May 5th, 2013
Pre-order my novel The Cairo Codex, e-mail me the receipt, and if you are among the first 20, I will send you a copy of the remarkable Cairo Cats by friend Lorraine Chittock.
“Lorraine Chittock’s photographs could convert the most hardhearted cat hater.” – The Washington Post
Lorraine Chittock’s fascination with Egyptian cats culminated in the gift book, Cairo Cats—Egypt’s Enduring Legacy. During her seven years in Cairo, Ms. Chittock was a wildlife tracker in an urban environment, exploring the nooks and crannies where the feline denizens of the city hide. Cairo Cats pairs intimate and thought-provoking photos with apposite literary passages, tempting the reader to explore tidbits of folklore, religion and poetry from Egypt and the Middle East. Cairo Cats educates in an entertaining and non-threatening way about one of the world’s most complex regions.
The introduction for Cairo Cats was written by Annemarie Schimmel, (1922-2003) a revered and prolific scholar of Islam who taught at the Universities of London, Ankara, Bonn and Harvard. Dedicating her life to encourage a better understanding of the Islamic world, she lectured in more than six languages and published 80 books as well as providing a loving home for her feline friends.
April 22nd, 2013
Ansaf Aziz, a young woman with sparkling eyes and intelligence from Upper Egypt fell in love with her English teacher, married him and moved to Assuit, where she would give birth to three extraordinary children, one boy and two girls.
Madam Ansaf, as we called her, later moved to Cairo and began a program of micro-loans for poor women before Muhammad Yunus of Bangladesh (winner of the Nobel Prize) thought of the idea. She had been successfully carrying out this loan program for nearly 20 years when we met her in 1989—the year my husband and I moved to Cairo. She loaned monies to women so that she could earn an income for the family and become independent entrepreneurs. A bean pot, a sewing machine, a small oven, plus skills, and craft bazaars for fund-raising—support wherever needed.
Soon after our arrival in Cairo, where I worked as a State Department envoy working with Egyptians to set up a national curriculum center, we had dinner with Andrea Rugh, a Harvard anthropologist and author of multiple books on the Middle East. We asked Andrea, who is now with the Middle East Institute, how we might work and learn with the poor people of Cairo without going through the cumbersome bureaucracies. She took us to meet Madam Ansaf, a close friend of hers and the focus of the text she was working on at the time.
From that day forward, Ansaf adopted us and our three children when they visited. We had many dinners at her home in Shoubra and became friends with her family, especially son Hanna and his wife Laurence and daughters. Her joy was contagious as though she knew that her path was blessed. I had the honor of accompanying her into the back streets of Boulak and meeting with groups of women who gathered to talk about their lives. As a Coptic Christian going into Muslim homes, she annoyed the Brotherhood, but no one dare touch her. For the next two decades, we contributed to her work.
My husband, Morgan, then working as a page editor for The Middle East Times and part-time instructor at American University, Cairo, wrote a tribute to her entitled, “Mother Teresa of Cairo.” Indeed she was.
I remember when she was around 85 (she thought—no one knew for sure) and she had never been to a doctor. Her son told her that as long as she was doing God’s work she would be well. Her grandson, Nader Wahbi, just wrote to us that his grandmother turned her faith into action. Indeed she did.
We last saw Ansaf in May, 2011, when we visited Cairo to learn about the aftermath of the revolution. She was in decline by then, but insisted on staying in her own home, which was leaning significantly as a result of the last earthquake. She would eat very little and told me, “I cannot eat when I know there are so many without food.”
Madam Ansaf, known as the Mother of the Poor of Boulak, was a saint. She passed away peacefully on March 10, 2013.
April 16th, 2013
The Cairo Codex is a riveting novel that portrays the unique bonds between two powerful women separated by millennia. Their relationship foreshadows a seismic shift in the Egyptian landscape. A splendidly researched and original historical novel that evokes the beautiful prose and exotic setting of The Red Tent.
-Jeffrey Small, Bestselling Author of The Jericho Deception and The Breath of God
Lambert’s life in Egypt was the stimulus for this multi-layered historical novel. The Cairo Codex combines the three revealed religions with modern and historical characters, suspense, contemporary Egyptian politics and the challenges of life in present day Egypt. This creates an altogether fascinating narrative that is hard to put down!
-Dr. Waguida El Bakary, Professor Emeritus,
American University, Cairo
April 13th, 2013
Four months from today–August 13–The Cairo Codex will be published by West Hills Press (the fiction imprint of Hundreds of Heads). In anticipation of this event, I will write about what I’ve learned in the process, provide highlights from the new novel, and describe a tour of Egypt visiting the fascinating venues where the novel takes place. I’ll announce contests…pose questions…and invite you to upcoming events.
