Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Just for the record

I resent panpipes. I resent the reedy, insipid bleating they emit, which sounds like Enya’s farts, or a flute with a cough.

Proof of panpipes’ plainness, as if any was needed, lies in the fact that they lend themselves to any song of any style with results such as these:

Panpipes are the appendix of the music world, serving no obvious purpose other than filling spaces of silences in lifts, hotel lobbies and my local Alfa Market. While they are not as bad as Yosra, panpipes are inoffensive, which is possibly worse. If they were human they would talk about the weather. Or about new age healing spas, their favourite haunt apart from my local Alfa Market. Pan Pipes are the Scientology cult of music, stripping songs which fall into their clutches of all personal identity and forcing them to wear a pair of beige slacks, and every time I hear ‘Bright Eyes’ or ‘Tears in Heaven’ done a la pipes I wonder at the cruelty of mankind.

On a different note, yesterday I spoke to a woman on the phone who informed me that her name was Dolly, and wasn't joking.

Suber star actor and former fit bloke Hussein Fahmy is on television presenting a programme called ‘the People and Me,’ in which Lord Fahmy gives ordinary plebs their Warhol 15 minutes. I am pleased to report that Hussein has taken the time to colour coordinate his pink jumper with his perma-flush face. I have just relayed this information to my mother on MSN, prompting her to exclaim “Hussein my old friend! I used to talk to him on the phone,” revealing yet new boundaries to her former hobnobbing with the stars 60s self, now discovering another type of glamour in Croydon. When I asked her whether Hussein’s face was still flushed back then, she said “yes, and he was very fat.” Fancy that!

Sunday, February 25, 2007


Walking home today across one of Cairo’s bridges the usual scene of marauding packs of pubescent boys, flower sellers, and ambulant lovers was interrupted by an unusual sight.

Standing perilously on the edge of a the bridge’s railing, one arm wrapped around a lamppost, was a young man clutching two placards bearing a scrawled entreaty to ‘release the detained Al Azhar students.’ Parked in front of him were two navy blue police pick-up trucks, while at his feet plain-clothed policemen milled around bearing aloft their walkie-talkies as if they were talismans. Over on the other side of the bridge the one or two people who had stopped to impassively observe the proceedings were urged to move on my more walkie-talkie bearers, their arms waving back and forth, in the manner used by farmers herding geese. Their concern about the protest attracting attention - or even worse participants - was entirely unfounded of course, and cars, lovers and horse carriages clattered past with indifference as above their heads the lonely defence of freedom staggered on, risking at any point to topple into the murky blue depths of the Nile, or the even murkier blue clasp of the police vans.

As I was standing there some old geezer mumbled conspiratorially in my ear as he went past, ‘the government are coming behind me’ - presumably a warning about the giant blue truck trundling along. It was actually carrying army recruits, and the old fella might have been slightly bonkers, but the USSR-Big-Brother-is-watching nature of the exchange delighted me.

I ended my observation of the happenings when I could no longer stand the rocking motion caused by traffic moving over two ill-fitting pieces of the bridge. My memory of the hoo-hah surrounding London’s swaying Millennium Bridge makes me almost certain that such structures are not meant to move, certainly not to the point of inducing a waterbed sensation, and as much as I wished to stand (preferably without moving involuntarily) in solidarity with the brave protestor, I was very conscious that falling off a collapsing bridge would bring together my least favourite ways of expiring: great heights, water, and being in the vicinity of a horse and carriage driver who, even as we plummeted down, would doubtless spend the descent assuring me that I really do want a ride.

* Ladies and gentlemen, bilingual wordplay of this calibre surely deserves some kind of international recognition, possibly in the form of a Nobel prize. Hear me roar, world!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Porn cocktail

Remember the last post where together we hypothesised about possible reasons why some gentlemen cannot resist launching into impromptu monologues about strangers' bums? It would seem that our speculation about the cause of this behaviour omitted the real culprits, who are those naughty boys THE MEDIA.

According to this article, "the sexualisation of girls and the normalisation of the sex and porn industries have made it increasingly acceptable and "fun" for women to be viewed as sex objects, and for men to view women as sexual commodities."

