Thursday, March 23, 2006

Bouncing around Cairo

The Egyptian Museum is everything I remember it being (I was last in Cairo for a few days with Mohsin in late 2002). It's evocative, often haunting, peices stare back at you. They stare straight across the gulf of 4000 years that separates you and look you in the eye. The items here have been placed into context by the excellent The Teaching Company audio-book lectures that Digger introduced me to.

I was, however, devastated by one change since my last visit - cameras are now banned (perhaps they were before as well, my memory's not all it was...). For me, this is a real shame. I like the interaction with the art that you can experience only by trying to make your own art from the pieces - it forces a deeper, more detailed examination of the works and rewards appreciation of the finer details and nuances.

I understand why use of flash photography should be banned from most museums and sites (it fades colours in art and encourages growth of mosses and bacteria in caves and such) but I would like to see people being allowed to pay extra to use a camera in most sites. Let the guards sieze any camera that flashes so the museum can sell them off at a later date - and raise more money for the museum trust!

In the evening, after an afternoon soaking up the atmosphere in Eastern Cairo, I met up with a colleague's mother. She runs the Estoril restuarant in downtown Cairo - pop in and say hello to Maryse if you're ever in town. The food's great too! Oh yes, she also features in a book written by an author friend of hers - 'The Jacobian House' is the novel, but she Maryse was quick to point out that her friend has somewhat embellished her life!

The following day I took the Metro down to Coptic Cairo. The Metro itself was quick and efficient, but the concept of 'let passengers get off before getting on' has not yet been engrained in the local psyche. Mind you, this is probably not helped by the drivers' over-enthusiasm to shut the doors only a few seconds after opening them.

Two other features should be noted by London Underground, both are designed to keep the carriages cooler. The first, and probably least useful, is the use of curtains or shutters which can be drawn shut on the sunny side of the carriage when it is running overground.

The second is ludicrously simple - swivelling fans are mounted on the ceiling in metal cages and keep the passengers cool. I understand why the Tube doesn't want to install air conditioning, but fans work very well and I hope they've considered this option seriously.

Coptic Cairo was pleasant to stroll around. The narrow streets provided shade from the early afternoon sun, and allowed the churches and synagogue to pop up unexpectly from around the street corners one wanders through.

This part of town is one of the oldest Christian encalves in Africa, and is on the supposed site where the Holy Family stayed whilst in exile during Herod's purge of newborn boys. The church and monastery here are both dedicated to St George (who, I must admit, I had forgotten was a Palestinian knight). Old George certainly gets around - when he's not the figurehead of Coptic Cairo or England he's got an entire country named after himself in the Caucuses.

The oddest thing here, though, was that the paintings of George (apart from the ones on horseback, slaying the dragon with his moustache flowing in the breeze) look very feminine - with rosy lips and smooth, curvaceous legs. I'm sure Dan Brown could write an entire novel based on this, given half a chance!


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