Saturday, 28 April 2012

Spring Celebration

Thank you for your kindness, prayers and all the magic your sent our way

Amber pup is back home and our family of two is all together now and  finally we're able to see all that has been hidden behind the dark fog that overshadowed our lives in the past few weeks and we breath all of life, growth and magic in.

Upon arriving to our Village on the hell, we were met with Spring delights, we heard the earth joyful shouts in all colors and parades of colorful birds and their songs, some are familiar and some are quite new..

We've crossed through fields of orange fire that sprung through the green..

and fields of gold that once upon a time were green,

Spring onion and Dill flowers are all in bloom..

And like every year, the lake receded leaving abundant of fish trapped in natural pools, easily caught by fishermen and birds all the same...

New born camel among his keen, celebrating among the abundance of green..

and as ever in bloom, bougainvillea flowers in all colors..
and delicate flowers has sprung amid the sharp thorns of cactus trees..

and these are our friends of the Spring..

We felt the breeze of that hurried the waves of the lake and the waves of the desert sand all the same, we made our way toward our nook inhaling the many colors and joys of this season.. until we reached our nook gate way..

we were delighted to meet..our neighbors of the season

The crafty sparrows built his nest on my patio's lamp shade..

And a modest morning dove found in my door's lamp shade a safe heaven for her nest..

where she lovingly guarded her precious ones.
Delighted as we were, we knew right then, our patio and balcony lights for weeks shall be lit no more.. but we don't mind.

But like we witnessed life, we also witnessed death.. cars speeding unaware of precious fluttering soul, with wings the color of Autumn leaves, withered before their bloom.

And once again like every year, there comes a day when the Spring carries on  it's breeze the haunting, unmistakable smell of desiccated fish, eggs, onions and lettuce and all that was once upon a time an offering to the ancient gods to ensure a good harvest. It was the day we celebrated Sham El Nessim! 

Sham Al-Nessim --literally "Smelling/Taking in of th Zephyrs"-- is a holiday as old as Egypt marking the advent of Spring. It's a holiday regardless of religious and social class we Egyptians celebrate it just as our ancestor did 4500 years ago!  the name is actually derived from the ancient Egyptian harvest season, Shemu, the "the renewal of life" the festival coincided with the vernal equinox and the ancient imagined that the day represented the beginning of the creation and it was linked to agricultural activity in ancient Egypt. the date of Shemu was not fixed. Rather, it was announced every years on the night before the feast at the foot of the great pyramid, and the festival included fertility rites and ancient harvest festivals that were later attached to Christianity and the celebration of Easter and now a day it falls on the first Monday after Coptic Easter.

A custom termed Sham El Nessim is observed on early in the morning of this day, many persons, especially women, break an onion, and smell it; and in the course of the forenoon many of the citizens of Cairo ride or walk a little way into the country, or go in boats, generally northward, to take the air, or, as they term it, smell the air, which on that day they believe to have a wonderfully beneficial effect. The greater number dine in the country or on the river. In Sham El Nessim the early morning brings out  millions of Egyptians who crowd open green spaces even if that means ending up sitting on grassy patches next to roads, due to the scarcity of public parks and open areas in Cairo. Families start at dawn preparing their food, then take their blankets with them and enjoy the breeze of spring.

Salted fish symbolized to the ancient Egyptians fertility and welfare. And so at the centre of the festival's menu is fesikh "grey mullet". Fesikh  is prepared in a traditional process that is considered almost an art form. The process of preparing the fish is passed from one generation to another to insure its quality. other types of fish used also are sardines mackerel and anchovies.

But it is not all about fish to name but the basics, There are the  lettuce and Green onions and both have a special significans in the occasion. Lettuce represents the feeling of the hopefulness at the beginning of the spring and the spring onions was mentioned in a papyrus relating to legends of Old Memphis:

 "It is said that one of the pharaohs had an only child who was so much loved by the people. The young prince was struck down by an unknown disease and bed-ridden for years, during which time the people abstained from celebrating festivals in sympathy for the king and his son. The king summoned the arch priest of the Temple of Oun, who diagnosed the boy's sickness as having been caused by evil spirits. The priest ordered that a ripe spring onion be placed under the patient's head. The priest sliced a second onion and put it on the boy's nose so that he would breathe in the vapors. The papyrus text says that the prince soon recovered and festivities were held in the palace to mark the occasion which coincided with the beginning of spring season. As a goodwill gesture for their king, the people hung bunches of scallion over the doors of their houses, which explains how it came to be a main item on the table at Sham El Nessim."

Also there's the colored eggs which are a very distinctive feature of Sham El nessim and Spring celebrations world wide in general. 

Eggs represented life and  creation to Ancient Egyptians, one of the customs celebrating Shemu was to dye, draw and write wishes on the eggs and then hang them on trees or in temples to receive the blessings of light from Amon, god of the sun, and so eating eggs in that day was a scared ritual. New to the celebrations this year and to my disappointment there were the plastic Chinese eggs! The colouring and eating of natural eggs has been replaced by buying and coloring artificial ones.

