Wednesday morning - Silver
Then I realised that I wanted to see my other good friend – also Mohamed – who makes silver in the Khan El Khalili. His name is Mohamed Khalil and he used to be a designer for Azza Fahmy – a very well known Egyptian designer who makes beautiful but extremely expensive jewellery with old Bedouin style. They parted ways, but he still makes the most gorgeous pieces – clean lines, interesting ideas, lots of talisman pieces and a lot of beautiful Arabic text, and he mixes gold and silver and I have always loved that.
He has a shop in a rather elegant renovated building in the centre of the Khan el Khalili but absolutely no-one goes there. The business that has grown and become one of the great secrets of Cairo is up two flights of stairs in a building that looks like a crack house. The stairs are dark and filthy, and there may not actually be rats but it looks as if there should be. I am always reluctant to put my hand on the stair rails, but the stairs are long and steep so usually by the last half flight I have a hand on a very greasy rail and arrive slightly short of breathe. Cats often sleek and slink their way up with me winding around my feet – there is always a ginger or tabby spotted cat that seems to think you might be carrying food – and they are no cleaner than the stairs.
I did not take photos on this visit – but this is Mohamed and his assistant Heba on a previous trip, and a piece that I bought from him last time.
When you emerge from the stairwell you are looking straight into the main workshop. It is a small space with perhaps 8 men working on wooden tables. I once emerged on the landing to find Mohamed holding a glowing crucible in tongs and carefully pouring molten gold into moulds. You could see nothing of the gold except the incredibly red hot heat of it as it poured from the equally red hot crucible and it trailed red and oranges as it went into the mould. He was wearing thongs.
Just around the corner is where the real action takes place. It is a tiny office space with room for two desks, a filing cabinet and chest of drawers and a few chairs. The definition of happiness for me is to be able to rummage in these – plastic boxes like the ones I use for storing food are stuffed tightly with treasures. Each time I come the selections are different. This time I selected a beautiful chain with discs of silver and amethysts, long and distinctive. He had made another King Farouk piece – I bought one previously. This is a ceremonial piece he copied from an old photograph of King Farouk who wore it pinned and draped across a suit. Mohamed made it easier to wear by putting the three chains and their discs on another chain. I still find it one of my most special pieces.
I added more to my pile. A clenched hand holding a selection of talisman items which can be worn as a pendant, a bracelet with three parallel chains held together with a key, a padlock, and a disc with Arabic, a simple pendant with a deep red carnelian in a Bedouin setting, and another bracelet, gold and silver, with a long graceful pendant drop with gold Arabic on silver, and a small collection of talisman pieces. I realise that I love bracelets as you can see them when you are wearing them. These dangly ones make me feel pretty – but they are not easy to wear when using a sewing machine or computer.
I have to work out again how to share photos from Flickr - they have changed their systems and I find the new one almost incomprehensible. When I work out how to do it I will add images for you.
I had enjoyed the cup of sweet tea with mint with Mohamed in relative peace as several ladies came and went – but then a group of three very noisy ladies arrived and stated picking up pieces I had selected. Mohamed whisked them out of the way, and rather than finish in a hurry I asked him to put them aside for me and I would call back. He is always quiet around 6.30 in the evening.
Then I headed across the Khan El Khalili, over the road, and threaded my way through a very crowded Al Ghouria and into the Tentmakers’ Street.