September 28, 2007
Jack and I belong to the British Community Association, a British ex-pat club. It is a relatively small club where we go to escape the (often incestuous) tendrils of AUC as our only social outlet. The staff at the club are a marvelous group of Egyptians. Somehow they manage to put up with a lot of colonialist tendencies from the club members with great elan.
We really enjoy the club, the staff, the atmosphere. Last weekend, we were informed that one of the barmen was getting married. “Mabruk” (congratulations) we told him. The next time we saw him was on Monday, when he asked Jack if we would come to the wedding. So on Monday we were invited to a Thursday wedding. This is normal here. Wedding invitations are frequently oral, and, even more frequently, extended up until mere hours before the ceremony.
So…Jack and I had to scramble to find appropriate attire for a wedding! Jack found a shop with summer suits on sale, and got two (yes, two) beautiful new suits! I scrounged in my closet and made due with what I had – off-white linen dress and Egyptian blazer. I would have LOVED to find something new, however the week was incredibly busy and I had no time to shop.
Last night was the wedding. We met up with some others at the club, and went to Heliopolis (where the church was) from there. Apparently in the “good” Coptic churches weddings are scheduled practically on top of each other. Our friend’s wedding was at 8pm. We arrived at 7:30pm, and there was a wedding in progress. We walked into the church and watched the end of that wedding.
While wedding A was going on, minions were scurrying around in the aisles, setting up for the next wedding! New arbors were being erected, flowers were being set out, runners prepared. As *soon* as wedding A finished, wedding B decorations were hurriedly put into place and wedding B began! It was a model of time-efficiency that I have rarely experienced in Egypt!
Our friend’s wedding was beautiful. Very Egyptian. Children were running around in the church, going up to the altar/wedding party to join in and pose for pictures. The bride and groom were smiling and laughing about the whole thing. We understood NONE of the service, since it was Coptic AND in Arabic. The bride and groom were “sermoned to” and then put on ceremonial capes and crowns (I didn’t get a crown for my wedding! pout). The bridesmaid was ululating during the service, followed by most of the women in attendance (including myself – on at least one occasion!)
After the service, everyone was hustled out into a courtyard for the receiving line and pictures while the next wedding was set up and begun. Our friend seemed truly happy that we had come. We had a good time – it was a VERY different experience than any other wedding I’ve been to.
**Interesting side note – An Egyptian friend had once commented to us that if we went to an Egyptian wedding, the photographers and videographers (‘cuz they are ALL filmed) would focus in on the khawagas – foreigners. It was VERY true. In the “other” wedding that we saw, before our friends’, the videographer was panning the crowd and got a good ZOOM in on Jack before continuing the pan. There were a number of khawaga at our friend’s service, and we ALL got a bunch of face time on the film, as well as being photographed with the bride and groom in the receiving line.**
September 22, 2007
So, the other day, I headed out in the morning as I always do. Walked to Abou el Feda Street to get a taxi to work. I had just reached the street when I saw a car approaching – black car, white accents, drivers window down. There are a million of them in Cairo. As usual, I hollered out my destination in the general direction of the open drivers window. He slowed down and pulled to the side of the street. Excellent! First taxi! I hopped in, told him where I needed to go and we were off.
About 3/4 of the way to the university, I woke up enough to look at the car. Nice car, interior is in good shape, I thought, “Maybe I should get this guy’s card so I can use him on other occasions.” As I was inspecting the car, I noticed (or rather DIDN’T notice) the meter. In Cairo, all taxis have to HAVE meters. No-one but the yellow cabs actually USE the meters, but to be a taxi, you must have one in the car (preferably attached, in some manner, to the car). This car did not have a meter that I could see from my vantage point. Mish mushkela – some cars have them in the glove box (although usually visible) or in the console between the two front seats (again, usually visible).
I was not worried. He pulled up to the place in front of the university that I asked him to, I got out of the car, and handed the usual fare thru the open passenger side window. He took it and started to pull away. That’s when I notice it. The car did not have the usual “CairoTaxi” or “GizaTaxi” painted on the door, nor did it have a taxi license plate!
