21 March 2004

David’s/Dovid [דוד]’s birthday dinner and party, Dish, Manhattan, Saturday, 20–Sunday, 21 March

Before I tell the story of David’s/Dovid’s dinner, I should recount my experience in the deli and convenience store near Lucky Cheng’s before work: A woman entered with her dog on a leash that was too short for the close confines of the store. Often, she was on one side of the store while the dog was wandering on the other, the leash taut like a barrier preventing anyone from passing them. The cashier at the store could see my avoidance of this dog because of my having no idea if it were dangerous. After the dog and its owner left, I approached the cash register to pay for my sandwich, and the cashier seemed to sympathize with me. He was however under the impression I had avoided the dog because I couldn’t pray if the dog touched me.

After work, I made the short walk from Lucky Cheng’s and Waikiki Wally’s to Dish Restaurant. I was of course the first to arrive and sat in the waiting area reading the menu. A taxi eventually pulled up in front of the restaurant, and all I noticed was the sexy South Asian driver. A lady I didn’t recognize stepped out of the taxi, but David came out after her; when they entered, I was introduced to David’s friend, Cynthia. We sat in the waiting area, and I presented David with a birthday gift: a statuette of “heretic phara‘oh” Akhen’atun. (I felt it an appropriate gift because [a] Akhen’atun was a political reformer who promoted equality between the sexes, [b] he was a religious reformer who attempted to abolish all the old gods, [c] he was usually portrayed in an almost intersexual manner with both masculine and feminine features, [d] he was usually portrayed with a cat by his feet, and [e] I wanted to remind Dovid of his Near Eastern roots.)

19 March 2004

My visit to Florida, 15–19 March 2004

Monday, 15 March, New York City, Tampa, Hudson: Having looked at my itinerary’s arrival rather than departure time, I arrived at LaGuardia Airport late and missed my flight to Tampa. I was given standby tickets and departed about six hours after I was originally supposed to do so. Those six hours in the airport included spending US$10.21 on a small, bland sandwich and a soda at the wildly overpriced Figs snack and sandwich outlet. My flight was uneventful, and the man sitting next to me was clearly uninterested in my mild, half-hearted attempts to be friendly.

Rather than allow me to ride a taxi or jitney upon arrival at Tampa International Airport, my mother and her boyfriend Irv drove all the way to Tampa and surprised me at the airport. We rode to Hudson together in his flashy convertible. The weather was wet, and my mother and I ate dinner at home rather than brave the rain.
Tuesday, 16 March, Hudson, Spring Hill, Bayonet Point, Port Richey, New Port Richey: (My father’s birthday on the Gregorian calendar.) My mother and I went to China Garden(?) in Hudson before going to visit my father in the memory center at the Residence at Timber Pines (Spring Hill a/k/a “Tel Abib” [תל־אביב]). Perhaps because it was his birthday, he was ever so slightly more cognizant than usual. He seemed to recognize me in some manner and even uttered a word (“yeah”). A staff member asked me about my clothing. Trying to find some perspective she might understand, I compared being a Jewish-American who wears Near Eastern and South Asian clothing from various cultures to Afrocentrism and African-Americans’ wearing African-inspired clothing not specific to any one African culture. The clearest indication she hadn’t at all understood me was her followup question: “So you’ve been to Africa?” Luckily, I could just answer “yes” and end the conversation right there. While my father ate lunch and attempted to eat his napkin, I met Elva, his roommate Glen’s wife. They are Michiganers. The staff presented my father with a piece of chocolate cream pie and sang “Happy Birthday to You” to him, but he didn’t seem to have any idea what was going on. My mother and I left to go “antiquing” at the Hospice Store in Bayonet Point and the Goodwill shop in Port Richey. I picked out plenty of phonograph records in the Hospice Store, because the sign on the wall said they were 25¢ apiece, but when we got up to the cashier, her notes said they were 10¢ apiece. We went to Chili’s in New Port Richey for dinner, and the manager there is a nut. She approached our table and asked if everything were all right. Since it was before any food had arrived, we were a little confused, but it soon became apparent she was referring to my videotaping. She asked if I were taping her, and after I replied in the negative, she said not once but twice that if I were taping her, she’d break my camera. Not knowing whether I should interpret this as a threat, I calmly reiterated I would not tape her. When I continued taping various things other than her, my mother noticed her getting bugged by it. She returned to the table with a smile and told me she’d have to ask me to stop taping. She claimed a customer had supposedly complained about it, and it was supposedly Chili’s’ policy to prohibit videorecording anyway. I didn’t believe her for a moment, especially since she herself had so clearly become spooked by the taping when in truth I had not the slightest interest in recording her image. Perhaps she’s wanted in another state and afraid of her cover being blown, because I can’t figure out any other reason to act like such a mental case. Having pretty much recorded all I wanted to, I complied with her fabricated rule so as not to have trouble. I had extensively videotaped in restaurants in various Muslim and ‘Arab countries, yet it was in “free” America (albeit Bush’s Florida) my touristic activity is censured. Afterward, my mother and I wandered around Books-a-Million for too long a period of time.
Wednesday, 17 March, Hudson, Spring Hill, Weeki Wachee, Port Richey: (St. Patrick’s Day.) Similar to what happened at the Goodwill shop the day before, the Salvation Army shop in Spring Hill advertised phonograph records would be US$1 apiece, but upon bringing them to the cashier, the price went down to four for a dollar. My mother and I went to Applebee’s in Spring Hill for lunch and encountered numerous folk she knew, including Noel and Gloria. Noel’s friends at his table and those who visited his table before leaving were by far the loudest people in the restaurant. In the parking lot, I met my mother’s friend Rosalyn whose red fingernails perfectly matched her car. We returned to the Residence at Timber Pines for the memory center’s St. Patrick’s Day “party.” One worker made my father laugh by pulling a big balloon sculpture that had been standing quietly in the corner closer to him and saying Saint Patrick had come to the party and was praying to God for some thing or another I can’t remember. Another worker was certain there’d be no snakes present thanks to Saint Patrick’s being there. On closer inspection after the religious şpil [שפּיל], I saw it wasn’t even Saint Patrick but a lepruchaun standing on a pot of gold. The hired help were shouting in their high, strained voices and making every attempt to simulate a wild party, but the residents remained sedate despite their silly hats, noisemakers and smiling-face stickers. My father was even less lucid than the prior day, this time attempting to eat a noisemaker. Though mildly entertaining, the whole affair was pretty pathetic. Afterward, my mother and I went to Weeki Wachee to visit their Goodwill store. The shopping center was across the highway from a fairly famous service station shaped liked a large dinosaur (likely a brontosaurus). Again, we found big sales: The phonograph discs and audiocassettes here were also four for a dollar, and most books, magazines and clothing were “buy one get two free.” I bought some old National Geographic magazines, their fifty-cent labels making them six for a dollar under the sale’s rules, two waistcoats and a whole slew of records. This year in Florida, I found a goldmine, buying music by Anita Bryant, Barbara Mandrell, Barbra Streisand, Bonnie Prudden, Carmen McRae, Carole King, Chér, Connie Francis, Diana Ross, Dinah Washington, Doris Day, Dorothy Kirsten, Édith Piaf, Gisele Mackenzie, Grace Moore, Jane Morgan, Judy Collins, Kim Carnes, Lena Horne, the Lennon Sisters, Linda Ronstadt, Liza Minnelli, Mindy Carson, Nona Hendryx, Patsy Cline, Patti Page, Patty Duke, Shirley Bassey, the Supremes, Teresa Brewer and Miss Vicki Benêt. Then we went to My Cluttered Closet, a consignment store (and according to the business card, a “boo-t’ek”) in the same shopping center. The place was pretty, but the prices were high, and the merchandise was nothing in which I was interested. The lady in the store said the dinosaur had been there for as long as anyone could remember and was probably some marker for the entrance to Weeki Wachee. (A little research on the Internet showed me it was actually built as a service station in the mid-1960s.) Then we returned home to Hudson to relax, so I put on some relaxing music: Tana mana, by Ravi Shankar (or “the Ravi Shankar Project,” as the cassette insert says). My mother said the music made the house sound like a “smoking den,” presumably an opium den. Eventually, Irv returned in a yarmlke [יאַרמלקע] to spend some time with us before dinner. While I was in another room, she referred to the “crazy music” and recounted the story of meeting friends in Applebee’s, telling Irv “they’ll think he’s a terrorist.” We left in Irv’s convertible for Carrabba’s in Port Richey, a far better restaurant than I’d anticipated. The staff was oddly adamant about it: When we entered, a busboy asked us something like, “Are you ready for the best food you’ve ever eaten?,” and our waiter (Chris, I think) was encouraging me to travel from New York City to Syracuse or Niagara just to visit the Carrabba’s restaurants there. Afterward, we went to Irv’s house in Hudson where he showed me around and let me pick what I liked amongst the (mostly 10″, 78 R. P. M.) phonograph discs in his collection. He was very anxious to please his girlfriend’s son, but he assured me he’d never listen to them again whether I took them or not. (He had Doris Day, Dorothy Claire, Ella Fitzgerald, Helen Forrest, Helen O’Connell, Helen Ward, Jane Harvey, Jo Stafford, Judy Garland, Kate Smith, Kay Weber, Liza Morrow, Louise Tobin, Marion Hutton, Marion Mann, Peggy Lee, Peggy Mann and Shirley Jones.) Then we drove to my mother’s house and had xaziray [חזירײַ].
Thursday, 18 March, Hudson, Port Richey, New Port Richey: (Scott’s/Şmuel [שמואל]’s birthday on the Gregorian calendar.) This morning, my videocamera broke (unrelated to the threat from the manager at Chili’s), and I don’t have enough time to have it repaired until I return to New York, so I’ll have to do without images of the façades of whichever stores I visit today and the butts of whichever attractive men I see. Azoy geyt es in Florida. [אַזױ גײט עס אין פֿלאָרידאַ܁] Thank goodness, if it had to break, it did so on the day before I return to New York rather than in the middle of my trip to Egypt.

