15 November 2018

I'm just finishing one of the recent books about the Cairo Geniza called Sacred Trash.  I liked this one a lot, although I'm going to read Sacred Treasure next.  Mostly, I just want to read anything I can about the Geniza.  This book focused more on the researchers who have worked with the documents, especially in its early years, so I'm hoping the other book is less about those people and even more about the documents. 

There are lots of places you can see digital versions of these documents.  Here's one.

14 November 2018

A couple of days ago we walked north on Qasaba Street from Qalah Street up through Bab Zuwayla, then over to the church in Harat al-Rum, then up through back streets to the back side of al-Azhar, and over to the western side of the Salah al-Din wall.  Does this map work? You might have to click the box that says directions from 4 Haret...  I clearly need to work on my maps.

Anyway, this was the first time I'd been back to Bab Zuwayla.  It's even better than it used to be.  The church was small and quiet, and I still haven't been able to find much information about it.  It was also fun to loop around to the other side of the walls to a spot I'd seen from al-Azhar park.

Someone left me with not one but two dead batteries in the camera so I only got photos from the first half of the jaunt, but as always, we'll be back.  Also, I mostly just take photos of buildings.  Of course I see lots of people, but there's a different expectation of privacy here so you'll have to visit to see more than buildings.

13 November 2018

These photos are from Sultan Hasan, al-Rifa'i, Bayt al-Labib, and the Bimaristan of Muyyad.  The bimaristan was especially nice to see.  There's a tunnel connecting the gate to Darb al-Labbana (which may or may not have been acceptable for us to use- we weren't allowed to use it the second day we tried it) which isn't mentioned in any book I've read and now I need to figure out where it came from. 

Sultan Hasan and al-Rifai are regular spots for tourists, usually combined with the Citadel.  There's a fee of 80 pounds to go to both mosques/mausoleums. The house is definitely not as much of a tourist spot, although it should be, especially when it's so close to Sultan Hasan.  I actually preferred it to the Gayer-Anderson Museum, because the displays inside were more interesting and less jumbled.   And then the Bimaristan was a complete and lovely surprise.  I had no idea it would be so beautiful based on what I'd read, something that happens often here.  This will be a lot of photos again.

12 November 2018

Textile Museum

I’ve walked past this museum many times since it’s in a very prominent location on Bayn al-Qasrayn, but I’ve never had time to stop.  So we combined it with the attempt to find Dar al-Kiswa since there is a piece of an old kiswa in the museum.  I loved it, partly because I think textile history is fascinating, but even someone who doesn’t love textiles (like my teenage son who was with me) would like this museum.

It cost 40/20 pounds, if I’m remembering correctly, and is air conditioned, and all of the displays are labeled in Arabic and English and there are lots of information boards all over the museum.  It covers all of Egyptian textile history from 4000-year-old linens to Coptic designs to the 50-year-old kiswa I mentioned above.  It’s not really big, but we easily spent an hour inside.

The biggest problem is that there’s already so much to see along Muizz Street that’s included in the regular ticket you get.  But it’s worth stopping here (or, even better, doing it with the houses on Darb al-Asfar separately from the Muizz Street sites).

11 November 2018

Musa bin Maymon Synagogue

Last week we were poking around al-Muski, north of the clothes suq, trying to find Dar al-Kiswa and see which roads Google maps has right near the synagogue.  We never found a likely suspect for Dar al-Kiswa, and Google maps is a mess in this area, but none of that mattered because the synagogue door was open when we walked by and we were able to go in.  We saw the main hall, the lower level where Maimonides was probably buried for a short time, and the women’s gallery.  I only had the sad phone on my camera, but it’s much better than nothing.

07 November 2018

Someday I will have time to blog about all of the things, but it’s not going to be this week.  And then I realized it won’t be next week either, since I accidentally planned outings almost every day when people will have days off.  Through next Thursday, I’m going to Ibn Tulun, Sultan Hasan, al-Azhar Park and Darb al-Ahmar, Old Cairo, and someplace yet to be decided, on five different days. I didn’t even leave time for grocery shopping, which is kind of important.  I’m in charge of making sure the people with me have an interesting time on all of those, except the as yet to be decided place.  The next week will be slower though, since Mawlid al-Nabi happens, and Thanksgiving, although I don’t know when we’ll celebrate.

Arabic is still going well.  I got a huge amount of speaking in today which was nice and mostly not too stressful.  One man I was with today loves Cairo’s history as much as I do and we talked for a very long time while waiting for other people.  I’m also hoping it will work to have the woman who cleans most of the apartments in my building come to my house for thirty minutes a day to speak Arabic will me since that’s the thing I need most practice in.  I’m hoping this is a win-win for both of us.

There is never time in any day to do all the things I want to do. Still settling, especially since our stuff hasn’t come (and I really don’t want to have to spend time unpacking when it does come), and I know there will be days when I can’t stand Cairo (just like there are days when I can’t stand to be in the US), but whenever I talk to other women who arrived at the same time we did, I realize how easy this transition has been for the entire family.  So different from Riyadh. Even though we hadn’t spent much time in Cairo before, this has been a lot more like moving to Kyrgyzstan the second time.

