National Geographic : 1972 May
Striving for grace in a city that yearns for normalcy, ballet hopefuls practice at the Academy of Arts. They drill before a Russian instructress, a member of a well-known but seldom-seen Soviet colony that advises Egypt on cultural, technological, and military mat ters. Sign of the times: Tape crisscrosses windows to restrain flying glass in case of air attack. and listening as he gently beat his way through walls of resistance: "... so please, madame, let us stop this haggling over a few piasters. Come, I shall buy you lunch, a nice shish kebab." "... but my dear sir, you simply cannot expect to satisfy your champagne tastes with beer expenditures." "... that is correct, dear lady. If you can purchase this item, for which I am asking only $125, for less than $200 any place else, please come back and I shall present it to you as a gift. Come now, let me buy you lunch, a nice shish kebab." Later, when I had occasion to do business with Zaki, I too was carried painlessly over the threshold of hesitancy on an air cushion of words. "Stop, stop. Before we discuss price we must have tea, mint tea." He sat in his chair behind the counter, hands folded over 666 his stomach, smiling. I made my purchase, and Zaki Boutros told me to drop in again. We'd have lunch, a nice shish kebab. Out in the streets of the Khan el Khalili, I saw a cluster of tourists. Among the foreign ers who now vacation in Egypt are Eastern Europeans, residents of Communist-bloc nations. As always, the main attraction is the Great Pyramid of Cheops. There, platoons of Egyptian dragomen, or guides, still stand ready to swoop down on a bus loaded with tourists. Thus are Bulgarian matrons seen today being joggled around on the backs of camels while dragomen affect enthusiasm in the rote of their spiels. There was a time (Zaki Boutros recalled 1922 as an exceptionally good year) when great waves of visitors from the West swept through the city, buying and buying, and paying in dozens of different currencies.