ad 4 MaryEllen

The Gilded Serpent presents...
Ahlan Wa Sahlan Festival 2004
Day 8: Side Trips
Part 1: Gayer Anderson Museum

Travel Journal by Shira

Tuesday, June 29, 2004. Classes continued for the Ahlan wa Sahlan festival, but after pushing myself too hard in 2003 I decided to build a bit of down time into my schedule for 2004.  I chose Tuesday and Wednesday for this, with the plan that maybe Tuesday night I could go to see Lucy dance at the Parisiana. I knew from my 2003 experience that Lucy herself doesn't even start to dance until sometime after 2:00 a.m., and in 2003 I didn't actually get back to my hotel room until 6:00 a.m. This meant I should plan some time Tuesday afternoon for a nap, as well as allow some time to rest on Wednesday morning.

The Oriental classes that I was skipping on Tuesday included ones taught by Momo Kadous, Farida Fahmy, Olfat (whose class was special for beginners), Mahmoud Reda, Yousry Sherif, Nermine Azzazy, and Soraya. The folkloric classes were Freiz (Saidi), Mahsoub (Ghawazee), and El Hosseiny (Semsemiya).

Preparing for the Adventure
I had mentioned to some of the others in our group that I was planning to visit the Gayer Anderson museum as a side trip, and a couple of them (Glee from San Jose and Saqra from Seattle) expressed interest in joining me. The others had not previously heard of it, but when I describe it, both thought it sounded quite appealing.  I had seen it on my 1999 visit to Egypt, and I wanted to go again.

Our first task was to procure a ride to the museum.  I inquired at the Misr Travel agency office which is inside the lobby of the Mena House hotel.  We had a difficulty at first - the person I spoke to at the agency had never heard of the Gayer Anderson museum. We had to wait for her colleague to get off the phone so she could ask her about it.  It seemed to take forever, but eventually the colleague wrapped up her phone call. A rapid conversation in Arabic ensued, and then the woman helping us gave me an accusing look and told me I should have asked to be taken to a particular mosque. I was confused.  I wanted to see the museum, not a mosque. It turns out the museum is next door to the mosque, as part of the same complex. I hadn't remembered that from my 1999 visit.

Misr Travel told me they could arrange for me to have a driver for 3 hours who would take us anywhere we wanted to go over the course of this time period.  He would take us to the museum, wait for us to explore it, and then take us anywhere else we wanted to go with whatever time we had left after that. The price for this?  Only $25 U.S.  Split among the three of us, it was an attractive fee.

While I was at it, I asked Misr Travel if they could tell me whether Lucy would be dancing at the Parisiana that night.  They recommended that I ask our driver to take us to the restaurant on our way back to the hotel after the museum and ask there ourselves. 

All three of us had opted to dress in the quasi-Muslim garb that Morocco recommends for women visiting Egypt.  We would be going to parts of Cairo that don't receive as many Western visitors, and we wanted to send a message through our attire that we should be treated respectfully.

Our driver, Yehiya Yousef El Bahhar, showed up at the expected time.  My two companions decided I should sit in the front with him, while they scurried into the back seat.  I'm not sure whether it was because they wanted to delegate the responsibility for giving the driver orders to the person who had been to Cairo before, or whether it was because they wanted to hide their eyes from frightful Cairo traffic as much as possible.  Whatever their reasons, I ended up in the front seat and our adventure began.

The Gayer Anderson Museum
Most tours of Egypt don't include the Gayer Anderson museum, which is a shame because it's actually a wonderful place for anyone who enjoys Oriental art and culture. The building itself is a beautiful 16th-century house, built in the architecture that used to be common for Muslim extended families living together.  It has separate men's quarters and women's quarters, surrounding a courtyard area for the family with a beautiful fountain (no longer operational, but still attractively sculpted). 

The women's quarters include a gallery of the type that women used to sit in to enjoy entertainment brought in for the men - a gallery where the women could sit and watch without themselves being seen.  Many of the windows to the outdoors are covered with lattice shutters that allow women to look at the world outside or allow fresh breezes to circulate without allowing the outside world to gaze upon them.

The entrance fee for the museum is quite modest - 16 Egyptian pounds, which is a bit less than $3.00 U.S.  Inside the museum, a guide takes it upon himself to lead you through whether you want to be led or not.  The expectation is that you will tip him an appropriate sum of money in exchange for his trouble at the end. In 1999 we had chartered our own guide that we took with us, and she warned us to shoo away the local guide.  Well, this time we didn't bring our own guide, so I decided to play it by ear and see if the "volunteer" was worth having.

The fellow who took us under his wing turned out to be great.  In truth, I liked him better than the guide we had chartered in 1999.  His ability to speak English, although not polished, was certainly good enough to communicate what we wanted to know about the place.  And his knowledge of the art in the museum appeared to be superior to that of the guide I brought with me in 1999.  I was happy to give him a nice tip at the end of our tour.

The architecture alone makes this museum worth visiting for those of us who wish to gain a better understanding of Arab culture and the environment in which Middle Eastern music and dance were once performed. But there's more.  It serves as a showcase for beautiful art from throughout the Muslim world.

Back when Englishman Gayer Anderson owned the place, he populated it with beautiful furniture and works of art from Turkey, Persia, Syria, and other Oriental locales.  After his death, his home and his art collection became the museum we see today. 