Speaking of colored egg, I show you here my failed attempt to draw on a raw egg shell, which has been crushed before it was completed.
But that didn't put my festive appetite down,  egg-less as I was, I decided to celebrate my Sham El Nessim and move back to drawing on paper..

With imagery floating about me of  Jasmine flowers, bird's nest & dragon fly,

Fesikh & Lettuce, 
Butterfly & Dill flowers,
Spring Onions & Rabbit with Spring in it's eyes

Lady bug & a gentle smile on a cleftlip
And that was the joyful face of our Sham El Nessim.

From Amber pup and I, We wish you all a magical Spring time.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Sugar Dreams

Come one come all it's Moulid night
Prayers, swings and festive light
Here's a doll and there's a knight
Sugar crunch and sweet delight
are children dreams of this night

Al-Moulid’s Doll (Arousit almoulid) is a distinctive feature of Prophet Mohamed’s Birthday ceremonies in Egypt. 

It is thought to be related to ancient Egyptian and also possibly to Coptic backgrounds  

 ivory dolls close in resemblance were found in Pharaonic tombs, and similar dolls and figurines can be seen in the Coptic museum. 

The origin of the dolls has many interpretations. One interpretation is that soldiers were promised the most beautiful women on earth as a reward for their bravery in war. Another is that El Hakim Ba'amr Ellah, one of the kings of the Fatimid Era, loved one of his wifes dearly that he allowed her to accompany him in El Moulid parade. The queen appeared with her white gown wearing a garment crown of jasmine, inspired by the occasion the candy makers carved two candy molds, one  for the queen and another for the king riding his horse.

Starting with the moulid doll’s attire, one can see that it reflects the costumes of women during the Fatimid era in Egypt. Since the Fatimids and Abbasids were influenced by the Persians, you can also detect a distinct Persian influence in the design.

The head-turban, narrow waistline, layers of clothes and an excess of frills are typical Fatimid clothes. The tight vest that fans out into a generous A-shaped dress that covers the doll’s ivory body is a typical Mamluk costume. The colourful paper fans clasped to her back are derived from the feathered fans used by the caliphate -The number of fans adds to the value of the doll- The corsage reflects typical peasants’ clothes and the shimmering golden and silver paper necklaces echo the traditional peasant gold necklace, known as kerdan.

The generous black kohl (eye liner) that outlines her eyes and brows is a typical ancient Egyptian trend. Also the excess pink blush is attributed to the makeup style of the ancient Egyptians. 

On a corresponding note, the moulding of the candy  figurines is equally fascinating. Significantly, similar wooden moulds were used by the Ancient Egyptians for shaping their amulets.

First the indigenous artists would engrave the shape of the doll on a wooden mould that splits into two sides. Then they’d add large amounts of sugar, mix it with water and lemon and leave on the stove to boil. The mixture is poured into the wooden mold and left to dry.

The end result is an ivory figurine with a cylinder hollow body to ensure stability. 

 The figurine is then ready for decoration. 

Unfortunately for this time-honored tradition of craftsmanship that was passed down from generation to generation, 

the authentic sugar dolls and figurines made in this celebration have long become obsolete, replaced by modern-day plastic alternatives.  

Only one sugar-making factory continues to mould the traditional sugar  figurines. Boulaq's "Imam and Refai" Factory, founded in 1920, boasts doll-makers who have inherited the craft from generations before them -- some of them in their 40th year at the factory. 

I found this old Egyptian musical sket that take place inside a real sugar figurine's workshop. Watch them work and hum their song.

Inspired by the joyful season I created this drawing of the sugar doll...

proudly standing in a meditative state and

in her fan she's holding all the magic and mysteries of El Moulid and it's folks.

I deliberately avoided the frills and fans and all  the rest of the taboo most common distintcivte features of the sugar dolls.. perhaps it's a dislike to all the insubstantial glitter about it. I was more interested in the essence of the subject which is usually lost in the process of portraying all the flimsiness that  covers the beautiful ivory figure of the sugar doll in most drawings.

I made this drawing when I was a teen, in comparison to my work of today, I see how my lines has changed.. my first drawing with all it's simplicity and imperfections and my recent drawing with all it's yearning to become... I love both drawings and both are part of me, it's almost like regarding a childhood photo in comparison to my own mirror reflection of this morning.

Far away from our oasis and our favorite hill..  far away from home, today I enter a third decade of my life with a heart aching for my amber companion, I learned yesterday that he's suffering from a seriouse sever illness and we're both in Cairo for his medical treatment. I had to leave my pup at the hospital, and for the first time in Seven years we're apart!
 This morning of my birthday it rained, quite unusual for this time of year, but when it rains in Egypt we say: " make a prayer when rain falls for the doors of  heavens are wide open to receive all calls" and so I pray that my pup will be, soon home with me, where once again we can leap and race, together through the green haze.