I went to bed late this morning and slept all day, until after 15:00. My mother and I went to Hops restaurant in Port Richey and ate too much because we had skipped lunch. The lady who brought our food to the table asked me if I were from Kenya! We went to Gulfview Square Mall in New Port Richey in part to see my friend Furqan Muhammad [فرقان محمد] who works there (or so we thought). Because my camera was broken, my mother actually brought her still camera to take a picture of Muhammad and me together. Some sexy young man who may have been Muhammad’s brother told me Muhammad now works elsewhere (and also asked if I were Muslim). I was very disappointed because I hadn’t seen him in about two years, but at least I got to see his brother who is almost as cute. There was also another nice-looking Pakistani-looking worker at another store who gave me a big hello. Because my camera is broken, I have no images of them to share, so please go to Gulfview Square Mall and gaze upon them yourselves. We returned home early, around 20:30, so I could pack. On the telephone, my mother told Irv how personable I am and how much all her friends liked me, but made sure to add, “I get embarassed with his dress and everything.”
Friday, 19 March, Hudson, Tampa, New York City: Having packed absolutely everything I had bought into a bag to be checked and a carry-on bag, I embarked back to Tampa International Airport with an acquaintance (named Barbara, I believe) hired by my mother (definitely named Barbara). This lady was friendly but kept grilling me about transportation and how often I visit my mother in Florida and how I had gotten to Hudson from Tampa on Monday. I think she wanted to know if we had hired anybody else or whether we’d hire her again. I was horrified to discover that because my suitcase weighed eighty pounds, I’d have to pay fifty dollars to have it transported up to New York. I felt all my bargains melting away, but considering how very cheap this particular bunch was, fifty dollars was not very much money. My flight on American Airlines was greatly delayed but was otherwise uneventful. There was a flight attendant named “Gabriel” who had a really sexy nose.

14 March 2004

Lucky Cheng’s/Waikiki Wally’s, Garth’s and Charles’ apartment, Saturday, 13–Sunday, 14 March

Carla’s spreadsheet made my life a trillion times easier. Come 17:45, I couldn’t find the printer’s USB cable without calling Garth, so the night sheet was late anyway, but Jamie actually called the office to compliment my improvements to it and thank me. I met Salt’s new employee, Alejandra’s friend Leandro who teaches Spanish and will work in the office early Fridays. Mel cut his foot and wrapped it in part with duct tape. I stayed at work until maybe between 20:00 and 21:00, going out to get a sandwich and eating in the office with Rich. I chatted and giggled with Garth on the telephone.

I walked to their apartment, they showed me their wonderful new DVD-RW recorder, a gift from Garth’s mother, and we went to some local restaurant. I had just finished my two huge sandwiches, so I ate nothing until I started to get lightheaded, more likely from insufficient sleep than food, so I nibbled some of Charles’ fries. I talked a lot about my trip to Egypt.

We returned to their apartment, ostensibly before going out again, but we never made it out again. We watched some things Garth had recorded from télévision, and Charles commented I had lost weight. Eventually, we were all falling asleep on and off like old ladies, and I left around 05:00, avoiding the late night suspension of ⑤ train service (or is it ② service?).

07 March 2004

Fifth and final week in Egypt, 1–7 March 2004

Monday, 1 March, Cairo [القاهرة]: When midnight struck, I was probably still hanging out with Mohamed W. and Magdi at the Ahmed ‘Orabi shop (Islamic Cairo). My biggest surprise was my charming time with little, outspoken Magdi. After more than one Khan [خان] person said negative things to me about him, Magdi was very friendly, posed alone and with Mohamed W. for my home movie, attempted to translate Umm Kulsum [أم كلثوم] love songs into English for me, and called me his “big braza” (brother). Even after the store closed, we went to ad-Dahan [الدهان] together to visit a tired Ahmad [أحمد]. Magdi had every opportunity to order a lot of food for which I would have likely paid, something I might have expected based on his reputation, but instead he sat and watched my eating a kofta (meatball) sandwich and chatted about politics and other subjects. Eventually, he ordered a small glass tea. We parted company after 02:00, and I returned to Zamalek [الزمالك]. After sleeping, I tried the Bon Appétit Coffee Shop on Isma‘il Mohammed [إسماعيل محمد] which I was surprised basically served fast food. Inside I met a friendly Arabic-speaking Canadian who advised me on his favorite sandwich (the Champion, which I ordered), but left for McDonald’s when he was told Bon Appétit had no French fries. (He said Pizza Hut sucked.) Afterward, I took care of some chores including going to Sigma Net where I heard someone whistling “Habah Negilah” [“הבה נגילה„]. I spent an unusually long time there and found myself desiring a meal, so I went to l’Aubergine. The waiters there are usually too skinny for my taste, but the food is really good. This time, there were actually two hunky waiters there, but the dark, moody lighting kept me from seeing them or anything else very well. I went to la Bodega gallery in Bæhler’s Mansions, but it’s closed on Mondays. My one attempt at doing something arty or touristic today was foiled, so I went to Insomnia Snack Bar again. Both their “tort du chocolateri” and their “ricotta cheese cake” were missing in action, but much of the usual gang of waiters were not missing. “Midu” was my waiter, and I got to meet Ahmad for the first time.
Tuesday, 2 March, Cairo: When I picked up my two items at Modern Laundry [المغسلة الحديثة] (Zamalek), young Samih walked with me and carried them to Qasr Abu al-Feda [قصر أبو الفدا]. On the way, he tried to chat with me but couldn’t speak any English. He did say “Anta gamil” (‎“انت جميل„ “You’re pretty”). I invited him in for a drink or use of the bathroom, but he declined entry. I wanted to try a particular tiny restaurant, but it was full, so I went to the nearby Hardee’s, another big mistake. The staff was friendly and helpful, but my chicken sandwich was fatty, the soda tasted funny, annoying children were present, and the most vulgar, curse-laden, shouting rap was playing. Even though one places one’s order at the counter, the food is brought to the table, so I thought a gratuity would be in order, but the server refused it. Walking down Mrs. Umm Kolthum Street, a truck passed that filled the street and sidewalk area with an inescapable cloud of what I presume was pesticide. Taking a different route than my usual, I crossed Gezira [الجزيرة] on the 6th of October Bridge, saw numerous young men playing soccer on fields in the bridge’s shadow, got a really good bird’s-eye view of the Andalusian Garden and saw lots of the bugs the truck’s occupants were likely trying to kill.

I stopped in an Arabic bookstore near the intersection of 26th of July Street and Ramses Street (Central Cairo) in which Polly and I had been on 15 February, and I bought two books about Cairo. (If the name on the bag is any indication, the store is the General Egyptian Book Organization, al-Hi’et al-Masriyyat al-‘Amat lil-Ketab [‎الهيئة المصرية العامة للكتاب].) They had a whole Jewish section, but my inability to read Arabic kept me from figuring out whether there were any positive, pro-Jewish books there. Based presumably on my dress, the worker at the door while I was leaving asked if I were a Muslim [‎مسلم], and seemed quite pleased when told I was a Jew. I continued walking past Ezbekiyya Gardens to ‘Ataba Square looking for cheap cassettes under advisement of Mohamed W., but I never found them. I walked for hours, eventually got lost and saw lots of interesting things, but I probably went in various wrong directions. I saw what appeared to be the firefighting suq [سوق] and the toilet suq, walking possibly near Ghamra and then was surprised to wind up near Ramses Square. Giving up on my music quest based on my location and intense desire to sit, I walked Downtown and found the lovely Tawfiqiyya, a bunch of small streets without cars, and ate shrimp in a sauce full of garlic and oil at ‘Id [عيد] (not to be confused with the restaurant on Hussein Square). Seeing it was nearly 20:30, I even gave up on my intent to visit downtown galleries, as most of them close by 21:00. Instead I walked a little more and returned to À l’Américaine for what I remembered to be fabulous dessert. This time, Mahmud Salah [محمود صلاح] was my waiter. He had served my macaroni last time, and always has a smile for me, but it couldn’t make up for the fact the cake in my cake à la mode was terribly hard and stale.