And this has a negative effect on boys as well as girls apparently because "boys who are not enthusiastic about it, or speak out against it, run the risk of being ignored or ridiculed, of being labelled "gay", "unmanly", or not liking sex. Boys and young men are under pressure to act out masculinity in which power and control over women, and men, is normal. In which violence is normal."

I'm sorry to bombard you yet again with possibly naive questions about trouser matters, but I had several issues with this article about which I would like to canvas opinion.

- The writer's main premiss seems to be that exposure to violence in porn not only fetishises this violence, but leads to the objectification of women and an increase in sex crimes against women. Can such a simplistic code really be used to decrypt something as complex as sexuality, and the impulses/illness which lead to rape and other sex crimes?

- Before the advent of porn was there no sexual violence against women, or were incidents of it significantly lower?

- The article is presumably describing vice-ridden Western society, and the picture it paints of it is one of prone naked ladies everywhere you look being set upon by hoardes of young men whose brains have been addled by porn. Is this the unique guise in which women appear in the public domain? Are men offered no alternative images of women?

- And where are women in all this? Do women not contribute to, act in and consume porn, voluntarily? Do women also not choose to exploit their sexuality in order to e.g. make loads of money? When Madonna makes porn, it is a positive expression of the emancipation of female sexuality. When men consume it, they are negatively objectifying women. How does this work?

- Surely porn is not regarded as inculcating an impulse that wasn't already there? Hasn't sex since time began always been the expression of a control dynamic? Even if it doesn't get to the whip and handcuffs stage, isn't there always someone taking (not necessarily the bloke) and someone taken? Why else would the seduction process and its culmination be called the chase and sexual conquest respectively? The point I am clumsily attempting to make in a series of questions is that while porn is referred to as fantasy, its titillation value does necessarily rest on an element of realism. Since women do actually like to be taken sometimes, and because men often like to take, women in porn (and in mainstream films for that matter) are portrayed as 'weaker' than their hairy chested male counterparts while the two are in bed, even without the addition of violence. But are the people who reject what they term the objectification of women opposed to the power dynamics involved in sex generally, or is it that they just don't want it to be presented on screen?

I thought the fruitless rumination would end with unemployment, but it is apparently intensified whilst eating President cheese triangles at a desk and downloading stuff from 6rb.com.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Group sex

To all Googling perverts who ended up here cos of the title: I’m happy that you’ve come, but understand that you are possibly neither of these things.

I recently read a book, School Ties, by the excellent William Boyd. In it are two screenplays influenced by his time at a British boarding school, and which are prefaced by an excellent introduction in which Boyd describes his experience of the boarding school regime.

I am the product of boring, rather than boarding, state schools. For those of you not familiar with the British education system, private schools are ones where Mr and Mrs Hodges-Wilkinson pay fees for Farquar or Jemima to receive generally top notch education whilst wearing straw boaters. Farquar and Jemima usually then go on to hold political office or produce progeny in line to the throne. In contrast Mr and Mrs Pleb do not have to pay for Kevin and Sharon’s free education, possibly because of the accounting complexities of calculating exactly how much should be deducted from school fees during pregnancy and knife-related injury absences.

Obviously my school wasn’t that bad - only three girls in my year got pregnant, and nobody got stabbed during school hours - but put it this way: when I receive an email telling me that an ex-classmate has updated her account on Friends Reunited.com, it is rarely to inform us that she been awarded a new government portfolio.

My father told me a while ago that he and my mother briefly considered making sacrifices and sending me to private school, but dismissed the idea as being at odds with his lefty anti-Thatcher egalitarianism. My mother holds no known notions of egalitarianism, and I can only assume that this decision was over-informed by my father’s alleged egalitarian ideals, and was taken unilaterally in the style of great leftist totalitarian leaders of yore. Full respect for the class war brother Fidel, and let me reassure you that perfectly decent old people’s homes are available to those with even the most limited earning potential.

