November 18th, 2012

art: thé

Words by candlelight

Nightfall comes early in Egypt in winter, maybe not as early as Denmark, dear frigg, but I'm not used to finishing my afternoon tea just as the sun sets (4:57 p.m.).

I love sunset. I feel filled--re-centered and humbled--when I watch the sun sink and the day's steady blue canopy become what the Sprout calls a "rainbow sky." Perhaps, our view here leaves a bit to be desired (and is apparently going to get "worse" because workers are drilling holes and placing scaffolding on the building across the street from our apartment), but it is still better than some views I've had in recent years.

And for now, it is exotic. There is a moment when the streets are almost quiet and all the movement seems to be happening in the sky. 

Pigeons flock, whirling and swirling in a sardine-school mass, in communion with one another and the sky, reveling in their last minutes of freedom for the day before roosting in caged safety. Pied crows perch atop satellite dishes, spying (on whom, for whom?), their black and gray plumage providing camouflage against the polluted sky.  Swallows, in singles and threes, swoop and glide, cutting the air above the flamboyant trees like scissor-tailed kites without strings. Beneath the crescent moon, tiny bats flit and flicker, now bird-like, now butterfly.

The pigeons are made silent by distance. The crows must crow (poor spies, they!). The swallows seem to whistle, so fast they whirr past.  Only the bats, even with their erratic, frenetic flapping, give me a sense of soundlessness. I see them, but they still convey stealth. Maybe their radars have nothing to do with echolocation but are, in fact, emitting brainwashing-waves that say, "You see me, but you doubt your eyes; you listen, but you can't hear the wings you don't believe are there."

Below the silent, wing-filled sky, distant motors rumble, growl, click, and chatter; far-off horns beep, pleep, honk, toot, screech, shriek, and wail.*  Rising out of that street grumble, tickling that rainbow sky, a minaret. Framed by neon green lights, a loudspeaker, or four.

There is a crackle, a snap. A muezzin, his lungs seconded by a poorly-equalized sound system, belts out the azan, and like ripples in a pool, spreading to the horizon, the call to prayer is repeated a hundred, nay, a thousand times over. But no, ripples is not a good analogy, for it implies similarity and a certain regularity and harmony. There is nothing of that in the competing calls filling Cairo's air. More accurate to think of the calls as versions of the same image reflected in a room of broken funhouse mirrors.  They all share a common root.  You can just discern it. If you plug your ears and squint.

* I could say, like snowflakes, no two horns are alike. But that would be an exaggeration. There is, however, an astounding gamut of horn-sounds. The klaxon is something the Egyptians seem to take great joy in customizing.  They aren't too big on "musical" sounds, though. The scarier and more "urgent" (ambulance-imitating horn, anyone, or patrol-car-in-hot-pursuit?), the better.