1. The sun in Cairo bakes layer of sand frosting on top. My shoes change colors as I walk through the streets, my hair is lighter from the sun, my eyes are dry. Walking is not always easy, but Cairo is working on it. An area of Old Cairo has been restored as a pedestrian walkway --Haret Al-Darb Al-Asfar, off the famous Al-Mu'izz Lidin Allah street in Fatimid Cairo, and Dalia, friend and director, escoted Anthony, Lauri, Seni and me from one street to the next displaying the old mosques, the amazing architecture, including the woodworking that marks the medieval origins of the area. Other than scooters coming through at breakneck speeds, there is none of the famous traffic with loud horns and cars packed wall to wall. Dalia's finesse and connections took us up a minaret where we could see most of Cairo and beyond and into a famous cultural center at night after it was closed.
When we left we were back in modern cairo, with blaring horns, flying bags and children selling tissue. The quiet breeze of old Cairo was gone. I became aware of my sandals saggging under the sweat and work, my clothes drooping and a crust of dust on my skin. Back at Maha's apartment, Anthony and I bundle laundry. His eyes are burning. He asks, "Where's the nearest pharmacy?" Yahia, Maha's son says, "What do you need?" "I just need some eyedrops." Anthony is confused why he asks. Yehia walks over to the window and yells into the street.
After our showers, we sit in the living room with Maha's excellent espresso. The doorbell rings. The visine has arrive. 15 egyptian pounds, almost 3 dollars. Thanks.. Anthony's eyes are cool. I am concerned about the laundry. How long wil it take? Where do we go? I ask. Everyone is evasive. Never mind, don't worry. We are leaving tomorrow. This time Sami, Maha's husband yells out the window. Moments later the laundry is gone.
We never have to walk anywhere to get food or services. Their apartment is on the second floor and within yelling distance of all of Safeway. Dalia told me that a man walked her street the other day carrying loads of irons. The peddler tradition won't disappear soon although Cairo is high tech heaven and everyone is hooked-up. Lost in our taxi, we just asked the drive to call Maha on his mobide...sure. His Puegot along with donkey carts still share the highways and byways. It's an economic mess, but addresses the needs and means of most classes. Everything is available in Cairo, not always by shouting out the window, but one person asks another and someone knows where to buy...or how to get to...Life is worked out on the human level. Sometimes too close.
2. Our hotel in Beirut is expensive but not posh. Close to the French Embassy, most of the other clients are french military. it serves my needs in location because my character lived here and went to school at St. Joseph University across the street. I can walk her walk and make sure that the details of her Beirut life are close to the bone. Nearby is the Monot District, the new club district and lower down the Gemayze where other clubs and restaurants populate the landscape. The small streets and outdoor cafes remind us of the Beirut/France connection. By day shoppers litter the streets, by night hooka smoking jet setters fill the seats eating, waiting for the clubs to open.
We decide to go dancing. Vacation, big city, time. We are aware that dancing doesn't start till after midnight and that the clubs will be crowded and crazy. But we fish for recommendations and come up the the Buddha Bar, 3 floors, very chic. Dressed as fashionably as we can with our travel clothes, we head toward our target at 10. Let's eat first, dance etc. When we get to the Buddha Bar, we decide to check it out before dinner.
It is elegant, posh, a giant buddha, impressive furishings, great decor. We say we want to check out the dance area and are directed to the third floor. We walk up the large carpeted stairway and arrive in a balcony over the main floor. Group seating fills the circle. A waiter tells us that groups of two can sit only at the bar.We go to the bar and sit down. A bartender dressed in black moves us over. Couples need to be on the same colored stools and we can each have a stool until 11, but then the rule is one stool per couple, someone has to stand. No tables for couples at all. It will get really crowded, you won't notice.
After checking out the 35 dollar a piece sushi, we head out, stroll down Al Maarad, pick a nice restaurant and spend the evening laughing about our failure at accepting the rules of the jet setting set, even though we travel around more than many.
But Beirut isn't a mess and has easy navigation. We walked all day without noticing four hours going by before we stopped. its restoration however, unlike Cairo's involves shopping--big time shopping. Momument...Ferragamo, architectural dig...Dolce and Gabanna. I'm wondering, could I open the window and shout out for a size 39 purple ballet flats?
Causes Elmaz Abinader Supports