Our Christmas Day outing was a walk in one of my favourite Cairo parks: Hadiqa’t Al-Azhar. Wonderfully positioned on rising ground close to the citadel and Mohamed Ali mosque, overlooking the domes and minarets of medieval Cairo, it is a gem of a garden in a densely populated and polluted city.
The park is beautifully designed and planted, with particularly impressive trees from Acacia to Jacaranda, Bombax to Roystonea palms. I love the water channels and fountains in marble basins; the lake with nearby stream where egrets congregate; and, most of all, the hillside extending the length of the park that sweeps down to the restored walls of Salah Al-Deen (Saladin), thickly planted with shrubs, succulents, and yet more trees.
In my experience, this is Cairo’s most popular public park, the one where families, young people, old people, exercise and yoga trendies, and all the wannabe cool dudes of the neighbourhood gather.
Paradoxically, it is also a place of peace and gentle reflection, where breezes cool the air on warm summer days and the sunsets are spectacular. And where the sound of the call to prayer as the sun goes down is carried into the park by currents of air, filtering through trees and over the bubbling of water… A touch of paradise, perhaps.
I’ve often walked in Al-Azhar Park; I’ve done yoga exercises on its grass; I’ve hugged its trees; and I’ve listened while a whole crowd practised laughter yoga (!) I wasn’t surprised to read recently, in Mircea Eliade’s classic text “Yoga – Immortality and Freedom”, that: “For Indian consciousness, the vegetable modality is not an impoverishment but, quite the contrary, an enrichment of life. In Puranic mythology and in iconography, the rhizome and the lotus become the symbols of cosmic manifestations… Vegetation always signifies superabundance, fertility, the sprouting of all seeds.”*
So as we enter a new year, cross a threshold, make our resolutions for 2017, I would like to make a plea for this Earth’s beautiful trees: Respect them, tend them, feed them, love them – they are our friends, our support, our life.
I wish you all a happy, healthy and peaceful year in 2017. May it be filled with the contentment of a perfect walk in the park!
(For more on the park see also: A spring morning in Al-Azhar Park )
Yoga – Immortality and Freedom by Mircea Eliade, pub. Princeton University Press 2009, originally pub. in French in 1954.