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Saturday, January 14, 2017

Shopping the Local Markets

One of our favorite activities for early Friday afternoon is to walk a nearby market street, El-Omda El-Kadeem.

We leave the apartment around 1 p.m., just as the noon prayers are finishing in the many small mosques in the neighborhood. The men and their sons are leaving to return home where the women and daughters are preparing a big afternoon meal.

The fragrance of garlic and fresh herbs cooking wafts out of the apartments and onto the streets as we pass by.  Along the market street, quite a few men will stop to pick up freshly baked bread loaves dropping out of the band-ovens to bring home for the meal.  There are at least six bakeries along the quarter mile length of the street and I will stop at the last of them to pick up some dessert sweets.

We particularly enjoy this walk because it is so typical of local life and is just a few blocks way from the ring road and busloads of tourists stopping at the papyrus and perfume shops included on their day's agenda.

Linda took a picture of a butcher at work while I was in the adjacent bakery.
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I picked up three good-sized sweet-rolls for 1 EGP each (about six cents each) and, of course, the shop owner offered them to me for free ("Welcome in Egypt!") but I paid.

Across the narrow street, a fruit stand offered the usual assortment with fresh strawberries and dates featured in the front.

It is about a half mile from the end of the market street to the Grand Pyramids Hotel where we traditionally stop by the pool for a glass of freshly squeezed lemonade.


The Grand Pyramids is somehow surviving the tourist slump in spite of having very few visitors.  We saw only a single family on the grounds during our hour-long stay.  Larger tour groups, such as those from China, are booked into the five-star hotels and the adventurous younger couples now book into the growing number of boutique-hotels that are springing up in Mena Village immediately adjacent to the pyramids.

Lemonade at the Grand Pyramids cost about two dollars for both, a real bargain by U.S. standards.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

A Shopping Trip to Carrefour

Yesterday we headed across the river to the City Center shopping mall in Maadi.  We do this about once a month to stock up on food at low prices and buy items that are hard to find in the neighborhood.  Maadi is the district of Cairo favored by diplomats and other ex-pats who don't want to immerse themselves too deeply into Egyptian life.

Carrefour, you may recall, is the giant French retailer second in size only to WalMart.  The entire month of January is devoted to their annual Egyptian anniversary sale - this year being the fourteenth of these.  The stores are crowded and we noticed security was enhanced as well.  This local blogger covered the crowd scene quite well and you might want to follow the link to look at her pictures.

The Carrefour anniversary flyer featured flat-screen TVs on the cover with the 40 inch sets going for about $230.  There were quite a few of these that we saw going out the door in shopping carts while we lunched at Chili's restaurant near the mall entrance.

But the big seller, it appeared, was an item from this page of the flyer:

Electric water heaters.  That 55 litre water heater was going into carts so fast that the merchanidsers couldn't get them out onto the floor.  People were waiting by the stockroom door to grab them off the pallets as they came by.

Here are four of them that I photographed in rapid succession in the vegetable section.

Perhaps the $34 price was just to low to resist?

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Neighborhood Development and Economics - Cairo, 2017

I was anxious to see the view from the rear balcony on our first morning in Cairo.

The farmland is fast disappearing in this corner of the city.  Here is the view from 2010.

And today, there are small lots across the street just waiting for development.
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If you know where to look, the pyramids at Sakaara and Dashour are still visible.

But soon they will likely be obscured by more apartments like these.

You might notice that there are a lot of vacant apartments in those pictures.  We are told that they are all owned.  Real estate is a hedge against inflation and devaluation of the Egyptian Pound.  This five-year chart will show you why no one wants to be holding cash or bank notes.

With the Egyptian Pound falling like a rock, bananas are now selling for 10 pounds to the kilo and strawberries twice that.  These prices are about double what they were last year.  For us, that translates to 27 cents a pound for bananas and 54 cents a pound for fresh strawberries - still a bargain.  Boneless chicken breasts are about $2 a pound - much better prices than in Florida, Arizona and Texas, where other snowbirds fly..

