Thursday nights are the best in Egypt because it signals the start of the weekend and some much needed rest. Cairenes sure know how to party and then at the end of it, how to chill out. Friday mornings are the chill out session, with the usual manic streets now deserted and eerily quiet. The only other time the streets are this quiet is during Iftar when people are at home, too busy stuffing their faces with 15 hours worth of food. Making up for lost time you see.
Friday mornings are the best time to explore Cairo, as the experience is entirely different, and you get to see another side to the smog filled city. Fridays are like a breath of fresh air, and its all yours for the taking.
Jumping into a beat up taxi, we rolled down the windows and enjoyed the fresh morning breeze as the driver whizzed his vehicle along the deserted roads. His dirty finger nails, blackened by the cheap cigarettes he smokes constantly, tapped against the stirring wheel as he turns the dial of the radio. Traditional music blares out from the speakers as we pass the Citadel mosque and the amazing view over the city and its abundance of minarets. I’m surprised no ones thought to build a viewing platform at this point, as the view is breathtaking.
We pass The City of The Dead with its flat roofed plain housing and the numerous minarets dotted in between, and the densely green terrain of Azhar park. Soon enough we are outside khan al Khalili and thats where the adventure begins. It was 10am by now, and already the market was filling up with sellers setting up their stalls. Mini tambourines, cheap looking caps with the Egyptian flag sewn on, tacky belly dancing costumes, fragrant spices from all over the world, and the ubiquitous cheap tourist tat. Helpers set up straw prayer mats outside Hussain Mosque, where in a few hours time, worshippers will be pouring in ready for friday prayers.
Whilst waiting for a friend, I sought respite under a tree, with the sun already out in full force. It just turned May for gods sake! Spotting her, we made our way to Fishawy’s cafe for a morning drink.
Those of you who have not heard of this cafe (do you live in a cave?!) it is one of the most famous cafes in the area, mainly due to the fact that it never closes and is open 24 hours. The place is alive and kicking especially at night and especially during ramadan. The joyful sounds of the oud serenades customers whilst people congregate and dance, and street hawkers dodge in and out of the small alleyway selling all kinds of things ranging from the useful to plain weird (we were once approached by a man selling stuffed dead animals, and an irate seller who couldn’t understand why we didn’t want to buy a doll). I thought this youtube video summed up the atmosphere.
We managed to easily navigate a pram through the crooked alleyways, grateful for the quiet time we chose.
Because it was friday before midday prayers, only a few shops were open. We explored the depths of the market taking in the streets and architecture.
I even spotted this Sisi outfit for children in the market, amongst police uniforms. Forget superman, now your little dear ones can dress up like the new superhero on the block, General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (Insert sarcastic face).
I thought I’d start the new year of posting with a rather inspirational set of books. These aren’t just your plain run of the mill thin lined paper put together with staples and bounded with a tacky front cover. These beauties, courtesy of my husband, came all the way from the Fabriano shop in Rome. Paper nerds will know that Fabriano are a traditional company based in Italy, specialising in premium quality paper since 1264. They make the best paper you can buy, combine them together and wrap it up in impressively designed covers. This set of seven A5 sized books come in a range of sexy colours aka known as the Bouquet notebooks.
It’s like buying a piece of art…
Each book contains different thickness of paper and ranging from 80-100 gr. These beauts are so damn good looking, I don’t actually want to write in them. They’re just too good for that. No, these mini delights deserve pride of place on your bookshelf, or neatly arrange on your writing table.
No this isn’t an automated message, but the real deal.
Excuse me for my leave of absence. It was a combination of laziness and bad habit that caused me to stay away. I’m breaking that habit right now.
Coming up from me will be more design inspired posts and the craziness that is mother Cairo. Fasten your seat-belts my fellow readers, this could get bumpy (oh wait i forgot, taxis here don’t actually have seat-belts..)
Summer is now upon us. It comes when you least expect it, managing to catch me out before I can prepare, even though I’ve been living here for the past three years.
