Sunday, December 21, 2008

Stepping Out: A walk Downtown evokes memories of Cairo’s old glory

An intereting article that I came the next time I am in Downtown, this is what I shall do!

Stepping Out: A walk downtown evokes memories of Cairo’s old glory
By Kate Dannies
First Published: December 5, 2008

The Groppi building's aristocratic architecture remains captivating.
Living in a city that seems to grow and change everyday, it’s easy to forget the rich history that is embodied in the buildings and streets of central Cairo.

Cairo’s downtown was built by Khedive Ismail, who strove to create a “new city” that was European, modern, and easy to secure. This meant wide boulevards centered around spacious squares and grand buildings modeled after Europe’s architectural masterworks. This was in stark contrast to the twisting alleys and narrow streets found Cairo’s ancient Islamic city.

This is Cairo’s “Tale of Two Cities”—an analogy that remains appropriate today as endless expansion continues and the popularity of new neighborhoods and satellite cities replaces the appeal of downtown life.

Downtown’s glamorous past is something that everyone acknowledges but few have experienced; the area’s glory may have long since faded, but it remains a fascinating place to visit for locals and tourists alike.

Due to the area’s one-way streets and many instances of interesting architecture, a walking tour is the best way to appreciate the myriad sights there.

A great route begins at an easily identifiable landmark: the old campus of the American University in Cairo — itself an institution whose buildings are about to join the rest of downtown’s architectural marvels in the history books.

Beginning in front of AUC’s Greek campus on Youssef El Guindy Street, walk down the street towards the Bustan Center. Continuing down Youssef El Guindy, passing by craftsmen making woven chairs and couches, you will arrive at the intersection with Hoda Shaarawi Street.

Besides boasting lovely architecture, this area is known for its fabulous selection of antiques — here, upper-class Zamalekites can often be found mixing with downtown regulars as they search for old treasures in crammed shops.

Turning left and walking up Hoda Shaarawi towards Talaat Harb, Bustan café will be on your left. This quaint coffeehouse in an alley is popular with locals and expat downtowners alike, and will be filled with an eclectic mix of people at any time of the day. Sit and have a shisha and enjoy some prime people-watching, or continue up the alley to Talaat Harb Street.
Historic Café Riche is nestled up between Bustan alley and Talaat Harb Street. Pop in for a look at the café’s portrait hall, featuring shots of famous Egyptians such as Naguib Mahfouz, Om Kolthoum and Ahmed Amin who frequented the café over the years.

Downstairs, Café Riche’s political history comes alive — visitors can see the old printing press that was used to create nationalist literature and the secret passageway that helped smuggle activists in and out of hiding.

Hang out in Riche for a bit and you're bound to meet some interesting people — many of Cairo’s top contemporary writers are patrons, and visiting scholars, writers and artists make for a captivating crowd at this landmark.

Across the street from Café Riche is the legendary Groppi — Cairo’s original chocolaterie and patisserie. Groppi’s pastries may no longer be the best in Cairo, but the aristocratic architecture of the place makes it easy to imagine the appeal it held for elite Cairo of old.

If you turn left past Groppi onto Mahmoud Bassiouni Street and take the second right onto Champollion, you will pass by one of downtown’s most beautiful, and most neglected landmarks. This is the Mansouria Girls’ School: an abandoned building that has, nevertheless, managed to maintain its dignity over the years.

While the building and its grounds have been granted protection as historic monuments, nothing has been done to bring them back to their former glory, so visitors must be content to look and imagine from the street.

At the end of the street is the Townhouse Gallery. An excellent example of the recent gentrification that has been taking place on a small scale in downtown, the Townhouse has managed to integrate itself seamlessly into the neighborhood. Gallery visitors can be seen sitting in the coffeehouse with alley residents enjoying a shisha under artistic light and banner arrangements put up by the gallery. This is one of the rare places where the diversity of downtown can be truly enjoyed.

The Townhouse’s exhibits are some of Cairo’s best, and the gallery’s gift shop, which boasts crafts and jewelry from all over Egypt, offers a refreshing change from the endless papyrus and perfume shops that offer the only other options for souvenirs.

Across Talaat Harb Square, turn onto the pedestrian thoroughfare of Sherifain Street, and you will be immediately struck by the architecture of the historic Cosmopolitan Hotel. Designed by Italian architect Alphonse Sasso and built in 1928, this building is one of the most beautiful examples of belle-époque architecture in Cairo.

Further up the pedestrian walk, is Egypt’s stock exchange, El Borsa. Newly renovated, El Borsa is a quintessential example of the architectural treasures to be found in the area. During the day, visitors can enter the rejuvenated building for a tour, but if you go after hours, it’s best to stop for a quick look and head along to the stylish Borsa Café for a street-side coffee break.

If you need more than coffee at this point in the afternoon, continue down Sherifain Street past the Mobil station to Mahmoud Mazloom Street. At the intersection with Hoda Shaarawi Street is a classic: Le Bistro. While not necessarily a true French dining experience, Le Bistro’s typical downtown shabby chic atmosphere and excellent steak frites make it worth a stop.

A walking tour of historic downtown concludes with a final stroll past Falaki Square, down Bustan Street back to the American University in Cairo, where walkers will get into their cars and head back out to the fringes of the city, far away from the Cairo of days past.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Four Women in Egypt

Have been searching the net in vain to try and download a documentary titled Four Women in Egypt. It is supposed to be a brilliant documentary exploring the lives, arguments and friendships of for very different women.

Teacher, writer, activist, politician--four extraordinary women testify about the tumultuous events they have lived through during their long friendship in Egypt. The four women speak animatedly about the nation, politics, culture, and Islam.

The four are friends. They are nationalists and progressives; one among them is a veiled Islamist. The women defy the stereotypical notion that "fundamentalists" and "secularists" do not talk to each other, that they do not have shared experiences or common concerns.

Have read fantastic reviews of the documentary. Tried looking for a copy in the video shops but no luck. If anyone reading this has a link or can tell me where I can get a copy, shall be eternally grateful!


Came across this the other day while surfing "Cairo" and was amazed. This is a KFC run by people who are hearing impared. The video is taken by JehanneMc.

This place is in Midan Vini, Dokki, Cairo, Egypt. Walking distance from the Cairo Sheraton. The manager of the outlet is not hearing impaired.

I think the whole concept is a tribute to the indomitable spirit of mankind and kuos to a company which has the courage to do something besides pay lip service to concept of diversity at the woerk place.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

No time like the present!

Countries gain and loose an hour in daylight savings, I've lost a day!

For the last few days Blogger's clock has been running a day behind the actual date, well at least for my blog e.g. currently the time in 1.17 a.m. Dec 11 while Blogger shows the current posting time as 2.14 p.m. Dec 10. Am completely unable to figure out what happened. Have been through the layout, can't seem to find how to set it right! My laptop's clock shows the right time, so I know its not my comp but Blogger!

At times like this, I am forced to acknowledge that I am reasonably technologically challenged, lol!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Quirky News

Was generally browsing the net looking for something when I came across this website "Digg" which had some really quirky news items, which I could not resist posting for the amusement value of the same...

Men under threat from 'gender bending' chemicals — Men are at risk of being "feminised" by thousands of "gender bending" chemicals that are changing the behaviour of humans and animals, according to a report. Scientists are warning that manmade pollutants which have escaped into the environment mimic the female sex hormone oestrogen.

Academics invent math equation for why people procrastinate — It might seem an idle pastime but academics have come up with a mathematical equation for why people procrastinate. Prof Piers Steel, a Canadian academic who has spent more than 10 years studying why people put off until tomorrow what they could do today, believes that the notion that procrastinators are either perfectionists or just lazy is wrong.