But back to Boyd. What really struck me about his introduction was his description of the way in which the strict sexual segregation then enforced shaped and marked the boys who endured it. One bit particularly stood out:

“The sexual apartheid to which we were subjected all those years utterly warped our attitudes and precluded us from thinking about girls and women in any way but the most prurient and lubricious. The female sex was judged by one criterion – fanciable or non-fanciable, to put it rather more delicately than we did.”

He then goes on to describe what happened when the few unfortunate female members of staff at the school came into contact with the boys:

“Their encounters with the boys, three times a day at meals, were characterised by a one-sided traffic of sexual banter of the vilest and coarsest sort. Given the opportunity, more daring boys actually molested them – squeezing, pinching, feeling…I think our attitudes to them brought out the very worst in our natures: it was male lust at its most dog-like and contemptuous…I dare say any male sodality - rugby team, army platoon, group of Pall Mall clubmen - can descend to this level for a while, but what is depressing and degrading about the male boarding school is the unrelieved constancy of the tone, year in, year out, for at least five years. It must have some effect.”

Reading this I immediately thought of Egypt where verbal and physical harassment are, as we know, a regular occurrence. Attempts to explain this phenomenon as it manifests itself in Egypt frequently make reference to the ‘socioeconomic and cultural contexts’ (must you be wearing a polo neck in order to be considered suitably qualified to say this?) - that is, poverty precluding marriage, strict sexual mores and so on. But as someone who has walked past a British building site on several occasions, and been in a British pub at closing time on more occasions than I care to remember, I have always been suspicious of these explanations. Britain abolished marriage in the 80s, and the limits of its sexual mores is the edict that it is bad manners to bonk a family member, and yet the same vocal crotch lust exists.

My experience tells me that the potential for such behaviour lies dormant in all men, and that as Boyd seems to be suggesting, it is when individuals are subsumed in a group (boarding school, football team, Egyptian society, sometimes) that repressed behaviour finds an outlet in the approval and perhaps anonymity of the group. Rather like when normally tame packs of dogs turn on small children, or when women find themselves in all female company and deem it acceptable to bore their interlocutors for two hours about the meaning of Him Not Returning a Text Message.

No, men are not lust hungry atavistic wolves (that’s us ladeez!), but they are sexual beings – as are women. Can men tell me why it is being in an all-male environment seems to be the heat which brings otherwise simmering water to the boil? And ladeez, why is it that we don’t feel a similar urge to commend male strangers on their bottoms at loud volume? Or if we do, why don’t we act upon it? Is there some fundamental difference between male and female sexuality, or at least the expression of this sexuality in groups?

May I say that this is most definitely not an anti-men tirade. Men are fabulous creatures, and I am constantly impressed by their ability to grow chest hair, and by the straightforward, even keel, cause and effect nature, of their emotional lives.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Human rights & Sons

I have started walking to and from work, for two reasons:

1. It is an effort to counter the physical stagnation induced by continuous sitting at a desk
2. A eunuch’s underpants sees more movement than does Cairo’s traffic between 3 and 9 pm, and walking is therefore faster.

My walk is actually enjoyable, as everyday I gaze at the magnificence of the Nile and also get to see a man in shorts wearing a bum bag (or “fanny pack” as the Americans insist on calling it with no sense of irony) speed-walking his two Labradors.

One soup stain on the tie of today’s walk was the vision of a youth sporting a James Brown type hair helmet who appeared to have borrowed his girlfriend’s hair straightener. Straightened man-hair is deeply disturbing, it upsets the cosmic order of things somehow.

When they are not focused on other people’s barnets my thoughts eventually end up at work, usually about ten minutes before I actually physically arrive at the office. I am happy to report that I have survived the first week, can now get out of bed like a pro and am enjoying it immensely. I often reflect on how different the human rights NGO for which I currently work is from my last place of employ. Before I sentenced myself to a year’s exile in the chav-infested oblivion which is Essex University I worked in another of Cairo’s human rights NGOs. This establishment did, and continues to do, some good work. It is unfortunate however that the values it seeks to disseminate in Egyptian society are apparently not applicable to its own staff.

