Posts Tagged ‘bar’

Can’t believe I forgot this one.

The other night, John suggested going out to the movies to see a good, old-fashioned Egyptian film.

Perhaps not old-fashioned.

We had heard quite a bit in the past few months about Ahasees (“Feelings”) and the controversy that its caused post-release. Ahmed declared that when he went to see it on the Eid al-Adha break that it was like watching a pornography in the middle of a crowded theater.

From what I gathered, apparently the main heroine had an affair with a man seven years prior and, after marrying and having two children, feels shame but also longing for her old lover, and is unable to resolve her guilt. This is exacerbated by her other friends relationships, who also seem to be cheating or have cheating husbands in some form or another. For subject matter and several scenes, it was stamped “Adults Only” by the censors.

Good lord; this was probably the worst film I’ve ever seen.

Meedan’s followed the controversy now for some months, and (expectedly) there have been denunciations of all sorts; the movie breaks Egyptian cultural taboos by depicting adultery or extramarital sex in a sympathetic light, that it talks about women’s sexuality in ways not previously discussed, even that it portrays Egypt and Egyptian morality in a negative light.

I’m left at a frustrated impasse. While I like things that generally do all of those things — and especially when they cause controversy — I’m irritated at the form and the presentation.

From the get-go you realize it’s going to be bad. It’s like an hour-and-a-half film school project, in which the director was required to use certain techniques, the most heinous of which:

1. Triple-takes, Dr. No, style. Opening scene is a woman in a bikini coming out of the water, but shot in black-and-white with colorized bits (her swimsuit) like those cheesy b&w photos of the kids with the red roses. Only it fades into a repetition of the same scene. God, it was awful.

2. Long, extended takes of the couple making out. Like, waaaay too long. Uncomfortable long.

3. Long, extended takes of the couple making out, but from the perspective of the ground they’re making out on. I think what they did was have the actors lie on top of a piece of plate glass, make out, and then shoot from under them. Ick.

4. The piece de resistance: a whole dialogue scene with a revolving camera — The Bodyguard-style. You know that scene where Whitney Houston is kissing Kevin Costner, and the camera spins around them? Imagine that for five minutes. I wanted to vomit.

This also says nothing of the reception of the audience, which was actually exclusively male, and nonstop with cries of “Ya ragl!” (“Oh, man!”) and similar exclamations. Oooo, sex! It’s so naughty. It would be one thing if sex were a taboo topic and taken seriously, but it was like watching the movie with eleven-year olds: ridiculous, unpleasant, and an exercise in human stupidity.

Clerics will point to the immodest dress of women as causing earthquakes, and how the West is decadent in its standards regarding women. Usually the argument for the headscarf goes one of two ways: it’s a command from God OR that a woman’s beauty is precious and should not be seen by all — the metaphor is usually that “she is like a pearl and must be guarded.”

Why then, is there rampant sexual harassment throughout Egypt?

I’m not saying that there isn’t sexual harassment in the West. There is. Quite a lot, actually. But the idea of a woman being groped on the street….and the man not arrested…man. There might be something to the whole “protection” thing that people argue, but I think for the wrong reasons. Here, it is almost more necessary; without it, you’ll get hassled more. Perhaps they’re mistaking the result for the cause. After all, women in the West aren’t hassled for exposing their upper arms and legs, but here they are. Perhaps they are forgetting the standard and assume that it’s the same elsewhere.

John’s mentioned one of his professors has looked into certain aspects of fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) about the hijab and if it were permissible to remove it in countries where it isn’t required for a woman’s modesty. Isn’t modesty something culturally local, I wonder?

Something to think about a little more, I suppose.

The consoling part of the night was going across the street to the side room of the Assteria bar, which, unbeknown to us prior to that night, served alcohol. The salon looked a bit like a Soviet bus station, and the waiters were  mysteriously nonpresent most moments, but the company was good and the beer cold.

Sigh. Way too much sexual frustration pent up in this country sometimes.

I don’t think I’ll be seeing the other movie that’s been causing just as much controversy (Rasa’il al-Ba7r, “Letters from the Sea”) any time soon.


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You catch a minibus west to Manshaya, and get off at the Nasser Restaurant, just before the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Here, the Corniche narrows to four lanes, and if you wait a few seconds, you can cross to the other side. You duck down a sidestreet, past the Traders’ Room, past shawarma stands lit up with neon lights, past entire avenues of men in rickety cane chairs — the air censed with cigarette and apple tobacco. And just as you find yourself approaching Saad Zaghloul Street, you stop. If you blink walking by, you might miss it; a hole in the wall with a painted airplane over the entrance, which has a frosted glass partitions hiding the interior from the street, which is in turn concealed by a little buttonwood tree. This is the Spitfire Bar– uncontestedly the best bar in Alexandria (and the only one open during Ramadan).

Once occupied by the British when the Allied operations headquarters was based at the Hotel Cecil down the road (more coming soon on Monty’s Bar), Spitfire has seen more history than most. Though Cap d’Or down the street likes to claim otherwise (it has some tres sweet art noveau mirrors), Spitfire reigns supreme. Business cards on the wall, a rather random fishtank, an ever-present Rolling Stones soundtrack, and a risque wet T-shirt poster that tells the visitor, “Order a beer. Light a cigarette. Make fun of the wandering tourists outside searching in vain for this paradise of a watering hole.”

The place is owned by a trio of brothers– all Muslim– who make a business of living and let live; they make an extra emphasis of pointing out that “There are good people and bad people in every nation…but no one like you, Mr. Mike.” I’ve heard that line so many times that I’ve stopped teasing them about it.

Mr. Mike? I get called that at school, too: it’s a little odd– but then, I guess, try throwing “Nevadomski” to them. You can see the knots form in their mouths.

Last Ramadan, I stepped in for a drop and a small sampling of peanuts, only to have Hassan and Osama get extra attentive around Iftar time:

My brothers and I are about to break fast, then go to the mosque to pray. Do you need anything else before we do?

Nope, Hassan. Thanks for everything.

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