29 June - 5 July 2000
Issue No. 488
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
Pack of CardsBy Madame Sosostris
* I am a staunch advocate of the philosophy that one must mix business with pleasure in order to retain one's sanity in this dog-eat-dog world. Sipping fruit cocktails while discussing the fate of troubled nations may not be easily digested by some, but it is the undisputed charm of the United Nations -- at least to those who can partake. Pardon me if I appear to be imposing my good fortune upon you, but I was indeed one of those who attended the delightful event on the evening of 20 June when the permanent representative of Senegal to the UN, Ibra Deguène Ka, hosted an informal reception for visiting diplomats and UN staff at the Gezira Sheraton's famous bar/restaurant, Rumours. Ka was in town in his capacity as chairman of the UN Committee on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People for a two-day seminar on the prospects for Palestinian economic development and the Middle East peace process. Secretariat members, including conference officers and interpreters, both from New York and Geneva, flew in to Cairo to ensure that the meetings held on 20 and 21 June were carried out seamlessly.
The Sheraton, overlooking the Nile, transformed its lush halls into conference rooms where delegates deliberated upon the weightiest of matters. But at the reception, the weightiest matter at hand was how good that chicken in white cream sauce tasted, and those delectable little mille-feuilles! On site was M Nasser Al-Kidwa, permanent observer of Palestine to the UN. Also mingling with the crowd was charming Maltese Ambassador to the UN Walter Balzan. I had the pleasure of conversing with the ambassador of the Islamic State of Afghanistan to the UN, Ravan A G Farhadi, who is also the vice-chairman of the committee. Later on in the evening, a friend pointed out to me Salem Ajluni, head of the Economic and Social Monitoring Unit in Gaza, and Saad Al-Khatib from the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Economy and Trade. Such an interesting evening! I cannot wait for the next seminar organised by the Committee on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinians.
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* What gives a cosmopolitan city its unique flavour? People passing through always leave a little bit of themselves behind, and because new faces follow, the cycle never ends. The result is a city rich with stories to tell. New York is one famous example, Paris another -- but Cairo is a classic. Periodically, its social scene seems to undergo an overhaul. Youngsters go off to study abroad, businessmen follow the yellow brick road, journalists move on to tackle other countries and diplomats are transferred to other postings. On the evening of 18 June, the French Embassy hosted an event with a dual purpose: to bid farewell to Press Counsellor Anne Gueguen, and welcome her successor Julien Chenivesse. Over 200 journalists and diplomats serving in Cairo attended the reception, including prominent political analyst Mohamed Sid-Ahmed. During her tenure, Anne has been a popular character and it appears many farewell shindigs were held in her honour. I have spoken to Julien on a couple of occasions and can attest he is also a most amicable sort.
* I am always ahead of everyone around, and I don't just mean in years. My popularity affords me the luxury of having friends everywhere I turn, turning me into an insider many times over. Take my colleague and friend, Tarek Atia, for instance. On Tuesday night, just before sunset, he rushed over in a whirl and said, "Let's go to the most happening event in town." We dashed through the streets and suddenly I found myself being whisked through a huge throng of people in front of Cinema Tahrir. Next thing I knew I was sitting next to the best and brightest movie stars in town. Eventually I discovered I was attending a special sneak preview of Mohamed Heneidi's new film, Belia wa Dimagho Al-Alya (Belia's Big Head), and a special front-row seat had been reserved just for me. Before the film started I chatted away with Heneidi, who, as usual, was nervous just before this first showing of his brand new oeuvre. I must say, though, that the diminutive star was looking even spiffier than the last time I saw him, at last year's sneak preview of Hammam fi Amsterdam. Perhaps it is just that he looks more comfortable in his role as the country's biggest movie star. The paparazzi were clicking away like mad, and I must admit that I took a few digital shots of my own, capturing Heneidi and the rest of the gang I was sitting next to, including the film's producer, Magdi El-Hawari, his lovely wife (and Heneidi's co-star in the film) Ghada Adel, up-and-coming funny man (and a star in his own right) Alaa Waliyeddin, and of course the indomitable Fifi Abdu, who gave me a few belly dancing tips on the sly (though I, of course, hardly need them).