Many people here seem cautiously optimistic that the economy is on the right path.  Increasing numbers of Chinese tourists are showing up and some say they are actually spending money - something they have never been accused of in the past!.  Egypt has begun accepting the Chinese Yuan as well. We even saw a busload of Americans yesterday, the first of those I have come across in some time.

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This year's trip to our winter getaway in Cairo took us via Detroit and Paris.  I haven't visited the Detroit  airport since my Dayton Hudson Department store days back in the late 1980s and was pleasantly surprised.

There was an excellent pianist playing dinner music near the Chick-fil-A and we stopped in at the Gordon Biersch for garlic fries and soup while we waited for the plane taking us on to Paris.

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Airplanes quit getting faster about 1957.  Industry progress now consists of finding a way to get one more row of seats on-board.  Airport amenities are the consolation prize.

The typical approach to Paris' Charles de Gaul airport is from the East and brings us in over a series of small French villages that sit in relative isolation in the midst of farmland.  Here we fly past Juilly, a town which dates, some say, from a visit by St. Genevieve in the year 470.


All together, it was 14 hours in the air but 22 hours from our front door in Bloomington to the front door of our Cairo condo.  Four airports, three planes, and only two security scans.

Speaking of front doors, there were no cats to greet us on Thursday evening.  We put out the welcome mat, though, and Friday morning brought these building cats looking for a handout.
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They are likely related to Mishmish (That's Arabic for Apricot) our favorite cat from last year who is quite relaxed around people.

Mishmish showed up at the door later in the afternoon.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Prichard, Alabama

On Saturday morning, I left Mobile for the 32 mile trip to Citronelle.  The railroad depot museum there is only open on Saturdays, so this trip was planned around that schedule.

On the way out of the city, I soon found myself in the town of Prichard.  I noticed the Sawyer furniture company on my right and decided I should stop to visit.

Now these are not "my Sawyers."  My Sawyer family comes from the delightful town of Eufaula over on the Georgia border.  But Sawyer is a fairly common name in this English heritage state.

I quickly noted that the Sawyer furniture store appeared to have fallen on hard times and was for lease by the Sawyer realty company.

In the course of driving through town and turning around, I noticed that the Sawyers might have done quite well if they had been in the business of selling iron bars and razor wire.

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What on earth is this town?  I looked up Prichard later and discovered that it might well forecast the future for your own town.  The discussion of municipal finance and pension obligations makes most people's eyes glaze over.  But this stuff has real consequences and many cities, large and small, are on a route that ends in a place like Prichard.

From the New York Times of December 22, 2010:
This struggling small city on the outskirts of Mobile was warned for years that if it did nothing, its pension fund would run out of money by 2009. Right on schedule, its fund ran dry.
Then Prichard did something that pension experts say they have never seen before: it stopped sending monthly pension checks to its 150 retired workers, breaking a state law requiring it to pay its promised retirement benefits in full.

...The situation in Prichard is extremely unusual — the city has sought bankruptcy protection twice — but it proves that the unthinkable can, in fact, sometimes happen. And it stands as a warning to cities like Philadelphia and states like Illinois, whose pension funds are under great strain: if nothing changes, the money eventually does run out, and when that happens, misery and turmoil follow.

...“Prichard is the future,” said Michael Aguirre, the former San Diego city attorney, who has called for San Diego to declare bankruptcy and restructure its own outsize pension obligations. “We’re all on the same conveyor belt. Prichard is just a little further down the road.”


Sunday, October 23, 2016

An Afternoon at Bellingrath

Since I had great success at the Mobile Genealogical and Historical Society, I now had a free afternoon.  I asked the librarians for a lunch recommendation expecting to find some place nearby but their recommendation was to "take the causeway out by the battleship."  Since I know that area, I took their advice and headed out to Battleship Park, home of the battleship Alabama.  I blogged about it previously back in 2012.

