Monday, October 19, 2009

Alex Can!

In the next couple of weeks Alexandria will be transforming into cosmopolitan city, adopting elements of neighboring Cairo…very much including the huffing on a tailpipe air quality that has been sticking around in these parts thanks to an almost dormant southern breeze and the burning of trash on the outskirts of town and train tracks. The haze is thick and gray trapping in the 90 plus degree heat, makes you almost wish for the breezy summer heat.

On Saturday, we joined our friends Ji and Lianne for a daylong open air music festival at Qait Bay fort. We were immediately discriminated based on our nationally and skin color. The woman at the ticket booth wanted to charge us the non-resident rate of 25 pounds versus the nominal Egyptian rate of 2 pounds. We provided proof that we were residents and she told us that it didn’t matter, “you are not Arabs!” Maybe she could have doubled as spokesperson for the equality booth inside the venue. There was an event organizer near the entrance kind enough to help us sort through all the political nonsense to get us through the gate.

The Fort

"Just take a couple of more steps back..."

Inside the festival we explored along the top walls of the fort thinking how nice it is to have a tourist destination that doesn’t treat you with kid’s gloves and puts the responsibility on the visitor. For example, there is no fence, wire, guard rails, or nets when to keep you from falling off the walls, if you fall…bummer dude, don’t stand on the edge next time. We saw a couple of kids running around and in poor taste I was secretly taking bets in my mind on who would fall out of the fort first. Fortunately we didn’t stick around long enough. Once on the ground floor we were treated to an assortment of booths and vendors. The music from the first group was fab., the members looked slightly disorganized but they had the crowd chanting along to their festive offerings. The puppet show between music sets was unlike any I’ve ever encounter and I’ve seen plenty in my life including an R rated one in Atlanta. The show included a bootleg Bert (as in the beloved Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street) along with a fez wearing Turk and two men running in front of the cut-out booth with microphones trying to blow out the speakers with their voices. The Palestinian dancers were up next and they had fans that went out of their way to be there sporting their decorative PLO scarves and all. We stayed a couple of songs and called it an afternoon.

Palestinian dancers au go-go

Puppet show

M.C. Flavor Farooq

AlexFest has arrived and will be in effect until the end of October. The event is a two-week multi-cultural festival including, the visual arts, lectures, film, sports, music & dance, theatre, comedy and more for the entire family in venues throughout Alex. The brainchild of the event spoke of how Alexandria is portrayed in travel books as a day-trip destination where people come to see “dead things from the past” and how crucial it is for the world to see Alex as a city alive and full of energy. Another representative from Britain praised Alexandrians for being “honest” and “truthful” and decided to try his brand of truth by telling the audience of 500 plus attendees that Alex lacked “good restaurants and a reliable transportation system” he continued down his list…I’m sure his speech didn’t win any new fans. Perhaps, people like to tell the truth better than to receive it. He and others continued to reassure the audience of the potential the city has to transform itself into a cultural center on the Mediterranean. The organizers along with the audience chanted endless cries of “ALEX CAN!” throughout the evening…It was Cesar Chavez and Barack Obama all over again.

Last night Ana and I attended the welcoming Gala, we had the opportunity to preview some of the week’s upcoming featured performers. Flamenco guitarist Fernando Perez and his ensemble got the show underway; he opened his set with more traditional flamenco styling’s and ended the evening by belting out a more upbeat contemporary urban tune ala Argentina’s Gotan Project. Next on the agenda was the cell phone symphony played by various audience members, “Standard Nokia Ring Tone in D minor” was a crowd favorite! Equally impressive was the “Youth of Siberia” Russian dance ensemble who dueled against the Egyptian Dance group. The costumes and the routines of the Siberian dancers awed the audience…a must see. In contrast, the Egyptian dancers worked the crowd into a sing-a-long frenzy. Even the people who sat behind us used the backs of our seats as their personal drum kits. I can definitely see “Youth of Siberia” on world-class theatre stages around the globe while their Egyptian counterparts performing their Pharaohs routine on a cruise along the Nile. We were also treated to solo vocal performances in the style of Opera, French, and Broadway. I wish to note that the pianist and violinist duo accompanying the vocalists had better fashion sense. Chocolates were distributed and sampled during intermission.

Dressed to kill-in the bad way

Tonight we’re off to see a Latin American film from Uruguay at the French Culture Center. Everything in possible in Egypt…VIVA ALEX!

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