That this organisation has scant regard for the happiness of its employees was immediately obvious the first time I visited its office, where it looked like someone had spread glue over every available surface area before emptying the contents of a giant vacuum-cleaner bag on top. The toilet was of course a different category altogether, and suffice to say that I became a dab hand using my elbows to turn on taps and open doors. The place was literally black with years of accumulated dirt and neglect, and everything – the paint, the plants, the people – seemed to sag under its weight.

That people actually continued to show up for work I always found amazing and commendable, because the place was run like a cross between a family grocer store and a minor department in, say, the department of agriculture. In practice this meant an entrenched hierarchy, endless and needless bureaucracy, petty backbiting and nepotism.

The regime employed was like this: big kahuna boss guy - who we’ll call el 7ag - sits imperiously at the top of the pyramid and - when he is not attending international conferences - appears on television and is quoted in newspaper articles. While he himself sits outside the metaphorical family shop smoking shisha, he delegates the day-to-day running of the shop to Kirsh, a distant family member who cannot believe that he has been given power over the lives of others, and spends his time devising ways to torture those under him. His obsequiousness towards el 7ag is rivalled only by that of 19th century indentured servants, and is characteristic of individuals who understand that they are where they are thanks to blood, rather than brains.

Kirsh is threatened by those he knows are more able than him – who are many – and responds firstly; by directly fermenting dissent amongst the unfortunate unit under his direct control by pitting members of staff against each other, and, secondly; by doing everything in his power to quash and contain the threat of individual talent. He is helped in this by the organisation’s recruitment policy which, by keeping it in the family, means guaranteed support and a steady stream of the most mediocre of the mediocre and hence nothing which might conquer Castle Kirsh. To illustrate: one of the few talented lawyers there, Umm Nakad, was given the brief to go to Alexandria to interview the family of a man who had died inside a police station. This was in winter. When another supposed lawyer (yet another relative of the grocery shop owner) learnt of the trip she exclaimed, “bass el donya shita ya Umm Nakad! Hatebredy! Esstanny tayyeb we rou7y fel sayf.” [It’s winter and you’ll get cold. Wait and go in summer.]

At the bottom of the pyramid were the office boys, who were expected to work from 8 a.m – infinity. When I first started this was six days a week. These boys were the most maligned, exploited, cheated people I ever met: youths in their prime paid a pittance to empty waste bins and act on Kirsh’s every whim when they should have been in college or out bothering girls or something, anything rather than this. He went through one phase of making one of them go into a grocery store and buy biscuits while he waited outside, after work. Why did he do this when he could buy them perfectly well for himself? Simply because he could.

Only one person was treated worse than the office boys, Ustaaz Damyaat, a journalist/researcher. When I first arrived at the organisation I shared a room with him and Lion. Ustaaz D had a thick Damietta accent, and struggling to understand his interminable stories about his beloved hometown made by then newborn Arabic come on leaps and bounds. He had an encyclopaedic knowledge of Egyptian history and politics and culture in general, and a thirst for culture which might have been satiated by the internet if only he knew how to operate a mouse. (We agreed that I would give him internet lessons in return for his endlessly providing me with friendlier synonyms for archaic Arabic legal terms. The plan died at birth, when Kirsh came into our office once and summarily ordered Ustaaz D to get off the computer.)

Ustaaz D was extremely poor, and like most of the staff received an appalling wage. At the time I joined he was getting 250 LE a month (to put this in perspective I started on 1500 LE a month) and never ate lunch. Instead he would come in reeking of meat and onions, having consumed some kind of starchy, carbohydrate filled concoction which, together with his cigarettes, would sustain him all day as he sat at his desk writing copious notes on the particular research issue given to him. He was also extremely old-school and proper about the use of titles (despite only being in his early 30s), and still unfailingly refers to me as Ustaaza Amnesiac. Kirsh made a particular point of never referring to him by the formal, polite title of Ustaaz(a) which prefixed all the staff’s names bar the office boys. Instead, whenever he wanted him he would bellow out his name – and expect Ustaaz D to go to him rather than himself coming to his desk. On one occasion Kirsh’s unit required an extra chair, and Kirsh didn’t hesitate to instruct someone in the unit to take Ustaaz Damyaat’s chair, leaving the cripplingly polite Ustaaz D himself to stand at his desk, bewildered and humiliated.

