'I Love You' in Egypt

Just returned from Egypt, which was intense and gorgeous. Sorry about the lack of posting, but I'm moving more and more of my online utterances to my Facebook page. If you like, you can follow me / like me there, although I'm not sure how that works, exactly. If someone could try it and let me know how it works out, that would be great.

I spent five days in Cairo, five on the Nile, four in Alexandria. As a public service, let me announce that if you've ever thought of visiting Egypt, do it now. Tourism is way down after the Revolution, which is a disaster for the Egyptian economy but a blessing for the visitor. The Egyptian Museum, for instance, usually has huge lines of visitors waiting hours just to get in during tourist high season (which is January-March, when the weather is cool). But now, you wander past bored security guards and are inside in minutes, and you can stroll through the cool, gloomy galleries practically alone. The same is true of all the other tourists sites as well -- you might see a few scattered tour groups, but most of the time you will be one of the only people there, and you can take pictures without a single other person appearing in them. The tour boat I took the Nile cruise has room for 20 passengers, but there were just three people on board most of the time.

I'll try to post a bit more as time permits, but for now I'll just note the strange infatuation of Egyptians with the phrase 'I Love You'. This rather eerie tableau comes from the seat of a horse-drawn carriage in Edfu:

Edfu - Decorated Seat in Horse-Drawn Carriage

And this beauty is from the dashboard of a cab driver in Aswan:

Aswan - I Love You Dashboard Tissue Box

Föckinghausen: Föcking Marvelous

Last week, I joined a group for a hiking weekend in the Sauerland. We stayed at the Waldhaus (g) hotel in Föckinghausen, which is perched on the top of a hill and surrounded by verdant pastures filled with satisfied-looking cows. The rooms were well-appointed and freshly renovated, and the hotel serves good old-fashioned Sauerland fare, along with some more worldly dishes. The hotel is run by the Knippschild family, a fact which elicits murmurs of satisfaction from most Germans, who love family-run businesses. The only drawback was the omnipresence of deceased animals nailed to the wall. Above the fireplace in one of the dining rooms were the skulls of four juvenile deer, sliced horizontally straight through the eye orbit, mounted in a chevron formation. They all appeared to have been killed at the same time, perhaps with a machine gun, or poison gas. Most unsettling. On the plus side were the trash cans in all the rooms, which featured hunting scenes of courtly gallantry (see below).

The hiking is pleasant and low-impact. There are mild hills all about, but the hiking paths are smooth and well-marked. That part of the Sauerland is dominated by pine forests which don't offer all the variety of a typical German Mischwald. Many of these forests were ripped apart by Orkan (European windstorm) Kyrill in 2007, and the effort to haul away the dead wood is still visible everywhere. Nevertheless, the hike still offered some soothing panoramas, especially from the top of the Lörmecke Tower (g), a beautiful, brand-new observation tower built at one of the highest peaks in the Arnsberger Wald nature park.

Also on the agenda was a trip to the Warsteiner beer brewery. If you're imagining donning a hard hat and wandering amid clouds of malt-steam, you'll be disappointed. The tour begins in the brand-new, clinically clean, EPCOT-like "Welcome Center", and starts off with a corporate propaganda film broadcast in the so-called Rotarium, a rotating film theatre (!). The Story of Beer is framed by an exasperatingly lame story involving a chipper brewerette named Vera who takes two loutish male friends on a real tour of the actual brewery and floors them with her comphrenensive knowledge of how modern beer is brewed. Gurrrlz understand beer 2! Wha-aa?!? Whodathunkit?!?

To be fair, the movie does give you a teutonically thorough overview of the beer brewing process. One of the interesting facts is that the much-ballyhooed German Beer Purity Law of 1516, which specified that all beer sold in German may be made only from water, hops, and malted barley, is being constantly violated by German beer makers. Why? Because yeast is essential to the creation of beer, a fact which wasn't known until the late 19th century. Of course, that's rather a pettifogging distinction. The Reinheitsgebot (the informal name for the purity law) is still in force, and means that German beer is (1) all natural; and (2) made under clean-room conditions, since no artificial preservatives or chemical additives are permitted.

After the film, everyone's herded into a PeopleMover style enclosed bus, which slowly traverses the entire (gigantic) Warsteiner brewery. We made the trip on a Saturday. I found it unsettling that there wasn't a single human being in the entire brewery. Not even a security guard. Not one person. I couldn't help wondering occasionally whether it was a real brewery we were seeing beyond the windows of the visitors' tram, or whether it was some elaborate model, built to conceal the fact that Warsteiner is actually being shipped in from China via an underground tunnel.

Be that as it may, the beer served at the end of the tour was crisp and fresh, and the hiking was more than acceptable. In a few hours, I'll set off to Bingen, to experience yet another mystical connection to the German Urwald.

To tide you over, here are a few pictures from the Sauerland:

Biedermeier Muelleimer
Feld hinter Waldhaus 2
Warsteiner Kisten
Moosbruch 1
Waldbrande Schild
Christian Stiefermann Holzskulptur
Panorama von Loermecke Turm
Baueme Sonnenuntergang
Feld hinter Waldhaus

Trailing Leaves of Glory Redux

How many times can you see a sweetgum tree or a Japanese maple in full, blazing-red fall regalia before you get jaded? For me, the answer is ∞.

So here is yet another slideshow, featuring beeches, japanese maples, chestnuts, swamp cypresses, sweetgum trees (Amberbaum), red oaks, swamps oaks, Caucasian wingnuts, and even a special guest appearance by the redoubtable dawn redwood (the fabulously-named metasequoia glyptostroboides), a rare prehistoric deciduous needle-tree thought to be extinct until living specimens were found in China in the 1940s. It's still considered critically endangered!

Epileptics be advised: This slideshow features some dramatic, mind-breakingly psychedelic 'action photos' taken while I was riding my bike really fast and not holding my camera very steady.   

Reclamation of A Trade Park

Witzelstr. 55 is the address of a mixed commercial and industrial trade area in the middle of Duesseldorf that was entirely abandoned in mid-2002.

Since then, lots of interesting things have been going on there. I'm working on a more ambitious project, but until then, here is a slideshow of images taken in October 2007, April 2008, and August of 2009. However, I recommend that instead of watching this glorious decay through a little window, you follow the link below to my Picasa photo album, and run a full-screen slideshow.


One for the Simpsonsphiles

I submitted this, er, LOLtree to the official LOLcats website, but it hasn't appeared on the main page.  The problem may be that it's not a photo of a cute, furry little animal, but rather an odd tree stump I noticed in a marshy area on the banks of the Rhine.  A tree stump that reminded me of...well, you get the picture: