In Cairo there is a Sudanese restaurant only accessible if you know someone who knows someone who knows where it is, which is in a dark alleyway near Midan Opera. There you can get tiny cups of Sudanese coffee, which is flavored with cardamom and quite delicious, and even better if packed with a ton of sugar.
It was at this restaurant that I had my first savory peanut butter experience. Any longtime readers of leahfinnegan.com are well aware that peanuts, in Egypt, are called Sudan beans; the nut is a staple of the country’s cuisine and many different peanut butter blends are eaten. This particular peanut butter consisted of ground peanuts, olive oil and chopped tomatoes and onions. And it was very good. So good. Try it.
The owner of the restaurant gave me a tiny coffee cup to take home (below) and it’s just the best. I use it strictly to hold treasures.
For my final assignment in Egypt I went to a press conference at the pyramids. Egyptologists were planning to announce the restoration of the second solar boat of Khufu, aka Cheops, which currently sits in pieces under 41 16-ton slabs of limestone. The boat was discovered in 1954 and they are just now going to excavate and put it back together.
Despite the fact that Egypt basically has no government right now, the country’s press corps still stops for ancient relics. There’s a distinct journalistic duty in Egypt when it comes to things found underground that are 4,500 years old. Consequently, this press conference was more or less like a Beatles concert circa 1965. There was a lot of pushing, shoving and yelling, and minimal crying, all for a glimpse at some centuries-old cedar three meters beneath the earth’s surface. It was awesome.
You can read the full report here.
A colleague and I paid a visit Monday to the office of a top Egyptian executive. “The public sector needs to understand that income is linked to productivity,” the executive explained, oscillating between Arabic and English and sipping a tiny cup of espresso while chewing gum. On his massive, curved desk sat a MacBook Pro in its largest size and various knickknacks, including a backscratcher, two thick, silver ashtrays and a bowl of stones.
His walls were more interesting. “Stupid people make stupid mistakes. Brilliant people make brilliant mistakes,” read a typed piece of paper taped to a larger poster, which pictured a man’s well-muscled back, his arms holding behind his neck an axe. At the bottom of the poster was the inscription: “PREPARATION: If you have a day to chop down a tree, spend a day sharpening your axe.”
On another wall was a framed pair of socks, along with a letter, a gift to the executive from a prominent American businessman. “What are the socks about?” I asked the executive. “You can read,” he said. The socks were supposedly lucky and had been all around the world with their former owner.
The executive’s bookcase was crammed with embossed crystal trophies. Among the books on it were Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers,” Liaquat Ahamed’s “Lords of Finance” and “The Idiot’s Guide to Winning Through Negotiations.” We were ferried out before I could take a closer look.
Went to get some bananas this morning. As the shopkeeper rang me up, he happened to have his pants half-down and another man was injecting him with something in his ass. “Sorry,” the shopkeeper said.
One of the things I’ll miss about Egypt is watching Al Arabiya for eight hours a day at work. It’s a fine network. The microphones look like feather dusters and the anchors look like dolls. Speaking of television, CNN the other day broadcast a live interview with Gadhafi’s wife. There was, however, a hitch. Gadhafi’s wife wasn’t present on TV because she’s ostensibly hiding in an underground Bedouin tent with Mr. Mo. So the live interview consisted of the anchor talking to a cell phone laid on a mahogany table from which the voice of Mrs. Gadhafi emanated. It was positively thrilling television.
In other news, peanuts in Egypt are called Sudan beans. As a result, I have been eating a lot of Sudan bean M&Ms, which come in muted colors and are pleasingly malty.
Train travel in Egypt is very special. If you’re lucky, you’ll witness a motley crew of men laying new train tracks using a rope and brute force at Ramses Station. The men will be wearing sandals. Once you get on the train, you may notice that it looks like a living room in upstate New York circa 1979. A steward will make you Nescafe that he foams with a tiny tool, served in a clear glass marked “Ernst.” It will somehow be delicious. The ticket man at Ramses will have told you that your return train is a super-fast train and that is why it costs 30 LE more than your trip there, but in reality the return train takes just as long, maybe longer.
Things Seen On An Egyptian Highway*
1. Open-air truck full of cows
2. Open-air truck full of foam
3. Open-air truck full of Pepsi
5. Open-air truck full of cloth
6. Open-air truck full of straws
7. Stacks of tires
8. Date farms (as seen from)
9. Donkey (on a pedestrian bridge)
10. Pyramids of Giza (in the distance)
*An anecdote: As mentioned, Egyptian taxis are super cheap and thus must be taken everywhere. Taxi drivers always have the most wonderful quirks, from insistence on taking the “fast route” that goes three miles out of your way to adorning their dashboards with faux fur and other in-car accoutrement (vehicle air fresheners are the snowflakes of Cairo: no two are alike). Anyway, the other night my unofficial host and I were zipping along the highway to a cafe in Downtown Cairo when our well-muscled driver missed the appropriate exit. So what does he do? Turn around and start over? Nah. He slows down, moves to the far-right lane and starts driving in reverse. For a half-mile. On a busy highway. At night. (Almost) full-speed. Still, the ride was less than $3! Value, people, value.
Mergers. Acquisitions. Egypt. Verizon iPhone. It’s been a crazy couple of weeks! What’s more, Connecticut’s storied old manses are no longer being lusted after by young hedge funded-families. As Coldwell Banker agent Patti McGovern told the New York Times: “Nobody seems to have any kind of respect or fond thoughts of history.” I’ll say!