Wednesday, 03 April 2013
Trailer for "Beijing Punk Banned in China" and a look back at my Chinese punk report from Harbin. By Glenn Belverio
Dear Shaded Viewers,
I'm really looking forward to seeing this film and this trailer reminded me of this piece I wrote for WestEast magazine back in December 2003 when I was living in Hong Kong and traveled to northern China to cover a 6-hour Chinese punk marathon in the frozen city of Harbin.
Glenn Belverio falls into the Manchurian mosh pit at Harbin’s Chinese rock festival
“How will despotism change us from inside?/How will moralism change us from inside?/When there is an oppression, there is a revolution…” – Miserable Faith
The email from my friend Tomoko in Beijing was barely legible through my Moet-blurred eyes. “You must come to Harbin tomorrow, there’s gonna be a big underground punk party this weekend!!!” After an entire day of quaffing gallons of complimentary champagne in Hong Kong, the idea of getting on a plane – after enduring six back-to-back flights on a recent trip to New Zealand – and jetting off to bitterly cold Manchuria seemed, at first, untenable. However, since I had spent weeks in punk rock-deprived Hong Kong – with the exception of a Halloween performance by Japanese metal-heads, Electric Eel Shock – I decided I was ready for some rebellious Chinese noise. And after recalling what I had heard about the Manchu male eye candy in Harbin from a rock groupie-cum-fashion editor friend of mine, I didn’t need any more convincing. I leave sub-tropical Hong Kong for sub-zero Harbin the next evening.
The city’s blanket of newly fallen snow adds to its Siberian-like mystique: the onion-topped Russian Orthodox St. Sofia Church illuminated by eerie green lights, the arctic winds, the fur-swaddled pedestrians. After a whirlwind tour of Harbin the next morning (see “Sino-Soviet Chic” in this issue), we take a cab to the forlorn outskirts of town where an old Communist cultural center operated by a State-owned electric factory is located. Considering the Party-sanctioned events that must have taken place here in the '60s, the center seems an ironic venue for something so potentially subversive as a punk-metal marathon. Inside the auditorium, one of the bands is in the middle of a sound check as many of the other musicians begin to arrive. The high ceiling of the theater is adorned with an enormous Red star – circa 1966 – and banners bearing old Cultural Revolution slogans hang from the walls.
Harbin, 1966 (From the book "Red-color News Soldier")
Because Harbin did fairly well under Maoism – but is now filled with factories that cannot compete in the modern age of China’s “economic miracle” – the city’s Marxist-Leninist time warp can seem more like hopeful nostalgia than vilified anachronism. Wandering through the stage wings, I find a large, metallic hammer and sickle amongst a stockpile of various theatrical props. With the giddy abandon of a ten-year old, I hoist the Communist talisman in my arms and dash around the backstage area, convincing various band members to pose with it for Tomoko’s camera. When the lead singer of the Beijing band Miserable Faith expresses political concern over my frivolous actions, I deposit the converted chunk of scrap metal behind a pile of old paint cans, as if unloading a symbol so fraught with historical turmoil could ever be so easy.
“A new Utopia is putting its shadow on me/Circling, then fading….Fade into the swamp of tomorrow.” - “Pretense”, Miserable Faith
The four-hour concert, featuring a fifteen-band lineup, is scheduled to start at 6pm. Over a thousand local teenagers and early 20-somethings have already filed quietly into the room and taken their seats. “Am I at an opera or a rock concert?” I wonder. Based on stories I have heard of the wild Beijing underground scene, I expect surreptitious boozing and pill popping aplenty. There is none of that in evidence here, even though the rocker chic crowd certainly looks capable of it – the room is peppered with brightly colored mohawks, Korn and Marilyn Manson t-shirts and multiple piercings. One young man has been accompanied by his mother, who insisted on tagging along in case the event turned dangerous – a remote possibility at best. Even the girl groupies lack the sexual recklessness of their western counterparts and most are already spoken for.
“My boyfriend is into rock music, so that’s why I like it,” explains Liu Xin, a flirtatious, pink pig-tailed Harbin student. With her fur coat, beret, quilted Chanel knock-off bag, near-perfect English and cosmopolitan demeanor, she has the air of a young, punk Barbra Streisand i.e. one could imagine her belting “Gotta move, gotta get out, gonna leave this town” at any moment. Other girls are lucky enough to have already scored actual band members such as the pretty pixie on the arm of Wang Ning – a 21-year heartthrob with bleached blonde hair and a pierced eyebrow who has traveled from Liaoning province to perform with the punk-metal band he fronts.
