helwan became an industrial area.  However, about a decade ago, with help from the Japanese Embassy, they were restored as a Japanese Garden.  Once more it has become a desirable escape from the crowds of Cairo.  It’s not just tourists who enjoy the space;  most Muslim locals also love it as a green oasis amid decrepit concrete buildings, even accepting the novelty of Buddha statues in a Japanese garden, the only one in the Middle East.

Japanese Gardens, Helwan, Cairo, 1941
Japanese Gardens, Helwan, Cairo, c1941

In an earlier blog post, I had previously posted the photo of the seated Buddha on a lotus flower and the three elephants, but I deleted it.  However, I’m posting it again, because today I was reminded of the value of photos.

When I went searching online for current images of these statues, I found that my photo had been copied before I deleted it, and then it was used to illustrate a couple of stories about the demise of the statues. The Buddha has been beheaded and the elephants de-trunked.  What a horrifying discovery!  A couple of web sites have stories or brief notes about the destruction, and the authors of these sites have used my photo to show the statues as they were in the 1940s.

My father’s collection of wartime photos is a valuable historical resource, and I’m pleased to be able to share them through this blog.  However, it’s disappointing that I received no credit as owner of the photo.  Take a look at this Twitter post, for example, and a news site, here, which has put its own name across the bottom of the photo.  Please, if you wish to use my photos in your stories, ask me before copying them, and give me credit.  Thanks.


Anzac Day 2015

On 25th April it will be 100 years since Australian and New Zealand soldiers charged the beaches in Gallipoli, Turkey, in an attempt to beat the Turks and give the Allies a chance to take Constantinople.  They were mown down, slaughtered.  The battles continued for months until December 1915 when they withdrew, defeated.  Out of a population of less than 5 million, Australia lost 8,000 young males at Gallipoli.

The following year, 1916, my grandfather, Ernest Bruce, joined the army after stowing away on a ship of volunteers headed for Egypt.  In July at Pozières, France, on the Western Front, he was trapped under concrete in an explosion, and then gassed.  But he survived.  He was one of the 40,000 Australians killed or wounded in 1916 on the Western Front (see AWM).  That’s a huge part of a population of 5 million.

When he returned to Australia, he was too ill to work for more than a few days a week, yet it took the government years to offer him a pension.

His oldest son was my father, Ronald Bruce, who hadn’t learnt a thing about the futility of volunteering to fight in a war.  In 1941 he joined the army, was sent to Egypt, and months later was sent home with shell shock.  He couldn’t hold down a job, and at 25 was offered a pension.

This Anzac Day, I honour my father and grandfather for volunteering to participate in Australia’s defence.

Ernest and Florence Bruce
Ron Bruce, before leaving for the Middle East, 1941
Ron Bruce, Heliopolis War Cemetery, Cairo, 1941

At the Australian War Memorial in Canberra there is a wall called the Roll of Honour.  It’s covered in the names of Australians who have died in war.  My grandfather and father are not on the wall because they returned alive;  but my grandfather’s three cousins, the Shaw brothers, and my grandmother’s two cousins, the Burley brothers, did not.  They are all buried on the Somme in France, and their names are here on the wall.  I put poppies beside their names.

Since I learnt that they were all killed while my grandfather returned, I haven’t looked at life the same way.

George Ronald Shaw, Roll of Honour, Australian War Memorial
D’arcy R. N. Shaw and Frank A. P. Shaw, Roll of Honour, Australian War Memorial


Weekly photo challenge: Symmetry

I found this photo of the Grand Hotel in my father’s war album, from his time in Egypt in 1941/42 with the AIF.  The hotel in central Cairo is part of the Gamalian complex built in 1939, designed by Kamal Ismail.  At street level are the hotel foyer and shops, above them is a mezzanine level of offices, and then eight floors of apartments.  The complex is an excellent example of stark modernist architecture with its streamlined, symmetrical arrangement of facade details, repetition of balconies, rounded corners, simple balustrades and lack of ornamentation.

On the right and left of the photo where it is out of focus there are small corner balconies on separate buildings, between which there are three pedestrian walkways leading to a central rotunda.  The walkways these days are blocked with shops and stalls, but they were designed to allow natural ventilation and illumination between the three parts of the complex, as you can see in the layout plan below the photo.

Grand Hotel, Cairo, c1941
Grand Hotel, Cairo, c1941

Layout plan Gamalian Complex and Grand Hotel Cairo

I found the plan at archnet.org in a very interesting article, “Gamalian:  a rediscovery”, about the design and innovations in the complex.  The author laments the deterioration of the buildings since their construction in 1939.

