Malls, glorious, maaaalls…

(Anyone else have an “Oliver” tune in their head?)

Last week, we added two more mall-ings to our exploratory repertoire. I took a day of wandering in Maadi and during a two-hour outing checked out the new “Nile Mall” that’s along the Corniche. When we arrived two months ago it still had “Coming Soon” signs posted, but all of a sudden the signs are down and stores are stocked and opened for business. Compared to the Maadi Grand Mall (MGM) with its grubby ambiance, the Nile Mall was really nice. It’s brand new, sparkling clean, air-conditioned, has festive red velvet ribbon draped everywhere and the stores were actually open in the afternoon. It’s relatively small, with four floors and two sections separated by a glass walkway. There are mostly clothing and shoe stores with a few accessory stores (earrings, scarves, etc.), one or two pharmacies (essentially drug stores with basic medicinal supplies, some makeup, soap, shampoo, etc.), and one coffee shop (Starbucks and Starbucks-like establishments are all over). Probably not destined to be a regular hang-out joint for us, but it’s good to know what’s where.

Then last weekend Ron suggested we head to CityStars Mall in Heliopolis, which is north of Cairo, close to the airport. I’d been hearing of CityStars, but hadn’t made it out there yet. After experiencing the trek out there, I see why I hadn’t just popped over sooner. We first drove into downtown (in the newly arrived Jeep – yeah!) and parked near the embassy. We then grabbed a yellow cab from Tahrir Square. These are the relatively new cabs with A/C and, even more important, meters. Since Ron wasn’t sure how long or far it would be, he thought it’s best to rely on the meter until we know the typical fare. Well it must have taken us about half-an-hour to get there. Some of that was due to distance, some due to traffic. The last time I’d seen any of this area of Cairo was on our 10pm drive from the airport after our 30 hours of travel – can’t say I was particularly cognizant of my surroundings at that time, so I enjoyed the new sights (we passed the Cairo railroad station which is a beautiful building, a lot of really magnificent mosques, and the tomb of the unknown soldier, not to mention thousands of stores and apartments and lines of laundry flapping in the hot breeze).

CityStars Mall is, well, huge. Twenty years ago it was probably more desert-like, but it’s now a 5-6 story, enormous structure of over 550 stores, 21 movie screens, covering over 750,000 sqm, surrounded by “luxury apartment" high-rises on all sides and three international hotels. Oh, and it houses a 6,000 sqm theme park too, although we opted to check it out on another visit. Aside from the Arabic conversations and signs (though many are in English) and head-scarves, we could have been in Minneapolis’s Mall of America. Teen-age girls are the same in any culture – gaggles of posing, preening, pre-teens were giggle masses around every corner. Packs of teen-age boys prowled behind them. Couples walked hand-in-hand with their shiny new bags and babies tottered around or were carried by their distracted parents. It was huge (did I say that already?), shiny and clean, air-conditioned (key factor), and had more high-end stores than I’d seen amassed before – Rolex, Villeroy & Boch, and even a Mercedes-Benz store.

We had two primary objectives; 1. See the Mall, 2. See a movie. Attempting to use the mall maps lead us all over, but never near a movie theater. Our cab driver had said they were inside the mall, but our frustrations were growing, so I attempted to ask a woman who is the only person I’ve met so far who didn’t speak any English. Luckily someone else overheard me and she was able to direct us to the theaters. Buying tickets was another mini-adventure. The concept of standing and waiting in lines is, well, foreign here. It’s the shove and wriggle method. Ron finally made it up to one of the windows, only to find out that the windows are movie-specific, and we were not interested in “Prom Night” so we had to shove over to the “Narnia: Prince Caspian” window. Once we made it up to the window, we then had to actually pick out what specific seats we wanted (I think they were all the same price, though). Tickets purchased, seats chosen, we grabbed a popcorn and some soda cans (and a large popcorn here is like a childhood flashback – no suitcase-sized containers, which was actually nice). Then an usher led us to our seats and after seeing the Egyptian Ministry of Culture’s written approval of the film’s contents flashed up on the screen, we settled in to enjoy the latest Narnia, replete with Arabic sub-titles. The only oddity was when the movie stopped about half-way through, lights came on and we just looked at each other. It only lasted for a few minutes, so we’re not sure if it was a scheduled stop for an intermission or possible call-to-prayer, or just a blip. But the film resumed without issue.

We grabbed a sandwich at one of our favorite coffee/juice places, Beanos, after the film and wandered the mall a bit. My latest quest is to find a non-plastic, non-ugly, dish drainer (oh, the Dip Wife Life glamour never ends), but after a few attempts I gave up and bought a Mercedes instead. Just kidding, I met Ron in the Virgin MegaStore. Knowing we had about an hour’s cab+Jeep ride ahead of us, we headed out and grabbed a black-n-white cab. We were flying along the highways that have been constructed over many areas of Cairo (smart move to avoid the city traffic) when Ron asked the driver if he wanted any water. Granted, Ron is very generous and kind, but I thought it an odd offer. All we had with us was a half-empty bottle. The driver declined and I looked over at Ron. He mumbled under his breath, “He looks like he’s falling asleep.” GREAT!! I spent the rest of the ride trying not to appear as if I was watching the driver, while watching the driver. I’m not sure if he was tired, or new to Cairo, or new to cab-driving, but he didn’t know where Tahrir Square was, so we had some fun (read: annoying) turn-arounds and double-backs before we finally made it. We paid him and walked to our car at the embassy. To get to the gate we had to cross a regularly-busy road and Ron almost got clipped by an apparently blind driver in a car. One of the guards at the gate said, “Careful, you’re not in America anymore.” Ron laughed and concurred. Definitely not Minneapolis.