January 2, 2008 9:23am

Forgot, yesterday, to take proper notes, so will record what i remember as I can.

Traffic here is amazing – not simply terrifying but like a very structured dance.  Complex.  The lines on the road are not even suggestions so much as decoration.

Coptic Museum.  In the older section, the wood ceilings are older than the buildings – colors are brilliant, patterns intricate – and the walls, too, are a completely non-traditional sort of creamy orange that sets off the exhibits.  It feels rather like an extraordinary collection in a private home, cozy and intimate (although perhaps that is a result of Dr. Gabra’s lecture/reminisces).

The old Cairo churches are basilica-type (compare to Roman churches), which we know the Romans took from Karnak.  What we don’t know is whether the Coptic churches took the style from Rome or from Karnak.  Right and left there are cats – slightly scrawny, but on the whole clearly experienced in extracting food from the soft-hearted or unwary.

continued 4:30pm

Old Cairo is huge and unwieldy – the walks snake around what are apparently ruins and shops and modern homes.  Both dusty and ornate, the woodwork craves polish, yet the area seems to reject such a simplistic solution, not from innate dirtiness, but perhaps from a busy pride which implies better things to do and declares magnificence from sheer age.  Outside, the streets are lined by storefronts and cafes – both of which spill their business out onto the street – their calm exuberance cannot be contained by mere buildings.  Gowned and suited men ply their goods, women walk by with bags and boxes securely balanced on their heads, often with elbows tucked into the arms of children or companions.

A constant chorus of horns fills the sound space, underscored by conversations, negotiations, fights, phone calls (one-sided but open – clearly a construction of the personal bubble concept).  And the personal bubble concept itself, which tourists, Americans, (clearly myself) try to insist on – and fail.  Necklaces, postcards, scarves, statuettes are all dangled or hoisted unexpectedly in our faces.

The ubiquitous “Tourism and Antiquities”police – a subset of the regular city forces – are not terribly inclined to intervene, although they will past a certain point.   In the older areas, cars and carts mingle, donkeys (and occasionally horses) munch green straw or grass perhaps on the sidewalk or narrow islands in the center divide where their carts are parked.  In the newer areas, this role is filled by scooters and the occasional motorcycle.  The shops here are different too, prices in Arabic clearly displayed on wares in windowfronts.

Balconies everywhere – the climate is soft and warm, and even in homes 5 and 6 stories high, people seem to live outside just as much as in.

Staring, and even glancing, acts as an invitation on our part despite the freedom of Egyptian men to stare simultaneously intensely and impersonally.  We are on display, the freaks on the giant bus, but the glass, the curtains, and the night itself provide the illusion of sanctuary from the inescapable sense of visibility that we’re simply not used to.

Naturally the American imports – primarily fast food (Sbarro? KFC? Really?) – are both the tackiest and most comforting sights, followed closely by windows packed with shoes (definitely alluring) and florists shops.

continued 9:57pm

Met a restorer of icons – basically a sweet-faced middle aged man in a lab coat working with priceless relics in what appears to be an abandoned church – more decayed glory – but is actually still in daily use and very much active.  Just as with nearly everywhere else we’ve been, under restoration.  Got there through yet another tangle of streets, aisles, alleys, stairs that appear out of nowhere and look dangerously delicate, but are verifiably solid. Marishabyya screens are covered in plastic, clearly awaiting their turn, hiding the upside of a beautiful sanctuary.  One imagines the peeping is an act repeated over centuries, doubtless by pious, curious, or simply bored women, attached to the church via heritage or location, but not permitted to enter the sanctuary proper.  I do so HATE the phrase, “we are doing [thus and such] rather than entering, because the ladies are not permitted.”  Okay, yes, from a tourist standpoint I am facinated by the arcane bylaws, but from a feminist perspective, you have just blamed an entirely unfair restriction on me.  Because I had the bad taste to be born with a vagina.  Nice.

It is not my fault this is a patriarchal, misogynist world. Do not blame me for someone else’s prejudice.

Tired now.  Apparently the Egyptian Museum and Giza will have to wait till tomorrow – perhaps on the bus to Alexandria!

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~ by heycarahe on February 2, 2008.

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