Friday, November 7, 2008


It's unclear from the following, but while I was trudging my feet bloody in Cairo I was having an excellent time. It was my first real experience as an alien, a very important lesson in the contextual nature of ignorance and the amount of improvisation communication may involve. May you experience a similar clumsiness one day if you haven't already, and I mean that in the nicest way.

An appropriate word on a jet-lag day. Egypt's colonial masters built bunches of beautiful buildings which are slowly crumbling. There aren't a whole lot of caretakers or maintenance workers around, and there probably wouldn't be a payroll for them in any case.

A very clean and beautiful (therefore rare) street in Islamic Cairo. Remarkably serene. It was early morning and girls were sitting in the street sketching the arabesques hanging off the walls. Lotsa sketching in that town...but only by women. Men must be far too busy doing Important Things.

This is a typically busy little street i n Islamic Cairo, confusing, packed full of people carrying junk here and there, with a minaret overseeing all. This is where you go to walk in shit and get date-pits in the treads of your shoes. Donkey carts roll through here with cabs behind them honking. What falls to the ground gets picked through by chickens. Them chickens must have been tough to make it to adulthood despite the throngs of scraggly cats. Sensitive eaters beware.

This photo was taken from the minaret of the mosque of Sultan Hassan. You're looking at The Citadel, where various palaces and mosques are, including that huge attempt at Turkish majesty right there. The interior of it is at once very impressive and kind of tasteless, as its builder, Muhammad Ali (a different one) was something of a vulgarian by mosque standards. No naked women with clocks in their stomachs or anything, but it's glitzy in a non-figurative Frenchified way.

This is a courtyard in Muhammad Ali's mosque.

One of the mosques in The Citadel, En Nasr. The minaret has some nice green tile work, which you'll have to use some imagination to see.

Okay, this is an ugly shot, but low light was not helping me. This is En Nasr's minbar (where the iman chants Qu'ran from on high) and the little nave-like area where the Qu'ran is kept. Islam is the Op-Art religion. Look at those inlays.

This is the only decorated irwan in the mosque of Sultan Hassan. He was a puppet ruler, and his masters killed him when they found out he was spending so much money making this titanic monument. In standard Egyptian fashion, nobody bothered to complete the work.

The inside of the irwan above. Those lamps are hanging from the roof by chains...imagine being the poor fool who had to keep them lit. They're electric now of course. The minaret here is a fun climb...up a stairway to the roof, up a stairway inside a dark circular tower, another tower after that, and you get a great view of Cairo. Look out for that missing step.

The minarets of Rifai from the minaret of Sultan Hassan.

The mosque of Hassan on the left, and Rifai on the right. The Shah of Iran's tomb is in Rifai for some reason, surrounded by green flourescent lighting. Coloured flourescents are the official neon substitute in Egypt.

Somehow I got a nice picture of this nice open courtyard in, I think, the mosque build by mystical tyrant El Hakim. It's a relief being in a place like this when the crowds and squalor around it can be so overwhelming. It was a particularly instructive mosque: the folks in charge of taking money did an excellent job of fleecing me by not having change and so on...and at that point I was too polite to complain, especially in the face of such bad dental work. Under those arches? Pigeon nests. Watch where you step. You can wash your feet at that fountain in the middle though.

What's behind the pyramids? Nothing. Get a little distance from the Nile and everything is bleak. In front of the Pyramids? Millions of Cairenes and a golf course right under the hill the pyramids are on.

This is some dope at the pyramids. He claims his camel's name is Charlie Brown. The pyramids are impressively monomaniacal piles of rock but they're surrounded by weasels who are desperate for your cash. This is understandable, as tourists are loaded, relatively speaking, but it can get pretty frustrating trying to look around when people are constantly trying to sell you things, including opportunities for outstanding pictures like this. I paid this guy a little money for it, for god's sake. What a soft touch. Eventually my sole souvenir purchase in all of Egypt was a T-shirt that read "I CAME TO SEE PYRAMIDS. LEAVE ME ALONE." I paid too much for it of course.

No comments: