City slicker: Cairo

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The Independent Culture
As Helmut Kohl visits the Egyptian capital this week, we ask: what's hot in Cairo?

Where to be seen: At the Mummy Hall of the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities. It packs more Royals in a single room than you will ever encounter, including Rameses II, still looking Great after 3,000 years.

Where not to be seen: Don't be caught dead inside the Great Pyramid. The six-million-ton pile of limestone is spectacular. But it is the wickedest tourist trap ever devised. You descend via an endless, dark, dank chicken ladder and arrive in a chamber darker, danker and far smaller than a Tube station loo. Also, stay away from the ever-rotating cast of Middle East peacemakers. Their motorcades rip heedlessly through the city's dense traffic; if they make peace anything like the way they drive, abandon all hope for the Holy Land.

Best eats: Lowlife grub is varied and abundant. Try koshary, a starch- packed bowl of macaroni, rice, lentils and onions topped with chilli sauce. It costs 15 pence or less per dose. The better the koshary, the more little stones lurk in the mix, which explains the state of Cairo's teeth. Highlife grub runs the ethnic gamut from enchiladas in Heliopolis to yakitori by the Nile.

Best smokes: The Egyptian waterpipe, known as the sheesha, is the highest refinement in tobacconeering. Avoid the deadly, cigar-like tombak and go for smooth, sweet ma'assil. Stewed in treacle and flavoured plain, apple, mango, orange or even banana, the African leaf is packed in a clay bowl, then topped with lit coals.

Drink of the moment: Sugarcane juice is vital in the summer, when the daytime heat hovers at lead-melting temperature. Freshly pressed in an ingenious mangle at any respectable juice stand, it costs a refreshing shilling. Daredevils in search of stronger stuff may risk local potions with uncannily familiar handles, such as Tony Talker Red Label, or Golden's London Dry Din.

Most ubiquitous item of attire: The wimple in rainbow polyester with sequins and matching spike heels. For the seriously pious, the full-face veil, dramatically anonymous like a fencer's mask but made of fine gauze. For lads, the acceptable accessory is worry beads. Keys to your Mercedes 500 SEL will substitute.

Most inappropriate item of attire: Sandals, because there are lots of icky things at foot level. And garments that overexpose flesh, because they are out of fashion by the will of God.

Catch-phrase: "Maaalessh". It means never mind, even if you are 10ft up on a camel's hump and he is galloping into the Sahara; even if the lotus blossom scent you just purchased at the Thousand Nights Perfume Palace turns out to be Tony Talker Red Label.

Shopping: Cairo is one of the unsung bargains of the world. Cotton things are cheap, cheap, cheap: shirts, sheets, towels, etc. Also leather goods and tacky nick-nacks with pharaonic motifs.

Sporting diversions: Sailing on the Nile, riding at the Pyramids, golfing at the Gezira Club and haggling at the Khan el Khalili bazaar are old hat. For real sport try crossing the street. Instead of signs saying "Look Left", Cairo kerbs - where they exist - should advise you to acquire Olympic sprinting ability and 360 degree vision.

MAX RODENBECK

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