Babylon & Beyond

Observations from Iraq, Iran,
Israel, the Arab world and beyond

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EGYPT: Adrift on the Nile

July 17, 2009 |  9:19 am

Nile sunset boat The heat unfolds throughout the day and Cairo, a tangle of traffic and bristled nerves, offers little respite, except at sunset when the breeze off the Nile blows through marsh grass and boat sails.

 It can change a mood, this breeze. It curls and rustles along the shore, gusts over the deep water, pushing wooden boats down the river toward smokestacks, brick kilns and chalky cliffs in the distance. The boats won’t go that far, though; they’ll turn just beyond TGIF’s – its neon streaking the palms – and sail back to the docks, releasing tourists along the corniche.

 You can imagine Cleopatra; Moses bobbing in the reeds. Water slaps the bow. The captain, a man in a tunic who moves like a moth upon the water, drapes his arm over the rudder and points to the horizon. The sun is halfway down, burning the sky beyond the pyramids. And the captain, who has seen the same scene for years, is amazed that something so splendid happens everyday.

 “Take a picture,” he says.

 You do. The boat drifts against the current. The captain pulls in his sail, coils his ropes. You hop to land. The breeze slackens farther from the river. The darkness is hot, filled with buses, horns, buildings that seem to heave against the night. All life, screeching. But there is that picture in your camera, the one with the falling sun and trees bending and sails billowing in the summer wind. 

-- Jeffrey Fleishman in Cairo

Photo: A boat on the Nile. Credit: Associated Press