Thanks to the Daily Post for this photo challenge.


Ailsa's travel photo challenge: Big

Think ‘big’.  Now think ‘Egypt’.  Perhaps you’re having visions of big protests in the streets, and as I’ve just heard five minutes ago on the evening news:  ‘Another day of rage and bloodshed’.

Perhaps you’re thinking of other big Egyptian things:  pyramids, massive pharaonic statues, or the sphinx.  But here’s something else that’s big in Egypt: the citadel in Cairo, a 12th-century fortification against the Crusaders, and the mosque on its summit built centuries later by Muhammad Ali between 1824 and 1848.

In 1801, Muhammad Ali was appointed by the Ottoman Sultan in Constantinople to be governor in Egypt.  But he had bigger plans.

In 1805 he began eliminating the Mamluks, his main competition, a warrior group who for centuries had worked for the Ottoman Empire and the Sultan.  In 1811, Muhammad Ali invited the Mamluk leaders to a ceremony in his palace in the citadel, and as they were leaving he had them massacred.  In the following days large numbers of Mamluks were killed in the city.  Years later, in 1824, he razed the Mamluk buildings in the citadel and in 1830 began building his mosque in the style of the Ottomans in Turkey.  The building, with its one main cupola, four smaller and four half-cupolas, resembles the Turkish Blue Mosque.  On his death in 1849 Muhammad Ali was buried under it.

Next to it in this photo is one of the Mamluk mosques that remained in the citadel, the Mosque of Mahmud Pasha built in 1567 in the Mamluk architectural tradition, with a pencil-shaped minaret characteristic of Ottoman mosques.

Muhammad Ali Mosque and Mosque of Mahmud Pasha on the Citadel, Cairo
Muhammad Ali Mosque and Mosque of Mahmud Pasha in the Citadel, Cairo (photo from my father’s war album)

The painting below by David Roberts in 1839 shows the citadel before Muhammad Ali’s mosque was built;  it looks quite different from the photo, but the title on the painting tells us it’s the same place:

Image: medinaarts.com

Even the painting evokes something big!  We can see the grandeur of the citadel viewed from above a parapet and also a sense of the size of the structures when compared with the Arab groups dotted in the foreground.

But return to the photo and take a moment to look at the street scene.  Peace.  It will come again.

Please have a look at Ailsa’s blog post because it was her BIG idea!


Ailsa's travel photo challenge: Architecture

My father was born 93 years ago today, so I knew I had to post some photos from his album.  I found these two in his collection of images from Heliopolis, Cairo in 1941/42.  They show the racecourse built as part of the plan for the model suburb of Heliopolis, designed by the Belgian industrialist, Baron Empain.  The baron had the idea of raising a garden city in the desert, to be a place of luxury and leisure for mostly European visitors and residents.  Heliopolis is now a part of greater Cairo.  Empain began his development of Heliopolis in 1905 and continued to build it over the next couple of decades.  The racecourse was built in 1910.

A colour image of the building shows its deteriorated state in 2011, though it has since become Merryland, an area of shops, cafés and gardens.  However, the colour photo also shows how beautiful the detail of the architecture was.

Racecourse, Heliopolis, Cairo, c1941
Racecourse, track side, Heliopolis, Cairo, c1941
Racecourse, street side, Heliopolis, Cairo, c1941
Services Club, formally the Royal Pavilion at the Racecourse, Heliopolis, Cairo, c1941

Check out the beautiful photos of architecture on Ailsa’s blog pages.

Ailsa's travel photo challenge: Tilted

Feluccas are traditional motorless boats that have been used for transport on the Nile River since biblical times.  From the photo below you’d have to agree that they are graceful whether their masts are tilted into the wind or tilted at rest on the beach.  The design is simple, a small wooden boat with a few cushioned seats around the sides, a table in the middle, and sails made from cotton or other natural fibres.

Today feluccas carry tourists and locals on peaceful pleasure boat trips along the Nile.  This photo is from my father’s World War two album and was taken in 1941 or 1942.  Aren’t the large creamy triangular sails ideal in black and white photography!  I’ve posted a few felucca photos since I’ve begun blogging;  if you’d like to see more, look here and here and here.

Felucca, Egypt, c1941
Felucca, Egypt, c1941

Ailsa came up with this theme for a photo challenge.  Check out an amazing tilted tree and other photos here.