Cairo is a beautiful woman who has aged with anything but grace. She has known a glamorous past...
A past when it was Paris of the Middle East and the Oriental Hollywood. A time for intellectuals and activists in Café Riche, for shopping for the best European fashion at Cicurel, for Beer in the snooker club, for the best dinners at After 8 (which by the way is now murky beyond repair), for dressing up to savour Um Kulthum's voice with no rush, for horse races at the Gezira Club. A truly cosmopolitan city where people came to bask in culture and look for everything new in wist el balad, down town Cairo, my favourite part of the city.
Tonight, a Spanish man's love for Cairo woke up this beauty and told her to get ready to take the stage one last time before he leaves. So she got up, shook off the sadness, the bitterness over people forgetting that She was the Diva, the one and only, and wore her best red gown and smoothed her long black gloves and seduced us all.
The stage was a forgotten night club, a cabaret revived especially for the Night. Once a place where stars shone, on Emad El Din Street, Cairo's Broadway, at a time where Cinema Femina required evening dresses and pressed suits. Now just one more local Cabareih, those tacky drug and prostitution holes flashing cheap menus in horrid colors. The place was brought to its former glory, Taheya Karioka and Samia Gamal, the prima belly dancers of all time smiled again, and Stella beer, digged out its old ads; with maps of Wist El Balad covering the peeling orange plaster; with tables clad in burgundy and arranged in a proper Cabaret setting. Girls walking around with cigarette trays added to the retro mood.
An Egyptian Jazz band and then a Spanish Swing band took the stage. And I felt at home between both my homes, greeting an old friend, the Pianiste of The Riff Band of Cairo before he went on stage, and screaming otra! otra! with the Spanish crowd, asking the Divinas to give us one more song before they call it a night. And the girls obliged, coming back on stage with their 50s dresses, hats, sunglasses and scarves and those round travel bags, before they board the train.
It was a perfect night, tap dancing, pink martinis and a crowd that just fit in. The lead vocalist of Riff, and Cairo's Frankie, Ahmed Harfoush, told us all beforehand to wear our best 50s wear. I was there hairdo, swinging skirt, red lipstick and all (and you know me I never wear red lipstick). The audience made one feel part of a black and white movie (and wonder when will Ahmed Ramzy come through the door?), they danced the Swing so well on the piste in the middle of the Cabaret that it was hard to focus on the stage alone.
I asked Ramón Blecua, the Cultural Counselor of the Spanish Embassy (the man who loves Cairo, remember?) if this project would give us more nights like this, he says it is just those 3 nights, just an affair not a marriage (pointing to the tickets that read "a musical affair"). This was his last cultural activity, his finale, a rare tour de force, and I was lucky to witness it.
I thank all those who took us back in time and let my Cairo shine one more time before the August tourists hit the city to escape their stifling societies. I also thank the brave owner of Cabaret Scheherazade for letting them, who knows what his current customers would think of such an act of cultural debauchery!
-For non Egyptians, the title comes from an old song, maybe a little cheesy but it just grew on us.
-Picture1: balconies down town, Mohamed Azab's lens
-Picture2: 50s advertising "prepare your lips for kisses, with Baiser lipstick" (I know for a fact that the same people who banned Cabarets on the basis that music is immoral ,banned ads like this too)
-Accompanying song Copa Cabana
-Article worth reading about the show and the downtown revival project from the daily news
"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes." Marcel Proust.