Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Baladi Lady

Baladi  (Arabic بلدىbaladī; relative-adjective "of town", "local", "rural", comparable to English "folk" with a lower-class connotation)

Can refer to an Egyptian musical style, the folk style of Egyptian Bellydance (Raqs Baladi), or its rhythm, which is frequently used in Baladi music.

In Arabic, the word 'Baladi' does not only apply to music and dance, and can also apply to many other things that are considered native, rural, rustic or traditional - for example 'Baladi bread'. It is also applied to kinds of food and mostly to fruits and vegetables.

I have not written a proper entry on here in ages, so I suppose before I get into a discussion of the aforementioned 'Baladi' I will give a brief synopsis of the past few month of life in Cairo.

After a short and sweet winter, I had the pleasure of my brother visiting me, during my 3 week school term break at the end of January. We spent several days sightseeing in Cairo, and also took a  short jaunt to Luxor, where my brother got a pleasant taste of the sweet Pharaoh life, and I also met up with my friend Sharon, from Istanbul. Many shawarmas were had, many dusty taxi rides driven, and perhaps a few too many rip-offs in between, but such is life in Egypt. We also made a beautiful pilgrimage together to The Holy Land, which came at a rather auspicious time, as a long-lost cousin had recently got in touch with me, asking various questions about my Mother's supposed 'secret' ancestry - which, to make a short story of it, suggests that I may in fact be a teensy bit Jewish (which seems entirely logical given my propensity for all things philosophical, artistic, intellectual and persecuted). With this new found possibility at the back of my mind, Jerusalem certainly didn't disappoint, and it was an absolutely stunning, "life changing" experience for me - though how many times can one use the word "life changing", without sounding like a total tosser? Regardless, despite the judgements that I received at the hands of several friends, for visiting the oppressive Zionist entity, I am happy I went.  I have said it 100 times, but I will say it again: Judaism is older than Israel (Older than Islam and Christianity too, but who's counting?), and Jerusalem's history predates all this nonsense as well - my interest in Israel has nothing to do with Netanyahus idiocy and horrifying political policies anymore than my visit to Iran was a congratulatory fist-pump to the Ayatollahs last public execution, book-burning and stoning debacle.

February began with a new term, and the pleasant arrival of spring -I must say that living in a country where the season of spring is more than a 2 week tease of slushy rain, is quite lovely. Somewhere in the past 2 months, the flatmate and I also joined the gym next door (Which, unbeknownst to me, I had been living next door to THIS WHOLE TIME), and so I have gotten my already considerably orientalized booty (lots of stairs in our school are to blame for this), into somewhat better shape. The Kardashian of Kairo, according to some. Besides this, the only important development I can really think of has been me finding my foothold in the world of Egyptian Baladi bars.

As the definition above says, the term Baladi has a rather broad and seemingly bizarre meaning: used to concurrently describe bellydancers, and to talk about bread. The thread tying these differing nouns together is the rather disparaging tone of "Baladi", it being used to denote something being "of the street", authentic, and basically crass -the opposite of a fancy french croissant or stuffy high class ballet performance hall. As anyone who knows me knows, this is basically my ethos and artistic values, incarnate. Baladi bars, as they are known, litter downtown Cairo, and are hidden amongst the tiny alleys and crooked streets. Usually identified by a flickering Stella sign, the smell of sheesha, decrepit wooden and/or cheap plastic chairs, unattractive and/or marginalized looking clientele, and possibly raucous music leaking out its front door, I naturally had to make a home for myself at Cairo's granddaddy of Baladi Bars, the infamous downtown hole-in-the-wall that is Horreya.

El Horreya (meaning "freedom", in Arabic), has for decades been a living room-like bar where leftist intellectuals, artists, poets, filmmakers, writers, expats and locals young-and-old, gather to socialise and drink cheap Stella under bad florescent lighting. Located on a busy street close to Tahrir Square, Horreya's yellow painted walls are peeling, the vaulted ceilings plume with smoke, the vintage beer signs are rusted, bullet holes litter the windows, strange graffiti abounds ("See God, take Acid" being one such example), and the bathrooms are an abomination. Still, nothing comes as close to encapsulating all that I love about Cairo's energy and genuine friendliness as the surly waiter who literally hands you beer after beer without even asking, or the random people who you are sat with, offer you cigarettes and spark up random conversations on an average buzzing Thursday evening. I have seen hijabed women sitting with their fathers, drunken unemployed men offering pringles and backstreet boys tunes on their Ipod's headphones, old men playing chess, young expat journalists trying to impress each other, students blowing off steam, bearded hipsters posing, and stray 
teachers such as myself all contributing to the diversity that is Horreya. Revolutions come and go, bad governments come and go, rules, regulations and extremist fervour attempt to squash creativity and life, Empires around us fall and crumble - but thankfully, little seems to change at Horreya. It has become my religious activity - these Thursday night adventures downtown, and they always begin at Horreya, where I can be myself, free of judgement or pretension. Long live the Baladi bar!

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