"The Ice Man" aims to break freezing record — A Dutchman who is able to withstand freezing temperatures that would kill most people will submerge himself in icy water for almost two hours in a world record bid. - Public Toilet Search with GPS Locations — SitOrSquat is a web based index of public bathrooms. In addition to providing the basic map-mashup and rating system. Sit or Squat users can provide and browse photographs of the restrooms in question. The real selling point is the applications available for iPhones and Blackberries, enabling GPS based directions to the nearest bathroom

Origins of Sphinx

Looks like historians are not going to let the myth and mystique of the Sphinx survive! They are keen to demystify the origins and contruct of the spectacular structure at the earliest.

Just came across an article in the Telegraph, Uk which talks about how they have come to the conclusion that the Sphinx was probably built much earlier than the 3 pyramids at Giza, and, how the head/ face that it was originally built was one of a lion which was subsequently replaced by that of a Pharoah when the pyramids were built.

Its fascinating isn't it, how even centuries ago they were capable of building structures on a gigantic scale that would withstand the test of time...

You can read the article here


I was browsing through "Not without my daughter" when I remembered having read a very interesting book called Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. I remember having heard of it due to the rather unfortunate killing of Theo van Gogh, the man who had the courage to make the movie "Submission" along with Ayaan Hirsi Ali. That sparked off an interest to see the movie and to read the book.

Born in Somalia, the daughter of a politician who opposed the Siad Barré dictatorship, Ayaan Hirsi Ali grew up with oppression. The accounts of violent retributions at the hands of her religious teacher make you cringe, her mother's obduracy in sticking to what she is familiar with and her unwillingness to look outside that frustrates you, her mother's frustration in dealing with a life she does not understand makes you feel sorry for her while wanting to shake her up, the sisters' reading of romantic novels just like other young girls anywhere makes you smile, her first attraction for a member of the male species and their hesitant fumblings make you want to hug her, her all encompassing embrace of Islam including the wearing of a shapeless black garment makes you want to shake her for allowing her thoughts and her fire die out, her dissapointment as she realises that the father that she revered as a rebel, a thinker did deem her opinion / wishes / desires important make your heart cry for her, her mother calling her a "filthy prostitute" makes you cringe, her fear and anticipation as she awaits asylum in Holland keeps you on tender hooks.

Her description of her genital mutilation is narrated matter-of-factly without stretching it, which makes it even more agonising. And this happens across Africa, and, is not specific to a religion. I had to put down the book twice, before I could pick it up and read any further, it felt so real and personal.

And, not for the first time while reading the book, I thanked God for my blessings!

A couple of questions that arise when you read the book relate to the detailed description of her childhood when she was barely 10 years old. The detail in which she describes it, makes you question the veracity of the events. Can a person remember such details of a childhood that she strives to forget and move on? And if she has filled in the blanks at some places, is it concievable that there may be exaggeration at some other places?

Yes, a lot has been said about her falsifying some of the information on her application seeking political asylum, but is that an inconceivable thought and is she the first person to have done it? Though I wish she hadn't criticised the same action by others subsequently.

Yes, she appears to talk only of an oppressed Islamic world and has invited the ire of the more liberal muslims, but the fact is that she will talk about only what she has been exposed to in the Islamic world. Could she be a little less all encompassing in her denouncement of Islam? Definatley.

Yes, she paints a very rosy picture of the Western world but can you blame her? Her only yardstick are her experiences in Somalia, Kenya, Nairobi and Saudi, which is what she uses for comparision. As an educated woman, having spent time in the Western world, being a politically active woman, does one expect a more objective viewpoint? Definately.

And finally, in the last two years, having read so many books about muslim women in muslim states and their stories, I wonder whether all of what she says is really so far away from the truth for some women? Do many of us, who live blessed lives (irrespective of our faith), prefer to gloss over the fact that life is not so rosy for many other women?

I guess there will be many opinions and viewpoints about the book, but I think its definately worth a read.

I am attaching the links to the movie "Submission" by Theo van Gogh. Worth seeing, if not for anything but just to see what caused the man to loose his life.

I can imagine that he may have offended religious sentiments courtesy Quranic verses being written on a naked body of a woman. I remember an instance in India when Hussein, a famous painter, had painted pictures of Hindu goddess and invited the fundamentalist's ire. I remember it surprising me, cos we are the land of the Kamasutra, and, Ajanta and Ellora. I guess fundamentalists are the same everywhere, irrespective of the religion!

Top 10 things to do in Cairo

Had some friends visiting us from Singapore. While they've done the Nile Cruise and Abu Simbal, and of course, the Pyramids and the Egyptian Museum, they asked me a very pertinent question? Other than the antiquities, what are the top 10 things to do in Cairo? Not Egypt but in and around Cairo?

For a moment I was fazed! First thing that comes to your mind when someone mentions Cairo is the pyramids and the museum...that set me thinking....I am writing down what I would def like to do in and around Cairo, in random order...and these are things that I would like to do...

1/ Coffee and Sheesha at El Fishawy
2/ Tannoura at Al Ghouri
3/ Felucca ride
4/ Dinner at the revolving restaurant
5/ A day trip to Fayoum
6/ A trip into the White Dessert
7/ A night out at Darts (Heliopolis) After Eight or Budha Bar
8/ The 11 pm to 4 am show with Dina at Semiramis

Cannot think of the balance two which does not include the antiquities... needs some thought!

Anybody who is reading this and has suggestions, would love to hear your top 10 things to do...I have this nagging feeling that there is something very obvious that I am missing out!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Evans - Maadi City Centre

While I continue to fight a loosing battle of the bulge, my state of depression is enhanced by the lack of availability of clothes in this city.

Nah, let me rephrase it, lack of availability of clothes that I would want to wear, and, more importantly could wear! Brands like Rojada, Dalydress and sometimes Bella Donna do have some wearable stuff but by and large I don't seem to find anything that I like, though they do have my size..

Happened to be in Maadi City Centre when I chanced upon the store Evans. Evans is a high street UK retailer that specialises in 14 plus sizes...walked in quite excited cos in London at least, they have some very smart outfits.

However, my reaction was rather mixed. They have a couple of decent outfits but most others tend to be sequined, slightly shiny, more lycra and synthetic, though the jeans and troussers and a couple of skirts were not bad. But the prics are quite astonishing. Something that I had picked up in London for 25 british pounds was around 480 le here. I guess with the duty etc, the prices would be higher but here Evans was being positioned as a luxury brand.

But I think that's true for almost all foreign brands. I suspect if even Wal-mart was to open an outlet in Cairo, it would position itself at the high end of the market, lol!

So I shall continue to haunt Bella Donna, Rojada or Dalydress to find something I like, but for women looking for really large plus size outfits, at least there is a retailer in town.

Wedding fun or tradition?

Was driving to a friend's place on Road 214, listening to some music, I suddenly registered a persistent honking. Thinking that maybe I had blocked traffic lost in my own thoughts, I moved aside to let the car behind me pass. To my irritation, the honking continued! I lowered the window pane, and, turned around to see who was being so irritating!

To my surprise, there was a cavalcade of some 8-10 cars, with their parking lights blinking, and all of them playing the beat with their horns - beep, beep, beeeeeeeep, beep, beep! I followed rather intrigued, as they all decided to do laps around the midan after the railway tracks.

And then the penny dropped! It was a wedding procession, cos the car in front was beautifully decorated with flowers. They all kept going around in circles with the car headlights flashing and the rhythemic beat of their rather loud horns. It was quite cute, actually. I must admit, the Masrys certainly know how to enjoy themselves and have fun!

But I was wondering whether this was a one off thing or is this usually done at / after weddings?

Friday, December 5, 2008

I have been had!

Well, it would appear that the Genpets website is a hoax, so yours truly has been truly had! Thanks Connie for pointing this out. But am I glad. The concept deeply offended me.

A site called Snope GENPETS are actually artworks - made from latex and plastic - made by 24 year old Canadian commercial artist called Adam Brandejs. As per him Genpets was a way to have people sit and up and think about bioengineering and where the science might lead us.

