Articles posted by Karl Schaefer

Copenhagen (March16-17)

March 19, 2017

There’s one more trip I must take. In Copenhagen, Denmark is a small museum called the David Collection. It owns another of the block prints I’m pursuing and I’m off to see it. I bought my train tickets a couple of days ago so all I had to do this morning was roll out of bed and make my way to the central station in Hamburg. I was excited to make this trip because the it involves the train being loaded onto a ferry for the trip from the north coast of Germany across a bay of the Baltic, the sea that separates the Danish island of Sjaelland from continental Europe. The first part of the trip went along the same route I had taken with Jim to Lübeck but continued on northeast to a little seaside town called Puttgarden. The town itself lies on the northern edge of a German island called Fehmarn. The names are more than slightly Danish and it’s no wonder. The Danes and Germans fought more than one war over this real estate up here. For the present, it’s German.

Public works projects generate intense debate everywhere. It’s no different in Germany and Denmark. Up here, there is a proposal to replace the ferry service with a bridge or tunnel or bridge/tunnel combination between the two countries at this point. But there’s opposition:

You can tell you’re getting close to the ocean because the land flattens and marshes, ponds, and inlets start appearing. Before you know it, the train is creeping onto a boat—a BIG boat– and then it comes to a stop. The train is only four cars long because it has to fit on the ferry, but even so, that’s a lot of train to carry on a boat. Then, it’s “everybody out” for the 45 minute crossing; train passengers as well as car and truck drivers are required to leave the vehicle decks while we’re underway. I spent the trip on the ferry “Princesse Benedikte” wandering around on the observation deck in surprising sunshine and browsing the duty free shops and restaurants in the enclosed areas.

Soon the crew of the ferry announces that we were approaching our destination, the Danish port town of Rødby, and we return to our seats on the train. The train is among the first vehicles to disembark; we set off on terra firma but halt at the first train station, about a quarter mile from the dock. Here the train is boarded by Danish police who politely ask all passengers for their passports. Despite Europe’s generous policy of accepting refugees, Denmark has decided it has had enough so they restrict entry to those who are carrying valid passports or other travel documents. I don’t see them remove anyone from our train…

We arrived in Copenhagen (I should probably write København since we’re now in Denmark—oops: Danmark!) about mid-afternoon. I checked into a modest hotel right next to the central train station. It’s called Nebo and I’ve stayed here before when Vibs and I have had occasion to visit the city. It’s a so-called “mission” hotel because it reflects a “Christian” philosophy that everyone deserves decent lodging. At about a hundred bucks a night, in the city center; it can’t be beat. Some of the rooms have shared baths and toilets but hey, they’re clean and neat.

I spent a bit of time in my room on the computer calculating a route from the hotel to the museum. Once I had done this, I headed out to reconnoiter my path. With a city plan firmly (more or less) in mental grasp, I walked the route I planned to take the next day. Contrary to expectations, the sun was out and the streets were busy. I walked the kilometer or so to H.C. Anderson Boulevard, which runs adjacent to Copenhagen’s grand Parliament building, the Rådhus.

Crossing its plaza, which is a bit torn up due to the construction of a major subway project (the work has had Copenhagen in a traffic and aesthetic uproar for several years, now, but progress is being made…) and the erection of tents. The Danes were getting ready to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. The Danes, supposedly the happiest people on the planet, are always up for a good time, even if it’s imported. On the other side of the plaza, I head up Strøget. Strøget is a main commercial street running for a mile or so through central Copenhagen. It’s a pedestrian street and the location of a number of iconic stores and businesses, some of them Danish—like Ilum’s and Georg Jensen—but increasingly American and European shops like Abercrombie & Fitch, Body Shop, Seven Eleven and, of course, MacDonald’s. Street performers were out in force: living statues of Elvis (in the later years), a black guy in dreads performing Bob Marley standards, another artist with a bucket of soapy water and a loop of rope lofting huge bubbles into the breeze. A typical city in other words.

Having determined that my route was accurate and walkable in a reasonable amount of time, I wandered slowly back toward my hotel, scouting out potential dinner locations along the way. The variety of cuisine options has greatly expanded here as it has elsewhere and the thought struck me as, later that evening, I sat at an all-you-can-eat sushi buffet. It seems that food as a cultural marker is losing its distinctiveness. That evening, across the room from where I sat, was your “typical” Danish young girl of about eight or ten: blond hair, blue eyes, Nordic to the bone. She was picking out dishes that her grandparents would never have heard of and that her parents had probably come to only as adults. Yet sushi would be a part of her cultural reference for all of her life, as natural as any other on the Danish landscape.

At ten the next morning, I presented myself at the David Samling. The building is on Kronprinsessengade, which borders one side of the park that surrounds Rosenborg Castle, the official residence of Denmark’s royal family. I met Anne-Marie Keblow-Bernsted, a conservator at the museum, who led me through a labyrinth of passageways to her workshop, where she does the labor necessary to preserve the textiles, paper, ceramics and other materials that constitute much of the collection. She had prepared the block print for me to examine and I spent a couple of hours doing just that. I also had the opportunity to talk with Ms. Keblow-Bernsted about her own work and particularly her study of Islamic ceramics. She had written a book on the subject of pigments and deterioration of glazes and such, a study of major importance in the field.

After expressing my thanks to her and the museum, I wandered back to toward the hotel, stopping off to make a few small purchases of items that are still hard to find outside of Denmark. The skies had been cloudy all morning and now the weather was definitely deteriorating. Taking a stiffening wind as a hint, I found a café where I could have some lunch and watch people through a window. Rain pounded down for a while, chasing pedestrians off the streets. A few disappointed St. Paddy’s Day revelers hustled past, shoulders hunched, hands buried in pockets, their green hats and fake red beards looking a tad bedraggled. By the time I finished my meal, the rain had let up enough that I could make a run for the hotel, retrieve my bag and make the short walk to the train station without getting soaked.

The train journey back to Germany was uneventful. Riding through the dark, we could have been anywhere. The ferry ride was a bit choppy, the boat shuddering through waves and wind but we docked without incident and by midnight I was snug at home.

A Short Week

Since I returned from Munich only on Monday evening last week (3/6), I was already down a workday. In addition, Cousin Jim was due to arrive on Thursday evening for a brief visit with me. Now, I had known that he was coming and I had been looking forward to seeing him. This was his first visit to Europe and he was taking advantage of my presence here to see that he didn’t get lost. The three days before his arrival flew by and, because I felt that I had been keeping my nose fairly close to the grindstone, I was not feeling the least twinge of guilt about taking Friday and part of Monday off so I could show him around.

