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But more importantly, I wanted to see my childhood best friend, Nora. Come and visit, Nora had said to me for years. And last spring, armed with the 19thcentury travel memoirs of the French novelist.
Gustave Flaubert—because Death on the Nile is a truly unreadable book—and eyes blinded by the past, I finally do. I have two nights in Cairo and even though my time is brief, it feels as though I have been here before. On my first evening, at Hayda, a Lebanese restaurant along the banks of the Nile, I see Nora for the first time in eight years. I see her just as she was, just as I left her.
We sit outside, the bright lights of the city obscuring the dark river before us, and eat Arabic mezze, gossiping and reminiscing. Later, as we sit in the car, Nora and her husband ask me what I want to see in Cairo. Tahrir Square, I say. They drive me there, at 2am, and we circle the roundabout where, for so many, the Arab Spring came to life. But tonight, it is lit up and empty. Driving along the highway to Giza as dusk sets, between the tall skeletons of skyscrapers and apartment complexes being built, the pyramids peek through like ghosts.
If you take a photo of the landscape, it will look as though you put them there, drawing them in like shadows. It is hot and the sun burns even as the day ends. Outside the famous monuments, used ticket stubs cover the floor like confetti. I sit in a horse buggy and am carried up a small hill, the horse galloping past the Sphinx, her hooves sounding on the tar like drumbeats. O thinker, And your thirst will be appeased and all your life will have passed like a dream for you will feel your soul go out towards the light and soar in the infinite.
But even here, in the shadows of such antiquity, my heart is moved by the simple reminders of my own past. The tea, served in clear glass thimbles, sweetened with sugar and sprigs of mint, like I remember it from Syria.