Three mornings. Three rivers. Three cities. Two weeks ago, I had the rare opportunity to compare them consecutively. “Three rivers” needn’t conjure images of gambling for you to consider yourself lucky.
Tuesday morning I watched the sun rise over the Nile River from downtown Cairo. Wednesday morning I greeted the sun over the Thames River in London. Thursday morning I treated myself to a sunrise walk beside the Willamette River in Eugene. Not to brag, but only one of those cities has an extra river to spare.
During my last morning walk in Cairo, I realized my itinerary would allow me to analyze three different river cities on three consecutive days — uniting the pedagogue with the pedestrian.
Every city will give up its secrets if you look early enough. Those moments when the residents awake cannot be guarded, because they look to see what the day ahead may hold. You cannot look without also being seen. The trick is to know how to watch. I walk because it makes me look busy. A glimpse or a glance would seem more a glare or a gawk if I was standing still.
Egyptians aren’t early risers, unless they make their living peddling bread or fish. A curfew empties the streets for five hours each night.
At 5 a.m., stray dogs outnumber people, nosing into corners filled with the previous evening’s barely hidden trash. The Kasr Al Nile Bridge was just a few blocks from my hotel. It was an easy walk, except for the fact that I had bought Egyptian sandals the day before. I wore out two pair of shoes on this trip. I said I like to walk. My Egyptian sandals offer as much support as hard-soled slippers, but they’re all I had.
As I was taking photos of the river from the midpoint on the bridge, a carload of young men hailed me from across the street. They had stopped their car on the bridge to play their tunes and catch the breeze. They wanted to be included in my pictures, but I did them one better.
I crossed the street and shook the hands of Ahmed, Ahmed, and Amun. They were in a good mood. Without prompting, each told me their favorite state in the U.S.A. (Pop quiz: Do you have a favorite province in Egypt? I didn’t think so.)
Ahmed, Ahmed, Amun
Nile on Tuesday, Thames on Wednesday.
London brings quite a bit more early bustle to its day. In a downhill mile to the river, still padding in my Egyptian slipper-sandals, I passed four window cleaners. Goza and his helper had barely a moment to chat as they prepared to shuttle from an upscale restaurant to their last client near Piccadilly. His job each day is to be done before others have begun.
London’s riverfront sees a steady stream of joggers. (I hadn’t seen a jogger in weeks.) Bikes almost outnumber private cars on the street. Bicycle commuters compete with one another. Every stop light marks another stage in their Tour de Work. Judging from their wardrobes, many expect to burn more calories in their commute than in their work.
London’s skyline lifts your eyes from the river, almost involuntarily. All the city’s most distinctive shapes dot along the water. You start with Big Ben and work your way from there. The industrial and the ceremonial cohabit with surprising ease. Centuries are good for something.
Eighteen hours, three airports, and no lost luggage later, I was back on familiar turf.
I changed into better shoes and walked to the Peter DeFazio Bridge. My troika was complete. The early morning fog hadn’t lifted, so the green scene was suitably moist in every direction, including inward.
After looping down onto the north edge of the Willamette, I walked east. I had never noticed how the pavement slopes into the river there, allowing the river to lap at us. I guess Track Town U.S.A. should invite every opportunity for lapping.
My third consecutive riverwalk was as quiet as the first, as inspiring as the second, and more comfortable than either. Better footwear helped. I was glad to be gone but happy to be home.
Don Kahle (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes a weekly column for The Register-Guard and blogs.