In keeping with doomspirals’ recent foray into self-promotion, I thought to mention that I have an article in the current issue of Print Magazine. The article isn’t available online, but the magazine is well worth a tiptoe to the bookstore or your local internet.
The article describes the hectic printing district in Cairo—along Mohamed Ali Street—where for years I’ve gone with friends to order bonkers-looking business cards. If you have to hand out business cards, it’s best to give yourself a worthy title: Helicopter Pilot, Jazz Expert, Shaman, etc.
The editor at Print, Mr. M. Silverberg—whom an overwhelming majority of women polled recently in Toronto found to be “dashing”—had come across some of these psychedelic business cards and asked if I’d write an article explaining their background. Twas very grateful for the happy opportunity.
The article describes the mash-up aesthetics of the cards, but also the fascinating neighborhood where the printing district is situated. Mohamed Ali Street was once a fabulous boulevard, part of Pasha Ismail’s 19th century designs to make Cairo into a grandiose modern city to rival the capitals of Europe. Ismail’s vision for the city has long faded, built over by succeeding generations. The remnants of Ismail’s city are layered against remnants of other Cairos; a wild combination of Fatimid tombs, Mameluke minarets, Nasser’s elevated highways, Mubarak-era improvised housing. Like the business cards, the city today is incongruent, loud, crowded, charming.
But the stamp of Ismail’s modernist scheme is still evident. Indeed, Tahrir Square was created as the anchor of Ismail’s city. (It was originally named Ismail Square, until Nasser changed it in his effort to remake the city.) Thus, Cairo’s downtown is explicitly Modern—it has a symbolic & functional center, from which the major arteries radiate. This is what lent such weight to the January 25 revolutionaries’ original gesture—they had taken the center of the country. (And why the revolution had an emphasis that was spatial as well as ideological.) (One wonders what a revolution would look like in a scattered, un-centered city like, say, L.A.) (And one wonders if the Occupy Movement, modeled after Tahrir, is a bad copy/translation—for what is the significance of Zuccotti Park?)
Anyway! Some choice bits & extraneous details didn’t make it into the final cut, so I thought to share them here in the brogosphere. Forthcoming: (1) Flaubert’s Egyptian business card. (2) Henri Baron’s telling painting of Ismail, “Dinner at The Tuileries” (1867).