The artist has similar works in the form of an animatronic Flesh Shoe (egad!) and and animatronic Heart.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Grill, Semiramis

One of my friends asked me to recommend a good continental place to eat - "The Grill" pat came the reply. It indeed is a pleasure to dine at The Grill with a caveat - you have to be a non-vegetarian!

Since she reminded me of The Grill, just thought I would write about it. The Grill is the French restaurant at The Semiramis Intercontinental. Located on the 3rd floor, you can't but help being drawn towards the loud music coming from the night club as you walk towards the restaurant.

The decor is very elegant and classy with a whole wall covered with an art deco wine rack as you walk into the eatry. We went past the main area, past the pianist, into a more private alcove overlooking the Nile. Faith, the view was lovely! The restaurant also has private glass cubicles that are segregated from the rest of the eatery with dark glass affording privacy.

We started off with a complimentary amuses-bouche, which consisted of salmon slices, piped with avacado mousse. It was wasted on my hubby, who is not fond of fish, and definately wasted on a poor vegetarian like me! My mom-in-law is the only one who loves fish, and, she swore that the combination was delicious! The maitre de very quickly realised that I was a vegetarian, and very thoughtfully got me small toasts piped with some delicious cheese. I thought that was very nice and considerate...

Then came the menus. It took me just a moment to scan through them to confirm that there was nothing for me to eat except mashed potatoes and grilled vegetables. So much so for my fine dining experience!

I swear, for a moment I felt like throttling my hubby especially since I had wanted to eat at Bird Cage, and he had insisted on The Grill! "Well, what would you expect at a grill, other than grilled vegetables for vegetarians?" Pertinent comment that, not one that I could argue with!

Then arrived my saviour and my downfall - tons and tons of carbs! The bread basket at The Grill is fantastic, with fresh, soft, flour and whole wheat breads, some stuffed with cheese, other with olives, and some just brushed with olive oil and sesame seeds, served with soft butter! They were delicious!! If you cant beat 'em, join 'em! Dunk the carbs, I was going to enjoy my bread! What had Mary Antionnette said "If they dont have bread, give em cake!" So be it!

We ordered fresh juices, and, some soft drinks, and the mango juice was deliciously fresh. Actually now that I think of it, I have yet to come across an eatery in Cairo that does not serve delicious fresh mango juice.

For starters, I ordered a tomato soup, while others ordered a goose pate, and salmon mousse. The latter is a part of a set menu which is offered by the restaurant and costs approx LE 230-250.

I must admit, the tomato soup was delicious, albiet really thick. Hubby swore that the pate was one of the best that he had eaten in a while.

For the main meal, yours truly ordered, what else but grilled vegetables (LE 15)?

The restaurant offers a fantastic choice of meats - beef, veal, rib eye, US, Angus etc. I understand that The Grill is famed for its meat - that explains hubby's insistence on coming here. The grilled meats come with a choice of sauce, mashed potatoes and grilled vegetable or an au gratin.

My son ordered grilled veal with mashed potatoes and hollandaise sauce while my husband ordered a beef stake with mashed potatoes and a pepper sauce. Mom-in-law got grilled sea bass with rice and a lemon butter sauce as part of her set menu.

Surrisingly enough, the helping of grilled vegetables was very large, very delicious, consisting of very sweet peppers, zuchini, pumpkin, carrots etc. The mashed potatoes came wth a twist - they had a guest chef on for that week and the mashed potatoes were served with truffle. They were melt-in-your-mouth delicious!

My son loved his veal, though he thought my husband's veal was far more tender. Halfway through the meal, they decided to swap their dishes but my husband pronounced both to be equally good and the quality of meat excellent. Mom-in-law agreed saying her sea bass was excellent as well.

The service is quiet, attentive and efficient. We did order desserts, and, while my hubby and mom-in-law liked theirs, I must admit I was not too enamoured of them. I am rather masry in my sweet taste preferences, and I like my sweets to be a little fuller and richer.

I think the bill came to around LE1700 without any alcohol being consumed. The price includes the ambience, the service, the Nile View and of course, delicious food. Even my grilled veegtables were grilled to perfection!

A lovely evening with great food and great atmosphere, I am sure we will be back again, though my husband still owes me another fancy meal for the grilled vegetables that I had, lol!

King Tut's face revealed

While I know the news is over a month old, I just found this video while browsing YouTube, so posting it now.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Playing God?

Was looking up a BPO by the name of Genpact on the internet, and, my search threw up something so bizzarre that I was left astonished at what I was reading! Sometimes, I suspect, human being were better off as cavemen, at least you could find a justification for things they did, cos they knew no better...

A company called Bio-Genica, has designed these creatures called Genpets, using a process called "Zygote Micro Injection" that combines DNA strains from different species.

As per the company's website ( "The Genpets™ are Pre-Packaged, Bioengineered pets implemented today!" Yup, they are not toys but living, breathing genetic animals!

Each creature comes pre-packd in special plastic packaging and is equipped with a fully functional heart rate monitor and Fresh Strip to gauge the state of each pet while it lies in its hibernation state.
The Genpets are colour coded depedning on the personality type, and each personality displays a different emotion, ugh! You can determine the life of the pet by choosing a 1 year or a 3 year pet. Of course, should your child get bored before the "expiry" of the pet, you can always stop the nutrients, and, the pet would die.

Are we playing God? Creating and manipulating life? Determining when and how much a creature can live? Much as I am in awe of the human mind, its ability to think, fathom, decipher, imagine, create and much as I beleive that science and technology has done much to improve the qaulity of our life, this to me seems a little strange.

I don't know, maybe I am overreacting, but to me, giving a young child a live creature over whose life and death, the child has absolute control, creates the danger of the child having little or no respect for the value of a life.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

You've been had!

Mom-in-law came back from the CSA library a tad stressed out. She mentioned how everyone was talking about an expat lady who was stopped by a couple of men posing as cops and demanding her passport!

Technically, as per law, you are supposed to carry your passport showing your visa/ resident permit, and, the police can haul you up / fine you for not carrying the passport. The poor lady was not carrying her passport, and the so called cops threatened her with imprisionment unless she paid up cash.

I am not very sure, but I believe she had the presence of mind to tell them that she needed to call her husband, and, they would talk to the cops. On hearing this, the scamsters vamoosed.

Since I roam around quite a bit on my own, ma-in-law was very worried that I should be careful and not get caught by some scamsters trying to act funny. While its never happened to me, I guess its never harmful to be a little wary and be careful. In any case, replicating a Cairo cop's uniform is of no difficulty at all!

Cellar Door

Restaurant: Cellar Door
Address: 9, Road 151, Maadi
Tel Number: 2359-8328
Timing: 11am to 11pm
WiFi available

I am not sure why I have never written about Cellar Door though hubby and I have been there for meals ever so often. At one time "Petit Swiss Chalet", Cellar Door has made a huge leap from its erstwhile avtaar, and, I suspect for the better!

Its a chic yet cosy, small eatery located just around the corner from Bua Khao. A few steps transport you down into a trendy, relaxed place whose warmth is further enahanced by the easy manner of its new owner. He's usually to be found there, mingling with the guests, cracking a joke or two, and, generally adding to the atmosphere of the place which is a little irreverent, which makes it a fun place to go to!

They serve you the most delicious garlic bread with a vegetable spread while you browse through two, not one, menu! One is a printed, regular (er stable, lol!) menu while the other is a changing one! Quirky, ain't it? But thats what makes the place fun! Its nice going to place every 6 months and not knowing what to expect!

Today, we ordered a mushroom salad (LE 23), which was very basic but really nice The lemon vinaigrette greatly enhanced the flavour of fresh mushrooms and arugula. Even the Greek salad (LE25), with fresh tomatoes, onion, cucumbers and feta cheese, which I have had before, is quite nice.