His visit also gave me the opportunity to get a bit more familiar with Hamburg. Although I had taken the bus tour of the town, I hadn’t veered too far from my day-to-day route or routine. When Jim arrived, we immediately set off for a jazz club that I had found online. Jim likes music and he was looking forward to hearing some. Despite the usual fatigue generated by trans-Atlantic air travel, Jim insisted on scoping out Birdland Club. It was more of a hike than either of us anticipated, but we found it, tucked into a too cozy cellar on a main thoroughfare about a mile from my apartment. We ran the gauntlet of young smokers puffing their carcinogens on the stairway and entered a low ceilinged space with wall to wall bodies. The music hadn’t started yet and the crowd was overwhelming. Disappointed, we retreated to the street and wandered our way back home. Jet lag had finally hit and Cousin Jim collapsed into bed the minute we got home.

The next morning, we ate breakfast in a rather upscale hotel just down the street. Elysée Palace (SO pretentious!) has it all for those who have it all. Spa, health club, four restaurants, a shoe and clothing store (just in case you left your Guccis at home), and lots of other amenities. Despite this, they served a nice breakfast and a good cup of coffee at a reasonable price. Thus fortified, we set out to walk the city, across the Kennedy Bridge, which divides the Outer Alster Lake from the Inner Alster Lake, and into downtown. Having seen much of this part of Hamburg from the tour bus, I was able to point out some of the sights. We walked down to the harbor and saw an area that has recently been rehabilitated. Lots of old brick warehouses turned into office flats and apartments. It was easy to get lost, but people were helpful in pointing us in the direction of landmarks—like the grand Gothic City Hall—so we could get our bearings again. We had a couple of beers along the way and a late lunch at home. That evening, we decided to try the bar in the fancy hotel and, to our delight, they had live music. A jazz trio, composed of three guys in their eighties at least, was doing a fabulous job with the standards and we spent a pleasant couple of hours listening.

On Saturday, I had arranged train tickets to Lübeck. Lübeck is a well-preserved town that dates back a millennium or so. It was one of the original members of the Hanseatic League, that medieval precursor to the European Community. The old town is surrounded by twin moats and boasts the requisite monumental city gates and tilting 500 year old buildings, centuries old churches and cobbled streets. It was cold when we set out but Jim had brought the sun with him to northern Europe and by noon the sidewalk bars and cafes were filled with people enjoying themselves.

Earlier on, we had noticed what looked to be a concert cranking up in a park near one of the city gates. We paid only casual attention to this, but the crowd continued to grow and by the time we stopped for a noontime beer, a substantial crowd had formed, complete with banners bearing the logos of the SPD (the German Socialist Party), a drum and brass ensemble, people in 19th century costume, and other political signs and flags. The biggest surprise: pussy hats! Many, many pussy hats! Okay, so they weren’t true pink—more magenta, or maybe fuchsia—but the form was the same and so was the message. Probably the best American export in decades.

After the parade passed us by, we had lunch and one more beer before we boarded the train for the return to Hamburg. We ended the day in our now favorite hotel for dinner and another evening of music by a different jazz trio composed of even older white guys.

Sunday was a bit of a rest day; we scouted out a part of my neighborhood that I had not yet had a chance to explore and found a couple of gems. One bar that could become a local for me on those Fridays when I can’t stand another minute of the inside of the office and the lure of the apartment is weak. There was also a nice Italian restaurant that has the perfect combination of atmosphere and food that warrants return visits.

All this was a most welcome respite to my existence here. Jim got to see a bit of Europe and I got to speak something other than German for a few days. Not that I mind speaking German; I need to do more of it so my ability improves. I’m a long way from fluent, but a steady diet of newspaper, radio, tv, and conversations with Germans is moving things along.

Two Days Away (March 4-5, 2017)

March 15, 2017

I have been trying to keep myself on track with all the varied activities I have promised to undertake during my stay in Germany. So far, I think I’ve done pretty well. One month into my residence, I have completed one of three planned research trips, participated in one of two seminar sessions and done some writing. I think that’s not bad, but from experience I know that all of a sudden, one looks up and the time has all gone with too much left to do. A bad feeling.

Wanting to do whatever I can to prevent this from occurring, I set off this past Saturday (March 4th) for Munich where two more block prints reside. It’s a six hour train ride from Hamburg to Munich so not possible to do in one day. I had recently re-established contact with a former professor of mine from graduate school who has spent most of his professional life at Goethe University in Frankfurt. When he learned that I was going to be in Germany, we arranged to meet and since Frankfurt lies between Hamburg and Munich, this was a perfect opportunity.

I spent a very pleasant evening and morning reminiscing with David King and his wife Pat—I had not seen them in thirty years!—and then continued my journey south. In Munich, I spent the night in a small hotel which was so tucked away that it took me a good half an hour to find the street it was on. Even the locals weren’t exactly sure where Amalienstrasse was! In desperation, I walked into a competing hotel and the desk clerk cheerfully told me my hotel was in the next street!

This morning (Monday, March 6th), I walked the three short blocks to Ludwigstrasse, a grand, wide thoroughfare lined with Gothic piles of tooled stone to find the Staatsbibliothek, the state library.

After going through the obligatory check-in, shedding my jacket, hat, and briefcase, and sliding the pieces of paper, ruler, and magnifying glass into the transparent plastic bag I was given, I was admitted to the manuscript reading room where I spent two intense hours examining the block prints. The librarian who had discovered these block prints, Helga Rebhan, came out to greet me and introduce herself. We arranged to meet for coffee after I had finished looking at the block prints and we had a very informative conversation during the course of which she told me that she knew of another example that a colleague of hers had seen in southwestern China! The story of the block prints grows ever more intriguing…

Helga was able to provide a bit of general information about the Staatsbibliothek as well: ten million, that’s TEN MILLION volumes of print plus a couple hundred thousand manuscripts. The building was put up between 1832 and 1839 and is glorious both inside and out. The outside is solid stone, made to last; the inside has high ceilings and broad staircases. The reading rooms have all been modernized, but in a tasteful way; comfortable seating is everywhere and there’s plenty of light. It was busy on that Monday morning, due in part to the fact that the university is just a stone’s throw away down Ludwigstrasse. But the manuscript reading room was populated as well.

Very impressive all in all.

Now I’m on the train again, headed back to Hamburg and my apartment. I’d like to think I could kick back for a couple of days, but the fear of running out of time makes that seem unlikely. A cousin of mine comes to visit for four days at the end of the week and then we’re into the second week of March already. Nearly half of my time here will be gone. So, it looks like I’ll have to press on for a while before I can put my feet up.

