Book Review: The Tentmakers of Cairo looks at Egypt’s overlooked art

'The Tentmakers of Cairo' looks at Egypt’s overlooked art. (Shutterstock)
Updated 09 January 2019
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Book Review: The Tentmakers of Cairo looks at Egypt’s overlooked art

BEIRUT: In the heart of medieval Cairo, facing the gate of Bab Zuwayla, lies the picturesque Street of the Tentmakers, Shari Khayamiya, lined with shops selling vibrant applique panels. This sewing technique, whereby textiles are sewn onto a ground material, is known as “khayamiya” and is unique to Egypt.

“The Tentmakers of Cairo,” by Seif El Rashidi and Sam Bowker, traces the origins of “khayamiya” from the 11th century to the present day. Khayamiya, the art of the tent, is derived from the Arabic word “khayma,” meaning tent.

It is difficult to understand why khayamiya has been the focus of so little attention besides a few articles, including an excellent piece in 1996 by John Feeny in “Aramco World Magazine,” a 2003 thesis and a 2015 documentary film by Kim Beamish.

Until the end of the 19th century, khayamiya was essentially viewed in architectural terms. The authors reveal clear links between tent panels and doorways from that period, “indicating that these textiles were conceived of as architecture in cotton.”

With their colorful patterns of greens, blues, reds and yellows, these distinctive textiles brighten up a street. In the words of the authors, “they unite ornament, function, and ritual in a spectacular display of Egyptian visual culture.” A more decorative khayamiya devoid of Arabic calligraphy emerged in the 1880s to cater for the needs of the nascent touristic market for souvenirs of Egypt.


What We Are Reading Today: Infinite Powers by Steven H. Strogatz

Updated 19 June 2019
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What We Are Reading Today: Infinite Powers by Steven H. Strogatz

  • It harnesses an unreal number — infinity — to tackle real‑world problems

Without calculus, we would not have cellphones, TV, GPS, or ultrasound. We would not have unraveled DNA or discovered Neptune or figured out how to put 5,000 songs in your pocket. 

Though many of us were scared away from this essential, engrossing subject in high school and college, Steven Strogatz’s brilliantly creative, down‑to‑earth history shows that calculus is not about complexity; it is about simplicity. It harnesses an unreal number — infinity — to tackle real‑world problems, breaking them down into easier ones and then reassembling the answers into solutions that feel miraculous. 

Infinite Powers recounts how calculus tantalized and thrilled its inventors, starting with its first glimmers in ancient Greece and bringing us right up to the discovery of gravitational waves (a phenomenon predicted by calculus), says a review published on goodreads.com.

Strogatz reveals how this form of math rose to the challenges of each age: How to determine the area of a circle with only sand and a stick; how to explain why Mars goes “backward” sometimes; how to make electricity with magnets and how to ensure your rocket does not miss the moon.