Friday, December 14, 2007

Goodbyero, Cairo.

Unless something insane happens in the next two days (not a longshot with this country), this will be my last post from Cairo. Which is sort of freaking me out. Where did all the time go?

(Quick sidenote: yesterday was the two month birthday of my coke nail. It has gone beyond the tip of my finger, and is moving into uncharted territory. This makes it very hard for me to type the letter "A", or to shampoo my hair without scraping a layer of scalp off. In short: I am disgusting.)

Before I get all "boo hoo Cairo" on you, let's talk about how terrifying living in this apartment has suddenly become. For some reason, the beggars of Cairo decided we're regular moneybags, because they're all making the frightening ride up the elevator to the ninth floor, just to knock on our door and ask for five pounds.

That's not the scary part, obviously. Two nights ago, Beckett and I were asleep (in our separate rooms, pervert), when we were woken up by the doorbell ringing at 3 AM. I stayed in bed because I was tired and lazy, but I heard Beckett getting out of his room, grumbling and cursing all the way to the door. He opened it, and standing about ten feet away from the door was a small Egyptian man (Beckett described him as "Al Qaeda-looking"). His head was tilted towards the ground, but he was looking out the top of his eyes, staring at Beckett.

Beckett asked in Arabic, "What do you want?" but the guy said nothing. Just stood there, staring. Fifteen or so seconds passed, and Beckett repeated: "What?" A few more seconds of silence, and then the guy slowly said (extremely creepily, I might add, since I could hear it all the way back in my room): "Oh. Good evening." Which sounded even creepier in Arabic.

At this point, Beckett was completely freaked out, so he just shut the door. He got about ten feet away from it before he heard a series of knocks. Peeking through the peephole (a word I can't write without giggling), he saw the one man had suddenly been joined by two more. Luckily, he didn't open the door again, and just crept back to his room, grabbing a knife from the kitchen on the way. Apparently he didn't sleep until the sun came up, and I'm not so sure I would have been able to, either.

Actually, I know I wouldn't be able to, because while I was able to laugh off the story the next morning with a simple, "Weird..." it really freaked me out that night. We were supposed to change our locks or at least get a deadbolt when we moved in here, because who knows how many people have a copy of our house key? We tried the first week in our apartment, but failed and ultimately forgot. (If you know how to say "deadbolt" or "locksmith" in Arabic, it probably would have been easier for you.) Plus the windows in my room don't close all the way, and it was a particularly windy night, so the wind was making the curtains dance around like they always do when someone's about to be killed in a horror movie. But even worse, the wind was making the already-loose door shake and thump, like someone was on the other side trying to get in.

Looking back, I was being a bit of a pussy, but at the moment all I could think about was that guy saying, "Messe el-kher," in that creepy way. I spent the night on the couch in front of the TV, and didn't fall asleep until the sky was beginning to lighten.

Laying on the couch, I decided I really didn't feel like watching anything in Arabic, wrestling, or 10 Things I Hate About You for the umpteenth time (why does Egypt love that movie so?), so I just turned it to CNN. The most insane British man in the world was reporting on traveling in Japan, so I had a blast seeing all the places and landmarks I was at. It really felt like I was just there, even though that was way back in July.

It's really amazing that I can watch a news report from Tokyo and say, "I was there!" Or when a commercial for Turkish Airlines came on, showing the park between the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, I was able to remember the times I walked through that park myself. Or when the news report came on showing protests in Beirut after another assassination, I recognized the buildings in the background. Rather mind-blowing, really.

I can't believe there are only two hours until Saturday begins - my penultimate day in Cairo. I know it's cliche, and I know it's cliche to say it's cliche, but it feels like yesterday that I arrived in Cairo, completely confused but loving every second of this insane place. And wasn't it only last night that Beckett and I checked out of the dorms at nearly midnight, getting an apartment completely on impulse? How has it been nine weeks since I was in Beirut?

