Sunday, August 9, 2009

Been A While

Wow. It's been a while. Sorry about that. As I suppose happens anytime you're anywhere for a long time, things fall into a routine and don't necessarily become that interesting or worth writing about. I really can't beleive that we've been out here 5 months. Okay, well, I can beleive it, but it just seems so unreal. Chris and I have indeed fallen into a routine now. It's not that difficult when you work 6 days a week- our day off mostly consists of sleeping most of the day and doing housework. And no, we HAVEN'T BEEN TO THE PYRAMIDS YET. I know, I know. Unless transforming robots from outter space come down and battle it out over an energy sapping device embedded deep inside the main pyramid (sorry if i just spoiled Transformers 2 for anyone), the great landmarks aren't going anywhere.
There is exactly 1 week and 5 days left before we go home. HOME. What a wonderful word. It's been real, but it'll be nice to be home, even if it's just on furlow for 6 weeks. It's funny actually- Chris and I have just recently gotten hooked on 'Lost' (I know, I know, 'what took us so long'??) and we found ourselves playing the same game as many of the survivors- "What am I going to do the Minute I get Home". We've been making lists of the foods we miss, the conveniences we long for, the little things that make home, well, 'home'. Here's a few off my list:

My dogs!!!!
Family & friends
Nonstick pans that are really 'nonstick'
'Normal'-sized bathtubs
No smoking laws
Bathrooms with toilet paper
Traffic laws
My Blackberry
Doing my own laundry
Frozen yogurt

Of course, going home won't be all lollipops and sunshine- there's bound to be a few 'wakeup calls'. For example, we won't be able to go for a "nice" dinner and movie for 30$ (that's both of us, plus movie nibbles too!). We'll have to actually drive ourselves around. We won't be able to pay 1$ for a gallon of gas. Actually, come to think about it, if that's it, it's really not that bad... :)
Looking ahead, it seems like these last 2 weeks are going to take forever to go by, especially when we're sooooo close to the end- or as some of us here like to call it, our 'release date'. Ha ha.
We have seen some pretty amazing stuff since we've been in Egypt- the temples in Luxor, The Valley of the Kings, the Tut Exhibit at the Cairo Museum, etc. There's also a few things that I know I'll only have seen in Egypt:
A family of 5 on a scooter- Mom, Dad, 2 kids and a baby
A car full of wedding guests stopped in the middle of an offramp, with everyone out and dancing around
A swimsuit that covers everything from the neck down
A bird riding a dead donkey down the Nile
A woman talking 'handsfree' on her cell phone- it was stuck to the side of her face in her headveil!

Despite all that cool stuff, it will be so wonderful to be home- our house, our bed, etc. I hate to be corny, but that age-old adage is true- you never know what you have until it's gone.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Tandoori Chicken, Steamed

So, as I'm sitting here waiting for talent to show up, turns out it'll be a few hours- instead of coming from make-up and hair, he'll be coming from Lebanon. Seems there was a slight problem somewhere in production and instead of booking him a flight well in advance, they did it at 10pm last night. Um, okay. Gives me time to blog.

We had a three day break this weekend! Weeehooo! We had a three-day break because they told us we deserved it....*snicker*...Sorry I can't say that with a straight face. The truth of the matter is that we didn't have any actors. They were all off shooting other projects. Fine by me! While the idea of sleeping the ENTIRE weekend flitted across my mind, I knew that in order not to fall behind on the build Chris and I had to go into work for at least one of the days. Ugh. Well, to take the bitter edge off of that nasty little pill, we decided to treat ourselves to a spa day on Friday. I had read a few articles about 'traditional hammams' or steam bath treatments, both Moroccan and Turkish. All opinions laid on the positive side, so I thought I'd be adventurous and book a traditional Moroccan Hammam- and at the cost of $45 for an hour, how can you go wrong? Chris opted for a relaxation massage- still budget friendly at $35 for an hour. Of course, keeping in mind the adage of 'you get what you pay for', I was a little wary. Still, an adventure is an adventure. Turns out I was not to be disappointed.

