London Trip Day 7: Persian Dinner – Edgware – Ahmad Alkatib – Tower of London – Final Night

He is an Iranian musician from Italy, living and working in London.  He was playing all kind of music from around the world during our dinner me and Walid at the Rose Garden restaurant, located in the London Elizabeth Hotel, right across from the Italian Fountains entrance of Hyde park.  The food was delicious, and we were the last customers of the restaurant that night.

The waitress is from Lithuania, and the people eating next to us were from Turkey.  London is gorgeous in its diversity.

Next day, the promised foul (pronounced foooooool in Arabic) plate was awaiting us on Edgware road.  We grabbed our coffee from the Italian Fountain cafe and walked through Central Park to Edgware road, a major road that has its origins as a Roman road and runs 10 miles in a perfect straight line.  The southernmost part of the road is noted for its distinct Middle Eastern flavour.  Many Lebanese and Egyptian restaurants, hookah cafes, and Arab themed nightclubs line the street.  The Odeon cinema, once the location of the biggest screen in London, often now shows films in Arabic.

There were many choices, but asking around at the best place to eat foul at, we were directed to AlShishawi restaurant.  An Egyptian owned restaurant, but serves all kind of food.  It is nicely decorated in arabesque and wood work of Egypt.  We sat out side and chose couple plates of lebanese style foul, then added some shawarma that looked so fresh and delicious to skip.  Nothing is like a clear cup of tea and the sound of the spoon stirring the sugar.  It brings so much memories of childhood.  What I enjoyed more than the authentic food, is the happiness of Walid, who has been deprived from such dish in Liverpool, since he left Lebanon.

Walid’s battery was dying, and while he tried to decipher the crooks from the honest salesmen of Edgware Road shopts to buy a new battery, I was in contact with Sheik Ahmad Alkatib to meet.  Ahmad Alkatib is a former scholar, and current thinker, author, and reformer, originally from Iraq, and lived in several countries.  His reform theories are aligned to IRSHAD and we consider ourselves fighting the same fight for Islamic reform.  He has published 10’s of books and currently very active on Facebook, with two live sessions a day!

We met Sheik Ahmad Alkatib and walked with him to Starbucks on Edgware, then we went with him through the tube, which I wanted to experience before leaving London, to another area, called Queensway, which had multiple Arabic books stores.  He showed us a new book he published.  We visited Al Saqi Book Store on Westbourne Grove, which is one of the most popular Arabic book stores in that area.

We said good bye to him there, and stayed a little looking for a book.  Could not find the right book to read, or actually did not know what to look for.  My education in Arabic language has been islamized by my Islamic studies, so I rarely read Arabic books outside the religious context.  The Hawzah (Islamic Seminary studies institution) did not encourage or at least did not facilitate reading books outside the circle of the same school of thought.  I was lost in the biggest book store there.  I decided to ask Walid.  Walid really had no suggestion for me.  He said none of these he would recommend.  I called my friend Mohamad Fahos from Lebanon using WhatsApp, and asked him.  He recommended few classical which I could not find.  The books also were very expensive.  I ended up buying 1 book just so I would not regret having a book from a such a rich library.  Yet it was unfortunate that nothing attracted me.  That is part of the severe lack of literature problem in the Arabic world.  Basically, nobody writes anymore, and those that write don’t publish, and those who publish don’t make money out of their publication.  There are no incentive to publish unless you want to feed the spiders living on the book shelves of the deserted Arab book stores and libraries.

In addition, the books were very expensive.  12 to 20 pounds per book.  Almost double the price of the English similar books.  After placing 5 books on the table for the guy to calculate a price for me, the price was about 70 pounds.  I offered him 50 pounds.  He said take them all for free since you are breaking me anyway, angrily!  I was embarrassed by his statement, but could not just put that investment into these books knowing that they will be available online soon, and they are probably not worth the money to tell you the truth. I returned them all but one, that I paid for 12 pounds and left.

I stopped for a gelato bite at Snowflake Luxury Gelato.  How can you resist a luxury Gelato!  Then we stopped at Arro Coffee for a pour on coffee experience.  I asked the blonde barista to tell my friend Walid all about the pour on coffee.  She was from Italy.  She asked us where are we from, and Walid answered from Lebanon and my friend is from the US.  She right away turned to me and smiled and said “Nice to Meet You!” Without looking back at Walid.  Me and Walid noticed the obvious differentiation in treatment between us upon declaring our citizenships, and it was funny to us.

We walked back to the hotel, while Walid tried to help his nephew Ali via WhatsApp video chat on his Math homework, getting furistrated at times. We arrive at the hotel, and decided that we are not going to settle down for the remaining of the afternoon to relaxation, while we are on our last night, and we are going to thread down to one sight, that I have read so much about, and watched 3 documentaries about in preparation before going to London, but haven’t seen yet … the Tower Bridge.

It takes two buses to get to the Tower Bridge, but the second bus is always free if you take it within the hour of taking the first bus.  We hopped on in the middle of Rush Hour, and took as about an hour and a half to get there, sitting on the second floor of the red bus, watching London and talking.  Can not have better travel time than that!

A post shared by Wissam Charafeddine (@wcharaf) on

We arrived prior to sunset to the Tower Bridge, full of tourists.  Strolled across it few times, and beneath it. Contemplated this great city and the people who have walked this bridge and watched this sunset.  We then got a couple Starbucks cafes and walked on the other side of the Thames across from the Tower of London.  We then headed to downtown, and we took a bus from there back to Edgware.  We arrived there about midnight, and it was still full of people and strolling cars.  The hookah cafes were bustling with guys and girls smoking and talking.  We ate couple stuffed lamb plates as a goodbye meal for me and Walid, and walked back to the hotel through Hyde Park after midnight.

We talked about what scares you in life?  What is the scariest thing to you?  For Walid, he still had a thing for evil spirits and demons which he believed in.  For me, it was humans,  sick or mentally ill delusional psychopathic humans.

We had short conversations to the sounds of Arabic music before our eyes fell heavy with sleep in the last night in London.

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