Being a predominantly Italian place, there is enough and more choice for the poor vegetarian mortals like me. We ordered a home made gnocchi (LE27) in a tomato sauce, a home made lasagna (LE29) and spaghetti with a cream sauce (LE27).

The gocchi was soft, which is great, cos you can really mess up the gnocchi and the last thing on my mind was a battle between my teeth and the gnocchi! The lasagne tasted good though I though the pasta was a liitle underdone, but the yummy roasted vegetables made up for it! The spaghetti was a nice foil to the cheese and tangy tomato sauces we had had so far.

One of us had ordered fish in butter lemon sauce that was served with some rice. She thought the fish was very well done, more so cos a similar fish she ate at Crave the previous night had not been so good.

The other thing that I love about Cellar Door is their tableware. Plain white porcelain in large outsized plates and serving dishes , it makes the food look delicious - half the battle won! I was very tempted to ask the owner where he got the tableware from, but desisted from doing so!

We ordered a caramel cheesecake, which I must admit, was yummylicious! Though we all shared it, I thought it was perfect. In fact, I think I will send my driver to pick one up for lunch tomorrow! Now I know why I seem to fight a loosing battle as far as my waistline goes!

If I remember correctly, they allow you to carry your own wine but you need to pay corkage at LE 40. A bottle of wine at Cellar Door costs LE135, so it makes sense to carry your own and pay the corkage, if you have a specific wine in mind.

But I think, the place is definately worth a visit, and, we at least like the food quite a bit!

Your name in hieroglyphics!

Came across this while looking up something on hieroglyphics. This is a utility that tells you what your name would look like if it had been written in heiroglyphics!

Everytime I buy a cartouche for someone with their name inscribed in hieroglyphics, I wonder whether its really written correctly. Well, now I can check! Well to the extent, this utility is accurate, lol!

Fresh pizza dough

My son loves the pizza I make at home, and the biggest secret to my pizza is the base. As I have learnt, if you look for something hard enough in Cairo, you will find it!

Road 9 in Maadi, has this small innocous looking bakery called "Maadi Bakery" before McDonald, on the right side of the road. They give you fresh pizza dough at about LE 16 / kg. The dough is really delicious, and, can be frozen and used upto 4-5 days.

I use it to make pizzas, calazones etc and they always come out excellent. I would recommend the dough any day over frozen, ready made bases!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Indian recipes: Butter Chicken

Have some friends who absolutely adore the Indian dish Butter Chicken, and, have been asking me to show them how to making it, sans any chillies...

So finally, yesterday, held a small class for 4 of my friends where we decided to make Butter Chicken with Naan. Needless to say, we had a lot of fun, my kitchen looked like a war zone after we were done, and, I was the only one who was not eating, since I am a vegetarian!

Now usually I do not post recipes, but they all liked it, and, asked me to post it on my blog so that they don't have to write it down, and they can direct their friends to it as well.

This is how I make my butter chicken, I sure plenty others would have different and better recipes..but everyone at home seems to like it!

Butter Chicken / Chicken Makhanwalla
Serves: 4

For Marination
750 grams of chicken cut into pieces (boneless)
3 tablespoon yoghurt
3 tablespoon lemon juice
3 teaspoon each of coriander, cumin and red chilli powders
1 onion chopped and made into a paste
4 teaspoon each of ginger, garlic pastes
salt to taste
you could add orange food colour to get that authentic look to the chicken but that’s optional. I dont usually add colour cos my husbandis allergic to soem artificial colourings

4 large tomatoes, roasted, peeled & chopped
6 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoon fresh cream
1 teaspoon each of coriander, cumin, red chilli powders
2 teaspoon each of finely chopped ginger and green chillies (the chillies is optional)
salt and sugar to taste
melted butter, fresh cream and finely chopped coriander leaves for garnishing

Cut chicken into medium sized pieces (slightly larger than bite sized). Make small cuts in the chicken pieces. Mix the ingredients for the marinade and coat the chicken pieces with the marinade. Let the chicken marinate for a few hours, overnight if possible. Keep it in the fridge if you are marinating overnight.

Heat 2 tablespoons butter, in a pan and put in the chicken along with the marinade. Cover and cook for about 25 minutes or till the chicken is fully cooked. After the mixture turns dry, stir fry the chicken for some time.

Roast the tomatoes on fire, then peel the skin off and chop. Alternately, you can even puree the peeled tomatoes & then use it. Its a little more cumbersome, but thats what I do.

Heat the remaining butter (4 tablespoons) in a saucepan and add the red chilli, coriander, cumin powders. Fry for a few seconds.

Add the chopped tomatoes, sugar, salt and cook uncovered on medium level for about 8-10 minutes till the puree thickens and the fat separates. Stir in the beaten cream and reduce the heat to low. You can thin the gravy a little bit by adding milk, but not too much otherwise you will loose the taste.

Add the chicken, chopped ginger and green chillies to the simmering gravy. Sprinkle salt to taste if needed. Mix well. Cover and simmer on low heat for about 10 minutes or till the curry is thoroughly heated through.

Just before serving pour melted butter over the curry. Garnish with a swirl of fresh cream and finely chopped coriander leaves.

If you want a richer gravy, then you can add cashew nut paste (soak cashew nuts in water for an hour or so and grind them) while making the gravy - fry it along with the spice powders and then proceed as above.

Little creative minds

Ever since my son joined CAC, I have volunteered at the class. It gives me a way to participate in my son's life at school and see first hand how he operates at school. Also, if I am honest, I am trying to make up for the last 5 years of his life where as a working mom, I had long working hours and could not spend as much time with him as we both would have liked.

Anyways, this year, have volunteered to help out with the kids' Writers Workshop. CAC has a very cute concept where every day they have half hour / hour where they are allowed to let their creative juices run, and, write and finally publish stories. The stories can be about anything, and, they need to illustrate and detail them. As a volunteer parent, you are expeced to hear them out, help with ideas and suggestions if they are stuck and generally operate as a sounding board.

I must admit, this has to be the best volunteer stuff that I have done. Its a joy to sit with young minds, completeley unfettered by preconcieved ideas and notions and willing to let their imagination run wild, and, to hear their views and opinions!

Someone is writing a story about a bubble planet where there were bubble creatures, while another passionately describes a train journey through Germany and what the train was like. Another had a wonderfully descriptive account of how she and her friends played golf. Two aspiring screenplay writers penned new series for George Lucas to delight Star War fans with! And these were no small short notes, they were long, descriptive, and, beautifully detailed stories that were a pleasure to read!

Its so refreshing to be sitting with these young ones and hearing their take on life and events as they unfold. Their delightful priorities, their understanding of things around them, and their willingness to look beyond the obvious and take things at face value. I guess plenty of lessons for us adults to learn from them, to be able to think breaking free from all that is a given...

Sunday, November 30, 2008

In the name of art!!

Art installation placed on a fountain in the middle of the Nile river in Cairo entitled ‘Going Bananas’ on Nov. 28. The art installation project, organized by the Austrian Cultural Forum, consisted of around 2,000 1.6 meter-long inflatable yellow bananas which were to be ejected into the river by the Nile fountain.I beleive the event did not go as planned cos os some technical hitch...
This I must go and see, if only to figure, how strange can one get in the name of art!

Saudi Sheikhs’ fatwas in the spotlight

While browsing through the net, came across this. I know I have been there (fatwas that is) before, but I wanted to post it so that I kept the article.

By Yasmine Saleh
Daily Star
First Published: October 2, 2008

CAIRO: A Saudi Sheikh recently issued a fatwa stating that women who wear the niqab (full face veil) are only allowed to show one eye, covering the other along with the rest of their bodies.

Sheikh Mohamed Al-Habdan issued that decree during his appearance on Al-Majd satellite channel.