Apparently I got a lift from a private car – and paid him!
LOL Only in Cairo.
September 21, 2007
Saturday: 125 and 250 practice and 2nd qualifier, MotoGP qualifier
After the freezing rain of Friday, even the clear skies Saturday morning did not convince us. We packed up the cameras, lenses, fleeces AND rain shells. Hell, the VIP Village suite would be open, so we could leave whatever we didn’t need there!
We had breakfast in the suite, met a fellow racing fan/photo geek and exchanged comments on where to get good pictures. The VIP Village had a “planned” pitwalk just around lunch time, so we got all the gear together and went to find good vantage points.
In trying to find our way to a recommended spot, we took a wrong turn. We ended up at a security gate which led to the outer access ring road around the track. There were all sorts of signs about who had access, so we ASSumed we would be turned back, but “ya never know until ya try!” Jack and I bluffed our way onto the outer ring access road for the track! The security guy never even waited for us to reach the fence. He opened the gate and we went thru. Photographers access!!! Life can be soooooo good sometimes.
We’d only planned for a short excursion to take photos during the practices, but with photographers access to the service roads, we spent the WHOLE morning shooting pictures. It was a really good thing that we both had 4GIG cards in the cameras! We both shot a TON of pics.
September 15, 2007
Friday: 125 and 250 first qualifying sessions, GP free practice
Most spectators do not go to the track on Friday. Few of the vendors are open, none of the hospitality suites are open, VIP Village is not open, but the pits are relatively empty, and the bikes are out. We almost ALWAYS attempt to go on Friday.
Being our first visit to the Brno circuit, we headed out to wander around the track and see where the good vantage points were, figure out the lay of the land, see where to take pictures from. The Brno circuit is a GORGEOUS spectators circuit. The track is long (about 5km – I think?), it has excellent elevation changes, spectator banking on many of the straight sections and spectator access to virtually the entire circuit (as opposed to Qatar, where there are only 2 places accessible for viewing the race!).
We walked EVERYWHERE!! We ended up spending most of the afternoon on the “C” hill (if you watched the race, this was where all the Pesek and Rossi fans were – track map here), where you could get a clear view of about 3.5 turns, and a bunch of passing opportunities. I was getting used to *my* new Canon XTI. (the joke here is that Jack bought it for himself, as a second camera body, but justified it by saying it would be MY camera. I decided to take him at his word, and actually learn to USE the thing. I’m pretty sure he didn’t plan it this way ) We had both camera bodies and all the lenses to play with, and since it was just practice, we could goof around a lot. This was REALLY good for me, since I haven’t used an SLR since…..sometime in the early to mid 1990′s?
Most of my pics from Friday were total crap as you can see here. However we got to watch the bikes, see the track and formulate a plan for Saturday. Late in the afternoon, as practice wound down, and the Rookie’s cup kids took to the track, the weather changed VIOLENTLY. In a very short period of time, the clouds covered the sky, the temperature dropped precipitously and it began to rain. HARD. People scattered. The only beer tent that was open filled quickly.
Cold and wet, Jack and I also took refuge in the beer tent. Jack bought us Brno circuit fleece jackets so we wouldn’t freeze to death (I think the track did record business on the fleeces on this afternoon!) and we sat in the tent waiting for the rain to stop. Us and a bunch of EXCEEDINGLY intoxicated Pesek fans (Pesek is the 125 Czech rider – home town hero) and a bunch of VERY intoxicated and aggressive BritPunks who really wanted to brawl with the Pesek fans! Surrounded by chants of “LUUUUUCAS” and “PESSSSSSEK” with air horns blasting and banners waving – there was not enough beer or earplugs to make me want to hang out for a long time. Yet the rain poured on.
We were staying late at the track because Pole Position was having its “Start Your Engines” party in their hospitality tent at T1 (track map here). Food, drink, riders, socializing. The unfortunate part was that the “Refugees” did not have a way to go back to the hotel prior to the party. So we killed time waiting for the hospitality tent to open.
