Maureen Cooke

Local author Jasmine Tritten’s latest book, “On the Nile with a Dancing Dane,” recounts her 1983 trip to Egypt, during which she got caught in a sandstorm, inadvertently rode a runaway racehorse, won a belly dancing competition and briefly met former President and First Lady Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter.
“On the Nile” begins with Tritten explaining her interest in the Mideast. Originally from Denmark, she immigrated to the United States in 1964, and for years in California, studied and performed Mideastern dance, including belly dancing. Perhaps the result of this dancing — or perhaps the reason for it: Tritten had always felt drawn to the Mideast and longed to visit.
In 1983, she got the chance.
Accompanied by her companion Mark, Tritten arrives in Cairo. Initially, she is a bit disappointed with the hotel as it’s not quite as grand as she’d have liked.
A traditional Egyptian wedding, complete with live music and beautiful costumery, taking place across the street offsets the disappointment. From their balcony, she and Mark have a bird’s-eye view, which fills her with joy.
This opening chapter establishes the book’s theme, which is Tritten’s fascination with the Mideast. Tritten threads that fascination throughout “On the Nile” as she describes the region’s food and drink, the crowds and smells in the marketplace, the unruly and downright dangerous camels and the swirling, loose clothing worn by both men and women.
At one point, she and Mark explore the desert on horseback. Tritten is given Sweet, a beautiful Arabian mare with a white blaze on her forehead, to ride.
Unfortunately, the mare does not live up to her name, and, with Tritten in the saddle, takes off at a hard gallop across the desert twice. When Tritten discovers that Sweet is used for informal racing, she angrily demands a different horse.
Tritten excels at capturing the feel of Egypt, particularly the awe she has for the country. When she writes about the museums or pyramids and Egyptian gods and goddesses, her awe — perhaps reverence is a better word — is palpable. When she visits Nefartari’s Temple, she impulsively “embrace(s) the leg of the goddess statue to absorb her strength…” (p. 181).
Throughout the book, Tritten hints at a deeper connection with the region than she articulates. For example, she writes about Egyptian astrology but doesn’t connect it with her own life.
Additionally, she hints at possible past lives, yet doesn’t develop the idea.
I wanted to know where she stood on both topics. Doing so, in my opinion, would have elevated “On the Nile” from travelogue to literary memoir and broadened the book’s appeal.
A small complaint: Tritten is not only an author, but also an accomplished artist and has filled the book with her beautiful ink drawings and scratchboard art. However, the photographs are grainy and, for me, a detraction. I’d have preferred they not be included.
That said, “On the Nile” is well worth reading. Tritten’s joy at being in the Mideast is contagious, and I caught myself smiling throughout the book, as I shared her excitement.
(Maureen Cooke has been writing, editing and teaching others to write for the past 30 years. Currently, she’s working on a mystery novel and a memoir. She’s a member of the Corrales Writers’ Group.)