One Degree of Coffee Bean

In Cairo, just around the corner from the building where I lived for nearly a year, is a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf franchise. It’s in the Om Kalthoum building (named for the famous Egyptian singer who rose to international stardom in the 1950s and whose house used to sit on the site of what is now a high-rise hotel/apartment building). The two-level cafe is one of the hippest spots in Zamalek, if not Cairo.

And it was also the center of my universe.

Every morning, I would quaff an Americano at The Bean. The staff knew me well and would be making my order as soon as they saw me. It was where I would grade papers, where I would meet friends, and, inevitably, where I would run into people by chance.

So last weekend, when I visited Cairo for a few days, I shouldn’t have been surprised to see so many familiar faces there.

I ran into E, an AUC instructor, a couple of times. Former neighbors and students were there. And, most surprisingly, Munir, who was visiting from Beirut, had just arrived in the neighborhood directly from the airport. He bought a SIM card for his mobile phone and wanted to find a cafe with wireless so he could find my mobile number from an email I had sent the day before. He stopped into the Bean… and ran into me.

Coincidence or Truman Show? You decide.

If we are all six degrees of separation from everyone else in the world, then the Bean makes the odds closer to one or two degrees.

I wonder if Kevin Bacon has ever been there?

I returned to New York on Tuesday after my quick weekend trip to Cairo, and a brief day in Jordan to put a bow and ribbon on the Arab House project. I’m in New York for a few days, working on another project (will update you on that soon), and then it’s off to Princeton next week. I wonder what place there will replace the Bean as my new haunt and galactic center?

Sponge Bob and Me

Sponge Bob mug

In my rental apartment in Amman, I’m making use of the odds and ends left behind by the previous tenant — a few pots and pans, a coffee ibrik, a rackety little blender.

In the living room, there’s a toy oud, a few books (including The Motorcycle Diaries by Che Guevara), a hexagonal jewelry box with mother of pearl inlay, and a little cedar stand with carved wood hands gripping a miniature copy of the Holy Koran.

The cupboards in the kitchen are fairly bare, but I laugh every morning when I drink coffee from an “awesome” Sponge Bob Squarepants mug.

And to think they left that behind.

Frosty, the Snow, Amman

Snow in AmmanIt’s snowing in Amman.

Big thick snowflakes, plopping wet on the ground in a slushy mix. It seems out of place on the palm tree fronds, out of place for the Middle East. On the grass, the inch or so of moist snow is perfect for snowballs and snowmen (but way too wet for snow angels), but the kids I’ve seen playing outside haven’t tried to make Frosty yet.

It’s too warm for much accumulation, so it’ll be slushy, for the most part, today.

Mohannad, the video editor, just arrived an hour late at the post production house where I’m working, popped his head in the door to say he’s here, but quickly added “in Jordan on days like this, we mostly stay at home.”

We apologized for denying him a snow day.

Five years ago, there was day when there was a meter of snow in Amman. It shut down the city for a couple of days. No snow plows. Lots of hills. Bad combination. Just stay home.

I don’t mind the snow here so much. At least it’s warmer than it was a week ago, and Carolyn (the executive producer of the project I’m doing here) was finally able to convince the landlord at the apartment building to turn the heat on for more than four hours a day. It was so cold in my bedroom the other night, I checked into a hotel to sleep. Carolyn and I have both been very sick for the past week, struck by a nasty virus that has gripped half of all the folks we’ve been working with. I felt like a nurse in the tuberculosis ward. After two stressful weeks, our systems could fight it off no longer and we finally succumbed. At the tail end of my time in Beirut, I was down for the count, but now all I have are lingering sniffles and sneezes. Carolyn is still very much under the weather, and, understandably her mood is as blustery as the whirling snow outside.

But in the edit suite I’m content, listening to the Arab House audio mix, and viewing the wintry mix through the window.

My mental soundtrack for the day (which sometimes finds me singing out loud) alternates between “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow,” and that Trip Shakespeare tune:

It’s coming down
Snow lays on the chainfields
There’s a blessing on the ground

Go home. Go home and take a snow day, Mrs. Braintree!

If only I could.

“How can I be an actress?”

Craig avec beret et Carolyn

Me in Francis Ford Coppola mode, with Carolyn Robinson at Jafra coffee shop in Amman, where we shot the host segments for the Arab House television program we’re working on.  As I noted in an earlier post, a young lady came up to me after I finished directing the three-camera shoot and asked “how can I be an actress?”

I was gracious, but I think I said something like “go be in a play or something.”

Kind of like the old joke about how you get to Carnegie Hall.


Bethania 03

While working here in Lebanon, we are staying north of Beirut in the village of Harissa.  Our hotel is called Bethania, a mountain retreat center next to a statue and sanctuary dedicated to the Virgin Mary. 

Bethania 02The hotel is a modern building that most often houses pilgrims who come here on spiritual retreats.  It sits behind the cathedral (pictured at right) and the sizable statue on a four-story base that you can climb to just below the figure of Mary. 

Bethania 05In a few adjacent nooks, people had lit candles below images of the Virgin in the windows overlooking the sea. 

 A teleferique brings visitors up the mountain to the base of the statue.  From my balcony, I have a great view of the Mediterranean Sea and the coast. 

For those of you who follow the news, you’ll know that there was a bomb blast that killed some people today in a Beirut suburb.  I can report that Carolyn and I are safely ensconced in our mountain retreat and, since we seem to be the only guests in the hotel,  we’re enjoying the peace and quiet of the evening. 

Bethania 01