The show – which begins precisely at 6 – starts out with a bang with a growling nu-metal band featuring a synthesizer player sporting a gas mask. Since the concert is only a special yearly event, the excitement amongst the kids is acutely palpable. They sing or shout along with virtually every word of every song (all in Mandarin except for one punk rock Xmas song which is sung in English), and small mosh pits form in front of the stage and in various parts of the theater.
Most of the bands hail from Harbin and its suburbs, but some have traveled from neighboring provinces and even as far as Beijing which has been a hot bed of underground rock for nearly ten years. Unlike some of the earlier, raw punk acts of the Beijing scene, the Harbin acts are tighter and more professional, impressively blending rap, punk, metal and the occasional western pop culture reference, such as a “South Park” sample. It’s a sound that would be ripe for international marketing/exploitation if it weren’t for the fact that most of the bands are not able or interested in singing in English.
The long-haired members of the next band to take the stage are all dressed in identical pleather raincoats and start out with an ethereal Goth ballad that soon gives way to speed metal riffs punctuated by throaty, guttural howls and sampled sound effects. Heads bang, propelling long tangles of black hair lashing through the air. The audience responds in frenzied tandem. One group of kids from Beijing shout “Tai niubi le!” – ‘totally cow-pussy!’ which is Beijing gutter slang for “You’re awesome!” Each band plays for about 10 or 15 minutes, with a one-minute lag time between sets. The time slots are more tightly regulated than acceptance speeches at the Academy Awards, except here no one ignores the rules and tries to play longer – everyone is respectful of each other’s opportunity to perform.
The last band to take the stage is Beijing rap-metal outfit Miserable Faith. Stripped to the waist, tattooed lead singer Gao Hu paces the stage like a restless cougar, his rapid-fire raps meshing flawlessly with the band’s groove-heavy bass riffs, violent guitar chords and precise drum beats. “Gloss over the flourishing age,” Gao growls in Mandarin. “Sell on, like a real bitch!” At exactly 9:59pm, an event organizer who works at the electrical factory takes the mic. “The show is over, thank you for coming.” I turn around from my spot on stage where I have been taking snapshots, to face what I expect to be an unruly mob screaming “More! More!! Cow-pussy! Cow-pussy!!” Instead, 80% of the crowd has already silently and obediently filed out of the auditorium, the lights have gone up, the stage is being cleared. Only in Communist China kids, only in Communist China.
“So have you ever had an evolvement? Through these thousands of years’ life as slaves and servants?” – “This’s a Problem”, Miserable Faith
“Chinese are very smart, but they think too much with not enough action," Gao Hu tells me after the show over a bucket of KFC in the band’s Harbin hotel room. “Because all the intellectuals have been swept away by the Cultural Revolution, Chinese are unmotivated. The biggest problem is coming from the inside.” The rest of the band and a girl named Nuan, who has been traveling with the band for two months, are gnawing on fried chicken parts and watching Taiwanese boy band F4’s TV series on the hotel’s satellite TV hookup. (The Taiwanese TV series has been banned by the Chinese government from being broadcast to mainland homes.)
“We don’t want to be commercial, but without commercial success it’s hard to keep going,” the 29-year old, Jiang Su province-born singer continues. “But we want to keep making music that is more characteristically Chinese. We don’t care if Americans hear our music.” Miserable Faith formed five years ago in Beijing and their name refers to “something I have inside. It was a period in my life of feelings that I had to face,” explains Gao. And like many angst-ridden youth around the world, music helped him get through that period. “The rock movement came about in China because of society and the government. Punk is like a weapon to make people aware of many things. North Korea needs a punk movement too,” Gao says emphatically. “But every country has a limitation of freedom, not just China.”
“Make good use of your ideology, make good use of your finesse/We gotta combat and take the might to the grave/We gotta combat when gifted with the rage.” – “Hooray”, Miserable Faith
Later that night, Tomoko and I join another performer from the evening’s concert at a 24-hour Sichuan restaurant for spicy skewered mutton washed down with jumbo bottles of Harbin brand beer. 22-yr old Wu Di sings for a Harbin-based rap-metal band whose name translated into English is roughly ‘Double Happiness’. To say that Wu is a formidable presence would be selling him short. Dressed in an enormous Boston Celtics jacket, Wu is tall, chubby, covered with piercings and tattoos and wears a perpetual, intimidating scowl. He can easily discuss and justify both his passion for Marxist dialectical materialism and Tibetan Buddhism before getting to the finer points of Beijing Opera and rap music, all while guzzling several bottles of Harbin beer. He began playing the piano at age 4 and went on to attend the Central Academy of Drama in Beijing at age 12 where he studied Chinese Opera.
