Michael Divine

Would we like to come in, he asked so cordially and without a hint of salesmanship, for coffee of course.

We couldn’t refuse of course – after spending so much time with him already and he’d been a delightful and energetic host. We sat down in armchairs of dark old wood and lacquered mother of pearl designs under red velvet draped ceilings in a shop of walls lined with mirrors and blown glass perfume bottles of every shape and size and tall glass canisters of essential oils. He was proud of his shop – this is his family’s business, he told us, and they’ve been there for over 60 years (which is, in some respects, a long time – then there are those 4500 year old pyramids next door…). Waleet brought us coffee and we drank from little cups while discussing the lovely scents. He shared all number of scents with us – white lotus and various blends. I told him I couldn’t purchase perfume for my wife since she is very sensitive (which, in a sense, is true. I’d hate to pick something out that didn’t suit well with her). I should bring some to my wife! he told me as he offered me other perfumes to cast upon my olfactory senses and showed me pictures of the shop being opened years before, and his uncle giving Princess Diana a bottle with perfume in it from their shop here. They are all very nice, I said, but my wife… o my wife… So no, no thank you, I repeated….. but maybe this glass perfume bottle (a lovely thing that looks like a genie bottle. I saw others elsewhere after that but none of them came from a days adventure in Giza with Waleet). We left finally, after much discussion, with a sweet and well-packaged gift for Violet in hand.

Back at the Mercure we spent the rest of the afternoon hanging artwork in the conference room. It was a bit of tedium but it was also one of our responsibilities and one of the reasons we were there. Ultimately, it didn’t come out perfectly but we were working with what we had.

After a while, we decide we were hungry and we needed fishing line so Jimmy called Waleet, let him know about the fishing line, and we headed back to the shisha place for coffee and a rest. Sat alongside a stone wall lined with tables, at which men puffed on shisha pipes, drank coffee, talked quietly. A teen aged boy ran here and there with a ladle full of coals, using tongs to refresh the burning shisha pipes. The coffee was thick and I sat and drew while Jimmy smoked shisha. I take a few puffs. It’s nice. Not bad but nothing I wanted to make a habit of. I drew quick sketches of old men, their rounded noses and curving brows and jowls coupled with impressions of hieroglyphs and architectures – Egyptian and Islamic and Moorish, any and all number of tangents, letting the mind wander. The sun dipped low. Out from the quiet side street we sat was a five way conjunction of roads where boys sell bananas, sweet potatoes are cooked in little wood burning ovens atop little push carts, tea is served here and there, cars and tuk tuks and mini vans swerve in every direction, and it’s all lit by that golden sun.

Hungry, I told Jimmy I was going to investigate food options and I found a restaurant near the corner with a great big outdoor grill smoking away with lamb and chicken so I went back to get Jimmy. I wa going to pass out if I didn’t eat soon it seemed. So we headed inside and were brought plates of baba ganoush, salad, tahini, spicy pickled vegetables, and platters of chicken and lamb kabobs. It was a delicious feast and the whole thing cost 65 pounds – about ten dollars – and sure as hell beat the overpriced yet mediocre food in the hotel. I had left Violet grading papers in the hotel lounge and brought her back some tasty leftovers from our meal, hoping to help her feel nourished and satiated.

We returned to the Mercure to finish setting up but there was some kind of meeting going on for the group that was heading to the Great Pyramid for a special nighttime tour. The pyramids are closed at night and you can only go by special permission (and more than a few bribes). There was to be a meditation in the King’s Chamber. I didn’t go but it sounded cool. On the other hand, some gatherings can get too new age hokey for me so that was the main reason I skipped out on it. For all the hype around 2012, I’m a realist. I’m not even going to get into discussing the myths and hocus pocus surrounding 2012…

Night came. We slept soundly. In the morning, we ate breakfast and had coffee with friends who were slowly arriving. All told, there’d be about 300 people total spread out between two hotels (and wherever some chose to stay) but the Mercure was the central location. There was music outside by the pool, talks in the conference room, and music at night in the conference room as well with all of it culminating in a special party up on the Giza Plateau on the night of the 22nd.

Violet planned on working on grading papers for the day (they HAD to be finished) and I decided I would rather go wander on my own than be in the hotel. She was a bit worried for me (it’s something that wives do and it keeps husbands from doing the stupider things they did when they were single.) but I couldn’t find anyone to go with me so I took off. At the very least,  I said, I’d take a cab from the hotel and not farther up off the street corner where she felt it’d be easier to for someone to take advantage of me – the lone traveler. While it’s generally safe all over, there’s always someone who would like to take advantage of you. So I headed out to the line of cabs. The first guy was dressed sharp – looked like a ski instructor with his fleece vest and Ray Bans. He’s older – 50 maybe – and presents himself with the air of someone trustworthy. But he quoted me a high price for where I wanted to go – I’m heading to the old Coptic Cairo area – and, really, he just felt like he was a bit slimy for all the neatness of his outwards appearance. Snakes and wolves rarely present themselves as they really are. I’d let some hapless tourist take him on. So I headed to the larger gaggle of cabbies and they pushed me to Sabet (sah-BEET’) who was in line for the next passenger. They all loved and respected him and sang his praises. He was an old man (as old as the pharaohs, I’m told by smirking cabbies) and had been driving his cab – his little ancient orange diesel smelling Mercedes – for 45 years. Yes, he would be happy to take me – for half the price even of the other fellow. He just was waiting for his other passenger who was also heading to the same place. So that seemed like it fell into place.

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