Childhood revisited

This past week I willingly reenacted two childhood outings that I used to dread. Bookstores, libraries and fabric stores used to induce whining and pleading in me as a child – the waiting, the boredom, the dramatic sighs. But now I find delight and great comfort being surrounded by books and fabric swaths stacked to the ceiling. Still unsure as to whether it’s a nature or nurture thing, but with maturity has apparently come acceptance and embracing.

So my research uncovered that the Greater Cairo Library is located in Zamalek – our future home! I wandered down to Tahrir Square, after meeting Ron for lunch at the embassy, and attempted to get a cab over to Zamalek. Oddly enough, when you want one none will stop, so I started to walk over the bridge only to have one come right to me (see, it’s all about acting as if you don’t want their attention). Following my previous taxi-Arabic success, I attempted it again. I was doing fine, until I asked a question, and he responded in a lengthy collection of words I just didn’t grasp. I sat there and realized that I didn’t know how to say, “I don’t understand.” All I could think of was, “Please repeat.” But that wouldn’t help since I didn’t know any of the words he said the first time. So I opted for the sit quietly and just smile route. He dropped me off at the end of the street and my plans were to just wander until I saw the building. I came to one that looked an awful lot like the pictures I’d seen. I wandered around the wall and started to go through the guard gate when I was stopped. He asked me what I was looking for, and in our few exchanges I realized he didn’t know much English (and my limited Arabic vocab wasn’t aiding things – somehow the words for sheet, closet and banana weren’t terribly applicable). But he walked me to the corner, asked if I spoke Arabic, and I answered “A little,” and he proceeded to give me directions. I managed to catch the word “yellow” and “three” and combining that with his energetic hand motions I deduced that the library was about three blocks down, past the yellow table umbrella. (In some digging, I believe I had tried to mistakenly enter the embassy of Myanmar, or possibly Sweden or Iraq – ooops.)

He was right! The library is located in a beautiful old former palace overlooking the Nile, belonging to Princess Samiha, the daughter of Sultan Hussein Kamel who ruled Egypt between 1914 and 1917. I had to give ID and sign in to enter, but then I could wander throughout the whole house. They had collections in Arabic, English, some Spanish and French. The non-Arabic collections were limited, but there was a lot of Shakespeare, James Joyce, and Thomas Hardy. I went to the front desk to find out the check-out procedures but was referred back to the main gate. I retrieved my ID and learned that this is a new type of library, the type where the books don’t actually leave the premises – no check-outs allowed. I guess it’s a reading library. Well, at least the building was beautiful.


On Tuesday I attended a CSA tour to the “Boulaq Fabric Market.” I didn’t go with any purchasing intentions, just to see what was there. I could never have imagined the sights to be seen!

It was like the Khan, but all fabric, in all stores, one after the other, street after street, twisting and turning become a complete maze of colors and textures. It was like wandering through Crayola-land, times 1,000 – and I mean the 96-box with the sharpener in back, not the measly 48-box. The tour leader had pre-arranged for us to meet with one proprietor, who kindly met us at the entrance and led us through the maze upon maze back to his three-level store (I’m not convinced I could ever find it again). I’ve been in a lot of fabric stores (see childhood memory comments above), but never have I seen the variety presented here – there was cotton, corduroy, fake fur, spandex, satin, silk, denim, linen, burlap, upholstery. Now add polka-dots, stripes, patterns, designs, embellishes, embroidered accents, and pretty much anything you could imagine. It really was a lot of fun. I bought a few little samples to play with, and collected thousands of ideas for our new place (we’ll have ten curtains per window under my current plan). The other great thing here in Cairo, is that there are lots of people you can hire to create things from the fabric mounds you’ve purchased – upholstery covers, curtains, and all types of clothing. I’m seeing lots of new pretty things in my future (plus my mother will now have to add a week to her visit just to explore Boulaq).

NOTE: Ron and I attended an amazing tour of "Ancient Christianity" in Cairo last weekend, but I'm having some trouble gathering facts about the sites we saw as some of them are so far off the tourist route that not much info is out there. I have an email in to the tour guide and will post as soon as I can write up something.