Tuesday, February 1, 2011
Pedaling While Rome Burns
From January 30:
Against all odds, the gym is open today. A while back, I got sick of the AUC Falaki gym's irregular hours, so I joined the gym at one of the hotels in Garden City. Even in the best of times, it's a little deserted. It's one of my favorite parts of the daily ritual, walking past the security guards at the hotel, through the overdecorated cafe with ladies eating cake, up to the empty gym, which is improbably decorated with mashrabiyas and orientalist arches. It's meditative, except when the gym staff get bored and antsy and interrupt my workout to chat.
Going to the gym probably wasn't a good idea: Garden City is an un-navigable mess of checkpoints and closed roads under normal circumstances, thanks to all the embassies. Today it was a catastrophe, but I was just so restless after sitting around doing nothing. Besides, it gave me an excuse to walk by Tahrir Square. People there are still festive and friendly. Things get heated after curfew falls, but by day it's been laid-back, full of people running errands before the sun sets, and taking pictures of burned out cars (there's one car, I can't figure out if it was destroyed during the protests, or it always looked beaten and gutted. You never know in Cairo). Tanks are tagged with slogans, and of course there's debris everywhere. I never did like Hardees, but I still don't think it deserved to be smashed and burned. The McDonald's is in similar shape but Cilantro, the aggravating and uncomfortably air-conditioned Starbucks knock0ff, looks fine. It's hard to tell, though: the metal outer door is pulled down. The scene behind it might be ugly.
The lights were off in the hotel, and at first I didn't think I could even get in, but sure enough, the doors were open, the security guards were as pro-forma as ever, the power was on, the machines were running, and there was the gym attendant, bored and lifting weights and watching music videos. He told me he was glad to see me, and was at pains to reassure me that the Egyptian people like Americans very much, that we're very good people. Normally I don't know how to respond to stuff like that - it's a common thing I hear, by the way - but today I appreciated the attempt to reassure me.
The workout felt fantastic. Not only for its physical effects, but for the re-establishment of routine. I put clothes into my usual locker, got onto the same bike I always use, lifted the same weights, and showered in my usual stall. The shower in my apartment is temperamental, often scalding or freezing, so I always like a good shower at the gym. I scurried home so as not to get caught in any clashes, and I felt restored. It's a privilege to be able to do these things, so I'd best enjoy it.