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Friday, February 26, 2016

A Look at Omar Effendi Department Store

We are interested in buying a small freezer.  This would cut down on the number of trips we have to make to the larger markets.  We are looking for a freezer about the size of a "dorm refrigerator."

This took us downtown to Abdel-Aziz Street, where all the outlets for appliances are congregated.  I wrote about this district a couple of years ago in this post.  It's where all of the "small box" appliance stores can be found.  Here is a picture.

Just pick a store with a salesman that you like.  Don't worry, if they don't have what you are looking for, someone will comb all the other stores for it and the two stores will split the profit on your fairly negotiated price.  Sit down, please.  And have some tea!

On the way to this area, we passed by a large pinkish-orange building that looked very interesting.  As we reached the entrance, I found it in a sad state of disrepair but realized that it had belonged to Omar Effendi.


Omar Effendi was a very successful large department store chain that can trace its history back to 1857.  It has a local history and operated on the same business model as Hudson's in Detroit, Dayton's in Minneapolis, Barr's in St. Louis, etc. through most of the twentieth century.   Interestingly, we bought our first Cairo refrigerator and stove at one of the suburban locations of Omar Effendi before we became aware of the "new retail model" stores on Abdel-Aziz Street.

I decided to cross the street and take a few pictures.  What a grand flagship store she must have been!
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Look at a few of the architectural details still proudly displayed along the six-story face.
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The building itself dates from 1909 and was designed by the French architect, Raoul Brandon for what was then the Orosdi-Back chain.  Try Googling "Orosdi Back" and look at images and books for an interesting diversion.

This advertisement tells the story in words and the advertising postcard portrays a Cairo long past.

For a long period of time, that globe at the top of the building shone a light that was visible for miles across Cairo, attracting shoppers downtown.

The Omar Effendi chain suffered many indignities from nationalization in 1957 to an apparently badly botched privatization in 2006.

An article in the U.K. Guardian outlines the history of the store:
The once-chic department store, which still stands in downtown Cairo like a fallen diva, started off as Cairo's answer to Harrods, and was frequented by the city's large European population and the moneyed Egyptian elite, including the semi-feudal land-owning pasha class. It fed the modernising city's voracious appetite for all things European and western.
 The ultimate downfall of the government privitization story involves the World Bank (your money at work!) and a Saudi Arabian company.  There is a fifteen page document titled, "Omar Effendi, Who's to Blame?" with a one page executive summary that tells the tale.  It is a story of layoffs, delayed payments to employees and suppliers etc.  The report fails, however, to put the story in any context of the world-wide collapse of the department store business model.  The history of the chain and the employee travails do make interesting reading.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Rankings Are in

The eighteenth annual Mercer quality of living list was just released.  Mercer is a division of the highly regarded HR benefits consulting firm of Marsh & McLennan.  The list is part of their consulting service by which companies figure out how much money you have to pay someone to get them to go work in country xxx.

The top ten cities on this year's list are:

1 Vienna, Austria
2 Zurich, Switzerland
3 Auckland, New Zealand
4 Munich, Germany
5 Vancouver, Canada
6 Dusseldorf, Germany
7 Frankfurt, Germany
8 Geneva, Switzerland
9 Copenhagen, Denmark
10 Sydney, Australia

The bottom ten are:

221 Conakry, Guinea

222 Kinshasa, Congo, Democratic Republic of
223 Brazzaville, Congo, Republic of
224 Damascus, Syria

225 N'Djamena, Chad

226 Khartoum, Sudan

227 Port-au-Prince, Haiti

228 Sana'a, Yemen

229 Bangui, Central African Republic
230 Baghdad, Iraq

Naturally, readers of this blog are curious about Cairo and their own neighborhoods.

Cairo comes in at number 171

Here are the rankings for U.S. Cities:

28 San Francisco

34 Boston

35 Honolulu

43 Chicago

44 New York City

46 Seattle

49 Los Angeles

51 Washington

56 Pittsburgh

57 Philadelphia

61 Minneapolis

63 Dallas

65 Houston

66 Miami

67 Atlanta

68 St. Louis

70 Detroit

You just might disagree.  After all, Detroit is just nine behind Minneapolis and 101 ahead of Cairo!  But, read the whole thing here and a summary article in the U.K. Daily Mail with pictures here.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

A Walk Through Time

We are sometimes asked, "How far is your place from the airport?" We often answer, "About thirty miles and several centuries."

On our side of town, the donkey cart is still frequently seen transporting gas canisters, vegetables or trash.  When we took our friend, Engin, back to the airport on Monday morning and returned home, traffic was badly stalled on the frontage road near our place.  The donkeys were easily keeping up with the newer vehicles.  The one you see here would walk right up to the van ahead of him and put his head against it.  That way, as the van moved, the donkey knew to start pulling his cart and maintain position.

