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Posts Tagged ‘spitfire’

Melissa arrived on Christmas Eve about an hour and a half late into Cairo airport, disembarking what she describes as the worst flight of her life. We immediately jumped on board the Superjet bus from the airport station bound for Alexandria, hoping to exchange time for money, considering how it’s really impossible to catch a cab from Maza to the center of town without getting robbed blind. Question to other expats: how much do you pay — I’ve heard LE 70 is a good price, but who knows some days.

Anyhow, the ride was hellish: Thursday night coming out of Cairo almost invariably is. We spent six hours trying to get out of Bulaq, at which point the driver thought it might be a good idea to take Shar3a al-Ahram, parking us in the middle of the budding night scene. Melissa was a good sport about it, though, considering it was a crash-course in Cairo craziness (traffic, time, and the smell of this bus was particularly foul). We arrived in Alex around 12, missing midnight Mass, but still on our feet. I had most of the things ready for dinner beforehand, so we stayed up only a little later and made a chicken parmesan that, I must say, had quite a superior sauce of my own devising. Around this time, Melissa discovered that the very pretty silver Christmas ornaments on the tree were actually three sets of very pretty earrings that were her Christmas gift, and all was well on the silent night.

We’ve just come back yesterday morning from a three-day sabbatical to Siwa Oasis, where we stayed at the Desert Rose. I’m kind of sad to report that the place has gone downhill as of late: they’ve whitewashed a lot of the awesome decorations, and the staff isn’t quite as a helpful as they once were. Everyone seems kind of worn down by the influx of tourists (and there were quite a few– meaning hordes) rolling into town for New Year’s Eve. We met up with Andrea (who deserves a blog post of his own, including pictures of the almost-finished but definitely liveable house on the side of Shali), and even made some more Italian friends.

Yesterday was spent recovering from the Siwa night bus and desperately trying to finish my last essay for Ann Arbor; last dinner of the year was a good singaal at Abou Ashraf in Anfushi (which Melissa loved), followed by relatively low-key festivities at the Spitfire. No clock in the bar, and everyone argued over the time (all our watches were different), until someone just started the countdown from ten — at which point we all joined in and raised our loving cups high. Melissa pushed me forward to sing Auld ang Syne, and I got to the end of the first verse before I realize that I was the only one singing.

Sigh.

Happy New Year, everyone! Kul sena wentum tayyibin!

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24 October deserves another post, if late.

My birthday morning consisted of taking the GREs out in Dokki at 8:30, which proved to be a trying experience. An old wrinkled woman in hijab with the grumpiest American accent I’ve ever heard (kind of impressive) was Gestapo about putting your pencils down at the exact moment she called time. I barely finished the essays and the math sections I was at least five questions shy in. Vocab and reading was a cinch. It’s rather annoying to have to take these things, though. We’ll see if it warrants re-testing. I’m almost certain it will.

Caught the afternoon bus back to Alex, and met up with folks (Tom and Andrea came out for the weekend) at the Spitfire and proceeded to merrymake. A blur of cigarettes and Stellas and sparkling conversation. Discovered a German girl that can roll cigarettes like the real thing. I mean an absolute artist.

Nothing really to say, except quite the night, which ended in the traditional McDonald’s pig-out at 2 in the morning on the Corniche.

I love this city.

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You catch a minibus west to Manshaya, and get off at the Nasser Restaurant, just before the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Here, the Corniche narrows to four lanes, and if you wait a few seconds, you can cross to the other side. You duck down a sidestreet, past the Traders’ Room, past shawarma stands lit up with neon lights, past entire avenues of men in rickety cane chairs — the air censed with cigarette and apple tobacco. And just as you find yourself approaching Saad Zaghloul Street, you stop. If you blink walking by, you might miss it; a hole in the wall with a painted airplane over the entrance, which has a frosted glass partitions hiding the interior from the street, which is in turn concealed by a little buttonwood tree. This is the Spitfire Bar– uncontestedly the best bar in Alexandria (and the only one open during Ramadan).

Once occupied by the British when the Allied operations headquarters was based at the Hotel Cecil down the road (more coming soon on Monty’s Bar), Spitfire has seen more history than most. Though Cap d’Or down the street likes to claim otherwise (it has some tres sweet art noveau mirrors), Spitfire reigns supreme. Business cards on the wall, a rather random fishtank, an ever-present Rolling Stones soundtrack, and a risque wet T-shirt poster that tells the visitor, “Order a beer. Light a cigarette. Make fun of the wandering tourists outside searching in vain for this paradise of a watering hole.”

The place is owned by a trio of brothers– all Muslim– who make a business of living and let live; they make an extra emphasis of pointing out that “There are good people and bad people in every nation…but no one like you, Mr. Mike.” I’ve heard that line so many times that I’ve stopped teasing them about it.

Mr. Mike? I get called that at school, too: it’s a little odd– but then, I guess, try throwing “Nevadomski” to them. You can see the knots form in their mouths.

Last Ramadan, I stepped in for a drop and a small sampling of peanuts, only to have Hassan and Osama get extra attentive around Iftar time:

My brothers and I are about to break fast, then go to the mosque to pray. Do you need anything else before we do?

Nope, Hassan. Thanks for everything.

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Most of these posts are a long time in coming: internet still hasn’t been installed in the flat yet, so the posts will be a bit erratic until I have a steady access source. I’ll try to keep them brief and my apologies sparse.

A group from Cairo arrived Friday– friends of Melissa’s, Autumn and others– and the dime tour was activated. Best thing for me, really; we made our way from the obligatory tombs at Kom al-Sho5afa (where a group of students from TAFL were– a number of Norewegiis) through the streets of Karmouz and Muharrem Bek. Managed to reset my bearings and am slowly remembering my way though the more sha3bi districts like the end of the last trip (which was about a year ago). NB: discovered that Pastroudi’s is no more– it’s been torn down for a ghastly gourmet Egyptian cuisine place that plays Arabpop and stripped down the mirrored bar. I wonder if Durrell’s house on Rue Maamun is still standing.

Guards at Kom al-Sho5afa were arguing the entire time Autumn and I were waiting outside the tombs for Caroline. One of them had said something I didn’t quite catch about an American Christian that spoke Arabic (ref. me) and one of the Egyptian women (presumably a Copt) jumped up in defense and pounced on his sarcasm. An older guard apologized to me, while the group split up between the warring parties and “moderators” were send to either side. It seems that this is the Egyptian way to argue– I’ve most definitely seen it before.

Dinner at Abou Ashraf (at least something is consistent) in Anfushi, and a magnificent sunset, followed by a much needed Stella with Hasan and Usama at the Spitfire.

Nothing makes you feel settled in like being a host.

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