I returned from a short walk around the neighborhood on my first day in Cairo and was drawn toward the bar and restaurant in the open lobby of the Intercontinental Citystars. I wasn’t hungry or interested in a drink, I simply felt like wandering and seeing what was there.
Then the sound of music, energetic strings and the fast rhythms of a tabla pulled me on. It sounded live, so I poked my head around a corner looking for the source. Sure enough, tucked into a corner of the lobby that opened onto the restaurant a quartet of women dressed in headscarves were playing. One strummed a 12-stringed lute-like instrument called an oud, another plucked a flat zither-like instrument, a third bowed a cello, the fourth beat a tabla.
I stood and listened a moment until the restaurant host appeared and asked if I wanted a table. No, I didn’t, I just wanted to enjoy the music a moment.
“Here, sit,” he said, motioning to a nearby table.
“No, no need,” I replied, not wanting to occupy his space without ordering something.
“No, please,” he repeated as he moved toward the table, hand gesturing to a chair. When he pulled it out and turned it toward the musicians I gave in, sat, and enjoyed many moments of inspiring local music.
Later that evening, after a meal in the same restaurant, I headed for the elevator only to encounter another string quartet, this composed of four men, two violins, a viola, and a cello, playing a Mozart concerto. Their music filled the room and I stood, admiring, able to leave only when they finished the piece.