February 20, 2003:
We had an early flight back to Cairo (about an hour
flight) leaving at 8:45. ONce we checked out and caught
the buss, it was pretty smooth sailing.
George picked us up at the airport (the smaller terminal
this time) and a quick car/limo ride to the Semi-Ramis
(sem-ee-ram-EES) Intercontinental Hotel. Very nice,
business class hotel with all the perks of an international
chain and very little of the charm of the hotels we
had been staying in. It's right downtown, within walking
distance of the Museum. If I lean way out over our
balcony railing, I can see it from our room.
That's the plan today: clean up a bit, then go to
the Museum again. I'm pretty excited about it. Looking
out over traffic, though, I'm pretty sure we'll get
killed trying to walled there -- two huge traffic
circles with four or five lanes each and a few bazillion
Off we go. We managed to dart across traffic at the
appropriate time by watching everyone else and staying
really close. It's a close call, though. Pedestrians
here do not have the right of way, but they do seem to think
that they are invincible. They cut it awfully close
sometimes! Only two blocks, though, so no mishaps, at least not yet!
The Museum is very crowded -- we get tickets and
politely declined an offer for a local guide or two
-- guides are licensed by the Museum (only 83 of them)
and are allowed to approach un-guided tourists for three minutes only, to
sell their services for a tour. If one guide is
talking to you, no one else can interrupt. The rules
were needed to stop the horrific gauntlet of hotel and
taxi touts, like at the airport. The guides are conveniently
labeled, though, with the languages they speak. If
we had not had a few hours here with Fateh, we'd probably
have taken a guide or the new electronic headset doohickeys
(available at a kiosk inside, ask for them).
Once again, the museum is overwhelming. Its simply
too crowded with artifacts to comprehend and take in. After wandering
for a few minutes, I spotted a group using a guide book (big
thick book with descriptions of all the pieces on display) and
decide get one. No luck. I get to the bookstore and
it's 200 too many people in the small space and I
can't find anything. I'm simply too short. Mark has more success pushing his way to the front. The guide helps
-- although it's pretty vague on the route you should
take in the museum.
Mark doesn't feel well. He's a good sport about things
to go through the first floor pretty thoroughly and
take a look at the papyrus room and the fayoum portraits.
We call it a day so he can go back to sleep. It is permissible to take pictures in the museum (can you do that in the States? I don't think so), so we snap photos of the really interesting stuff. I'm still creeped out by the
ka statue of Menkauhor with the inlaid eyes.
Back to nap before dinner. We're invited to dinner
at Mr. Mohammed's house (our driver while we're in Cairo) I'm sure he does
it quite a bit for the tour company, but it's still nice. Mohammed and
his wife and two children (his 7 year old daughter
Menna and a 20 year old son) all live in their tiny apartment in north Cairo. .
apartment is very small, but decorated with large,
ornate, baroque, gilt furniture. From our window-shopping experiences, this style -- gilt and velvet is the style everyone has.
Dinner was HUGE. I had read about the largess of home
dinners, but...wow. In a kitchen the size of a small
phone booth, Mr. Mohammed's wife made two types of chicken, veal steaks
breaded and fried, chicken breaded and fried, mousakka,
white beans and tomato casserole, macaroni casserole
with bechemel and eggs, bread, rice, and the traditional
mezze. Considering we were both still slightly queasy,
it was an enormous feast. Then, tea and coffee and
sweets. Mark especially was urged to "Eat!" and we had more of everything.
George did an able job of translating for us, although
Mohammed and his family all speak some English --
I think that Mr. Mohammed speaks more than he lets
on, but he isn't comfortable that he's not completely
fluent. His daughter can read and write English very
well. She read to me from a copy of Jungle Book. She is in second grade, and her English skills are the same as any second-grader at home.
We decide that if the family eats like this every
night, Mr. Mohammed will have to get a bigger van. Everyone laughed.
We also discovered that Mr. Mohammed is a 25 year veteran of the Artillery,
a colonel. His wife showed me his picture from when
he was a young man -- quite handsome in his uniform. Mohammad's wife is charming and a wonderful hostess. I'm not sure how orthodox Mr. Mohammad's family is, but his wife did wear a head scarf (with her earring on though the scarf to keep it in place) although she certainly chatted with both Mark and I at table.
We staggered back to our room at the hotel and crawled into bed, too full and too sleepy to even talk much.