All the party-goers were in the same state when the tent opened: cold, wet, tired. Even the people who had been able to go back to their hotels were cold and damp. Luckily Pole Position throws a good party! TONS of BBQed meat (I think they had 3 whole roast pigs!) plus chicken, fish, salads, desserts. As people streamed into the tent, body heat warmed the chilly evening air, animated conversation floated over the MMMMMMM’s of those eating, Gordon got on the mic to introduce Mattia Pasini (Italian 125 rider – total cutie, in that “22 year old, young enough to be my son” sorta way) and general warmth and happiness pervaded the scene.
Jack was falling asleep at the table (LITERALLY), so we caught the first bus we could to get back to the hotel. Unfortunately (as we would find over the rest of the weekend) the Hotel Gregor was the “outlier” hotel, and typically got serviced as an afterthought. We spent just about an hour on the bus, going to all the downtown hotels (which were FURTHER from the track than the Gregor) before the bus doubled back toward the track to drop us off. We were tired and a bit cranky by the time we arrived at the hotel, and still had to CHECK IN. Our luggage was waiting for us, along with the motorbikes of some of the others in the dining hall of the hotel (see the photos). Our room was small but comfortable, unfortunately it had 2 twin beds instead of 1 double. Oh well, mish mushkela.
September 7, 2007
We are motorcycle racing fans. We’ve enjoyed the MotoGP events at Laguna Seca (California, USA) for the past few years. Obviously, we would not be going to California for the races this year, and our trip to Qatar for the opening race of the season was such fun that we HAD to go to another GP! We chose Brno in the Czech Republic.
Why Brno? Many reasons…we’d been to Brno before (2001), it is a nice city, easy to get around, relatively inexpensive. Also the agent that we’d booked Qatar through, Pole Position Travel, is based in Prague, so this is one of their Premier events. Lastly, Brno is relatively easy to get to from Cairo, so… why not??
We flew to Vienna on Wednesday, August 15th. As per usual, we’d booked transportation to and from the airport with our usual travel service (see “Best Laid Plans” post). Our car was on time, got us to the airport and left us at THE WRONG TERMINAL. It took a few minutes of rushing around the terminal and asking questions to discover that flights to Austria do not fly from the international terminal. Doesn’t THAT make perfect sense? Our driver was already gone so we attempted to take the airport shuttle to the other terminal to no avail. We eventually flagged a taxi to get us to the terminal.
When we arrived at the check-in counter, the *nice*man* tried to tell Jack that we were too late to check in for the flight. Needless to say, that did not go over well with Jack. I was concerned that someone (read: the *nice*man*) was about to die. We did, eventually, get checked in and boarded the plane. AHHHHH – it’ll all be easy from here, right?
We had the child from HELL sitting behind us for the flight. About 7 years old and spoiled to the extreme. Her 4 year old sister was a perfect little traveler, but the 7YO was horrid!
Once in Vienna, things went much more smoothly. We got to our hotel without hassle, our room got upgraded to one with a bathroom and we had only to get dinner and sleep before we headed to Brno for the track.
The semester began on Wednesday, our guest rooms vacated on Tuesday. We’ve had a friend staying with us (off and on, as he traveled) for the last few weeks. We also had an American colleague of mine “drop by” for a visit. Needless to say, the inn has been full.
We are not really used to long-term guests. It has been a long time since we have had “roommates” of any sort. That said, our AUC friend CD has been a stellar addition to our home, which seems diminished since he has left. We met CD last year just after we arrived, and have spent a great deal of time laughing, telling stories, drinking beer and enjoying his company. After he gave up his apartment in Cairo, he stayed in our spare bedroom. He is back in NYC now, and the apartment seems much emptier without him.
My colleague “dropped by” for a week in Cairo. He stayed in our other spare bedroom. We had a great time seeing sights, eating street food and telling stories. EB has traveled quite a bit, so was an incredibly easy house guest. We sent him off on his own in Cairo without really worrying. He managed just fine, with a few “adventures” but no mishaps.
Now they are both gone. The house is empty and quiet. In some ways it is a relief to be back to “just us” but there is too much quiet now that the friends are gone.