“When I was 15, the government gave me a job working at a Harbin cultural theater performing opera,” Wu explains as he reaches for another mutton shish kabob. “By the time I was 16, I had joined the Communist Party.” Single-handedly proving that China has indeed made attempts – token or otherwise – at atoning for the missteps of the Cultural Revolution, Wu went to Tibet at age 17 to study Buddhism. His trip was paid for by the government. “My tattoos are all about Chinese culture,” Wu says as he rolls up the sleeves of his jacket, revealing ink work inspired by Tibetan painting. “I think old Chinese culture is the greatest culture.” After his stint in Tibet, Wu became a punk while listening to albums by the Rolling Stones and Cui Jian, the godfather of Chinese rock. At 18, he formed his band. “Because I’m working with the government and sometimes can’t talk too much, I use the music to express myself,” he says, and then to explain how and why one can be both a punk and a Party member he adds with Eastern succinctness: “People have two sides.”
Thanks for reading.
Tuesday, 02 April 2013
Exploring Côte d'Azur
Dear Shaded Viewers,
I have spent my Easter Holiday in south of France exploring a few cities I hadn't been to before.
We started off in Cannes which has a special place in my heart for the nutella macarons we get from Jean Luc Pele in Rue D'Antibes. After a day there, we moved to Saint Paul de Vence where Marc Chagall moved in the 60s. The city itself is magical with its narrow streets, art galleries and breathtaking panaroma overlooking the green valleys.
Right at its entrance, there's the famous Colombe d'Or which depicts original works of Miró, Picasso, Dufy, Signac, and Calder. Unfortunately by the time we got there, the kitchen was already closed so we just took a quick tour of the place then left to visit Fondation Maeght.
Fondation Maeght is relatively hidden in the mountain with a beautiful forest surrounding it. Founded in 1964, the fondation displays works of many famous artists such as Bonnard, George Braque, Calder, Marc Chagall, Miro, Giacometti and Leger. There was also an interesting exhibition of the artist Gloria Friedmann of whose works I photographed for you.
Impressive, don't you think? Well, here is my favourite picture of the city:
And this is what I added to my wish list for next Christmas, a real Chagall in an art gallery in Saint Paul de Vence:
And this is what I saved for the last: the chapel dedicated to Saint Bernard near Fondation Maeght. Can you believe that the wooden crucifix was a gift by Christobal Balenciaga himself?
Ok, so the next day, we decided to go to St. Tropez as it was off season and we thought we could enjoy a nice lunch and some time at the beach. Thanks God the weather was fine so I could finally walk barefoot on the sand.
Thanks for reading,
Friday, 22 March 2013
Sao Paulo Fashion Week -- TAKE 2 by Robb Young
Although some of Sao Paulo's more celebrated designers (most notably Alexandre Herchcovitch) seemed to be saying that now is time for a more subdued and reflective approach, not all was lost to the tenuous notion of Brazilian restraint. Osklen's cue was the decadent Rio party scene which Oskar Metsavaht put through a jet-set kaleidoscope. "Both sides of Ipanema: simplicity, beach culture and nature with the cosmopolitan life of the Vieira Souto buildings and festivities," he said backstage. Jewel tones and cartoonish gem prints were the point of departure for a collection that managed to stay on a sleek road even when it occasionally veered off into rustic or playful territory. Meanwhile, over at Neon and Amapo, the wild, extravagant, and vibrant side that both brands have become famous for kept audiences captivated -- and helped lift an otherwise quiet SS13-14 season at SPFW.
Wednesday, 20 March 2013
Sao Paulo Fashion Week -- SS13-14 by Robb Young
After a hiatus from its longtime architectural home, Sao Paulo Fashion Week returned to Oscar Niemeyer's iconic Bienal building this season to mark an important transition for Brazilian fashion. From this year, the southern hemisphere's most dynamic source of fashion will now be shown in tandem with the international sales cycle instead of showing winter clothes when the rest of the world is buying summer and vice versa. Because of this, organisers Paulo Borges and Graça Cabral are banking on a new era for the fashion week which is now in its 17th year -- even if the line-up may be a bit sparse this season.
