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.
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
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.
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.inside the mosque at the square in front of Khan Khalili
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.His 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.