There are some things I already know I'm going to miss. Simple things, like the joys of smoking shisha and drinking tea at a small cafe down some dirty street, or just the way you can't leave your apartment without insane things happening to you (naked Saudi men, anyone?). I definitely will not miss the pollution (for the past couple days, the air outside has smelled like a charming mix of straight-up gasoline, and electrical fires) or the incessant car horn honking. But I've met some amazing people and completely changed my view of the Middle East, which I think we all need these days. We may not speak a single word in common, but a cab driver and I can still share a laugh when we see a biker collide with someone getting out of their car. His culture is 100% baffling to me (and the non-offensive Egyptian hand gesture he gives me to say "wait, please" could get you killed if you did it to someone in, say, New York), but we're basically the same.

And, of course, I'm going to miss all my friends out here. Emily's in Jordan, but she decided to come back tomorrow night to say goodbye to us on Sunday, which is good, because I'm dreading the thought of leaving her. At least she's in Chicago, though. What am I going to do without Allyson, who is all the way in LA?! Or Beckett, and Elizabeth, in Washington, D.C.? Weird stuff, saying goodbye to these people.

I don't know what more to say. It's been an unbelievable four months, and I think the past however-many posts speak for themselves. I'm thrilled that I came out here, and I'm excited to get back home and restart my life in the good ole USA. (The next time one of you angsty teenagers complains about living in the "worst country", just remember that at least you have drinkable water and electricity that works. Bush sucks, but you've gotta love America.)

I still haven't quite decided what to do with this blog now that I'm going home. Do I keep it running? Is my life really that interesting in the United States? There'll for sure be one or two more from home, just to update on the whole reverse-culture-shock thing that I am oh so looking forward to. But after that - who knows? I've got a couple trips in the works, specifically a road trip this summer around the United States, and hopefully in a year or two a few of us AUC kids will reunite for either the Mongol Rally or the Rickshaw Run (or maybe the Ruta Del Sol or the Africa Rally). So even if this blog dies out once life returns to that seemingly-foreign concept of "normal", I expect a vampire-like resurrection for it at some undefined point. The world's a big place, and I'm not at all satisfied with the meager amount of it I've seen so far. What's the rest of it like?

(Oh, on a related note, if you want to invite myself and two friends to stay with you during our road trip this summer, I'd be eternally grateful to you. We have no definite plans for our route [aside from going to Disney World, of course], and I don't know about their financial situations, but I'm completely poor after all these ridiculous travels, so we will be relying on a tent for lodging, rather than crazily expensive hotels. But we could pay you back for your generosity by painting you a picture or something. My specialty is abstract/cubistic renditions of genitals.)

Apparently it's the Christmas season back home, so Happy Christmas. See you in the States.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

I hate AUC.

Well, I should probably start by giving you an update on Operation Spiritual Warriors. I ended up dragging Emily with me the next day to see the movie and attempt to get a DVD. When Jsu saw I had returned, he yelled, "I love you, man!" I bet you're pretty jealous. They all seemed thrilled at my return, especially Rick Ojeda, who seems only half-heartedly to support this freaky religion. I kind of thought he'd slip me a note during the movie warning me to escape while I had a chance, but I guess they've brainwashed him enough to stop him from trying to save others from his fate.

Emily thought the movie was even better than how I described it to her, verifying my suspicions that it is, in fact, impossible to accurately portray with words. She practically ripped through the skin on my leg from gripping it in an attempt to stop from laughing. She particularly liked the sex scene (with the not-so-subtle song in the background, whose chorus is, "I am inside you") where Jsu clearly takes advantage of the situation and improvises a breast grab - while the woman is speaking her line! The professionalism killed me.

We then sat through another awful question and answer section. The first question was from the woman sitting next to me, who decided to challenge Megan's question from yesterday: "Last night, one of the Americans asked what you expected the audience to get from the movie, but I thought it was very spiritual and moving, and that's why I came back today." Give me a break. Then an American in the back row piped up with her awesome question: "In a spiritual movie like this, where you're attempting to pass along your religious beliefs to the audience, don't you think style distracts from subject? I mean, it's hard for me to stay involved with the spiritual storyline when I'm being distracted by demons and special effects." Suck it, Jsu! He clearly had no idea what to say to a question like that, so he just said that he wanted to make a cool movie filled with sex and violence. Classy. Between Megan's question the night before, and this girl's question, I was feeling pretty proud to be an American.

