CAIRO RAW 8: Downtown-our neighborhood part 1

We opted for a brutalist structure called the Ramses Hilton-built in 1981

one site describes it as the ‘ugliest building in Cairo”

CAIRO RAMSES HILTON STOCK WITH LANDMARKS(appropriated and altered stock photo)

It was perfect for our purposes. A well known landmark-  you could see it from a distance . We created a catalog of landmarks from buildings, traffic circles, stores, bridges…

We were downtown near Tahrir

And every time we’re doing this-several times a day and night

we can’t believe we are-

doing this  this sing song, walk, run, try a matador’s twist…

threading through -against the grain -of 10 lanes of African traffic

no stoplights-you had to walk like an Egyptian.

We’d head up Sherrif Street at night like locals- walking in street with men in robes, student types, a few business men in suits,  shop keepers outside having a smoke

 with the few cars finding their way around you on this still- old- Cairo-feeling street.

 Downtown is a Neutral Zone in today’s Cairo.

You saw things like the graffiti below-things we never saw anywhere else in the city.

CAIRO FREE ISLAM 1 TAG

From a random corner of an alleyway wall.

women without head scarves

hanging out with young men in western clothes-student-looking

at the sheesha place we went to.

 a stranger says  “Salaam” as he passes on the sidewalk

the three places we we alternated with for dinners- where we scored Stella the perfect locally made beer

A Neutral Zone where we felt at home.

CAIRO CAFE RICHE AND NAS

CAIRO RAW 7: THE STREET -SHOP KEEPING STYLES AND THE WORLD AROUND KHAN KHALILI

It was right out of a Seinfeld episode. We were walking down the “people’s” market on a long narrow street-stretching out at least a half mile packed with the people of Cairo-Islamic Cairo next to Khan Khalili.

Tables lined each side and it was mobbed. We were passing a small intersection when all of sudden my eyes locked onto the shopkeeper from inside the market-the one who was blocking me-keeping me from  leaving his shop a couple of hours before…..

As soon as we saw each other his face hardened and he said, “You’re a bad man,” shaking his head and storming off past us.

cairo bad man with red text

Remember the episode where Jerry convinced the Pakistani man to change his restaurant from an America styled dinner to a Pakistani one?……..the exact same sentiments ……

The funny thing is when he lead us into his shop he pressed blue scarabs into our hands, in the traditional faience style

CAIRO SCARAB KHAN KHALILI 2

It became my talisman for the rest of the trip – had it in my pocket the whole time we were there and- look at every day on my desk. For me a small treasure.

Thinking about the styles of shop keeping between Istanbul and Cairo. In Cairo the shop keepers press things into your hands-a card, a vial of oil, a scarab- a physical link with you like the way the Africans down the steps from the Sacre Coeur come up to you and immediately begin tying a multi-colored bracelet out of yarn on your wrist before you can say a thing. (they got 10 Euros-and I  had it on for months afterwards)

In Istanbul the shop keepers wait a little more to gauge your interest and if they sense potential will get someone to get tea-hopefully not “Apple” tea which is a tourist offering-they think you’re a lightweight.You want real tea. Black like the Turkish drink it-in the little glasses.

Al-Azhar and/or Midan Hussein

After our first pass through the covered-traditional- tourist dependent Khan Khalili-we found the famous 13th century street, UNESCO site, preserved/restored buildings from one of the city’s great periods.

Cairo’s court and way of doing things were mimicked by Roger the king of Sicily   and as soon as you see the shapes of the windows- decorations around their frames- you think the cathedrals of France.

99% of the people we moved among in this area were Muslim visitors to a living Islamic legacy. Though a protected and heritage designated spot….you were even  supposed to buy a ticket to go into some buildings like those below-but it was still Egypt…baksheesh still worked for an individual site

motorcycles still roared past the mostly foot trafficked street, and you still never knew what to expect.

CAIRO AL AZHAR SQUARE (1 of 1)

This is the beautiful  area that we entered from Khan Khalili. The sun that day burnt through smog and clouds with the light above.

On some steps nearby a man -30’s – could have been their teacher- was singing-had to be a verse from Koran-surrounded by 10 younger males-they were joyous.

Young men and women strolled, groups of friends did selfies,

different atmosphere. The shopkeepers weren’t after anyone.Cairo the great mosque interior khan khali (1 of 1)inside the mosque at the square in front of Khan KhaliliCAIRO al towers b and w (1 of 1) CAIRO al towers dome and tower golden (1 of 1) CAIRO al towers with yellow (1 of 1)

CAIRO HUSSEIN 1 (1 of 1)

 CAIRO al windows (1 of 1)

The late Omar Sharif, who killed it in Zhivago for all time, was quoted last year-in his last year:

-The average Egyptian man knows more about the world than most Americans-

We met one of those world wise humble souls on this street. He had simple space similar to the opening in the drawing of the butcher’s space below-we got some earrings from him for gifts.CAIRO BUTCHER NEAR COPTIC AREAHis space had this vibe-he did-it felt like a 60’s space. He looked about that age and was so……mellow….. none of the aggressiveness…though we didn’t speak much-all could say was “Shukran” or “La Shukran,” but there was just this unspoken understanding and a 60’s thing happening in his manner, dress-plaid shirt/jeans-his offerings: earthy, tribal, handmade, authentic.

