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