“When Ibn Abbas [known for his knowledge and his interpretations of the Quran and the Prophet’s sayings] was reading the holy Quranic verse that mentions the veil, he covered his face and one eye, while showed a little of his other eye and said: this is the face veil, just enough to be able to see the way,” Al-Habdan said.

He went on to urge Muslim women who wear the niqab to adjust it so that it only shows one of their eyes, adding that showing both eyes is “Islamically incorrect.”

However, controversial fatwas are nothing new to Al-Habdan. He had also issued another fatwa forbidding Muslim women from going out without a mehrem — a male guardian, usually the husband or a relative who is religiously banned from marrying that woman (father, brother, son, maternal or paternal uncle, grandfather or nephew).

Al-Majd satellite channel was once before the platform for another controversial fatwa by Sheikh Saleh El-Lheidan, chief of the Saudi’s Supreme Judiciary Council, against watching the Olympics and Turkish soap operas.

El-Lheidan said the Olympics includes “obscene scenes” and “nothing made Satan happier than seeing females athletes dressed in skimpy outfits.”

As for the Turkish soap operas, El-Lheidan commented on the scenes that show bedrooms or are shot in bedrooms.

He went further to issue another fatwa that permits the killing of the owners of satellite TV stations who show “immoral” content.

“I advise the owners of the shameless satellite stations who distribute programs promoting impudence, insolence and silly humor,” said El-Lheidan. “I warn them, they’re wasting people’s time and corrupting them. If they don’t heed our call, their killing could be permissible.”

The holy month of Ramadan has seen its share of controversial fatwas such as one deeming Mickey Mouse “an agent of Satan.”

Saudi Sheikh Muhammad Munajid reportedly said that “both household mice and their cartoon counterparts must be killed.”

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Hell hath no fury than a woman scorned!

Nestled practically on the bank of the Nile, at No. 1 Kafour Street , is a beautifully restored mansion, that is home to an enviable Western European art collection. Once the home of Senate President Khalil Bey and his French wife Emilienne Hector, the contents of the museum are a tribute to the Khalils' passion for art, and perhaps Emilienne's desire to be considred creme de la creme of Cairo's high society!

Mahmoud Khalil Bey, a lawyer by profession, would later go on to become a senior statesman and later senate president.
Emilienne Hector, born into a French family, worked in the French theatre for a while, was known for her passion for being over dressed especially as far as her jewels were concerned.
It is said that Khalil Bey was enamored with everything French. French wife, French cuisine, French theatre, French culture, French architecture and thanks to his wife, French art! That would explain the huge collection of French artists that the museum houses.
This collection would have remained in private hands, had it not been for the fury of a woman scorned! In his old age, Khalil Bey became enamoured of a much younger and beautiful Egyptian lady, and, supposedly had a male offspring from this association, something that Emilienne had been unable to give him. While Khalil Bey's will bequeathed the house and the art collection to Emilienne, she wasn't willing to forget and forgive. Consequently, she bequeathed the entire collection to the State upon her death!

So I guess one needs to thank Khalil Bey for his promiscuity for being able to view this collection in Cairo!

No 1 Kahfour Street houses a number of very famous French painters like Champmartin, Daumier, Ricard, Delacroix and Toulouse Lautrec, Renoir, Monet, Pissaro, Trovon, Sisley, Millet, Moticelli, Milot, Diaz de la Penas,a and, not to forget Van Gough.

There is a painting "Jeune Fille Assise" by Morisot Berthe Marie which is very remniscent of Renoir.

You are not allowed to take photographs so I tried to look up the paintings on the net. Except for a few paintings, the images are not available, probably given that this was a private collection.

There are signed replicas of sculptures by Rodin. The ones to especially see are The Thinker and The Head of Victor Hugo.

There is a painting "Fatima au Odalisque" by Jeane Auguste Ingres (see below) which intrigued me due to the name (given that it was a nude)..

I thought "el Nil" by Eugene Fromentin, depicting a group of girls on a bank of this mighty river with a fortress visible on the other side, is also very striking. Pissarro's Cricket in Bedford Park is nice.

And I absolutely loved Monet's Westminster Abbey. A part of his London series, it shows Westminster Abbey through the typical London mist, and its hazy reflection in the waters of the Thames.

Renoir's Pommes et Poires and Tasse et Mandarines are ok.

Also a must see is The Singing Lesson by Toulouse Lautrec.

I think the piece de resistence of the museum is the painting "Life and Death" by Paul Gaugin. Valued at 10USD million, (or thats what I was told)the painting was a part of the Gauguin exhibition in Rome and was returned to the museum only in March this year. Am glad I did not go earlier. Would have hated to miss this!

In the painting a naked female bather with red hair, is looking at her arm, over which is draped a cloth, while another girl has her head in her hands, her legs raised, her elbow on her knees, holding her head. Obviously, the girl in warm red hues represents life, while the one in death-like blue represents death.

There is also a beautiful Van Gogh "Rhythm and the Poppy Flower" but I think I preferred the Gauguin.

The place is well maintained and beautifully restored. Wonder what it must have been like to stay here? Imagine the confusion in deciding the room that you wanted to occupy? Mercifully, they had no kids, or Emilienne might have had to spend her time running around looking for them!

Another word of caution. The paintings are catalouged in French, so you don't have a clue to their names unless you've read about it earlier! Or if you know French! They are supposed to have some literature in English, but the guy apologetically shrugged his shoulders saying that he had run out of them!

The museum offers you reproductions of Life and Death and a couple of other paintings, so I ordered one. At 30 LE its a steal, except that the quality is not really good. Its been simply printed on canvas, not the quality that you can pick up at other big museums. But hey, I liked Life and Death so much, that even this was welcome!

If you enjoy Western European art, do go visit the museum, its worth the time that you spend. The ticket is priced at LE 25, but if you are a resident, you get to pay only LE 12. Open from 10 am to 5.30 pm, its closed on Mondays.

Location: On the corner of Giza Street & Kafur Street next to the state council (Maglis al Dawla).

The Step Pyramids of Saqqara

Most people living in Cairo / visiting Cairo would have been to the Step Pyramid of Saqqarra..Well, despite all my travels, I had only seen the Step Pyramid from the outside, never ventured inside the complex. This is despite sending tons of guests to see the pyramid!

According to historians, the Step Pyramid complex holds a very special place in the history of Egyptian architecture as it was here, that limestone was first used on a large scale as a construction material, and here the idea of a monumental royal tomb in the form of a pyramid was given shape.

Since hubby was out of town, and, I had the time, decided to go see the Saqqarra pyramids.

Near the ticket office is the small Imhotep Museum which contains the sarcophagus of Imhotep, who is credited with building Egypt's first pyramid. He is recognized as a doctor, a priest, scribe, sage, poet, astrologer, and a vizier and chief minister to Djoser, the second king of Egypt's third dynasty.

The colours from centuries ago are still bright and the detailing absolutely clear!
The Step Pyramid of Djoser! While many credit it to be the first known pyramid to mankind, recent findings seem to suggest step pyramids of earlier vintage, but as per popular concensus it is still considered the first known pyramid to mankind!

It is believed that this pyramid marks the transition of funeral tombs from a mastaba to a proper pyramid. In fact, the pyramid probably started out life as a mastaba and was subsequently added to, which explains the structure and the distinct steps...
There is a large facade through which you enter the complex, and, walk into a colonnaded entrance.

The colonnaded entrance contains 40 columns - 20 on each side. They are considered to represent the provinces of Upper and Lower Egypt.

The corridor opens into a rectangular vestibule which served as the final entrance to the courtyard. I understand that this courtyard used to serve as a running field for the King's Sed Festival during which the king would demonstrate to the people his continuing physical prowess and ability.

The south tomb's chapel. Its exterior has niches over which a frieze of cobras protect the facility..
The carvings above the entrance of the tomb of Inefrt..

