Serenely living on a houseboat on the Nile

Published online: Dec 29, 2010 News
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CAIRO - When Michel Pastore, a Swiss textile designer and decorator, first visited Egypt in 1970, he was instantly taken with the houseboats on the Nile.

"I really wanted to live on one, but was told only smugglers of hashish and prostitutes lived there," said Pastore, 68.

Still, he was "so insistent," he said, that a friend finally found him an apartment on a boat. "I loved it, even though it was a lot to pay, at the time, for seven rooms in Cairo." (His rent: 40 Egyptian pounds, or less than $7, a month.)

Forty years later, Pastore is once again living on a houseboat, though in much grander circumstances. After raising two children in the Egyptian countryside with Evelyne Porret, 71, his partner of more than three decades, he missed city life and wanted to be closer to Nagada, the clothing and home-furnishings store he is an owner of in downtown Cairo.

Porret, however, wanted to remain in Fayoum, about 80 miles southwest of Cairo, where she runs a children's pottery school. So the two worked out an unconventional arrangement: He spends most of the week on the boat, but visits her on weekends, since she rarely comes into the city.

Though his current houseboat was considerably more expensive than his first one - Pastore said he paid 700,000 Egyptian pounds (or $120,000) for it six years ago - it is not without its problems.

"The first time it rained, there was water everywhere," he said. "I realized then it had to be refurbished throughout."

It took him six months "to reflect on all the possibilities the boat offered," he said, and another six - and 100,000 Egyptian pounds (or $17,000) - to complete the renovation.

The first thing he did was put in sliding doors between the den and the open-air living area, so he could install air-conditioning in the enclosed part of the boat.

He wanted to make the kitchen functional despite the lack of space, so he planned it "down to the millimetre," he said, putting in a banquette around the dining table and installing new cabinetry, countertops and appliances.

The houseboat is furnished with objects from his travels, most of which were acquired during buying trips for his store.

The colourful textiles draped over his sofas and chairs and hanging on the walls are from China, Laos, Bali, India and Uzbekistan. Two hand-carved benches, one in the master bedroom and one in the living room, were once part of an Egyptian tool, pulled by buffalo, that chopped wheat. The teak bed in the master bedroom, which fits together like a puzzle without screws or bolts, is from Indonesia.

The patchwork of rugs covering the polished hardwood floors is mostly Egyptian, though one long carpet in the entry to the living room is from Azerbaijan by way of Syria. "I purchased it in Damascus when the Azeris were selling their carpets during perestroika in exchange for fridges and microwaves," Pastore said.


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