The Belia gang; Heneidi and Ghada
photos: Abdel-Hamid Eid
But I know, dearies, that even more than all this intriguing chit-chat, you want to know more about the movie itself, so I won't keep you waiting. It's pure Heneidi, of course: bound to be a hit, a real feel-good affair, with a mish-mash of all the elements that made Heneidi's previous star vehicles so popular. A message-laden tale of an auto mechanic trying to stick to his roots and do some good, it features class struggle, boy-gets-girl, song-and-dance, slapstick, and trowels of patriotic sentiment. There's an added element too: three child actors who practically steal the show. I won't give away too much, but I do have to express my admiration for Heneidi himself. Although the film is a comedy, there are times when his sudden switch to melodrama brought tears to my eyes. He really has a knack for that, maybe because he is such an unassuming, unlikely choice for a movie star, like Adel Imam and Ismail Yassin before him. His antics are a mirror of the best and worst in all of us. But enough philosophising from me: go see Belia and judge for yourself.
* When famous chronicler Samir Raafat hosted a garden party at his elegant Maadi residence on 21 June, celebrating the advent of summer, it was an evening that could well have taken place in Long Island, New York, in the 1950s. All the elements were in place: a lovely garden, musicians playing soft melodies and a glittering selection of society's who's who mingling about. So poignant was it, one had the urge to climb a tree and watch the scene from a Sabrina viewpoint. "Isn't it romantic?" went the lyrics of the theme song of the classic Audrey Hepburn/Humphrey Bogart film. The only element that gave Egypt away was the buffet serving up a truly Oriental meal -- vine leaves, kubeba and sambousak. Diplomats and socialites revelled in an atmosphere that only Raafat could have conjured up. His brother Sherif Raafat greeted the guests and gallantly entertained the ladies, urging them to dance when the musicians began to play more upbeat tunes. Present at the party, among others, were Romanian Ambassador Doru Costea and his dynamic, electric-blue-sequin-clad wife Jeni, the ebullient former MP, Mona Makram Ebeid and her son Karim Wissa from the Foreign Affairs Ministry, as well as Walid Khoury of the Canadian Embassy. From the art world, I saw the statuesque Dina Abaza of the Abaza dynasty, who owns a jewellery store in Zamalek, and a slew of the country's finest interior decorators, including Naguiba Demerji, Ihab Shafik and Amr Khalil. Nadia Osman, indisputably the country's most flamboyant fashion designer, often models her own creations, and tonight was no exception: she was impossible to miss in her leopard-print outfit. Industrialist Edward Hasbani, Khaled Loza, journalist and author Max Rodenbeck and his charming wife Karima were also spotted. If only every evening could be a Samir Raafat garden party!
Samir Raafat and Walid Awni at the garden party; Lara El-Tanahi, Egypt's Face of Africa finalist, and friend at Raafat's party
* The latest resto/lounge to hit the Cairene scene is a place called La Bodega, located in the posh district of Zamalek. In an effort to encourage nightlife during the work week, the Bodega management hosted a select group of professionals on 25 June from 5.00 to 8.00pm. My colleague and I were an hour late, and therefore unable to enjoy the free drinks, but we stuck around nonetheless. A step beyond its doors and one is instantaneously transported to a different world, possibly a modern version of a Paris bistro in the early 1900s. A golden aura envelops the premises, almost as if one has been superimposed over one of those Parisian poster art copies sold at obscene prices in New York's pseudo-Bohemian SoHo. The largest segment of the space has been devoted to fine diners, who have a wide variety of (modern, Euro-American) dishes to choose from -- think arugula, walnuts and ginger. The adjoining section centres around a bar, with small tables placed here and there. Any minute now, I thought, Edith Piaf would be resurrected to entertain us, with one of her tear-ridden ballads. And yet, the ambiance is not purely Parisian. The music is loud and thumping. I had a glass of banana juice, my colleague had a Sakkara Gold. Seated not too far away was Mark Howell, of Denton, Wilde, Sapte law firm. He pointed out that there was a mistake in the last issue of Al-Ahram Weekly in which he was mentioned. It would be Denton, Wilde and Sapte, without the "and." Apologies to Mark. Andrew J Tabler later joined us. Andrew has been in Egypt for some time now, pursuing his master's degree at the American University in Cairo, and working as a journalist for various local (and foreign) publications. He is soon to complete his degree. Best of luck! In sight was also model Arwa, one of the many faces to grace the pages of Enigma magazine of late.
