I’ve spent the last couple days meandering the countryside east of Budapest, with Uncle John and his vintage Honda Accord. He prides himself on his organizational skills, and to the untrained eye you might be fooled into believing that he’s on top of everything. But put him behind the wheel of a car and you’re bound to get lost whilst listening to Lawrence Welk-inspired seafaring tunes and the hypnotic beat of the turn signal he’s forgotten to turn off. Despite all this, my days were pleasant, informative and reasonably well-fed. But more importantly, I got to meet up with some interesting relatives and old family friends that made me feel connected to something important.
You may recall a little earlier in my road trip, back in Minnesota, when I was doing a little research into my grandfather, Captain Andy, and his voyages from Hungary to the Port of Duluth. Well, now I’m on the other end of that trip, getting to know where his love of sailing came from, almost a hundred years ago. In short, it began on this small lake in Tata (pictured above), where he lived as a young boy and went to secondary school. His mother wanted him to be a mining engineer. Dutifully, begrudingly, he followed his mothers wishes to university in Sopron, but he never stopped planning his great escape to sea. It wasn’t until his uncle’s chance meeting with esteemed Admiral Horthy that young Andras got his first real assignment, and with that, a colorful career that his family and countrymen will tell tales about for a long time to come. Some taller than others.
While in Sopron, we also met up with a distant cousin, Tomas, and his family. They have just recently completed construction on a beautiful house on a small apple orchard near the center of town. The whole family are accomplished skiers, with a basement outfitted with dozens of skis and a state-of-the-art workshop for waxing, tuning and wedging. I made that last one up. However, there was one rather peculiar aspect to the house that Tomas was very proud to show us—a design feature that is very popular in Hungarian homes I am told. Well, when I say popular, I mean it’s something that many men would aspire to have in their home. Wine cellar? Big screen TV? Stripper pole? Nope. A tower. A place, presumably, for male egos to keep watch over their domain. Or perhaps the neighbor’s wife.
It’s not like I didn’t have the time to write this past week floating around Cairo. It just dawned on me though, here in Economy Plus on KLM 554 to Amsterdam, that these last few days were simply not equal to the one day that cemented the Egyptian people forever in my heart. Their revolution may have started on January 25th, but mine may have started on March 4th. I’m not nearly good enough a writer to make up for the fact that sometimes I just don’t know what to say. For all the unique little opportunities that I had here, there were far more that were very typical of me. I am happy to have met so many interesting people and grateful to have so many invitations to return, which I plan to do—as photographer, imbedded tourist, friend, and big fan.
By recent comparison, this past week was a curious saunter, for the most part spent being a mere citizen—hanging out, walking around, talking about politics and family, making pictures, and just generally relaxing a bit. Aside from the Giza pyramids, an afternoon among the mosques and markets of Islamic Cairo, and a couple hours inside the Egyptian Museum, I didn’t do anything during my almost two weeks here that you’re likely to find in Frommer’s or the Lonely Planet.
03/06: Wandered around Heliopolis with Sarita in the afternoon before getting the bad news. One of the young guys from the media agency crew, Hossam, was in a bad car accident last night after we finished with all the interviews. Though his face was badly cut up, he was otherwise okay—with the eventual scar making him even more attractive. So, I spent a couple hours experiencing the inner workings of an Egyptian hospital. Smelled the same, but I still couldn’t be convinced to have them look at my foot while there.
03/07: Alexandria. I had hopes of traveling further south along the Nile or perhaps deep into the unrelenting Sahara to the west—yes, towards Libya. But unfortunately, I was thwarted by a debilitating blister on my left foot. I did however, hop a train to Alexandria, two hours north through the farms and slums of the Nile river valley to the Mediterranean coast. One night in a posh hotel, by modest Egyptian standards anyway, to rest my weary feet and notch another ocean. Unable to sit still for long that night, I wandered accidentally through some of the poorest, but also so fascinating and colorful market alleys I have ever seen. Good for pictures, not for vegans.
03/08: Champions League football on the telly in the outdoor urban cafe across from my hotel. The servers there always welcome me as a friend. They call me Wayne Rooney, more so because that’s the only English they know. This made me feel right at home, despite some unfortunate results for my teams.