Since I had sat in various eateries for quite a long time, I decided to walk to the Khan (Islamic Cairo). I bumped into my friend the jasmine lady who doesn’t pester me to buy because she thinks I’m allergic, and I found out her name is “Rashida,” although it seems most of the Khan workers call her “‘Amru” or something like that because it’s her son’s name. I said hello to Ahmad at ad-Dahan, and then spent more time with Mohamed W. at the Ahmad ‘Orabi shop as little Magdi stood on a chair and rearranged the window display with Mohamed’s little brother “Nusf” (actually Ahmad). I sat around there for a while, frequently with brother merchants from the opposite side of Badestan Road, Muhammad (the older) and Karim [كريم] (the younger). They paid a lot of attention to me, asking me lots of questions. They even took me on a small detour with friend Mustafa to a little factory to see another friend, Hankash, and to show me some of the gorgeous Medieval Gates off Badestan. Magdi kept calling me by my proper Hebrew name “Mosheh” [משה] rather than the Arabic counterpart “Musa” [موسى] asked my opinions of the window arrangements and kept telling me how much he and everyone else there liked me. The cigarette lady to whom Polly used to give jasmine in 2002 laughed a hearty laugh.
Wednesday, 3 March, Cairo: Midnight probably struck while I was chatting with folk at Ahmad ‘Orabi in the Khan (Islamic Cairo). Mohamed W. and Magdi had both expressed interest in spending time with me after the store closed and seemed to anticipate closing the store soon. I was getting a little bored, so I decided to visit Ahmad at ad-Dahan again and maybe walk around. One of the poor ladies I frequently see selling facial tissues approached me with her “bambino” in tow, and while she was asking for a handout, it seemed she was telling me the baby was her father. She was still with me when I reached Ahmad, she requested he translate, and he told me she meant the baby’s father pays them no mind. Now, she should be asking the father for money instead of me, but I finally relented after four-and-a-half weeks of requests and gave her four pounds (less than US$1). Ahmad seemed happy again, likely because he had had more sleep, and convinced me to stay and try hot milk with cinnamon and sugar. Before drinking it, I quickly ran to Mohamed W. and Magdi to tell them (more or less) where I would be. At ad-Dahan, I met a friendly but anti-Jewish middle-aged Egyptian man there, probably an owner or manager of the café, although I’m sure he wouldn’t describe himself as anti-Jewish. He was interested in Jewish culture, asking me what certain Hebrew names meant, and seemed to miss the formerly numerous Jewish community in Egypt, but was clearly highly biased by his unwavering belief in the anti-Jewish media. He didn’t understand how Yishaq Rabin [יצחק רבין] could have been killed by another Jew. Apparently, the media must portray Jews as monolithic, because he seemed to recognize diversity of opinion and ideology in every ethnic group on the globe except the Jews. (Anwar Sadat was killed by another Egyptian.) Nothing I could say would convince him some Jews, even some Isra’elis, hate the new West Bank barrier or don’t support Isra’el’s West Bank and Gaza occupation. After all, the Isra’eli [‎ישׂראלי] people had elected Ari’el Sharon [אריאל שרון] so they must support him. He also regurgitated the media fabrication that Isra’el wants to expand beyond the borders of Palestine into all the Near East. After all, he argued, Isra’el [ישׂראל] had occupied the Sinai peninsula, and the intent to expand territory to the Nile and Euphrates rivers is chiseled onto the entrance of the Kenesset (the “Nile-to-Euphrates calumny”). I couldn’t convince him the calumny was false. After all, it had been in all the newspapers. Realizing it was quite late, I returned to Ahmed ‘Orabi to find both Mohamed W. and Magdi gone. Perhaps they had misunderstood me, and my books were still inside the now-locked store. (Mohamed W. would later tell me he looked for me but couldn’t find me.) I decided to go home, but by this time I was probably the only tourist remaining around Hussein Square, so the merchants and beggars converged on me one by one. I didn’t feel unsafe, but I did feel occasionally disrespected and uncomfortable. I walked to Azhar Street to get a taxi home, but a babbling crazy man followed me back and forth down the block as I attempted to distance myself from the Khan to get a cheaper taxi. I finally shook him by reentering the Khan/Muski area. A chatty little street rat named Muhammad also had no one else to bother, so he followed me back and forth from Azhar Street up near the north face of Hussein Mosque. While he was with me, a restaurant hawker asked if I were Muslim. By the time I responded I was Jewish, a group of about five people, including little Muhammad and another restaurant hawker, were standing around me. The hawker seemed to get an annoyed sneer on his face and asked if I supported Sharon. (I do not.) A street merchant on the west face of Hussein Mosque said only “Yahudi Amriki” (“Jewish-American”) as I passed him, not necessarily anti-Jewish or anti-American sentiment, but certainly raising my level of discomfort. I finally shook little Muhammad by walking near a police officer and making an annoyed face. I got away from the Khan and the clustered overpriced taxis near it, and caught a moving taxi. There was already another occupant who expressed great discontent the driver took on a passenger Zamalek-bound, even opening the door while the car was moving. We traveled quite a while south to reach her destination and then back north, and I was annoyed by this further delay.

I brought more clothing to the Modern Laundry and saw Samih there. Then by the time I made my way over to Ya Mal el-Sham, the little restaurant I wanted to try, Samih was there too. He was walking out with a plastic sack of hot food in his hand, but stuck around smiling at me while I looked at the menu. The food was good and cheap, and I had two small sandwiches for under US$2. There were caricatures of numerous Egyptian stars, including Umm Kulsum and Laila Mourad, on the walls. I thought I knew Zamalek like the back of my hand, but based on an article I had read online, I wanted to find the ice cream parlor and multi-level mall I had apparently missed. I found the mall, Yamama Center [‎اليمامة سنتر], on Taha Hussein Street and was amazed I hadn’t noticed it before. It’s huge but not yet very occupied beyond the third floor, and there was little merchandise inside in which I had any interest, but I found two single-price stores (counterparts to American dollar or 99-cent stores) wherein each item cost two-and-a-half pounds (less than US$.50). I also found the ice cream parlor, Mandarine Koueider [شركة ماندرين قويدر], on Shagar ad-Durr Street and met cashier Husayn, but more importantly, I found the compact disc merchant. His phonograph-inscribed compact discs weren’t there, but he sent his annoying son to fetch them and told me to return in about an hour. In the meantime, I went to the Zamalek Bookstore and then la Bodega gallery in Bæhler’s Mansions [‎عمارات بهلر]. La Bodega had an exhibition of paintings by Fathy ‘Afifi [‎فتحي عفيفي]. His work I liked: They were very colorful and very Oriental and sort of pop culture, some portraying what appeared to be scenes from movies. They are rather repetitive. There’s a man with a mustache wearing a tarbush on his tilted head in a great many of the paintings. I returned to the CD merchant, and he found me recordings of the oldest broads he could dig up and threw in a free spindle adapter. His name is ‘Alaa’ el-Din Soliman [علاء الدين سليمان], and apparently, he inscribes the discs himself. I bought five “albums” consisting of eight discs. It was already getting kind of late, so I decided I’d call Mohamed W. and invite him to Zamalek, as he’d said he’d enjoy it, rather than go all the way to the Khan to sit for a few hours beforehand and use up all our discussion topics, so I stayed home trying to reach him and getting busy signals all the while.
Thursday, 4 March, Cairo: For lunch, I returned to Yamama Center in Zamalek thinking there would likely be a nice restaurant there, and there was: Gallery. Being there during the daytime, I could see numerous teens there doing nothing but passing time like at any other mall in the world. It seems there is a store there called “Akhr al-‘Anqud” [آخر العنقود] (or something like that) located on numerous levels, usually in the same corner; two of these locations are “uni price” stores, the one on ground level called “Hettet Sokkara.” Desiring something sweet, I decided to walk to Sultana for ice cream. On the way, I encountered Samih from Modern Laundry delivering someone’s clothing and looking like the weight of the world was on his shoulders. When he saw me, he metamorphosed into a smiling, happy person. It’s nice to know I can still have that effect on a good-looking young man. Sultana was nice, but no better than Mandarine Koueider. I paid with a twenty-pound bill, and three workers were needed to give me change. I went to Modern Laundry to pick up my clothes but was disappointed Samih had not yet returned and thus wouldn’t accompany me to my apartment. I went to the Netherlands-Flemish Institute and heard a lecture and saw a slideshow (“The Forty-Days Road”) by Dutch writer Arita Baaijens about her traveling with a camel caravan through Sudan [‎السودان]. The lecture was interesting enough, and Arita didn’t seem to glorify herself and her familiarity with Near Eastern culture too much. In the audience were two young Europeans who coincidentally had been sitting at the next table at Insomnia Snack Bar when I was there Monday. Afterward, I met an Egyptian-born Panjabi-Pakistani [پاکستانی] man who spoke English with an Egyptian accent and knew no Urdu [‎اردو] or Panjabi [पंजाबी, ਪਜਾਬੀ, پنجابی], and a Palestinian who lives in Egypt and thus feels more like an Egyptian. (It’s true; I felt him.) Then I walked the maybe three blocks to the Instituto Italiano di Cultura for an incredible combination photograph exhibit and concert in collaboration with the Egyptian Center for Culture and Art. The series is called “Samraa’ [‎سمراء]: Songs from the Black Earth,” and it “focuses on the African influence on traditional Egyptian music” and features photographic portraits of the musicians by Karim ‘Omar el Hakim. They served some good food, including caviar [‎خاویار], and the musicians were present stuffing their faces while I stuffed mine. Afterwards was a concert of zar music by the incredible Mazaher group. The press release described it so:
On March 4, Mazaher will present ancient songs and powerful rhythms inspired by various traditions of Zar music. The group consists mainly of women and uses percussion instruments as well as the tamboura [طنبور], a string instrument used since Pharaonic times.
They were a bunch of fairly glamorously dressed, hefty, middle-aged ladies sometimes performing quietly and mesmerizingly, other times shouting, frantically dancing and beating their drums. I was amazed how much it sounded like Moroccan music, particularly the singing, tamboura and finger cymbals. One of the few men in the group had an odd percussion instrument either hanging behind him from his waist or concealed in his shirt, and would shake his torso and hips to use it. Because it was free and connected with an exhibit, I expected the concert would be short, but it kept going and going. Every time I thought they might be finished, they’d only rearrange themselves. The concert was fabulous, and I videotaped far more of it than I had anticipated. The whole event began at 20:00 and ended around 22:00. Actually, guests were still milling about after the concert, but I wanted to get home and attempt calling Mohamed W. to invite him to Zamalek. Again, I could not get through, so I just up and went to the Khan (Islamic Cairo), and I’m glad I did.