The spa was an old converted house and the interior was very relaxing, done up 'a-la-Moroccan' with rich colours on the walls, fluffy cushions, dark wood and lush tapestries draped in doorways. We were greeted by a small French-Egyptian man (who later turned out to be Chris' masseuse) and steaming cups of tea. I still haven't figured out why for the love of God they serve scalding hot tea in delicate glass cups that you can't pick up without asbestos gloves. Within 10 minutes I was shown upstairs to the change room then subsequently found myself in my skivvies in a room so dense with steam I couldn't see a few feet ahead of me. The hot steam felt incredibly good- I was already relaxing. Then a small woman in a one-piece swimsuit came in and told me to lie down on the tiled platform and proceeded to slather me with an olive oil and clay based soap- everywhere. When I cleared my eyes from the steam and looked down at myself, the first image that shot into my mind was that of tandoori slathered chicken. Properly 'basted', she left me to steam for 10 minutes. Having me sit up, she washed off the gunk with cool water which, after the initial shock, felt really nice. Next she pulled on this blue catchers' mitt-looking thing and began scrubbing me down. The very first pass on the back of my calf felt like she was taking a skin graff. Once the endorphins kicked in, it was actually quite invigorating. I just lay there and let her go to town. I snuck a glance at my newly revealed skin... GROSS!! It looked like someone had taken handfuls of grey pocket lint and smeared them on my skin. Except, of course, THIS WAS MY SKIN. Ugh. "I shower everyday" I said embarrassed. She smiled and said in broken English that everyone is like this, that it was the pollution in Cairo. Looovely.
She left me to the steam for another 10 minutes, where after followed another cool water rinse-off and then she had me sit and she washed my hair for me. Ahhhh... sooooo wonderful and relaxing. Leave-in conditioner, full-body lotion, face mask and another steam followed; I walked, no, floated out of there in a high state of bliss. More hot tea and cool honeydew juice was waiting for me in the lounge. I can understand how this type of spoilage was once reserved for ancient royalty.

Oh, and Chris liked his massage. ;)

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Ignorance Is... Well, it's Ignorance.

It is so weird working on a show that you've never heard of and on actors you've never heard of. When local people ask me who's on the show and I manage to remember and not butcher the pronunciation of their names, they're so excited for me. I try to mirror their excitement, but I'm still terribly ignorant- and though I've tried to remedy this by going online and researching the talent pool, most of the websites are in Arabic. Ugh. If any of you are interested, here's a list of the principals of the show:
Injy El Mokadem
Mahmoud Abdelmoughni
Ahmed Rateb
Safaa Galal
Amaar Chalak
Ahmed El Sakka
Amir Karara

It's so funny because right now on the way to work we pass at least 5 movie posters with stars from the show on them. Boshra just released a new CD. Apparently Ahmed El Sakka is the 'Bruce Willis' of the Arab world. He let us keep a bullet that was recently removed from his foot in a handgun incident. Uh, thanks? I'm really enjoying not knowing who these people are because then I'm not so nervous when I'm working on them. Whoever they are, they're all really nice. Of course, even out here in Egypt there are your typical 'diva' personality types (guys and gals), and actors with quirky habits.
There are some other marked differences stylistically as well. Whether it's an extra or a principal, the ladies out here looooove their makeup. It is caked on. And we're shooting on HD too. The doctors are sporting full coverage base and quasi-smokey eye applications. Now, we don't have much interaction with the principals as most of our work is on the secondary actors who play the cases that the main actors are working on. Aside from putting some blood on their gloves during an operation scene, they haven't been submitted to our particular forms of torture. Notwithstanding, they see enough of us and have chatted with us (most of it a mutual muddling across a common language gap) enough to give us nicknames: 'Mr. Chris' and 'Bloody Amy'. Uh, I'm pretty sure I got the cooler nickname.
I think that not knowing "who they are" allowed us to really get to know who they are- if that makes any sense. One of the actors is dedicated to a charity for mentally disabled children that the media doesn't really know about. Another actress is an accomplished kick boxer and an eerily talented pick-pocket; I watched her in action one day and she stripped one of the gaffers of his wallet, watch, keys, cell phone and smokes- the guy didn't have a chance, and wasn't the wiser. You should have seen the look on his face when she handed all his stuff back to him.
When I get back home, I'm really going to try to stop myself from sustaining preconceived notions of people gleaned off what I've just heard. We're all guilty of it, and while it's fun, it is limiting; for those who's reputation 'precedes them' and for our own personal development- and potential fruitful friendships.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Epicurian tidbits

Here are a few epicurian facts I've learned from my experience so far dining in Egypt, on Egyptian food with Egyptian people.