Take this exciting journey with me….Linda
February 5th, 2013
The Cairo Codex, to be published by Hundred Heads in 2013
“Delhi is a great place—most bazaar storytellers in India make their villain hail from there; but when the agony and intrigue are piled highest and the tale halts till the very last breathless sprinkle of cowries has ceased to fall on his mat, why then, with wagging head and hooked forefinger, the storyteller goes on: “But there was a woman (I take the liberty with gender) from Cairo, an Egyptian of the Egyptians, who”—and all the crowd knows that a bit of real metropolitan devilry is coming.”
-Rudyard Kipling, Letters of Travel, 1908
A bit of real metropolitan devilry is coming!
September 14th, 2012
At least an essential part of the Truth. Many of you know that we lived in Egypt and returned many times, including last year. So when the Embassy in Cairo was attacked two days ago, I contacted three of our closest friends there, two Muslims, one Coptic Christian. Their responses, sans names, are below.
E-mails from two Muslim friends:
Dear Linda and Morgan,
Thank you for asking. We are safe, thank God. The disturbances are around the American Embassy compound and part of Tahrir Square. The rest of Cairo is calm. While most Egyptians are angry about the incendiary film against Prophet Mohamed, they are against any violence to make their point. Wise Muslims are only too well aware that such wild reactions only serve to score points against Muslims. The killing of the American Ambassador and his colleagues in Libya is truly tragic and regrettable. If only EVERYONE exercised calm and sound judgment!
––––– (daughter) is not involved at all with the protests. She started a new job with the International Labor Organization and seems to enjoy it. Her work will involve traveling to Morocco. Not bad, heh? Thanks again for your concern. We look forward to hearing from you.
My dear Linda and Morgan,
Although events here are moving very fast and they are really hectic and difficult to follow and understand, we are all safe.
My children and grandchildren are ok. School has already started and life goes on. I just hope things settle down faster since people are really under a lot of stress here and prices are rocketing sky high making living decently very tough.
Best regards to you and Morgan hoping that you are both in good health,
E-mail from our Coptic Christian friend:
Dear Friends Linda &Morgan,
Yes, we are very safe, we only feel sorrow for the death of the American
diplomats in Libya. Egypt is still Egypt– those ugly people here or there cannot change its peaceful laughing face.
Love to you, _________
When we lived in Egypt during the Gulf War, family members would call during broadcast demonstrations, assuming we were in imminent danger. However, unemployment, high food prices, and a disappointing transition under the Muslim Brotherhood—all are stimulants for blame and anger. And the abhorrent film provided that trigger. As we came to understand some time ago, when peoples have only lived under dictators, freedom, particularly the freedoms of religion, speech and the press, are difficult to understand.
August 18th, 2012
Jackie Baas has written beautifully about the artist in each of us. I’m written about the right, responsibility and capability of everyone to lead. Never was the comprehensive range of human talents more evident than at the Art in the Redwoods today. So many individuals–scientists, physicians, architects, teachers, nurses, chefs, attorneys, businessfolks, and on and on–move to this enchanted coast and begin to express the artist within. Perhaps a life-long hunger for expression. The quality of art today was extraordinary: photography, sculpture, paintings, collage, quilts, carvings, jewelry. Do we all have an artist, a leader, a philosopher, a writer, within us? I’m persuaded so. Linda
August 16th, 2012
It has been nearly four months since the sparkling evening at Il Pero, the Tuscan estate of Baroness Miranda and Baron William Taxis and their lovely daughters, Isabella and Annie. The release of Etruscan Evenings. A dozen guests from the states: California, New Mexico, Taos–and another thirty Italians and English. Today, I spoke with the Gualala Arts book club on Etruscan Evenings--two other books clubs in between. Fiction continues to inspire and excite. Having fun now writing the third novel in the trilogy set in glorious Taos.
August 15th, 2012
Oh my, have I been neglectful. I didn’t write about Italy, birthdays, leadership capacity, politics, Taos, writing, the next novel, the end of the world…what else is there? For the next few days, I’ll write a post each day in order to get back in the habit. Among the most intriguing adventures recently have been historical legal mysteries in the Taos courthouse. Tomorrow: Italian festivities.
