Live from the Hotel Longchamps
Days Thirteen and Fourteen
by Jimmy Dunn
Today, it was time to deliver another story and I set about to explore and write about Zamalek's many antique shops. Yesterday had been a bust, as far as writing; one of those days that just did not pan out. Of course, I am here gathering new material on antiquities and travel, but much of the antiquity information will have to wait for a detailed analysis once I return home. I explored the streets of Cairo yesterday looking for new restaurants, shops and interesting corners to write about but, not due to the lack of them but to my own bad luck, I came up empty. I visited a restaurant I didn't like, a very nice, upscale coffee house that would not let me take pictures, and a few other places that looked promising, but turned out to be not very impressive. Of course, this is what being a travel writer is all about. Today, I continue to tell people about the three star Hotel Longchamps, for example, but I spent two weeks staying at different three star hotels each night before finding it, and could not recommend any of the others to my readers.
One of the colorful and imaginative headboards at RugArt
Today, I set out on foot to explore the antiquity shops of Zamalek, for which this section of Cairo is well known. Today is Friday and in Egypt, the first day of the weekend, so there was some question whether all of the shops might be open, though they were. The sky was overcast, threatening a somewhat rare shower, so it was a pleasant day for a stroll. Antiquity shops are numerous in Zamalek, and I did discovered some very nice ones. I suppose I walked most of the length of Zamalek, looking for back street shops, but most are easily located along 26th of July street. They mostly specialize in French antiques from the turn of the 20th century and there are some rather nice pieces scattered about. But that will not be the topic of this report, for along the way I fell in love. It wasn't a beautiful woman who caught my attention so don't worry Joanie. It was a shop, not of antiques but of carpets.
As I've grown older I've notice that I still fall in love at first sight, not very frequently, and alas, not with women, but every so often with an object. Last time, it was with a BMW Z3. I was not even looking for a car when I saw this model, but within days it was sitting in my driveway. That was almost seven years ago, but today it happened again. Strolling along on the western Nile side of Zamalek, near 26th of July, I happened upon RugArt. The carpets that caught my attention in the tasteful storefront windows where only a hint of the wonder world I found inside.
Of course, carpets are a big business in the Middle East, sought after in the west, but frankly I have never been much of a fan of oriental carpets, which are usually a bit busy for my taste. However, these carpets were definitely not oriental in design. Some where square or rectangular, but others were freestyle designs. They come in a variety of material, including pure virgin wool, silk or cotton and are all hand made.
Sometimes with whirling colors and at other times mimicking nature, these carpets are bright, fanciful, original, imaginative creations unlike any I personally have ever seen. However, not only are many of the designs very colorful and lively, but the details are strikingly rendered. Some have sophisticated designs and would undoubtedly become the showpiece of any home, or office for that matter, as works of art. Other carpets are designed as headboards for beds, and there are even custom made beds to match. At this point I could only imagine what the price of such artistic flair might be, having priced handmade wool carpets many times in Egypt. I was indeed shocked to find that most were not even remotely as expensive as their oriental counterparts, and in fact, all were most reasonable.
For the younger set, there were butterflies, fish and teddy bears, oh my. As I wondered about the store, undoubtedly some of those fish and butterflies could have easily flown into my gapping mouth. Many of these wall hanging carpets are well within the budget of most tourists and can easily be transported home, while the larger carpets would require some additional fee to the airline.
As it turns out, this style of carpet is the brainchild of an Egyptian surgeon named Dr. Nabeel Aeed, who invented a process for weaving many of their free style designs. While the store has a collection of ready made carpets for sell, they will also produce custom work, and if one is lucky enough to live in Cairo, they even offer a design service to match a custom made carpet to one's home decor.
The store itself is modern and the carpets are well displayed. I had no problems at all communicating with the manager, who's father had been an Egyptian diplomat in the US, and who had attended high school in Virginia. In fact, all of the personnel were warm, friendly and very helpful. I have spent considerable time visiting shops throughout Egypt over the past ten years, and I really do not usually rave about any specific stores But this one just went to the top of my list as perhaps the most interesting merchant in Egypt. Wonderful and unique designs, friendly staff and great prices make it a must visit for Egyptians and tourists alike.
By the way, this will not be the last word on RugArt. Regrettably, the photography I do in Egypt is well suited to many applications, but not to these carpets. However, I obtained additional information and pictures that will have to be scanned once I am back home. Hence, I will almost certainly follow this article up with a pictorial, and don't be surprised to soon find these carpets in the Virtual Khan el-Khalili. They are exactly the type of unique items I came to Egypt in search of this trip.
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