The name of the Prince Inefrt written in heirogyphics at the entrance of the tomb.
Frescos on the wall at the entrance to the inner chamber of the tomb..

Heirogyphics on a false door in the tomb....
Original colours on the frescos from over 3000 years ago....

I can just imagine what this must have looked like when the colours were still bright!I understand that there are two other tombs which are in a better condition, but did not go in there this time.

Another engraving at the entrance to another tomb...

The pyramid of Unnas, the last king of the 5th dynasty. The pyramid is infinitely more well known than the man who built it, because for the first time in the history of the excavation of pyramids, they discovered 128 magical spells of the Pyramid Text on the walls of its subterranean chambers!
The duck like figure at the bottom represents the number 1000. The fresco indicates sacrifices made of 1000 cows, 1000 horses, 1000 deer etc...

In the shadows of Dsojer's pyramids, stands the pyramid of Userkaf who was considered the founder of the 5th Dynasty.His pyramid was called "Pure are the (cult) places of Userkaf", but today, in keeping with its state of disrepair, locally its known as the "ruined pyramid".
The duo at Saqqara...

I am glad that I did make the trip. Now my son and I are hoping to be able to go see the new pyramid that they discovered at Saqqara!

Playing around with my photographs

My newest toy is a software that allows me to mess around with photographs and creating silhouttes, cartoons, sketches etc with them...

My first attempt were the most common and famous sights of Egypt! This is what it looks like! Quite nice, well, at least my 7 year old son thought so!

Friday, November 28, 2008

My frustrations with Blogger!

I am feeling rather targetted and prosecuted right now! Can someone explain to me why Blogger refuses to upload my photographs the way I want them uploaded?

I usually upload them in the sequence that I plan to write but for the last 1 week I find that irrespective of the order in which I attach them, when they get uploaded, they are in random order!

As it is, it takes ages to upload a JPEG file, on top of that if I start loading them one by one, instead of a batch, I'll be only uploading photographs the whole day long!

The Cairene Sabil: Umm Abbas

After seeing the Sultan Hassan mosque, I still had some time to spare before my son came home, so my driver volunteered to drive me around that area. As per him, there were a number of old and beautiful buildings in that area which I could see from the comfort of my car.. Since I had time to spare, I happily agreed. It seemed like a good idea!

Suddenly, my driver very excitedly called out "look Miss Manisha" and I looked around rather fazed for I could only see traffic , and, some dilapidated buildings around me. And then I spotted what had got him so excited. A lovely marble structure with beautiful gold engravings that was juxtaposed against a brown wall. Having read a little about Cairo's monuments and structures, I recognised it as a sabil.

A sabil was a kind of water reservoir built by the rich & famous to provide water to the denizens of Cairo. I believe the origins of the sabils lie in the Quran and the hadith since providing free water for all to drink, something that is highly regarded in the Koran.

Very often, a sabil would have a first floor which would be used as a khutub or a school where the poor could be taught the Koran.

This particular sabil was built by Bambah Qadin - the granddaughter of Abbas I, who ruled Egypt from 1848 to 1854 A.D, and the mother of Abbas II. "Umm" in Arabic means mother so the sabil of the mother of Abbas, hence the name Sabil Umm Abbas!

Located off Saliba Street at the corner of the side alley ‘al-Siufiya’, Saliba Street can be reached from Midan al-Qal’a (Citadel Square), also called Mohammed Ali Square where Sultan Hassan mosque and Rifai mosque stand.

The sabil's facade is really beautiful with Ottoman style decorative panels running around the sabil & inscriptions above the windows. Obviously, the monument has been recently restored, as is obvious by the bright gilded decorations. The colours are too bright for them to be original, but the restorers have done a wonderful job. The facade is adorned by gilded Ottoman inscriptions & decorations standing out against blue and deep red backgrounds to which the marble structure provides a perfect foil.

Umm Abbas's sabil is obviously a labour of care and detailed attention. You don't really need to spend much time, but the structure is gorgeous and definately worth one look! It stands out amidst the stone, dull brown buildings and crowded roads.

I believe, some sabils were open only at certain hours; others remained open day and night. However, during Ramadan, all the sabils were closed. Each sabil was run by a manager or a keeper who made sure that it functioned well.

As per records of the 18th century, there were over 300 sabils in existence, while current records show only around 70 still extant. Now while I have no intentions of seeing all 70, there a few others that I do want to see, like the Bazdar and Maghlawi sabils , and the sabil of Tusun Pasha & that of Katkhuda....

Mumbai blasts

Have been to a lot of places the last few days that I wanted to write about but for now my mind is numb as I watch my city reeling under the worst possible terrorist attack that the country has ever many lives wasted, so much destruction, terror and the feeling of helplessness and anger...

Broke my heart to see a 2 year old child whose birthday gift today was the news of his parents' death...

I wonder how does anyone ever justify the deliberate destruction of innocent lives, no matter what the cause? Whose God condons or pardons horrifying acts perpetuated in the name of a cause? What kind of people actually get to sleep carrying the blood of so many innocent lives on their hands?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

El Pannello Cafe

I had just got my son back from the barber, after a rather close encounter with the barber's scissors, the result of which was a rather close cropped haircut, much to my son's dismay, nay agony! Much angst was directed at a heartless mother who'd made him part company with his lustrous locks!

To make up for that I decided to take him to El Pannello Ceramic Cafe where he could paint for all he was worth and we could grab a bite to eat as well. I had been reading about the cafe ever since we came to Cairo, and had even safely kept a cutting of its ad in the Egyptian Mail. However, like may other items on my "to do list", this too had remained undone. But I was about to remedy that!

The Cafe has two branches - one at Heliopolis and the other at Mohandasien. We decided to go to the one at Heliopolis.

As you walk into the cafe, there is a shelf full of painted and fired ceramic items in myriad hues, all on sale at a fixed price of LE 35. I guess these are things that people painted but never came back to collect.

As you walk into the dining area, there is a big shelf covering an entire wall which is stacked with all sorts of objects in clay that have been fired once , and, then dipped in distemper.

They are a lovely white, and, you can choose from a variety of shapes & figures - a Santa, reindeers, snowmen, a mexican figurine, cups, plates, tiles, a pharonic can turn the figures over to check out the price underneath. A pharonic head would cost you LE 145, mugs range from LE 30 to LE 50, a plate could set you back by LE 120...

My son chose an astronaut! This is what it looked like before it was painted!

Next you've got to choose your colours. You can choose any 6 out of some 15-20 odd colours that they have. They have a plate fired with all the colours that they have on offer, so that you know what these will look like once the object has been fired! The cost of the item includes the cost of the colours and firing. This is my son busy figuring out the colours that he wants for his astronaut.

Having chosen his paints, now came the fun part. While we waited for our food, my Van Gogh got to work! Though given his current style of drawing . painting, Kandinsky would be more appropriate!

The food at the Cafe is quite nice too. The menu is extensive, offering a reasonable choice, even for the vegetarians. My son and I ordered some Morzzarella sticks (LE 15 ) and Spring Rolls (LE 12.50) to share as starters. Son also decided that he was hungry enough to wolf down a Spaghetti Bolognese (LE 25) while my mother-in-law decided to be safe with a club sandwich (LE 24). My greed getting the better of me, I ordered a cheese mozarella sandwich (LE 13).
There were a number of special platters with veal and chicken on offer. It sounded tempting especially since they are served with Basmati rice, curry and mashed potatoes! But we had already placed the order!
The starters were nice, and, the portions of the main entrees really large. Neither my mom-in-law nor my son were able to finish their main courses.

While we ate, Van Gogh continued to paint furiously, and, at least for the moment forgot about his haircut!