When I walked down Badestan Road, some young men I did not recognize must have recognized me because they called my attention to someone sitting with them. It was Ahmed M., one of my dearest friends from 2002, who had been in Europe so far my entire visit to Egypt! His friends and co-workers in the Khan had told me he had been in Portugal and Hungary, but Ahmed assured me he had only been to Italy and Romania. (This of course put the old song “Rumenye Rumenye” [‎“רומעניע רומעניע„] in my head.) (Sadly, I would not see him again before going home to America.) Mohamed W. invited me into the Ahmed ‘Orabi shop to sit with him and his friends. He told me I hadn’t been able to contact him because he’d changed his mobile telephone number. I stuck around for a long while, but as the conversation was entirely in Arabic, Magdi invited me outside to chat with him and his cohorts. As usual, little “Nusf” was hyperactive and out of control. Mustafa [مصطفى] and Muhammad (Karim’s brother) again paid a lot of attention to me; Muhammad sat next to and quite close to me, looking through my dictionary and phrase book and asking me when I’d leave (not as unwelcoming as it might sound). Magdi continued fawning all over me.
Friday, 5 March, Cairo: Midnight struck while I was hanging at Ahmed ‘Orabi in the Khan (Islamic Cairo). Eventually the store closed, and Mohamed wanted to go home rather than go to a café or anywhere in Zamalek, again indicating by gesture his trousers were somehow related to the reason. I continued to Mohamed W.’s other store with Magdi, and worker Mahmud was there wearing a tank top. Magdi, Mahmud and I spent some time together in the fly-infested store, but they were busy, and I was a little bored. I decided to leave around 02:00, and Magdi decided to go with me, so we went to eat at the little restaurant directly under the Abu Hamza Coffee Shop, Hussein Square. We had a lovely little sandwich meal while we discussed Hebrew and Arabic number words, and either the food was ludicrously cheap or Magdi got a free meal, because the final bill, drinks and all, came to only four pounds (less than a U. S. dollar). We parted company so Magdi could return to work. I must have seen it before and hadn’t noticed, but in the taxi going home I made sure to take note of the Mosque of al-Qadi Yahya (the older one on Port Sa‘id Street, not the building by the same name in Bulaq). The building immediately west of it is really nice also.

Back in Zamalek, I went to the Metro supermarket and found little Hani [هاني] reaching a top shelf by standing on an overturned basket. It was adorable! With his constantly cracking voice, he recommended some Egyptian candies. Even though I chose Western candies, he (now cashier) gave them to me for free. He’s really sweet and assured me he’d write me upon acquiring an e-mail address. And Sue was there too! I’m still surprised not only at my celebrity in the Metro, but that it seems to extend beyond the Metro’s borders: On different days, one of the workers outside the Ritz Dry Cleaners (in the same complex as the Metro) said “Hello, Musa!” as I passed, a security guard at the Hotel Flamenco (Falamanko) (across the street from the Metro) smiled and yelled out my name as I passed, and a security guard or police officer in front of the Netherlands-Flemish Institute even said hello to me using my name. There’s even a delivery man at Pizza Hut who, although he hasn’t used my name, always says hello and raises his eyebrows at me. After I woke, I saw it was a rainy day in Cairo, so I stayed in Zamalek. After doing some local chores, I returned to Ya Mal el-Sham for a dirt cheap lunch. I wondered how to surreptitiously videotape one of the employees there but eventually gave up trying. Just before I left, he insisted on being taped waving hello. Later, I went downstairs in front of my building and met Ahmad (from ad-Dahan), and we proceeded to Goal restaurant together. We each ordered a sandwich (chicken) and shared a third (liver) as he told me all about his goofy marital problems. Afterward, he wanted to pay, but I talked him out of it. Later on, I considered going out, perhaps to the Khan, but spoke to Mohamed W. on the telephone, and he said he wanted to come to Zamalek, so I stayed home and did a lot of packing.
Saturday, 6 March, Cairo: (‘Ereb Purim [ערב פורים].) Well, it was good I did the packing because Mohamed W. said he’d call back for a 02:00 visit, but neither called nor visited. I had lunch back in Gallery in the Yamama Center (Zamalek), primarily because Ya Mal el-Sham was full. While sitting there, I saw Usama from Sigma Net who introduced me to his friend Adham(?), and then I met a Pakistani named Imtiaz working in Cairo. Perhaps it was my conspicuous position right in the middle near the fountain. I went to the Semiramis laundry [‎مغسلة سميراميس] to pick up some clothes, and Sharif [شريف] accompanied me to my apartment carrying my laundry (à la Samih from Modern Laundry). He also didn’t want to come in for a drink or toilet use, and even requested I close the door rather than spend time with him while he waited for the elevator. (I hope he wasn’t uncomfortable due to noticing my undressing him with my eyes.) I returned to Mandarine Koueider to chat with Husayn; he’s really friendly and is determined to live in the United States. I went to the Metro supermarket to get some ma‘amul [‎معمول] (fruit-filled soft cookies) to distribute to friends when saying goodbye to them, and proceeded to again walk to the area around ‘Ataba Square (Central Cairo) to look for more audiocassettes. (On the way, in Bulaq, I took notice of the old horse stables on 26th of July Street.)

I walked all over the area, this time trying not to get lost. I saw lots of stores selling mobile telephones, light fixtures and television sets, but still no cassettes! I overheard a few men discussing my or my clothing’s origins much in the same manner as I had encountered in Khan al-Maghraby [خان المغربي] on 21 February: an ‘Arabic conversation with a list of countries or ethnicities, Turkish included. I even asked a few people if they knew where the cassettes were, and no one could help me. In a Radio Shack, the friendly but unhelpful man there said goodbye to me putting his palms together and nearly bowing. Unfortunately, this means leaving Egypt with few cassettes. If only I had had Mohamed W. with me. Since I was so close, I decided to walk to the Khan (Islamic Cairo) and attempt to say goodbye to my friends. On the way, I again admired that Mosque of al-Qadi Yahya and the building next to it. Arriving at the Khan, I was approached by a camera crew and was briefly interviewed about my feelings about the Khan and whether I was familiar with certain musicians. I was stupid enough to walk away without asking them any questions about their outfit, so I have no idea whether this was for télévision or a documentary or what. (If anyone sees this clip on télévision, please let me know.) I continued to the Ahmed ‘Orabi shop and found that portion of Badestan Road plunged in darkness due to a blackout that ended shortly after I arrived. Mohamed W. told me he hadn’t had my telephone number with him that morning and was waiting for me to call him. (In fact, I had called him twice, but his mobile telephone seemed to be with someone else.) I saw wild, little Ahmad (“Nusf”) and sexy Mahmud, as well as Muhammed, Karim, Mustafa and Mudi from across Badestan. They were in great spirits, boisterous and really whooping it up, and were ferociously tearing through the ma‘amul. Mahmud was so excited, he dropped his ma‘amul on the floor (but ate it anyway). My attempts to say goodbye were obstructed after that: First of all, little Magdi wasn’t there that day. Ahmad, the waiter at ad-Dahan, seemed not to have come in to work that day either. I repeatedly visited Ekramy’s store trying to spend more time with him before returning to America and to videotape him, but in a replay of the events of my last visit to the Khan in 2002, he was always busy with one particular customer. I said goodbye to Mahmud, the one who visited me and works at the same store as Ahmed M., but he told me Ahmed, freshly back from Europe, was unavailable for goodbyes because he was in Sharm el-Sheikh. I couldn’t find Dahab at his store, and I suspect he never came in to work. I met Ahmed al-Malek (an Aswani [أسواني], which of course put the old Gershwin song “Swanee” in my head) who brought me to his shop, Luxor’s Pharos on the eastern side of Hussein Square, to meet his family and drink tea, and you know, he didn’t try to sell me anything. It was purely a gesture of friendship, and I immensely appreciated it. I high-tailed it back to Zamalek shortly before midnight only so I could give a tip to the bawab’s entourage before the last one (Isma‘il) went to sleep and to buy more ma‘amul. Then I went out again with plans to return to the Khan.
Sunday, 7 March, Cairo, New York City: (Purim.) I returned to Badestan Road (Islamic Cairo) in the Khan and found both Mahmud’s/Ahmed M.’s and Ekramy’s stores closed. I spent more time at Ahmad ‘Orabi until it closed and then left with Mohamed W. for Zamalek. I had wanted to bring him to the Insomnia Snack Bar, but it was already closed, so we went to the best restaurant I knew would be open at that ungodly hour: Goal. All we did was watch music videos, drink cola and talk, but we had a lovely time. I brought him to Sigma Net, and together we signed him up for a Yahoo! e-mail account, so I could send him pictures from both 2002 and 2004. After saying goodbye, I continued packing and eventually went out again to Sigma Net. I stayed out long enough that, upon returning home, I merely brought my heavy suitcase downstairs. Isma‘il lifted it over his head and carried it to Mustafa’s waiting taxi. Patient Mustafa brought me to the airport, waited while I checked if we were at the correct terminal and waited while I walked about a block and a half away to get a luggage trolley and return with it. Little by little, I went through three checkpoints and boarded my plane. My flight (EgyptAir 985) was uneventful other than witnessing a flight attendant drop a plate of food all over the floor. I was trapped in a window seat but didn’t mind; I only went to the bathroom once and waited until the two passengers between me and the aisle were awake.

Arriving in New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, my taxi driver was annoyed I hadn’t lied and told the dispatcher I was going to Queens so he (the driver) could get a “shorty ticket.” He warmed up to me though when we each found out the other was Eastern Aşkenaziş [‎אַשכּנזיש] and we could pepper our conversation with Yidiş [ייִדיש] while we traveled from Long Island to the Bronx. I didn’t expect to see such traffic in the middle of the day and concluded it must be Purim traffic: all the Long Islander sons and daughters were traveling to see their Bronx mames [מאַמעס] or bobes [באָבעס] for şalax mones.

