Walk Like an Egyptian
Mark McMenamin -- Interior Design, 2/1/2009 12:00:00 AM
The Great Sphinx of Giza.
Wolf-Gordon design director Kari Pei in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt.
Sandi and Anna Pei at the Great Pyramids in Giza.
Column capitals at Aswan’s tomb of Osiris.
tatues of Ramses II and Queen Nefertari in Abu Simbel.
Photography by Kari Pei.
Your father-in-law is being feted, and your husband dictates attendance. Such a command performance is hardly a chore when you're Wolf-Gordon design director Kari Pei, your husband is Pei Partnership Architects founding principal Sandi Pei, your father-in-law is Pritzker Architecture Prize winner I.M. Pei, and the obligatory event is the unveiling of I.M. Pei Architect's Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar. Tacking on a nine-day historical tour through Egypt is just gravy.
With daughter Anna in tow, the couple arrived at the Doha museum, with its impressive atrium and stainless-steel dome. Pei admits she was equally taken by the crowd: "Sheiks, dignitaries from all over the world, Robert De Niro. It was amazing."
Two days afterward, the family left for Cairo. Ever the designer, Pei was overwhelmed by the visual stimuli. What particularly caught her eye? "Architecture detailed with geometric patterns," she recalls. "Rich pastels surrounded by neutrals." In Luxor, she visited the Karnak temple complex, then embarked on a Nile cruise with ports of call at the Valley of the Kings, the Isle of Philae, and the Aswan Botanical Gardens. Unfortunately, not even a plush cruise ship could keep the street vendors at bay. "They threw plastic bags of goods into our cabins, expecting us to throw them back money," she says. An airplane was required to reach Abu Simbel, where she rubbed shoulders with effigies of Ramses II and Queen Nefertari before returning to Cairo to see mosques. The final day was reserved for the requisite visits to Giza's Great Sphinx, pyramids, and tomb of King Tut. Between camel rides, she savored the grilled lamb, eggplant, and mint—and the beer, a rare find in a Muslim country.
Back in New York, Pei is already preparing for her next family obligation, a vacation on Italy's Lago Maggiore. Will she need convincing? Go ahead. Twist her arm.
Kari Pei's Top 5 in Egypt
1. A camel ride to the Great Pyramids in Giza.
2. Luxor's Karnak temple complex.
3. Isle of Philae in Aswan.
4. Abu Simbel archaeological site.
5. Valley of the Kings.