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Ramadan in orasul care nu doarme niciodata/ Ramadan In Testosterone City

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Su Shi

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Cairo 19 - 24/07/2012

In ‘Povestea vraciului evreu’ din cele ‘O mie si una de nopti’ (care au fost scrise in Cairo, si nu in Bagdad) apare acest fragment: ‘Cel care nu a vazut Cairo, nu a cunoscut lumea: pamantul ei e de aur, Nilul ei minunat; femeile ei sunt ingeri cu ochi ca taciunele; casele ei sunt palate; iar aerul ei e dulce si mai parfumat ca aloea, intru placerea inimii sale. Si cum ar putea fi altminteri, cand Cairo este Muma intregii Lumi?’

Astazi, ca in toate metropolele, poluarea e extrema, si aerul capitalei egiptene nu mai e asa dulce si parfumat, dar palatele si moscheile si-au pastrat gloria medievala. Fertila delta a Nilul inca hraneste intreaga natiune. Femeile insa nu stim cat de frumoase mai sunt: am vazut putine, si majoritatea conservator investmantate. Pentru ca in venele acestui oras care nu doarme niciodata, curge testosteron. Barbatii fac legea, atat in pietele medievale, cat si in cladirile de birouri moderne, in desertul cu piramide, si in strazile nebunesc de aglomerate, unde masini vechi si carute trase de magarusi se lupta pentru fiecare centimetru cu alte milioane de pietoni, si merg mai departe. 

‘The Tale of the Jewish Physician’ from the ‘Thousand and One Arabian Nights’ (now believed by scholars to have been written by a Cairene in the late medieval period) contains this text: “He who hath not seen Cairo hath not seen the world: her soil is gold, her Nile is a marvel; her women are like the black-eyed hours of Paradise; her houses are palaces; and her air is soft, more odorous than aloes-wood, rejoicing the heart. And how can Cairo be otherwise when she is the Mother of the World?”.

These days, as in most mega cities of the world, pollution is rampant, and that endemic haze is not so soft, but there are still palaces and superb mosques scattered throughout. The Nile still feeds the nation across a lush valley. The women, though, are less conspicuous than the old thousand and one stories would suggest, so we cannot vouch they are still as angelic. This is testosterone city, a sprawling mix of museums and pyramids, skyscrapers and medieval gates, of crowded streets with few precious traffic lights and a million bumpers, where car horns never stop, where old cars, bursting buses, donkey carts and pedestrians intermingle in astonishing patterns, and yet keep moving. 

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Cairo este cel mai mare oras din Africa, si din intreaga lume araba. Am avut ocazia sa ajungem in prima zi a Ramadamului, intr-o vineri. Capitala culturala si spirituala a natiunilor arabe sarbatorea cu entuziasm si festinuri publice, mesele si covoarele fiind asternute chiar in strada si in piete. De la 7 seara, la 3 dimineata, am avut prijelul sa cunoastem putin ospitalitatea egipteana.

Cairo is the largest city in Africa, and in the entire Arab world. Symbolically enough, we had arrived here on the first day of Ramadan, a Friday. It was special to see the immense city in festive mood, with all Cairenes celebrating the holy month. Communal tables are laid out in the street from 7 p.m. till 3 a.m. It is a wonderful opportunity to finally experience some egyptian hospitality. 

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Ia apus, oamenii incep sa umple strazile si pietele pentru a manca si face cumparaturile festive impreuna

When sun sets, people start flooding the streets and public squares to enjoy the feast and some shopping.  

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Apoi am strabatut marile bulevarde. Cladirile cu arhitectura franceza de sec. XIX sau de factura stalinista nu sunt in stare grozava, dar interventiile contemporane au fost tinute departe de tesutul vechi, si asta a pastrat atmosfera care in Bucuresti s-a pierdut in ultimele doua decenii. Este greu sa nu te indragostesti de acest oras, dar e greu si sa te simti in largul tau.

We walked the the grand avenues lined with superb French and stalinist architecture. It is hard not to fall in love with this city. I was also difficult to be at ease there.

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Egiptenilor le place sa ureze strainilor ‘Bun venit!’ (sau “Bine ai venit in Alaska!’). Dar in orasul asta care pare pe pastile, crede-ma, nu esti tocmai ‘bine-venit’. Nervii sunt intinsi, totul se face in graba, galceava incepe din nimic. Oricat de politicos ai refuza oferta constanta de a cumpara ceva, la un moment dat tot vei scoate din sarite un egiptean. In istorica piata Tahrir, unde acum un an pornise Primavara Araba, am incercat sa ne imaginam cat de intense au fost evenimentele, dat fiind temperamentul egiptean atat de volatil. Urmele revolutiei persista, si in fiecare vineri sunt organziate demonstratii care o evoca. 

Egyptians love to say ‘Welcome!’ (or ‘Welcome to Alaska!), excited by the sight of strangers. But this is a city on speed, and welcome, my brother, sometimes you’re not. Sprits are tense, speeds are high and tempers easily lost. As politely as you may refuse the countless offers for stuff you don’t want, you are bound to make a few egyptians mad. In the historic Tahrir Square, we tried to imagine how these temperamental people focused their intensity to start the still bubbling Arab Spring. The revolution is weekly reenacted during friday gatherings, and signs of revolt are visible everywhere.

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Am explorat labiritul de pravalii si moschei din marele bazar Khan el-Khalili, care in trecut domina intr-atat comertul mondial, incat Columb a pornit in cautarea unor rute de trasnport alternative, astfel ajungand sa descopere Lumea Noua.

