Posts Tagged ‘corniche’

At Tom Rumi’s suggestion, we sought out a supposed Greek dive bar in Ibrahimiyya that he had been in once with Tom Taweel back in TAFL days; all that said Rumi could remember was that it was somewhere in between Sharia Abukir and the tramline. It didn’t take us long, but we found it.

It’s a villa. Set back from the street with Greek signs at the gates and a large striped flagpole, the front steps are painted in what an old guidebook described as “bumblebee columns” with the silhouette of a big, black, double-headed eagle above the door. Walking up to the house, you begin to doubt yourself and wonder if you’re about to walk into someone’s home, but as soon as the door is opened, you’re reassured. Tables with stained tablecloths, an eccentric assortment of cheap salt-and-pepper shakers, and a few heavyset old men contemplating their 10 LE Stellas and cigarettes. Greek posters on the bright blue walls and a gilt-edged, giant mirror. Lots of cats, which is pretty unfortunate for me, because I hate cats (allergic). That doesn’t stop the french fries and calamari from being the best in town — and better yet, the closest to Sporting by a long shot. John and I have been stopping in every now and then ever since the discovery. No Greeks as of yet, but the population is local and quiet.

Leads me to next point: on Halloween night, John and I headed down to what shall henceforth be called “al-Younani” (the Greek) with a few others, including a gentlemen named Amr. Amr is a lawyer, balding, a skinny man of an indeterminate age, but I think he’s a lot older than the people he hangs out with. He peeks out from behind thick glasses and tells rambling stories of relatively fluid narrative, though sometimes he gets his gerunds and tenses mixed up (“Do you like the cook?” instead of “Do you like the cooking?”),  switches out his letters for others (“pop the crotch,” instead of “pop the clutch”), or mistakes prepositions (“The first time I was invited in a girl”). Initially, I was quite annoyed by him: he has a habit of appearing at places at the very mention of his name — an eerie quality which would make the devil envious. Two years back, he would just follow the Manchester crowd around: appearing at the Sayed Darwish Theater some nights and just tagging along. It appears he’s taken up drinking, and quite frequently appears at the Spitfire just to make sure that he’s not missing out on anything. I think I’ve either just gotten used to him or he’s gotten considerably more tolerable, because I think I’m beginning to like his nutty stories about German marathon champions that fall in love with him and demand his affections in the middle of the Carrefour Cilantro.

Got sick, though: must have been the cats or the change of weather, but I ended up going home relatively early and spent the rest of yesterday sleeping and sniffling up a storm, sipping mint tea, and trying to make the recovery before today, when my first classes of the month start at 3 PM and end at 10 — a real marathon run compared to what I’ve been doing beforehand. So far, so good: I’m still sniffly, but I expect that’s just the weather: it was gloriously rainy and windy yesterday on the way to Anfushi (dinner) and it warranted wearing my raincoat. Sick, yes, but happy as a clam for the return of “Durrell weather” and a rain-swept Corniche.

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Dust has settled on the White City. Today was probably the scorcher of the season; it’s October, and while I hear about snow falling in Middlebury and NYC, the Mediterranean simmers to a flat calm. When the sea goes flat, the heat sinks it: the horizon blurs and the place is covered in a gray sheen that mists over the minarets of Anfushi and Manshaya on the western side of the Corniche. The mist seems to whiten as the day goes on, until those minarets and buildings are nothing more than steely silhouettes on a white sky at midday. And the heat is unrelenting.

I’ve been mentioning every now and then that the mornings have been filled with smoke; fires on the Delta. Apparently (according to the article good old Rumi sent me on the subject) it’s from cane brush fires. Either way, it’s starting to float over Alexandria in moments of dead calm (today, tonight) and stifle the city’s otherwise refreshing coolness.

Today was a busy, if tiring day. I’ve started teaching at another center (in Azarita, across from the Law College) — private lessons to a couple that are hoping to immigrate to Canada sometime in the next year, and to that end, are taking the ILEX (TOEFL, except Canadian-Australian version). They’re the most fluent Egyptians I’ve met outside the university, and cannot imagine why they are taking lessons. It is, however, refreshing (and easy) — quite the break from having to explain the verb to be and the differences between a and the to middling level students. Incidentally, they’ve sort of appointed me the expert on Canada after I told them I’ve been to Montreal — once — and suddenly I’m being asked whether or not I think they should move to Vancouver or Toronto. Hm.

Wisdom: fans break easily. A word to the wise: don’t overwork yours. If you do, it might break on a night like tonight; when the air is itchy with sugar-cane smoke, when the heat hangs over you like the hot breath of some exhausted animal, and your sheets drip with your own sweat. Have mercy on your fans. Otherwise you’ll be ranting about the heat and dead calm of the Mediterranean at 12 at night.