In most cases, the art appears in practical places.  For example, it may be painted on the top of a wooden chest, or on the doors of a wooden dresser.  There are also the intricately carved shutters on the windows, both interior and exterior. This is definitely a different approach from today's Western culture of viewing "art" as paintings or sculptures that take up space on the wall or floor without a practical use. 

The museum is several stories tall, and it offers some interesting views of Cairo from the upper floors.  As this photo shows, looking out in one direction we could see the Citadel and the Mohammed Ali mosque.  (They appear in the upper left corner of the photo, perched on the highest point in Cairo.)

Looking out in another direction, we could see nearby apartment buildings with satellite dishes for television reception on their roofs.  It's interesting to consider the contrast of old with new - a fortress built around the year 1100 visible in one direction, with 21st century satellite dishes in another.

Returning to the Hotel
We lingered much longer at the museum than originally intended.  Glee and Saqra both shared my appreciation for the art, and I enjoyed being able to explore it more leisurely than my circumstances in 1999 had allowed.  We could easily have filled another half hour or more, with the help of our knowledgeable guide, but I wanted to be sure to allow plenty of time in Cairo traffic conditions for the drive back to Mena House.  We also still needed to make the stop at the Parisiana to check on whether Lucy would be dancing that night. 

If time permitted, I also wanted to stop by a grocery store to pick up a supply of bottled water.  I was tired of paying 10 Egyptian pounds ($1.60 in U.S. money) at the Mena House for a liter-and-a-half size bottle of water.  (In the U.S., such a bottle costs 89 cents, and it's ridiculous to pay more for bottled water in Egypt than in the U.S.!)  I knew it would cost much less at a grocery store.  And one of my companions had an interest in going to a drugstore to see whether they had any Intetrix, a product that many people find helpful for "mummy tummy".

So we thanked our guide, tipped him generously, and found our driver Yehiya.  He was waiting for us precisely where he had promised to be.

En route, Yehiya found a nice little neighborhood grocery store for us, and helped us communicate what we wanted.  I bought two six-packs of liter-and-a-half sized water.  Each individual bottle cost 1 1/2 Egyptian pounds, about 25 cents U.S.  I was happy that I would no longer be at the mercy of Mena House water prices.  While I was at it, I purchased an ice cream bar.

We also found a suitable little pharmacy.  Inside, my companion found Intetrix, and I was pleasantly surprised to see one of my favorite brands of contact lens wetting solution.  I had been nervous about the fact that the bottle of solution I had brought from the U.S. was running low, so it was a relief to purchase some there that I knew would work well for me.

Yehiya also brought us as promised to the Parisiana.  He asked one of the men outside it a question in Arabic, and that man went inside to find someone else.  When another man came out, Yehiya asked him in Arabic whether Lucy would indeed be dancing that night, and we were assured she would be.  Yehiya also learned for us that the show would begin at midnight, but Lucy herself wouldn't perform until around 2:00 a.m.  We were told that the admission fee would be 180 Egyptian pounds (about $30 U.S.), which would include dinner.  This left us just enough time for Yehiya to return us to the Mena House within the 3-hour time limit. 

We had been pleased with Yehiya chauffering us through the day's adventures, so we asked him whether he would be available to take us to the Parisiana that night and return us to the hotel in the morning when the show was over.  He brightened up and said he'd be happy to.  We asked him what he would charge, and he said we could discuss it when it was over.  I tried to press him to negotiate the price in advance, but he smiled and evaded the question, insisting we would settle up when it was over.  Okay.

We returned to our rooms for a bit of rest and relaxation, to prepare our bodies for the all-nighter.  And because I have so many pictures to share from the Parisiana, I'll continue that story in a separate article!

If you are planning a trip to Cairo yourself and you would like to hire Yehiya to drive you around, feel free to drop me a private e-mail message and I'll send you his phone number.  He took good care of us and I would cheerfully recommend him.

More coming!

Have a comment? Send us a letter!
Check the "Letters to the Editor" for other possible viewpoints!

Ready for more?
more from Shira-
6-28+ -04 Ahlan Wa Sahlan Festival 2004-Intro Travel Journal by Shira
Middle Eastern dance artists and students from throughout the world attend this event to immerse themselves in instruction by leading Egyptian instructors, shop for costumes and other supplies offered by Egyptian vendors, and enjoy the gala shows featuring top Egyptian dancers. Check back for regular updates!
First Two Days
Day 3: First Look at Egyptian History
Day 4: More Egyptian Monuments and First Dance Show
Day 5: Shop-portunities and Whirling Dervishes POSTED 7-9-04
Day 6: The Festival Begins POSTED 7-17-04
Day 7: Classes and Free Time POSTED 7-17-04
Day 8: Side Trips, Part 1: Gayer Anderson Museum POSTED 7-25-04 You are here
Day 8: Side Trips, Part 2: The Parisiana 7-26-04

Day 9: The Evening Show posted 11-12-04
Day 10: Classes and the Sphinx Speaks posted 11-22-04
Day 11: Camels, Class, & Competitions posted 12-15-04

7-21-04 Leila, An American Dancer in Cairo by Catherine Barros,
She would walk into these huge ballrooms filled with thousands of people with a huge stage in the middle of the room while television cameras on cranes are taking note of everything.

7-17-04 Dancing in North Beach by Sausan
On the occasions when the door was still locked, I was often invited to drink coffee next door, where young girls made their money stripping.




ad 4 Dhy & Karen

 Gilded Serpent
 Cover page, Contents, Calendar Comics Bazaar About Us Letters to the Editor Ad Guidelines Submission Guidelines