Perhaps the biggest coup for SPFW this time around that they bagged the Campana Brothers to deck out the Bienal building, transforming it into an otherworldly atmosphere. “Our inspiration was Brazil, nature, and indigenous people. We used piassava [a fibrous palm material] to line the interiors, and wood and cactus plants to transport Ibirapuera Park inside the Bienal building. Meanwhile, the golden cardboard creates a contrast between the glamour of fashion and the purity of nature,” said Fernando Campana, one half of the duo famous for their passionate embrace of the vernacular -- both in their most humble and monumental design projects.
On the runway, highlights from the first 48 hours were provided by the houses of Forum and Ellus. Forum's Marta Ciribelli reinterpreted nautical themes for a bossa nova cruise with meticulously embroidered raffia and lace while Ellus's Adriana Bozon took the audience along with her on a motorcycle ride through India. Over at Cavalera, Alberto Hiar pumped up the volume for a rowdy and riotous trip through musical memory lane (for those of us old enough to remember) the landmark American series 'Soul Train'. Only in Brazil could fashion models -- who are notoriously po-faced anywhere else in the world -- manage to get down and jive down the runway wearing genuine smiles and with real rhythm.
Monday, 18 March 2013
My stay at the Sofitel Legend Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan, Egypt. Photos & text by Glenn Belverio
Because wintering in St. Bart's or South Beach is so two decades ago, I now winter in the south of Egypt, in Aswan, ensconsed in the Nubian Desert and on the most beautiful part of the Nile. Here, the culture of the Nubian tribes and the proximity to Sudan gives this part of Egypt a more African feel than the rest of the country. The days are hot and dry, the air is clean, the breezes from the Nile are refreshing and the desert nights are bracing. It is a divine place to pass the days away when much of the West is submerged in frozen February gloom.
The grandest, and most famous, place to stay in Aswan is the Victorian palace known as the Sofitel Legend Old Cataract Hotel--"old cataract" referring to the first waterfall one encounters as one travels up the Nile. The Sofitel brand is known for buying and revamping colonialist legacy hotels--like the Metropole in Hanoi, where I stayed in 2004. The Old Cataract was founded by Thomas Cook and built in 1899. Through the years, famous heads of state, dignitaries, authors, actors and jet-setters have stayed here, from King Farouk of Egypt to Francois Mitterrand, from Winston Churchill to Agatha Christie (both of whom have suites dedicated to them at the hotel--more on that later.)
The hotel had a facelift a few years ago with a chic makeover by French interior designer Sybille de Margerie (Moorish arches, Persian carpets, ruby red chandeliers, modern Italian lamps) which resulted in the original building being renamed the Palace Wing. I stayed in the new building, the Nile Wing, which has a more contemporary feel (and a spa) and overlooks the Victorian-era building. The Old Cataract is probably best known for being the place where Agatha Christie wrote part of "Death on the Nile" (the hotel is a backdrop in part of the story) and also where scenes for the film version (featuring Bette Davis and Maggie Smith in an S&M relationship, and the divoon Jane Birkin) were shot.
One of my glorious views from my suite's long terrace. Here you can see the original hotel, now the Palace Wing.
I took this photo as soon as I arrived. In lieu of a check-in desk, guests are escorted upon arrival to a tufted sofa in the plush salon near the bar and offered a choice of cold drink. I can't remember what I had, but it was something like Nectar of Isis.
And voila, my Master Bedroom in the Prestige Suite where I stayed for 4 ultra-relaxing nights. I was mad for the pale-green and white color palette.
While bathing in my freestanding tub by Villeroy & Boch (I love the colored tiles), I had a lovely view of Elephantine Island through the terrace doors of the bedroom. It was espeically enchanting at night when the Nubian tribes were playing their drums and when the Muslim Call to Prayer (which sounds more supernatural here than in Cairo) started up. I took to referring to the result as the "Nubian Desert remix of the Call to Prayer." Spellbinding.
There was a living room and off to the right by the lamp, a study and library.
This is what I woke up to every morning....the Nile, Elephantine Island (with the Ruins of Abu) and the golden Nubian Desert.
