The Spice of Life

One of my favorite outings in Cairo is to immerse myself in the vibrancy of the Khan El Khalili Bazaar. In the early fourteenth century, sultans and merchants established an economic trade area for their spices, silks, and camels. The market still exists today and you can buy most anything there, from a fresh chicken to a patchwork quilt, a piece of handcrafted wooden furniture, an oud instrument, or a scarab amulet. And of course, spices!

As we approach “the Khan,” Gothic Islamic mosque spires pierce the horizon. An array of structures forms a craggy roofline like something a child would draw. Inside its walls, the open-air marketplace is a labyrinth of cobblestone alleys; some quiet, narrow, and full of dusty antiques and vintage treasures. Other passages are a wonderful circus of riotous color and sound.

Vendor stalls are stacked like doll-house rooms laden with shiny gold statues, jewel-toned galabeya dresses and brightly patterned textiles. Pedestrians instinctively make way for delivery mopeds, carts selling roasted sweet potatoes, and donkeys pulling wagons with fruits and vegetables piled high. Cyclists expertly weave between obstacles with large trays of soft, round pillows of baladi bread balanced on their head.

Once you walk a while, camouflaged architectural details emerge: faded signs with subtle, flowing Arabic script, scrolling wrought-iron gates, and decorative mashrabiya latticework on second story balconies. Carefully placed stones line artful archways that frame beautifully carved doors.

Shoppers without an objective can become overwhelmed. There are blank books embossed by hand with gold-leaf initials and delicately carved tables painstakingly inlaid with mother of pearl marquetry. Silver jewelry with inspired designs entices you to buy more earrings and bracelets than any one person could wear. Canvas bags overflow with aromatic spices of anise and cinnamon. Shelves of hand-blown glass bottles in pastel hues stand patiently, waiting to hold scented oils you can mix like an alchemist: sandalwood, patchouli, opium, amber, or frankincense that “induce relaxation, affection, sleep, or healing.”

As daylight fades, market browsers flag down taxis and the ambience shifts. A mysticism appears in the shadows. Streets glow with glittering lanterns and illuminated coffee houses. Shops gleam with brass and copper wares. Locals in cafes shuffle in their wooden chairs, huddling around tiny tables, engaging in lively conversation over shisha and mint tea. 

“As the sky prepares to settle its tired, aching feet into the night’s velvet slippers,
I settle into my armchair, soaking the teabag of my thoughts into warm liquidy stars.”

         -Indian poet, Sanober Khan

May you embrace the spice of life,

Tracy

8 thoughts on “The Spice of Life

  1. You captured it perfectly==enchantingly and beautifuly. –just wish that I were there to visit it one more time-lots of love and as always,so proud of you–Mama

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  2. Dear Tracy,

    The spices, the fragrances, the colors, the markets, the music – and of course – the people:
    All these bring back memories for me – from my long ago travels to India, Kashmir and Nepal………
    Your beautiful photos coupled with your exquisite writing – makes it easy to imagine for me – to be there also! Thank you for sharing……..
    Have just begun to read THE SILK ROADS, by Peter Frankopan – a challenging endeavor – but well worth while. I highly recommend it – as your time permits.

    Thinking of you – eager to catch up when the opportunity presents itself.
    Meanwhile –

    Joy and Blessings to the THREE of you,

    Always,

    Ursula

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  3. Dear Tracy,

    I replied to your e-mail address, as my aged computer, coupled with my minimal computer skills erased my message that I had typed here.
    No worries, I will retype it via an e-mail.

    Ursula Clark

    Like

  4. Tracy, Love reading your word pictures. What a wonderful adventure your are
    having. Thanks for sharing your lovely writings with us all. Think of you often.

    Like

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