All Of Egypt Is An Irish Kitchen

It's a cliche to say that when someone says "it's not about the money," it's always about the money. But I was reminded of that in Luxor.

As some background, I like to think I can navigate unfamiliar environments with the geospatial skill of Rand McNally. I take a look at a postage stamp-sized guidebook map and think something along the lines of "Oh, sure, that's just 25 short blocks, then turn left on such-and-such unnamed street, then an immediate right and we're right there!" Jen refers to these outings, not unsubtly, as "Tortellini Death Marches."

The original tortellini death march was in Bologna, when I took a look at the address of what was supposed to be a really good lunch spot and thought that when they said it was at Via Saragozza, 240, well 240 can't be that far away, can it? One hour later, we arrived. Well, maybe it wasn't an hour, but it probably was. And halfway through the trek out there I revealed that I thought, but wasn't totally sure, that the restaurant was actually open (something about the fact that it was apparently only open Mondays for lunch made me a little skeptical). Jen was not happy. Thus, the "death march" moniker. (The restaurant in Bologna, if it still exists, is highly recommended!)

So anyway, back to Luxor. After an afternoon of walking around and shopping — since, as our Egyptian guides said, that's what ladies like to do — we were ready to eat dinner. We stood in front of the train station, consulted the guidebook and saw that there was a promising sounding restaurant situated basically on the way back to the hotel. I talked over our route, vetting it with the others, and tried to be realistic about how long it might take.

"See, just there" — pointing with my finger — "to there." It looked like about a mile. "About a mile, OK?"

Should we have taken a taxi? Probably. But we had been shuttled around like a school field trip for days, and it seemed nice to keep walking. Until we started walking.

Now to be fair, it was a pretty cool walk — if some of us weren't "hallucinating" from hunger, I would have taken some pictures — Al Mansheya Street was pretty lively — lots of hanging meat! And apparently lots of leering men as well, which wouldn't have bothered me, per se, but for some others — well, I guess it doesn't make for the most pleasant early evening constitutional.

And it wouldn't have been the worst walk but things got a little hairy on Al Madina Street — now I see it's just 19 short blocks, but at the time it only looked like an indeterminate number of unnamed blocks, then a left onto a street that probably didn't have a street sign either.

So we're walking, and walking — and hallucinating — and just when I'm about to argue that there's no need to cut our losses, a very helpful mustachioed man jogs across the street to ask us if we need help. Ah, I think — I'll be a man about it and cut our losses.

"Not about the money!" he yells. "No money! I just help you!"

So I tell him that we're trying to find the Jewel of the Nile Restaurant and he says something along the lines of "ah yes, of course — it's just down this other darkened street in what you might assume would be the opposite direction, then around the corner and . . ."

Just when I'm about to follow this friendly man into the night, I see that Jen and Compulsory are hanging back on the corner of unnamed street and unnamed street. I'm pretty sure I know that the restaurant is not in that direction, or if it is, it's another wild detour away from the restaurant, but . . . well, he wants us to follow him down this darkened street. I begin to walk away back toward the street we'd been following.

"You Americans, your nose in the air!" he yells back at me. "I am not fucking bin Laden!"

It wasn't so much that I thought he might be a terrorist — though of course the ideological underpinnings of Al Qaeda do come from Egypt — but more a matter of what they always say about catching more flies with honey than with dropping bin Laden's name within 30 seconds of meeting someone.

Michael reported back to us that in the end, the man wanted some money. Michael gave him a pound coin.

"What am I supposed to do with this, shove it in my ass?" he said to Michael, who basically shrugged and walked away.

A block later a waiter saw me trying to discern landmarks on the map and asked us if we were looking for something. He told us that the restaurant was just two more blocks away. And it was. See, not so bad!

This episode became known as the Tahini Death March.

Looking back, the Google Map says that it is about two kilometers from the train station to the restaurant — just over 1.2 miles. Not a terrible walk, but like I said, we had walked a lot already, and some of us were hungry while others were hallucinating. It was probably about 40 minutes of walking in total — not counting all the other walking we did, including a semi-unpleasant 40-minute detour attributable to — I maintain — an outdated map.

This all happened on January 3. Today is January 28, and from the news reports, Egypt seems to be a much different place. Maybe not — conventional wisdom is usually that dissent is always there just under the surface waiting for something to spark some action:

Ibrahim Abdelkhaled, 25, a mobile-phone repairman, said: "The government is trying their level best to make sure these protests don't happen. But we already agreed on the place yesterday. We expected them to try to shut down the networks."

He added, "We're here because we're demanding the resignation of Mubarak and his government because after 30 years we are all fed up with him. We will march in the streets so that he leaves."

One axiom might be that the more pictures of a leader you see, the more they have to worry about. Similarly, the more they want you to think they're in control, the less they're probably in control (or not — we'll see I guess).

Here's a street in the Cairo suburb of Giza:

Hosni Mubarak Picture, Giza, Cairo, Egypt

Here's the "Mubarak Touristic Road" outside of Luxor:

Mubarak Touristic Road, Luxor, Egypt

There were so many pictures of Mubarak around that I almost forgot to take a picture of one — I figured that I'd always see another just down the road. It looks like an Irish home with all those pictures of JFK in kitchens, except in this case all of Egypt is an Irish kitchen.

And at the time, we loved those sunglasses! We couldn't decide whether it was a nod to Timbuk3 or a convenient way to hide crow's feet.

I'm happy we got to parachute into Egypt for a week or so there — and it's strange to think that before a Tunisian produce seller set himself on fire, the only unknown about traveling to Egypt was whether the weather would hold. Hopefully everyone will stay safe and things turn out for the best, whatever the best may be.

See also the Big Map: Egypt/Jordan, December 27, 2010-January 11, 2011.

Posted: January 28th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: National Geographical | Tags: , , ,