I zoomed into the Ruins of Abu from my terrace (and also strolled around them one morning before visiting the Nubian Villages). It is said that Khnum, the ram-headed god of the cataracts, lives here. I should have liked to meet him.
View from the famous terrace of the Palace Wing.
All hail the heroic Gin Fizz! I thought this was the proper British colonialist cocktail to sip while watching the hotel's famed view of the sunset
Beyond Elphantine Island is the Mausoleum of Aga Khan.
The sunset viewed from the terrace.
I felt quite regal walking through the gilded entrance of the Nile Wing to my suite.
The pool in the Nile Wing's spa. I never got around to using the spa, alas. I couldn't tear myself away from all the spectacular views around the hotel. And then of course there were expeditions, like my 8-hour trip to the Temples of Abu Simbel.
View of the hotel at night, with Coptic church in the background.
I dined at 1900, the hotel's exquisite French restaurant that was built in 1900 to commemorate the premier of the Old Aswan Dam.
Glazed duck breast with hibiscus and marmalade sauce served with a tarragon brioche and garnished with a stalk of lemongrass. Superb. It paired nicely with a glass of red Jardin du Nil, my favorite wine du moment.
View inside 1900
On another night, I dined in The Oriental, the hotel's Egyptian restaurant, and had pigeons stuffed with two kinds of rice, a traditional Egyptian dish.
The hotel's general manager took me on a tour of the property, which included a requisite stop in the Winston Churchill Suite.
The foyer of the Churchill Suite.
A view of the suite's giant living room.
Churchill master bedroom
The private terrace of the Churchill suite is very spacious.
Onward to the Agatha Christie Suite....
I much preferred Ms. Christie's living room....the throw pillows are dreamy.
The French version, naturallement.
I adored the view from Agatha Christie's desk. But of course those divine Italian lamps were not there during her stay back in the 1930s.
Another view of the Agatha Christie Suite's living room. I was positively over the moon for the gold-leafed cabinet in the background, which served as Ms. Christie's personal mini bar....
As the Suite has a kitchen, if you're in the mood to whip up some French delicacies, Ms. Christie thoughtfullfy left behind her cookbook.
The price per night in the Churchill or Christie Suite? $8,000 USD. A mere bag of shells, doll...
Feluccas on the Nile. I took a felucca ride one idyllic afternoon.....Aswan really transports one back to the past....
And if you're still nervous about visiting Egypt....you couldn't be in a safer place than Aswan. If you're worried about the political tumult in cities like Cairo (which is also safe) and Port Said, fear not--there is nothing going on in the southern part of Egypt. It's the most peaceful place on Earth.
Sunset at the Aswan airport.
Thanks for reading.
Monday, 04 March 2013
My stay at the Four Seasons at the First Residence Giza, Cairo. By Glenn Belverio
Above: The show-stopping stained glass in the Four Seasons' Piano Lounge
Dear Shaded Viewers,
Last month I flew to Cairo for some bucket-list sightseeing and to cover Cairo's Fashion Nights which was held at The First Mall. The Mall is connected to the ultra-luxe Four Seasons at the First Residence in Giza where I was invited to stay for 3 lavish nights. Never before have I experienced such warm, attentive service. If you like to be spoiled--and who doesn't?--you'll definitely want to check into the Four Seasons in Giza. As soon as I arrived, I made a beeline for the expansive pool to soak up some Egyptian sun. The weather was picture-perfect. (It was grey, cold and damp when I left New York, so this was much-needed.)
Yes, dolls, I had a view of the Great Pyramids of Giza from the terrace of my room! Magical. The haziness made them seem as if they were merely a mirage. Reality meshed with illusion. "Truth and illusion, George, you don't know the difference!"
Before I moved to the Pyramid-view room, I spent one night in room that had sun-drenched Nile views.
I was greeted with gold-leaf adorned pastries when I checked-in my room...
I stayed in a King-size room, but if you really feel like splurging, here is what the Royal Suite looks like.
The cafe by the pool, Aura, is lorded over by Chef Nidal who hails from Syria, the food is Syrian-Lebanese (Shami) and there's a poolside grill for shish kebab etc. On my first day I had lamb shawarma (above) flavored with mint, tahini and tomatoes and it was out of this world.
Aura also boasts a fleet of sheesha pipes.
Egyptian honeycomb for breakfast? Yes, please!