1. If you don't know what it is, try it first- you might like it. If you do like it, I still probably wouldn't ask what's 'in it'.

2. There is no '15 second rule' in Egypt.

3. Potato chips are a viable sidedish for roast lamb.

4. Many Egyptian foods have names that are fun to say: 'gibna' (cheese), 'chipsi' (potato chips), 'hawowshi' (ground beef sandwich), 'kofta' (lamb meatball) and 'bassbossa' (semolina cake) which makes me think of a vilanous Disney pirate each time I say it.

5. Egypt is not the place for dieters.

6. The best tasting watermelon in the world is grown in Egypt.

7. You haven't had fresh honey until it's served to you straight from a sleeve of comb, right out of the hive.

8. Everything tastes better roasted on a stick.

9. There is no such thing as too many carbs in Egypt.

10. "What is this thing called a 'napkin' of which you speak?"

11. If it came out of the Nile, DON'T EAT IT.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


I find it more than ironic that in a country that is 94% Muslim, they're worried about 'swine' flu.

The other day I walked onto set and my nostrils were assaulted by a terribly strong medicinal smell. Turns out production had a few people walking around spraying 'Detol'- Lysol's counterpart out here. Huh. 'I guess they're cleaning the set', I thought. Then I saw about 1/3 of the crew walking around with surgical masks on. 'That's weird', I thought. Then again, not so strange when I remembered the times when I went around set sporting a spike out of the top of my head, a fake moustache, deely-boppers, a fake pregnant belly and glitter platform shoes just for fun (not all at the same time mind you- I do have some sense of decorum). Well, it turns out that the media sources in Cairo are stating that the 13 (as of today 20) cases of Swine Flu come from Americans! There are 6 Americans on set (including Chris and myself), and we all found ourselves being avoided like, well, the plague. Never one to miss an opportunity, I proceded to blow my nose a whole bunch and try to stiffle a raspy cough here and there. Chris took it one step further.
I was sitting on set waiting for the next scene when Chris tapped me on the shoulder and asked me if I had seen the doctor. When I looked up from my book to answer him, I was in shock! He looked terrible- pale, red nostrils, snot caked under his nose, sweaty- my God, how could he get so sick so fast... wait a tic. Nice make-up job, funnyman. Of course, there more than a few crew who weren't so convinced that it was make-up and gave him a wide berth when he walked by. If anything, I'd say the day was highly entertaining.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Nile Cruise, Part Deux

Before I get into this post, I would like all those reading this to do me a little solid; this week has been a heavy one, health-wise for a family member of mine, and for two good friends of mine. My aunt Maggie went through a pretty serious procedure last Wednesday and all your positive healing thoughts would be appreciated for her speedy recovery. Also, my friend Lonnie suffured a stroke and she could use some of those thoughts too. What's more, we made a good friend here on set, Mostafa- he's off to Germany to donate part of his liver to his mom. Let's make sure he gets some of those good thoughts too. Thanks, y'all- it means alot.

Soooo, where was I? Oh yeah, Luxor and its varied archeological riches.

