Friday, March 28, 2008

Conquering Cairo

After four-thousand miles, hundreds of questionable-quality kebabs, scores of hostel rooms where cleaning was a biennial affair, dozens of buses blaring Islamic dirges day and night, four problematic encounters with military and police forces, three forceful ejections from means of transportation in the backstreets of nowhere, two direct experiences of fervent political uprisings, and one overly-intimate session with an Arab ‘masseur’ (Josh is yet to reveal the full traumatic details), the journey is at an end. Cairo – whose name in Arabic translates as ‘The Conqueror’ – has been occupied in triumph by these weary and quite frankly filthy pair of travellers, and thus our adventures draw to a close.

It is not for me to cast a nostalgic eye back over the past three months: the thrills, the chaos and the moments (of worrying frequency) of pure madness. I’ll leave that to the as yet unseen photos which will grace our final blog post. But I will take a nauseatingly self-satisfied minute to reflect on my new apartment in downtown Cairo, from the balcony of which I am writing now.

Finding a long-term place to live in this city requires a heady mix of excessive patience, a high tolerance threshold for sweet tea, and a gracious slice of divine intervention. One can, in theory, contact ‘simsars’ – local rent brokers who maintain lists of available accommodation – in order to track down a flat. Light-years ahead of their corporate European counterparts, Cairo’s simsars are very much advocates of the paperless economy, in the sense that many of them appear to have never set eyes on a leaf of paper, never mind utilised one for business purposes. A typical encounter with a simsar, of which I have enjoyed many in recent days, follows a fairly predictable path. One turns up in a promising neighbourhood and begins asking the ‘bawaabs’ (doormen) of each building if they know of any free apartments. This immediately prompts a long and animated discussion in colloquial Arabic between the doormen, the local grocery store owner, a passing delivery-man and, invariably, a couple of young boys who appear to be hanging around for the fun of it all, all punctuated with violent gesticulations. At some well-defined but utterly random moment, obvious to all present except yourself, the whole coterie will lapse into silence as everyone takes the opportunity to earnestly smoke a cigarette. No explanation as to the substance of the previous conversation, or indeed the availability of accommodation in the area, is offered at any point. At this juncture one of the young boys will fetch some tea for you and lead you to a different group of doormen where your plight will be explained. This new set of characters will nod sympathetically, call over the local grocery-store owner, and start the whole charade again. This will be repeated several times.

At some point in proceedings, usually after about the eighth or ninth group of bawaabs and the eighth or ninth cup of tea, you will be given the name of a local simsar who might just be able to help. Enquiries as to the whereabouts of this simsar are met with incredulous laughter, as he is inevitably to be found sitting on his own in the corner of the local coffeeshop, puffing away on a shisha pipe. He will solemnly order you a cup of tea before handing you his business card and ordering you to call him tomorrow. The business card will have four numbers on it. These will all be in Arabic. All of them will be defunct.

If you are ever lucky enough to be actually shown the inside of an apartment, the fun really gets going. Bawaabs are experts at glossing over the flaws of their building and promoting its charms. Before you have even had a chance to look at the place, taps will be eagerly turned to prove they work (they nearly always don’t), satellite TV will be switched on and all 400 channels will be displayed one by one, and the four pieces of rusting metal balanced precariously in the corner of the bathroom will be optimistically pointed out to you as the washing machine. If the landlord is present, he will aggressively try and dissuade you from discovering the apartment’s negative features. In one flat I checked out, which was ‘in need of a bit of a clean’ according to the bawaab (a master of understatement), the owner actually leapt across the room to physically prevent me from opening the fridge door.

Yet despite its potential to be soul-destroying, house-hunting here actually gives you a fascinating insight into Cairene life and showcases a lot of what is most compelling about this pulsating metropolis. Social networks are incredibly strong and informal – everyone knows everyone else, and everything is conducted through word of mouth. Cairenes love spending time together and have a rich sense of humour, and watching them draw together to help you discover a place to live gives a flavour of how intensely personal and friendly this urban world of 20 million people can be. The process is fraught with difficulties but amongst the trials and tribulations, everyone is always laughing, always smoking, always drinking yet more tea and, overall, making you – a foreigner – feel very welcome. Once I’d finally found somewhere and completed the tortuous lease negotiations with the landlady, I realised that I’d enjoyed the whole thing far more than I thought I had at the time.

