Monday, December 4, 2017

Cities of the Living and the Dead

At some point it stops being travel and starts being just living...

Even if one has been spending time, one way or another, among the dearly departed. I took another long walk in congenial company this past Friday, this time to the vast and labrythine cemeteries known collectively as the City of the Dead. But this being Cairo, there is as much life among the tombs as there is in the teeming neighborhoods of the old downtown or even in our slightly less frenetic part of town. Hundreds of thousands of people live in and among the graves, acting as caretakers (at least in theory), and in general they were unfazed by a gang of foreigners barging into their weekend-morning routines.

In the photo above we've gotten into the compound of a noble family from the time of King Fouad, a magnificent if more than a little decrepit example of the opulent neo-Moorish/Moderne/Arabesque style much in vogue at the time. This is the gatehouse, from the inside. Unseen are the several dozen chickens and nearly as many urchins who share the mausoleum and its grounds with the dead Pasha and his wife.

After that it was back to the (even) livelier part of town, for an excellent lunch at a revivified old restaurant downtown that features a live and only moderately annoying guitarist for Friday lunch, along with a pretty first-rate version of the baked-egg dish known as shakshouka (one of those staples that pretty much every country in this region claims as its own - but it really is Egyptian. Really.). Add in a quick trip to an old rooftop bar for a beer and a stroll through the back allies of downtown and  you've got a very nice day indeed.

I've been expanding my horizons in various ways, settling in and trying on the concept of living here. For example, I've been taking the Metro, which is astonishingly cheap (2 pounds Egyptian, or something on the order of a dime), surprisingly efficient, and, most of the time, overwhelmingly crowded in a way that reminds me of Tokyo at rush hour. We live not all that far from one of the quieter lines, which is a relief.

I've also been getting ever more admiring of the quality and sheer quantity of excellent food on offer, from first-rate sushi at the glam hotel across the way from our flat to, as below, the produce, which is simply glorious.

This is one corner of a market downtown, a dense row of stalls selling everything from (as here) avocados and the wonderful, exceedingly delicious local strawberries to startlingly risqué lingerie.

We're heading into our last days here, and the Mister and I have agreed that we might be very happy in this mad megalopolis when at last I shake the dust of Golden Handcuffs from my heels. I'm not sure it would be a place to live forever, but for a little while Cairo could be very diverting indeed. And heaven knows, there's little enough in the American news to make one think that things will be very much better there.

Things are even getting surprisingly Christmassy, which always surprises people back home; I'm assembling some images of the various decorations and will post one or two as time allows. We're very busy this week, as friends are gratifyingly eager to see us one more time, but I'll do my best...


  1. Brandy, shandy, beer without a froth,
    Braces, laces, a candle for the moth.
    Bet you'd look a smasher in an old loin cloth,
    In the old bazaar in Cairo.

    You can buy most anything,
    Thin bulls, fat cows, a little bit of string,
    You can purchase anything you wish,
    A clock, a dish and something for your Auntie Nellie,
    Harem, scarem, what d'ya think of that,
    Bare knees, striptease, dancing on the mat,
    Umpa! Umpa! That's enough of that,

    In the old bazaar in Cairo.
    Rice pud, very good, what's it all about,
    Made it in a kettle and they couldn't get it out,
    Everybody took a turn to suck it through the spout,
    In the old bazaar in Cairo.

    Mamadan, Ramadan, everything in style,
    Genuine, beduine carpet with a pile,
    Funny little odds and ends floating down the Nile,
    From the old bazaar in Cairo.
    You can buy most anything,

    Sheeps eyes, sand pies, a watch without a spring,
    You can buy a pomegranate too,
    A water-bag, a little bit of hokey pokey,
    Yashmaks, pontefracts, what a strange affair,
    Dark girls, fair girls, some with ginger hair,
    The rest of it is funny but they censor it out there,
    In the old bazaar in Cairo.

    Indeed. Jx

    1. "Everybody took a turn to suck it through the spout..."


    2. I have no idea what this is, but I intend to find out.... quite fabulous.