04 November 2018

I have been upgraded at the produce stand I visit.  Instead of choosing tomatoes and cucumbers from the display that need to be sold soon, I get to choose from the fresher box in the back.  Today's produce cost $2.50 and I got 2 kilos of cucumbers and tomatoes (they both cost 30 cents/pound, and so do the carrots, but the onions cost more), 1/2 kilo each of carrots and onions, and a bit of something like cabbage.  The cabbage is not what I was looking for, but I'll see if it works in pancit.  I also needed salt so I went to the dry goods stand.  It's run by two or three older women who are always so delighted to have anyone visit.  It feels like you're visiting your grandmother because they call you darling and tell you how to cook things.  They had parboiled rice, which they were called basmati, so I got some of that for plov.  I was very happy they had that instead of boring basmati.

Potatoes are expensive right now, for Egypt.  There are many political cartoons featuring glamorous potatoes.

03 November 2018

One thing you have to do when you’re trying to speak Arabic is get used to people having an opinion how you speak it.  Yesterday my husband and I both were told we were speaking Arabic incorrectly, for very different reasons.

I used the word ma’ashsha when someone came to do maintenance at the house and he told me it wasn’t the right way to pronounce it.  It’s the Egyptian (and Levantine) way to pronounce the word, where you drop the q instead of saying maqashsha which would be the fusha, or more formal, way to say it.  But who talks about brooms formally?  I smiled and said thank you, and the next man who came in said ma’ashsha.

Then a couple of hours later, my husband used common Levantine word that we’re both having trouble dropping and got a long lecture that he should use the Egyptian word instead.  I never get the Egyptian word out the first time, but I usually manage to correct myself. We were in a taxi so I sat in the back and didn’t say anything, and my husband smiled and said thank you at the end of the lecture.

I do like to talk about how people use words so I never mind the lectures, but you never you when you’re going to get one, or what word you’re going to misuse that will provoke an impromptu Arabic lesson.

02 November 2018

I tracked down some more information about the Fatima Nabawiya mosque.

The mosque was probably first built in the 1700s and restored later.  The old building was much smaller and had an Ottoman minaret.  There is no clear evidence for an earlier mosque, although there are traditions that something has been there for a long time, but the stories are similar to other mosques around Cairo about Muhammad’s family so it’s more likely this mosque picked up those kinds of stories.

The old building was seriously damaged in the 1992 earthquake and demolished in the late 1990s. The Aga Khan helped rebuild and expand it, partly by buying neighboring houses and demolishing them too.  The tomb area might have part of the earlier mosque, but that wasn’t clear.  The street in front of the mosque is called al-Nabawiya.  It’s so interesting to look at street names in Cairo and try to find out why they’re called that.

Tuesday nights are the most important time here, based on a tradition than Fatima held classes and discussions about science and religion in her home on Tuesday evenings. People come weekly to pray or study, and the main day of her mulid is on the second Tuesday of Rabi’ al-Thani, which should be December 10th this year.  Hers is the first mulid after Muhammad’s (around November 21st this year). Fatima is also called the Mother of Orphans because she helped orphans, including a group of seven girls whose education she paid for.  Those seven girls were buried in the mosque too, according to tradition, but the new mosque either moved them out or (more likely) just removed the mentions of the seven girls because they weren’t there.

31 October 2018

Darb al-Ahmar

This is another one of those really interesting parts of Cairo that tourists don't go to much.  A few days ago we poked around between the lower entrance to al-Azhar Park along al-Nabawiya to Suq al-Silah to Sultan Hasan with a slight and very worthwhile detour north on al-Tabanaa.

When you first exit the park, you'll come to the mosque of Amir Aslam al-Silahdar.  It's a small place that's tucked so far out of the way that you'd likely never get there unless you go to the park, but it's so beautiful and has been nicely restored as part of the Aga Khan work in the area. One thing I especially like is that it's clear they're trying to make the mosque a community area, including in the cleared around in front of the building. Sometimes everything feels so tight inside Cairo neighborhoods that having a little space outside is so nice to see.  

We also came across a new mosque (not just new to us, but also new for Cairo) dedicated to Fatima al-Nabawiya (not THE Fatima, but her granddaughter) who is supposed to be buried here (but she is almost certainly in Syria).  The mosque is clearly new, but I've had trouble sorting out the history of the place, again likely because it's so far off the beaten path for English speakers.  I'll have to search in Arabic.  I really liked the building and was glad someone made sure we went inside. There's a huge mawlid here (maybe December 3rd this year?).

Going up Tabanaa Street, we went to the mosque of Maridani which is currently being restored by the Aga Khan and the EU (the restoration just started).  This place was amazing.  We could only stand inside the entrance to look around, and it's much too large to see everything from there, but what we could see was wonderful.  The guard was a bit bemused by all of our questions and delight. I'm glad we had a chance to see some of it and I'll be watching the progress of the restoration.

We were able to go inside the mosque of Ahmad al-Mihmandar.  The door was closed but not locked and a man sitting across from the building let us in.  It's clearly a functional neighborhood mosque, but it's also a nice space.  The last building we saw, although we didn't go inside, on Tabanaa Street was the mosque of Amir Qijmas.  It's built on a triangle of land and you can walk around it.  

Back along Suq al-Silah, we didn't go inside anything but it's a very interesting neighborhood to walk through.