The best part of the question and answer segment came when Jsu said he thinks the movie will have "cult success". I swear, the irony almost made my forehead split in half (Spiritual Warrior reference!). FInally, people stopped asking him stupid questions about what sort of camera he used to film it all, and we were free to go. As I nervously approached him, practicing my lies ("I have a friend who is really into spirituality, so I think this DVD would really make a great Christmas present") some other loser asked Jsu where he could get a copy of the DVD. Jsu told him to sign up for the mailing list on the website, and he would be notified of the DVD release through there, probably around March. Damn! So, I left, utterly defeated, and having seen Spiritual Warriors twice in two hours. That was probably the lowest point in my entire life.

Since then, I have pretty much finished this semester. Classes are out, and I have already completed two of my four finals, as well as the paper that is due on Thursday. All I have left is a final on Saturday, and a final on Sunday, and then I'm home free. You know how impossible it is to concentrate during finals week at home, when Christmas is right around the corner, and you are sick of the material you've been studying for the past semester? Try doing that, but you're being tested on a language that's been dead for over 2000 years, and that language is the only thing keeping you from seeing your friends and family, whom you haven't seen in four months.

The word on everyone's lips these days is, "America." Even the kids who were so die-hard about Egypt when we got here can only talk about home. It's extremely easy to fall in love with Egypt if you only visit for a few weeks at a time, and then get back to normal civilization, but once you live here for any substantial amount of time, it really can make you dislike the country, which is unfortunate. I know I'll love it in retrospect from the comfort of the United States, but right now we all just want out.

Don't get me wrong, I've had the greatest four months of my life out here, but it's definitely time to go home. Cairo can feel extremely stuffy at times - a city half the size of Paris with four times the people can do that. Plus it's in the middle of the freaking desert, so it's a hassle to get anywhere other than Cairo. And once you've done all the touristy stuff (which can be done in a day or two, really), there's not much more to do than... well, drink. So I think a return to normal life will actually be a good thing.

Okay, enough bashing Cairo. Lets focus on how terrible AUC is, shall we? You see, before we go home, we have to tell AUC where we want our transcripts sent, so our grades and credits transfer. Should be a simple process, right? Not at AUC! We have to go to the Student Services office, which is run almost exactly like the DMV. You take a number, and sit and wait for your number to be called. From every student that has gone through this process, I hear the sitting and waiting takes over an hour. And this is only to get the freaking form! I could suggest a million different options - sending the form out in an e-mail, having one employee whose only job is handing out the forms, or, I don't know, putting the forms in a pile on a desk for you to just walk in and grab?! Once you have the form, you have to go to about five different offices to get various people to sign off to say that you don't have any book checked out of the library, and you've paid all your fees, etc. etc. Then you return back to the stupid Student Services office, where you take another number, and wait for another hour. Just to hand the form back in. And the final kicker? The office is only open from 9-1 on weekdays. So there's almost no way you can get in and out on the same day, unless you're very lucky. Beckett and I will be attempting to beat the system tomorrow, but I'm sure it'll end up being a two-day process.

All that's left between me and the United States: the stupid transcript process, handing in a paper, taking two ridiculously easy finals, packing, cleaning, celebrating Beckett's birthday. Tomorrow will be my last day of being a tourist for a while - Beckett still has not seen the pyramids in the four months we've been here, so Beckett, Emily, and I are heading out there to hopefully ride horses, and definitely to touch the pyramids. And then tomorrow night comes my first and worst goodbye - Emily is leaving early to travel in Jordan until she goes home. I don't know what I'm going to do without this girl I've seen every day since we became friends literally three hours after I landed in Cairo. Luckily she lives in Chicago, so I'll see her at home. But Jesus, saying goodbye is going to suck.

I promise this is my only "Cairo sucks" post. The next one (maybe my last?) will be looking back on how amazing this has all been. Because, let's face it, this whole four months has been more than surreal. Oh, and happy last night of Hanukkah.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Cairo International Cult Festival

I don't know how to describe what just happened so you get the full effect, so I'll start by saying that you will never be able to understand what we went through today unless you've lived in Cairo, and also been inducted into a cult. How's that for an intriguing introduction?

