I went on a long hunt through the streets of Downtown Cairo a few days ago, trying to find a tailor. Although it wasn't just finding a tailor that was hard - it was finding the right one. Cairo has districts that are full to overflowing with tailors and shops that sell cloth. But most of them look absolutely awful, and they sell really cheap stuff. I was looking for somewhere with real craftsmanship but Egyptian prices...a daunting task.
Following a recommendation and a vague set of directions from a classmate, I set out trying to find the right place. I quickly began to realize that in many ways, Cairo is like a giant village. I spent an hour wandering around a two block area trying to find a specific set of alleys, and then another 30 minutes in those alleys trying to find the right building. Get more than 100 metres away from your destination, and no one can tell you where it is. Everything is intensely localized.
Finally, wandering through the bottom story of a dilapidated apartment building, I asked a man who looked half blind and about 150 years old. His answer? "Zaghloul's not here." Not even the name of the store or anything, just the man's name and his absence. He pointed to a shuttered door with a sign over it. The sign had faded, illegible Arabic and the words: "Zaghloul Fayek: Taileur."
When I returned the next day, the shutter was up and I could poke my head into the shop. It was like an explosion in a very small textile mill. Bits of cloth lay everywhere: in cupboards, in the windows, over dummies, on the chairs and sofa. An wizened little man stood behind the desk, conversing with another, equally ancient man.
Zaghloul took me aside and tried futilely to communicate with me in French. That, combined with the sign on his shop, made me realize he was really pretty ancient, dating to the time when French as, well, the lingua franca of the Middle East. I took a look at his work-room and the stuff he was working on. I was pretty impressed - as far as I could tell, he really knows his stuff.
After a bit of haggling, discussion, fabric sampling, picture exchanging and lots and lots of broken Arabic, I commissioned a handmade made-to-measure charcoal pinstripe 2-button double-vented suit with a ticket pocket and peak lapels. All this for just about $100. If everything works out as planned, I'll have it for next Wednesday.
I can't wait.