Cairo: The Mother of the World by Herbert L Smith is an account of the author’s time in that city. But if was he there for three years or a lifetime, he can’t be sure. Certainly he gains a lifetime of experiences during his stay there. Like most expats he is enchanted but also frustrated by his adopted home. With fresh, observant eyes he notices every little thing around him.
The book is beautifully written. It’s so conversational and detailed that you think you’re there too, even when Smith is talking about larger issues, not just his personal experiences. We touch on history, politics, religion and societal structure and come away with a far greater understanding of this often perplexing and misunderstood part of the world.
It’s a fascinating read. My one complaint is that there isn’t more of it!
Herbert Smiths shares his inspiration with us: “When someone asks me about my ‘muse,’ my writing inspiration, I can only tell them that my love of Cairo, all of Egypt in fact, is all I need to set my descriptive and poetic responses going. Sometimes, people who have visited or lived in Egypt question my reasoning. They found the place to be less than ideal – far, far less, and can’t understand my reasons for loving the city and the country. I confess that I don’t understand fully, but am happily oblivious to many of the problems that confound everyone who visits, as well as a large portion of the population that lives in the country. I am not unaware or insensible to these difficulties, it’s just they aren’t sufficient to cause for me to flee from the place and never go back. Quite the opposite, I am magnetically drawn to Egypt and to Cairo, especially.
Although Cairo isn’t the oldest city in the world, it is very old, and has risen from the past without sacrificing its oldest self. The city goes on living in a kind of renewed incarnation with each succeeding era. Cairo is both impossible and improbable, but it is as strong today as in the past, incorporating the very newest into the already existing mega-metropolis, and there is always a sense of the past clinging to the stones, wherever one goes in the city.
Some of the newest suburbs sit on ancient grounds, where temples and palaces and long vanished houses once stood, and where apartment blocks filled with families and hope for the future are fixed to the land today. The oldest parts hold streets and buildings that were much the same long ago, even as much as an entire millennium in the past. The oldest mosques and churches still witness to their grandest days, and the oldest houses are filled with families, some directly descended from the original builders who lived there more than five or six centuries in the past. This is indeed an old city, and although many things have changed, the spirit of Cairo, the collective memory of its ancient history, is palpable in the Cairo of today.”
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