Catching Up

February 25, 2017

What to do on (yet another) rainy Saturday afternoon in Hamburg? I managed to get all my errands run this morning while it was merely cloudy. Now the showers have returned so rather than venturing into the damp before I have to, I thought that it would be a good time to formulate another post.

This past week, I finally succeeded in taking the bus tour of the city (Stadtrundfahrt) that I had been promising myself I would take so I could get my bearings here. The pressure to accomplish this was increased due to the fact that a cousin of mine is coming to visit and he no doubt expects me to not get us lost. I took the train and a subway line to the Hamburg waterfront on the Elbe River and found waiting for me a red double decker bus. Boarding the vehicle, I surrendered my ticket and was given a pair of airline-type headphones. Once I took a seat, I plugged them in and turned the dial on the panel to “English.” I opted for the headphones because my German is fair at best and I thought I would get better information if it were in my native language. That may not have been a good choice since the English guide was pre-recorded and was more of a highlight reel, a “best-of” program. I probably should have struggled with the live-action German guide.

Off we went, first through the harbor district where an entirely new residential area has been constructed where warehouses once stood. The ground was raised 20 plus feet so it would be protected from flooding, an ever increasing risk due to climate change. The Elbe is being hemmed in by new higher flood walls, too, for the same reason. The city government realized some time ago that a city center devoted only to corporate offices meant a dead city twelve hours a day, so they began building AFFORDABLE housing and amenities (shops, services, infrastructure) to support it. It’s based principles of sustainability so all buildings are energy efficient and public transport is the rule. The gizmos you see on the roof in the photo below are wind powered generators–a new generation configuration.

Hamburg Harbor City


The city is still  major port; more than 100,000 cargo and cruise ships pass through Hamburg’s harbor each year. This year Germany had its largest budget SURPLUS in modern history. It apparently pays to invest in infrastructure. Do you think the Trumpster and “fellow Republicans” are listening or paying attention? Three guesses.

Harbor View


Of course, there’s lots of “old” Hamburg to be seen as well. The city has been around for more than a thousand years and while the original settlement is long gone, there is still much evidence of its history. Great sections of Hamburg have been destroyed over the years. There was a “great fire” (like London’s) that took out much of the original merchants’ area in the 1800s; there has been the occasional flood and then there was the small matter of WWII and the firebombing of the city that was carried out. Despite this, as I said, there’s a lot of “old town” left. The grand Rathaus or town hall, dating to the 19th century, is standing, as are a number of churches and public buildings. The center of the city has a number of pedestrian areas and shopping streets. While modern skyscrapers stretch above many streets, the general sense of Hamburg is that most of the buildings are of modest height and, rather than being torn down when they have outlived their original purposes, they are renovated or remodeled and put to other uses. The old central post office, seen below, is now home to offices for doctors, lawyers and other professionals as well as a gym.

Old Central Post Office


Then there are the churches, of course. Everybody comes to Europe to see the churches. St. Michael’s Church is THE Hamburg landmark. Destroyed twice, to the foundations, since it was built in the 1800s and compulsively rebuilt and restored each time.

St. Michael’s Church


Hints of Spring

February 21, 2017

Tuesday, February 21, 2017


Today seems like a good day to write. Overcast, gray skies are just not conducive to prose production, at least not for me. For Edgar Allen Poe, perhaps, or Steven King, darkness and gloom might just do the trick, but it doesn’t wind my watch. So, today looked like it was going to be another one of those. A peek out through the curtains when I awoke revealed rain-spattered windows and a stiff wind. It rained all last night and there must have been some wind, too, because the sidewalks and streets were littered with dead tree branches–anything from twigs to baby forearm diameter–and dotted with puddles of considerable depth. However, by the time I set out for my office at the center, the clouds had broken and patches of blue were everywhere overhead. It’s March cold, though; the wind has a bite but the grass in the parks is definitely turning green. No flowers yet, but there are the beginnings of buds on the trees. It almost made me want to blow off the whole office thing and be outside, but some sense of duty reined me in.

Tomorrow, finally, I have arranged to take a tour bus around the city. I tried to do this last week, but I misunderstood the system. I had been under the impression that the tours were all run by one company and that they commenced from the main train station. Turns out, there are at least three companies and the one I had signed on with departed from a street corner halfway across town and I was unable to get there in time. They were kind enough to let me re-book for tomorrow, though, so I’ll make sure I leave in plenty of time to get there. I’ve never done this sort of touristy thing before but since I’m here for a while, I thought it might be an easy way to get my bearings. In addition, my cousin is coming from the States to visit in a couple of weeks and I want to be able to show him around and this is a good way to get started.

One final story–which you librarians might appreciate: I have a University of Hamburg library card which allows me to use the facilities and to borrow books, among other things. Well, I needed a book for one of my projects and requested it online. The library here is “closed stacks” so the deal is that you place your order and when you know the book has been retrieved by a trusty student worker, you go to the borrowing section, a big room with lots of shelves. On the shelves are the books ready for loan. Using part of your ID number, you find out which shelf you should go to and then, using another part of the number, you find your book. You then take book and ID to a machine which reads the RFID strip embedded in the book somewhere and the bar code on your ID and off you go.

That went fine, but due to my nervousness, I ran into a problem. Before you enter the area where the books are held, you are required to place your coat, briefcase, beverage container, etc. in a free locker which you then lock using a PIN. There are four or five rows of these little cabinets, about five high and twelve or fifteen long. Each aisle is color coded and each locker has a name on it–a city name, an author, a country. Works fine unless you forget which locker you put your stuff in. Yup. I tried a bunch, thinking I was in the right aisle and in the right tier, but no luck. What an idiot! So, off I go to the front desk and ask for help. The folks at the desk apparently had experienced such requests before and they were quite helpful, if a bit annoyed. The guy who came to assist me opened about a dozen lockers, none of which contained my stuff. In desperation, I tried a couple of unlikely candidates, and voila! There’s my stuff. Enough embarrassment for the next three months. But the sun was still out and I walked home in the unfamiliar light with a new book to read.

Strasbourg: City of Fattened Geese

February 15, 2017

It’s amazing. Really. Really, really amazing. I’m on my first research trip since arriving in Hamburg and I continue to marvel at what one can do while one is getting from one place to another in Europe. This trip underscores that sense, yet again.