03/10: Last night I went over to Sherif’s house in Giza to meet his wonderfully large family. They have lived in the same humble building with three apartments for about 150 years. Met all the brothers, several cousins, uncles, nieces, nephews, mothers and fathers—all gathered around a simple living room bordered by 7-8 sofas, situated in such a way as to encourage conversation, not television. The girls and women seemed to be a dominant voice in the house, but it was fascinating to see the very distinct roles and quiet rules that bound social structure and norms. Their 4th floor roof top has a 360 view of the Sahara, the pyramids and the Sphinx. Pretty incredible. It was night time. Sherif took me on a walk through his town, stopping to say hello to all its residents. He seems to be the unofficial mayor of Giza. We watched some pretty decent football being played under the lights, crashed a very, very loud and colorful wedding party, survived an Egyptian taxi (three wheeler!), and watched a bit of the Pyramids sound and light show from the roof of his house. The booming English narration hovered over the town as we walked about. Strange, and would annoy the heck out of me. But I suppose it’s a small price to pay for living in the shadow of the principle Wonder of the World.
It’s now a little later in the evening, having landed, lodged and eaten in the exact opposite of where I earlier departed. I’m sitting here in the tres cool lounge of my eco-friendly boutique hotel in Volderpark, Amsterdam, awash in ambient euro beats, and indulging in a sophisticated coffee with small cup, saucer and chocolate morsel. How’s that for illiteration? The vertical garden and carefully crafted experience are akin to something I would have designed at Ziba. But now, it’s merely a space devoid of the kind of character I had just grown so fond of. It’s been a transformative trip that suddenly feels like its over.
Cairo = An exotic land rich in cultural history, unjust poverty, and proud and friendly people.
Amsterdam = The girls here wear very tight pants.
I was able to get a few rolls of color film processed here in Cairo yesterday and this is a few shots from those. I have 30 more rolls of black and white film that I will be shipping back to the States this weekend for processing. I hope to have these images back and posted within the next couple weeks. I have started setting up separate photo collections featuring Part 1 of my North America road trip, Egypt, Hungary, and Part 2 of the road trip Stateside. Go to my new gallery exhibition called, My Egyptian Revolution, for the back story and several photo collections from my time there.
This picture of the guys in a brown office was taken during a long Saturday night, in search of the new president of Egypt, Amro Moussa. This was the general opinion of my inner circle anyway. We blindly followed Sami from one dusty old government building to another for interviews with several close friends and ministers of Moussa’s. I was brought along to photograph the adventure for use in his campaign. In between a series of empty promises, lied an ominous gun in an unexpected office, and other strange moments—moments that paid homage to the Godfather, right down to the stodgy furniture and tacky wall art. This was amusing to me in a way that they probably wouldn’t understand (or appreciate). Nor would it matter if they did—it was real. What is it with all the portraits of yourself? Does government here really work this way? Is this really what the young martyrs had in mind? For their sake, I hope the fleeting impressions of an American photographer do not reflect a futility. Beneath the dated facade could be found some very decent and genuine people.
Raw iPhone video from the Egyptian political demonstrations on March 4 in Tahrir Square.
To me, this picture says a great deal about the Egyptian people’s new found freedom to speak and assemble, from fear and corruption, freedom to hope for something better. It also says it’s safe now. The families are turning out for these demonstrations and taking part in shaping Egypt’s future. I feel fortunate to be here. The truth is though, this is more of an outsiders perspective, as it’s been the families all along that have stood up to the government—stood in front of their tanks. The children are Egypt, and that message is coming through.
It was an amazing day. Wandered around Islamic Cairo and a couple mosques earlier in the day. ThenÉ I’m a photographer working for an Egyptian media agency, covering massive demonstrations in Tahrir Square. While there was definitely an intensity to the manner of the message, aside from a few nervous firecrackers, the general atmosphere was jubilant and family friendly—like a million person block party, with a point.
The team was led by Sami, while Italian singer, Sarita, better understood my American skepticism and questions. But it was Badr that had my back, shadowing me while I went about searching for the kind of pictures I like to take. Mohamed and Hossam interviewed people, trying to get an assessment of one of the new presidential candidates, Amro Moussa (with Mohamed El-Baradai as potential vice-presidential running mate). Tomorrow evening they have 5 minutes to meet and take pictures of him for his campaign. I have rearranged my plans a bit, as they have asked me to shoot them. Five minutes with the potential future leader of Egypt?! Seriously?! What do I do, ask him to smile? I learned a little about him today, enough to feel comfortable that he is not going to kill and arrest people for no reason and that he represents the general values of the youth movement here. We were out there for about 3-4 hours and I just got back to the hotel. Depending on the quality of my internet signal, I’ll try to upload some video soon.
How did I get here? Did I mention my feet are killing me?