The first temple we visited was Karnak temple. THE largest ancient religious site in the world. It took over 2000 years to build the place, and 4 different pharaohs were involved in its construction. This was ancient Egyptian Ipet-isut ("The Most Selected of Places"), the main place of worship of the 'Theban Triad' (Amun, his wife Mut [goddess of the sky] and their son Khons) with Amun Re (the creator God) at its head. The temple of Karnak is famous for its 134 massive columns arranged in 16 rows in the Hypostyle Hall. 122 of these columns are 10 meters tall, and the other 12 are 21 meters tall with a diameter of over three meters. The tops of these columns weighed 70 tons! It's purported that they were either lifted to the top with a pulley system or brought to the top by way of a ramp of mud bricks and sand. Actually, just inside the first pylon (pylon: Pylon is the Greek term for a monumental gateway of an Egyptian temple. It consists of two tapering towers, each surmounted by a cornice, joined by a less elevated section which enclosed the entrance between them. The entrance was generally about half the height of the towers. Contemporary paintings of pylons show them with long poles flying banners.) there's the remains of a mudbrick ramp, showing how they got the huge blocks to the top. The reason the ramp is still there is because war broke out during the last phase of construction and all the workers had to go to battle, abandoning everything. The outter areas of Karnak are unfinished because those areas were the last to be constructed; ancient Egyptian temples were built from the inside out, radiating out from the most sacred inner sanctum where the god's image was housed. Every other inch of the complex though was covered in carvings. Sayyid thought it was really funny to point out the huge image of Min, the god of fertility. He's depicted as a human with one arm and one leg, and a, ahem, generous endowement, standing at attention. According to Wikipedia, the symbols of Min were the white bull, a barbed arrow, and a head of lettuce, that the Egyptians believed to be an aphrodisiac, as Egyptian lettuce was tall, straight, and released a milk-like substance when rubbed- ewwwwwwww. No salad for me, thanks.

It was so hot in Luxor, even though we were by the water. 108F. Yeesh. We saw alot of tourists being attended to by fist aid, wiped out by heat exhaustion. Shady spots were at a premium.

Notwithstanding, we could have been there the whole day- there was so much to see!

We went next to the Luxor temple, dedicated to Mut (Amun's wife). It was the focus of the festival of Opet, when a statue of Amun travel from Karnak to Mut's temple to spend a romantic week with her. There would be huge parties, lots of food, drinking, games, etc.. When the week was over, they walk the idol back to Karnak 3km along 'the Avenue of Sphinx'- an avenue lined with sculptures of the sphinx all the way to the Karnak temple.

The Luxor temple is unique because it encompassed 4 different religions; ancient Egyptian, Roman, Islam and Catholic. The temple was orginally dedicated to Mut (ancient Egyptian). It was then taken over by Alexander the Great showed and in order to avoid an revolt, built this inner sanctum to honour Amun to say “hey, I'm just like you guys- now worship me as your new King” (Roman). Like many of the ancient sites in Egypt, the temple of Luxor was buried under sand for many years. In the meantime, a village was built over the site, and a mosque was errected. (you can see the picture at the top of the blog) Because the mosque is over 1000 years old, they left it standing (Islam). Finally, while the Christians were being hunted down in Rome, many hid out in the ancient Egyptian temples. In the temple of Luxor, they turned one of the areas into a church and painted frescoes right over the ancient carvings (Christian). Actually, that's one thing that pissed me off at every site we went to: all of the temples were defaced in some way or another by Christians who were hiding out in the buildings during their time of persecution. Beautiful, informative, ancient works of art were smashed, painted over, burned out, etc. Ech. Now, I'm a catholic (in the loosest of terms) and I was thoroughly embarassed. When exactly did the notion of tolerance become enacted?
That night we returned to watch 'The Sound and Light Show' at the Karnak Temple. Basically, they shut off all of the lights and project images on the walls while a recording of the history of the place plays. You walk through to various areas to hear the different parts of the story. Very eerie to be in that ancient place with all the lights off. At one point, there are almost no lights and all you can hear is the tapping of the chisels against stone. Spoooky.
The next day saw us up bright and early and headed for the Valley of the Kings. Even at 7am, the sun was bouncing off landscape, baking us in 115F temperatures. The east bank of the Nile in Luxor has the majority of the temples and the west bank is where the valley is. With the 2005 discovery of a new chamber and the 2008 discovery of 2 further tomb entrances,the valley is known to contain 63 tombs and chambers (ranging in size from a simple pit to a complex tomb with over 120 chambers),and was the principal burial place of the major royal figures of the Egyptian New Kingdom, together with those of a number of privileged nobles. Even while we were there, excavations were going on, discovering more incredible ancient findings. A ticket bought you admittance to 3 of those tombs, so you had to choose wisely. We actually decided to forgo Tut's tomb. I know that sounds foolish, but actually, the tomb is very sparsely decorated and we had already seen all the stuff they took out of it at the Cairo museum. We went instead for Tutmosis III, Ramses III and Seti I's tombs; all incredibly preserved and rife with brightly coloured paintings and wall carvings. Tutmosis III's tomb was the most interesting because it was built 30ft off the ground in the cliff face. You have to climb a tall staircase and then down a steep ladder into the tomb. It was all worth it though. The artwork was incredible. As you can guess, no photos allowed! They actually have guards posted that will check your camera to see if you've tried to sneak a pic. The fines can cost you upwards of 1,000$ USD! It was all slightly surreal. I think we've been spoiled by Disneyland and Universal- everything around me was so well preserved that I felt like I was at a cunningly designed Hollywood attraction or on an elaborate set. It was hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that these places had been around for thousands and thousands of years.
We rounded out the day with a visit to Hatshepsut's temple (sort of pronounced like 'hotchickensoup', according ot Sayyid). She was is generally regarded by Egyptologists as one of the most successful pharaohs, reigning longer than any other woman of an indigenous Egyptian dynasty. Most of the images of her depict her as a man, as she wanted to be seen as an equal to any other man, if not stronger and smarter. She was eventually kicked off the throne by her brother when he got old enough to take it from her. Bully.
All in all it was an amazing trip. Looking back, I'm pretty sure that we stuffed a 7-day trip into 4, but I don't regret a single exhaustive minute.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Nile Cruise