May 28th, 2012
The Tryannean Sea rushes inward through this ancient town of Fiumicino so fiercely that the confluence of the river and sea is nowhere in sight. Enormous, rocking fishing boats with towering masts line the river on either side. An arched pedestrian drawbridge straddles the river at the waterfront where handsome men and women dressed in leather jackets and boots—more Sicilian than Roman—sit in sidewalk bars smoking and drinking expresso. Too early for the restaurants to open, we walk by open fish markets and cafes and settle into a table near the water, ordering Prosecco and Panini, and watching a well-dressed couple making love at the adjoining table. He, a suave middle-aged man, she an attractive and much younger woman. We enjoyed speculating about their “torrid affair,” and playfully wondered if anyone in the audience was speculating about ours.
We’d been traveling a day and a half without sleep, so we return to our hotel, take a shower and fall into bed. We have managed to stay awake until 7:30 p.m., thinking that surely we can sleep the night. It is now 2:00 am. When it’s light enough to find coffee, we’ll take off for Pompeii in our rented Ford Fiesta.
It is now 6am and we’re getting our bags ready to load the car after enjoying a
Buffet breakfast. Pompeii and the Amalfi coast beckon us!
Forecast: three days of cold and rain. Reality: three days of beautiful weather. When we woke up Sunday morning (sans Meet the Press and the NY Times), we debated whether to tackle the harrowing drive down the Amalfi coast to Positano.By the time we arrived in Sorrento, however, the fog was lifting from the dramatic cliffs and we continued to drive to one of the most beautiful places on earth.
We nominated other contenders: Big Sur and Sea Ranch; the Dalmatian Coast of Yugoslavia; parts of Hawaii; Ronda, Spain; coast of British Columbia—you may add to our list. What makes a place beautiful? Positano has the sea and sharp, rocky mountain cliffs, quaint architecture—much of it built into the mountains where the man-layered stones blend with natural stone; breathtaking views; history. Linda has decided that it is the most beautiful place on earth—Morgan likes to be more fair-minded. John Steinbeck captured it well: “Positano bites deep. It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoning real after you have done.”
From Positano, we ventured along the breathtaking cliffs of Sorrento before setting off for Naples (challenging driving!) and a late lunch, which we enjoyed at Nero’s. Wonderful house wines and pastas. The most striking images that remain of Naples are the giant working port and incredibly immense structures of all kinds: castles, government buildings and villas, walls…larger than could have been imagined. (Kosta, take noteJ) Naples was established by Rhodes.
This morning we were armed with what proved to be unnecessary raincoats and umbrellas for the trek through the ruins of Pompeii. Pompeii was established by the Etruscans (but, of course) some 2800 years ago, becoming an official Roman state in 20 BCE. You may charge us with talking in superlatives, but this is the most vast area of remains (hundreds of acres) that we have visited. A major earthquake in 62 AD did major destruction to the now-Roman city, but it was 79 AD when the “plug” and ash of Mt. Vesuvius blew 28 kilometers into the sky and rained down pumice rock and ash onto the city, burying it until the 1500’s. The dug out remains host many terme (baths), temple to Isis, Apollo, Zeus, Minerva, and a grand theatre with seating capacity of 5000. From a “Big History” point of view, this was the time of the writing of the gospels in Alexandria, the missionary zeal of Paul and the Christians in the Roman Empire. To what extent—and we expect a lot—did the gods fall from grace?
With the inimitable resilience of humans, present day Pompeians have rebuilt their city into an intriguing community of civic pride and spiritual presence with museums, the famous ruins, plazas and a grand cathedral. We are at the stylist Hotel Diana and are off to Vesuvius in the morning to see for ourselves. It is now raining.
We can now testify that Mt. Vesuvius is temporarily safe—no smoke or heat. However, that’s perhaps what the ancient Pompeians thought. From Vesuvius, we drove the five hours to Arezzo in pouring rain and stayed in the old quarter of this little-visited ancient city. (We got lost…once again… trying to find Montepulciano) We had to be satisfied with a humble suite in downtown Hotel Continentale. The disadvantage of traveling by car is that we get lost; the advantage of traveling by care is that we get lost.
Yesterday…on to nearby Il Pero for the beginning of a week of festivities. We no sooner move into our apartment in this 13th century stone estate and say hello to proprietors Baroness Miranda, Baron William Taxis, daughter Annie, and friend Mary Lane from Taos and Jane from Edwards, Colorado, than we are whisked off to a Festa party (April 25 is Festival Day all over Italy). Thirty Italians and the three Brits welcomed us to a feast under the trees that lasted for hours. The weather was scrumptious, the food delicious, and the singing nothing less than spectacular (the host Donato, an internist from Florence, brought a karaoke machine with three mics). We guests joined in on Elvis Presley and the Beatles. No Frank Sinatra in sight. Donato’s wife, Esmeralda, spread her homemade jewelry on the table that was quickly purchased by us American guests.