At present, I’m sitting in a very comfortable train car, well-lighted, large windows, quiet and with more space than airline coach seats. We are whipping through western Germany in pitch dark at more than 200 km per hour and I’m composing an entry to the blog—which I COULD upload directly to Cowles Library’s web page, if I chose to do so. The trip from Hamburg to Strasbourg is almost exactly five hours in each direction and at 125-130 MPH, that means about 500-600 miles covered. Beats driving that distance in a day. And did I mention that all the fast trains (ICE-the Intercity expresses) have FREE WiFi? Meanwhile, we think self-driving cars are the way of the future. Well, we’ll see…

Anyway, Strasbourg is in Alsace, one of those areas of Europe that has been fought over like a bone for centuries. One minute it’s French, the next it’s German. Now it’s French again. Lots of French and German place names mixed in together. The city is rather small (pop. ca. 280,000) but bustling. The old town is situated on an island in the middle of the Ill River. It’s not much of a river, more like the Des Moines or the Raccoon than the Mississippi. It meanders a bit but is contained nowadays by concrete and stone walls and buckled in place by numerous bridges which connect the island to the newer parts of town. To the east, it feeds into the Rhine. The city is perhaps best known for its påte de foie gras, the cooked, macerated livers of overfed geese. Right up there with caviar as one of those foods that we all know about but can’t afford. I didn’t see to many geese; maybe they’ve all given their livers, or maybe they were in hiding.

The buildings are grand and solid; the streets are a mix of narrow and crooked and wide and fairly straight. The city is also home to the European Parliament, which sits on a site a bit closer to the edge of town toward the Rhine. Also on the east, just off the island, are a number of stately public buildings surrounding a large green area: the Place de la Republique. It’s there that I found the National and University Library Strasbourg and the object of my visit, a single example of Arabic block printing that needed to be examined. The library has 3 million volumes and is, according to Daniel Bourneman, who is the Director of Special Collections and my shepherd during my visit, the second largest library In France. Their archives are awesome in terms of storage: state of the art environmental conditions, security, and display and study facilities. Built in 1895, the interior of the building was completely modernized in 2012. When I visited today, students and other readers were already lined up in the morning chill waiting for the 10 AM opening.

I didn’t have a lot of time to explore, but I got a sense of the place and its rhythms. On Sunday evening, for example, after arriving at around four in the afternoon and settling in to my hotel room, I wandered out to see how far it was to the library. (I had only a two-hour window to study the block print and wanted to be on time for my appointment.) Having done that, and discovering that it was a fifteen-minute walk door to door, I went looking for a restaurant so I could eat dinner. I headed back toward the train station since I had seen a number of possibilities near there. To my surprise, virtually all of them were closed. My first thought was that it was Sunday so of course they’d be closed. On the point of desperation—I hadn’t had more than a cup of coffee since breakfast—I went into the first place that was open. The young woman who greeted me from behind the bar asked if I wanted something to drink. In my awful French I said no, I was hungry and wanted to eat something. Sorry, she replied. The kitchen is closed. My stomach growled. But, she continued, it opens at 6:30, so you can dine then. Relieved, I decided to have a glass of wine and warm up, glad that I might come back in an hour and a half or so and fuel up. When I did return later, lo and behold, there were restaurants open everywhere! So another cultural lesson learned. And able to sleep on a full stomach.

Settling In

February 8, 2017

Now a week into my residence here, I’m beginning to find a comfort zone, of sorts. The dreariness of northern Europe in Winter takes some getting used to; today was particularly cold–29° F/-2 C– with a scattering of snowflakes in the air. Time for a wool cap, sweater, scarf and gloves. The wind is out of the East; the Russian Steppes are out that way and you can feel them.

Last night, the Director of the Centre for Manuscript Studies hosted six of us for dinner in a nice Italian restaurant called the Etruscan run by actual Italians. I had a very nice frutti di mare with spaghetti and too much white wine, although I didn’t feel the effects until I tried to fall asleep. (Eating after 6 PM is no longer a good idea for me.) However, the gathering was extremely convivial and energetic. I again met some of the people who had attended last June’s conference here and also some new folks. One person in particular, the director of The Islamic Manuscripts Society (TIMA), was a good contact and we are going to meet up again this week before he leaves for somewhere else. The evening gave me the opportunity to discuss some of my planned activities while I’m here so I feel like I can get the ball rolling on some of them. I have one trip in the works already–to Strasbourg–for early next week and then back again.

Because of the late night and too little sleep, today was not very productive but I did take a camera with me when I went to the office and snapped a couple of pictures so you might get a sense of place. First up is the building in which I live. 34 Rothenbaumchaussee is in a relatively upscale neighborhood directly adjacent to the university (or at least a big chunk of it). The street is wide and light, even in Winter. The buildings lining it are a mix of apartments and small businesses. Traffic is heavy by European standards but to me it’s not bad. Lots of BMW’s, Audis, Volvos and Jaguars parked along the way indicate the income level of residents and customers alike. Here it is:

I’m on the fourth level facing the street; . Nice efficiency apartment with big windows and high ceilings, a small kitchen, small bathroom, couch, table, bed and desk. The scaffolding you see will be here for as long as I am; they are continually renovating apartments and other parts of the building. It is heavily used.

I remember being surprised the first time I visited here at how many pre-WW II buildings were still standing. I’ve since learned that many of them didn’t survive; most were the victims of Allied bombing in the war, others suffered various fates. Near the center of the university, about a quarter of a mile from my building, there was a synagogue that was burned to the ground in 1938. The space has been left vacant and its existence is recalled with an outline of its dimensions marked by red bricks. Right next door to where it was there is a Torah School that has been completely restored and returned to its original function.

This is juxtaposed with what I find to be a wrenching type of memorial of those times. Walking along the streets of Hamburg, one encounters small square brass markers embedded among the paving stones of the sidewalks.

These plaques bear the names, birth years and, when known, the death dates of Jews who once lived at the location in front of which they have been placed.  Sometimes there is only one, other times there may be three or four or five. But there are very, very many. It makes me want to stop writing now.

Ein Hamburger (temporarily)*

January 19, 2017

4 February 2017


Greetings, Gentle Readers.

As most of you know by now, I am spending three months in Hamburg, Germany as a guest of the University of Hamburg. Their Centre for the Study of Manuscript Cultures has seen fit to provide me with this time to pursue scholarship on my primary field of interest: medieval Arabic block printing–something most of you also already know…

What my day-to-day activities will be have yet to be determined but I thought that you might find it interesting to read about what I’m doing and what I’m seeing and hearing. Much of that will have little to do with my actual work. I plan to do some traveling while I’m here; most of that WILL be related to my research, but I’ll see and do things along the way that might be of broader interest to you. When possible, I shall post pictures of my surroundings, cityscapes, landscapes, people, whatever I think you might find appealing (or unappealing). One thing that I may focus on regularly is how our recent election and its results are playing here across the pond. And believe me, it’s a big deal here, too.

