12 December 2009

the cavafy house, alexandria

I took this video in the Cavafy House in Alexandria last month.  The sound in the background is the afternoon prayer.  The house is on Rue Lespius downtown.  Old Alexandria...  This, I believe, is one of his best poems.

The City
You said: “I’ll go to another country, go to another shore,
find another city better than this one.
Whatever I try to do is fated to turn out wrong
and my heart lies buried as though it were something dead.
How long can I let my mind moulder in this place?
Wherever I turn, wherever I happen to look,
I see the black ruins of my life, here,
where I’ve spent so many years, wasted them, destroyed them totally.”

You won’t find a new country, won’t find another shore.
This city will always pursue you. You will walk
the same streets, grow old in the same neighborhoods,
will turn gray in these same houses.
You will always end up in this city. Don’t hope for things elsewhere:
there is no ship for you, there is no road.
As you’ve wasted your life here, in this small corner,
you’ve destroyed it everywhere else in the world.

It has been established in related circles that Constantin P. Cavafy was one of the greatest Greek poets who ever lived, and we were lucky enough to have him narrate a bit of his 20th century for us...  When I read this poem I always think about Cairo and Alexandria, about Egypt, and how I came here to study - not to study - but to be a part of this country which still seems so important to me.  I couldn't tell you why, exactly, because I don't care about the things that most people talk about when they talk about Egypt.  I suppose it's best described by the feeling one can get by a corner in a room with a table, an ashtray, a candle.  A river that goes on forever...  Or an image from a book, a woman waiting by the shores of the Mediterranean, eating an apple and reading a newspaper, or a secret message that was once written on a page that's been torn out. 

...  How can you explain to someone over a coffee that this is Egypt?  Not even the tall minarets or the highways or the look in a poor man's eye, no.  Egypt is a fantasy corrupted by 4,000 years of human tragedy.  Which is why, even in the dirt, I will always call this place home.

11 December 2009

waiting for you, just waiting... can't you see i'm waiting for you?

Still waiting on my shoes... I've been reluctant to post because I have no recent pictures from the milongas and no shoes to speak of.  There was a great milonga on Saturday at Bian Caffé - all of the dancers in Cairo were there, which was nice, because it seems like the community is coming together rather than dividing itself into different "tango camps."  (Sometimes I speak too soon) 

I just got some great music and tango videos from various places in Berlin and Sharm el-Sheikh from Bassem Youssef, but what I'm really going crazy over right now is an opera recording by Erika Köth, who, I swear, is the best opera singer I've ever heard.  Normally I find Die Zauberflöte a bit trite and painful to listen to (and opera in general, actually), but I have been addicted to this recording ever since a friend brought it from Germany for me.  I would post a photo, but my life is too horrifyingly busy right now to do a nice set-up... I'll have to post on it later. 

Cross your fingers, my shoes are coming Tuesday.

21 November 2009

a few days later

A few days later and I'm still thinking about shoes.  There are 5,000 riot police down the street from my apartment, making it impossible to go anywhere (read about it in the new york times!) - the football rivalry between Egypt and Algeria is now playing out on my doorstep, and I have glass stuck in the soles of my shoes from the broken shop windows.  The cat is curled up on one of my ugly green pillows (rococo gone asian, if that's possible), and I'm listening to "Electrocutango".

I wish I was in Alexandria, having a coffee at Pastroudis.

...  But they closed Pastroudis, one of the most famous literary cafes in Egypt (opened by a Greek in 1926), made famous & alive by the characters of Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet.  The manager just died, and an Egyptian chain restaurant bought it out.  No one thought to save it.  Why?  Because no one even knew it was important.  

Can you imagine Starbucks buying out Les Deux Magots in Paris??  This is modern Egypt.  No one knows, no one cares - and I can say this honestly about the things which make up Egypt's artistic and intellectual history.  Egypt has a legacy more immense than any other country in the world -- but the people of Egypt are no longer bearing witness.   


17 November 2009

best friends

Shoes are always there for you when your life is falling apart.

Friends, lovers, and music can fail you.  Wine can pitch disastrous backlashes, like a gypsy curse.  Chocolate can be anti-climactic, not rich enough or gone too soon...  But shoes?  They never talk back to you, they never tell you that you're over-reacting, they don't give you headaches or make you recount your life story to yourself in the mirror at 3am, and they make you look confident, slim, and powerful.  Can you think of a better friend during crisis time???

15 November 2009

warning: the effects of tango withdrawal

I just finished one of the most stressful weeks of my life, and it seems that everyone I know is, from day-to-day, going insane or is utterly miserable, despite being generally happy.  This is probably just daily life in Cairo, where I spend 3 hours in a car or bus every day trying to get from one place to the next.  The following exchange has become a common greeting among me and my friends:
Double Kiss
"How are you?"
"I'm angry. You?"
"I'm anxious."
"Good, let's go get dinner."
Needless to say, I barely danced any tango this week, trying to balance exams with royal engagements (no joke, the prince is in town) and time lost to traffic jams.  And in my moments of stress I realized that I hadn't had a tango high for about two weeks.  