And the flat itself? It sits at the end of a bustling backstreet which leads down to the ruins of an old palace. In the shadows of this crumbling edifice are a scattering of coffee shops where old men smoke nargilehs and play backgammon. The building around the apartment has three entrances and three elevators, only one of which is working at any given time (which particular one changes by the hour, leading to a merry exchange of pleasantries between bemused neighbours constantly walking in and out of each entrance in confusion). The flat itself is resplendent in kitsch furniture and has a consistent lurid/dirty yellow scheme throughout. The balcony looks out through the back of a pair of giant metal advertising hoardings onto the Nile. The whole set-up is, in other words, wonderfully beautiful and anarchic, and therefore a fitting conclusion to the last three months.


Anonymous said...

who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes hallucinating Arkan-
sas and Blake-light tragedy among the scholars of war,
who were expelled from the academies for crazy & publishing obscene odes
on the windows of the skull,
who cowered in unshaven rooms in underwear, burning their money in
wastebaskets and listening to the Terror through the wall,
who got busted in their pubic beards returning through Laredo with a belt
of marijuana for New York,
who ate fire in paint hotels or drank turpentine in Paradise Alley, death, or
purgatoried their torsos night after night
with dreams, with drugs, with waking nightmares, alcohol and cock and
endless balls,
incomparable blind streets of shuddering cloud and lightning in the mind
leaping toward poles of Canada & Paterson, illuminating all the mo-
tionless world of Time between,
Peyote solidities of halls, backyard green tree cemetery dawns, wine drunk-
enness over the rooftops, storefront boroughs of teahead joyride neon
blinking traffic light, sun and moon and tree vibrations in the roaring
winter dusks of Brooklyn, ashcan rantings and kind king light of
who chained themselves to subways for the endless ride from Battery to holy
Bronx on benzedrine until the noise of wheels and children brought
them down shuddering mouth-wracked and battered bleak of brain
all drained of brilliance in the drear light of Zoo,
who sank all night in submarine light of Bickford's floated out and sat
through the stale beer afternoon in desolate Fugazzi's, listening to the
crack of doom on the hydrogen jukebox,
who talked continuously seventy hours from park to pad to bar to Bellevue
to museum to the Brooklyn Bridge,
a lost battalion of platonic conversationalists jumping down the stoops off fire
escapes off windowsills of Empire State out of the moon,
yacketayakking screaming vomiting whispering facts and memories and
anecdotes and eyeball kicks and shocks of hospitals and jails and wars,
whole intellects disgorged in total recall for seven days and nights with
brilliant eyes, meat for the Synagogue cast on the pavement,
who vanished into nowhere Zen New Jersey leaving a trail of ambiguous
picture postcards of Atlantic City Hall,
suffering Eastern sweats and Tangerian bone-grindings and migraines of
China under junk-withdrawal in Newark's bleak furnished room,
who wandered around and around at midnight in the railroad yard wonder-
ing where to go, and went, leaving no broken hearts,
who lit cigarettes in boxcars boxcars boxcars racketing through snow toward
lonesome farms in grandfather night,
who studied Plotinus Poe St. John of the Cross telepathy and bop kabbalah
because the cosmos instinctively vibrated at their feet in Kansas,
who loned it through the streets of Idaho seeking visionary indian angels
who were visionary indian angels,
who thought they were only mad when Baltimore gleamed in supernatural
who jumped in limousines with the Chinaman of Oklahoma on the impulse
of winter midnight streetlight smalltown rain,
who lounged hungry and lonesome through Houston seeking jazz or sex or
soup, and followed the brilliant Spaniard to converse about America
and Eternity, a hopeless task, and so took ship to Africa,
who disappeared into the volcanoes of Mexico leaving behind nothing but
the shadow of dungarees and the lava and ash of poetry scattered in
fireplace Chicago,
who reappeared on the West Coast investigating the FBI in beards and shorts
with big pacifist eyes sexy in their dark skin passing out incompre-
hensible leaflets,
who burned cigarette holes in their arms protesting the narcotic tobacco haze
of Capitalism,
who distributed Supercommunist pamphlets in Union Square weeping and
undressing while the sirens of Los Alamos wailed them down, and
wailed down Wall, and the Staten Island ferry also wailed,
who broke down crying in white gymnasiums naked and trembling before
the machinery of other skeletons,
who bit detectives in the neck and shrieked with delight in policecars for
committing no crime but their own wild cooking pederasty and
who howled on their knees in the subway and were dragged off the roof
waving genitals and manuscripts,
who let themselves be fucked in the ass by saintly motorcyclists, and
screamed with joy,
who blew and were blown by those human seraphim, the sailors, caresses of
Atlantic and Caribbean love,
who balled in the morning in the evenings in rosegardens and the grass of
public parks and cemeteries scattering their semen freely to whom-
ever come who may,
who hiccuped endlessly trying to giggle but wound up with a sob behind
a partition in a Turkish Bath when the blond & naked angel came to
pierce them with a sword,
who lost their loveboys to the three old shrews of fate the one eyed shrew
of the heterosexual dollar the one eyed shrew that winks out of the
womb and the one eyed shrew that does nothing but sit on her ass
and snip the intellectual golden threads of the craftsman's loom.
who copulated ecstatic and insatiate with a bottle of beer a sweetheart a
package of cigarettes a candle and fell off the bed, and continued
along the floor and down the hall and ended fainting on the wall with
a vision of ultimate cunt and come eluding the last gyzym of con-
who sweetened the snatches of a million girls trembling in the sunset, and
were red eyed in the morning but prepared to sweeten the snatch of
the sunrise, flashing buttocks under barns and naked in the lake,
who went out whoring through Colorado in myriad stolen night-cars, N.C.,
secret hero of these poems, cocksman and Adonis of Denver--joy to
the memory of his innumerable lays of girls in empty lots & diner
backyards, moviehouses' rickety rows, on mountaintops in caves or
with gaunt waitresses in familiar roadside lonely petticoat upliftings
& especially secret gas-station solipsisms of johns, & hometown alleys
who faded out in vast sordid movies, were shifted in dreams, woke on a
sudden Manhattan, and picked themselves up out of basements hung-
over with heartless Tokay and horrors of Third Avenue iron dreams
& stumbled to unemployment offices,
who walked all night with their shoes full of blood on the snowbank docks
waiting for a door in the East River to open to a room full of steam-
heat and opium,
who created great suicidal dramas on the apartment cliff-banks of the Hud-
son under the wartime blue floodlight of the moon & their heads shall
be crowned with laurel in oblivion,
who ate the lamb stew of the imagination or digested the crab at the muddy
bottom of the rivers of Bowery,
who wept at the romance of the streets with their pushcarts full of onions
and bad music,
who sat in boxes breathing in the darkness under the bridge, and rose up to
build harpsichords in their lofts,