These entries will serve as a sort of diary of my stay in Germany and, besides providing you with temporary (and hopefully pleasant) distractions from time to time, will also serve as a notebook of sorts for the report to the university which I am obligated to write–one of the few “requirements” that I am must meet in order to get paid. Of course, you should feel free to disregard any or all of my musings. I tend to get a bit wordy once I get started–as Vibs will readily attest–so I won’t take offense if you choose to ignore me, or at least what I write here.

So, I landed in Holland on Wednesday, the first of February, expecting to make a connection there for Hamburg, which was to put me here by mid-afternoon. That was the plan. In fact, the flight from Amsterdam to Hamburg was cancelled, as was the second one the airline re-booked me on. Faced with a 1/3 mile-long line to get booked on yet another flight, I took the advice of a KLM minion and got on a train to Hamburg which put me in town at about 10 PM. There was consequently a domino effect to this arrangement which included my arriving in Hamburg with just the clothes on my back and nowhere to go, since the guesthouse where I was to be lodged for my stay here closed its office before I arrived. No real problem, though. There was a number of hotels right across the street from the main train station and the second one I inquired at had a room free. So, the next morning, I completed my trip to the guest house and found the office open. Only then did I find out that a key had been left for me at a hotel across the street so I could have let myself in. Now all this was done on the assumption that I would have access to the internet or a cell phone link during my journey so that I could learn of this courtesy. Not a sound assumption. So we got off on the wrong foot. No one’s “fault” really, but I am a bit peeved at the lack of logistical understanding on the part of the staff here. A little amateurish, I thought.

In any case, there was a second issue to be dealt with: my luggage was stranded in Amsterdam and no one at KLM could tell me where it was exactly or when it might get to the same place I was. So, I spent four days stuck in the same clothes, the word “stuck” becoming ever more descriptive of the situation. To cut to the chase, thanks to the herculean efforts and the beyond-the-job-description assistance of the women in the Centre’s office, I was finally contacted by KLM and I received my luggage on Friday evening. Now, having properly showered (with my own shampoo and soap) and shaved (with my own razor) and wrapped myself in clean clothing, I feel much better. The skies here are still gray and the wind is raw, but life is bearable again, both for me and for those I might engage with.

Now, I should tell you something about what I’ve seen in my brief time here so far. My experience on this visit has been limited pretty much to train travel and interactions with university employees and hotel and restaurant staff. The first thing that strikes me is that Germany (like the rest of Europe) is decidedly  more multi-ethnic than it has been until recently. This change began long before the refugee crisis of the past year, but it seems to me to be much more apparent now. Granted, Hamburg is a big city, a port city no less, and therefore attractive to newcomers both for economic as well as cultural reasons. It’s no surprise to have Afro-German train conductors making announcements in English, German and French, for example. Or for television personalities be of olive or dark complexion and speaking fluent German. Some things seem to remain constant, though. At crosswalks, almost everyone still waits for the crossing light to turn green, even if the street is empty of vehicles, for example. Demonstrations are a common feature of city life; I encountered a fairly large one on my first day here, with people carrying red paper lanterns and wearing plastic garbage bags bearing slogans composed with electrical tape.Train stations are still major hubs of activity and they bustle. There is still a whiff of German patriarchy apparent in things like the dial-a-porn ads and exclusively female nudity on late-night television, something I find definitely un-American in a number of senses.

On the other hand, there are features of life that provide evidence for the inexorable erosion of German culture (and European culture in general) by particularly American influences. Of course there are the American chain restaurants. Blue jeans are a common sight, even among the well-heeled (my apartment is in a fairly upscale part of town and I have seen jeans frequently, here). One thing that struck me as I ate breakfast in the main train station on Thursday morning was that the serving staff was invariably white, but the guy doing the cooking was black. If not for the language difference, I could have been in New York City, or Saint Paul. Unable to sleep last night, I flicked on the TV to find a German infomercial flogging some exercise machine guaranteed to give anyone six-pack abs. Very American, right down to the “but wait, there’s more” tag line. Cause for despair.

Perhaps the most telling thing about continued American influence here and across Europe is the amount of news coverage given to our new Prez and the Europeans’ fascination with the slow motion train wreck that has become American politics. We have access to about fifteen television stations here providing news coverage from countries like France, Spain, Italy, and Turkey (yes, there is a Turkish language TV station here), in addition to English and American programs. No one seems to be able to take their eyes or their minds off this guy. No doubt I’ll be saying more about that. But enough for now. Thanks for reading.


  • By the way, the title of this entry literally means “a Hamburger” as in the fried beef patty. Those of you old enough to remember John F. Kennedy speaking in Berlin in 1962 will recall that he famously said, “Ich bin ein Berliner” which phrase, to German natives, means “I’m a kind of bakery item.” He should have said, “Ich bin Berliner” and his audience would have understood him to say (as he intended to do) that he, too, was a person from Berlin. So, properly, if I were to say in German that I am a (temporary) resident of Hamburg, I should say “Ich bin Hamburger.” So, age-specific joke. And it isn’t a joke if you have to explain it. I’ll quit while I’m only slightly behind…

Egypt in the Rearview Mirror

January 18, 2010
This post is part of a series of posts documenting my trip to Egypt. To read from the beginning, go to the first post and follow the links at the bottom of each page.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

So, here I am on my way home. The first leg of three flights that will hopefully have me home and in my own bed this evening. Something like 7 AM Friday, Cairo time, but eight hours earlier in Des Moines. A long day, but my last two days in Cairo were long, too.

Tuesday, I had made two appointments to try to wrap up my block print research, at least insofar as it was possible to “wrap it up” when the largest collection—at the Museum of Islamic Art—was inaccessible. My first stop was at the Dar al-Kutub, the Egyptian Center for the Book on the Corniche downtown. I had already sent them a letter and had called them before I left Alexandria to make certain that they were expecting me. When I arrived, I told the front desk who I wanted to see and, after a bit of confusion, was ushered into Abd Allah’s office. Handshakes, smiles, an invitation to sit while he did some other business. When he returned, with a copy of my letter in hand, he told me that the director who would have to give the final okay on my seeing the artifact I wanted to see had not yet arrived. Typical.

“Okay, so I’ll come back,” I say. “I have another appointment this morning and I’ll just go there first.”

“Oh,” says Abd Allah. “What time will you come back?” Like I could possibly know. This is Egypt.

“I don’t know,” I tell him. “Could be an hour, could be an hour and a half, could be two hours.”

“Ah,” says Abd Allah, looking very unhappy.

“Sorry,” I shrug. “I have very little time left and I need to get this work done. I’ll be back.”