So, the first free moment I have, I schedule a private lesson.  Thursday 3pm.  That's simple enough.  I planned ahead: wake up at 7am, catch the 8am bus to New Cairo to make a 10am hieroglyphics exam, take the exam (translating, transliterating, and commenting on the Old Kingdom's Shipwrecked Sailor), wait for the 1pm bus, take it downtown, take a taxi to Zamalek, arrive in Zamalek 2.30pm, sit down for 15 minutes, then take a taxi to my tango lesson. 3 hours of traveling, mais c'est la vie en caire (absolument pas la vie en rose).  

...All went as planned, until when I finally got into the taxi to go to my lesson, the taxi driver refused to take the bridge I wanted him to take.  He was trying to take a longer route to argue for more money, so I was stuck in traffic for 30 minutes, making myself 30 minutes late to a 1 hour tango lesson.

I lost it in the cab.  Talking to myself, crying, sobbing in the cab driver's face asking him "lei?? lei?? ana mish fahma! mish fahma leiiii!" (why?? why?? I don't understand! Don't understand whhhyyy!).  He started freaking out and when we finally got to the studio, I said, "I'm sorry, my life is falling apart right now, please forgive me, you should've taken that goddamn bridge" and threw 30LE at him, still sobbing.  Normally I pay 5LE, but I was having an existential crisis, and I watched unbelievably as he took the money and drove off happy.

I walk into my lesson.  Mourad sees that "I'm still asleep" but then, no, "I'm upset."  

...  All he said was, "Do you need a hug?" And he gave me a wonderful tango hug, we started dancing, and by the end of the hour my body and mind were totally at peace.  The weekend took off from there: I played tennis at the Marriott, went to Puccini's Tosca, cooked breakfast, and read Harold Pinter's "Betrayal" over an espresso at Arabica.

The moral of the story is, never pay these cab drivers more than they deserve, and if you're feeling like a terrible grumpy person with no reason to be breathing, it's probably because you're neglecting your ochos, your boleos, and the embrace which makes the world a livable, beautiful place.

07 November 2009

comme il faut

Most people know Comme il Faut as the famously innovative designers of Argentine Tango shoes.  With a little shop on the Rue des Artisans in Buenos Aires, they started only some years ago in 2003, but since have been known as the leading designers of unique tango shoes of the best quality.

Well, did you also know that Comme il Faut is the name of a Haitian cigarette company...?  Haïti Chérie...

More importantly, it is also the name of a great tango written by Eduardo Arolas, who also wrote "Derecho Viejo" and "Una Noche de Garufa"...  In fact, on Comme il Faut's website, the intro of the song is played in a little animation...  My favourite version is performed by Troilo's orchestra, but here in Historia del Tango we have Arolas' premier performance of "Comme il Faut" in Paris.   

What I like about this video is how, well - absurd it is. If you catch Arolas when the blonde translates the name of his piece into French, the first time she says, "Comme il Faut", he snaps his fingers and points at her, "eso es... comme il faut..." And towards the end of the clip she seems surprised that he plays well ("il joue bien!!"), as everyone stops dancing simply to stare at him and his musicians... 

Alors, comme il faut!


02 November 2009

tango: the art history of love

by Robert Farris Thompson
A beautifully written book about the origins and development of the tango, from early musical styles and dances like the habanera and canyengue to writers of tango lyrics and the famous originals, their style and their story.

List of chapters:
1. Tango in Hollywood
2. Tango as Text
3. The Cultural Preparation
4. Habanera: The Call of the Blood
5. Milonga: The Great Buenos Aires Conversation
6. Dancing on the Edge: The Early Tango Called Canyengue
7. Tango as Music
8. Tango as Dance

Pictured with Montgolfier Cabernet Sauvignon, 2008.
...Purchased in Cyprus on my way back to Cairo, where French wine is rare and (g)astronomically expensive.  What can I say of this wine?  Not much, only that I am thrilled it is not Egyptian.

27 October 2009

a conversion to osvaldo pugliese

Et voila... Fall came overnight.

Ismael Ludman and Maria Mondino have left Cairo after a beautiful weekend of classes and dancing...  And the few of us who are obsessed with Argentine Tango here in Egypt seem to be feeling an acute withdrawal after such a high. Or I am, at least. Photos went up all over facebook, people were excited, and everyone's iPod went on Piazzolla overload. For the first time in months, I was happy to wake up in the morning: I quit everything for 4 days, skipped my Egyptology courses, and surrendered to the world of tango. For 4 days I dreamt that I had nothing else to do with my life, and by the end, was convinced that there is nothing else to do with my life...

Now some are asking the question: how do we keep the tango community alive in Cairo? Not only alive but passionate, humble, beautiful...? I am now asking, how do I keep myself alive when I am NOT dancing tango? It sounds like awful melodrama but I find when I am not dancing tango, listening to tango, thinking about or talking about tango, I am moody, generally pissed off, and bored. I spend my time looking up videos on YouTube, perusing studio websites of all the places I will be in the next 6 months, and stretching my feet, my legs, my hips, and my back.

On Friday, I went to Pelusiam, close to the Suez Canal, where the Egyptians chopped off Pompey's head while he was fleeing the armies of Julius Caesar. The Egyptians then presented the head to Caesar, who feigned disgust and then shacked up with Cleopatra.

On Saturday, there was a milonga at Bian Caffé in Mohandiseen.