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.

15 February 2004

Second week in Egypt [‎مصر، מצרים‎], 9–15 February 2004

Monday, 9 February, Alexandria [الإسكندرية]: In the wee hours of morning, we went out to al ‘Araby restaurant on Mohammed Koraiem Street. It was extremely inexpensive, and only locals seemed to be present at the time. We stayed out so late and then slept so late, we had no time after eating at Kadoura to visit any tourist site while it was still open, so we toured the neighborhood of Anfushi, seeing the Mosque of Abu ‘Abbas al-Mursi [‎مسجد أبى العباس المرسى] and presumably Busseiri Mosque and others, then went to Fort Qaitbey and only saw it from the outside. (Polly and I had been inside it in 2002.) However, our time spent on the Eastern Harbor was very relaxing. There’s also a beautiful mural with which Polly was not enchanted right near the fort. Afterward, we went to an ice cream parlor wherein the workers started dancing in front of me as if they wanted me to join in. (I didn’t.) While sitting in the little café in the Cecil Hôtel, we were lucky enough to encounter a wedding procession entering the hôtel with much fanfare, including lit torches, North African trilling (zaghradah) and a lady with ripped nylons.
Tuesday, 10 February, Alexandria, Cairo [القاهرة]: Again in the wee hours of morning, we went out to another bellydance club. We saw a singer with great hair, but the seventy-five pound minimum worried us. We left before experiencing a replay of the events of the Miami club in Cairo. After sleeping, we managed to see a fair number of sites, but had to go on another long, unexpected (although beautiful) trek due to an idiotic taxi driver which drove us right past a pet store where puppies were kept in a fish tank. We saw Pompey’s Pillar and the Serapeum, the Catacombs of Kom ash-Shuqqafa and the souq [سوق]. No cameras were allowed in the Catacombs, so on that magical day I finally post some vacation pictures somewhere, you still won’t be able to see them. Therefore, please visit the Catacombs yourself if you have not already. We must have left a hefty gratuity at Kadoura the day before, because upon our return, they treated us like queens, giving us both toasted and untoasted pide, free rice (much to Polly’s delight), and plenty of tissues which were standing in for napkins. Again, Muhammad [محمد] was our waiter.
Wednesday, 11 February, Cairo: I swear I’m like a celebrity at the Metro supermarket in Zamalek [الزمالك]; every time I go in, I’m greeted by three or four people—Hani [هاني] is my favorite—saying “Hello, Musa [موسى]” who then insist I videotape them and show them the results. Today, we went to the brand new Insomnia Snack Bar in Zamalek so Miss Understood could get coffee, but we were all treated to all the sexy workers there. (Rami was the sexiest, but Willy Tawfik the friendliest.) We then returned to Islamic Cairo and re-explored the souq just south of Azhar Street, including an area with wonderful fabrics that made Polly and Miss Understood drool, and a visit to a popcorn cart. Within the Khan [خان]: We bought peanuts from a nut and seed cart where the merchant also had some product called “Evaculax”; Miss U bought bellydance costumes and accessories from salesman Nur [نور] in ‘Afifi [عفيفي] in the Khan; she and Polly bought beautiful embroidered “jackety things” in the Libyan style in Atlas Silks. We then had drinks at Wly el Ni‘am Coffe Shop where we met a couple of newlyweds at the next table after the groom sneezed and I gave him a tissue. The bride was the only one who could communicate in any semblance of English, and I couldn’t figure out if they were Syrians living in Sa‘udi ‘Arabia, or Sa‘udis living in Syria. She was very concerned about the image Americans had of Muslims.