On my first morning at the hotel, I had breakfast with Hibba Bilal, the director of PR. She had the chef whip me up an absolutely heavenly Egyptian breakfast: falafel (which I think was made with green peas instead of chickpeas? SO delicious), ful (fava) beans and those feathery slices of divinely buttery bread, forget what it's called, but you drizzle it with honey, inhale, and repeat.
After breakfast, Hibba took me on a tour of the Four Seasons' current art show, which is up until the end of March. There is a heavy emphasis on art at the Fours Seasons at the First Residence and it was a delight to be surrounded by so many wonderful paintings. There are shows up on a regular basis and all pieces are for sale. If you are interested in any of these works, do not not hesitate to contact the hotel. I will now walk you through some of the artists who are currently showing. (This painting, and the next three, are by Atef Ahmed.)
Atef Ahmed, born in 1969, is a member of the Plastic Artists Syndicate, the Egyptian Society of Folk Arts and Cairo Atelier. He likes to paint the average Egyptian person, in his or her local surroundings. Since 1990 he has held several solo and general exhibitions in the Arab world and China.
Mohamed El Tarawy, born 1956, is currently the press illustrator at Rose al-Youssef and Sabah al-Khier magazines in Cairo. Among his many accolades, he has received the State Honorary Award of the Arts. I was mesmerized by his ethereal watercolors of Egyptian women.
Mohamed El Tarawy
Dr. Guirguis Lotfi was born in Alexandria in 1955. A Coptic Christian, his work is a re-interpretation of Coptic art from the 5th and 6th centuries--and he uses many of the same methods and materials that the original Copts used.
Detail from a work by Dr. Guirguis Lotfi
Rana Chalabi is an established Syrian/Lebanese artist who has lived in Cairo for over 30 years. Her energetic paintings depict Sufi dervishes. "Movement is life, and I want the viewer to feel that movement," she says.
Mohamed El Tarawy
Mohamed Abla was born in Mansoura, in northern Egypt, in 1953. In 2007, he founded The Fayoum Art Center where artists meet, work and collaborate. In 2009, he established the first caricature museum in the Middle East. He works between Cairo, Fayoum and Germany. I'm told he was quite active in the 2011 Revolution and you can sometimes find him camped out now in Tahrir Square. I really loved his paintings of buildings in Cairo.
Some of the Four Seasons renowned flower arrangements, against a backdrop of the Nile.
The red wine of the Pharaohs! I really enjoyed discovering this Egyptian wine, Jardin du Nil. It won a Silver Medal from the Challenge Millesime in France in 2011. It was the perfect wine for a chilly night by the pool with Ahmed and Daki who were showing their jewelry collection at Cairo's Fashion Nights the night before....
I had a fantastic stay at the Four Seasons at the First Residence and because of its close proximity to the Pyramids of Giza, it's a must-stay for that big bucket-list visit to Egypt.
Thanks for reading.
Previously on 'Glenn Belverio in Egypt':
Sunday, 24 February 2013
My trip to the Citadel of Saladin & the twin mosques in Cairo. Photos by Glenn Belverio
I squeezed a lot of sightseeing into my recent trip to Cairo and because I'm mad for Islamic architecture, I hired a taxi driver for the day and after touring Coptic Cairo (post to come) we drove out to the gigantic Citadel of Saladin. Saladin began building the Citadel in 1176 A.D. and it was home to Egypt's rulers for 700 years.
In the early 19th century, Mohammed Ali was in power. His Turkish-style alabaster mosque is pictured above and it took 18 years to build.
Inside the Mosque of Mohammed Ali.
I got goosebumps when I walked out into the mosque's courtyard, which was completely empty of visitors. I often have dreams about being alone in places like this.
View of the twin mosques, and Cairo, from the Citadel. I had someone write their name down in Arabic so my non-English-speaking driver could take me there.
This was my favorite mosque, becaue it had an understated elegance. It was completely empty save for a mullah who pointed out some details for me. Built in 1318, the Mosque of Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad ibn Qala'un is the only Mamluk (Egypt during the Middle Ages) work that Mohammed Ali didn't abolish.
