Days after “The Economist” decided no-one in the “Middle East” reads books (I’m serious, read the piece here), Ahdaf Soueif dedicated a short piece to Cairo in Newsweek. Just like Youssef Chahine’s Cairo, beautifully expressed on film, Soueif identifies the ugliness that exists alongside the lovely in al Qahira. If the following is a taste of what the novelist’s new book, Cairo: My City, Our Revolution, will express, I am eager to continue reading.
Small art galleries opened, and tiny performance spaces, and new bands formed across the musical spectrum. Mosques and cultural centers clutched at the derelict spaces under flyovers. Green spaces vanished, but every night the bridges would be crammed with Cairenes taking the air. We suffered a massive shortage of affordable housing, but every night you’d see a bride starring in her wedding procession in the street. Unemployment ran at 20 percent, and every evening there was singing and drumming from the cheap, bright, noisy little pleasure boats crisscrossing the river.
Trees that were not cut down refused to die. They got dustier, some of their branches grew bare, but they grew. We looked out anxiously for the giant baobab in Sheikh Marsafy Street in Zamalek, for the Indian figs on the Garden City Corniche, for what my kids called the Jurassic Park trees by the zoo. If they cut a tree down, it grew shoots. If they hammered an iron fence into its roots, the tree would lean into the iron, lean on it. If a building crowded the side of a tree, the tree grew its other side bigger, lopsided. I knew trees that couldn’t manage leaves anymore but put all they had into a once-a-year burst of pink flowers. And once I saw a tree that seemed looked after, that had just been washed: it couldn’t stop dancing.
Photo Credit: Hossam el-Hamalawy