I spent a large part of the afternoon in a gun shop. It is on the corner of a street downtown, and the windows attract large groups of admiring teenage boys. The walls are covered with handguns in glass cases - I didn't know there were so many different types. Rifles and shotguns are in long racks and the whole place feels like an armoury.
It is run by a Swiss firm specialising in guns and knives, and there is no trouble buying these in Cairo - except that they are quite seriously expensive.
We were there to top up kitchen supplies. I had been bothered by the quality - of lack of quality - of our kitchen knives. Most of them you could safely sit on, blade up. Some you could probably sit on and wriggle. A really ripe tomato will just crush under the blade of the worst of them. I have two old knives that I love. They are antique bone-handled black steel (pre-stainless) and take an edge that would castrate a mosquito. My lovely chef and I have been using these for everything.
However the office found enough money to upgrade our kitchen supplies before the financial year ended. A search of all the usual places in Cairo came up with Pyrex baking dishes and cooking posts and frypans, but not with the more fancy imported stuff I wanted - like individual dessert baking dishes in something nice enough to serve in - and mini tart tins for individual tart cases. We have six, but most of our parties are fourteen and up! Plus all the knives were cheap - made in China with brands like "Made in GEMANY" (their spelling).
I was shopping with the Embassy Admin oficer and our lovely new Chef. Both are male shoppers - if one will do why look at others? We have nylon cutting boards in the house and they have gone furry and greyish with lots of mould on the surfaces that get wet - the undersides of the blocks. Ahmed was keen to replace with glass. His testing method was entertaining. He would pick up a large glass cutting board and drop it flatside down on the marble floor.
In a very large supermarket in Cairo which was the subject of bomb threats a year ago the effect was galvanising. It didn't break. We were the subject of a lot of instant attention. By the second board the Admin officer begged "Neither broke. Let's just buy them and go!"
However, we didn't find knives. Ahmed knew where to get them but the place wasn't open on Sunday.
So we went yesterday. We took a taxi into town but got out when the taxi jammed in tight traffic that looked unlikely to move. Ahmed had also had a discussion with the taxi driver that sounded somewhat heated and was definitely Ahmed telling the driver that we didn't want something he was offering.
Ahmed is tall and slim and most unlike my idea of a talented chef. He doesn't like chocolate. He cooks fish superbly but doesn't eat it. He is almost vegetarian and very healthy. He strides. He would say things like "We can walk and be there in ten minutes but a taxi will take twenty five." I would look at the traffic and agree that a taxi might not even move for ten minutes, that taxis in the sun are very hot and many have windows that won't open. So we would walk. It was not the heat of last week which was hovering around forty every day, but well up around 35 and not pleasant when there was no shade. He led, I followed and panted. NEVER trust a man's 'ten minutes'.
However, we found a knife shop and bought lovely knives. It turned out that Ahmed had asked the taxi we had hailed in Zamalek to take him to the gun shop which he had named.
The driver said, somewhat quietly after we had reached Downtown, "I have guns for sale if you want guns".
Ahmed said we were going to the gun shop to buy knives, not guns.
"I have knives too, very good ones that you can throw."
Ahmed said we wanted them for the kitchen, not for fighting, and it was around this point that he decided that the walk would do us good!
We detoured through Zamalek on the way back as I had seen large cake plates - rather heavy flat platters in a thick sort of plastery ceramic (nice china plates in large sizes is another thing impossible to find here) in a shop on the opposite side of the island. It was unfortunately closed, so I took the knives and headed home and Ahmed went off on foot towards the bus to his area.
On the way home I found a second hand book seller with quite a bit in English and bought some elderly paperbacks. One releases little puffs of black mould as you turn the pages. One is a Dick Francis which I have read - but I like his books. I had friends coming at six so had to get home, but will go back to see if there is anything else.
And then I stopped at a local icecream shop and bought a cinnamon and moccha ice cream cone. That is two separate flavours in a waffle cone - and delicious. I was juggling large parcels and it was so hot that I was licking fast to keep up with the drips pouring off the sides but it was cool and refreshing and gorgeous.
The trees on that street close the road overhead, so it was not uncomfortable walking. They are poinciana - which the locals call flame trees. They are richly green and feathery leaves, with great falls of scarlet below like pools of fresh blood, but soft underfoot. The flowers sit on top of the branches so you look up through bright emerald green to a scarlet background, with only glimpses of sky.
It was a beautiful walk.