Yes, it was another crazy day at the Cairo Film Festival, which has become my favorite thing ever. Remember what I said about "Cairo" being synonymous with "low quality"? Today proved that, and the unfortunate victim of this lesson was Harvey Keitel. And then later, it was us.

We showed up early to get good seats for Reservoir Dogs, which wasn't a problem because the place was deserted. Even at 11:56, there were less than twenty people in this large auditorium. I quickly got up to run out and get some popcorn, and I literally ran into Mr. Keitel. He was walking in the door, holding his son, and I was walking out at the same time, so I all but trampled him. I was way too shell-shocked to say anything, so I just quickly jumped out of his way and let him through. He look at the abysmal crowd and joked, "I knew it would be packed in here!"

He stood at the front of the auditorium with an interpreter and his son, and just did a brief introduction for the movie. And it did not go well at all. He was hilarious and classy and very, very nice, but Egypt kind of got the best of him. The microphone was not working, so various Egyptians kept running up to him with other microphones and literally shoving them in his face. None of the mics worked, and he couldn't get through any of Quentin Tarantino-related anecdotes without some moron interrupting him with a new microphone. He was way more patient than I would have been, but eventually he just said, "I can't do this. These people just want to watch the movie, so welcome to Cairo and enjoy." And then he got the hell out of the theater entirely. Thus ended my encounter with Harvey.

Within two minutes after he had left, a man came out and announced something into the broken mic, so none of us understood exactly what he had said. But the gist was that their only copy of Reservoir Dogs was "broken". You'd think at least one person would have thought, "Well, Harvey freaking Keitel flew all the way to Egypt to attend a showing of Reservoir Dogs, so maybe I'll just run up to the film booth quickly and make sure we actually have a copy of the movie on hand." But, of course, they didn't.

Incredibly, Beckett had a copy of Reservoir Dogs back at our apartment. So he volunteered to get in a cab and run to get the disc, which they agreed to, since he was totally saving their asses. So he took off running, and we all sat down to wait. Twenty minutes later, they decide that they are through waiting for him (even though they had called him and found out he was already on his way back), so they were just going to stick another movie in. I think they just assumed we all were there only to see a movie in English, not specifically Reservoir Dogs, because the guy came out front again and said, "We have English movie for you. It's okay, in English." Uh, what? One of the guys sitting next to us asked if they had any movie that Harvey has been in, since that's kind of the point, but I don't think this employee had any clue who we were talking about.

So we just sat and watched Battle for Haditha, which turned out to be really great. It's shot like a documentary, and feels incredibly real, and it shows the events of November 19th, 2005 in Haditha, Iraq, when an IED killed a Marine, and the remaining Marines proceeded to kill 24 men, women, and children. Four of the Marines are currently on trial for murder, so it's an incredibly controversial movie, but it was very well done. So I guess it was a fair trade - I got to see Harvey Keitel, and a good, new movie. But somehow I doubt Harvey will be returning for the 2008 Cairo International Film Festival.

Okay, now comes the insane part. Beckett, Elizabeth, and I convinced Allyson and Megan to come with us to see Spiritual Warriors, which they were all for, because we had visions of rubbing elbows with A-listers like Angelina Jolie and George Clooney. Yes, this was sure to be a grand affair.

We arrived half an hour before the movie started (assuming we'd be fighting for seats if we got there even a minute later), and practically got knocked over by Jsu Garcia himself on the stairs. He seemed all a-fluster, but he recognized us, and said, "Come on, I'll hook you up!" We soon found out he was only trying to sound cool and important, because we followed him up to the theater, which was free to get into anyway.

The theater was in a real Cairo Pandemonium, because - surprise! - the projector wasn't working! So while Jsu ran around like a madman trying to find his DVD copy of it, we stood outside the theater, talking. A kind old woman said to Megan, "Hello. I'm Sally," and instantly I knew that this was Academy Award nominee Sally Kirkland. Megan, of course, did not, and responded in the most condescending, whatever-you-say-crazy-old-lady voice: "Nice to meet you, Sally. I'm Megan." This embarrassment continued for Sally, because I was the only person not affiliated with the movie who knew who she really was. She actually grabbed a reporter and said, "Do you want an interview?" to which he responded, "No thanks." She finally got a couple interviews, and the only parts I could hear of it were her listing off all the hundreds of movies she's done, and repeating, "I'm Oscar nominee Sally Kirkland!" I wanted to push her out the window into the Nile to put her out of her misery. It didn't help that she was wearing a weird crystal between her eyes, which should have been a clear sign that we were getting into something insane.