My arrival at one of the twin mosques. I didn't know anything about these mosques, only that the Four Seasons concierge recommended them. My plan for this day was to tour Coptic Cairo, which I did in the morning, the Citadel, these mosques and then a stroll through Fatimid Cairo, even though the hotel kept trying to talk me out of it. (Once you're there you realize the reason: if you're alone and an obvious tourist, the harrassment by touts hitting you up for money and trying to get you to buy things is NON STOP. This happened almost everywhere on my trip and yes, it is very exhausting. And some of the touts are smooth talkers, so they might trick you into walking to their friend's shop, etc. But then you don't want to ignore everyone because you can't just visit a city like Cairo and not talk to the everyday people on the street. And ultimately you forgive everyone for the constant harassment: Egypt's tourist industry has dwindled down to almost nothing, so everyone is broke.)
I didn't make it to the streets of Fatimid Cairo beyond these mosques on this day, and as I was wandering around this mosque I said to myself, "Oh, my friend Christopher will be so disappointed that I didn't try to find the mosque where the Shah of Iran is entombed." Maybe on Tuesday or Wednesday, I thought, if I have time.
Just as I was about to leave, I noticed a brightly lit room off to the side and thought I better check it out. When I walked in I was astonished to see the tomb of the Shah of Iran! I had no idea it was in this mosque. Named the Al-Rifa'i Mosque, it was built between 1869 and 1912. Reportedly, the Shah (Mohammad Reza Pahlavi) was buried here because the mosque has great symbolic importance. The last royal rulers of two monarchies are buried here: Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi of Iran and King Farouk of Egypt, his former brother-in-law. Here are their tombs, below. I was led into this room, which was behind an closed imposing wooden door, from a mullah lookin for a tip.
If I had known I was going to visit the Shah, I would have worn my gold-threaded Giorgio Sant'Angelo kaftan and the turban that Joan Crawford wore in "The Women" accented with a Jean Schlumberger emerald-and-ruby turban pin.
I then visited the mosque next door, the much older Mosque-Madrass of Sultan Hassan, completed in 1359. The Sultan liked to look down at this mosque from the Palace of Yalbugha al Yahawws in the Citadel.
Thanks for reading.
Previously on 'Glenn Belverio in Egypt':
Friday, 22 February 2013
Happy birthday to the eternally chic Ramses II. Photos by Glenn Belverio
I took this photo in The Temple of Ramses II at Abu Simbel near Egypt's border with Sudan last week. The sun is supposed to shine into the temple on his birthday and illuminate these statues: Ra-Horakhty, Ramses II and Aman (Ptah, to the left, is not meant to be illuminated.) However, since they moved the temples back in the '60s to escape flooding from the Aswan Dam, they are not in the precise same location in relation to the sun. As a result, the birthday illumination happens one day later.
Previously on 'Glenn Belverio in Egypt':
Thursday, 21 February 2013
Cairo's Fashion Nights + interview with Pashion magazine editor & CFN organizer, Susan Sabet. By Glenn Belverio
Dear Shaded Viewers,
I'm back in New York after 11 glorious days in Egypt. At the suggestion of my friend Susan Sabet, the editor-in-chief of Pashion magazine whom I met during Alta Roma in 2009, I traveled to Cairo to attend the 2nd edition of her event Cairo's Fashion Nights. This edition was held at the upscale First Mall, which is next door to the Four Seasons at the First Residence where I stayed for 3 luxurious nights.
I really enjoyed meeting the young and established Egyptian designers; seeing their work and making new friends, and having long conversations with Cairenes who work in fashion, interior design and PR. We discussed everything from Cairo's salad days of the Roaring Forties to today's state of affairs. Besides fashion, I learned a lot about the nuances of Egyptian life, religion, class and, of course, the current political situation. While people were having a great time relaxing with wine and fashion, more than a few could not refrain from filling me in on the current political troubles. It was quite illuminating, and a refreshing change from the specious, sloppy and agenda-ridden reporting on Egypt by the Western media.
While fashion might seem frivolous to some in light of Egypt's current situation--the country's journey on the long, rough road to democracy--many see it as another example of the vitality and resilience of the Egyptian spirit. The culture of fashion emphasizes the importance of the larger role that creativity plays during times of civil unrest.
Glenn Belverio: As you know, American Vogue launched Fashion’s Night Out in the fall of 2009 in response to the economic downturn that started with the market crash of 2008. Anna Wintour wanted to inspire people to go shopping again. But lately, many fashion critics, particularly Cathy Horyn, have rightly complained that there’s no need for the event anymore, which is held in many cities from Milan to Paris. I think the New York version has become a pointless free-for-all for bridge and tunnel hoi polloi who would otherwise never be invited to a fashion event. Plus, the American economy is up and people are shopping again. Now Fashion’s Night Out just feels like a Vogue branding ego fest.