Ustaaz D received this scurrilous treatment from Kirsh not only because both men are weak but because Ustaaz D is a reminder to Kirsh of who he is. Both are from outside Cairo and in different but equal ways condemned by their circumstances, and both feel reduced by this fact. Kirsh knows and has admitted to Umm Nakad that he is living on borrowed time, and that when the grocery shop owner retires his replacement will not retain Kirsh’s services.

The biggest losers in this farce are ultimately human rights themselves. In order to do a good job of advocating for and defending human rights in the depressing and disheartening Egyptian context you need at least a bit of passion, and heaps of dedication. Most importantly you need yourself to feel respected. Combining half of an extended family with one or two gifted individuals (whose talent is eventually snuffed out by the mogamma3 type mentality which will kill or drive away any talent) is the best illustration of how uncivil Egyptian (civil society) can be.

*Paragraph breaks are by special request, for everyone's favourite advertising mogul, Mr Fawlty.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Chain gang

As is perhaps evident from the relative decrease in nonsense posted on this blog, I have finally started work. After nearly four months of idle sedentariness - three-fourths of which were spent horizontal in bed – work’s unremitting, merciless routine has needless to say shocked me to the core in a way I last experienced when I misjudged the temperature gauge on a bidet. What is particularly odious is being thrust out of sleep by an alarm clock, more precisely my mobile alarm clock, whose alarm music is in theory meant to gently ease one into the morning with a soothing, cheerful tune gradually escalating in volume. I obviously never wake up immediately, and in my semi-conscious state usually incorporate the music into my dream a la Spielberg. As a result of this I invariably wake up flustered, disorientated and devastated that the sound hammering in my ears is not in fact my and Ahmed Ezz’s wedding march. A recent addition to this barbaric chaos has been my cat, Lupin, who occasionally experiences the urge to sit on my head on certain mornings. This is not meant to be a cute and twee exaggeration: in an effort to wake me up so that he can then trip me up on my way to feeding him, the animal literally wraps himself round my skull like a hat/launches himself at my face.

All this is marginally better than the (unrequested) wake-up call I used to receive from my father, which consisted of him SINGING “wakey waaaaaaaakey! Dah de de dah dah daaaaah” at 8 a.m. The barrage of expletives which this inevitably provoked would then result in a lengthy discourse on why getting up early is a healthier way to live one’s life, since getting up any time after 8 a.m. means missing “the best part of the day” – all while I was still lying stunned in bed. My attempts to persuade him that it is unnatural to get up any time before 9 a.m. for any reason other than catching a plane or escaping a burning house if the smoke is bothering you have failed miserably, and whenever I am under his roof this postman’s regime is imposed on me. For added piquancy the first question he asks me once I am vertical is invariably “how did you sleep?” to which I answer “horizontally” in the hope that he will desist. He doesn’t. I have noticed, come to think of it, that members of no nationality other than the Brits interrogate me as to sleep quality on a regular basis, leading me to conclude that this question forms part of the battery of grunts and sounds which British people find themselves compelled to emit when in the presence of other persons anywhere other than on public transport, and which for the most part revolve around the weather.

Working in an office is equally rebarbative. There is something truly soul-destroying about being incarcerated in a room at a desk for eight or more hours, regardless of whether you enjoy your work or not. This malaise is unique to office work, and entirely different from the armpit nature of for example manual labour. I once did a two week stint in a giant shed, which the company called a factory, where my task was to stand at a bench and stuff paper adverts into magazines before putting these magazines in clear bags, from 9 am to 4 pm. We did of course receive a half hour lunch break together with tea breaks, during which one of the girls there would regale us with stories about her pit bull terrier. We were also not allowed to change the radio station, with the result that as I stuffed the adverts into magazines knowing that they would be thrown away without a glance, I was serenaded by a constant stream of Phil Collins. The factory owner’s car number plate was something like ‘Paper 1.’ He was a very short man who drove a very big jeep.