I had a great gumbo with super service at Ralph & Kacoo's just off the causeway.  More on that later.

One of the world's great gardens lies just south of Mobile on the western side of the bay at Theodore, Alabama.  Walter Bellingrath owned the local CocaCola bottling franchise in the days before air-conditioning.  (I admit to using Photoshop to patch up a few bullet holes in the sign - we are talking rural Alabama here.)

He built a "fish camp" on the Bay and his wife, Bess, built a garden.  I wouldn't pass through Mobile without stopping to check up on it.

We have always visited it in the spring when the Azaleas are at their peak so here was a chance to see the plants that require more time to develop.

I was surprised to see the Great Lawn looking very short and brown.  I had arrived in the midst of the annual re-seeding.

But the butterflies that had passed through Bloomington in early September appear to have arrived here on their migration and were enjoying the flowers on the periphery.

Our Minnesota and Wisconsin loons will also be arriving here soon to spend their winter on the Gulf.

The house and the waterfront were attractive as usual.  I skipped the interior tour this time.
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Two of the signature spots to visit are Mirror Lake

and the Gazebo Garden.

When I left, I drove down to Dauphin Island to see how it was doing in recovery from the hurricanes of a few years back.  The new bridge out to the island gives a nice view of the white sand beaches in this area.
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I had enjoyed the lunch at Ralph and Kacoo's so much that I returned for dinner.  After another helping of the Gumbo, I had the shrimp and grits (with Etouffee sauce).  Both the food and the service were outstanding.  Highly recommended when you are in the area.
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Mobile, Alabama

The traffic in Canton, MS, slowed me so that I didn't arrive on the Gulf at Biloxi, Mississippi, until after dark.  By the time I got settled in at a motel it was too late to have dinner at the Blow Fly Inn in Gulfport.  That was about the only disappointment of the trip.

The next morning I headed across the border into Alabama.  I quickly noticed that the "Heart of Dixie" has been discretely minimized on the license plates and a slogan with broader appeal is emblazoned on the bottom.

I had emailed the Mobile Public Library to inquire about the availability of any Citronelle newspapers or the Mobile Register for 1896 to 1900.  I soon learned that the Genealogy and local history works are actually kept in the modest building next door to the gleaming white library on Government Street.
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Librarian Hesper Montfordhad a package of information waiting for me.  She had two small books on Citronelle ready and got me onto a digital microfilm reader/printer to run through the Mobile Register.
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I soon located two articles on the death and funeral of William S. Burroughs and another on the subsequent re-marriage of his widow.  I was now ahead of schedule with a free afternoon ahead of me and only needed advice on where to find a good Red Beans and Rice lunch.
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Before leaving the area, I strolled down Government Street to the Barton Academy where W.S. Burroughs' sons attended high school.  It is a very impressive building.
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Friday, October 21, 2016

Canton, Mississippi. Something Old, Something New.

By mid-afternoon of day 2, I had reached central Mississippi.  I was ready for lunch and hoping for some red beans and rice.  This is cotton country, by the way.

I spotted an exit for Canton, Mississippi and pulled off the Interstate.  As I headed into town, I realized I might have made a mistake.  The line of cars leaving town was over a mile long and not moving.   The line of cars heading into town was barely moving.

I had picked the one day of the autumn when Canton holds a huge and famous flea market.  If I hadn't been on a specific mission, I would have spent the afternoon here.  A town on the Mississippi Blues Trail with a beautiful old courthouse and many restored buildings, why not spend a full day?
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Canton is also home to one of the largest automobile plants in the United States.  On the way out of town, I took Nissan Parkway past the plant.

I stopped at the next exit and settled for lunch at Big Daddy's barbecue outlet in the freeway gas station.  They were sold out of red beans and rice - but oh, the barbecued ribs!  Southern comfort food at its best.