Life is good: latte in hand, Sade belting out one of my faves from the '80s, I am sitting in a comfy chair with a view of the sun setting on the Nile and unlimited internet access. I am in one of my favorite spots in all of Cairo: The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf (sigh) I get filled with love just writing it's name.
I don't know what I expected when I came to Cairo but it sure wasn't this. I would be hard pressed to find a comparable cafe in Toronto (maybe Far Coast on Bloor, MAYbe). It is on a sunny corner, overlooking the corniche/ Nile river with an imposing statue of Umm Kulthum marking the square. It is modern, chic and filled with Zamalek's beautiful people. The service is good (not too much blah blah, they just make my coffee without fuss) and I can literally sit here for HOURS without the suggestion that perhaps I should move my butt to make room for new customers or that I should buy something more than the latte I have been nursing for the last decade.
If ever I wonder what's in fashion, all I have to do is come here and people watch. The women are so stylish and of the moment, I cannot even tell you. Today, for example, it's sunny and the terrace is a SCENE. Gucci, Dolce, Prada -- the women are immaculately dressed, looking like: "This old thing? Oh, it's just something I threw on." And even the guys are sporting all the designer accessories du jour. But somehow, it's not obnoxious -- it just is. This is their reality and no one is trying hard -- they just are stylish and beautiful. It's a fact of life. I normally find this scene unbearable in other cities but...I think the grit of Cairo makes me crave some beauty and connection to "what's hip"...
This cafe has literally saved my sanity. Whenever I wonder what the hell I am doing in Cairo, I throw on my coat, sunglasses, grab my handbag and head across Zamalek to my beloved Coffee Bean. There are dozens of other cafes within walking distance of our place. But each of them has something wrong with it....Beanos -- is tucked away between somewhere between the Sri Lankan embassy and the Dutch embassy. I can never find it and always (without fail) end up at the gates of the All Saint's Cathedral (I suspect there is a message in there for me somewhere)....Cilantro -- watery coffee, snotty servers, it's dark and they clean up after you the second you put your cup down (the only good thing about Cilantro is the mini brownie they give you with your coffee - yum)....Barista -- the air is grey with smoke and the light in the bathroom never works... I have passed some really interesting Egyptian coffee places but I only see old and young men and the odd blonde obviously foreign woman in there sticking out like a sore thumb... so uh, no thanks. There is an Italian place on the main drag (the Illy coffee sign beacons me) -- but the problem with that is that it's on the main drag and I don't find it relaxing to chew diesel or listen to the deafening sound of car horns. But that's just me.
No, the Coffee Bean is perfect. It's my escape. I think all you really need is one place that is your sanctuary, somewhere you can go, recharge and chill out. If you have that one place, I think you can face whatever the city throws at you.