29 February 2004

Fourth week in Egypt, 23–29 February 2004

Monday, 23 February, Cairo: I again returned to 26th of July Street in Zamalek to look for the compact disc merchant, but he wasn’t there. On my way to the Alfa Market, I stopped at a sidewalk kiosk to buy a candy whose name made me think of Polly: the Corona Bimbo. It comes in two flavors: Original Bimbo and Negrita Bimbo. (I found a link to an entirely different candy wrapper, but possibly from the same company.) The bad news at Alfa is that I discovered they too sell an Arabic copy of the Protocols (a different edition than in the Metro); the good news is that they gave me two free bags of Action potato chips when I left. Polly and I decided to eat at l’Aubergine, but after sitting looking at the menu for a while, we were informed there was no hot food available, only salads. We decided to eat elsewhere, but ordered a bottle of water to take away. Even that took far too long so we just left. L’Aubergine is wonderful, but quirky; be prepared for various unusual limitations on ordering, like the time we were told no hot drinks were available. We instead went to la Piazza, which the guidebook said was in Zamalek, but I’d place it in Gezira. It was pricey by Egyptian standards, but the food was really good. It was decorated a bit like an American chain restaurant, very Olive Garden. It was one of the fairly rare occasions I treated myself to organ meat and ordered an amazing risotto and chicken liver entree. The meal was filling and tasty, but we stayed too long considering we had an appointment with some Sufi dancers.

We rushed out of there into a taxi and sped as much as Cairo traffic would allow to the Citadel (Islamic Cairo). The Sufi dancing was really a show and very different than the religious trance one would see in Turkey. As we had seen on the M/S Aquarius, a man in colorful skirts spins non-stop while his skirts become horizontal. Then he separates them and raises one to shoulder level, still spinning. It’s really a sight, something far better experienced than read about. It’s also oddly feminine-looking for something so supposedly religious: something about a man with a big, proud smile spinning and spinning and spinning while wearing skirts. It was the opposite of the selfless homage to God I was expecting, and I appreciated that. I videotaped a little bit of it until a man told me to stop, which annoyed me because flash photographs were taken by other audience members throughout the show. The show was rather short, seemingly more so than it actually was because Polly and I arrived late. We then took a taxi to the Khan so Polly could pick up her finished Libyan-style jackets at Atlas Silks. We wandered around the Khan a little bit and visited Ekramy’s store for a rather long time. He waxed poetic in that way mostly young adults do about finding true love and whether Polly and I had boyfriends. He’s really sweet. I bought a gift for someone there and left so he and his business parter could eat in peace. Polly returned to Zamalek, and I stayed in the Khan. I said hello to Blal at his store, saw Wikalat Haramein, wandered a bit down Mu‘izz li-Din Allah Street and again saw the scaffolded and barricaded (but lovely) Mosque of al-Ashraf Barsbey. It was there I met Hassan who led me into his shop (Nour, down Nasr Passage) with the common ruse of just wanting to give me a business card. When it sunk in I wasn’t interested in his wares, he took me to the nearby store (Mona Bazzar) of boisterous friend Mohamed elSany with the usual collection of souvenirs. The people there chatted and joked with me for quite a while, but as it was mostly in Arabic, I understood precious little. Eventually, I escaped and continued wandering and soon wound up on what Polly and I consider the main drag, Badestan Road. I was in conversation with Hisham (who I believe had been talking earlier about his supposedly large endowment to Polly at Ekramy’s store) and his friends Ahmad and another he claimed had lived in Malaysia. Another young man, Mahmud, Ibrahim’s brother, kept paying a lot of attention to me and engaging me in conversation and inviting me out to a Giza disco for free. He sat me in front of his store and plied me with tea without pressuring me to buy a thing. We made plans to meet a little later in front of the Sayyidna al-Hussein mosque.
Tuesday, 24 February, Cairo: Midnight probably struck while I was standing waiting for Mahmud. We rendezvoused at the Mosque (Islamic Cairo) and he came back with me to my Zamalek apartment where we watched television, drank soda pop and snuggled. He ate the Negrita Bimbo. It had gotten quite late, and I decided to back out of going to the Giza night club, especially since his poor English had led me to believe admission would be free when in fact it would be thirty pounds. He knows someone at the club, I think, so drinks would have been free. Fretting that my sole Negrita Bimbo was gone, I went running around the Zamalek streets in a turban in the middle of the night looking for, but not finding, Bimbos. The kiosk at which I had bought them was in theory open, but the men there were asleep, and I didn’t want to wake them. I went to a different kiosk and bought Pastos, which are the same as the original Bimbo, but couldn’t sate my Negrita appetite.

Polly and I explored Central Cairo. We started at crowded, congested Ramses Square, the immense replica of the Colossus of Ramses II lost among the highways and overpasses. Just south of it, we saw al-Fath Mosque, which was spectacular. For a fairly small mosque, its minaret is very large. Right across the street from it, we saw the lovely Sabil of Umm Mohammed ‘Ali. We looked in some bookstores on Faggala (not Feygele [‎פֿײגעלע]) Street, and continued walking eastward, saw from a distance the pretty architecture of the College de la Salle and came to Zahir Square and the rather stark minaret-less Mosque of Baybars [‎جامع السلطان الظاهر بيبرس] there. We continued to Sakakini Square and saw the gorgeous Sakakini Palace. It was incredible with its rococo style and statues of pretty ladies all over, but in a sad, horrible state of disrepair. Unlike with the Baron’s Palace in Heliopolis, at least so far as we know, there are plans to renovate this palace.

We took a taxi to Islamic Cairo so that Polly could return the jacket that had been mistakenly given to her unfinished. Thank goodness we returned, because inside Atlas Silks we found a reproduction of an old clipping from Al-Ahram newspaper featuring a photograph of the current owner’s father with no one short of Ann Miller! We saw many of the usual suspects in the Khan: Dahab, Mahmud, Hisham, Hisham’s friend Ahmad, little Magdi, Blal etc. We tried a new restaurant and were terribly disappointed; all the food at Haram al-Husseini on Hussein Square was terribly bland and uninspired. I saw sexy Ahmad, a waiter at ad-Dahan (Ulad Yusuf), and apologized we hadn’t eaten by him. We wandered down Mu‘izz li-Din again, and this time Polly got to get trapped in Nour with Hasan and encounter boisterous Mohamed S. We found a great little used-book shop near Wikalat Haramein with a magazine on display, proudly showing off its full-page photograph of Irene Dunne.
Wednesday, 25 February, Cairo: Polly and I again stayed up quite late talking—until around 05:00, I think—and wound up sleeping most of the day away. We had little time to do much of anything but take care of some chores and eat together at l’Aubergine in Zamalek. We returned home and Polly continued packing. At 23:25, Mustafa arrived and whisked her away to the airport. And then there was one.
Thursday, 26 February, Cairo: I stayed up far too late in Sigma Net (Zamalek) fruitlessly researching additional Jewish sites in Cairo. I woke fairly late and went out to have another of Osama’s henchmen put a blade to my throat. Since I really wanted to see the winter variety show at the American University in Cairo, I decided to promenade to the area around Tahrir Square (Central Cairo). I walked down Saray al-Gezira from 26th July Street from Zamalek into Gezira to Sa‘ad Zaghloul Square. I saw Cairo Tower (Burg al-Masr) and the Andalusian Garden from the outside. Looking to the east, I of course saw the lovely Nile, my view taken up however by the less than lovely Foreign Ministry, Radio & TV Building, Ramses Hilton and Nile Hilton. (The Foreign Ministry is the prettiest among them though.) The statue at Sa‘ad Zaghloul Square is very similar to the one in Alexandria. The Tahrir Bridge, with its immense lion sculptures guarding each side, is lovely, but not as lovely as its view. Looking north toward the 6th of October Bridge, the evening East Nile was breathtaking. Looking south toward Manial, I saw the Semiramis Inter-Continental, Helnan Shepheard’s and the Grand Hyatt Cairo, not as pretty as the northern view, although the Hyatt complex is pretty striking.

Tahrir Square, on the other side, was full of traffic, but a wide-open space compared to Tala‘at Harb Square’s forest of buildings and Ramses Square’s claustrophobic maze of highways and overpasses. My growling stomach led me further eastward down Tahrir Street not knowing whether I wanted to find to find a fuul/ta‘amiyya place, a fiteer/kushari place, or a kebap/shwarma place. Luckily, I discovered Morgana (not to be confused with the Zamalek shop), which had every kind of Egyptian cuisine under one roof. My waiter Ahmad was very friendly and accomodating. Seeing my videotaping various things which caught my eyes, numerous workers became eager to be videotaped. The little meal turned into a media circus, and I loved it; different workers posed smiling and holding food. I stuffed myself with a chicken shwarma sandwich, a fuul sandwich, a plate of cauliflower, a can of Coca Light and a bottle of water, and the bill was less than US$4. I left amidst waves and goodbyes and proceeded to Ewart Hall with barely enough time to see the show. Unfortunately, I never made it into the building. The security officers at the door were very friendly and even seemed sad at my predicament, but American University doesn’t allow anyone, students and staff included, to have a videocamera anywhere on campus, nor could they hold it for me at the door as had been done at the British Council. I shrugged my shoulders, and left unable to see the dubious talent in the variety show. I returned to Tahrir Square and looked at the people and architecture, seeing the outsides of the Mogamma and the Arab League Building, but best of all the ‘Omar Makram Mosque and the lovely park in front on it frequented by clapping teenagers, annoying children, praying men and a great recent statue of beturbaned Sheykh ‘Omar Makram. I walked back across Tahrir Bridge, this time stopping for even longer periods to absorb the views. A man on a boat passing under the bridge and I waved at each other. The weather was perfect: warm but breezy. The traffic behind me made the bridge rumble and shake.

