One year Ago: Walking and Visualising Cairo

This is my second version of my margins, last year I was writing them elsewhere, and I have been reminded by facebook that at this time last year I was writing about what I was missing in Cairo while being in Coventry. Here it is..

March 14, 2015

Walking and Visualising Cairo

I left facebook for a couple of weeks to focus on some writing. While I was away some really interesting writings came out on Cairo. The fact that I was away and didn’t read and share them instantaneously offers me the chance to look at them here in my margins, even if they are not marginal at all.

First there was Amr Abo Tawila’s and Sondos Seif’s beautiful article on “Dead Walls”posted on Cairobserver. Amr is an architect, and he has been taking long walks and photographing the city, some of his pictures are here. The article is in Arabic, and looks into the advertisement material that are left on dead walls on the buildings (these are walls of apartment buildings that are designed with no walls and doors, waiting for an adjacent building to rise next to it). I think the piece is brilliant in the ways it offers us a peculiar archive of accessing the memory of the city, surprisingly via a medium that is traditionally very much linked to comings and goings of the fads of consumerism. The advertisements on these dead walls offer us a register of the life of consumption practiced just until the minute before billboards took over, and every one decided to leave the old shaving creams that are not longer produced, or the nationalist version of CocaCola be and fade away under Cairo’s scathing sun. It is a tap into a-not-so- distant past via a medium that was never meant to be permanent.

This moves me to a next favourite of mine, also in Arabic. Two Historian friends Mohammed Ezzeldin and Shehab Fakhry Ismail have been also walking and rewalking one street in the heart of Cairo. It is not the typical to-go to places to do urbanism, and thus their photo essay opens a plethora of urban layers. The article is dear to me because they sometimes told me about each walk before they published it, and thus I know that the narrative the street unfolded to them, as it should be, not through one visit, and not through talking to people, or taking pictures alone, but through taming the city and befriending the space long enough to play on its familiarity and strangeness. Their article along with Amr’s invite us (by us I mean those who have ranging interest in Cairo, or in cities in general) to go beyond the lamentation common as Cairo kills, or the utter nostalgia to a city we have never known or seen.

The two pieces use photography and walking in trying to reconnect to a city in which we are born strangers. And I believe that it is only by walking the city as a token of surrender and a plea to understand that our perpetual estrangement with the Middle Eastern metropolis is to be rectified

A third thing I missed was the Funambulist’s article on his trip to Cairo and Beirut (this is in English), in which just looked into how this practice is becoming more dangerous and inaccessible to the majority of its dwellers. The Funambulist (which is an excellent blog for anyone interested in space, politics and architecture) came to Cairo’s Megawra for a discussion with Ahmed Borham which you can listen to here, along the talk he naturally took a walk that resulted in his first great dispatch from Cairo and Beirut about the de-naturalizing your everyday practice of just taking a photo.

Lately the Cairo kills mode have been on for a while, Cairo is known to be stuck in traffic (yes I said this before) and suffocating. People work all week to engage in mass exodus out of it in the weekend. The blame is made on too much people, too much is a pity though that the discussion revolves usually about the right to flee the city, the right to imagine a new city that recreates a nostalgic past, the fact that life itself is elsewhere beyond where we live rather than the right to enjoy the city, which is actually enjoyable in its unexpectedness, incompleteness and its suddenly appearing pockets of memory it is willing to show you if it decides you have walked in it enough, that you have given it a piece for your body so it could give you a glimpse of itself.