We schmoozed with the "rich" and "famous" for a while, like movie producer Rick Ojeda, who made an interesting choice of a first impression: flat-out lying. "I'm the Prince of Darkness in this movie," he proudly stated. Which I discovered later was not true. He was actually just a doctor that had one line. Did he think I wouldn't notice that the Prince of Darkness looked nothing like him? Whatever, he was the nicest guy ever, and I may have fallen in love with him a bit. Hey, compared to Sally's craziness sitting next to him, he was marriage material.

Finally the movie was ready to go, so we were ushered into the smallest theater ever, which smelled like hot dog farts. The DVD menu was projected on the screen in front, and I caught the word "subtitle" misspelled as "subtitel". Why did I not recognize any of these signs and escape while I had a chance? Alas, we sat down, listened to Jsu's little introduction, and the movie started.

I really don't know how I'm going to explain this. I'll frequently be cutting in with little insights, straight from the mind of Jsu himself, so bear with me. You know the scene in Lost where they open a door in the Others' complex, and that kid is being brainwashed by really crazy images? Or the brainwashing in A Clockwork Orange? Or have you ever done acid? It was like that.

It started out normal enough. For, like, two seconds. Basically, Jsu played a struggling actor, who also on the side was a drug dealer for the mafia. (Sidenote: Jsu said at the end that the movie was based on real-life experiences. So I guess he was a drug dealer?) He runs from the cops, and decides the best solution to evade the police is to sleep in a bush. He wakes up, and he's in the garden of the strangest old man EVER. This is him:

The old man gives him some tea, deals some cards, and thus ends the semi-cohesive plot. Jsu's forehead splits in two, launching us back in time to the continent of Atlantis. Some crap goes down, the King dies, and every freaking three seconds the King's face is juxtaposed with the old man's. I can't honestly do a scene-by-scene recap of this, as much as I would love to, because I've tried to erase it from my mind. But most of the movie took place in flashbacks - Jsu's "past lives" - to stuff like Camelot, and also two kids were randomly shown being hanged 2000 years ago in Jordan. (This will become a hot issue in the "press conference" afterwards. Hang on, we're getting there.)

One of my favorite parts of the movie (but let's face it, I thoroughly enjoyed all 99 minutes of it) is that every so often scenes would be stopped, and text would appear, showing a quote from the founder of this god-awful cult they're all members of, John Roger. The quotes were all totally nonsensical, but what made it even better was that in case we couldn't read, they had someone reading it to us. We assume it was John Roger himself, because if it wasn't, they should have hired a different actor. The narrator sounded like Dick Clark post-stroke. Seriously, it sounded like half of his mouth was melting. It's hard to not laugh when you hear the narrator of a movie drooling all over himself, but it's even harder when he's saying stuff like this: "If you withhold yourself from your life, you are withholding the support of the Spirit." Or: "Spirit doesn't care because there are no emotional levels in Spirit." Or: "Spiritual Warriors have the Sword of their Heart in front of them." I could go on for days.

This madness continued for an hour and a half. Crazy stuff happened that I will never be able to explain. At one point, he became a full-on angel with wings. But then he did a swan-dive back into his body. There was a wonderful training montage with Jsu and the old man, during which they did stuff like rollerbladed at the beach (seriously) and planted flowers together (again, I'm serious). And then, out of nowhere, Jsu was standing in the middle of this neon blue ocean with all sorts of cities trapped in bubbles around him, and then he hugged a half-naked toddler and cried. An explanation for this scene was never given.

