A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, February 17, 2012

Some Cairo Vignettes for a Three-Day Weekend

This is the beginning of the three-day President's Day weekend in the US and I'll only be checking in if circumstances demand.

To help keep you occupied, at least those of you who are old Cairo hands or are interested in the region's biggest city, here are a number of vignettes relating to various aspects of the city, from a variety of sources (though a majority are from the great CairObserver website):

Al-Horriya Cafe/Bar.  Here's a piece from the Guardian website on a place known to many old Cairo hands. Al-Horriya is a classic old Cairo coffeehouse, complete with mirrors on the walls, backgammon and domino games etc. But it has an additional attraction that used to be more common in Cairo coffeehouses but has become scarce: it serves beer. On Midan Falaki, it's only a few blocks from the AUC downtown campus and well known to lots of expatriates. I understand they've remodeled lately; I hope that doesn't mean your glass no longer sticks to the tables.

Uruba Palace/Former Heliopolis Palace Hotel. Gamal Abdel Nasser lived in a modest home while President and many of the old royal palaces became museums. Anwar Sadat was having none of that and began assembling a number of Presidential palaces for various roles. The old Heliopolis Palace Hotel was transformed into the Uruba Palace, which, in Husni Mubarak's day, became Mubarak's chief residence. CairObserver has photos from its earlier incarnation as a luxury hotel, and notes that a government commission is now surveying the Presidential Palaces, raising questions about where the new President to be elected in May will reside.

Al-Hakim Mosque. At the north end of the old Fatimid city, up against the northern walls of the city, lies the huge Mosque of al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah. A masterpiece of medieval architecture, under Sadat it was renovated (by the South Asian sect of Bohra Ismailis); CairObserver celebrates it today as "a place to idle."

The City of the Dead. Another CairObserver piece notes the showing in Cairo of a recent film on the City of the Dead, the name often applied to the great eastern and southern cemeteries on the edges of the old city, where many people live among the tombs. As the article notes, the film exaggerates the number of residents. The trailer is, however, on YouTube and may be of interest.

Graffiti After the Football Catastrophe. Graffiti on the walls of Cairo's streets has been one of the great artistic expressions of the Revolution, and though the authorities keep repainting it, the ubiquity of telephone cameras has guaranteed a great deal of documentation of what has been, however briefly, created. Some is high art; some creative protest; some funny; some just rabble-rousing or rude. The blogger who goes by suzeeinthecity has been among those collecting photos of the graffiti on her website; she has also interviewed some of the better-known street artists. Her latest post is on the graffiti of the Ahly Ultras that went up after the Port Said football catastrophe, though you may want to browse through some of the earlier collections as well. The whole subject of revolutionary graffiti is probably going to produce some Ph.D. dissertations down the road, I suspect;

Enjoy the long weekend if you have it; I'll check in as needed and resume regular blogging on Tuesday.

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