Sunday, March 11, 2007

Brought to book

This weekend was a fabulous whirl of an unprecedented amount of social engagements and intellectual and alcoholic stimulation.

Things started shakily however as, on Friday afternoon, I spotted a middle-aged couple in Zamalek who were not only riding his and hers scooters (as in kids scooters that you propel along with your foot), but were also decked out in this footwear apparel: [clearly I still have not mastered how to put two images side by side]

The intolerable nonsense equation: clog + adult on scooter = wanker

What do these things mean? I’ve heard that they’re gardening clogs, but the utilitarian wipe-clean plastic of which they are crafted always made me think that they were designed for hospital ward cleaners looking for a shoe which could handle bedpan spills. They should most certainly not be paired with scooters. My mother claims that they are super comfortable, but she lost her right to vote in 1988, when she wore Scandinavian wooden clogs with socks to my school’s summer fete.

I washed the taste of clogs out of my mouth with a house-warming party where on arrival I was reprimanded by Forsooth who, staring incredulously at my waist region, admonished me for apparently committing a fashion faux-pas of momentous proportions by tucking my top into my jeans. She claims that this (sensible, surely) dressing policy was embargoed at some point in the nineties - perhaps during the five years I was lying in a darkened room recovering from the public humiliation of my mother’s wooden clogs.

At the party I proceeded to clear the table of the delicious brownies, Cheez Its and various other North American traditional offerings proffered, before repairing to the nearest corner - as is my wont at parties. I enjoyed sparkling conversation for the duration of the evening, and things only went awry when a person so high that he didn’t realise his cigarette was on fire decided to expound on the politics of steel pipe manufacturing.

After five minutes of sleep I dutifully repaired the next morning to Mubarak Public Library for a seminar on ‘Egyptian women married to foreigners’ which promised to explore the sociological and legal facets of this ‘phenomenon.’ Being myself a product of one of these unions, I was hoping to initiate a discussion about the sociological aspects of Egyptian women marrying foreigners because they have nice na3m hair, but alas was confounded by the fact that the seminar focused on Egyptian women forced/duped into marriage.

Heart-rending cases were recounted, of 15 year old girls more or less sold by their fathers to men fifty years their senior who then proceed to abuse what are children before abandoning them, penniless and occasionally with child. On returning to Egypt these girls/women are at times forced/coerced into similar marriages again and again. The purpose of the seminar was to discuss possible legislative responses to the problem which walk the line between freedom of choice and protection of vulnerable girls. In between the thousand ringing mobile phones some good suggestions were vaguely audible, but one comment really struck me. The chairwomen recounted the case of an Egyptian woman who got engaged to an Arab she met at AUC and wanted a clause in the wedding contract giving her the right to divorce. The husband agreed without objection, but when the couple went accompanied by the chairwoman lawyer to the government office to draw up the contract, the civil servant there swore blind that his ‘own parents would divorce three times’ before he would agree to such a clause. The chairwomen informed him that his job was to implement rather than create the law, but he would not budge. Frightening.

Despite the name, Mubarak Public Library itself is magnificent, housed in an airy, well laid out converted palace overlooking the Nile. The stock selection itself is predictably erratic – the Islam section is approximately a mile wide while the history section numbers roughly twenty books – but there was enough there to make me want to join. I get a bit tired of Egyptians claiming that Egyptians are unable to organise even a sock drawer and that everything fel balad eventually turns to shit, so seeing evidence to the contrary of this was refreshing.

I admit that I am something of a loser when it comes to libraries, and experience a frisson when borrowing books akin to that experienced by a teenage boy discovering his father’s porn collection. I have always been baffled by the dearth of libraries in a country with 80 million people, and put both their mysterious absence, and the rarity of seeing someone reading anything other than religious scripture in the metro, down to the noxious combination of poverty and oppression-induced insularity. I have a private theory that instead of throwing money at trying to fix problems now, donors etc should invest their billions in books for children and young people, because reading about alternative realities gives the inspiration, succour and imagination necessary to question and resist the status quo.