Climb into a cab and go off to the Egyptian Geographical Society museum next to the City Council Chambers. Always a treat having to go through security there just to get to the museum, but it’s the only way in. Dr. Abu al-Izz is expecting me, so I only have to wait fifteen minutes to be shown to his office. Dr. Abu al-Izz is eighty if he’s a day, slightly bent and rather frail, but his voice and handshake are still strong. I submit to the routine interrogation about the nature of my work and its focus, suffering his frequent interruptions with questions and comments. He is very genteel and not at all arrogant so I don’t take offence. His English is very good and I sort of like talking with him. He’s interested in what I have to say.

He finally calls in his curator (whom I met on my first visit here) and, after Dr. Abu al-Izz fills him in, the curator and I head down to the museum. Of course, the curator has his own agenda and insists on showing me a display case full of writing instruments and personal stamps that were used for indicating ownership of books and other purposes. He tells me that a group of small metal stamps was made to be carried by illiterate people who would use them instead of signing their names on government documents, contracts and the like. He tells me that such things were used until the early part of the twentieth century in Egypt. That was actually interesting.

After about half an hour of looking over the dusty stuff in that cabinet, we were brought tea and moved to the case containing the block print I came to see. The curator took the strip of paper, protected by a sheet of glass, out of the case. I took my measurements and made my observations on it. The curator tried reading it and told me that there wasn’t a single real Arabic word on the paper; it was all gibberish. I looked at it and had to admit that I didn’t see any identifiable words anywhere. If this is indeed the case, then it supports the theory that many of the block prints were not meant to be read. However, this is the first one of this kind that I have encountered.

After completing my examination, I am taken upstairs to Dr. Abu al-Izz’s office once more. I thank him for his courtesies and promise to send him a copy of my book. Since he has a block print in his collection, I say, he ought to have some reference material on them. We shake hands, promise to keep in touch and I’m off. Back at the Dart al-Kutub, I find that the director has finally arrived and I am shown into his office. The guy’s in his mid-fifties, maybe, graying kinky hair worn over his ears on the sides but thinning on top. His face is remarkably wrinkle free and open. He doesn’t tell me his name and he doesn’t speak English so, after the obligatory pleasantries, he reads through the Arabic annotations on the letter I had sent and asks me what sort of books I want to see. I tell him it’s not a book I’m interested in, but a piece of paper bearing printing. Could be from the tenth or eleventh century, maybe.

I show him the accession number and he tells me there is no such system in use in the Dar al-Kutub. Where did I get the number? I explain to him what the source is, who wrote it, and when. Not even a flicker of recognition crosses his face. Trouble, I knew it. He obviously thinks I’m an idiot because he launches into a long monologue about Arabic printing, when it started, nothing printed before such and such a date, blah, blah, blah. I let him have his say and then repeat that what I am looking for is not, repeat, NOT a book, but a document.

“It’s here? In the Dar al-Kutub?” he asks.

“As far as I know,” I reply. “The last person to have seen it, to my knowledge, saw it in the 1920’s so where exactly it might be now, I don’t have a clue.”

He thinks for a minute as people flow in and out of his office asking questions and having him review letters or documents. When he has a moment, he looks up at me and calls the head of the rare books division. He comes to the office and the director explains, as best he can, what he thinks I want. He suggests to the rare books guy that he show me what he’s got. Rare book guy and I then troop down to his office, through a warren of spaces lined with compact shelving units. Once in his office, he has his guys drag out old lithographed books for me to look at.

“Is this what you’re interested in?” How about this one?”

“Nope, and nope,” I reply shaking my head.

I recite my explanation—by now almost memorized and with much better Arabic than the first time I gave it—and he listens patiently. I describe, roughly the dimensions and what I think it looks like: three strips of paper arranged one next to the other. Each strip about 40 cm. long. He shakes his head.

“Don’t have anything like that.” “Hey Ahmad (I don’t remember his real name),” he says to one of his guys. “Do you know where such a thing might be?”

Ahmad has heard the explanation and he says, maybe in the manuscript department.

“Oh,” says the chief. “That’s a different department all together. You’ll have to go and get permission from the director’s director in order to see anything there.”

Will this never end? Back upstairs to the BIG director’s office. Of course, he’s not in and I end up sitting in his outer office with varying numbers of people, some of whom seem to be working while others seem to be hanging out and socializing. I decide that I’m not leaving until I see this guy. After an hour, Dr. Abd al-Nasser Hassan Mohamed finally shows up and I have to go through my routine again. Somewhere in all the comings and goings, my letter has disappeared and now, he says, I have no authorization to see what I want to see. I look at him and tell him that the letter is here, just track it down, please. He must decide that that would take up too much of his valuable time, so he makes a note on a photocopy of the page I’ve given him showing the accession number, and he calls one of his people to show me to the manuscripts division. I thank him and go off with the assistant to the manuscript division, down more stairs and across several bleak lobbies and staircase landings.

I enter a workroom through a door bearing the legend “Manuscript Division” in Arabic and am greeted by four young men and a hijab clad woman. I learn that they are in the process of compiling a ten-volume collection of studies on papyri that Adolf Grohmann, a famous 19th-20th century scholar, had worked on in Cairo. They know Grohmann, the source for my information about the piece I want to see. Finally, maybe some progress! When I ask if they have a copy of the book in which I found the description, they say no, but they do have a record of all his accession numbers. Unfortunately, their computer records do not show mine. Just great. But in the meantime, one of the guys asks me if the thing I’m after is on papyrus. I say no, I don’t think so.

“Too bad,” he says. “We just published a catalogue of the papyri in the National Library. Here it is.”

I start leafing through it. I notice at least two items that are clearly block prints even though the catalogue identifies them as manuscripts. The woman suddenly busies herself with some papers. The catalogue is heavily illustrated and I notice that not all the pieces are on papyrus. There are paper documents as well, and, lo and behold! here is a picture of one thing that fits the description exactly. I show the image to the guys who crowd around, murmuring among themselves. Suddenly, the woman, who has been working at an adjacent table, spins around with a set of galleys from the book I’m looking at in her hand. She points excitedly. There, in the galley, is the same page I’m looking at WITH my accession number on it. The guys quickly busy themselves with their computers. A correction is obviously in order. There was apparently an omission somewhere and that number did not get into the computer system. The woman is very excited about the discovery and I congratulate her on her keen eye. She beams. A Eureka moment.

When I ask where it is, the collective answer is, “Not here.”

My elation turns into ashes. Now what? It appears that the item IS in the Dar al-Kutub, just not in THIS one. It’s in another building known as Bab al-Khalq, located near the Museum of Islamic Art. The woman has contacted the Dr. Mohamed by phone in the meantime and he is going to notify the Bab al-Khalq that I’m coming. The director is even organizing a car to take me there. Oh, but wait. No, sorry, they close soon. You’ll have to go tomorrow, but don’t worry; they know you’re coming. I thank everyone and on my way out buy a copy of the papyri catalogue in the Dar al-Kutub bookstore.