who coughed on the sixth floor of Harlem crowned with flame under the
tubercular sky surrounded by orange crates of theology,
who scribbled all night rocking and rolling over lofty incantations which in
the yellow morning were stanzas of gibberish,
who cooked rotten animals lung heart feet tail borsht & tortillas dreaming
of the pure vegetable kingdom,
who plunged themselves under meat trucks looking for an egg,
who threw their watches off the roof to cast their ballot for Eternity outside
of Time, & alarm clocks fell on their heads every day for the next
who cut their wrists three times successively unsuccessfully, gave up and
were forced to open antique stores where they thought they were
growing old and cried,
who were burned alive in their innocent flannel suits on Madison Avenue
amid blasts of leaden verse & the tanked-up clatter of the iron regi-
ments of fashion & the nitroglycerine shrieks of the fairies of advertis-
ing & the mustard gas of sinister intelligent editors, or were run down
by the drunken taxicabs of Absolute Reality,
who jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge this actually happened and walked
away unknown and forgotten into the ghostly daze of Chinatown
soup alleyways & firetrucks, not even one free beer,
who sang out of their windows in despair, fell out of the subway window,
jumped in the filthy Passaic, leaped on negroes, cried all over the
street, danced on broken wineglasses barefoot smashed phonograph
records of nostalgic European 1930s German jazz finished the whis-
key and threw up groaning into the bloody toilet, moans in their ears
and the blast of colossal steamwhistles,
who barreled down the highways of the past journeying to the each other's
hotrod-Golgotha jail-solitude watch or Birmingham jazz incarnation,
who drove crosscountry seventytwo hours to find out if I had a vision or you
had a vision or he had a vision to find out Eternity,
who journeyed to Denver, who died in Denver, who came back to Denver
& waited in vain, who watched over Denver & brooded & loned in
Denver and finally went away to find out the Time, & now Denver
is lonesome for her heroes,
who fell on their knees in hopeless cathedrals praying for each other's salva-
tion and light and breasts, until the soul illuminated its hair for a
who crashed through their minds in jail waiting for impossible criminals
with golden heads and the charm of reality in their hearts who sang
sweet blues to Alcatraz,
who retired to Mexico to cultivate a habit, or Rocky Mount to tender Buddha
or Tangiers to boys or Southern Pacific to the black locomotive or
Harvard to Narcissus to Woodlawn to the daisychain or grave,
who demanded sanity trials accusing the radio of hypnotism & were left with
their insanity & their hands & a hung jury,
who threw potato salad at CCNY lecturers on Dadaism and subsequently
presented themselves on the granite steps of the madhouse with
shaven heads and harlequin speech of suicide, demanding instanta-
neous lobotomy,
and who were given instead the concrete void of insulin Metrazol electricity
hydrotherapy psychotherapy occupational therapy pingpong & am-
who in humorless protest overturned only one symbolic pingpong table,
resting briefly in catatonia,
returning years later truly bald except for a wig of blood, and tears and
fingers, to the visible madman doom of the wards of the madtowns
of the East,
Pilgrim State's Rockland's and Greystone's foetid halls, bickering with the
echoes of the soul, rocking and rolling in the midnight solitude-bench
dolmen-realms of love, dream of life a nightmare, bodies turned to
stone as heavy as the moon,
with mother finally ******, and the last fantastic book flung out of the
tenement window, and the last door closed at 4 a.m. and the last
telephone slammed at the wall in reply and the last furnished room
emptied down to the last piece of mental furniture, a yellow paper
rose twisted on a wire hanger in the closet, and even that imaginary,
nothing but a hopeful little bit of hallucination--
ah, Carl, while you are not safe I am not safe, and now you're really in the
total animal soup of time--
and who therefore ran through the icy streets obsessed with a sudden flash
of the alchemy of the use of the ellipse the catalog the meter & the
vibrating plane,
who dreamt and made incarnate gaps in Time & Space through images
juxtaposed, and trapped the archangel of the soul between 2 visual
images and joined the elemental verbs and set the noun and dash of
consciousness together jumping with sensation of Pater Omnipotens
Aeterna Deus
to recreate the syntax and measure of poor human prose and stand before
you speechless and intelligent and shaking with shame, rejected yet
confessing out the soul to conform to the rhythm of thought in his
naked and endless head,
the madman bum and angel beat in Time, unknown, yet putting down here
what might be left to say in time come after death,
and rose reincarnate in the ghostly clothes of jazz in the goldhorn shadow
of the band and blew the suffering of America's naked mind for love
into an eli eli lamma lamma sabacthani saxophone cry that shivered
the cities down to the last radio
with the absolute heart of the poem of life butchered out of their own bodies
good to eat a thousand years.


What sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed open their skulls and ate up
their brains and imagination?
Moloch! Solitude! Filth! Ugliness! Ashcans and unobtainable dollars! Chil-
dren screaming under the stairways! Boys sobbing in armies! Old
men weeping in the parks!
Moloch! Moloch! Nightmare of Moloch! Moloch the loveless! Mental Mo-
loch! Moloch the heavy judger of men!
Moloch the incomprehensible prison! Moloch the crossbone soulless jail-
house and Congress of sorrows! Moloch whose buildings are judg-
ment! Moloch the vast stone of war! Moloch the stunned govern-
Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose blood is running
money! Moloch whose fingers are ten armies! Moloch whose breast
is a cannibal dynamo! Moloch whose ear is a smoking tomb!
Moloch whose eyes are a thousand blind windows! Moloch whose skyscrap-
ers stand in the long streets like endless Jehovahs! Moloch whose
factories dream and croak in the fog! Moloch whose smokestacks and
antennae crown the cities!
Moloch whose love is endless oil and stone! Moloch whose soul is electricity
and banks! Moloch whose poverty is the specter of genius! Moloch
whose fate is a cloud of sexless hydrogen! Moloch whose name is the
Moloch in whom I sit lonely! Moloch in whom I dream Angels! Crazy in
Moloch! Cocksucker in Moloch! Lacklove and manless in Moloch!
Moloch who entered my soul early! Moloch in whom I am a consciousness
without a body! Moloch who frightened me out of my natural ec-
stasy! Moloch whom I abandon! Wake up in Moloch! Light stream-
ing out of the sky!
Moloch! Moloch! Robot apartments! invisible suburbs! skeleton treasuries!
blind capitals! demonic industries! spectral nations! invincible mad houses
granite cocks! monstrous bombs!
They broke their backs lifting Moloch to Heaven! Pavements, trees, radios,
tons! lifting the city to Heaven which exists and is everywhere about us!
Visions! omens! hallucinations! miracles! ecstasies! gone down the American
Dreams! adorations! illuminations! religions! the whole boatload of sensitive
Breakthroughs! over the river! flips and crucifixions! gone down the flood!
Highs! Epiphanies! Despairs! Ten years' animal screams and suicides!
Minds! New loves! Mad generation! down on the rocks of Time!
Real holy laughter in the river! They saw it all! the wild eyes! the holy yells!
They bade farewell! They jumped off the roofl to solitude! waving! carrying
flowers! Down to the river! into the street!

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