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From Heliopolis with bewilderment

Yours truly currently blogging from Heliopolis, Cairo, Egypt - though for reasons that may become apparent as you read, I'll probably post this during a short layover in Zurich on my way back to Geneva later today (but only after discharging my number one priority every time I happen to pass through Zurich: finding, purchasing and delecting myself with the best chocolate on the face of this earth: Truffes du Jour from Sprüngli !).

Was/am here on business, a Saturday-to-Monday affair, great in a way mut acutely frustrating in an other in a place I know an love and where, given these circumstances I feel like I'm travelling behind a glass wall, with all the stuff I long for (the sights, smells, sounds, energy sometimes verging on chaos, unpredictability) within tantalizing reach yet beyond my touch.

Until now, Heliopolis was a part of town that I passed through twice on each of my trips to Egypt, from and back to the airport, destined long to remain "one of the jewels of Eygypt in its own right" or something to that effect in Lonely Planet, a place driven through on flyovers with a view on an intriguing landmark, a fantasy villa/small palace buit by Belgian baron Empain (I think) now apparently standing empty and derelict.

So I was actually quite happy to stay in Heliopolis for once, the chance to discover, or at least see, a new part of Cairo even though distance and bad traffic would probably deny me access to the Nile, Downtown and the old town - and indeed to my two favourite terrasses: Sequoia on the northern tip of Gezira/Zamalek, and Fishawy in the old town.

And so I was mightily pleased, after a long and busy morning, to have a couple of hours to myself and my camera (Fuji X100s on this occasion, notably for its discretion) to hit the streets of Heliopolis.

Was happily ambling along taking pics beside a vast parking lot when 3 uniformed guys march out at me from the little gate-house demanding (in Arabic) to know what the hell I thought I was doing, photographing a military facility (i.e. the parking lot). They softened a tiny bit when I readily showed them my pics on the camera display and deleted the offending ones - and when they realized I sopke Arabic. It wasn't the end of it though, and they told me to stay put in the gate-house as they called their superior. I suddenly pictured myself as an Arabic-speaker in a part of town that is hardly touristic, taking photos whose point or meaning was presumably lost on my captors - and really hoped this wouldn't look too suspicious and land me in hot water.

Guy suddenly shows up, bedraggled and scruffy, and I wave hello without giving him a second thought. When I suddenly realize he was in fact the superior who'd been called to assess me, I stand up, greet him rather more politely and explain that a) I didn't have a clue I was photographing a military facility, as this looked all of a normal parking lot with ordinary buses and cars, and b) I was deeply sorry and wouldn't be caught at it again. He grumbled and left - and I was very relieved.

Three soldiers suddenly ask, completely out of the blue, if I'd stay and have some tea. OK I said, figuring it'd be unwise to offend them after having apparently gotten away with it, and so we ended up chewing the fat for a good hour over many cups of tea ! Turns out the soldiers were young guys doing their national service, getting bored mindless writing down in a ledger the number plates of all cars entering and leaving the parking lot.

After an hour or so I declared that if I was free to go, then I might do just that. One of the guys declared he'd march me to a back-door behind a row of busses at the far other end of the parking lot, supposedly closer to my hotel. I follow him with still a teeny bit of apprehension - and before finally letting me out he proudly shows me photos of all his family members and his two dogs !

Still had to buy an other memory card for my camera so that I'd be able to take more pics without overwriting the "deleted" ones, to be recovered later with the ad hoc software !

Similar thing actually happened again the following day, even though I was careful to take my camera to an area outside the vicinity of that parking lot. Was again ordered, by a policeman and a security guard, to delete a bunch of photos - and so I went to buy yet another SD card before thinking sod it, i'll just put my camera away and do something else - like walk innocuously and aimlessly around the hugest shopping mall (City Stars, Heliopolis) I'd ever seen without buying a thing.

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