Finally, the final battle between Jsu and the Prince of Darkness (or PoD for short) took place. Just when I thought it couldn't get any better. They each grabbed swords, which turned into Lightsabers (sidenote: Jsu admitted later that Star Wars was, in fact, his inspiration for this scene), and they had a pathetic little battle, before the Prince of Darkness thought, "Wait, what am I doing? I'm the freaking devil!" and just shot a fireball at Jsu, knocking him all the way across the desert as Jsu screamed, "NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" Suddenly, a force field appeared in the middle of the desert, separating Jsu from the PoD, and the force field had the old man's creepy face floating in it! At this moment, I completely lost it and laughed out loud. He gave some words of inspiration, Jsu realized that he was The One (sidenote: Jsu also admitted later that he got this "inspiration" from The Matrix), but the PoD again realized that he's freaking Satan, so he turned into a really terrible computer graphic of a monster. He started stabbing Jsu with his wings and throwing him all around, while the old man's face appeared on the sides of mountains, encouraging Jsu. Then I looked down for two seconds to try to hide my laughter, and somehow the PoD had been magically transformed into a cockroach! Problem solved!

It's really, really impossible to get the full effect of the movie without seeing it, but I hope I did it a little bit of justice. If you were confused by my description, I served my purpose well - we had to run out of the theater to avoid laughing in front of Jsu.

After the movie, we had our pathetic little "press conference" with Jsu, one of the producers named Fadal, and Sally. (One last sidenote: I don't know why Sally came all the way to Egypt, because she was literally in the movie for 45 seconds.) The first question that was asked was honestly this: "It was so deep and spiritual that I think we're going to have to watch it again to fully understand it. Can we watch it again?" I almost crapped my pants. After that, since we were the only Americans in the audience, the conference went into total Arabic, with Fadal answering all the questions, since he's Egyptian. Every once in a while Jsu would make him translate so we could understand what was going on, but Fadal would only translate part of the question before cutting himself off to answer it, so what we got only confused us more. The conference only lasted for about fifteen minutes, but these people had some insane questions. Two women actually started yelling about the fact that the two little Jordanian kids that had been killed 2000 years ago were not wearing historically-accurate costumes. They got in a good three-minute fight with Jsu and Fadal about it. On the list of offenses this movie committed, inaccurate costuming is near the bottom. Then someone else asked a question, and Fadal answered, and then the guy said something else to which Fadal again responded, so Jsu asked, "What the hell are you saying?" Fadal said: "He's asking about Israel and Palestine," and then they got in a big fight in Arabic. What? Why is he asking you about this right now? Then someone else asked a question, and Fadal answered, but translated the question for us: "He's asking about my village which was destroyed by conquerors." By this point, I was waiting for someone to jump out and shout, "Gotcha!" and reveal the hidden cameras.

Jsu allowed only one more question, and then just as we were about to be set free, Sally finally spoke up and said, "Wait, I have a question for the Americans." My heart sank. "What did you feel when you watched this movie? Did you feel anything in your heart and soul? Tell me about your experiences." She was met with total silence for nearly 30 seconds, before Megan - always the one ready to debate someone - responded with, "I actually just have a question. I know why you made this movie - it was an intensely personal, spiritual movie that was all about what was going on in you, and I can see you got a lot out of making it. But what did you expect us, as an audience, to get from it?" Translation: "It sucked." He responded with some bullcrap about it being a "love letter to us and to John Roger", and then we got the hell out of that place.

It kills me to have to write bad things about these people and their movie, because Rick, Fadal, Sally, and of course Jsu were incredibly nice people and I wanted oh so badly to like their movie. But... they can't be serious with this madness. Here's the worst part: I really, really need a copy of the DVD. I haven't wanted anything this badly since yesterday, when I saw the Egyptian wearing the sweater that had "SuperFab" sewn into the back of it. So... I think I'm going back to see it again tomorrow. It's the final showing, so I'm going to offer Jsu some money for the copy of the DVD, since they won't need it anymore. (Unless it's the only copy in the world, considering the only way you can see the movie is if Jsu personally comes to your city and does one of these awkward personal showings.) So if I actually have the balls to go and sit through the movie again, I could end up with a copy of the greatest movie of all time, and most likely get it signed, too. The bad news is that they'll probably be convinced that I'm very serious about the religion now, and will do their best to convert me. But I guess that would make for another interesting story.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The Closest Possible Thing To Danny Glover

First of all, happy Hanukkah. You Jews at home aren't celebrating it yet, since it's not sundown in the States, but the sun went down long ago here (in Israel, as well), so I'm more than justified in saying it. Just deal with it, okay?

