Return to The Square

Tahrir 1

A few weeks ago I saw a film at the Toronto International Film Festival called The Square, a new documentary by Jehane Noujaim. It’s about the Egyptian Revolution as experienced by those who occupied Tahrir Square. The footage takes you from the start of the revolution up to the very recent events that happened after the downfall of Mohamed Morsi — the President elect who was deposed by the Egyptian military in July 2013. I could not believe how recent the footage in the film was. It seemed like news items I saw a week or two prior was edited into this beautiful, moving, and at times heart-stopping documentary. The film is, in a word, extraordinary.

I’ve been following the Egyptian Revolution on and off since it started back on January 25th, 2011. I still remember sitting in my Arabic lesson in Dokki on January 24th struggling to make my tongue work with the alphabet. Some co-workers had told me earlier that I should stay home the next day because there would be some protests happening on National Police Day. I had wanted to hang out downtown since it was a public holiday. I remember asking my teacher Ahmed if he thought there’d be trouble and if I should stay home. He smiled and told me it was just rumours, and that there’s always whispers of agitation but nothing really happens. A few people might try to step up, but those few usually get put back down. He told me to practice the alphabets over the week and that we’d pick up our conversation the following Monday. The next day all hell broke loose.

I never made it to Tahrir Square during Revolution Part 1. I was on the other side of the Nile in Giza when it all happened. The days were strangely quiet. The sun shone bright as ever with not a cloud in the sky aside from the plumes of black smoke rising in the distance. Twilight falls and I’m locked down, windows covered, eyes glued to CNN, BBC, and Al Jazeera. Then, tired of the news and unable to reach friends downtown, I’d lie awake listening to the gunshots announce the night.

We were evacuated February 2nd the infamous Day of the Camels. We’d eventually return after Mubarak resigned, and I’d make it to Tahrir, “The place of pilgrimage” a friend would tell me.

 

Tahrir 2

As I sat watching The Square, I was reminded of how powerful a place can be. The truth of physically occupying a space together, especially one as iconic as Tahrir, can be overwhelming and you can’t help but be moved by it. But, as the film manages to capture, so beautifully and brutally, the truth of being together in a place can change. Tahrir, a beacon of hope, a promise of solidarity, and shelter from the shadows of the streets can be corrupted. It can be perverted and violated. There’s a scene in the film when Ahmed Hassan, the young revolutionary, decides to walk in the middle of the street of downtown Cairo, exhausted and I think a bit heartbroken.

That scene underscored the power of Tahrir, because if the sanctity of the Square can be broken, then what the hell is the point of walking on the sidewalk? Space would no longer have, or need to have, meaning. The pacing of the film was perfect. The story carries you along as you meet each individual united by Tahrir. It manages to capture the rage, the pain, the sorrows and the hope that keeps the revolution going. In the end, although Tahrir can be taken and physically transformed, it’s the spirit of Tahrir that keeps people standing tall. I loved this film. And I’m so happy it won the People’s Choice Award at TIFF.

If you’ve read this far then please, go see this movie…and invite me because I’d definitely see it a few more times.

 

Laneway Festival Detroit – One for the Ages

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This past weekend we busted ass down to the inaugural Laneway Festival Detroit. Since this was the first time the festival was staged in North America we thought that there’d inevitably be the annoying hiccups and operational problems associated with planning and executing events of this scale. We were oh-so-wrong and the festival was oh-so-good. Everything went off without a hitch. The weather was amazing and the festival staff friendly and quick with the light-hearted banter that Americans seem to master so well. Phosphorescent was tight. Solange was sweet. Run the Jewels bumpin’. Sigur Ros epic.

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Laneway left us wanting more and we’ll definitely be back again next year for another taste of Indian summer sun in Auburn Hills. Copious amounts of beer. Corndogs and other junk. Friendly Michiganders (shouts to Dave, Mike, Steve I & Steve II). And above all – glorious glorious music.

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Dubai the Weird

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Well, it’s been a month since my last post. I had intended to write regularly while I was in Dubai having arrived on August 12th from Bombay, but work, sun and the searing heat got the better of me.

I was on assignment in the UAE for about 3 weeks where my days consisted of attending site visits, the odd client meetings, doing research and putzing around my hotel room trying to resist the urge to just go for a swim. Eventually, time lost all sense of proportion, measured largely by the hours between room service meals. There would be days when the only conversations I’d had was with the Filipino, Indian or Pakistani staff that make up the bulk of the service industry. Space too starts to feel out of joint – understood as the distance between the chair and the bed, or the bed and the pool, or the air-conditioned hotel entrance to the similarly air-conditioned Al Fahidi Metro station.

I’d heard a lot about Dubai from friends who had visited. More often than not the reviews were unflattering. Those who love Dubai often speak of the luxurious standard of living and the high level of service that expats can expect. Those who dislike Dubai decry above all the highly visible social stratification and inequities that exists side by side with the glitz and glam of the world’s tallest building and the most insane shopping malls I’ve ever seen.

The story of the UAE, a country so young yet progressing at such a blinding pace, is a bit of a marvel. The speed of development fueled in large part by oil revenues has resulted in a place that is, simply put, weird.

4/5ths of the population are foreigners. It’s a Muslim country, but with a strangely permissive feel. For some it shines with the brightness of possibilities. For others it’s nothing more or less than the realities of foot on pavement, sweat on brow and the physical labour spent to realize someone else’s dream. The extreme wealth in contrast with poverty served with a smile left me feeling empty. As impressive as the views are from the Burj Khalifa, what I’ll remember most is the conversations I had with some of the workers I met. I’ll remember their questions about Canada and whether things are better here.

