January 9th, 2009
Day Two of my holidays and I'm almost completely recovered from my first day of holidays. I walked through the British Museum yesterday, visiting the Nubian collection, bypassing the gawkers at the Rosetta Stone. For some reason only a Japanese couple that spoke German thought the Palette of Narmer significant. I enjoyed the Assyrian exhibit, found the Parthenon statues only so-so, and thought it might be best to send them back to Greece. I am sure they would look much better on the Parthenon itself, as the lack of real detail wouldn't seem so glaring if they were displayed fifty feet above the touristas.I saw an ad for a pocketbook of hieroglyphics, but the actual book was too big to fit in a pocket. Great disappointment! I ordered an expensive coffee, with an expensive sandwhich and an expensive and very dry chocolate cake. I sat down and had a great chat with an American Nurse working in Malawi. She'd been to Ethiopia and assured me it was the best introduction to Africa there was.
After I left the British Museum, I decided to hunt down a J.J. Lyons and get a real cup of tea. I seem to remember there used to be one at Picadilly Circus, but I couldn't find it. So, I caught the tube back to Richmond to my cousin Ian's. I mentioned my futile attempt at obtaining a cup of tea and Lyons, and the general consensus amongst my fellow tubers was that Lyons had disappeared about 15 years ago. Pity. Ian told me to call him on his mobile, but I arrived in Richmond about an hour before I had told him I would call, and an answering message told me that his phone was unavailable, despite the fact it was indeed actually on. I calculated I could be at his house on Napier Road by 5, and so set out for Isleworth. I stopped and asked a group of ladies how far it was to Islington, to which one replied, "You're Dick Whittington, are you?" and another asked "Seeking your fortune, then?"
"My cat!" I said, "Have you seen my cat?"
Our subsequent conversation lead me to believe that perhaps I wasn't really going to Islington, which was beyond an ordinary day's walk, so after consulting my address book I corrected my error and asked directions to Isleworth, which they also considered to be too far to walk. Undeterred by their opinion, and fortified by a map on a notice board, I was about to continue in the direction they pointed me, when I realized I had stopped beside the church of St. Mary Magdalene. I took this too be an incredibly positive omen, seeing that the main purpose of the trip was to follow in the footsteps on Miri in order to verify details of my novel. I stopped and took pictures and then continued to Napier Road. Unfortunately the four inches from “You are Here” to Napier Road was considerably shorter than the actual walk, and it seems not many people along the Twickenham Road had heard of Napier Road. The usual reply was "I think it's further up," which was a little more vague than I had hoped for. To make a long story short, I took to guessing where to turn, and had slowed my pace consideraly as the weight of my pack seemed to be growing with each footstep. I turned onto a road that had no name, and thankfully a Volkswagen full of young Germans parked ahead of me, and one of them knew Napier Road and all I had left ahead of me was a left, another left and a bottom of the road lef t to go. Just to make sure, at the second left, I asked an electrician, if indeed Napier Road was at the bottom of the street, as I knew the disappointment of not finding Napier Road at the end of the block would cause me to collapse on the spot and unable to take another step until morning.
Thankfully I was on the right track, and got to Ian's at precisely 5 PM. I peeked into the front room to make sure it was the right place, and seeing a room full of musical intruments was enough to give me the strength to knock on the door.
Ian and Kim were wonderful hosts, and their children William, Alec and Lucy were absolutely delightful. Alec and I chatted about films while Ian took William to football and Kim took Lucy to pino lessons. Michael, the dog, a Scottie I think, took a shine to me and cleaned my hands thoroughly and was quite intrigued by Donna's back pack (she loaned me the pack for the trip) as, Donna has cats, and Laurie’s cat, Hugger had been compelled to sit inside it while I was packing it in Winnipeg. Lucy was adorable, a remarkably confident young girl, and rewarded me with a big hug when she was sent off to bed. Idiotically, I didn't take any pictures. All three kids are talented and brilliant conversationalists, and Alec and William hugged me and shook my hand as they went off to school. Kim, Ian and I walked Michael the dog after we dropped Lucy off at school, and Ian drove me to Terminal 2 to catch my plane to Cairo.
My memory, being what it is, had created a number of delusions. Apparently Air Egypt flies from Terminal 3 and when I checked in, my ticket was for the 10th not the 9th. I thought briefly about phoning Ian, but decided instead to get my flight bumped up.
I had some time to kill, so I bought a Starbucks and then spent an hour going through the shops
So I arrived in Cairo on Saturday at five minutes after midnight.
I must have appeared to not know what I was doing as I went through customs as a man from the Tourist Ministry stopped me and asked me if I knew where I was going to stay, and told me he could arrange my hotel and ride into town. I handed him a slip of paper with the address of Arabeya.org where I was planning to take Arabic lessons. As I left him with the paper, and went to get my luggage, I realized I had given the paper with my Internet banking passwords and internet accounts printed on it. My bags took a long time coming and I was beginning to doubt the advisability of exposing a complete stranger to my entire worldly fortune, but I took a deep breath and decided to go with the flow. Once I had my bags, the man got me through security bypassing the queue, and it suddenly dawned upon me he might be from the Egyptian Intelligence Agency. The impression got stronger as we went to a quieter part of the airport upstairs, and I was ushered into an office with two other clean cut and suited men. Everybody was extremely friendly, and I decided this was the old Egyptian Good Cop, Good Cop, Good Cop Routine. Anyway they asked me how much I wanted to spend on a hotel and I told them about 20 Euros and they said that was halfway between a two star and three star hotel. I said I would want the 2 star. Turns out it was 30 Euros a night and the fare into Cairo would be about 15. I knew the 15 sounded right, but when they said 75 Euros was 450 Egyptian pounds I was a little flabberghaasted. I couldn for the life of me remember the exchange rate. So I paid.
Another man took me past the line of taxis and to a waiting area and a mini van drove up and off we went on a rather fast ride into town. Driving in Cairo involved flashing your lights and honking at people in your way and driving as fast as you can without tipping over. My escort further increased my paanoia by telling me the company he worked for was under contract to the Ministry of Tourism and that they were concerned about security. He then pointed out the Police Academy, The Military University and any other building that related to Law and Order. We ended up in a very dingy part of town, and a side door through which I was ushered into a tiny elevator, and I knew for sure this was the place they had taken me for interrogation. Turns out I was wrong, and on the fifth floor of the building was a reasonably clean hotel. I tipped the guy 50 pounds, and slept in until noon the next day, completely missing the complimentary breakfast.