Back in Gezira, I attempted to enter the Pedestrian Corniche and was told that with the videocamera I’d have to pay six times the normal admission fee. I was outraged and stupidly left, realizing only afterward that the total would be about US$2. I walked back up Saraya al-Gezira to Zamalek. I took a closer look at that cute mosque on Hassan Sabry Street with the green lights on its minaret. Then I decided I’d check out the cute waiters at the Insomnia Snack Bar. As usual, long-haired Willy remembered me and chatted with me, showing me the review in the new issue of Al-Ahram Weekly. I ordered a “tort du chocolateri” (or “chococlateri,” according to the check) and sat upstairs, and “Mocha” (really Muhammad) was my waiter, although “Midu” (also really Muhammad) did impromptu silly posing for my passing camera. I went to the fabulous Alfa Market and heard American English coming out of the mouths of two young women descending on the escalator. I said hello, and they were very friendly and chatty. They are Sue, originally from New York, and Lydia, originally from Connecticut, and they’re both students at American University. I told them my tale of woe, and they both were of course familiar with and baffled by the rule regarding videocameras. Sue used the word “resilient.” After, I went to the Metro supermarket to pick up Al-Ahram Weekly and videotape the cover of The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. I was disappointed there was no sign of The Protocols, although I guess I should have been thrilled. ‘Ala’, the person who collects payment for the periodicals but who is rarely anywhere near them, was this time right where he was supposed to be and attempted unsuccessfully to talk to me in Arabic. He just kept trying despite my not understanding, as if I’d learn if he just kept talking.
Friday, 27 February, Cairo: I didn’t sleep well so wound up sleeping on and off all day. I am planning to wake early Saturday and visit the Sha‘ar hash-Shamayim Synagogue. The two prior sentences represent my excuses for my day’s revolving around Zamalek restaurants. Staying in the neighborhood and doing little other than eating makes me feel like I didn’t do enough. I couldn’t resist, and I walked to Roy’s Country Kitchen in the Cairo Marriott. The food was a little pricey by Egyptian standards, but it was a hoot. All the waiters wore plaid shirts and oversized overalls. There were random street signs and old advertisements all over the walls to create a feeling of Americana. (What music I noticed, though, was British: Shirley Bassey and Lulu.) My waiter was Wagdy Mohsen, and I ordered a chicken fajita sandwich that was basically chicken shwarma on a hamburger bun. It came with not one but two side dishes, so it was quite filling. None of the attentive, friendly staff ever said “You’re welcome,” instead following each of my thank-yous with another “Thank you.” This of course prompted me to say “No, thank you” and continue the infinite loop. When I wandered into an empty part of the restaurant (the non-smoking section, of course) to look at the kitschy wall decorations, manager Waleed Soltan, probably the cutest staff member there, cornered me, paid a lot of attention to me, and asked lots of questions. When I left, Wagdy said “See you tomorrow.” There was an unusual number of rowdy black Africans in the streets near the Marriott, some of whom looked like they were about to fight. Not satisfied with a filling meal and a bunch of waiters with whom to flirt, I returned to the Insomnia Snack Bar for more of both. Again, “Mocha” was my waiter, and I ordered the “cheesy cake” which came with a smiling face made of syrup on the plate. I was looking at two issues of the Cairo Times, and “Midu” said I could take them away for free because I’m “special.” He also tried very hard to make conversation with me in English, but we simply could not understand one another. I returned to Sigma Net and, lo and behold, saw Sue and Lydia again, but again failed to videotape them.
Saturday, 28 February, Cairo: I decided to go out promenading in Central Cairo. I left Zamalek by crossing the 26th of July Bridge into Bulaq and saw the Mosque of Abu al-Ela. I continued eastward, arrived Downtown and found Sha‘ar hash-Shamayim Synagogue. Not only wasn’t I allowed inside, it was surrounded by a barricade so that even the sidewalk in front of it was inaccessible, and “protected” by about ten policemen or soldiers at various points in front of its façade. (I found a Web page indicating Shabbat may not have been the best time to go, despite what the Lonely Planet guide says.) I went afterward to the Lehnert & Landrock Bookshop which, lovely as it was, was nothing I hadn’t really seen before, despite the copious recommendations. I wandered, saw the Cinéma Metro and crowded el-‘Abd bakery, and decided to eat at À l’Américaine. It was spacious and trendy, and they enforced their minimum charge policy despite being nearly empty. Akrami the waiter followed me around, as workers in the Alfa Market do, matching my every step no matter how tiny. The “macaroni” (more like moussaka) was pasty and too salty, but the éclair was spectacular. Sit in the non-smoking section, and get ignored! I was served by various workers as Akrami seemed to lose interest until it came time to pay. I continued wandering and saw some lovely buildings not named in my guide book, like the Ministry of Awqaf. I was amazed at my self-assurance in crossing Cairo streets when there are maybe five traffic lights in the whole city. One young woman asked me “Anta Irani?” (“Are you Iranian?”), and a man at Tala‘at Harb Square merely said the word “Indian” as I passed. The latter reminded me of the man in the Marrakech souq who merely said “African Black” as I passed, or even the man in the Pyramid (the nightclub in New York, that is) who asked if I were Pakistani when I’m sure he knew I wasn’t. Wandering past all the ultra-chic shops on Qasr al-Nil Street, I found the charming little Sherifeen Street. At the far end was the darkened, nondescript building housing the Éspace Karim Francis gallery. I went inside and saw their Nora Bachel exhibition, and believe me, I should’ve stayed in bed. The gallery was really tiny, which in and of itself is not a bad thing, but the art by Austrian-born Nora Bachel was just miserable. Her “I Love You” series wasn’t so bad, but everything else was minimalist crap, like a big white canvas with nothing on it but a few small punctuation marks. Oh, how deep! There was a white shag carpet in the middle of the room with a big star cut out of the middle of it which was filled with blue bottles. It would look really lovely in someone’s living room, but a gallery? Whatever. I intended to see more galleries, but I walked down the wrong street (Tala‘at Harb instead of Mahmoud Bassiouni, if you must know) and mistakenly wound up at Tahrir Square, so I just crossed the Tahrir Bridge to Gezira and walked up Saray al-Gezira along the Nile back to Zamalek.

Arriving at the intersection of 26th of July Street and Mansour Mohammed Street, I finally saw the sidewalk setup of the phonograph-inscribed compact disc merchant, but only his little, annoying son was there and the compact discs were not. Every time I tried to look at a particular section of phonograph records, the child would stand in my light and put his hand on whatever disc I was touching at the time. When I tried to avoid him and move to a different section, he of course moved too. I guess he thought he was somehow being a good, little salesman by being attentive to me, but I had to just get away from him to return when the adult and the CDs are there.
Sunday, 29 February, Cairo: In the wee hours of morning, I decided to get a snack and possibly socialize a little. I walked all the way to the other side of Zamalek because the Lonely Planet guide said Maison Thomas was open twenty-four hours. When I arrived, I found it closed. I walked all the way back and went to the Goal restaurant again and had perhaps the best ice cream sundae of my life. It had very little syrup, but lots of nuts, including coconut shavings, and even raisins. I watched two attractive young men smoke waterpipes and play a card game so fast and furious cards would occasionally fly out of their hands onto the floor. Upon awakening, I went to Hana again, located within the Nile Zamalik Hotel, for Korean cuisine, passing a huge traffic jam and many high school students on Isma‘il Mohammed Street. My spicy chicken was great, and I got to eavesdrop on the awful part-Arabic, part-English conversation of some young men with the silhouettes of upturned mops at the next table as they discussed American action and horror movies and cracking various joints in their bodies.

A friendly taxi driver named Husam drove me to al-Azhar Mosque, and I thence walked to the Northern Cemetery (Al-Qarafat ash-Sharqiyyah) (Islamic Cairo). I saw the Tomb of Emir Tashtimur, but it appeared to be labeled for “at-Tuit” or something like that. I passed the gate into the formerly beautiful Qaitbay Complex and saw the still-lovely Mosque of Qaitbay and then the crumbling Rab‘ Sultan Qaytbay that gave only hints of its former glory. Then I passed the Complex of Sultan Ashraf Barsbey, which includes the Takiya Ahmed Abu Saif, then the Tomb of ar-Rifa‘i. I was attracting some attention being the only tourist present, but everybody was very friendly, greeting me with hellos and welcomes, rather than trying to con me. I continued past the Khanqah-Mausoleum of Ibn Barquq, and saw some boys playing ball outside the 1967 War Cemetary. I passed the Tomb of Asfur and went back the general direction whence I came via Sultan Ahmed Street. There are apparently some lovely green-domed mosques or other Islamic structures on some street parallel to and between Sultan Ahmed and the street on which the Complexes of Qaitbay and Sultan Ashraf Barsbey are laid out. All in all, it was an incredible trip and one I presume not frequently made by tourists. Walking again along Azhar Street on my way back to the Khan, I saw the stunning Mashiakhet al-Azhar and I made the acquaintance of three friendly, chatty young men: “Pero,” “Mumo” and “Mero,” really Ahmed Kamel, Husam and ‘Umar, respectively. I walked around the Khan and finally took up Mr. Hussein’s (Dracula’s) invitation and visited ‘Amber Perfumes on Muski Street. While there drinking Seven Up, I heard him explicitly tell some Finnish tourists he was 165 years old, thus confirming my and Polly’s belief he is Dracula. Muhammad (“Bido”) was anxious to talk to me on Jewish subject matter, telling me that day was the counterpart to the Jewish holiday Pesah but on the Higri calendar. (I guess he meant ‘Ashura, but I thought that wasn’t until 2 March.) I entered the Mosque of al-Mutahhar, labeled the “Mosque Sabil Kuttab of Abdul Rahman Katkhuda” based on a previous structure on the same site, some elements of which, like the minaret, remain, but should not be confused with the Sabil-Kuttab of Abdel Katkhuda a few blocks north. I was shown around by an impromptu guide met at the door. Then I bought more poor quality and overpriced audiocassettes from Abuzaid and Muhammad ‘Usman (a/k/a Khadigah). On my walk down Badestan, I saw Mohamed W., and spent incredible amounts of time sitting and chatting with him (and sometimes workers Hani and Magdi) about, among other subjects, old music and female vocalists (Umm Kulsum, Asmahan, Nagat, Laila Mourad, Shafiqqah etc. etc.). Mohamed W. is great; although I was just hanging out without intent to buy anything, he bought me a small bottle of water and then even roz bi-laban, a scrumptious milky rice pudding. His trousers were torn from the broken chair on which he frequently sits at work. After hours with him and his workers, I thought of New Yorkers for whom gifts might be in order, and he gave me really low prices. Eventually I walked away to visit Dahab just a few stores down and watched him and his worker close up shop. Dahab and I walked to Azhar Street together talking about whether we’d go to his home or mine, but we decided to part company, partly because I was tired. Tired as I was though, I went right back to Mohamed W., Hani and Magdi at the Ahmed ‘Orabi Shop.