I know, I know, it's been a while. We've been pretty busy.

Turns out the AD's needed some time to breakdown scripts 6 thru 10, so we had a 4-day weekend! With 2 days notice, we furiously tried to put a trip out of Cairo together. With the help of the set doctor (and medical advisor), Dr. Khaled, and his myriad of connections, we booked a 4-day cruise up the Nile from Aswan to Luxor, with a few stops along the way.

We got back on Monday, and it's only been a few days, but already things are blurring together and fading. Chris and I decided to leave the computer behind, and part of me wishes we had brought it so that I could have written everything down while it was still fresh. I look back now and realize that we really crammed a 7-day trip into 4, but I regret nothing. This was the most amazing trip- I saw things that made me realize the true meaning of the word 'awesome'; things that made me feel thoroughly blown away and insignificant at the same time. The sheer age of these places made your head spin. The technology and engineering skills needed to create these colossal installations is unfathomable. Looking at the ancient acheivements made me wonder if there wasn't another hand involved in all of this. I'm not saying aliens or anything, but it really makes you wonder how they did all that thousands of years ago.

Chris and I flew into Aswan Friday afternoon and were met at our boat, The Nile Shams, by our very own tour guide, Sayyid. We went over the itinerary for the weekend- so much to do! We were going to start with a Felucca ride on the Nile, then a visit to a Nubian Village. Sayyid spoke excellent English and we found out he holds a degree in Egyptology and his wife works in restoration of the temples in the area.

The ride in the Felucca (a type of sailboat that's been around since the time of the Pharoahs) was a wonderful way to ease into vacation-mode. The first thing I noticed about Aswan was the absolute stillness. Not a car horn, no loud radios, no yelling. Nuthin'. Total peace and quiet. And the air smelled so wonderful- not an ounce of taxi exhaust, no dust, nothing.

As we glided along with the wind, Sayyid showed us various points of interest. Then a teeny red flag: the 'captain' of the boat pulled out a bag with jewelery for us to 'browse'. Ech. I was afraid of this. We must have 'tourist' written on our faces. Sure it was all pretty inexpensive, but we were on a sightseeing trip, not a souvenir-quest. We picked up a few cheap pieces and landed back on the dock for high tea on board and a little rest.

A little later we met up with Sayyid for a trip to the local Nubian Village. We had to take a motorboat to get there, and we passed through some really beautiful scenery. When we arrived on the shore close to the village, we were greeted with a chorus of grunts and strange bleating- we looked out on a sea of camels, all saddled up and ready to go. Chris and I each 'hopped' on a "ship of the desert" (they're called that because when they walk they move both legs of each side together, creating a rocking motion like a ship)- as much as you can 'hop' on a camel- it's like sitting on a seesaw. NOW we're tourists. It was a 15minute trek to the village, all along the Nile. Our guide took the motorboat. Smart guy.

