National Geographic : 1991 Dec
"a free hospital . . that dispenses treatment and medicines with reported endowments of a thousand dinars a day." A small govern ment eye clinic now operates on the site. Surprisingly, Ibn Battuta seems never to have visited Egypt's famed Pyramids. In the worst gaffe of his narrative, he refers to them as cone-shaped. CAIRO IS A CITY for all centuries. Today it is only a five-minute taxi ride from the coat-and-tie crowd in the subway stations of Tahrir Square to the medieval suq around the Khan al-Khalili. I drifted with the pedestrian waves along Muizz Street, where vendors sold walk ing canes, glass-and-chrome hookahs, and saddlebags. Around the corner, amid prayer beads, belly dancers' costumes, and incense, the owner of the 1001 Nights Perfume Shop tried Harem, Tut-Ankh-Khamun, and Secret of the Desert on my wrist. "Or, perhaps we can blend you a custom fragrance, sir?" In Cairo I took to stopping for Turkish cof fee and puffs on a charcoal-fired hookah at Fishawi's, a run-down cafe furbished with carved woodwork and cut-glass mirrors. A bootblack with a silver tongue ("A shame for such a handsome man to be wearing such dirty shoes.") kept my boots gleaming. Fishawi's was peopled with old men in Committing the Koran to memory-as Ibn Battuta is thought to have done by age 12 children recite for their faqih in Tangier, Morocco, the traveler's hometown. Ibn Battuta's memoirs left only one clue to his appearance: As a recent amateur portrait shows (left), he wore a beard.