22 February 2004

Third week in Egypt, 16–22 February 2004

Monday, 16 February, Cairo [‎القاهرة]: (Presidents’ Day in the United States.) In the wee hours, probably shortly after midnight, I visited the Metro supermarket in Zamalek [الزمالك], and Hani [هاني] asked if I were ill because I supposedly looked yellow. I looked in the mirror right behind him and thought I looked as cotton-candy pink as ever.

With the weather getting comfortably warmer, Polly and I returned to Doqqi and finally found the site of the Nadim mashrabiyyah workshop only to discover it had moved to another location. Azoy geyt es in Mitsraim. [אזױ גײט עס אין מצרים܁]

On we moved to Heliopolis (Masr al-Gedida مصر الجديدة). Heliopolis is lovely. We arrived in front of the ‘Uruba Presidential Palace; after videotaping the tram, I briefly turned my videocamera toward the wall surrounding the palace, and a guard nearly confiscated my videocassette. This should serve as a warning to any tourist not to photograph any government buildings or other government property. We walked along Mirghani Street and ‘Uruba (Airport) Road to the Baron’s Palace (Qasr al-Baron). It is in Hindu rather than any Egyptian style, and it’s absolutely stunning but in a terrible state of disrepair. The façades are ornate with numerous statues of gods and monsters, but also graffiti and boarded-up windows. Polly and I agreed it really deserves more attention from the government. Then we saw the Basilica and walked around, stopping to eat in Shabrawi’s, full of lots and lots of vegetarian and non-vegetarian food and low prices. I had my first bowl of kushari. We hailed a taxi to return to Zamalek, and it stopped for us on the far side of the street, but the traffic was so intense, we took a long time to cross the street. The driver stepped out of the car, crossed the street to meet us and then crossed back with us, escorting us through the dense traffic. In the taxi, I discreetly taped some of the ‘Uruba Presidential Palace.

Later, we went to ‘Agouza [العجوزة] to see a lecture, “Ancient Egyptian Mummies: Life and Death over 5,000 Years,” presented by the Egypt Exploration Society at the British Council. The speaker was the incomparable Prof. Rosalie David from Manchester University and Manchester Museum, whom I had only prior seen on télévision (Secrets of the Pharaohs). My videocamera was not allowed beyond the metal detectors, so again, go visit the British Council yourself or watch Secrets, or both.
Tuesday, 17 February, Cairo: Although the Lonely Planet guide to Egypt calls it the “Fish Garden,” the sign on the outside made it clear Polly and I actually visited the “Aquarium Grotto Garden” (Hadiqat al-Asmak) in Zamalek. It was very pretty. An annoying guide/security officer attached himself to us very quickly, ignoring the park-like area while pulling us through it, and bringing us to a cave-like area with displays of fish, some alive, some dead. He led us past a barricade into a bat-infested area that he said would eventually become a museum open to the public. He of course made sure to request his tip while we were quite secluded, then proceeded to shake my hand goodbye, kiss me on the cheeks, then attempt to kiss me on the lips and touch my buttocks. (Can you imagine? What kind of girl did he think I was?) We firmly rebuffed his advances, but he followed us around a little more, in part trying to get us to stay a few minutes in other fairly secluded areas, probably hoping for more bakhshish. When he left us alone, we could appreciate the unusual trees in the park, and the unusually large number of opposite-sex couples pitching woo. Apparently, this is where they go to escape the public mores dictating only same-sex couples may openly display physical affection. (This last observation must have been overlooked by our guide.)

Polly and I continued walking, crossing the infamous West Nile and strolling in ‘Agouza or Doqqi.

We soon hopped in a taxi and sped to Hussein Square (Islamic Cairo) where we began our walking tour of the area north of the Khan al-Khalili [خان الخليلي]. It started on Gamaliyya Street alongside the Mosque of Sayyidna al-Hussein, a mosque with the lovely umbrellas of which we are well familiar. We strolled north through Gamaliyya, saw various mosques and attempted to see the Musafirkhanah Palace not knowing at the time it had been destroyed in 1998. We entered the lovely Kahla Workshops Complex and were shown various artisans working in brass, aluminum and one other material I’ll have to ask Polly to identify. We passed the Wikala of Qaitbey and went through the Gate of Victory (Bab an-Nasr) and thus the Northern Walls. We turned left onto Galal Street, passing but not entering the Mosque of al-Hakim, then turned left again passing again through the Northern Walls via Bab al-Futuh. We walked south along Mu‘izz li-Din Allah Street [‎شارع المعز لدين ﷲ الفاطمي] and saw all the metalwork shops and the Mosque of Suleiman Silahdar. We were smart enough to take a small eastward excursion down Darb al-Asfur and paid admission to see three beautiful attached houses primarily in Mamluk style, but also with later, more modern additions. The first, biggest and most gorgeous is Beit Suhaymi, and we were shown room after room after room of it by our charming guide Ayhab. Many of the aspects of the house’s design were described in Turkish rather than Arabic words, and there was plenty of mashrabiyya [مشربية] to be seen. There was a display of how run down the place looked before restoration by philanthropic Kuwaitis. Ayhab also showed us the other two houses, the Kharazati and Mustafa Ga‘afar. We returned walking southward on Mu‘izz li-Dinn, passing the Mosque of al-Aqmar (the Moonlit), the Sabil-Kuttab of ‘Abdel Katkhuda and Beshtak Palace (Qasr Beshtak). The next area, Bein al-Qasreen (“Between the Palaces”), was badly flooded and muddy, and a number of its monuments were under construction. We could still see the Hammam as-Sultan (“Hammam [Bacha] of Sultan Inal” on the sign), the Madrassa & Mausoleum of Barquq (“Al-Madrasa al-Kamiliya” on the sign), the Madrassa & Mausoleum of Qalaun and other structures. To avoid the flood and mud, we detoured down an alley to Beit al-Qadi Square, resumed walking down Mu‘izz li-Dinn and eventually back in to the Khan. We were so exhausted from all that walking, we only had strength enough to sip Diet Pepsi in a Hussein Square café and have our shoes shined. One of the young men working there had a scarf around his neck that was very Isadora Duncan.

We looked in about a thousand different bookstores around Opera Square (Central Cairo) looking for a guide book in Arabic, but found none. We walked down Qasr an-Nil Street to Tala‘at Harb and ate in Café Riche where I tried and enjoyed their chicken fatta.
Wednesday, 18 February, Cairo: Polly and I stayed up all morning in our Zamalek apartment talking about Uptown and Bronx drag queens, and slept all day.

We ate at a Swiss/German restaurant called Restaurant Tirol in Mohandiseen [المهندسين] and walked around the neighborhood which reminded Polly of Forrest Hills. We saw a store called Naïve which sold “succesories for ever,” a store called Virus and an ice cream parlor called Sultana [‎سلطانة].

We took a taxi to the Khan (Islamic Cairo) to search unsuccessfully for faience beads, particularly because we weren’t 100% certain what they were, but were successful in seeing our old friend Ibrahim whom we’d met in 2002 in ad-Dahan.
Thursday, 19 February, Cairo: Is today some sort of holiday? Supposedly, today is some big Coptic holiday, according to someone to whom Polly spoke in the Khan yesterday. From our Zamalek apartment window, we could see lights strung all around Kitkat Square on the other side of the West Nile, so we walked over and took a look. We walked all over what I guess was Imbaba or ‘Agouza. A lot of folks were out, and there were various “events” going on in various places, and what looked like a wedding in the street on a particular block, and dancing in the street on another block.

Then we turned our attention once again to Islamic Cairo and visited the Khan, where we saw Mohamed W. and Ekramy and many others. The umbrellas were open at the Mosque of Sayyidna al-Hussein, and there were crowds at Hussein Square well past midnight. Does anyone know what the special occasion might be? We finally sat in Fishawy’s Café, and I don’t really understand its allure. It was loud and crowded and in most every way unrelaxing. Why is it the most popular café?
Friday, 20 February, Cairo: Midnight probably struck when Polly and I were in Fishawy. We kept wandering around and decided to again visit Gamaliyya. We walked north on Gamaliyya Street again, almost all the way to Bab an-Nasr. You know, there’s a lot of lovely unmarked Islamic architecture there that seems to have fallen into some state of disrepair (like the Mosque of Beybars al-Jashankir and Mosque of Gamal ad-Din), and we could see it and appreciate it so much better in the very early morning when the crowds weren’t present. Returning to the Khan, Polly pointed out some scruffy merchant on Gamaliyya Street near the Sabil-Kuttab of Ahmed Pasha and identified him as our friend Blal al-Rehany from 2002. We chatted with him and confirmed that he is indeed Blal, but I still couldn’t recognize him. He certainly looked far less scruffy (as well as more attractive) in 2002.