One of the things I love most about Cairo is the fact that any simple excursion out into the city, no matter how brief, always turns into a bewildering adventure. Tonight was a perfect example. The Cairo International Film Festival is currently going on, and while I've been hearing stories from people who peed in a urinal next to Danny Glover and others who met Jerry Seinfeld, I never really felt the urge to make a go of the festival. Not really sure why, since I love crap like this, but maybe it has something to do with the fact that any place or event with the word "Cairo" in it usually is using the city's name as a synonym for "terrible quality". I'm just sayin'.

On a whim, I decided to check out the festival's website to see what movies were playing. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that tomorrow, Reservoir Dogs would be playing, and none other than Mr. Harvey Keitel would be in attendance for a press conference after the movie! My fate was sealed; I had to go to this movie. So Beckett, Elizabeth, and I all ventured over to the Hyatt, where the festival's main theater was, to see how we could get tickets.

Unfortunately, the girl selling the tickets did not speak a word of English, other than the script she memorized earlier: "Which movie? How many ticket? Twenty pounds, please." We tried to communicate that we wanted to see Reservoir Dogs (for some reason she didn't understand, "We want to see Harvey Keitel!") for several minutes, but she wasn't having any of it. Dejected, we walked back to the elevator, but we saw a guy wearing a press ID badge, so Beckett grabbed him and asked if he spoke English. It turns out this was the best possible thing he could have done.

The guy's name is Abbas, and he is Iraqi, but engaged to an American ("Nice, eh?" he said) and he was unbelievably helpful and hilarious. He reminded me a bit of Roberto Benigni. He said he would help us get tickets, but then instantly got side-tracked by showing us all of the movies that were playing, and explaining which ones we should see. Then, mid-sentence, a pile of almonds magically appeared in his hand, and he gave each of us a nut to eat. I didn't know what the hell was going on, but I was loving it.

He exchanged some words with the now-thoroughly-annoyed ticket girl, and then suddenly stopped talking to her, and gestured for us to follow him. We started going down the escalators back to the lobby, and on the way he was telling us that he's a member of the press, but also an actor, and that he has many famous American actor friends. I was a bit skeptical, but then he said, "Oh, there's my friend!" and pointed at a guy in a nice suit who was in the glass elevator across from us and waving his arms and jumping up and down. So then we just took off running down the last few escalators, yelling, "Jsu!" which I guess was the actor's name. The man was waiting for us at the bottom, so we were introduced to Jsu Garcia. You're probably wondering who he is. I hadn't ever heard of him either, but a quick search on revealed that he has had tons of roles, some of them fairly large, such as starring opposite Mel Gibson in We Were Soldiers. But what really got me was that he got his start as Johnny Depp's best friend in A Nightmare on Elm Street. How can I not love the guy who uttered the line, "Up yours with a twirling lawnmower"?!

Jsu (look at me, on a first-name basis with the stars) is here because he wrote, produced, and starred in a movie called Spiritual Warriors. We thought it was just a small little production, but it definitely wasn't. It's supposed to be an incredible movie, especially since it was filmed in Syria, Egypt, and Jordan, and the budget was under $1 million. It's starring Jsu, some old dude who's been in a billion movies, Christopher Atkins, and Sally Kirkland, who we should be meeting tomorrow. Apparently Sally has been nominated for an Academy Award, and she was the first person be completely nude on-stage in a play. I think I'll break the ice with that little fact when I meet her. So anyway, he asked us if we wanted to come see it, and there was no way we were saying no to him. He offered to let us in for free, and said he'd be outside the theater waiting for us tomorrow night to let us in. Pretty amazing, right? He also gave us a bunch of flyers promoting the movie and asked us to hand them out at AUC to spread the word. He was such a cool guy, and it was an incredibly generous thing for him to do. Even though I had never heard of him by name, I've definitely seen him in movies before, and I've never met anyone like him who just exudes a movie star aura. I have to admit, I had no idea who he was, but I was totally star struck.