We’re off to three small nearby towns this morning with Mary Lane and Jane; other guests who will share our apartment arrive today. We hear that the book talk party on Saturday is now up to 45 people! Oh my. We’ll be back with another journal entry in three days or so.
April 29, 2012
Italian Journal—“the day after”….the book release party at Il Pero, Tuscany, for Etruscan Evenings. Our guests, brother Zane and sister-in-law Janet from St. Helena, Kristy and Julie from Denver; grandson Jered and friend Joe from Chico, Mary Lane from Taos, Jane from Colorado, Catherine and Kris from Santa Fe, Emily from Gualala—and 30 Italians invited by Baroness Miranda and Baron William Taxis and their two beautiful teenage daughters, Isabella and Annie. Two special friends, Cheryl and Emerson, came from their home in Fiesole; a family of five from Canada; and a couple of writers from England. In the Medieval hall lit only by dozens of candles, we enjoyed hors d’oeuvres, wines and conversation. Miranda surprised Linda by arranging for an introduction by Zane, lovely words about their childhood together, likening her kindly to their mother, both dreamers. Linda dedicated the evening to their mother, Lucretia, a key character in the novel. Generously, each of our guests from America read their favorite sections from Etruscan Evenings, lending multiple voices to the event.
We went out to breakfast this morning with Jered, Joe and Miranda and she told us stories of a nearby town burned by the Nazis in 1944, a town visited by Morgan and Bob Blackburn (whom Miranda describes as “unforgettable”) five years ago. We have two more days in this luscious country estate, then on to Rome and Florence. More later.
May 4, 2012
The journey into our “Roman Holiday” was an intriguing combination of travel through hilltop pastoral villages into one of the most complex and densely populated urban mazes we have ever experienced (sans Cairo).
Setting out for Rome from the Taxis estate in Tuscany, we decided to take a detour to Todi, the small village that two of our American fellow travelers had recommended highly. Leaving Highway #A1, we skirted a gorgeous lake and forest preserve and climbed up a hill to a plateau with a large parking lot. There we left the car, rode a lift up the incline to the heart of the delightful village of Todi. We highly recommend this village on your own journeys. (Other favorite Tuscan towns: San Gimignano, Chiusi, Volterra, and Cortona.)
“Todi’s history can be read in layers: the interior walls show Todi’s Etruscan and even Umbrian influence, the idle walls are an enduring example of Roman know-how, and the “new” medieval walls boast of Todi’s economic stability and prominence during the Middle Ages.” (Lonely Planet)
As we traveled on, approaching Roma, Linda opened the computer for instructions on how to traverse the complicated 36 turns to our hotel, Casa De Sara, in Piazza Navona. Morgan drove as Linda read instructions, turning left (“sinistre”) and then right (“destini”) at every block or two. Getting discouraged after a while, Linda called Antonio (who speaks almost no English) at the hotel for directions. Shocked to discover we were coming by car, he was of little help. So Morgan double parked outside the Piazza area and Linda disappeared for a half hour, eventually finding the hotel and returning to the car accompanied by two handsome Italian men. Morgan was instructed to surrender the keys to Antonio who quickly found a parking space in an alley near the hotel. Antonio introduced us to our hotel neighbors and told them how amazed he was that someone of antique age (his passport revealed that dark secret) could actually survive driving through such a maze! The austere room with a tiny balcony overlooks the labyrinth of alleys, teeming with shops, restaurants and people of all colors and dress.
We chose this area because several Roman scenes in Etruscan Evenings are set here or nearby (all of which we set out to find and enjoy once more, especially the Caravaggios in the Church of St. Louis). We are forever enchanted by the many faces of Navone. In the early morning, the alleys are filled with fruit, grocery and news stands, motorcycles, and locals enjoying expressos. By noon, the restaurants are filling up—replacing the street foods, the stands are transformed into stations for antiques, jewelry, hats, and luggage. Gelato, wine and pizza are omnipresent.
Ah, but it is the evening that is most magical: diners at tables line the alleys, any blemishes disappearing in the evening candle light, sounds of violins and saxophones float through the air, the chatter of voices in many languages…and nearby the magnificence of the Piazza itself, filled with artists and vendors, fountains, churches, restaurants.
The grandeur of Rome never disappoints. We walk, take public transport, and gratefully get lost in the Via Veneto, Pantheon (This place erected for many gods still has the great opening at the top from which our grandson, Jered, reported that he watched a feather make its way hundreds of feet down into the granite below), Coliseum, neighborhoods seen from the tour bus (a great way to get the overview once again), The Church of St. Maria sopra (meaning on top of) Minerva.
