Omar Sharif causes riots Downtown

When I finally woke up late this morning, after slinking in at 2am, I spent the day on the balcony writing a story about a $1200/night spa in Thailand. It's a far cry from this $10 pension in Egypt. The difference is hard to comprehend. Most of Egypt slept late, I think. The streets were quiet, but as I woke, I heard something I hadn’t heard since I’d been here – the radio. During Ramadam, it’s forbidden to play music, unless it’s religious/Arabic traditional music (as well as eat, smoke and drink in public during daylight). Now, Arab pop is well and truly back on the soundscape, blurring in with the car horns, sirens and the roar emerging from a city of 20 million people.

I also noticed when I wandered out for a late lunch, a pub – all dingy with blue neon lighting inside (interesting design concept), and also an off-licence. I must post it up on an expat website I was on today, which had a long involved discussion on offies in Cairo. Apparently foreigners can buy up to three bottles of imported spirits at the duty free shops within three days of arrival, and after that, you can by the local brands, though one contributor said the local stuff has formaldehyde in it, and advised all readers to avoid it.

But tonight, most shops were shut, even up toward Khan al-Khalili, where normally you’re shoving to walk up what passes as a footpath. Instead, the youth of Cairo, who were until 5am selling faux designer shirts on the streets, tarted themselves up and headed Downtown, near my pension, to eat ice creams and visit one of the three cinemas on the first night of their three-day holiday (apparently there’s a very good, new Omar Sharif movie out).

It sounds innocuous - watchig movies and eating ice cream - but there was a weird pack mentality, the first time I’ve felt it) but I got adopted (again!) this time by a young news journalist, Sharif, who’s just dying to make it in the States.

He just stuck his arm out and pushed everyone back so I could get through the crowd. Sort of like a modern-day feminist Moses scenario. It was a bit embarrassing, but it was good to get out of the crowd.

I had read that in previous years, there were some sort of riots down here, so there were plenty of white-clad police about (the irony of a city that turns your snot black is that their coppers are decked out in bright white, with long black boots – it’s terribly butch).

I also learned tonight that the slangy greeting I was taught last time I was here (‘saida’ sp?) is actually a Christian expression, so saying it to a Muslim is just weird. Hmmm, that’s why they were giggling. In fact, they giggle a lot when I speak Arabic.

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