So he ran off, and Abbas took us back up to the theater (thereby confusing me about why we were going down to the lobby in the first place, but there's no questioning Abbas' methods), and insisted we had to see the movie that was about to show. We just did what you do in Cairo, and went along with the flow, instantly purchasing tickets. I bet the ticket girl was thrilled to see us again. Our tickets were taken by someone I'm positive was Horatio Sanz in disguise, and we were ushered into the theater. We said goodbye to Abbas outside of it, but he promised we'd see him at Jsu's movie tomorrow night. So we just grabbed three seats in the theater - which was by far the nicest theater I've ever been in - and tried to figure out what sort of movie we were about to see. We had no idea what country it came from, what the plot was remotely about, or even what the title was. Meanwhile, Beckett texted his mom to have her look up the plot details for Spiritual Warriors, and she responded with this: "Actor meets mysterious old man, old man trains actor, they fight forces of evil." Sounds awesome, huh? I can't wait.

Now, the theater was pretty enormous, and there were about six people in there. But suddenly a huge group of Egyptian students - there must have been at least 20 of them - came in, and sat down right next to me. Out of all the seats in the theater! They then spent the next half hour screaming, wrestling, running around, playing Coolio songs on their cell phones, and generally being as annoying as possible. But I wouldn't expect anything less from Egypt, so I found it all quite hilarious. Before the movie started, they were yelled at by a giant man in a suit, so then they generally quieted down. Eventually the theater filled up a little more (it was still pretty embarrassingly empty), and the lights dimmed.

What followed was the craziest hour I've experienced in quite a while. I had no idea what was going on in the movie. It was in Hungarian with English subtitles, and it was about some ugly gipsy who was framed for murder. I think. Mostly it seemed to be about creepy old imaginary ladies tormenting him in his jail cell, dead chickens, and gay sex. It was absolutely terrible. Luckily it only lasted for an hour, and then the main character killed himself in the final second of the movie, so I guess it was all worth it.

Thoroughly confused, we encountered Abbas outside the theater, who admitted that he slept through it. So why did you make us go to it, Abbas? Eh, bygones. We said goodbye to him again, but hopefully we'll see him tomorrow night. Not only is he an awesome guy, but he's the first Iraqi I've actually ever met in real life. So far, I love Iraq. I returned back to our apartment and had a sad little Hanukkah celebration, lighting the candles all by myself, in the dark since the power was out. If there had been someone else there, it would have been very romantic. Especially since it had this whole Anne Frank-esque feel to it, what with the power outage and the fact that I had drawn all the shades to hide my Jewish tendencies from curious neighbors.

So tomorrow I'll be going to only one class, and then blowing off my other three to watch movies all day! But I'll be meeting one movie star for sure, at the very least seeing another, and hopefully meeting Miss Kirkland as well. I have to say, this is shaping up to be the best Hanukkah ever.

Also, I apologize for the lack of pictures. Chances are, there won't be any more. My camera got up one day and decided it was going to make every picture have a horrible purple hue. I'm much too embarrassed to use it anymore, so I think it's time it goes into retirement.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Shave and a Haircut, Two Turkish Lira

As promised, here are the pictures from my Turkish haircut experience:

Midway through the process. I considered leaving it like this, but decided to let him continue.

Half an hour later, the guy seemed like he was finally done cutting, and this is what we were left with.

Now begins the styling process. This is Phase One, which oddly took place before the shampooing. Note the older brother in the matching sweater in the background, searching men's hairstyling magazines for inspiration

My first shampooing by a dude! The water here practically came out of the faucet boiling. My face is melting.

Big Bro steps in for Phase Two of styling. He is currently adding three different kinds of hair product. To get the full effect, imagine this picture going on for thirty minutes.

I look to the future with great optimism. What will this haircut bring me?!

The final creation. Take note of the horns on either side of my forehead. Those were gone two seconds after this picture was taken.

And now, since I didn't have any on my own camera and therefore couldn't show you them earlier, Whirling Dervishes!