13 February 2019

The government is saying a sandstorm is coming.  None of the weather apps agree, but they’re terrible with predicting sandstorms, or at least they were in Saudi and I haven’t heard of anyone who thinks they’re better here.  Thursday and Friday are supposed to be the worst, plus rain could come too.  Can I just say that mud falling out of the sky is not my favorite weather?  I like pretty much all weather, as in something happening from the sky, except that option.

But!  As I was poking around trying to find out more about this purported storm, I discovered that the Coptic month of Amshir started a couple of days ago and it’s the windy, stormy month.  Plus, there are proverbs about this month.  One is about a person who is like Amshir, because their mood changes every hour.  Another is about a person named Touba (the previous month, when it’s cold) and like Amshir, so they’re really not a very pleasant person.  Another is something like Amshir blowing so much that it even makes and old woman fly.  That is a major paraphrase and I’m going to ask my resident Egyptian friend about that one tomorrow.

Also, all the Coptic months have sayings. https://www.exploretravelandcruises.com/egypt-weather/  I’m fond of Tout, when the heat dies.

12 February 2019

Yesterday we were at Sultan Hasan when some smoke started coming out of an upper window, to the left of the qibla iwan.  But no one seemed concerned, and since I’ve decided that I won’t get concerned overseas unless the people around me seem concerned, we kept looking around.  After a few minutes, more smoke started coming out, plus a loud sound started from somewhere inside the building.  At this point, people in the building started to pay attention.  The sound got louder, more smoke kept coming, and then a bunch of men emerged from the door below the window and there was a bit of a commotion.

Since people seemed concerned at that point, we went back into the mausoleum because it was further from the problem and it’s been there for nearly 700 years so I didn’t think yesterday would be the day it would collapse.

The sound got louder and louder, and then it finally stopped.  And everyone went back to normal, except there was still smoke drifting out. We looked around for another five or ten minutes.

As we were leaving, a fire truck pulled up.  Two actually, one that was old and small and then a bigger shiny truck.  After much discussion, they pulled away, because apparently there wasn’t anything to worry about anymore.  I thought the response time was pretty good, given Cairo’s traffic and the lack of fire stations in the city.  I’m not sure what the fire trucks would have done though.  But I liked the idea of fire trucks coming to save a nearly 700-year-old stone building.

09 February 2019

This week I've gone to Old Cairo twice and I also took a friend to the Church of the Virgin Who Melted Iron and the Maimonides Synagogue in Fatimid Cairo.  I went back to Old Cairo because I wanted to be sure I'd seen everything this book mentioned, so I toted it along with me.  This is the best general book about Coptic Cairo because it's broader in its focus that Babylon of Egypt or Fortifications and the Synagogue, and it incorporates new archaeological information that the Churches of Egypt doesn't have. 

I still haven't been able to find much about the Church of the Virgin in Fatimid Cairo, but I'm trying.  We spent a long time looking around the entire building (I've never been with someone who was willing to see all the things) and it was a lovely visit.

One thing I finally found in Abu Sarga were the14th- or 15th-century panels of the Last Supper and the Nativity.

There was some kind of health clinic going on in the courtyard of the Hanging Church a few days ago.  It reminded me of Mexico.

01 February 2019

Museum of Islamic Art

And yet another place that took us far too long to get to, although I’m glad we went to lots of other buildings first so the things we saw fit in with what we’ve seen.

This is a wonderful museum. I especially loved finding pieces that I’d read about bring in other buildings but had been moved here (like the Coptic Museum, only on a much larger scale).  The beams from one of the Fatimid palaces were there, doors from Imam Shafi’i’s tomb, a minbar I’d read about, and one of the mihrabs from a Ibn Tulun, plus lots more.

My only quibble is that there isn’t a lot of info in English.  The large information boards are all in both Arabic and English, and everything is identified in both languages, but for individual pieces, the only extra information was in Arabic and the writing was small enough and the light low enough that it was hard to read.  But I’m sure I’ll go back with my husband, and he will take at least a bazillion photo, so I’ll have more time to read someday. And I think most people wouldn’t have thought there wasn’t enough in English.

I forgot my camera and it was a bit dark, like I mentioned, so these aren’t great but there should be more another time. Al

31 January 2019

Southern Cemetery, part 3

And the rest of the photos.

30 January 2019

Southern Cemetery part 2

Since there wasn't much time after the Jewish cemetery, we just did the tombs around al-Shafi'i which is an incredibly significant place all by itself since he is the founder of one of the four schools of Islamic jurisprudence.  The building is being restored (which was a happy surprise, although I'd have liked to see it before the restoration started) and we'll return to see it when it's finished, but it's still very much worth a visit.  There are around 7 more very old tombs right around there associated with Muhammad's family, plus the tomb of Muhammad Ali's family.  The smaller tombs are locked and you need to find the person with the key (not always doable, but we did go in a few including the original Um Kulthum), but Muhammad Ali's family tomb has a government ticket and a man working there who speaks English and knows lots of interesting things.  It reminded me a bit of al-Rifa'i but on a much smaller and much more interesting scale.