The whole rituale begins; Make sure you have stock piled your water supply, have a wardrobe full of adequate cotton clothing, a mountain of suncream, spray bottles filled with water dotted around the house, copious amounts of fresh watermelon juice and a full tray of ice cubes ready to hand. All these things help make your summer in Cairo bearable, especially as temperatures can reach 40 degrees.
When I’m out and about though, I like to prepare by visiting one of the numerous kiosks dotted along each street corner. They’re usually a small make shift shack of metal pieced together with a rickety roof on top. I’m amazed at how they manage to stay up, but they do, and in summer they’re a god send.
Imagine that its noon and you’re walking the dusty streets, the sun high above, causes you to squint regardless of your sunglasses. You’ve been walking for the past hour and by now your pace has dramatically slowed and your shirt clings to you, wet with stale sweat. You seek shelter under the nearest tree along a busy road, its orange flowers out in full bloom. Its cooler in the shade, and soon enough the sweat cools you down. You run your finger along dry cracked lips which you quickly try to moisten with a parched tongue. This only makes it worse.
You must have lost a litre in water but all you feel like is a sugary drink that in the long run will cause tooth decay and diabetes. But you don’t care, you’re not thinking long term, but living for the here and now. You walk up to the fridge housing the drinks, amazed at the ingenuity of a single wire attached from the lampost, and used to power the kiosk fridge. Legal? You dont care. All you want right now is to wrap your lips around a cold beverage.
Open the fridge and touch each bottle carefully selecting the one that is chilled to perfection. crack the bottle open with the cap opener attached to the side of the fridge and savour the moment as the cold liquor runs down your throat and cools you down.
Christmas is the best time for me when it comes to shop displays. I would run on down to Oxford street in London and gaze at the contemporary yet traditional displays in Selfridges, John Lewis and any other shop along that mile stretch. It was a work of art. Every item of clothing, every snowflake was planned meticulously for months and then unveiled in time for the Christmas period.
In fact I wasn’t aware just how much planning went into it until I watched this video on the Selfridges website. amazing.
One of my favourite books is by art critic John Berger called Ways of seeing. In it he argues that what we see is influenced by ideologies. An oil painting of a confident man surrounded by wealth can be seen as enviable, and this is what modern day advertisements try to do.
“The Spectator-buyer is meant to envy herself as she will become if she buys the products. She is meant to imagine herself transformed by the product into an object of envy for others…”
I would highly recommend reading this book and also watching the four part series over on youtube.
In Cairo it seem that they skip the planning and go straight into dressing the window display then and there. If I walked past these displays it wouldn’t make me want to get my wallet out and spend spend spend, or be the envy of others. What do you think?
Brilliant and inspiring. If theres one thing you watch today, then make it this. Thank me later
So tomorrow is the first day of ramadan, and where most people moan at the slow pace and lack of work done during this time, I’m really excited. Supermarkets are decorated with colourful material and shelves stacked up with dates, nuts, dried fruit, hibiscus juice and all manner of festive products. It’s a time for people to gain that spiritually that seems to be lacking in their lives, and of course to be extra generous in giving to the poor.
I also just found out that Egypt’s Intelligence Chief (and VP for a few days during the revolution) Omair Suleiman has suddenly died while receiving treatment in the US. I can’t see many people shedding a tear for him over here in Egypt. Instead they’re probably wondering why Mubarak is still alive!
Here’s some interesting articles about the man and the claims of his involvement in torture:
The Olympics are upon us in a few days in London, and with all the bad press of missiles being placed on East London rooftops, the spiralling cost of the Olympics and the farce that is the Orbit Tower (even though its received some good reviews, in my eyes paying £15 to go up a scrap metal helter skelter is ridiculous) it’ll be interesting to see how the games actually do.
For some inspirational Guerilla art check out this this group who tackle street advertising and call themselves Brandalism
This has to be the best business card I’ve ever seen, made from a metro ticket.