In the Nubian village we visited a traditional home and saw the school where we learned the difference between Arabic and the Nubian languages. Walking back we ran the gauntlet of vendors asking us to come and see, come and buy. We stopped at a spice vendor's stand and were agog at the variety, smells and colours. We got to taste a bunch of them and walked away with some fresh cumin, dried hybiscus flowers and a few custom blends for different meats. There would have been more, but when the vendor gleefully tallied up our choices, it came up to more than 100$ and we more than a couple selections back, much to the guy's disappointment. We had to pull Sayyid aside and say, 'listen, we're not here to buy a bunch of tchotskies in a mad rush to cram as much purchasing of souvenirs as possible- we're here for 5 months! we're "workin' folk" and just want to see stuff'- he was completely understanding and assured us that we were not to feel obliged to buy anything and just politely say so when confronted by any avid seller. So the tone for the trip was set we were cool again- Dr. Khaled set us up with a straight up guide. Nice.
The following morning we got up at the butt crack of dawn (2:30am) and headed for Abu Simbel, 3 hrs away across the desert, very close to the border of Sudan. In order to ensure our safe passage, we had to travel as part of a police convoy that left Aswan at 4:30am. Thankfully our tour guide had found us a very comfy car with shades that could be drawn against the intrusive sunrise. A few hours later we arrived in dusty parking lot in front of a large hill. There were crowds of tourists pouring out of the other vehicles in the convoy, so we beat feet to be the first though security. The hill was between the parking lot and Lake Nasser and the sun was just coming up over the water- absolutely gorgeous. Lake Nasser is the largest man-made lake in the world, the result of the building of the Aswan High Dam. We followed Sayyid around the big hill to be confronted by a sight that literally made me gasp. There was Abu Simbel, built into the side of the hill. The sheer size of the place was incredible, and the way it looked in the early morning light made it look all that more awe-inspiring. Like the museum in Cairo, picture-taking is not allowed inside the temple, which is unfortunate because the walls were covered top to bottom with carvings- and these walls were over 40ft tall! It's amazing how so much detail can be crammed into one space. I have never felt so insignificant before, and not minded one bit if the face of such amazing sights. And that feeling never changed in intensity with each ancient site we visited.
Sayyid had so much information to tell us of each place we visited. It turns out that the hill that Abu Simbel was built into is a man-made hill: when the lake was created, the temple was in danger of being swallowed up by the water. So, archeologists took the temple apart piece by piece and moved it 300 meters to higher ground and rebuilt it exactly as it was!
Later that day we arrived in Edfu and visited the second-largest and second-best preserved temple in Egypt. The place was huge! You could still see the bright shades of red, blue, yellow and orange on the walls of the temple. Amazing. The tour guide said that the ancient Egyptians had over 6500 colours in their choice of paints. Like every temple we saw after that, every inch of the interior and exterior are covered in carved images; mostly of whichever king commissioned the builiding of the said temple. In many cases, it took several 100 years to build a temple, so a few different pharaohs were involved. As you can imagine, most of the images on the walls depict the king demonstrating his power, his devotion to the gods, his vast progeny, etc. The monuments are as much dedicated to dieties as to the pharaohs themselves.
Later that day we sailed further up the Nile to Kom Ombo, Sayyid's hometown. We visited that temple. There was carvings on the walls of that temple showing early evidence of surgical tools. Whoa. This temple was also distinct because it was devoted to two gods instead of just one: Horus and Sobek. The temple has two halves, identically mirroring themselves in every detail, save that one side is dedicated to Horus, the hawk-headed god, and the other side to Sobek the crocodile headed god. In ancient times, Kom Ombo's area waters were infested with crocodiles and people were not safe. They figured if they built a temple for Sobek, it would please him and he would call off his 'minions'. Notwithstanding, Sobek was an evil god, and you couldn't build a temple for an evil god, so they balanced it by making a equal temple for Horus. Got to cover your butt, right?
We moved on to Luxor and saw the Karnak Temple and Luxor's temple, each one more and more impressive in detail, artwork, history and size.
I'll save that for the next posting. My fingers are cramping...