Thursday, 12 February, Cairo, Giza: (Abraham Lincoln’s birthday.) We intentionally made this a busy day as Miss U would be leaving for America the following morning. We returned to the Insomnia Snack Bar (Zamalek) before seeing the Phara‘onic Village (in Giza [الجيزة]), the Egyptian Museum (in Central Cairo) and took in a Nile cruise on the M/S Aquarius. The Village is a funny theme park with scale models of Egyptian monuments, bored teens, whom they call “actors,” in ancient costume, and old mannequins, which they call “statues,” also in ancient costume. Miss U did not get to see any of this though, because we left very early to allow sufficient time to view the Egyptian Museum. The Egyptian Museum was incredible. We had a great guide and saw a lot, including mummies, sarcophagi and what he called “King Tut’s condom.” A cute guide named Ayman met us at our apartment building and brought us to the Aquarius, where we saw a long show (two dancers and numerous musicians), and had another all-you-can-eat buffet. The singer of course brought me onstage (if you could call it a stage), and the buffet almost closed before I got dessert. I met two sweet young workers named Yassir [ياسر] and Khalid [خالد] and danced with them in the buffet room. Afterward, we had drinks—Miss U’s and Polly’s alcoholic!—at l’Aubergine back in Zamalek.
Friday, 13 February, Cairo: (Friday, the 13th, and my brother’s birthday on the Gregorian calendar.) And then there were two: Miss U left early after Polly and I stayed up all night with her while she packed. I think this was the day an Arab man who works for Osama [اسامه] put a blade to my throat. Yes, I was shaven at the glamorous Salon Osama here in Zamalek by an Egyptian man with very pretty eyes. If my mental timeline is accurate, Polly and I returned to le Peking for dinner, then went out to the Khan (Islamic Cairo). We had drinks at the mashwiyyah next to ad-Dahan (al-Qadim), also called “ad-Dahan” (Ulad Yusuf), where they serve hamam (pigeon). There I chatted with waiter Ahmad, and was escorted to the hammam (bathroom) by Sa‘id. (Why are the words so similar?) This may also have been the day we first explored Gamaliyya, although it may very well have been the following. Although there’s not as much as there used to be (so far as I know), there is still significant scaffolding and (re)construction work even twelve years after the 1992 earthquake.
Saturday, 14 February, Cairo: (Valentine’s Day.) Polly and I ventured to the island of Rhoda. Most of the women were indeed wearing şmates [‎שמאַטעס] on their heads, but we saw no statue of Valerie Harper. First, we visited the fabulous Umm Kulsum [أم كلثوم] Museum. At the front was an exhibit with her trademark scarf and sunglasses. There were lots of pictures of her, as well as her most glamorous gowns and shoes. (It seems she had small feet.) Again, no video was allowed within, so you should see the museum for yourself. Oh, and we also saw the Nilometer and the outside of Munasterli Palace. We returned to Atlas Silks in the Khan (Islamic Cairo), so Polly could be fitted for the Libyan-style “jackety thing” she was purchasing. It came with adorable flared sleeves, but Polly requested straight sleeves instead. The owner tried to discourage that choice because the straight sleeves were on the women’s “jackety thing,” and were supposedly more feminine. An intersection of Badestan Road was badly flooded, and Polly and I chatted with our old friend Ekramy from 2002 rather than attempt to traverse it. For dinner, we returned to l’Aubergine (Zamalek).
Sunday, 15 February, Cairo: When the workers at the twenty-four–hour Ritz Dry Clean [ريتز دراي كلين] in Zamalek asked if I were Muslim and I said I was Jewish, I was informed the owner is a Jew from Old Cairo. I expected his name to be Hebrew or Arabic, but instead they said “Alan” or “Alain” or “Ellen.” Polly and I posed for pictures by the statue of Umm Kulsum conveniently located only blocks from our apartment building. (Abu al-Feda Street turns into Umm Kolthum Street near the 15th of May Bridge.)