Four hours to get to this point, and I could be annoyed, but some progress has been made, so I’ll just re-adjust my schedule for Wednesday and fit in a visit to the Dar al-Khalq. I decide that I had better take care of some other business today so that I don’t run out of time tomorrow. I grab a cab and go to Dokki to close out my Egyptian bank account. That process goes quite smoothly and I end up with a little free time before a dinner engagement, so I head to Zamalek, the island in the Nile, where I grab a cappuccino and a piece of cake at Beano’s. Another last. I walk around for a while enjoying Zamalek’s village-like atmosphere, check out some jewelry shops and handicraft stores, but am not tempted by anything.

I finally decide to call Ginger da Costa, a fellow Fulbrighter  who lives nearby, to ask if I can hang out until we go to dinner. She says sure, so I traipse over to her building and spend a pleasant hour or so talking with her and her roommate Dominique. At eight, we are joined by two more Fulbrighters from upstairs and together we walk to the Trattoria, a very nice Italian restaurant where we find eight more Fulbright people waiting for us. This is a group send-off for Ginger and myself and our last chance to spend time with our friends. There is wine and good conversation. Photos are taken and hugs shared before we set off to our various abodes. Another last.

Wednesday, I was up at 6:30 and ready to go by 9. I grabbed a cab and took it to the Dar al-Kutub in Bab al-Khalq. I got there just as the place was opening. I told the guard at the entrance that I had an appointment with the director, Layla Rizk. Was she in yet? No, he tells me, not yet. May I wait? Of course. In the meantime, the guard calls the director’s office and talks with someone there. I’m guided upstairs to the office and when I explain the purpose of my visit and that the director is expecting me, he calls the director’s mobile phone and hands the receiver to me.

Dr. Rizk is on the other end. I introduce myself and tell her why I’m there. I tell her that I had been told that Dr. Mohamed at the other building had made arrangements for me to do some research here. Dr. Rizk tells me she has had no information about this. She had been at a meeting with him last night and he had mentioned nothing of this to her. I’ll have to come back. Nope, not this time. I get a little testy and tell her that I’m leaving Cairo very soon, that I’ve been trying to get access to this artifact for a month, that I am constantly given misleading or incomplete information, that I have spent more time sitting in offices and waiting than I have spent doing the research I wanted to do, etc., and I’m not happy.

“Okay,” she says. “Put my assistant on again.”

I hand the receiver to the guy who says “Hello,” and then “Yes, ma’am, yes, ma’am.”

I’m then escorted downstairs to another office where I meet an assistant director who listens to my request and, with assistance from her colleague, starts looking for my accession number. Same story as yesterday. They don’t have it. I ask if they have a library or a bookstore in the building. Yes they do. May I see it? Of course. There is a copy of the catalogue there and I get permission to take the book to the assistant director’s office where I show her what I want to see.

“Oh, that!” she says. “That’s upstairs in conservation. I’ll get someone to take you up.”

Hallelujah! I finally get to see what I came to see and am treated very nicely the entire time. I promise to send a copy of my book to the assistant director for their library and thank her for all her help.

I go out and hop another cab to the Gayer-Anderson Museum where I’m also expected. Now that I’m known there, the director greets me like a long-lost friend and within half an hour I am in the archives, searching—with the assistance of two women employees of the museum–for my missing block print. Two drawers and umpteen conservation folders later, we finally find the last of the four block prints that I had been told were here. A very nice one, small, but very clearly printed. I do my work, say thanks and goodbye to the director and his staff and take a deep breath. I’m officially done with the research part of my project. And not a minute to spare.

Later that afternoon, I head to Dokki again to say goodbye to Bruce Lohof and his staff at the Fulbright office. Bruce and I spend an hour in very pleasant and lively conversation. I tell him how much I admire his operation and thank him, again, for the opportunity to participate in his program. I head back home to change for dinner and stop in briefly at Zohair Hussain’s apartment around the corner to say goodbye to him. He has guests and insists on feeding me before I leave, despite my protestations that I’m already invited to eat. I offer my apologies for having to run off and we give each other a hug at the door. I’ll miss his intensity. My last evening in Cairo is spent at Jamie Balfour-Paul’s houseboat apartment where Ginger, Dominique and I enjoy a home cooked meal and a couple bottles of wine. Jamie is a wonderful host and the food is good and filling. Fruit salad and blue cheese and crackers top it all off. At ten, I say my final goodbyes and take a cab home. At midnight I’m in bed; in six hours, I’ll be on my way to the Cairo airport.

Ibrahim picked me up this morning and with light morning traffic, I was through security and re-packing my way-too-heavy suitcase. I had to remove a bunch of stuff and pack it in a cardboard box (which they provided) so that my heavy case wouldn’t break the conveyor in Heathrow (so I’m told). After that, things went quite smoothly. Cairo slid away from under us in the early morning sun. The Nile, Saladin’s Citadel, Muhammad Ali’s mosque and other landmarks I knew from my stay were soon out of sight. The snowy Alps passed under us a while ago and we’re now descending into Heathrow. Time to close this operation down. I’m going home.

Many Last Things

This post is part of a series of posts documenting my trip to Egypt. To read from the beginning, go to the first post and follow the links at the bottom of each page.

Monday, 11 January 2010

The last few days have been days of “lasts.” The last few workshops and meetings with Collection Development and Information Literacy librarians at the Bibliotheca; the last meeting with Dr. Wastawi, the library director; the last visits to my local grocery stores; the last sunset in Alexandria; the last sunrise in Alexandria; the last ride from Alexandria to Cairo.

The final workshops were a bit of a disappointment, in truth. I had a rather serious dispute with Nermin, the woman who is the head of collection development. She had been insisting that I grade her colleagues on their performance in preparing their individual collection development statements. I told her that I didn’t think that it was my place to pass judgment on the work of her colleagues in so formal a fashion; I had been giving them critiques of their work throughout the process of writing their collection development policies and told her that I thought everyone had done his or her best.

The statements, by and large, are nearly ready for final revisions and polishing before being included in the library’s collection development policy. I told Nermin that I felt everyone had done the work they had been asked to do, but she insisted that I grade them 0%-100%. I refused. I did not see that as my role and told her so, adding that I was not her employee, nor were the selectors my employees. Moreover, I said I would not take that sort of direction from her. Every revision had passed through her hands, together with my comments and corrections, and she had had ample opportunity, in my view, to check on her people’s progress and effort herself. So I was in her dog house. Fine. I can bark with the best of them.

