Saturday, February 27, 2010

Scents of the past

Al Ahram Weekly (Osama Kamal)

Osama Kamal explores Egypt's past in the company of one of Port Said's best-known antique dealers and collectors

Sometimes chance leads you to things you know very little about, only to delight you with startling details. This is what happens when meeting Ashraf El-Sayyad. Coming from a family that has specialised in buying and selling oriental products, Pharaonic, Coptic and Islamic, for generations, El-Sayyad today runs an antique shop in Port Said not far from the Canal. Many of his clients are foreigners who stop by as they pass through the Suez Canal.

What makes El-Sayyad unique in his family is that he sells other relics of the past besides oriental items. Ever since childhood he has been fond of collecting old things, including antiques, stamps, old envelopes, letters, postcards and coins from all over the world. El-Sayyad does not know why he is so infatuated with the material culture of the past, only that he is. His profession, he says, has become a way of communicating with the world.

As a result, El-Sayyad's love for old things nears the kind of obsession one sees in top athletes or award-winning scientists.

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