Sounds Egyptian

Part 11 of our Egypt story. Part 10 here.

Cairo is a noisy city. People are constantly beeping their car horns; it’s crazy. Slava came to call the cacophony The Cairo Symphony, and recorded some of it with his phone. I had to sleep with earplugs, although we were on the 7th floor. The horns gave up around 3am every day – I guess they used to run all night before the revolution, but now people go to bed earlier.

We kept having funny, incongruous experiences with music during our trip. The first night in our Cairo hotel, we had an evening snack in the restaurant and we heard some teenagers in the other room singing along with a Pink Floyd song on the radio, the voices of people imitating but not understanding English. At another restaurant we frequented in Cairo, they kept playing American EZ listening, like I was home listening to my fave station, WJIB. It was excellent.

In Luxor, at our usual restaurant, jazz was always playing. Posters of Gillespie and Armstrong hung on the walls, and Mohamad’s son told us a story about how some tourist had complained that he didn’t think the music was authentic, and why didn’t they play some damn Egyptian music anyway? Funny how we just don’t fit into other people’s expectations so much of the time.

Hasan, driving us to and from Dendara, played music from his iphone or something. A somewhat guilty fave of mine, Chris Isaac’s Wicked Game, came on as we drove through the wastes and I made a quick video of it. We didn’t actually hear the Eagles, but after a few hours of crap Western pop music, Slava demanded and end to it, and Hasan busted out “the Fourth Pyramid.” I was naturally reminded of the story at Mohamad’s, but Hasan didn’t seem to mind; he loves Umm Kulthum as much as he loves Bryan Adams.

We sometimes heard the call to prayer in Cairo, but it wasn’t as loud as I expected, and we didn’t always hear it. In Luxor, we heard the call frequently, and also heard other chants from the mosques- Fay told us it was part of three days of mourning for a death.  Not sure which one this was, but it was a beautiful evening, Slava & I playing Canasta out on the veranda.

After the insane noise of Cairo, the night train to Luxor was so quiet. The noise was rhythmic, and although we could sort of hear the people talking in the compartment next door, the motion of the train rocked us to sleep and I had the best sleep I’d had in quite some time. We looked forward to the West Bank, where we expected it to be quiet.

We arrived at our hotel on New Year’s Eve at lunchtime. The staff were blasting some Arabic pop and hip hop that was pretty excellent, but which worried me – would the hotel be loud all week? (It wasn’t.) In the evening there was a party, and some English Deadheads played terrible American music on some laptops. Pink Floyd again! Led Zeppelin! Every band I hate! They played some Egyptian music at some point that didn’t go over too well (mourning music, not dance music). Then there was some disco for dancing, of course. I forget which song I danced to, but I was the only girl on the dance floor at the time. The Egyptians were pretty into dancing, and at some point the (German) manager brought out some sticks so there could be some stick dancing as well.


Did I mention Bob Marley is popular there? I assume he is much loved in all African countries, and he’s probably most popular in Ethiopia, home of Haile Selassie. We heard The Wailers here and there, saw a riverboat named Bob Marley, and the Rasta owner of the bellydancing club was named something that translates “no problem,” according to our friend Hasan, (whose name means “good”), and there was a Marley flag hanging on the wall behind the stage.

Most evenings Slava & I had a glass on the hotel’s veranda and played cards. It was usually quite serene, just some birds making noise. Same at breakfast – the twittering of the house sparrows was our usual courtyard soundtrack. I still wore earplugs to bed on the West Bank, not only to counteract Slava’s occasional snoring, but also because the street dogs that lived in front of the hotel sometimes broke out into crazy barking.

The West Bank is pretty quiet, and there was not the incessant beeping of the city, which was a relief. One constant when we went out was little kids yelling “Hello!” to us. Sometimes they wanted something, but usually they just wanted us to say hello back, which we did. I guess if the Cairo Symphony is horns beeping, the rural song is Hello!


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