In any case, this tension carried over into the final sessions in which I gave presentations on what I saw as the final details each selector needed to pay attention to in order to bring everyone’s work into line with the format of the draft document: using the same font size and typeface, for example; checking for grammatical and syntactical errors one more time; making sure that each section of each policy statement contained the same headings and numbering system, things like that. I congratulated the selectors on their efforts and told those who attended that I thought they had done very good work. I asked that they not flag when the end of their task was so near.

What is important about this project is that they now have, in writing, a set of guidelines and procedures for each of their collections. These statements will find their way to the web in electronic format as well, so librarians in other libraries and people wanting to use the Bibliotheca Alexandrina can refer to them when they need to know what, exactly the library holds or collects in a given area. Within a fairly rigid format, I tried to allow the selectors space to characterize their collections in their own words, so that the individual collections might be shown to have “personalities,” too. With any luck, the “final” version of the complete Collection Development Policy should be ready to be put together by the middle of this year. I have offered to continue serving as a “consultant” until the end of May by which time the texts for the individual subject collections should be in their final form. Then it’s up to the Bibliotheca to see to it that the policy is finalized. Even as the material now stands, it will be very useful for all the collectors to use when they attend the Cairo Book Fair later this month. That is their main opportunity for buying books and having the guidelines fresh in their minds will no doubt help them make better selection decisions there.

The Information Literacy sessions (there were two final ones) were not well attended and I was disappointed at that. The first session I designed as a planning session for thinking about alternate ways of presenting information in their classes. The primary method is lecture, with occasional assignments and I have been urging the instructors to re-think their pedagogy to include other approaches, like group work or demonstrations to which several students will need to contribute.

The concern I heard voiced continually by the instructors over my time at the library was that students were not engaged in the material. So I tried to show them alternative methods of teaching one unit—I chose Boolean searching as my example—suggesting a variety of approaches to get students to practice the techniques, think about potential applications of such searches and to share what they learned with other students in the class. The instructors, I think, saw the advantages of using many of the tactics we discussed, but they expressed concern over the amount of time such activities would take away from covering other topics.

This brought us back to the subject of re-designing the entire instruction program so that this type of teaching could be accommodated. The head of the unit expressed her concern for doing just that, but she seems uncertain about just how the unit might accomplish such a restructuring given that the instructors, like the selectors, have multiple responsibilities. The restructuring probably could be done piecemeal as long as the overall goal is kept in mind. The librarians and their unit head are capable of working out a strategy to do that and I think that a re-design of the program would improve the outcomes for the students and the satisfaction level of the instructors with regard to their teaching.

On Saturday, I decided to do one last cultural thing and visited a little out-of-the-way museum in the older part of town dedicated to Constantine Kavafy. Kavafy belonged to a rather prominent Alexandrian Greek family that seems to have moved around quite a bit during the last days of the Ottoman Empire. He spent time in Constantinople and Greece before finally settling in Alexandria. He worked for the British colonial authority as a clerk or something and lived in a modest apartment in what was then the Greek community.

The apartment was on the third floor above a brothel, a block away from the Greek hospital and just down the street from the Greek Orthodox Church. In his spare time, Kavafy wrote poetry in Greek, but his work was little noted during most of his life. After his death, however, it was revealed that, in addition to having genuine talent, he had been an important influence on Franz Kafka and other greats of the nihilist movement. He is now recognized as one of Greece’s greatest poets of the modern period. Kavafy is supposed to have said that his apartment was in the ideal location since he was near the three temples of life: the temple of the flesh for carnal needs; the temple of healing for dealing with illness, and the temple of the soul for dealing with death. I wanted to see this place if for no other reason than that it was off the beaten track.

I was the first visitor at about eleven AM but before I left, two other people had rung the doorbell and paid admission. While signing the guest register at the end of myvisit, I noted that, contrary to my expectations, there was a fairly healthy daily attendance. The museum was not terribly interesting; Kavafy’s family had apparently sold of most of his belongings after his death (he wasn’t famous yet) and when the Greek cultural authorities decided to create the museum in Alexandria, they had to use photos to try to identify the furniture that he had owned in order to buy it back and replace it in the apartment. Most of the exhibits were either photos of the Kavafy family at various stages of their lives or display cases filed with Constantine’s volumes of poetry published in various languages. Other cases contained works of scholarship on Kavafy and his writings. Not a bad way to spend a couple of hours and it put me close to a good coffee house where I could sit and enjoy a cup of Arabic coffee and a piece of fruit tart afterward.

On Sunday, I cleared out my little office (which meant essentially making sure I pushed the chair in and turned out the light). I went and said goodbye and thanks to Sohair al-Wastawi and then surrendered my office key and security card. Later that afternoon, the cleaning guys came and cleaned the apartment while I did a little packing. Once they finished I had my friend Ahmad come and pick me up in his taxi for one last meal at a nice restaurant overlooking Alexandria harbor. The night was misty and the view therefore somewhat obscured, but romantic, in a way. My meal was okay, but not outstanding. I was a little disappointed but the atmosphere was pleasant and I was already focused on leaving.

Ibrahim would come from the Fulbright office and pick me up at 10 AM for the trip back to Cairo on Monday. I wanted to be sure that I had not forgotten to pack everything and called Ahmad to take me back to the apartment. I said goodnight and goodbye to him, promising to stay in touch. Last night in Alexandria. One last look over the city from my balcony and then off to bed.

Ibrahim was right on time. He caught me downstairs saying goodbye to the building manager and owner; Ibrahim’s arrival was an occasion for a cup of tea with Mr. Ramdan Radi, the owner of the building. He and I visited while Ibrahim and the manager discussed closing up the apartment. Once they finished their business, the three of us went upstairs and Ibrahim inspected the premises. He started collecting various items and putting them in a plastic bag. When I explained to him that I had intended those items to be left for the next Fulbright inhabitant, he called the office and put me on the phone with Maggie Williams, who is the local logistics coordinator (for lack of a better term). She explained that the apartment did not belong to the Fulbright Commission and therefore had to be vacated totally. I told her that I had intended for the items I had bought to be used by the next Fulbrighter in Alexandria and she assured me that they would store the items until that time came. Once that misunderstanding was cleared up, we packed everything into Ibrahim’s car and drove to Cairo.

Traffic was not bad and by mid-afternoon I was ensconced in my friend’s apartment in Garden City. In the evening, I went for a walk and had a dinner of kofta—spicy ground lamb wrapped around a metal skewer and grilled over charcoal—at a little restaurant on Talat Harb Street. I poked around a couple of shops but didn’t feel the need to buy much of anything. The next day I had two museum appointments scheduled and I wanted to get a good night’s sleep before taking on that particular challenge.

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