The work was physically a nightmare, mentally a graveyard, and the musical accompaniment made it near-torture, but the mindlessness, the unchanging routine and the knowledge that it would end lent the work a certain reassuring constancy. It is this mindless constancy which is somehow absent from office work, or at least the desk jobs I’ve found myself in, with the result that I am mentally stimulated and alert (eventually) but confined, which I believe produces mental agony on a par with that experienced by giraffes kept in zoos.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

With or without you, preferably without

Ahhh Sir Bono. Where would the world be without you, Mr Paul Hewson? Who else, apart possibly from Princess Di, could fill your leather trousers as they roam the world combating global hunger with such finesse, and such big sunglasses? While you claim that you wear them because of an eye condition, we all know the truth: It is to conserve the beneficent glare of your luminosity, which you save for African villages and meetings of the World Economic Forum. But luckily for the rest of us, your share your light with us verbally, and we are all richer for the wisdom you send down to us.

Take for example the following gem, in which you are asked to describe a concert which changed your life:

The Clash
Trinity College, Dublin, 1977

Bono: Can't remember the set list, can't remember much about the music, to be honest. I just know that everything changed that night, and I'm sure it was not just for me. Year zero. The shock of the new, where everything reconfigured. The venue was the exam hall of Trinity College, founded by Bishop Berkeley 300 odd years previously ... the man who spent his entire existence trying to prove the existence of existence. I'm not kidding. He also had a corner of San Francisco named after him. Other reconfigurations, other revolts.
It wasn't so much a musical event. It was more like the Red Army had arrived, on a cold October night, to force feed a new cultural revolution, punk rock. Marching boots and the smell of sulphur. Not weed or speed but fear, fear of the future, no future. And the delight, so much delight. All kinds of symbols pinned on jackets, some ridiculous swastikas, Red Brigade t-shirts, hand made knock-offs of extremely expensive Seditionaries threads from London. But as there was a war going on 100 miles from here, in a strange way, the Clash made more sense in Dublin than anywhere.
As I sat in the box room and stared out the window the next day, it was very clear. The world is more malleable than you think; reality is what you can get away with.

Delight indeed.

Sulphur is of course the smell of flatulence, but we all know that you meant the smell of revolution. You have of course acquired the patent for this smell - which was created by Bolivian farmers using extant samples of Che Guevara’s sweat - and you will be bottling it under the name Twat pour homme. All proceeds will of course go to charity.

Clerics are currently preparing an official interpretation of your comment “the world is more malleable than you think; reality is what you can get away with” in order to counter the stone hearted individuals who accuse you of being a pseud and claim that this statement is in reality an oblique acknowledgement by Your Eminence that one can get away with the most pompous pretentious nonsense as long as it’s for charity. Achtung baby.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Question for Hollywood filmmakers

Why must virtually every film you produce, even those dealing with important political themes of the zeitgeist, include a romantic story line? In the world as it is presented by you, romance flourishes in war, during genocide, during Armageddon, in outer space, even where one of the bloody lovers is dead. The irony is that when all is well in the world, love seems to go tits-up, with the result that we must sit through ninety minutes or more of a wife bawling and clinging to her absent husband’s suits hanging in the wardrobe, while away in the next scene husband is busy shagging another woman, before both realise through these very different means that that they were destined to be together, it’s just that their love has “matured.” The final scene usually includes: a Labrador/children playing in a sprinkler, and the reunited couple holding hands fondly watching their antics. Decidedly absent is any mention of the fact that the only reason the husband came back is the missus’ first-class lasagne/blowjobs/both.

While I admit that if given a choice between watching a romantic comedy and boiling my head I would in most cases put the water on the stove, I do not object to romance as a genre per se, my objection is its omnipresence. It seems to be the tomato ketchup of film production: added to virtually any dish in order to make palatable otherwise difficult to swallow fare. I am thinking in particular of the film I saw tonight, Blood Diamond. The production and directing of this film was mostly excellent, and it dealt with issues of critical importance, namely the trade in illegal diamonds, the part this trade plays in funding civil wars and the role of foreign governments/mercenaries in this sordid business. The lead was played by Leonardo DiCaprio, who is gradually wringing the last drops of Titanic out of his persona with excellent roles such as these. The female lead was played by the stunning Jennifer Connelly, who played a - guess what! – sexy yet intelligent journalist. When Connelly appeared my heart sank. because the film had until then been going great guns (geddit?) with its realistic and effecting scenes of civil war. Then these two met in the bar, he with his broad shoulders and blood hi-lites, she with her green eyes and well-formed bosoms and I heard the knock knock knock of someone trying to extract ketchup.