Tonight we have dinner with friends near the Trevi Fountain (as in Three Coins & La Dolce Vita). Off to Florence tomorrow.
May 7-Day in Fiesole
From our delightful Hotel Maxim near the Duomo here in Florence (Firenze), we set about by car for Fiesole to meet two individuals and give them copies of Etruscan Evenings (EE). After our classic experiences of getting lost, we eventually rose on the mountain road to perhaps the most glorious small town in the world—making it just in time for our 10:00 appointment with Marco De Marco, Director of the Etruscan Museo in Fiesole.
She crossed the main square and approached the Zone Archeologie of the Etruscan Museo…Her feet found station in deep emerald grasses and red poppies. Olive, cypress, pine, and mulberry trees surrounded the massive zone of Etruscan, Roman and Longobard ruins laid out horizonally next to each other. Justine turned to face the Etruscan Temple of Menrva…(EE).
Our visit with Marco, a major character in EE, was warm and welcoming. He was pleased to receive his copy of EE and excited about continuing finds about the mysterious Etruscans, which he assured Linda he would communicate to her. He gave us a copy of his newest book on the Etruscans.
After a walking tour of the Zone and town, and lunch at the Aurora Restaurant, we joined Patricia Soviano at the Villa San Michele, which began its glorious life as the monastery of St. Michael the Archangel in the 15th century. It seems only fitting that Michelangelo served as midwife, designing the imposing façade and loggia of stucco, crowned with lions’ heads. The hotel has been owned and operated by the Orient Express for the past 30 years. A brief aside: as Morgan and Linda waited for Patricia, enjoying cappuccino and refreshments in the loggia, we speculated on the cost of a room. Linda said $800. or more; Morgan said $400. As Patricia later took us on a walking tour of the grounds, we learned that the daily rate for an elegant garden room is $3500.
At 31, Patricia serves as Guest and Public Relations Director at the hotel. Like Marco, she had provided information and photographs for the novel; and like Marco she related childhood experiences that influenced her life. Patricia recalled wanting to be “boss” at the age of eight so she studied business in Paris, learned five languages and moved from Madrid to Italy. Marco lived near the Duomo at age two and can still hear the bells in his heart.
Last night, we went to a stunning opera performance at the Santa Monica church built in 1400, then walked back across the city. Today we retraced EE tracks to the Caravaggio room at the Uffizi, the world’s best chocolate at the Rivoire in the Piazza della Signoria, and the site of a romantic dinner at the exclusive Enoteca Pinchiorri. Tonight we will visit friends of Miranda and William Taxis in their home here in Florence and leave for the Rome airport in the morning.
More tomorrow night on the politics and elections this week in Europe. We thank you for being patient readers of our personal journal….
May 9, 2012
One of the advantages of traveling in Europe is access to more international news (in the north) through the International Herald Tribune. It has been fascinating to read about US and world news in the IHT with its mix of perspectives from NY Times favorites like Brooks, Krugman, Dowd, Friedman, as well as various global edition writers. Last weekend’s elections sharply drew the battle lines—already evident in the US—between austerity and growth stimulus, social spending and the role of governments. It was on display most dramatically with the defeat of Sarkozy and the election of socialist (with moderate tendencies) Hollande. Marine Le Pin—the far right equivalent of the Tea Party—received 18% (at least they’re not as strong as in Indiana). Angela Merkel has lost her most devoted ally and co-designer of the austerity demands–Sarkozy. Greece has been unable to form a government because of sharp divisions regarding the austerity demands. Putin may be back on top, but can no longer count on a rubber stamp Duma. It was interesting to note that one of the “long time personal friends” present at Putin’s “welcome back rally” was Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi (maybe eager to plan his own reincarnation?) Resentments are running high throughout Europe.
What changes have we observed in Italy in the last 5 years?
• More accommodations for the handicapped, including bathrooms. Therefore, more travelers in wheelchairs.
• We could no longer find BBC, CNN or Al Jazeera English at any hotel. (An austerity move to pay for fewer channels.)
• More women police
• Berlusconi is gone—meaning a more realistic view of austerity (Although that could be changing as Italy has elected local mayors in 1000 cities that (so far) have been overturning Berlusconi’s rule of local politics).
• Unemployment is at a 12-year high.
• An even sharper division between the prosperity north of Rome and poverty south of Rome.
• We met more travelers from eastern Europe, including the Ukraine and Poland.
• Some indications that social media and internet are having an influence in Italy.
A political leader announced via internet that he wanted people to suggest ways
he could combat corruption. Within hours there were 100,000 suggestions.
No action yet, but a sign of changes coming?
Linda and Morgan