On his 40-year tour of the neighborhood many millennia ago, Moses passed this way and found a burning bush at the base of a mountain and heard the voice of God. I sat on the terrace of El Mawardy Café and saw my own burning bush atop the hill at the end of town. I don’t think I heard the voice of God but I did hear the Muslim call to prayer, the laughter of children getting a treat a few tables away, the honking of a car horn.
Maybe the voice of God was speaking quietly, because my friends and I were sitting across the street from where a terrorist bomb exploded in 2005, destroying an entire row of shops and killing many people. The shops have been rebuilt, the neighborhood is friendly, especially in the evening when the shadows soften the harsh sun and the lights of shops cast a festive glow over the streets. A crescent moon and resplendent Venus added to the spell.
I sipped Turkish coffee, my friends drank mint tea, and we commented on the burning bush, a scrawny conifer the size of a small Christmas tree that was so ideally-shaped it might well have been a fake. There it stood, with an identical friend, two symbols of greenery atop an otherwise barren rocky ridge, flashing with light every second or two.
The absurdity of it made me laugh, and prompted me to shoot a six-second video of it just for fun. A moment later I shot another video, of a big flashing sign just down the street proclaiming, “Merry Christmas 2009.” The merchants of Sharm el-Sheikh are taking no chances after a poor tourist season. They’re getting an 11-month jump on Christmas.