Egypt

The Nile runs straight through the middle of Cairo, from south to north like a grand zip. In the middle of this citied stretch of river there is an island known colloquially by the name of the suburb that crowds it: Zamalek. Once the grounds of a summer palace, the island became a colonial stronghold in the 1880s, when an extravagant leisure club was built for British Army officers, replete with croquet lawns, a polo field, and pony stables. Now, Zamalek is a restless mix of affluence and decay: home to old money, new expatriates, and crumbling art-deco apartment blocks – the last gasp of Nasser-era rent control. Embassy gardens thrive behind concrete walls and razor wire, while national service recruits doze in the heat, chins propped on the barrels of their AK-47s. American fast-food chains rub greasy shoulders with antique stores full of French rococo and faux-Napoleonic gilt. The ponies outlasted the British Empire, and can still be booked for riding lessons, but the summer palace has been swallowed by a Marriott Hotel. And on the busiest street of this well-storied isle – where the everyday traffic is as loud as a rock concert – there is a bookshop.

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Italo Calvino once wrote that ‘cities are like dreams: their rules seem absurd, their perspectives are often deceitful, and everything in them conceals something else’, hence ‘we should take delight not in a city’s wonders, whether these number seven or seventy, but in the answers a city can ...

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