Wednesday 9 January 2013

Picture Post 14 - Cafe al Fishawy Cairo

Cairo by Yekkes

Back in March last year, I posted a piece called "Cairo, looking for a lost city" where I noted the distant passing of a once cosmopolitan city and the traces of a fascinating past that could still be found. I mentioned Groppi's patisserie, the Hashamayim synagogue on Adley Street, the great department stores of Ades and Cicurel and the departed and in some cases driven out  Jewish, French, Greek and Italian communities. Since writing that piece, Egypt, like several other north African countries has experienced the so called "Arab Spring". Well the Spring has passed through another couple of seasons now and is still not fully played out, but it is clear that the country is changing again and I wonder how many of the remnants I sought out will survive this new world.

The picture above is a scene in El-Fishawy's cafe, located in the Khan al-Khalili in the Islamic quarter of the old city. I spent a very happy hour in this cafe - a haunt of the great departed Egyptian writer and Nobel Prize Winner, Naguib Mahfouz.  As well as being a regular here, Mahfouz used the cafe as a backdrop for scenes in a number of his books and the corner that he allegedly sat in has been "preserved" for visitors like me who wanted to find the Cairo that he wrote about. Mahfouz is said to have written some of the scenes from his famous Cairo Trilogy here and an entry in the visitors book reads "Loving greetings I present to my beloved home al-Fishaway. God grant it and its owners long life, fame and happiness. Your loyal son, Nagib Mahfouz. December 1982". Other famous customers have included poet Ahmad Rami who wrote songs for the iconic Egyptian singer Umm Kalthum whilst the former King Farouk was also a visitor.

I liked al-Fishawy's because it was possible to find locals, both men and women, drinking mint tea or coffee served in an Arab kanakah, a long fluted copper vessel delivered with a little supply of sugar.  You can also enjoy sweet pastries here and a local drink called sahlab made with wheat and topped with nuts and raisins. Shishas are also available but this habit has never appealed to me. Most of all I like the feeling of the history of the place which began as a place where coffee was served about 250 years ago and the thought of the many stories played out and written down here. I hope al Fishawy has a place in the new Cairo.

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