Monday, June 3, 2013
Morning in the Metroplis
It is overcast this morning in Cairo, the always dusty air just that much more so. Given that we sit in the middle of some twenty million people, the flat is remarkably quiet (far more so than the Villa Muscato, in its green streets of gated compounds, oddly), and so mornings (me, as usual, up hours before the Mister) feel like an opportunity to slide slowly into the day. Given that today we are venturing downtown, to the very heart of Cairene bedlam, that's probably a good thing.
It helps this morning, serenity-wise, that we seem, after another day's concentrated effort, to have gotten over the worst of the moving-in. The last of the boxes has been unpacked, and while we're still waiting on this and that to be delivered, I have to say the place is looking very well. Pictures have been hung, and a quite remarkable number of dishes stowed in the cupboards that arrived from the Sandlands oddly weathered, as if during their trip across the great emptiness of Saudi they decided to ride on top of rather than in whatever van or truck it was that brought them here. Whoever stays here in our absence will be able to cook for fifteen or twenty, even if there are only five napkins and no more than three matching glasses of any one kind.
One advantage they will have that I fear we will sorely lack in our next, American destination is the services of the latest in the string of Good Help that seems such a feature of our expat life. We have a very good friend as a neighbor, and he has lent us the services of his houseman, Mustafa. The spiritual descendant of One-Eyed Hamid in The Alexandria Quartet, Mustafa is if nothing else the starkest contrast possible to Mrs. Galapatti-da Silva: stick-thin and crane-tall rather than tiny and expansive, endlessly voluble rather than startlingly silent (she can sometimes be standing next to the sofa, waiting to ask a question, before I've realized she's even in the house; Mustafa announces himself one way or another while still coming up in the elevator). He has a giggle like a Japanese schoolgirl and I suspect an entirely scandalous private life, but he's well-reputed for discretion and reliability, if not particularly for his skill at things like, say, cleaning (being of the traditional Egyptian school that there is no better way to attack stubborn dirt than with a very lightly dampened rag and only the slightest modicum of enthusiasm). While he's a far cry from the traditional Egyptian butler of yore, the silently gliding sufragi in galabaya and tarbouche, a version of which is presented in the touristic fantasia above, he means awfully well, and I always think that takes one a very long way. If nothing else, he has found everything from the carpenters to reassemble the furniture to the suspiciously good-looking young electrician who overhauled the antique fuses, and I suspect he's only gouging them moderately for the privilege of working for us.
In addition to our trip downtown, to deal with various kinds of tiresome bureaucracy, today also holds the promise of dining with our old friend The Retired Tycoon. He has the kind of old Egyptian flat seen only in films, complete with a genuine sufragi, and will have as well I'm quite sure all the latest news of the town. But for now the sun is working its way through the dust-clouds, there is hot coffee and in the background Yo-Yo Ma playing Bach, and all's well with the world...