Saturday, March 26, 2011

Cairo: Day 1 (March 18)

Andy and I got a bit of a late start on Friday, since my last-plane-of-the-day from Luxor didn't get in to Cairo until 1:05 a.m.! So we stopped for lunch at CityStars, a huge shopping mall in Heliopolis. I'd never been there before--it was a real eye-opener! I believe there are at least three Starbucks! By the way, we had Mexican food. ;]
From there we took a taxi to Bab al-Futuh (Open Gate), which is where, long ago, the annual pilgrim caravan used to enter Cairo on its return from Mecca.
Walking south through the heart of Islamic Cairo along Sharia el-Muizz is an adventure. You are surrounded by a vast assortment of mosques, mausolea, wikalas (formerly bonded warehouses with rooms for merchants upstairs), maristans (a medieval term for public hospitals), madrassas (a designation for theological schools), sabils (public fountains or water cisterns--sometimes quite elaborate structures), kuttabs (Koranic schools, usually for boys or orphans), khanqahs (monasteries) and combinations thereof. I had visited many of these during my visits in March and April of 2010, so I chose to visit only one this time: the Mosque of al-Aqmar.
"Al-ahmar" means "the moonlit" and the mosque gets its name from the way its masonry glitters under the moon's light.

Along this street you will find shopping galore. Here's a small sample:
The "Parisian" flair displayed here caught my eye! ;]
Some shopping experiences are very basic. Witness this balady (country) bread for sale:
Directly across the street from the Madrassa & Mausoleum of Barquq is the new Egyptian Textile Museum, housed in a sabil built by order of Mohammed Ali Pasha to commemorate his son Ismail who died in the Sudan in 1822. No photos allowed inside, and I managed to forget to take a photo of the exterior! A nicely laid out museum with excellent and informative signage, it presents a journey through the history of fabric from Pharaonic (Tutankhamun's loin-cloth, for example) to Coptic and including every Islamic era. An astonishing piece can be found almost at the end of the tour. Cairo 360 says this about it: "A room towards the end of the museum features a massive Kiswab. From early on in Islamic history until the 20 century, the banners hanging over the Kaaba in Mecca were made right here in Egypt. With thick golden thread embellishing the calligraphy over a black backdrop, this is one of the most stunning pieces in the museum." For more info, check out this link: Egyptian Textile Museum.

Just outside the museum we ran into a party! Lots of young people listening to music and obviously enjoying themselves. I'm not sure if this had anything to do with the revolution, but it was great fun.
And here's a short video:
There are many interesting architectural features and nooks and crannies in this part of Cairo. Here are just a few that we saw this day:

More mashrabiyas
We decided that when we reached the pedestrian overpass at Sharia al-Azhar it would be a good idea to shoot a video of Cairo traffic:

At one point you hear me saying something about "empty spaces". It's pretty astonishing to see any gaps between vehicles in Cairo traffic!

And this is what pedestrian traffic looked like on our way to Bab Zuweyla and beyond:
We felt a little, well, actually a lot, like salmon swimming upstream! Here are some new friends we made on our trek:
And, finally for this post, here is a theme which kept recurring throughout my visit to Cairo--garlic! Garlic, garlic everywhere:
Even when we were stuck in traffic on the ring road and rolled down the car window, garlic fumes would waft in from trucks carrying enormous loads. No vampires here!

NEXT POST: My first Tentmakers' Street experience of the visit.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Constitutional Referendum Day in Cairo

Just a quick note to say how great it was to pass by several polling places in Cairo today and see long lines of people determined to vote! Bravo!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Hand...

I went back to the doctor last Friday for a re-check. I was in and out in less than five minutes with a decision that the hand was in good working order and that I didn't have to wear the splint anymore! Just be careful, and put the splint back on for any strenuous activities. I am convinced that it healed so rapidly because the Mudir drew this fabulous smiley-faced Aten on Thursday morning!
Photo courtesy of my assistant Ana├»t
However, I will be taking the splint with me to Cairo tonight, just in case.

Sunday, March 13, 2011


Originally uploaded by Gibna Kebira.

I was looking through some of my Flickr photos of Karnak after a visit I paid there this morning. This shot I took a little over a year ago is one of my favorites.  At the time I wrote this about it: "Osirid statues in the small peristyle court of the Ramses III chapel (Karnak)--and one live gaffir!"

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

A Visit to the Doctor

Now, normally I wouldn't blog about a personal topic such as this, but I thought it would give me an opportunity to share some information about medical care in Luxor.

Last Wednesday, I was walking back to the library through the small garden between the two main buildings when I took a bit of a tumble. I caught my toe on one of the paving stones, couldn't catch myself, and fell flat out, giving my head a pretty good bang on the raised concrete border of one of the flower beds. Needless to say, I was a bit "stunned"! I had a nasty headache (and it's a little bit tender even now), but I didn't break anything, not even my glasses. No concussion either! However, not surprisingly, my whole body ached for several days afterward. And I must have tried to break my fall with my right hand, because the palm at the base of the thumb was extremely painful. On Friday, I decided I should visit the doctor to find out exactly what was wrong.

We are lucky to have a good "bone doctor" in town, Dr. Elia. I've seen him a couple of times over the years for a variety of problems. And he recently oversaw the treatment of a broken leg for one of our staff (my assistant in the library). In fact, we've decided that our Arabic "word of the season" is "waqat" or "I fell"! Here's the view from his examining room:

And I was delighted with this typical folk art tableau above his desk:
He examined my hand, took two x-rays, explained that I had injured the second metacarpal, gave me prescriptions for medications and a gel to apply to the injured area, walked down to the pharmacy (!) to get me a brace, and charged me a grand total of 250 LE or $42.33! The prescriptions came to another 52 LE or $8.80, so the whole thing cost just over $51!!

Here's a photo of my x-rays:
And one of my poor hand in the brace:
Of course, I'm supposed to rest the hand and use it as little as possible, but that's not likely! I had to re-shelve 151 books on Saturday, and another 65 or so today. So the "mending" process will take a bit longer than predicted...

Saturday, March 05, 2011


Just crossed through the arcade between buildings this summery afternoon and was enveloped by the perfume of petunias!

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Seshat at Deir el-Bahri

Seshat at Deir el-Bahri
Originally uploaded by Gibna Kebira.

This year I have set about finding as many occurrences as I can on temple walls and elsewhere of the lesser-known goddess Seshat. In the past, as a librarian, I had taken on Thoth as my "god"; but when I started to read up on Seshat I decided that I would prefer to have a "goddess" in my corner instead. She is the goddess of writing, and venerated under the epithet "she who is foremost in the house of books".

Manfred Lurker, in his book An Illustrated Dictionary of the Gods and Symbols of Ancient Egypt, writes: "On the founding of a temple either she or her priest established the ground-plan with a measuring cord, hence she was also the 'lady of builders'. Her most important function was that of recording the regnal years and jubilees which were allotted to the king [such as the sed festival]. Her head-dress resembled a seven-pointed star surmounted by a bow, or was perhaps a crescent moon often crowned by two falcon feathers. She usually held a palm leaf in her hand and often wore a panther skin over her dress."

This example is found on the north end of one of the colonnades of Hatshepsut's mortuary temple at Deir el-Bahri.

And I've worked with my favorite jeweler here in Luxor to design earrings and pendant using Seshat's head-dress. Way cool!