Politics & Prose is currently engaged in conversations about creating literary-themed tours with an original bent. We’re eager to know what might interest you, as well as what thoughts you might have about timing, pricing, and accommodations. If you are willing, please click here to take a few minutes to fill out this survey. All information is confidential. We assure you that your email address will not be distributed to others, and you do not need to provide your name unless you would like to be entered into a drawing to win a $100 gift certificate to P&P.
I was fortunate to be part of a small contingent invited to Cairo by Academic Travel Abroad, Inc., a DC-based tour company. Their tours aim at exploring a country more deeply than offered by the usual tourist itinerary. They wanted my help in test-driving their new Egypt program.
This was an ideal time to visit; everyone was eager to talk about the revolution and the exuberance was palpable, with the word utopia frequently employed. Graffiti is still splashed resplendently on the walls of Tahrir Square. The scarred façade of the headquarters of the Democratic National Party headquarters, an instrument of Hosni Mubarak’s rule, has blended into the landscape. Cairo has long been a city of old and new, juxtaposed. These days, what’s new are the images of an unfinished revolution: electrical poles in Tahrir, for instance, that were jerry-rigged to power laptops during the 18 days of demonstrations and whose wires are still colorfully splayed.
Old Cairo remains, of course. Last month it was possible to imagine the characters of a Naguib Mahfouz novel peering out onto al-Nahhasin Street though labyrinths of jasmine and hyacinth vines, tending to the chickens on their roofs. The city’s coffeehouses fuse past and present. In the literature of yore they were intellectual hubs. They still are, but now they offer free wireless and are peopled with young democracy activists.
We toured Sakkara and Giza and took plenty of photographs of the pyramids and sphinx. We visited the Egyptian Museum and the Alabaster Mosque. But we also met privately with the president of Al-Azhar University, had dinner with an Egyptologist, visited a center run by an eccentric local artist, had coffee with democracy activists, and participated in a meeting to discuss the role of women in contemporary Egyptian society.
Politics & Prose is considering taking this style of cultural tourism one step further. A tour of Egypt would surely include a comprehensive survey of Nobel Laureate Naguib Mahfouz’s haunts---not to mention dinner in his namesake restaurant. It might include walking tours of Lucette Lagnado’s pre-Nasser-era Cairo, made famous in her wrenching memoir The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit, with visits to the old synagogues and perhaps even the luscious patisseries of her youth. We’d do a Nile riverboat dinner cruise and witness a whirling dervish, but we’d also arrange coffee with contemporary Egyptian authors, and would build a reading list and day trips accordingly.
Egypt is just a hypothetical starting point. Imagine the possibilities of a poetry tour of Ireland, or the literature of Jerusalem; the Mumbai of contemporary Indian fiction; a trip to the Cowboy Poetry Festival out west, or we could keep it simple and do literary tours of Baltimore and D.C.
As I said above, we’re eager to know what might interest you, as well as what thoughts you might have about timing, pricing, and accommodations. It would help us a great deal if you would click here to take a few minutes to fill out this survey. All information is confidential. We assure you that your email address will not be distributed to others, and you do not need to provide your name unless you would like to be entered into a drawing to win a $100 gift certificate to P&P.
Thanks, and we hope to travel with you soon!
Editorial and Programs Director