 A satisfying transaction in every way.

 

CAIRO RAW 6: The Streets -a famous bazaar and the Heineken conundrum.

Easy to see how starry-eyed, mystical..even euphoric people visiting Egypt can get-especially if they’re in the tour package bubble-or ushered around by friends who live there….luxor, the red sea resorts, some pyramid sites near Cairo, a day in Cairo hitting the main visitor sites… Saladin’s fortress, the Coptic area’s ancient churches, and…… Khan Al Khalili…the famous market:

labyrinth streets with small shops ..the main visitor’s part is pretty much covered from above–it’s darker…that’s where Fishwali’s the famous awa or coffe house is located.

the parts of the market orientated more towards the locals is not covered it looks something like this only there’s a  million people crammed into the central space and the sides would be lined with tables displaying basic items like t shirts, jeans, sandals- and the sales people behind

Cairo looking down narrow street (1 of 1)

We of course went . It was impossible to walk there from downtown. We grabbed a car service outside on the street-a 50 ish looking man with a silver kia…we lucked out Osama took us to the market and we felt good about hiring his services to visit the Dahshur, Saqqara and of course Giza sites. We had him take us to Khan Al Khalili but didn’t have him wait.

It’s of course a scene. Though not the happiest for the Egyptian business.  No one’s coming anymore. You see a few buses appear at the edge of a large open square in front of huge famous mosque and lined on one side by restaurants with friendly but aggressive touts getting groups from the buses when they came filled with  Japanese, Chinese, Italian and Aussies….

CAIRO KHAN AL KHALILI 2 STORIES

part of the day in the life we had at Khan Al Khalili

CAIRO MAP CLOSE ON KHAN AL KHALILI AREAclose on a part of a map we used.

……and the Heineken conundrum…….

 in the first couple of days we were in Cairo we were approached three times by a cab driver, a street hustler….

to buy Heineken in the duty-free shop reserved for foreigners.

The strange thing no one asked after the two days we we’re allowed to shop at the duty free store…no one ever asked us to buy beer again. How did they know …how could they read the time we had left to buy something, did they read our auras? strange.

We didn’t of course.

we don’t recommend visitors here getting involved in unlawful transactions-

We didn’t know why an Egyptian couldn’t buy Heineken-maybe the law is meant to protect the home grown-birth of beer land

like a tarriff.

Egyptian beer-Stella-is great.

an excellent Egyptian beer. It’s perfect for the Cairo climate. It’s about 5% so “light” compared to the craft brews we have.

  We had it at the three restaurants we ate dinner in downtown-Cafe Riche, The Greek Club Restaurant and one that had a live pigeon in a cage on a raised wall next to our table.

They were all off Talaat Harb, the big downtown shopping street seen in the photos below.

Cairo corner talaat haarb (1 of 1)CAIRO street random lot (1 of 1)CAIRO street clothing contrast (1 of 1).

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Cairo Raw 5 The Streets…continued

The streets of Cairo began at the airport. “Okay, I thought “classic pea soup fog” as our flight from Rome came in for the landing.

It was already a dark November evening-lights from planes, the airport, the city beyond, had a blur effect.

going down the ramp from the cabin to the tarmack-to board the bus to the terminal

My eye catches the huge billboard with the current Egyptian leader’s face on it….

But at same instant the visual was overpowered by the scent of the “soup” we saw out the window of the plane a few minutes before.

It was everything Egypt was is and will be

human- industrial waste-, human – industrial fire, animal waste, animal sacrifice, animal toil, cars and emissions, Nile airs…everything …here…that’s ever been is in the

scent of this brew. People have talked about the air of Cairo when you first inhale. They’re right. Not like any air known to me.

CAIRO ARRIVAL AIRPORT IN THE PEASOUP NIGHT

Cairo airport: just outside the terminal entrance/exit.CAIRO man in white robe (1 of 1)A figure in white: many men-many at the airport wore white or dark tan versions of the traditional men’s robe.

I

CAIRO RAW 4: The Streets….continued

Street art-art of the street

Downtown Cairo is deja vu-especially at night

mud, garbage, loose bricks, sand, cars…always cars….

that feeling anything can happen-

feels like New York City of the 1970s-the period Patty Smith evokes.

you feel rougher edges and a ferment in streets fanning out from Tahrir .