After sleeping, I heard continuous amplified talking from presumably some nearby minaret. It was far longer than the usual daily prayers of “Allahu akbar [ﷲ أكبر]” etc. (Perhaps it was some sort of Friday sermon.) When I strolled around Zamalek, I encountered a large number of male rear ends facing me and obstructing my path. The sidewalk of Isma‘il Mohammed Street and a block’s worth of asphalt and sidewalk of some cross street were filled to overflowing with praying men on their faces at the intersection. (Actually, they overflowed onto part of Isma‘il Mohammed’s asphalt, and car’s were having a difficult time navigating past them.) I suspect this is related to ‘Eid al-Adha or the Higri New Year (Ra’s as-Sanah), although it seems a little early. I went to Sigma Net, the local Internet café, to update this journal and heard moaning coming from the speakers of a nearby terminal. I glanced over at the screen and saw a movie of a naked woman. I glanced at the terminal’s user and saw his hand on his lap. Hmm. My day quickly went from sacred to profane. I also encountered a Sultana parlor in Zamalek. Let’s see if I have the guts to enter. I certainly have the gut.

Now despite all the different ethnic and religious groups (Jews included) in Egypt living in relative peace and harmony, I have seen what appear to be a few anti-Isra’eli or anti-Zionist books being sold in religious, Islamic bookstores and some small sidewalk magazine kiosks. I was surprised to find nothing short of The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion in Arabic being sold amongst the fashion and entertainment magazines and newspapers at the twenty-four–hour Metro supermarket. In defense of Egyptian society and its attitudes toward Jews, I should tell you the current issue of Al-Ahram Weekly, also sold at the Metro, has an article proclaiming The Protocols a forgery. Ismail Serageldin, director of Bibliotheca Alexandrina, is quoted as saying, “The book is well-known as a 19th century fabrication to foment anti-Jewish feelings.” (“More Than a Building,” in “Focus,” Al-Ahram Weekly, no. 678, 19–25 February 2004, p. 13.)

Later, I went to “Wisdom Hall” at El Sawy Cultural Center (Sakiet el Sawy ساقية عبد المنعم الصاوي) to see the Nagham Masry [‎نغم مصري] (Egyptian Melodies) group, a rock’n’roll outfit who perform in Arabic with a mixture of Western and Eastern influences. The space is adorable, tucked away under the 15th of May Bridge; when the concert was fairly quiet, traffic could be heard overhead. It was a little like what I imagine a Junoon [جنون] concert to be like. Considering it was rock’n’roll with a male vocalist, I was thoroughly entertained especially because the music was diverse. For instance, they did a Latin-influenced number, a Caribbean-influenced number and four completely acoustic numbers, three of which were done entirely with Oriental instruments. The great composer and mediocre singer was Sherbini Ahmed [‎شربيني أحمد]; he sang his own compositions with the lyrics of three famous Egyptian poets, primarily Ahmed Fou’ad Nagem [‎أحمد فؤاد نجم]. The crowd went wild over sexy guitarist Usu [‎أوسو], who I guess was quite proficient at his craft, but I don’t know much from electric guitar. I do know he had great hair and a cute face, but a stick-figure body and rubber-band limbs (which possibly help him play better guitar). The audience treated him and Sherbini as if they were big celebrities, but my attention was more captured by the Oriental musicians: Sharif Kamal [‎شريف كامل] the sexy qanun [‎قانون] player, Hani Badir [‎هاني بدير] on Oriental drums [‎إيقاعات شرقية], ‘Ali Siddiqi [‎علي صدقي] who made love to his ‘ud [‎عود] with his face, and ‘Asm as-Sayyid [‎عاصم السيد] playing his violin horizontally supported by his shoulder blade rather than vertically supported by his thigh or knee. The bass guitar player Samr Gurg [‎سامر جورج] was cute, but again I don’t really know from electric guitar. (I apologize for not knowing or using the performers’ preferred spellings.) I don’t understand Arabic, but even I could tell at least some of the songs were religious, but I guess they wouldn’t be “Egyptian Melodies” without mentioning God. (“Allah hay” [‎ﷲ حي] was performed twice because a group of young women in the audience shouted their request.) There were plenty of folk in the audience with whom I wouldn’t have minded making friends, especially since I’d be in Egypt alone for a week and a half, but everyone was lingering in clusters of friends and chatting a mile a minute in Arabic. I went home a few blocks away hoping that my unusual appearance would help audience members (or performers) remember me and approach me if they see me again.
Saturday, 21 February, Cairo: Unfortunately, Miss Polly was feeling under the weather, so we did not attend a Sufi dance performance as we had planned. I instead shopped in Zamalek and ventured out to a number of Zamalek galleries. One of the first few times we visited the Khan this year, Polly went into a favorite store in search of a golden elephant she had seen in 2002, but unfortunately it had since been sold. I searched all over Zamalek and finally found Morgana, a store where I had seen an elephant pin that might serve well as substitute for Polly’s lost treasure. I also went to the Romancia (which the Lonely Planet guidebook calls “Romantica”) bookshop and bought her a sappy card. Because I was all dressed up for the dancing, turban and all, the folks in the galleries treated me like I was some sort of foreign dignitary, piling all manner of booklets, pamphlets, posters and programs into my eager arms. First I went to Gallery Picasso [‎بيكاسو] and saw the exhibit “Thus Spoke the Sphinx” [‎هكذا تكلم أبو الهول] with paintings and drawings by el Dessouky Fahmy [‎الدسوقي فهمي]. Despite the title, there was virtually nothing Phara‘onic or even noticeably Egyptian in the works, but they did include paintings of plainly dressed and bored women with unusually large feet. The lady at the gallery, Mrs. Zizi, asked if I were from the Indian embassy and then followed me around and tried to explain everything to me. She gave me a poster, a strawberry sherbet sucking candy and a thick, full-color book she said was made to be given out to journalists. Then I went to Safar Khan and saw the exhibit “Egypt,” paintings and drawings by Anna Boghiguian. The gallery itself was very pretty, with a very high ceiling that allowed a wooden mezzanine around the walls creating a second story. The paintings were nice enough, but seemed very amateurish. I liked them much more for the chosen images of Egypt, both rural and urban, then for any technical skill. Some even seemed unfinished: drawn in pen and ink, and then partially painted. The lady in that gallery asked if I were an artist or journalist, and the souvenir book was too expensive for my taste. I wandered a while along 26th July Street and encountered a street merchant selling phonograph records. Nothing really tickled my fancy, especially not his collection of CD-ROMs offering Internet access. I couldn’t imagine how these originally free, promotional compact discs would possibly be sold. He said “No computer,” removed one from its case revealing a spiral groove on its face, placed it on a phonograph, and when he placed the tonearm on the disc, I actually heard tinny music! It was the most amazing and unexpected thing! He even had a little adapter to allow the disc’s hole to fit the spindle properly. Because he spoke no English, I couldn’t find out if he carved the groove or acquired the disc that way. I should have bought one, and I think I’ll return and do so. I stepped into the Insomnia Snack Bar hoping to eat amongst their good-looking staff and customers, but they were packed. Every seat was taken upstairs, so I couldn’t order their “Cuba cubana” sandwich (unless it were to take away). Then I went to the Zamalek Art Gallery [‎قاعة الزمالك للفن] and saw the exhibit “Time and Place” [‎الزمان والمكان] featuring oil paintings by Gazbia Sirry [‎جاذبية سري]. I was almost completely ignored because the artist herself was there being interviewed on video. I was trying unsuccessfully to walk around the gallery without the parquet floors creaking, lest I be heard in the video. I walked away with a program and poster to add to my rapidly growing collection of fire hazards (paper) for my home. Last but not least, I went to Khan al-Maghraby [‎خان المغربي] to see paintings by Alexandrian artist Sa‘id el-Adawi. Not only was he not present, he was dead, having become so in 1973. His paintings were very organic, even when depicting inorganic things. Everything had round edges. He included a lot of abstract, scantily-clad women with large bodies and very small heads; one even seemed to have three breasts. The two ladies there were asking about my clothing and complimenting it. I don’t understand Arabic, but they seemed to be debating my clothing’s (or my) origins, saying a list of countries or ethnicities. I walked away with a program and poster, the younger of the ladies having struggled to fit the poster somewhere within my concentric collection.
Sunday, 22 February, Cairo: Midnight brought Polly’s birthday, and the poor dear was sick. I presented her with the elephant, a completely symbolic, otherwise useless gift. I wouldn’t even expect her to wear it, although she said she’d wear it where her heart should be. Sitting here in the Sigma Net Internet café in Zamalek, I heard a radio commercial with Arabic lyrics to the tune of “Popcorn,” by (Jew) Gershon Kingsley. This place frequently plays some unusual music: “Stille Nacht,” Louis Armstrong and some extremely vulgar rap. I went to Goal restaurant about two blocks from Qasr Abu al-Feda. As the name might suggest, it was sort of sport-oriented, with pictures of soccer players on the walls and a soccer game on television. I didn’t mind because I was staring at the North African soccer players’ butts, and when the game was over, they showed Arabic music videos. It was a nice little place with an interesting menu, with regard to both food and misspellings. I was about to order their “milk cheek chocolate” until I realized it was a milk shake, so instead I ordered their strawberry drink which I was surprised was carbonated. Also on the menu was a drink with the sexually frustrating name “Virgin Marry.” I avoided their “specialiaties” and ordered their fusilli al tonno and chicken soup. A sexy young man I had noticed at a nearby table came to sit at my table to ask me questions about my videocamera. We exchanged electronic-mail addresses so I could send him stills from the test footage I shot of him to show him how nicely the camera records. His real name is “Ahmad,” but his friends call him “Mondy” because he used to live in America. (I didn’t understand either, nor did I ask.) I went back to the intersection of 26th of July and Mansour Mohammed Streets in search of the merchant with the phonograph-inscribed compact discs, but he wasn’t there. I entered the nearby Alfa Market [‎الفا ماركت], which the Lonely Planet guide calls “ABC Supermarket,” and was blown away. It’s a big supermarket that puts the Metro to shame. Then I saw there were not one but two more floors. Upon ascending, I saw it was really a department store with plenty of everything anyone would expect in any department store: housewares, clothing, books, music, stationery and art supplies, plastic containers etc. etc. etc. I must return with Polly.