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.