Sam Bowker: The Grand Tour Diary (2005 - 2006)

This is the archived journal of a 2005-2006 'Grand Tour' around the Eastern Mediterranean and along East Africa, written by Sam Bowker, whilst in search of his PhD topic.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Egypt - Dad's Birthday and Wissa Wassef

Dedicated to Dad. Happy Birthday Dr Bob!

Dad's birthday began the traditional way for our family - and leisurely start with an elaborate breakfast in bed. I won't list the day blow-by-blow, but we had a great walk through Cairo's centre picking up a new leather jacket and absorbing ourselves in the second hand book souq. Although only around half the stalls were open, they were fascinating arrangements. Stacks of books and magazines were piled to the roof in tin sheds wide enough to park a motorbike in. They were almost entirely in Arabic, and covered every topic imaginable. Some of the treasures were impressive rare books, and Dad was very lucky to find a valuable two-volume English translation (1803) of Vivant Denon's Travels in Upper and Lower Egypt. This particular copy has been erractically annotated by a previous owner who took great hostility to not only the text itself, but how it had been translated from the French!

That night we joined a Nile cruise dinner with good mates of my parents from the diplomatic community, farewelling a couple who were very good friends of theirs. This was great fun, and hugely informative of matters pertaining to Egypt's political scene, amongst other topics. Gorgeous boat too, and just the right weather for the trip.

Today has been comparatively quiet, focussing on household matters. We've now whipped up a Christmas tree, almost as quickly as Mum realised we needed one. It's actually more shapely than the usual ones we find in Australia, but it's not quite finished yet. There are still thousands of GT photos to sift through, so it's taking longer than I had expected to put images online. Mum was interviewed by a newspaper this afternoon, so Dad and I took the opportunity to explore the Wissa Wassef complex.

Wissa Wassef is a 50-year-old project to create employment for tapestry artists by training local children in specialised skills, but never suggesting ideas of style or formal compositions to them as they grow. The underlying idea is that all humans are inherently creative, but need this creativity to be fostered by positive support and lack of interference. The results are remarkable. Their tapestries are extraordinary, and completed without any reference to sketches or drafts. No symbols or motifs can be repeated from one to the next, and all dyes are hand-made on the site from natural sources. The work is colourful and reminiscent of Gaugain, Cezanne, and Brughel.

They are now up to their second generation of artists, with five from the first still remaining (in their 50-60s). Once trained, they stay with the project for as long as possible. Women with children are able to bring their kids with them to the looms, and it's all entirely open for the public. The site itself consists of stunning mud-brick buildings (Ramses Wissa Wassef was an architect when he started the project) and is now a heritage zone due to the prizes it has been awarded, both for economic development and architectural achievements.

My mother has posted a message about the Wissa Wassef complex on her blog, which includes pictures. Not sure where it actually is though.

Back to work on the photo archive now!


  • At Sunday, December 11, 2005 9:09:00 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Happy Birthday to Dad!!! Sounds as though it was a good one.

    Mum's comments not yet up, so thank you, Sam, for yours -- looking forward to photos.

    Love, Tena and (in absentia in the snow of NY for Secco meetings) Keith


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