There were moments when, under the heat of the Arabian sun, sitting in my crappy rental car, I felt completely at ease with my dislocation because the place just doesn’t feel real. For most, it’s just a place of transition, a pit stop on the way to something else. Dubai is like a mirage and even now, as I write this back home in Toronto, my experiences of the emirate seem a distant memory. In a few more days it will be as if the trip never happened. It will feel like Dubai doesn’t exist.

Bombay Round-up

Basically over my jet-lag just in time to prepare for the trip to Dubai. Here’s what happened in the last couple days:

Chennai Express opened today! Featuring SRK and Deepika Padukone. Look out Salmon Khan! SRK has you in his sights! I actually have no idea what this movie is about, but all my friends here seem disinterested. Speculation about SRK and Salmon Khan’s competition is not my own, I just stole that from the interwebs.

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I had lunch in a food court where I had to buy a pre-paid debit card and then get a refund on my balance. Operationally inefficient if you ask me. I had a tandoori chicken kebab sampler. It was ok.

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I was dazzled by the lights of Churchgate Station. Things were bustling as people prepared for the Eid holiday.

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I had masala chai on the street with some friends. Apparently this stand is where they typically go and it’s 5 INR for a cup. Interestingly, this time he charged 6 INR. I suspect the extra rupee was a foreigner surcharge because I was there…just kidding! We had 2 cups and it was pretty tasty. The rupee surcharge was just to cover overhead costs which have sky rocketed.

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Finally, here’s a shot outside of Indian Village Restaurant. It’s a resto in South Bombay that is themed around an…Indian Village. The parrots are in reference to Indian fortune tellers. Apparently, if you were to actually see a fortune teller there would be a parrot that would come out of its cage and pick up a piece of paper and your fortune would be told within. I think that pretty much qualifies for the most adorable fortune ever. Though there’s also a fortune telling lady involved — details of her potentially grisly appearance remain unknown so the experience could yet prove terrifying.

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Jet-lag Poetry #2

Day #2: Still jet-lagged and the crows are at it again. After a full day of meetings I went by the sea outside the office to get some air and feel the breeze as the monsoon humidity hung in the air. Looking across the bay at the slums I took some pictures. Looking down at the rocks I realized there was a dude taking a dump. Looking at my phone I realized he is in my photos.

Thus was inspired Jet-lag Poem #2: Taking pictures of Arabian Sea. Man takin’ a shit on the beach.

 

Arabian Sea BM

 

Jetlagged Musing #1

My friend and ex-professor Yoke-Sum commented on my FB page that I am poetic when I’m jetlagged because of this status update: 5am. Wide awake. A murder of crows outside the window squawking like it’s doomsday.

Update: It’s now 5:40am and the crows outside the window continue to keep me company.

Update 2: I’m watching an Australian program called Bondai Rescue on Nat Geo Adventure. I prefer the crows.

Update 3: This is what jetlag looks like from the hotel window at 5:54am.

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Bombay Horoscope

Jetlagged after travelling for over 20 hours and back in Bombay. Savouring the travel weary haze and monsoon breeze in Colaba. Today is the first day of a 28-day working trip split between Bombay and Dubai. Here’s a promising horoscope that I read over the gross hotel breakfast this morning:

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Photo-Bombing Brendan Canning?! — Part II

Here’s a follow-up to my last post about playing the tambourines. At first I had no idea WTH I was doing and couldn’t catch the beat (Tambourines ain’t easy!). But then, as I often do in times of need, I thought of Homer in Homerpalooza when he said:

“When I listen to a really good song, I start nodding my head like I’m saying yes to every beat. YES! YES! YES! This rocks! And then sometimes I switch it up like No! No! No! Don’t stop rockin’!”

Then everything just sorta happened. So, please enjoy a series of ridik animated GIFs courtesy of Vesna – my long time friend and nemesis…JK FRIENDS! All photos courtesy of Jacqueline Tang!

 

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Photo-bombing Brendan Canning?!

Contradance featuring Brendan Canning and me on tambourines at the Montague Wedding, July 28, 2013, Gladstone Hotel Ballroom.

Contradance featuring Brendan Canning and me on tambourines at the Montague Wedding, July 28, 2013, Gladstone Hotel Ballroom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pop quiz: Am I photo-bombing Brendan Canning of Broken Social Scene in the photo above? Or am I making my international debut as a tambourine player as part of Contradance’s special reunion in celebration of the marriage of my dear friends Sarah Aranha and Kenneth Montague?

If you guessed the latter you’re right! Congrats to Sarah and Ken. Funnest wedding ever.

Check out Contradance’s awesome track “Black Preppies” below.

 

Collective Eating & Scheming

Summer isn’t just about biking, patios and illicit park drinking. It’s also about sitting around with like-minded people plannin’, schemin’, sweatin’ and dreamin’. Last night was one of the first official meetings of the Directors Collective (of which yours truly is 1 of 5 Directors). Spanning Vancouver, Toronto and Washington, D.C. it’s been a long time coming. Stay tuned as we prepare to launch our site and brand and make stuff. Suffice to say, it’s going to be a busy summer! Hope your summer is as fun as mine. MORE! MORE! MORE!

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