Watching him, I was inspired too, and, decided to paint a long mug. Unfortunately, I droped two blobs of paint on it, and, the guy at the counter very helpfully offered to fix it! Unfortunately, that was the last I saw of the mug! They spent half an hour hunting for the mug subsequently, but I fear, in their enthusiasm to help, they erased the entire mug instead of just the blobs of paint, lol!

Barring this, the service is quite polite and efficent, and, the food quite nice!
The Cafe hands you receipts for your pieces of art, and you need to collect them after 5 days, during which they fire and glaze them. So shall send my driver to collect them sometime next week!
We had great fun at the ceramic cafe, and, ended up spending 3-4 hours there instead of the 1-2 hours that we had envisaged. My son enjoyed himself, and the rather sensitive topic of "haircut" was forgotten, at least temporarily!

El Pannello Cafe
2 Omar Ibn el Khattab Street
Haroon Rasheed Square
(in front of the English school)
Tel: 22417603

12 el Mahruqi Street
from El Batat Ahmed Add el Aziz Street
Tel: 33038696

Pirated DVDs - just desserts!

Talk about co-incidences and just desserts. Whoever said "dont buy pirated DVDs" was absolutely right!

My son has been whining about not having been able to watch Ironman while all his friends did (yup, I know its a very old whine but kids tend to get fixated!) so when I saw a DVD at Hyper, I decided to buy it. I knew it was piratd but decided to buy it nevertheless! Occassionally, its good to contribute to the parallel economy. In any case he or I were not going to get to watch in a theatre now, and, I had not been able to find the original. At the least, it would stop his constant cry for Ironman!

Came home to a very excited child, who immediately ripped open the cover and decided to watch it NOW! To our utter surprise, nay, shock, the movie came dubbed in Hindi (India's national language)!! If this was not surprise enough, the next 10 minutes were in English and then again Hindi! Rather discerning DVD eh, language suited to the country of the audience, lol!

Clearly this had been originally dubbed for the Indian market, but obviously the guy who was dubbing was napping, so got his tracks mixed up! Or this was his idea of international integration, lol!!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Yacoubian Building

Last week went and bought myself this book after having heard so much about it.

The Yacoubian Building was the best selling Arabic novel for 2002 and 2003, and was voted Best Novel for 2003 by listeners to Egypt's Middle East Broadcasting Service. With credentials like this, definately wanted to read it...

Unfortunately, have not been able to read it as yet....


Was looking up how to do some stuff on a blog on the internet, when my search threw up something which analyses your blog. I must admit it intrigued me a little. This was like "answer x number of questions and get to know more about your personality " type of stuff. But for a blog?

In all honesty, I assumed that this would take a while for someone to read and figure out what kind of blog it was, so why bother? However, as I was at a loose end, for a lark, I decided to try it out anyways!

You've got to input your blog address and hey presto, the utility throws up an analysis of your personality based on how you write your blog!, Yes, that's right!

I must admit, the response time fazed me....pages and pages of posts written over months, and it took the darned utility all of 2 seconds to analyse it!

Here is what it says about my personality...

ENTP - The Visionaries

The charming and trend savvy type. They are especially attuned to the big picture and anticipate trends. They often have sophisticated language skills and come across as witty and social. At the end of the day, however, they are pragmatic decision makers and have a good analytical abilitity. They enjoy work that lets them use their cleverness, great communication skills and knack for new exciting ventures. They have to look out not to become quitters, since they easily get bored when the creative exciting start-up phase is over.

Hmmm.. interesting! The big question - how much of it is really true? Should ask hubby dear! lol!

Monday, November 24, 2008


While everyone does the regular tourist circuit, Cairo has a number of other places of varying vintage and interest, that you just need to have the time, and, of course the inclination to go see.

One such place, that had been on my agenda for over a year, is the Nilometer on Roda Island, but somehow everytime I planned to go there, something came up, and, I could not. However, a friend was equally keen to see the place, so we finally did manage to make the trip, and, at least for me, it was worth the trip, notwithstanding my vertigo!

Deciding to go see it was the easy part, finding it was another story all together! Its amazing how these things are overlooked not only by tourists but also locals. Finally, it was a hotel concierge who came to our rescue, and, after a broken car mirror, a visibly upset driver, and, terrific traffic, we made it to the Nilometer. Nestled between the Nile and a lot of greenery, it is rather easy to miss it. And while you are searching for it, might make sense to ask for Mikyas al-Nil - might make it easier to find it!

I guess the importance of Nilometer in earlier Egyptian life cannot be underestimated. The rulers and their officials derived their power from the Nilometer? Strange? Not really, when you consider that the levels of the water as measured in the Nilometer, helped the officials predict the level of inundation, which indicated the extent of deposits of fertile black soil which was so crucial to cultivation. More importantly, this determined the level of taxes to be paid to the ruler, hence playing an important political and administrative role.

Though you would have thought that the years of experience would have taught the peasants to read the signs when the Nile was flooding, much better than the officials reading it off a Nilometer, but there is a premium to being royalty and having access to years of acumulated data which probably made the prediction a little more accurate, and, made it sound a lot more hi-fi (much like management speak vis-a-vis common sense, lol!)

From the outside, the conical dome is very modern and you need to hunt out the caretakers to open the doors and allow you to go in. We found a very helpful one, who could not speak a word of anything other than Arabic, but nevertheless, very sweetly proceeded to explain things to us (God bless CSA and my driver for my Arabic lessons!).
The Nilometer was built on the oredrs of the Caliph al-Mutawakkil (847-861) under the direction of Ahmad ibn Muhammad al-Hasib at the end of his reign in 861.The Nilometer, as it stands today, is almost as it was originally except for the wooden painted dome roof which was a later addition as part of a restoration project.

The roof, I understand, was destroyed in a bombing by the French during their occupation of Egypt (wonder why the Egyptians are still so fascinated with the French? French language, French au pairs, french food?) after which a new dome was built in the same style as it is today. This however, was not destined to last too long either, and, was destroyed by a factory explosion, and, then restored as close to the original as possible, based on an 18th century painting by the Danish traveler, Fredrik Ludvig Norden as a reference. It is indeed beautiful (see photo below)!

The Nilometer consists of a well which houses an octagonal marble column which is graded and divided into 19 cubits. From what I understood with my limited knowledge of Arabic, water upto the 16th mark meant an ideal flood, anything below 16 meant famine and drought, and anything above 19 meant tragedy! I also read somewhere that prior to the expected flood, this column would be anointed with saffron and musk in order to help induce a good water level!

This well, that houses the marble column, continues deep into the ground, beyond the surface level of the Nile. This well was connected to the Nile through tunnels, which are sealed now (see tunnel doors below).

The walls of the well are inscribed with Kufic Qur'anic inscriptions referring to water, prosperity and vegetation.

The Nilometer was also importat as a trigger for Fath al-Khalij or the festival of the Opening of the Canal. The Khalij Canal originated opposite Roda Island and would be opened when the Nilometer reached the 16 mark. At this level, the water filled up the canal and provided irrigation for the farmers.
From what I have read, during the celebrations, decorated boats would crowd the river. Those who witnessed it referred to it as Cairo's most spectacular festival. Of course the celebrations were not guaranteed. If the water levels remained below 16, then far from celebrating, the locals would be fasting and praying to the rain gods!

The first time I went, my vertigo got the better of me, and, I did not manage to go down the well. The absence of any railings/ support makes it worse!
The next time round, I gritted my teeth and went down, couldn't let a fear get the better of me! And believe me, the view, as you look up from the ground, with the light streaming through the dome, is really worth the trek down!

How to get there: Nilometer is located inside the gardened compound of Cairo's Al Manasterly Palace. The entrance fees is LE15 er head.

Toxic brown cloud expected to appear in Egypt’s sky

Daily News
By Yasmine Saleh
First Published: November 19, 2008

CAIRO: The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) warned of the passing of the “brown” cloud, which is full of toxic chemical material, over the Middle East.

