Michael Divine

From the little alleys and walkways, I meandered down the way to the Coptic museum. The museum itself is housed in a building that borrows heavily from Moorish and Islamic architectural influences, with a beautiful courtyard of latticed windows and creamy white marble.  The museum was filled with reliefs and old concrete pieces from churches past depicting knotwork, saints, Coptic crosses and icons. The most interesting thing was the large glass cube containing what the plaque said is the oldest copy ever found of the book of psalms – dating back to 300AD(?). Pretty neat. Consider the hands that had turned it’s pages, communing with spirit. It certainly was in pretty ancient condition.

A couple hours later it was 3ish so I wandered out into the street again where I found a small cafe with big wooden chairs and drank Turkish coffee from a small delicately painted espresso cup. They brought me the menu as well but they didn’t look like they had seen much business as of late so I didn’t want to chance it. I would get by…

I wandered out of the cafe feeling refreshed and back into the dusty beautiful day. Next stop would be a palace down along the Nile. I found an overpass from the train station and, double-checking my sense of direction, I moved down into the quiet neighborhood streets – passing through decrepit apartments, lined with the ever present trash picked through by the ever present cats. No one tries to sell you anything there. People were selling furniture or toilets or car repair and it was obvious I needed none of those things. Down along the main road I started getting hungry and passed a bakery. Piles of honey-rich baklava, breads, pastries. So I got a small plate of baklava which cost about 40 cents. I made the mistake of speaking to an older woman in her hijab and she gave me a pitying disgusted look. Ah well… cultural boundaries… sometimes they get crossed.

I crossed the bridge the spanned the Nile, headed to the island there in the middle and started walking north. Maybe I should have taken a cab. Cairo streets, it seems, all of them, are filthy. Eventually the trash strewn riverside was interrupted by nurseries selling plants of all shapes and sizes – most of them recognizable. Sadly, I didn’t find the palace and instead got caught wandering through tons of traffic. So I made my way back across the bridge, up the path I’d come and back to the place I’d been dropped off. this time I headed away from the Coptics towards the mosques. I went the fortress-like and imposing Mosque of Amir ibn al-As, built  in 827 AD. Like most centers o worship, anyone is allowed in. And even wandering around taking pictures isn’t seen as disrespectful. If anything, I think, it’s hoped that I might get a bit of Allah and I will tell people that Muslims are quite nice. And they are. I’ll be the first to tell you. As with any religion, it’s the extremists you have to watch out for. The mosque had hundreds of stone columns surround a white marble courtyard with a small alabaster crypt in the middle. All of it directed ones attention supposedly towards Allah. I thought it was quite pretty, though simple.

As the sun set I made my way back to the cafe I’d sat at earlier, had more coffee, used their phone to call Sabet and, as I watched the dozens of security personnel get carted away, the little orange Mercedes showed up. He was happy to see me and we picked up Australia lady as well and made our way back in the freshly darkened night through insane noisy traffic stinking of diesel fumes a cacophony of headlights flashing blinking cars honking truck brakes screeching and everyone driving in between each other cutting each other off narrowly missing each by inches. It took a long time to return to the hotel but eventually we reached that safe little bubble across from the pyramids and there was Violet wondering what had taken so long (and beginning to worry some…)

I ate dinner at the buffet with friends while Violet continued through the last stretch of her paper grading. We ate a bit more. We were beat. Music was supposed to go til 4am. We were supposed to live paint. We laid down for a nap and didn’t get back up til 8 am. It was a perfectly sound 12 hours of sleep.

In the morning, we met Brad and Dela for breakfast. We went outside and I introduced them to my friend, Sabet. He would be happy to take us around the city and we could hire him for the day and it was, for all intents and purposes, reasonable enough. First stop – Egyptian Museum – the most cluttered and crowded museum I’ve ever been in. Room upon room and cases upon cases of ancient artifacts – busts and pottery and shards and huge statues and sarcophagi and sandals and chairs and ceremonial beds and jewelry and head dresses and EVERYTHING you can think of that might have come from ancient Egypt. The most beautiful things of course were the treasures of the young king Tutankhamen. We had skipped over his tomb in the Valley of the Kings – it’s a small space really, not nearly as decorated as so many others and featuring only a few rooms – but the treasures discovered there are beyond compare. The great gold head, jewelry of turquoise, lapis, carnelian, and gold gold gold. His sarcophagus, all of it… just beautiful… sparkling as if it were just crafted yesterday.

After we left the museum, Sabet brought us to a lovely though bordering on kitschy restaurant where we had some tasty food then to the Citadel and the great Moorish Mosque of Mohammed Ali, built in 1837 and perched atop a hill over looking Cairo. From there we had sweeping views of all of Cairo all the way out to the Pyramids. We had our pictures taken with other tourists who thought it novel to take their pictures with us – both guys and girls and guys wanting to take their pictures with Brad and I. It’s interesting – the sorts of boundaries or lack thereof that different cultures have. It’s not uncommon to see men walking arm in arm down the street or even holding hands – most likely just friends because homosexuality is pretty frowned upon – yet the women can’t do much of anything and here there were men who thought it cool to take a picture with us, just because it seemed.

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