Today we went over to the east side of town, just below the Citadel.  We were planning to take pictures of minarets for one blog post and Linda wanted to begin collecting pictures for a "Colors of Cairo" post too.  We found some very nice minarets, but the post will have to wait for a bit.  I just wanted to share a few of the other things we saw.
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We only walked about a mile and a half in total from beneath the Citadel down to Bab Zuweila.  The first interesting distraction was a small iron foundry.  This three-man operation was casting bits, stirrups and parts for horse and donkey harnesses.
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They were likely using the same technology as in 1880 except for the use of propane fuel instead of charcoal.  It was fascinating to watch the molten iron being poured into the sand molds.

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Beyond the tiny foundry, we turned a corner and I spotted a mechanic showing the finer points of valve grinding to his son as they worked on this overhead valve 4-cylinder engine ("4 slenders" is how it usually sounds in discussions with Egyptians).

Next up was a carpenter (or possibly a do-it-yourselfer) pausing his motorcycle to steady his load of trim. Notice the left-over St Valentine's day merchandise in the nearby store.
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Here are two copy centers.  It is easy to find a place to make copies here.  Just look for the copy machine out on the sidewalk.  (Although in our neighborhood you will find them behind the counter of the convenience store.)
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Sometimes there is so much going on in a picture, you just have to pause and enjoy it.  This one is going into Linda's Colors of Cairo collection, I think.  Love the shirt on the lady on the left. We often wonder if the people wearing such clothing understand what is written on their clothes. We've seen some pretty amusing wording, English words but no meaning in English.


How's That Internet Connection Working Out?

Pretty well, actually.  Thanks for asking.

We can now watch most videos that show up via YouTube links.  This is very good for all the cat videos that show up on Facebook.

And a couple of nights ago, we used Skype with a video link to talk to our next-door-neighbors in Bloomington, something that was definitely not achievable via the old setup.

I thought I would boldly try to watch a few television shows available at home on the net.

It turns out that both ABC and CBS restrict coverage outside of the U.S.
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You might also be interested in how those phone cables up the side of the building are working out.  You may recall that at the base of the building, we have this batch of phone wires running up and into various apartments and businesses from the phone company's box.

This is the view out the window from my corner office, and from the living room window.
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Someone has recently strung a hone wire to a higher floor across my satellite dish in back.

But this view toward my neighbor's satellite dish gives a nice complement to the wiring at the ground floor phone box.

Monday, February 22, 2016

How About Some Juice?

"Would you like to stop and have some juice?" our friend said. "Sure. " we said. In Egypt when you see a place like this it means it a shop that sells fresh juice made on the spot.

"We are near a famous shop for juice right now." he said, so we stopped. Linda didn't want any juice so Roshdy and I went inside to order. 

We were not the only ones in the shop.  Roshdy did the ordering and I waited patiently. He ordered cocktail juice.


This is what  the so-called juice turned out to be. It was a fantastic fruit cocktail. Linda was sorry she said no to the juice but we both shared a little with her.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

A Stop for Coffee

We were downtown a few days ago and stopped in at the well-known coffee shop of Abdel Maboud.  Located right across from the Chamber of Commerce building, the shop had a line of shoppers looking for the perfect blend of beans.

There were at least a dozen varieties of beans behind the counter and a half-dozen people dispensing and grinding.  Most people were buying their coffee already finely ground with the intention of preparing the strong Turkish style of coffee.  I picked out a half-kilo of very rich looking dark beans.
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At home, they ground into the blackest coffee that I have ever seen and make a superb morning brew.

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Thursday, February 18, 2016

A Camel Ride by the Pyramids

We have been hosting our friend, Engin, for the past few days and doing a few touristy things in the vicinity of Cairo.  On Friday afternoon we headed over to the Giza pyramids to take a short camel ride into the desert.

We stopped at the stable of Wageh Al Faumey who soon had us mounted up on two fine camels.
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It's just a short five minutes or so along the village streets to reach the entrance to the pyramids compound.
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The elite Egyptian tourist police collected our admission tickets and we were soon moving toward the desert.

Whoa, Nellie!  I see a picture, right here.  Let's stop and let those horses move up the trail so that they are in the frame too.


We moved on toward the desert past the Muslim and Christian cemeteries of the village.
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We were just far enough out into the desert to give the illusion of a great empty space.

We stopped to pose for some of the customary tourist pictures.  This is why you will want a talented guide/photographer.  With today's digital cameras, I can't see anything on the display out in the sun but those guides have no problem.
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Over by the sphinx, there was a nice view of the tourists moving down the long ramp for their pictures.

It was probably a total of 45 minutes from start to finish.  Both Engin and I survived, as did both of our camels.
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