Giza pyramids, sphinx and a bunch of old stuff… surreal. Can’t believe it. We were just watching the news a few weeks ago, dad, Sue and I in Rochester, NY, and I half-heartedly mentioned that now might be a good time to go over there. A week went by and we were watching the news again. Mubarak is out. Booked a ticket. And now… here I am.
I can’t imagine there being a better time to visit Egypt, the Pyramids in particular, in decades, if not centuries. There was practically no one there. I saw only a few other tourists (literally, a few) as the vast majority of folks there were trying to sell stuff and local kids used it as a bit of a playground. Very, very different from an American point of view. If this was in the US, you wouldn’t get within 20 feet of the pyramids and there would be a sample stone in an vacuum sealed acrylic case in a beautifully architected park building somewhere. Make the case for historical preservation and park hygene all you want, but nothing beats actually being there, touching them, walking where the Pharoahs did, over the disguarded plastic bottles, and descending into their tombs. When Mubarak left, the police lobbied for a sizeable pay raise, which they got. But yet they no longer actually work. Security does nothing, and certainly couldn’t be bothered to turn on lights or tell me not to take pictures anywhere I wanted. Suited me just fine, but still a rather strange turn of events.
My guide was great, even carried my water bottle. I left him to haggle with people and create a few unique opportunities, and helped keep the local peddlers at bay. Being that there was so little prey, their tactics felt more like the black flies of Alaska in mid July. And again, the security and officials were there in body only. They did nothing and I could go anywhere. People were very happy to have me there. And apparently, President Obama has a very big family. They adore him here, which in itself is, adorable.
Had an amazing day today, not just the pyramids and desert, but back in Cairo this afternoon getting caught in some demonstrations and started shooting and talking to a few people. Have a meeting with the newspaper people this evening. Maybe playing some soccer tomorrow night if I survive the day.
Since arriving a few days ago, I’ve shot 14 rolls of b/w and a couple rolls of Provia. Very tired, feet hurt, and I’m the color of a good spanking.
1. My hotel room. 2. Tahrir Square, the site of all the demonstrations, looked like a war zone. 3. King Tut stuff. I snuck this one with my iPhone. 4. The Egyptian Museum. 5. Many streets are heavily fortified. This is nothing compared to what’s around the American Embassy. A little intimidating. And to think that I helped pay for all those Egyptian tanks and guns. 6. Nile riverfront near Tahrir Square, looking toward Cairo tower. I walked over there as well.
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Walked about aimlessly for about six hours and got my bearings. Some difficulties, but I chalk them up to the learning curve. Very, very friendly people, once you get past the tourist charm assault of so many hustlers and sales people. I grew more and more disillusioned throughout the day, and a little better at picking up on the jive talking. Still, I like the people.
Went to the museum for an hour or two today… AMAZING that all those antiquities are just sitting out for you to see and touch. Walked around Tahrir Square, despite some tourist advice against it. Had tea with a nice shop owner who used to live in the states. And his brother will be taking me on the “insiders” tour of the Giza pyramids tomorrow. Lots of kids and even older folks seemed to want to have their picture taken with me, as I would often offer to take their photo with their camera so they can all get in the shot. Good way to meet people.
When I entered the museum I was told I couldn’t bring any cameras in and that I would need to check them at an adjacent service counter, which naturally I didn’t want to do given their value. I pleaded with the police men to allow me to bring them in, promising not to use them, and suggesting that even if I wanted to they wouldn’t work indoors as they are just cheap sentimental old film cameras. Before I left the States I blacked out the Leica logos. The head security guy came over and finally relented very discreetly and asked that I not tell anyone that he let me in. I hope he didn’t lose his job. Or get shot.
I may have a gig with an Egyptian newspaper to photograph some of the demonstrations on Friday. People are coming out to protest the Emergency law which has been in affect for 30 years, which basically allows the police to just arrest people without cause. I hear turn out could be up to 3 million people across Egypt, or was that just Cairo? I will be meeting with the fellow from the paper and small journalist team tomorrow evening to plan. Obviously this could be very risky, but I will do some research and see how I feel about it tomorrow.
Bed is hard as nails. Seems to be a toilet paper shortage too, FYI. No accidents today or anything like that. I just noticed that people tend to treat it like it’s precious. Hotel is quite stingy—just one small roll of your own to take to the shared bathroom. And when I actually did need to use it at the museum today, the bathroom attendant tore off about 5 squares and handed them to me. I smiled and politely motioned for some more. He peeled off another 5. I laughed, grabbed the whole roll and went about my business.