holmes sweet holmes

sucking marrow and seeking more

Archive for the month “January, 2013”

This and That

Rebecca and I have continued our contemplative hours since we returned from Barcelona. Today, for instance, we went for coffee/writing/feelings time at Tutti Matti on Road 9, where we basked in the beauty of sunny, 70 degree weather, surrounded by the young, hip, beautiful Egyptian crowd, with jazzed up Christmas songs playing in the background and Molotov cocktails flying in Tahrir Square via the news coverage, as today marks the second anniversary of the Revolution. It was quite the setting for introspection.

Photo by msholm_es
A few lingering details from Barcelona:We stumbled upon the most beautiful moments of the trip in cobblestone alleyways, with Gothic architecture soaring above us on all sides. One day we heard what sounded like a pan pipe, playing Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.” We turned a corner, and sure enough, there was a street musician, playing a song that will forever elicit comforting memories of my late grandfather.Another night we wandered up a side street, and we could hear strains of Spanish opera. It felt like we traveled into another century; a deep vibrato echoed through the darkened streets, singing lyrics we could not understand but instead felt vibrating in our bones. It was magical. We returned to hear the opera singers — and their dozen or so octogenarian groupies — multiple nights.


On New Year’s Eve, we celebrated my birthday with breakfast in France, lunch in Andorra, and dinner in Spain. Andorra is a tiny country, with an approximate population of 78,000. We prepared ourselves for a quaint town situated in a valley of the Pyrenees, possibly with snow, and a chance to hike. Instead, we found ourselves in the tax-free shopping epicenter of Western Europe. We had our pick of over 3,000 stores in this tiny country. It was a bit of a let-down, but that’s okay. We still ended 2012 by visiting three countries.


French morning in the Pyrenees

Catalunyan tradition calls for grapes on New Year’s Eve. Each person is supposed to stick 12 grapes, one at a time, into their mouth, Chubby Bunny style. Once all twelve are in, you check to see if they are still intact. Each whole grape represents one month of happiness for the coming year. We returned from France and Andorra too late to purchase our own grapes, and we declined the baggies for sale from the men hanging out on the street every few feet, vending six-packs of beer and bottles of champagne along with the grapes.

Just before midnight, we stepped onto Las Ramblas, the main pedestrian stretch in downtown Barcelona (and just blocks away from our flat — we had the best location). The street was packed with revelers, who welcomed midnight with cheers, whistles, Spanish songs, champagne showers, fireworks, and kisses from strangers. It was great fun, until the celebration turned into slight pandemonium. After a pick-pocket unsuccessfully snatched at Rebecca’s purse and one too many cat-callers reached out for us, we called it a night. The next day, we returned to the desert.

Rebecca and I were some of the first travelers to return to Cairo, and we took advantage of a little quiet to jet out to Giza. We had planned to sit at the pyramids and write for a few hours. Instead, we drove up the street, nearly devoid of cars (and therefore tourists) but replete with locals desperate to make a little money. People were standing in parking spaces all the way up the winding road, and they practically ambushed the taxi we were in, jumping on it and trying to make Muhammed, our driver, stop. They all wanted him to park in the space they were staking out; then he would pay them a fee. We eventually extricated ourselves from the chaos and pulled into the parking lot for the pyramids.

It was barren. We could see why people were so desperate for our taxi to park. At first, we’d hoped for a few hours at the pyramids, but decided not to risk finding a new taxi to bring us home. We asked Muhammed to wait one hour for us. We entered the compound, and tour guides immediately descended on us — You want a camel ride? A horse ride? A postcard? We responded with our limited Arabic (La’a. Mish iza.) and people were impressed enough to leave us alone. We didn’t get to write at all, but we did get to calm down and enjoy the view. And the lack of crowds.


(That incident is isolated, really and truly. Come visit Egypt! We need more tourists! Please! I promise that we have experienced nothing like that before or since!)


We are beyond the normal time limits for New Year resolution blog posts, but I’m doing it anyway. I typically do not make resolutions; I prefer to reflect throughout the year rather than succumb to the pressure of changing my life in one fell swoop. (Sounds like an excuse for laziness if I’ve ever heard one.) This year I took the lyrics from one of my long-time favorite songs to ponder on the last year and prepare for meaningful growth in 2013.

“And I told you to be patient, and I told you to be fine, and I told you to be balanced, and I told you to be kind.” – Bon Iver, Skinny Love

I thought about all of my relationships, and asked myself, “In this relationship, am I patient? Fine? Am I balanced? Kind?” It was an incredible exercise, and I feel more centered because of it.


We’re getting back in the swing of things. The quarter is almost over, the grading frenzy that accompanies report card time is upon us, and we’re beginning to make our Spring Break plans. Ben and I are thinking we will stay in Egypt this March: our tentative plans include a few days in Luxor to see Karnak and more, a cruise down the Nile from Luxor to Aswan, a quick trip to Abu Simbel, and then a jaunt over to the Red Sea for a little scuba diving. In late April, we get a “second spring break” of sorts, as we chaperone students on School Without Walls trips. I’m heading to Paris (in the springtime! for free!) and Ben will be hiking and camping on Mount Sinai. The opportunities for travel are ample, and we are so, so lucky.

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