Tuesday, December 21, 2010

cairo and carcinogens

A fine layer of particulate settles on everything, the first strata toward an archaeological record. It rests on leaves and vertical walls, a patina of the tailpipe era. Zamalek, Cairo’s diplomatic quarter and an island in the Nile, is architecturally rooted in the early 20th century. Its packed-in structures (both colonial and boxy modern) are graying. I followed my colleague and friend – he remembers the winding path much better than I - to the art supply store, a coffee shop, and a fair trade store.  We passed fruit vendors and souvenir shops. I bought a pomegranate stirring those neurons, with any memory of Arabic, to life. We walked until an unfamiliar weariness filled us. Jet lag? Less oxygenated air?

The night before I pushed 100 lbs of luggage through customs and bargained for a taxi. Rush hour traffic gave us close to two hours (and it can take 30 minutes) for the sensory barrage. Cairo is absolutely packed. Somehow everything ancient and contemporary, coexist. It feels dilapidated, shabby, and sheik, and it’s never still or quiet. Even the call to prayer, five times a day, echoing from hundreds of mosques, seems to slow the city half a beat. It feels voracious – devouring, dividing, – a metastasized city world.   Traffic made five and six lanes where four were printed on pavement. Horn honking continues almost unabated into the earliest hours. But how else could you survive this migration? The sidewalks are broken and always ending, leaving people to wade through traffic. The man, navigating this driving tetris, bringing me to the Golden Tulip Hotel Flamenco in Zamalek, does this job night and day - but says he likes Cairo best at night.
Cairo is one of the most polluted cities in the world – surely one of the most polluted I’ve been to. There’s much to explore and enjoy in this outrageous city world. Cairo is often the place that comes to mind when one utters “Egypt.”  Maybe Egypt conjures a resting sphinx or rising pyramids. Those places are here too; the city grows under the gaze of these monuments, and a wall stops them from growing right up over top.

1 comment:

  1. Loved your description of Cairo...almost takes me there in person! Happy New Year Gaea! You were missed at Christmas by the family I hear!!!