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harassment It’s about time that I tackled one of the more difficult subjects that invariably every American writes about at some point: harassment. I hesitate to bring it up mainly because I’ve heard so many stories that, by this point, I would simply be laundry-listing incident after incident– each progressively (and regrettably) worse than the last. At the same time, though, I know that one has to discuss it, otherwise one risks becoming a part of (and a perpetuator of) the problem itself. My thanks in advance to Rumi for the informative Eid post, and apologies for shamelessly stealing his links.

For the last three nights, crowds of young Egyptians (shabaab) have roamed the streets, set free by their families after the evening meal to roam. And by roam, I mean overwhelmed and flooded; the streets were completely clogged with young men, teens, and tweenish boys, linked arm-in-arm (a custom of friendship here, not of homosexuality), blasting a million different songs from a million different speakerphones, hollering at each other. Scrawny kids in tight, glittery shirts in pink and purple–complete with rhinestones and senseless tiny hoods– blue jeans with a dozen zippers, acid washes, and huge, AirJordan style patent leather sneakers. Hair cut against the scalp with hair gel poured into it for the “cool” look. And everywhere, clouds of bad imitation designer perfume hung in the air.

Of course, there’s no accounting for fashion. Mahmoud tells me that girls with cropped or boyish hair are not just unattractive– they’re downright ugly. The Western media puts forth an idea of beauty that seems to revolve around figure-skaters and ballerinas; lithe, willowy types that wear clothes on the runway well. Here, such women get told that they need to fatten up or they’ll never have sons — or any children — and I think are held in something like contempt. And getting back to fashion — none of my Egyptian friends understand the recent trends of “boho chic” or grunge fashions; to them, girls get made up (almost clownishly sometimes) when they go out.

Imagine, if you will, armies of these boys wandering the streets. Literally, phalanxes of them, all astride. And as they pass you, they scream out any number of things:

– Hi! What’syourname. (It’s all strung together purposely; imagine it said really quickly with no question inflection)
– Welcome in Egypt? Hello!
– Hi! Howreyou? Howreyou?
– Fook you. Fook you! (Personal favorite)
– You…so stubid. So stubid. (Kid last night on the tram. I grabbed his ear and he ran away)

And once they’ve braved you — they’ve done the ritual tap to the foreigner — they turn back to their friends as if they’d recited the lyrics to “We Didn’t Start the Fire” from beginning to end, and congratulate themselves as if you didn’t exist.

The worst are the hisses.

Imagine a cat hissing. That’s the sound you make to say “Hey! Dude!” but mainly it gets used on the Corniche by idling shabaab to catcall girls; “You so beautiful, ” or “Muzza! Muzza!” (kind of like “babe”).

What continuously shocks me is that older women (who are present) do not intervene. In a culture that has such concerns for female honor, the idea of approaching a Western woman and propositioning her — of pulling out your penis and masturbating in public, of physically assaulting her or pressing against her — begs a number of contradictions that I cannot begin to get into: it makes me so angry. These incidents seem to have just gotten worse over the years, as well. In particular, I’m puzzled by an odd cultural double standard; there seems to be an acceptance of Western sexual mores when it’s convenient (i.e., when an Egyptian teenager is horny) but a rejection when someone else seizes advantage of them (i.e., an American has an American girl spend the night). Protect women, veil them — but only in certain circumstances.

At the risk of conflating religion and society, I’d like to bring up something that Michael Muhammad Knight mentioned in The Taqwacores (read it): if men are so weak as to warrant women praying behind them or secluded away on balconies (in mosques), why aren’t the men the ones that are sequestered off? Why seal the women off from the world if the men themselves are the problem?

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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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Most of these posts are a long time in coming: internet still hasn’t been installed in the flat yet, so the posts will be a bit erratic until I have a steady access source. I’ll try to keep them brief and my apologies sparse.

A group from Cairo arrived Friday– friends of Melissa’s, Autumn and others– and the dime tour was activated. Best thing for me, really; we made our way from the obligatory tombs at Kom al-Sho5afa (where a group of students from TAFL were– a number of Norewegiis) through the streets of Karmouz and Muharrem Bek. Managed to reset my bearings and am slowly remembering my way though the more sha3bi districts like the end of the last trip (which was about a year ago). NB: discovered that Pastroudi’s is no more– it’s been torn down for a ghastly gourmet Egyptian cuisine place that plays Arabpop and stripped down the mirrored bar. I wonder if Durrell’s house on Rue Maamun is still standing.

Guards at Kom al-Sho5afa were arguing the entire time Autumn and I were waiting outside the tombs for Caroline. One of them had said something I didn’t quite catch about an American Christian that spoke Arabic (ref. me) and one of the Egyptian women (presumably a Copt) jumped up in defense and pounced on his sarcasm. An older guard apologized to me, while the group split up between the warring parties and “moderators” were send to either side. It seems that this is the Egyptian way to argue– I’ve most definitely seen it before.

Dinner at Abou Ashraf (at least something is consistent) in Anfushi, and a magnificent sunset, followed by a much needed Stella with Hasan and Usama at the Spitfire.

Nothing makes you feel settled in like being a host.

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