Don’t ask me how books would solve e.g. world debt because my theory hasn't evolved that bloody far yet.


Forsoothsayer said...

yes, i remember looking at the steel pipes dude in dazed stupefaction...while wondering how you could seem so interested.

re know how i feel.

Unknown said...

i think the 'steel pipes dude' was my brother in law's brother... not really sure how to feel about this; i insisted that he come to the soiree! in any case, on behalf of my extended family, i apologise. I just can't help wondering if you had made any effort to display your lack of interest in the steel piping industry!? How was the poor bastard to know. All the best, karim (from the party - i was the guy talking too fast possibly making odd sounds and not being too coherent, this had nothing to do with alcohol content, its just who i am).

Scarr said...

I was actually genuinely interested to know why financial constraints prevent Egypt from creating its own steel pipe factory but the combination of collective inebriation and cigarettes on fire prevented me from discovering the reason.

When I say things went awry I meant in comparison with the other topics of conversation that evening, such as the feasibility of ononism in brown bathrooms. Steel pipes are inherently dull but this is no fault of your Sean Penn doppelganger relative, who is most charming.

Peace pipe, man.

Sand-E said...

Those damn clogs should be a crime punishable by execution! I'm thinking something along the lines of Chinese torture. People who wear those need to think long and hard about their fashion crimes. The water drop on the forehead in between the eyes should get the job done I imagine. Everyone everywhere was wearing them last summer. Apparently they're superduper light, comfortable and airy, which under normal circumstances, would be highly marketable qualities in a shoe.. It's too bad they're ugly as a Mofo!

Wael Eskandar said...

That coming from a woman whose profile picture is of a woman wearing a HAT!!

Hats are always a good idea to buy and a bad idea to wear.

Scarr said...

Sand E: Foldaway rainmacs are superduper light and comfortable as well but, like clogs, should only be worn by those who require them for a genuine, work-related, functional purpose.

Will E: You make it sound like she is wearing a cabbage on her head.

Basil Epicurus said...

Comfort is the mortal enemy of fashion: socks with sandals are a case in point. I've also observed several distinctly Egyptian fashion (I want to say crimes, but some crimes are victimless; not this one) travesties: placing baseball caps on top of your head, rather than actually wearing them, white socks on anything other than sports shoes, tucking jumpers into your pants, acid-washed jeans at any point after 1988 (acid-washed jeans are the Peugeot 504s of Jeans...they will never go away from Cairo streets), those safari suits (and by safari, I mean Doctor-Livingstone, Allan bloody Quatermain-type safaris, not the brand) and, by far the most egregious of all, going for a swim in a galabiya (man, woman or child..all should be sequestered and prohibited from breeding).

There. I've said my peace. I'm coming to visit on the 24th. Will I meet you people, at some point? I'll be the guy with the sockless shoes, the pony-tail through the back of my cap and a fluorescent fanny pack around my waist.

Amnesiac, no sniggering at use of the word 'fanny'.

Scarr said...

ACID-WASH JEANS! Tiffony and Debbie Gibson and Bros! In England they were called stone-washed, and they were considered brill in 1987.
Safari suits: my auntie's ex husband wears nothing but.
Tucking jumpers into trousers: I know I'm not one to talk about tucking stuff in but this really depresses me when I see it, it's like a homeless person from the 80s.
My bete noire about white socks (geddit): wearing them with sandals.

"There. I've said my peace. I'm coming to visit on the 24th. Will I meet you people, at some point?"

- Unsure who you mean by you people, but if you mean me and my multiple personalities then yes, drop us a line when you arrive. And be a love and bring Barfly by Charles Bukowski and i'll pay you back and owe you one.

Forsoothsayer said...

i think he means me and you and "will".

you have a pony tail?! ghalat neik. if you recall in kuwait....they are the creators of the hat balanced on the head thing. although they've moved on to anime hair now and can no longer put anything on their vertical hair.