We explored the underbelly of the bazaar of Khan el-Khalili, a market that once gained such a stranglehold over world trade, that Columbus had to seek alternative routes, eventually discovering the new world.

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Chinezismele au cucerite deja si acest bastion al comertului medieval

Chinese goods have conquered even this age old market.

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Chiar si traditionala supa de linte e ambalata in stil fast-food, in recipiente chinezesti

Even lentil soup is sold in fast-food packaging branded in the far east

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E uimitor ce poti gasi in aleile laturalnice

It’s astonishing what can be found on the back allies: a diminutive shop with any imaginable trinket for PCs 

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Oazele masivului Cairo islamic sunt moscheile si scolile coranice, intre care Al Ahzar este cea mai veche, de aici si din lume, functionand fara intrerupere din 970 e.n. Studenti din toata lumea vin aici.

The oasis of the massive Islamic Cairo are its mosques, like Al Ahzar, world’s oldest university, built in AD 970. Students still come here from all Islamic world.

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Dar si in madrasele recent construite cu la fel de mult fast

Like they do in the more recent madrases

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Cairo fiind arhetipul orasului cosmopolit, in care multele culturi ale lumii se suprapun multelor sale varste, cea mai veche parte a sa este, surprinzator, nu musulmana, ci crestina. Bisericile coptice au fost construite inainte de venirea arabilor, dar ctitorii lor nu au aratat prea multa piosenie fata de relicvele trecutului, si ridicand altarele peste zidurile stravechiului Babilon. 

Apoi sunt Piramidele. Cand istorii Greciei antice scriau despre ele, acestea aveau deja peste 2000 de ani. Cairo le-a absorbit demult in nebuneasca sa expansiune care a inghitit Ghiza, Memphis si Dashur. Dar ca sa le vedem, trebuia sa induram, ca si Mark Twain in 1866, ‘chinuri de nedescris din pricina foamei de bacsis care licareste in ochi arabi’. Odata invinse armata de negustori, agresivitatea si cadourile false, ajungeam, cu genunchii tremurand, in fata a cinci milenii de istorie a geniului uman.

Cairo being the archetypal melting pot where the many cultures of the world mix with the many ages of the world, its oldest past is not islamic, but christian. The Coptic churches predate the arrival of arabs, but their founders decided to build them on top of the ancient fortress of Babylon. 

Then there are those pyramids. When the Ancient Greek civilization was at its peak, they were already 2000 years old. The sprawling Cairo has long swallowed them, along with entire Giza. But to see the pyramids, we had to endure our share of ‘torture that no pen can describe from the hungry appeals for baksheesh that gleamed from Arab eyes’. Just like Mark Twain, who wrote these line on his 1866 visit. Once past the aggressive touts and fake ‘gifts’, we could marvel, knees shaking, at five millennia of human genius.

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Piramida lui Kheops, cea mai mare dintre piramide, ultimele minuni ale lumii antice, inca in picioare

The pyramid of Kheops, the largest of the last seven wonders of the ancient world still standing

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Odinioara piramidele erau placate integral, stralucind ca niste cristale in desert

Limestone once covered both the three large and the six small (women) pyramids, making them glisten like crystals in the desert

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Piramida lui Micerinus poarta ranile incercarii esuate a unui sultan din sec al XII-lea sa o demoleze

The pyramid of Mycerinus (Menkaure) bares the evidence of a failed 12th century attempt to dismantle it

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Sfinxul sau Abu al-Hol (in araba ‘tatal terorii’) a fost decupat din munte. E impresionant, dar ni-l imaginam cumva mai ‘mare’, si asta e de parca ti-ai intalni idolul in carne si oase si ai fi cumva… dezamagit… 

The Sphinx or Abu al-Hol (the ‘father of terror’ in arab) was actually carved out of bedrock. It’s like meeting your idol in the flesh, impressive, but somehow smaller than we had imagined.  

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Sangele faraonilor a fost drastic diluat in venele egiptenilor. Cea mai dramatica transformare se datoreaza nu generatiilor de libieni, persani, greci si romani, ci cavaleriei de 4000 de arabi, care a cucerit tara in 640 e.n. Negutatori straluciti, egiptenii moderni adora sa faca ceea ce stiu mai bine: sa vanda. Dar e destul de greu sa-ti pastrezi intacte emotia si calmul in fata Piramidelor, cand atatia oameni te trag de maneca si iti propun toate nimicurile, plimbari in caleasca sau pe camila. Ne-am impiedicat peste tot de suveniruri care nu prea respecta simbolismul unic al locului si am asistat perplecsi la biciuirea isterica a animalelor de catre oameni care au pierdut respectul pentru fiinta care le castiga painea. 

In egyptian veins, Pharaonic blood has been drastically diluted. The most dramatic transformation was not the merit of generations of Libyans, Persians, Greek and Romans, but of the 4000 Arab horsemen who conquered the country in AD 640. Masters of trade, modern egyptians love to do what they do best: sell. But it is difficult to enjoy the site, with vendors of all description tugging persistently at our sleeve, offering camel rides, caleche tours and whatnot. Tourist junk is displayed all over ancient rock and animals are hysterically whipped by men who have forgotten to respect the creature that feeds them.  

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Indiferente la spectacolul comercial, Piramidele raman, desi proiectate si construite de atat de imperfectii oameni, perfecte. 

In the middle of change, the Pyramids are still standing, virtually unchanged and perfect, even if designed and built by imperfect humans.

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