More horrific than any of the war scenes was the moment where DiCaprio is preparing to enter war-torn diamond country on a potentially fatal assignment and must leave the intrepid Connelly behind. We are subjected to a five minute dialogue in which he entreats her to settle down with a good man, while she replies that she has three sisters married to good men, and she herself prefers her life of roaming the planet searching for war zones in tank tops. Sorry, but who cares? And why add insult to injury by having Titanic-style pipes playing softly in the background? I was secretly hoping that Celine Dion and her heart which must go on would appear simply so that she would be shot by a rebel warlord.

To go from watching the deaths of countless (anonymous) Sierra Leonians and the forced enlistment of children in rebel armies to this hogwash was almost obscene. While the platonic relationship between the journalist and DiCaprio’s mercenary was integral to the story, the romantic element was entirely superfluous and annoying, particularly given that it almost compromised the film by risking making the civil war merely the background against which their love plays out.

How does it work then? When a script dealing with political intrigue/war etc arrives on a producer’s table, does he tell the script writer “well this looks great Bob, but I want you to go ahead and make the prisoner of conscience fall in love with a feisty gal from Brooklyn, preferably with big knockers”? Is it mandatory, in the same way that in 1999 it was made the law to include Hassan Hosny in the cast of all future Egyptian comedy films?

To be fair, you are merely part of a supply and demand equation, and it would seem that the audience like their war misery pizzas toned down with a bit of romance sauce. How sad however, and what a damning indictment, is the knowledge that for a film to succeed, the misery of an entire country - an entire continent - must be described using the stick figures of boy meets girl.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Wednesday night's alright for fighting

Tonight I went to a pop concert which ended in a mass brawl – always my idea of a splendid night out, what with possessing English blood and all.

Sharshar has been raving about Arabic pop prince and heir to the throne Mohamed 3adeweyya ever since he saw him live last year, and bored us into going to tonight’s concert with incessant droning about his ba7a. (Hoarse. But in a good way.) While the concert was organised by al-Saqia, it wasn’t being held in al-Saqia’s (convenient centrally located) Zamalek base, but rather “somewhere on the Cairo-Ismailia Road.” Sharshar assured us that it wouldn’t take long to get to.

After spending an hour in static traffic during which Amour attempted to explain the wisdom of the Egyptian saying “ask someone with experience rather than a doctor” (what if the doctor is himself mogarrab??) we eventually broke free onto the highway. As we sped past anonymous buildings in the darkness, I enquired as to whether Sharshar in fact knew where the bloody place was. He replied confidently “if we find ourselves in Ismailia, we’ll know we’ve gone too far.”

Miracle of miracles however, we saw a dimly lit sign announcing al-Saqia on the other side of the road, and discovered that Mohamed 3adeweyya was in fact performing in a school, hired for the night by al-Saqia. This was one of those expensive-looking soulless language schools, with beautiful furniture but no books. I have always found schools devoid of the children which give them life somewhat eerie, but this one had a particularly creepy the Shining emptiness about it. After traversing its silent palatial halls and immaculate garden we were ushered into what was obviously the lunch hall, and which was adjacent to the assembly room where 3adeweyya and his ba7a were booming out of the speakers. The lunch hall itself was scattered with signs bearing words such as “tolerance,” “patience,” and “respect,” presumably for the miniature diners to ponder as they steal each other’s sandwiches. It is unfortunate that similar signs did not emblazon the stage on which 3adeweyya performed, given the subsequent turn of events.

3adeweyya himself really was wowzers blazers, possessing in addition to an excellent voice, that lovable, smiling geniality of the type exhibited by Nelson Mandela which - in addition to facilitating national reconciliation - can make an assembly hall full of people forget they are in a school and hang loose. His evergreen smile and liberally distributed thumbs up signs made me entirely forgive him for the fact that he was wearing an otherwise criminal brown corduroy ensemble which put me in mind of the contents of my cat’s litter tray, and pointed brown shoes of an indeterminate material.

