Monday, October 27, 2008


I loved Egypt first for Ramses' sake. That's Elizabeth Peters' Ramses, of course; hotter than wet-shirt Darcy and with ten times the brainpower. (Someday I plan an e-card site dedicated to his archeological perfection.)

After a few visits and several months in Cairo, my relationship with Egypt is different, less starstruck. Naguib Mahfouz, Egyptian Nobel Laureate, said that Cairo is like meeting your beloved in old age; I'm not a Cairene, but I think he's right. There is plenty in Egypt to adore (the sweet carb overload of koshari, golden limestone igniting at sunset, rollicky Egyptian Arabic jabbing like a mirthful elbow in your ribs) and there is plenty to flinch from.

My last time in Cairo, I'd left cheerfully. I'd been studying Arabic solo for a few months and was eager to get back to my fantastic new boyfriend and hassle-free streets. So on this trip I was pretty surprised when the magical smell of burning trash and scorching Sahara made me tear up right there in the Cairo airport. (Of course, I teared up at The Secret Life of Bees, too: indications are good that I am a sap.)

I spent our 72 hours in Egypt in a daze of jetlag and nostalgia. The pyramids were as impossibly huge as ever (and as impossibly smelly: we all emerged from our excursion inside one dripping with sweat and reeking of cat pee); the traffic was as charmingly insane. The smog was--well, look at this picture taken from our airplane. Perfect blue sky, meet Cairo.

We spent a day in Luxor, which, for all its jillions of tourists, still feels pretty chill. Here's a load of bananas going who-knows-where. And there really is something thrilling about the Valley of the Kings: you look around to see dirt, dirt, dirt, and oh, here's buried treasure. (If you haven't read Howard Carter's account of finding King Tut, you're in for a treat.)

Our Cairo hotel, InterContinental Citystars was absurdly decadent, Luxor's Sofitel --despite being literally on the Nile-- just couldn't compare.

We spent (not enough) time at the Egyptian Museum, where I could wander happily for weeks a la Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler, Coptic Cairo, and of course the temples of Luxor and Karnak. I dragged Becky and Ann to the wild Khalili bazaar, where we were (not unwillingly) accosted by scores of henna girls, men selling the same exact silver necklace, beggars, wannabe cab drivers, and slick-as-cow-snot hawkers.

On our way home, our taxi driver, who was a very nice man, confided that we were Answer to Prayer, because our American passports would let us into the Duty Free Store, right next to our hotel, which contained the foreign alcohol he desparately needed for his niece's wedding later that week. Pushover Ann agreed to help out. And that, Mom and Dad, is why my passport now says with "Three Alcohol Units; Three Cigarette Units." I swear.

I'm pretty sure the cigarettes weren't for his niece.


  1. Laur- I hope you know how fun it is for me to hear these details about your fantastic trip! I get a sick feeling in my stomach knowing that I missed out on two wonderful weeks spent with family and friends in the places I love best, but your exquisite descriptions make me feel like I was there! Keep it up!

  2. oh man, Petey missed out! This was an awesome trip. I mean, you 391 pictures. I think you can tell how awesome the trip was from the number of pictures taken.

    Glad you back. I've missed you in the blogosphere!

  3. You should know that one of the main reasons I want to go to Egypt is Ramses. Well, and Amelia. I want to BE her and maybe going there... yeah. Dreams.

  4. Incredible! Cat pee huh? Not much of an afterlife.

  5. Hearing what you have to say about the trip makes me feel like I was there... I am getting over me jealousy! Have I mentioned lately that I love your blog!