* Well, darlings, you know that nights out will never deter me from attending all the important art exhibitions and that is why you will see me at the exhibition by the Saudi painter Saleh Khatab, which will be inaugurated on 3 July under the patronage of the head of the Fine Arts sector, Ahmed Nawwar, and the Saudi Arabian embassy in Cairo.
The exhibition, running until 17 July, is hosted by the gallery on the occasion of Riyadh's selection as the capital of Arab culture for the year 2000. Khatab is not only a painter but the head of the fine arts section in the Saudi Youth Ministry. The exhibition will include 30 paintings in which the painter offers his own perspective on various social and cultural issues.
* What cool news for the hot summer: I just heard that the head of the Cairo Opera House troupe, Sobhi Bedeir, was nominated a member of the jury in the international competition for operatic singing, Boris Christoff. The competition started on 28 June, and will continue until 6 July in Sofia, Bulgaria's capital. As you all know, it is one of the world's most prestigious contests. Bedeir is the first Egyptian to participate in such a global event. In 1981, Bedeir reached the final in an international singing contest held in Philadelphia. He was also awarded an honorary prize at a Scottish competition for international singing in 1986.
* This good news coincided with the celebration of global Music Day -- marked on 21 June of every year -- that took place at the Opera's open-air theatre and main hall last week. "Music Feast: Unlimited Music" featured jazz bands and singing troupes such as the Ahmed Rabi' jazz troupe, the Abdel-Halim Nuweira ensemble for Arabic music, and Amr Ismail's Rahel troupe. Dina Salah sang a beautiful selection of international ballads. It was a buoyant event for the hippest shabab, but the rest of the family enjoyed the day too.
* There is more for those of you who are inspired by the sound of music: today, Yehia Khalil's jazz band will start its first concert of the summer at the Opera's open-air theatre. The concert will encompass selected pieces of music by worldwide jazz musicians in addition to some of Khalil's most sought-after works. For the first time, the internationally renowned flautist Sam Green will join the concert, which will also present Tunisian jazz singer Alya' Al-Salami.
* Darlings, hardly a week passes without the Culture Palaces launching a new activity. This time, they are focusing on the environment in cooperation with Al-Ahram's environment department. Last week I attended a fascinating workshop at Al-Ahram's main conference hall, entitled "Folklore and the Environment," which was attended by State Minister for the Environment Nadia Makram Ebeid, famous film critic Ali Abu Shadi, who is also head of the Culture Palaces, our own renowned colomnist and Deputy Editor-in-Chief of Al-Ahram Salama Ahmed Salama and Al-Ahram's Assistant Editor-in-Chief Wagdi Riad. As you may expect, the discussion was heated, revolving around the use of various methods such as popular plays and tales to raise popular awareness of the environment problem, change some of our environmentally-hostile habits and replace them with greener behaviour. * Once again, Dar Al-Mudarrat (the Armoured Corps club) witnessed a superb ceremony when friends and relatives celebrated the wedding of our dear colleague from Al-Ahram's foreign desk, Ahmed Reda and his lovely bride, Omayma Bahgat, editor at the English Brodcasting Service. A night to remember, dears. I was pleased as punch to be among the media personalities who attended.
* Once again, Dar Al-Mudarrat (the Armoured Corps club) witnessed a superb ceremony when friends and relatives celebrated the wedding of our dear colleague from Al-Ahram's foreign desk, Ahmed Reda and his lovely bride, Omayma Bahgat, editor at the English Brodcasting Service. A night to remember, dears. I was pleased as punch to be among the media personalities who attended.