3adeweyya also possesses the world’s most enormous band of musicians which is not actually an orchestra. I counted some twenty five people on stage, including a boy who was clearly someone’s brother, and whose only task as far as I could tell was to stand immobile behind 3adeweyya and dispense tissues as needed. I was particularly delighted by a Riqq (big tambourine) player who was spectacularly morose, and when not drumming would sit, cross-armed and frowning, with the expression of a man forced to spend many nights staring at a jolly man in a brown corduroy suit. He was rivalled only by the saxophone player, who could not disguise his disgust whenever the keyboardist usurped saxophone soundalike solos which were rightfully his.
3adeweyya cheerfully made his way through his songs, accompanied by fire effects, bubbles during slow songs, and lung disorder amounts of dry ice. At one point the effects engineer released a rocket-type fire effect of such ferocity and velocity that it shot upwards and caused a plastic ceiling tile to come crashing down, almost on the head of the morose Riqq player, which needless to say ensured that I got my money’s worth of entertainment.

After a rousing rendition of ‘zahma,’ the song made famous by his legendary father Ahmed, 3adeweyya announced a break during which the audience devised ways of smuggling food into the hall without teacher seeing. Some of the band eventually began filing back onto the stage, but the first sign that all was not well on the ranch came in the form of a bespectacled man who mumbled into the mic that “the concert is over.” The audience ignored what was clearly either a prankster or a lunatic, and carried on extracting packets of crisps from their underwear until 3adeweyya himself appeared and confirmed that “they have cancelled the show.” A cohort explained that this had occurred because “there are people in the audience kissing each other and generally not giving proper respect to the surroundings.” Being unable to give us detention, the school managers had thus cancelled the show, which understandably enraged the audience whose demographic was largely 18 – 20 year olds wishing to assert their existence by any means possible, but preferably a fight.

As we left the hall crisps were eaten and fags smoked in a defiant manner, and excitement mounted as the boys sensed that a ruckus was in the offing. Sure enough, once outside the angry crowd began milling around the ticket window swearing and posturing, Rebel Without a Cause style, while the poor bastard inside trembled. The crowd bayed for the blood of whichever despot it was who had denied them ‘bent el sultan’ and cheated them out of their money – they needed it to fill up the 4 x 4s waiting for them in the car park, poor things – until the bespectacled man who had announced the cancellation made the mistake of attempting to run to his car. The crowd selected him as the conduit for their fury, and immediately leapt on him. Things turned ugly as some 50 people surrounded the car before dragging him out from as he tried to explain to the bags of testosterone that he in fact had nothing to do with either the cancellation or their tickets. He was eventually let go, and was ushered back inside the school’s gates, faint and stunned, to wait for the police and figure out which member of the mob it was who relieved him of his car key. During this chaos, Amour observed the proceedings impassively, while smoking a cigarette, and observed that if he had had brought a couple of boys “men 3andina” [from his area] the bloodthirsty crowd would not have got near bespectacled man. Ignoring the youthful hyperbole, I expressed my pleasure at his desire to protect the man, to which he responded that the only reason they would have done so was so that they themselves could “sort him out” and find out where the money is.

Back at the gates the Armani-jeaned Proletarian masses continued protesting the injustice they had been subject to by vigorously shaking the gates and fighting both the security guards and, occasionally, each other. Who said Che was dead. They were eventually placated by a promise that they would get their money back if they were good boys and formed an orderly queue. Something resembling a queue did eventually form, though this being Egypt it mutated into a scrum at the window itself. Amour eventually emerged from this with the refunded money, muttering something about bringing his matwa [knife] next time, and we were all delighted to discover that we had been refunded ten pounds too much, which Amour promptly pocketed, for his trouble.

And so ended a charming evening which contained all of man’s most important primitive urges: dancing, fighting and seeking refunds. I cannot wait for February 14th when 3adeweyya will perform again, this time in a sporting club. I am hoping that the brawl will end up in a swimming pool - stay tuned.