All in all, another really amazing morning. And again, I'm going to have to divide this because I have too many photos.  These are from everything except Hosh al-Basha.

29 January 2019

Southern Cemetery part 1

The Southern Cemetery, basically the long narrow section that runs from the Citadel all the way to Maadi, has been on my list for a while and we finally did our first trip there, this time taking another couple with us who seemed like the type who would enjoy this jaunt (they did).  I'd planned to see most of the historical tombs, staying more on the north side of the cemetery, but we decided to see what we could see of the Jewish cemetery at the very southern end.

I can't remember if I've mentioned this cemetery before.  It's possibly very, very old, all the way back to Ibn Tulun in the late 800s which would make this the second or third oldest existing Jewish cemetery in the world, after the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.  The story is that when Ibn Tulun cleared the area around Jabal Yashkur to build a mosque and city, he gave the Jews of Fustat a new cemetery to replace the one he cleared away, and this is that cemetery.  Some of the Geniza documents were found here, and it's in two sections, one for Karaites and one for Rabbinites.  Even if it's does date back to Ibn Tulun, it is very old and attests to the very long Jewish presence in Cairo.

It turned out we were able to see far more than we thought we'd be able to, and we spent a very long time talking to some of the men who live around the edge of the cemetery.  There are obviously property issues- this is a very important Jewish cemetery and the Jewish Community of Cairo owns the land, but land is scarce in Cairo and squatters (does English literally have no better term for this?) are everywhere.  It's beyond complicated.  More on all of that later, hopefully.

And I'll do the rest of this post tomorrow since I have too many photos.

28 January 2019

Saqqara and Djedefre Pyramid

We did another trip to Saqqara on Police Day (observed), this time with my husband and middle son.  Sometime I want to go with someone who wants to spend a few hours there so we can poke around in all the corners.  But there's time.  Also, we took a wrong turn at one point on the way there and ended up next to the Pyramids of Giza.  I like living in places where a mistake ends up being interesting. Washington DC is like that too- if you miss an exit right before the Potomac, you're probably going to see a bunch of monuments before you can fix it.

We're trying to see all the pyramids we can around Cairo, and I've marked them on my map so we decided to try to find the northernmost ruined pyramid on Friday afternoon.  I didn't really have much hope that it would be a very worthwhile trip, but I warned everyone and they still came.  The route we tried went through a cemetery which is always interesting, but then we drove around for a long time on dirt roads trying to aim for the pin I had.  We finally found a road that wasn't very obvious (we felt exactly like we were on the escarpment in Riyadh at this point) and it took us right to the pyramid, next to the cell phone tower.  Utility road have made so many adventures possible for us, in Mexico (at the Tequila Volcano), in Saudi with the Aramco pipeline road and the power line road on the escarpment, and now the cell phone tower road to the 4600-year-old pyramid. 

Anyway, absolutely no one was there and everything was completely open.  Some work has been done to restore the outline of the mortuary temple on the side, and there's a satellite pyramid in a heap of dirt, but the main thing is the pyramid.  It's only 30 feet or so high now, so that's why it's not famous, but it probably was built to be about the size of the smallest of the Great Pyramids and the Romans deconstructed it for the granite, of which there was still plenty around.  There's a nice view of the Great Pyramids and they were only ones we could see, but it was a murky sort of day. 

It turned out to be a very interesting place.  All four of us had lots of fun poking around and I'd love to go back another time. 

27 January 2019

In an effort to get more Arabic speaking practice, I asked a woman who works in my building to stop by to speak with me a few times a week.  It’s a good system because she always is here and always comes (so I can’t ever get out of it).  She’s had a rough life, like a lot of Egyptian women, but she’s always such fun to talk to.  Today I learned the expressions dam khafiif and dam ta’iil, meaning literally light blood and heavy blood, but referring to being funny/light-hearted and serious.  We also talked about the Egyptian tradition of putting your hand in the blood of a slaughtered sheep and putting the print on the wall five times to bless the home.  I hadn’t heard the five times part.  And she said that she can only pray once or twice a day because she walks a lot of dogs for work.  I knew dogs made people unclean for praying, but I hadn’t thought before how her job would keep her from being able to pray.

26 January 2019

St. Mercurius Complex

Just a little north of the Roman fortress is another complex of Coptic churches, at least one of which probably predates the Muslim conquest (Abu Sayfayn).  I hadn't been there before, but I was there with a group and since we'd all driven together in one car, we could drive over and manage to squeeze it in before we had to leave. 

I especially liked Abu Sayfayn  and I will now start going here more often.  It's just a few minutes' walk from Coptic Cairo.  I will spare you the history lesson here, but it really is an interesting church.  In a happy accident, they opened the sanctuary for us.  Women aren't allowed in, but since we had several men along, they went inside and were allowed to take photos.  Also, sayfayn means "two swords" in Arabic so you'll usually see St. Mercurius holding two swords over his head.

Anba Shenuda is next door, along with the Church of the Virgin al-Damshiriya around the corner.  Anba Shenuda certainly dates to at least 743 and al-Damshiriya likely dates back that far too.