I was recently evacuated from Cairo, where “left” is synonymous with “north,” to Paris, where the Left Bank is south of the river. And it’s not the only thing that feels turned upside-down right now. The overlapping of continuities and ruptures in my life right now is bewildering. Stepping through the streets of Paris, I find them littered with signposts to Cairo and the rest of the Arab world: the Grand Mosque is a page taken straight out of Morocco’s architectural playbook; the Pyramids Metro stop always forces a double-take. I see as many corner bistros advertising couscous as croque-monsieur.
I found a bottle of my favorite Lebanese rosé for the first time since leaving Lebanon a year ago. Every time I walk down Rue Bonaparte, all I can think of is how Napoleon’s obsession with Egypt wrote so many histories and images and representations and journeys criss-crossing these two places. My favorite macaroon is made with rosewater and my greengrocer carries ras al hanout, orange flower water, and couscous spices. In a bookshop across from a Moroccan restaurant I found a new (old) edition of a 1001 Nights in English and an exquisite volume of Goha stories translated into French. The “Cairo” label in my Gmail now has a “Paris” sub-label…and so forth. In an attempt to keep the two straight, I’ve begun creating lists of brief impressions. A few are listed below, along with some snapshots of Paris.
Cairo: a beggar with enormous sunglasses smiles ebulliently and waves at a passing army convoy
Paris: a man in a sharp three-piece black-and-pinstripe suit exits the Metro by an outdoor concert; men in all black security uniforms patrol the perimeter
Cairo: Falling asleep to the purr of military helicopters overhead; staying up and hearing gunshots to the south; waking up to news of tanks between here and there
Paris: A park overflows with a crowd that has gathered to listen to Chopin; policemen shrill their whistles, telling everyone to get off the grass
Cairo: Jets painting the sky with patriotism; the largest flag you’ve ever seen; green laser pointers
Paris: A 4 am Bastille Day rehearsal; hundreds of horses saddled with mounted police officers wearing shiny helmets clop through the streets, accompanied by bicycles and patrol cars and followed by street cleaning trucks
More images of Paris can be found here, where you can buy prints & cards.