Tuesday, May 12, 2015

a love letter of details (part 1)

When I was a kid I held a belief that a place only existed when you were in it. I believed that once we left it, where we once were folded itself up and ceased to be there as well. I thought that maybe places like Paris were only imagined, or that vacation destinations were only real for the length of my stay. Kind of like object permanence, kind of like not. With time and travel and departure/arrival this idea of mine faded. All of the places exist, all the time. The ocean still crashes, no matter if I stand in front of it or not. The hometown still hums, Eiffel still stands.

I think about this now during my limited time in Egypt. The end of my living here will come, and call to prayer will go on, the dust will still gather and the roads that are now buckled will most likely remain that way, or erode to worse conditions. Ever since my first visit to Cairo, I've been determined to get down the details and find ways to rightly describe my existing here--I want to share it and share it well with my loved ones. There have been many days when I've parked myself in the coffee shop and scribble down everything that crossed my vision--a man in galabeya talking on his cell phone, a group of friends laughing and smoking out front. The candy apple Fiats and cats perched victorious on top of piles of trash. Is it the little or big that make a place? What have I still not noticed?

You never know how many shades of brown exist until you live in the desert. The way dust, sand, dirt lands on everything--how it finds a way even with all the windows and doors closed, especially during sandstorms. How every car carries an injury--missing side mirrors, dents, scrapes, an elaborately cracked windshield. They will be double and triple parked in the most unlikely of places. Here, most people have to leave their vehicles in neutral so that the parking guys can move them and refit them like tetris along the street. It's always a little surprising to see what fits where.

in Pittsburgh, everyone knows about "the parking chair." Here in Cairo, anything can be a parking space saver--grocery carts on their side, potted plants, or a broken vase, as pictured above

Miraculous vats of gelato at Gelato Mio, where two scoops on a cone costs 12 Egyptian pounds.

photo via identity-mags

Even littler things...like the undeniable oh so sweet smell of shisha filling the air on a weekend afternoon. Spotting a street weasel while walking home at night as it scurries from one dark place to another. The funny cooing of doves outside the study window in the morning and the wet steam emanating from the iron guy's shop. The background noise of arabic and car horns--soccer balls for sale on the top floor of the grocery store. Little empty glasses of tea on the ground next to shop entrances. The two security guards who always play dominoes at their post. All the policemen changing from winter's black uniform to summer's whites. A volkswagen serving as permanent display case.

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