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].