The cloud is around three kilometers long.

According to the UNEP report, which was first released on Nov. 13, the cloud would pass over the Middle East within three to seven days. Some suspect that the fog that has engulfed the city on Wednesday is part of the cloud. No reports have confirmed such claims.

When contacted by Daily News Egypt, officials at the Ministry of Environmental Affairs were unavailable for comment by press time.
According to the report, “the cloud center is in South Korea and is called brown because of its brown color.”

The report also indicated that the cloud is considered to be of great danger to the international environment.

“The cloud will have a serious reaction that might lead to the death of thousands of people and harm agricultural products,” read the report.
According to Achim Steiner, UN under-secretary general and executive director of UNEP, the cloud started to move from Asia to Africa and the Middle East.

The report also stated that the cloud had serious impacts on air quality and agriculture in Asia “increasing risks to human health and food production for three billion people.”

“Cities from Beijing to New Delhi are getting darker, glaciers in ranges like the Himalayas are melting faster and weather systems are becoming more extreme, in part, due to the combined effects of human-made Atmospheric Brown Clouds (ABCs) and greenhouse gases in the atmosphere,” stated the UNEP report.

The report has also identified 13 cities as ABC hotpots. Those cities are: Bangkok, Beijing, Cairo, Dhaka, Karachi, Kolkata, Lagos, Mumbai, New Delhi, Seoul, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Tehran, where soot levels are 10 percent of the total mass of all human-made particles.

According to the report, cities with large concentrations of ABCs may be getting cloudier which might lead to a 25 percent decrease in visibility.
According to Steiner, the clouds can lead to serious respiratory problems and complications in blood vessels.

As for the agricultural products, the cloud might lead to a decrease in the productivity and the quality of products like rice, wheat and Soya beans.
The report also explained that the brown cloud resulted from burning of fossil fuels and biomass in some cases and regions aggravating the impacts of greenhouse gas-induced climate change.

“Globally, however, brown clouds may be countering or ‘masking’ the warming impacts of climate change by between 20 and up to 80 percent, the researchers suggest,” the report indicated.

On the other hand, Sabri Abdel Hadi, manager of the health department at Egypt’s Ministry for Environmental Affairs, said that “he did not receive any information about this cloud” and added that “South Korea is tens of thousands kilometers away from Egypt which makes it unreasonable for the cloud to reach Egypt,” according to his statement to Amal Al Omah news website, that is run by the Muslim Brotherhood in Alexandria.

Dr Ahmed Aboul Seoud, manager of the quality of air department at the Ministry for Environmental Affairs, also told the website that the arrival of this cloud to Egypt is “far-fetched” but added that the ministry will issue a special warning to all citizens not to leave their houses in the unlikely case of its appearance.

Aboul Seoud has also indicated that the Ministry of State for Environmental Affairs will be able to monitor this cloud by satellites if it appeared in the Egyptian sky and will find solutions to eliminate it by water.

Friday, November 21, 2008


Its amazing how sometimes we don't look beyond the obvious, well, at least I did not..

My car is usually fuelled by the driver, and, the only cognizant memory I have of the fuel is that its cheap. A 100 le goes a long way, and I don't have to fill up petrol every other day, despite the fact that I move around quite a bit.

Two days ago, the driver called in sick, and, I had to drive, and, fill petrol. It was then that the penny dropped! Well, high time it did!

Petrol costs 1.80 le per gallon (1 gallon = approx 4 litres) while water costs 1.50 le for a litre bottle. The difference was so stark that it caught me by surprise. Well, it should not, cos this is dessert land, where water is at a premium. Plus in a sense, water is essential to life, and, petrol is not, so there should be a premium for it!

But coming from a country where the petrol cost is some 10 times the cost of water, this seems such a paradox!

Or is it really? Every situation, every circumstance warrants its own set of peculiarities, and, we need to learn to make the most of them. I guess that's true of everything in life, isn't it?

A 4,300- year-old pyramid discovered in Sakkara desert

Daily News Egypt
By Marwa Al-A’sar

First Published: November 11, 2008

CAIRO: A 4,300-year-old pyramid of a Pharaonic queen was discovered in Sakkara desert, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities Zahi Hawass told reporters in a press conference on site Tuesday.
“The pyramid is believed to belong to Queen Sesheshet, the mother of King Titi (2323 – 2291 BC), the founder of ancient Egypt‘s Sixth Dynasty,” Hawass said.

The pyramid is part of the cemetery associated with King Titi, who had his funerary complex built north-east to that of King Djoser (2630 – 2611 BC). It is 4.5 meters high with a square base of 22 meters on each side. The original height is estimated to be about 14 meters.

“We are about to reach the burial area, yet I don’t think we will find much because we found traces of robbery there,” Hawass said.
Sesheshet’s pyramid is located near those of Titi’s two wives, Khuit and Iputi. The three pyramids were designed similarly.

Though Sesheshet was recognized from inscriptions on a medical papyrus, no identified tomb for her has ever been discovered in the Sakkara necropolis, according to Hawass.

He pointed out that the Egyptian excavation in the Titi cemetery has added a lot to the understanding of the beginning of the sixth Dynasty.

An Egyptian archeological team has been excavating the site since 1988. But the discovery was made a few months ago when it appeared that the structure unveiled under the sand was a pyramid.

The Sesheshet pyramid is the 118th discovered so far in Egypt. There are 20 pyramids more found out but with only the bases remaining.
“The newly discovered pyramid is expected to be unveiled after two months,” Hawass concluded.

The queen mother played an important role in the establishment of the sixth dynasty at a time when two branches of the former ruling family were in conflict.

For many years, scholars believed that Iputi was the primary wife of King Titi. Recently, however, Hawass excavated the pyramid of Khuit, discovering that her pyramid was built before Iputi’s, which indicates she was the chief wife.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Gorgeous graffitti

Talk about hunting for a needle in a haystack - now I know the feeling! Went around Downtown and Dokki the whole morning in search of some graffitti! Suspect when my hubby hears this, he'll shrug his shoulders in one of those resigned gestures, lol!

However, I think the trek around town was worth the graffitti that I saw. Just check out the pictures below and then go see them in person. To me, it was certainly worth the visit!
Goethe Institute is the headquarters for learning German in Cairo, and, operates as a cultural centre as well, organising numerous events all through the year. This year, the centre completed 50 years of its existence in Cairo, and, decided to celebrate the occassion by rolling out year long celebrations.
Four German artists of the graffiti project “Masala Movement” and two Egyptians came together in the lavish garden surrounding what used to be former East Germany’s embassy in Cairo, and, were allowed to pain the walls of the now defunct East German embassy.

The project tasked the six artists with transforming the walls of the language center (known as ‘the empty space’) into a large piece of art, and, I must admit, they have done a fabulous job.

Bright colours, bold, larger than life figures are beautifully juxtaposed against the brown stone of the walls. There are yet others that been painted at the intersection of two walls, with slatted windows in the middle, lending an interesting perspective to the graffitti!

There is a enormous worm in black and white which resmbles a dragon or an equally wild creature. Painted on the 3 walls of an alcove, its lifelike and really seems like its crawling along the walls!
Then there is a mother and child which seems to represent the connection between the two when the child is born and also when its in the womb or maybe, thats just my hyperactive imagination!

If you’re thinking about checking out their work, make sure to stop by soon.
This one is somewhat remniscent of the work of a famous Indian cartoonist called Mario Miranda.

Just a word of Caution. Goethe Institute seems to be spread all over the place 3-4 buildings. The one that you need to go to is in Dokki at 17 Road.

I, of course, finally got there after seeing practically every Goethe Institute building! The helpful guards/ counter guys at each building, enthusiastically nodded their head and said "aiwa (yes)" when I asked for graffitti. Next time, must remember to check the arabic word for "graffitti" or whatever else it is that I am going looking for!