Red Sails in the Sunset

One of the most incredible images I saw in Egypt was red-sailed boats on The Nile.  Despite the extreme pollution and dust of Cairo, the sails seemed to filter sunlight.  The Nile is still very much a source of life for Egypt- it is the country’s only perennial water source.   Follow the Nile and you can see the settlement patterns of ancient Egypt, which in turn dictated the modern day transport routes.  The Nile is still the life source of the country – Egypt only has less than three percent arable land, and all of this is in the Nile valley and delta.  Yet, windblown sand and rapid population growth is over-burdening the river, and the amount of arable land is shrinking.

My last night in Cairo, I finally got to see the sunset on the Nile via a felucca – a traditional wide bottomed Egyptian sail boat –  tour.

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Apparently, I’m not the only one to be enthralled with red sails.  Nat King Cole sang about Red Sails in the Sunset (not a song I’m running to add to my iTunes), as did Louis Armstrong, David Bowie, Jack Jackson and Bing Crosby.  The poet Bei Dao wrote The Boat With the Red Sail.

Friday in Aga Khan’s Park

Over 20 million people, many of whom live close to the poverty line, reside in Cairo, which was designed for a population about one-fourth of  its current number.  A single slum in the city, as Tarek El-Tablawy of the Associated Press pointed out earlier this year, has more residents than the combined populations of Qatar, Kuwait  and  Bahrain.


Cairo has had to balance a growth in population, with an urban design that was Hausmanian, favoring wide road ways, gardens and upscale apartments designed to showcase the “modernism” of Cairo – in terms of its publics, identities and practices.  However, with Sadat’s infitah, the new middle and upper classes moved out to suburbia, building a recreational life in clubs and gated communities with golf courses and other amenities as public space became usurped for other purposes and Modernist Cairo became modern Cairo. Continue reading “Friday in Aga Khan’s Park”

Catching Up


You may notice on onslaught of posts coming in the next few days.  It’s been a crazy couple of weeks, and I apparently left all the posts sitting in the draft section.

The good news is that Bright Buffalo Niagara (an entrepreneurial and economic development vehicle that I have worked on) had its forum the second week in June, and it was a success.  Press from around the Great Lakes covered the event, and investors thought that there was new energy in Buffalo.

Additionally, Saving Cities interviewed people in Buffalo about possible ways to redevelop and re energize the Great Lakes region.  Basically, this means I got to sit around with other people who only laughed and didn’t roll their eyes when I said the term “Great Lakes Megalopolis.”  But the interviews are part of their effort – Red, White and Blueprints – to document the various cities in the Rust Belt and how they are redefining themselves within 21st century economic constraints.  Cleveland, Buffalo and Beyond! I’ll post updates here as I have them on the initaitve.



Ibn Tulun Mosque

You’re going to have to use your imagination for this, as I didn’t want to take too many pictures in a sacred place and my hands were too shaky from climbing up to the top of the minaret. But to see pictures of the mosque, check out the Sacred Spaces page.

In the heart of medieval Cairo, there lies a mosque built in 879.  It is the oldest unmodified, constantly used mosque in the city.  The man who commissioned it  – Ibn Tulun – was a son of Mongol slaves who rose to great power, establishing a dynasty in Egypt.  The site of the mosque was originally a Christian/Jewish area, which he cleared to establish his city and mosque for his troops.  The site is believed by some to be where Noah’s ark landed after the flood (Wikipedia) and near the site where Abraham almost sacrificed Isaac (

The space is open and, like much of Cairo, beige with dust and age.  It’s like viewing a city through sepia tint glasses – it is a city bordering a desert. While some of the prayer area is covered by a roof, and the minbar, mihrab and qibla are all under it,  the majority of the prayer area is in the open.  The only real walls are the four foundations of the structure, the roof itself is help up by columns.  I was totally enthralled by this, daydreaming about service in the open, which would definitely make me feel something spiritual more–  until I realized that Cairo was much more amenable to this experience than say the Northeast coast of the US in February.  The mosque offers “helical outer staircase similar to that of the famous minaret in Samarra.”(wikipedia)  From here, you can see across Cairo, and realize why the city has the nickname ‘The City of Minarets.’

The mosque is built of mudbrick, and is the third oldest mosque in the world (according to the Tour Egypt site). Because of its openess, the colors and are faded and the importance of the site takes a while to sink in. Luckily, while I was there, a group of either Indian or Pakistani tourists came in.  They were lead on a guided tour around the structure, in their own language.  The men wore traditional white kaftans and pants, and the women dressed in an array of colorful saris with little embellishment.  Watching them tour the site reminded me of just how vast the reach of  Islam is.   The colors of the tourists made the interior of the mosque pop and highlighted how old and important this space was.