Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Salaam Aleikum and Bom Viagem

I wake in Cairo and I think I am in the center of the world. I don't think there is any place quite like this on Earth. Even when I am sick with the flu and and tired from work and sleepless nights there is an undeniable pulse in this city. I'm sick because I spent the whole weekend out, pulling 36 hours in a row without rest. Why? Well, that's a longer story.

I should first introduce the cast of characters for this weekend. There's my roommate, Joe. Some you will already know him, closely or in passing. We've both come from Brandeis to the Middle-East, and finding fascinating and frustrating in turn. Thalia Beaty is the one who started this weekend's madness; she comes from Brown, and we actually went to Chenery Middle School together. Jon Guyer, also from Brown - I think he was the most excited of us all about the prospect of the crazy night we had. Nick is his roommate, the resident archaeologist and from Univ. of Chicago who translates French, yet doesn't speak it. Zen, I know. Claire Hefner, from Univ. of Wisconsin Madison, Anthro major and dabbler in Sufi by way of Indonesia and India. So you know, pretty normal... Finally Hanna, the Swede from California, who was not on the ground two weeks before she attended an Egyptian wedding and a Sweden-Egypt football game with some locals.

It was this motley crew that Thalia convinced to come on her little adventure. See, a few days earlier she was sitting in an ahwa(like a coffee-shop only 10 times sketchier), when she was scouted as an extra for a film. Now, everyone knows what strange men mean when they scout strange women for "a film." But this is Egypt...surely something less sinister is afoot. Thalia's only instructions: come to Cinema Tahrir in Dokki, and bring your Western friends.

After a lot of debate we decided that hey, what was the worst that could happen? I mean technically, the worst would be a starring role in an Islamist beheading video, but we were willing to take our chances. So off we go. At Cinema Tahrir, there's a crowd of Africans, Asians, and White Westerners. We get redirected by an old guy with a killer baldspot-mullet combo, and another fellow with a Darth Vader voice and a skin condition that makes him look like a B-Grade Bond henchman.

Off to another theater, this one on the island of Manyel. Here we wander into a scene of total chaos. Wardrobe, makeup, and tech setup all appear to be happening simultaneously. Assistants direct us to and fro with all the aplomb of drunk airtraffic controllers. I wore a white suit to this event, knowing it was formal dress. They change me out of it into an ill-fitting tuxedo and ghastly dress shirt, back into my own(exquisitely tailored!)suit, and finely into a bastardized combination of the two. Lovely.

Thereafter, we sit. And sit and sit and then sit a little more. Thalia, Claire, and Hanna endure hours of makeup and hair styling, until finally they emerge, looking like survivors of the Titanic - both in the elegance of their attire and the shock on their faces. This is 4am. We sit some more. Joe endeavors to stay awake by the desperate tactic of drinking the hyper-concentrated sludge at the bottom of a cup of Turkish Coffee. This is widely regarded as a humorous but ill-planned move.

A couple of odd conversations ensue. Our agent, Mr. Mullet, elaborates on the filmmaking genius of the movie Swordfish. Yes, the one with John Travolta. Smile and nod was about as much as Joe and I could muster.

We resolve to quit the scene by 5:30am. At 5:15, they usher us into the theatre. We are glad for the moment, but hope quickly turns into despair as the director, crew, and main actress launch into a marathon session of shoots, reshoots, equipment moves, takes, second takes, and so forth until everyone is thoroughly exhausted. Those with film experience(Jack-san?) may correct me if I'm wrong, but is it normal filmmaking process to dismantle and reassemble the entire dolly/track/camera in the middle of a shoot? It shouldn't be.

Anyhow, we finally here Qwais AWI!, Very good, and the take is done. In desperation at this point, starved, dehydrated, and on the point of collapse, we dash for the exits although its pretty clear the director wants more reference shots or scenes or something. We can't take it anymore.

In the dressing room, chaos ensues. We struggle to find our clothes and IDs and personal belongings. In the midst of all this, the Darth-Vader fellow comes up and starts wheezing something at is in distressed English/Arabic about money, more shots, 30 or 40 more this point, we are beyond caring. We tell him, enough is enough, and away.

He and several members of the film crew are literally following us out the door at this point. We yell and hail cabs, throw in our belongings and more or less bolt. In the adrenalin-fueled charge of the escape, we hardly even notice the suicidal driving of our cabbie, dire even by the berserk standards of Cairo traffic. This man was literally playing chicken on a two-lane road at 60 kph with a van in between, and we hardly noticed.

Surviving this voyage, we return to Jon and Nick's apartment, where we find the third member of their trio, Katie, asleep on the couch. She is, needless to say, baffled by the arrival of six over-dressed, underslept, entirely mad people in evening dress. Nonetheless, we manage to scratch together a heroic breakfast of omelets, fuul, sausage, hash, bread, and of course Nutella. And that was the end of our career in the Egyptian film industry.

A few notes after the fact: Nick informed us that the French-speaking woman playing the lead role might in fact have been a MAJOR Egyptian star called Youssra. This woman is something like an Arab Angelina Jolie - instantly recognizable. Also, we ran into a fellow AUC student who participated in this whole farce. She actually got paid by Mr. Mullet and Mr. Vader, who informed her that they wanted to see the six of US again. When we found this out, we were a little shocked, not to mention terrified. We'll see what comes of it...

Anyhow, this is my first post. Hopefully more adventures will follow.

Daniel Pereira


Water Lilies said...

hello darling. I enjoyed reading your post.

Jonathan Guyer said...


Jonathan Guyer said...

Nice story telling

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