We walked almost all the way to ‘Ataba Square (Downtown, Central Cairo) to al-‘Aray’es Puppet Theatre to see a surreal musical puppet show of Cinderella in Arabic, and Cairo is not pedestrian-friendly. The evil stepmother puppet reminded me of Joan Rivers. The show was fairly amateurish, but diverse in the sense they used stick puppets, hand puppets, a full-body costume (à la Big Bird and sport mascots) and beautiful use of black light for flowers, birds and a caterpillar changing to a butterfly. The bunnies dancing in Cinderella’s home were absolutely manic! (If I understood the sign correctly, the music was by Tariq Mandur, the lyrics by Sharif Nur.) Afterward, we had tough, chewy şişkebabı and salty pickles at el ‘Agaty [‎العجاتي], although the menu had offered us the option of ordering “lamp meat” and “grilled lamp chops.” The owners are Moroccan (from Casablanca) and are named “‘Agaty” because the family used to be in the ivory trade there. Hu-ha [הו־האַ].

08 February 2004

First week in Egypt [‎مصر، מצרים], ‎2–8 February

Monday, 2 February, Cairo [القاهرة]: We saw little except for the airport, thanks to Miss Understood. She’d left her passport at home and was detained in Cairo International Airport for about nine hours. The U. S. embassy or consulate bent over backwards to allow her to stay in Egypt when we all thought she’d be sent back to America. We met a friendly and patient taxi driver named Mustafa at the airport. Exhausted, we plopped ourselves in the Longchamps Hotel [‎فندق لونشان] in Zamalek [‎الزمالك].
The westward view from our apartment's window, showing ImbabaThe westward view from our apartment's window, showing @AgouzaTuesday, 3 February, Cairo: We saw numerous apartments in Zamalek and settled on a lovely three-bedroom flat in Qasr (or Asr, with Egyptian pronunciation) Abu al-Feda [قصر أبو الفدا], at No. 9 Abu al-Feda Street, with a lovely view of Kitkat Square (Imbaba [امبابة]) and the houseboats (dahabiyyas) on the West Nile.

The view from the opposite side of the apartment is just a mess of Zamalek buildings, most shorter than ours revealing all the discarded construction materials on their rooftops. Beyond that, we can see the tallest of the Bulaq buildings: the Conrad International, the National Bank Building, the Foreign Ministry building and the particularly ugly Radio & TV Building. Only one minaret can be seen, presumably that of the Mosque of al-Qadi Yahya (the more recent one, not the older one on Port Sa‘id Street). We couldn’t wait and went right to the Khan al-Khalili [خان الخليلي] bazaar [‎بازار] in Islamic Cairo. There Miss Understood met Polly’s and my friend from 2002, Ahmed Mostafa [أحمد مصطفى], in his new store Bazar el Ekhlas [بازار الإخلاص]. In fact, he and Miss U got quite friendly while she tried on şmates [שמאַטעס] with coins on them, prompting her to say in her best George Burns impersonation, “I’ll wear this for you later.”
Bazar el Ekhlas images: Click on the thumbnails to see the full-size images.

“Later,” however, Polly, Miss U and I took a nice stroll along the Nile [النيل] discussing, among many other topics, bowling on the Nile. (I don’t remember if it was this first time returning to the Khan, but on some day there I bumped into two dear old friends from 2002, Mohamed el-Wardany [“Hamada”] and Dahab.)
Wednesday, 4 February, Cairo: Polly Grip got her coiffure tended to in the glamorous Salon Osama in Zamalek. Then, Polly and I went to Doqqi to see the Nadim mashrabiyyah workshop, but we couldn’t find it before the skies opened up and rained all over us. Meanwhile, Miss Understood got herself a new passport. We all met at ad-Dahan [‎الدهان] restaurant back in the fabulous Khan al-Khalili (Islamic Cairo).
Khan/Muski shopping images: Click the thumbnails to see the full-size images.

We visited a wonderful store for bellydance costumes and accessories we had visited in 2002, various other shops with both friendly and unfriendly merchants, and had drinks in the second-story Abu Hamza Caffe Shop [أبو حمزه كافي شوپ], which gave us a beautiful view of Hussein Square.
We got to see the umbrellas open at the Mosque of Sayyidna al-Hussein, something we never saw in 2002. To the best of my knowledge, we also went to Central Cairo and walked around the area of Tala‘at Harb Square, where numerous pedestrians seemed drunk although they weren’t.

Thursday, 5 February, Cairo: We returned to Islamic Cairo and toured the souq and other parts south of Azhar Square, including seeing but not entering the Mosque of al-Azhar, the Khan al-Zarakisha, the Mosque of Abu Dhahab, the al-Ghuri Complex (al-Ghuriyya, comprising the Mosque & Madrassa and Mausoleum of al-Ghuri), the Wikala of al-Ghuri [‎وكالة الغوري], the Mosque of al-Fakahani, the Sabil-Kuttab of Tusun Pasha, the Mosque-Mausoleum of Sultan al-Muayyad, the Wikala and Sabil-Kuttab of Nafisa Bayda, and Bab Zuwayla (Bab al-Mitwalli). Our guide also showed us all over the stunning House of Gamal ad-Din al-Dhahabi [‎جمال الدين الذهبي] including seeing the panoramic view from the roof. (See my virtualtourist travelogue about the House of Gamal ad-Din al-Dhahabi for some of my pictures.)