There’s graffiti from the last several years of sporadic uprisings in the streets

and “sleds” like football players use to practice “hitting” wrapped with barbed wire

 strewn near busy intersections and sidewalks

They look random like they’re part of a construction site except

this is the constuction

a barbed sometime physical barrier that doubles as random street art with possible sinister undertones

 they’re there-sort of just waiting….in case you need them..for the next time.

but people don’t seem to give a shit…they’ve seen it all and will see it again.

We don’t photograph these sculptures…do anything…but note them as we crossed them

downtown you see tags commemorating dead zealots, themes and fantasies

near the American University, by the Armenian church, under bridges,

on a side street building

20151106-L106010720151106-L1060118CAIRO TAG DOWNTOWN NEAR THE ARMENIAN CHURCHCAIRO TAG HORUS SPREADING WINGS

The Great God Horus

CAIRO RAW 4

CAIRO RAW 3 The Streets

Impressions ..people, animals, the sounds, the traffic…intoxicating….

all those things you’d expect “Egypt, Cairo” to be just from their sounds-

Visiting Cairo the way we did meant we ourselves had to make sense out of what we experienced on the streets.

 though seasoned travelers-my son’s been to 27 different countries, me 9 – we hardly took a photo the first few days-

as image-driven as the streets are……

CAIRO WOMAN MARKET SELLERWoman in the street market not far from the historical Coptic area a few miles from downtown.

Cairo dead dog out side Sadat Metro entrancedead dog in a carved out hole next to the sidewalk

outside Sadat metro Station-downtown

Yes “as image-driven,” or worthy as the streets of Cairo are…..for the first day we played it  stealth-as stealth as two Americans can be. We didn’t use our cameras. Didn’t use the phone to capture anything either. We just wanted to get the feeling for Cairo first see what the streets felt like.

And they ended up feeling good. We had young people ask to take selfies with us on Talaat Harb, in the Coptic area, some far from where tourists go area we walked through

a young man handed me a yellow flower

another near our sheesha place gave us a friendly greeting as he passed us on the sidewak

  1. CAIRO SALAM
  2. These  rough sketches started on the first day during our fast from cameras and continued throughout our visit. incidents and images from the day. It’s  funny there’s no way to really prepare for the experience here. Before our trip I thought-Okay..Mexico City on steroids….but no….Cairo has it’s own speed and substances to fuel it. I also thought I’d play the artiste on this trip-have my sketch book, pens….find a spot to sit and record some impressions….Maybe it happens in Heliopolis but not in downtown Cairo…things are moving too fast and if you’re on the streets you’ve got to be prepared for the 180 degree spin things can take from moment to moment….  be… present....didn’t find that place to sit and sketch…so it was a nightly  recall back in our room at the Hilton Ramses-not hard considering how vivid things are here

CAIRO RAW (2)

  20151107-L1060164  20151107-L1060136 20151107-L1060169 20151110-L1060301 20151110-L1060308

Cairo Raw (2)

No guides. no tours, no agendas.

We chose a window-early November-booked an alcove room- Ramses Hilton-downtown between the Nile and Tahrir Square.

 semi-brutalist strucure

-brutalist leanings from the unconscious- this isn’t Ando.

concrete and marble

nice people security a bank a casino good room service people from the gulf

though that will change once the New Cairo gets built

out towards the airport.

rooms with balcony’s at 20 stories up read the city from above like a hawk

you dive with a zoom and an understanding-

 consume hidden spaces

Is that the brotherhood’s old crib with a photo of it’s leader

in the courtyard no one but those with talons can see.

On the alert for secret charades about to be played-

Cairo in space and times…..

Cairo Raw  (2)

 

 

 

CAIRO: RAW

The Great Pyramid20151110-L1060324Cairo close on old dwellings downtown (1 of 1)20151108-L1060252Cairo close on scaffolding at dashur stepped pyramid (1 of 1)Cairo traffic outside sakarra (1 of 1)CAIRO: RAW

Secretive….around the most mundane activities

Confounding…..almost magical….cool…

a roller coaster

Istanbul’s Disneyland compared to Cairo.

Cairo’s the amusement park ride going off the rails.

Cairo Raw

No guides no tours, no preset agendas

we saw survival-a have and hustle here.

Part One Cairo: Raw

Milwaukee-a freedom in obscurity.

Pick up a chick-pick up a degree-a Harley-why does anyone go to Milwaukee? I think some of the people know the same thing alchemists, mystics and some artists learned over time-there’s a freedom in obscurity. Hey young and old love Freud here.

Sunset Buddha

Sunset Buddha

The flow of the world is ever-present. The World hasn’t ended it’s barely begun

Over and again with each recurrence new stars are arrayed

Some may even come to love the act of breath. The world goes on as humans sign and mumble while deciphering portents and universal impulses. The sky’s dissolving the past can be jettisoned without remorse. Love in an unusual fashion is the order of the day.

Taking liberties with dialectics, taking refuge in dialogs revealing without showing- instructing while burying. Wholesale dependency on a garland of enforcements is pockmarked with discernment. So now who stands for What and Nothing?