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In one of my e-mails I mentioned enjoying the sunset at a park. This was Cairo's Al-Azhar Park (visit http://www.touregypt.net/featurestories/azharpark.htm), a new civic space that was recently constructed on what used to be a trash heap, but you would never guess it's humble foundations to see it now.
The park is gated with an entrance fee (interestingly far less for locals than tourists--but that is because most locals would never be able to afford the tourist prices). The walks are lined with various forms of plant life--from graceful palms to lovely little flowers. Water cascades from cheerful fountains, and makes its burbling course down the sculpted hillsides. At night, the paths are illuminated with an agreeable arrangement of lights. All in all, a stupendous amount of money and care was pored into the place, and it shows.
The best part of the park was by far the view. Perching over the remains of the old city walls, you have a clear vista of Cairo en mass. To the south one could see the Citadel. To the general west stretched the various neighborhoods of the city. There was an interesting illusion of sloping ground (but the city is in fact rather flat--river valley after all). Way off in the distance, barely discernable through the thick smog, was my first glimpse of the pyramids. The overall impression though was a jumble of dilapidated housing and a plethora of firmament-bound minarets.
In Cairo, there are mosques at almost every corner (over exaggeration, but not by much). It is obvious where the people choose to put their money, even if they don't have any to give away. Other than a few important government edifices, the mosques are by far the most well kept buildings in Egypt. Their splendor ranged from awe inspiring to humble. Egyptians seem to have a penchant for decorating the minarets with long florescent green or white bulbs. Why I don't know. I don't think it did anything to bring out the aesthetics of the structures, and that the effect was rather neon cross-esque gaudy.
I loved to listen to the call to prayer. Five times a day "Allah akbar" (God is great) would ring out through the air. It was wonderful, at least until all the other mosques chimed in. Back before the advent of modern stereophonics, mosques in a neighborhood used to sing out the call to prayer in a cyclical fashion (much like "row your boat" to my understanding). The result was magical. Now though, everybody vies with one another to be the most sonorous. It produces a cacophony of Allah akbars that falls far from the heavenly choir it once was to a tumultuous din of human competition.
Back to more earthly matters. It is true what they say, all that glitters is not gold. In fact, all that glitters resides at Mahmouds Bellydance Emporium in the form of beads, sequins and metallic materials of all colors and hues.
Imagine 3 (or was it 4) floors of bellydance finery oozing from every nook and cranny. It was the very end of the day, and there was evidence that the store was invaded by a marauding band of exuberant gyrating women. Scarves were strewn everywhere, costume accessories and props were left in a state of disarray. I practically could hear the excited female prattling that still looked to sit heavily on the shoulders a very weary looking Mahmood.
Fortunately I had the place to myself (a rarity I'm sure). I'm not a super glitzy gal, so I wasn't attracted to the majority of the wears there. I did find one nice piece for an unbeatable price. It was a full one-piece dress, black, that has a flamenco look to it when I twirl. Needs a few adjustments to it (meant for a much larger woman--both in the waste and bust), but it makes me happy.
Oh, and as a side note for my hip shaking friends, you can find a plethora of bedazzled costumes in the marketplaces, but they are raunchy shit--what would be dubbed "amateur costumes" or worse. Imagine Madonna like cones for a bra with stars over the nipples. Ugh, it was enough to make me wretch! So moral of the story--find a really good shop like Mahmoods (and his is famous) to satiate your glittering needs.