We had drinks at the Mashwiyyat ‘Id [مشويات عيد] on Hussein Square and saw a lady dressed more like a drag queen than like any average Egyptian.

Friday, 6 February, Cairo, Giza [‎الجيزة], Saqqara: Polly and I had seen Giza and Saqqara before, but returned via Mustafa’s taxi so Miss Understood could see them, and of course we saw things we hadn’t seen before. In Saqqara, we saw Zoser’s Funerary Complex including the Step Pyramid of Phara‘oh Zoser, the Pyramid and Causeway of Unas, and a tomb of two very close male friends (Ni‘ankhkhnum and Khnumhotep) our otherwise unintelligible tour guide made sure we understood were not homosexuals. (We weren’t necessarily convinced.)

Perhaps for anti-gay reasons, no photographs or video were allowed within the gay tomb, so I have no record of its interior.

In Giza, we took photographs intentionally emphasizing an optical illusion to make it appear we were kissing the Sphinx (Abu al-Hol أبو الهول).

Saturday, 7 February, Cairo: Along with our guide Diaa M. Abd elLatif from Hamis Travel [‎هاميس للسياحة], we saw numerous sites in Old Cairo (Masr al-Qadima مصر القديمة), including the Mosque of ‘Amr ibn al-‘As [‎جامع عمرو بن العاص], the Roman Towers, the Hanging Church (Kineeset al-Mu‘allaqa الكنيسة المعلقة), the Church of St. Sergius (Abu Serga كنيسة أبو سرجه الأثرية) and the Ben ‘Ezra’ Synagogue [‎בית הכנסת בן עזרא]. Then we moved on to Islamic Cairo and went to the Citadel (al-Qala‘a Salah ad-Din قلعة صلاح الدين), entering its Mosque of Muhammed ‘Ali [مسجد محمد علي], and seeing (but not entering) its Mosque of Sultan an-Nasir Muhammed [‎جامع السلطان الناصر محمد], then visiting the Sultan Hasan–Rifa‘i compound which comprises the Mosque-Madrasa of Sultan Hasan [المدرسة ومسجد السلطان حسن] and Rifa‘i Mosque [‎مسجد الرفاعي], where the Shah [‎شاه] of Iran [‎ایرا] is buried. We ate at the all-you-can-eat buffet of Soirée. Afterward, I was anxious to visit a store labeled “book shop,” but disappointed to find it was a gift shop disguised as a bookstore. Miss Understood didn’t much care and bought earrings there. I believe this was the day our vehicle passed a boy on horseback going in the opposite direction who shouted “Hello, veryone!”
Sunday, 8 February, Cairo, Alexandria [الإسكندرية]: In the wee hours of the morning, we went to the Palmyra and Miami clubs somewhere Downtown, Central Cairo, both located in the same complex. One performer in each club brought me onstage, probably at least in part due to my unconventional clothing. We didn’t pay any admission fees and saw some lovely musicians and Oriental (belly) dancers, but we were subjected to overwhelming demands for bakhshish [‎بخشیش] from all the workers. (Actually, the hostess took it upon herself to distribute our change to various workers rather than give it to us.) We wound up spending far more than we had anticipated, but still far less than at a comparable New York club. After our housekeeper Marwa left, we ate at le Peking in Zamalek and then set off for Alexandria. We arrived fairly late and went walking along the Corniche after an unwanted trek in a taxi, and we passed and marveled at the enormous Bibliotheca Alexandrina. Miss Polly checked into the spiffy Cecil Hôtel on Sa‘ad Zaghloul Square, but Miss Understood and I checked into the cheap, nearly substandard Hôtel Normandy [فندق نورماندي] on Gamal ad-Din Yassin [شارع جمال الدين ياسين] for about US$3 per night. (The bathrooms were in the hall.)