However, in Cairo it’s a completely different situation. Egypt is in the middle of a political transition, to put it mildly. Amidst tumult and uncertainty, Egyptians are just trying to get on with their lives. What were some of your hopes and goals for this edition of Cairo’s Fashion Nights?
Susan Sabet: Based on the initial idea of Vogue's Fashion’s Night Out to get the retail business up again, we launched Cairo’s Fashion Nights in November 2011, ten months after the Egyptian revolution. Another year down the road, retail is still not what it used to be in the pre-Revolution era, and people need encouragement and extra enticement to go down to basically resume their old way of life. The full house we had I think is proof we succeeded. But Cairo’s Fashion Nights is also aiming to promote the many young Egyptian designers that have started to appear on the scene in the past couple of years. Many of them do not have the means to open up a store or find it difficult to find local key retailers that specialize in high-end international brands to display their products. So an event like this is the perfect platform to get their name and product out there.
GB: You have a delightfully refreshing gung-ho spirit when it comes to organizing CFN. You were running around the First Mall, dressed for the event, but schlepping rolls of backdrop paper, tripods, glue guns and mannequins up and down the escalators, like a determined, hands-on producer putting on a play at a renegade theater. “The show must go on!” What was your creative process for launching this event and how did you decide who would be hawking their wares and services at it?
SS: Unfortunately there are always last-minute hang-ups and unexpected bad surprises, so I prefer to take care of the final details myself. CFN’s first edition was held in the Zamalek district, home to many high-end retailers and local designer ateliers. This set-up had the charm of moving from store to store, even if more difficult, as we do not have shopping avenues as in Europe or NY and stores are scattered. Hence, we had to do the event over two nights to give shoppers the opportunity to be able to visit all the participating stores. Due to the political turmoil in the past months, I felt it is easier and more encouraging to find a compact outlet that boasts high end retailers as well as offers space for visiting designers. So the First Mall Cairo was the obvious choice and right partner to go with.
GB: What are some of the things you think Egyptian designers can contribute to the worldwide fashion industry? How is their viewpoint different from, say, designers in New York or Paris?
SS: Young Egyptian designers like most young designers in the world aspire to show one day in NY, Paris, Milan or London. They are exposed to international fashion through local retail, media and travel and follow the international trends. I think that the ones that are using traditional local fabrics and handcrafts, or take inspiration by our culture and know how to adapt it to the current trends, are the ones that will succeed to stand out, provided of course they get the chance to show abroad and can deliver the quality needed to compete.
GB: What do you think the future holds for Egypt’s fashion industry under the current political administration? How do you think it can adapt to the changes in the economy and society?
SS: Egypt’s fashion and textile industry has always been big. The current situation has maybe slowed down many of the businesses but it is temporary, I believe. After all, we are 91 million people that need to be dressed.
GB: What advice would you give to young, emerging Egyptian designers for making it in the local and global markets?
SS: Whether it is to succeed in the local or global market your product has to be in demand and of high quality. I tell them to go and visit trade shows in Paris or Milan to see what the designers show, what sells, what the prices are and where they can position themselves to find maybe a niche they can fill to lure buyers with something special.
The fashions of Deana Shaaban
I chatted a while with designer Amina Khalil who founded her brand, Amina K, in 2009. Amina studied fashion design and marketing in London and it shows because she comes off as very savvy and versed in the international fashion scene. The brand is inspired by and dedicated to Egypt: Amina almost exclusively uses Egyptian resources, fabric and workmanship. (However, the much-touted Egyptian cotton is often hard to find. The global demand is so high--all those high-thread count Egyptian-cotton sheets!-- that most of it gets exported.) Her limited-edition pieces put a modern Western spin on traditional Egyptian silhouttes. I really like how she does the layered look...all those scarves and other knit pieces are so chic for hanging out in the desert.
Layered look from Amina K
Designer Deana Shaaban and CFN reveler. Hedda Hopper is looking up from Hades, green with envy over those hats....
Jewelry designer Azza Fahmy, Indjy Hosny and Rawah Badra. I visited Azza's workshop outside of Cairo during my trip--story on that to come, stay tuned.
Rana Kandil, who does PR for Azza Fahmy, models one of Azza's pieces.
"I'm just crazy about Tiffany's! Nothing very bad could happen to you there." Especially when they're serving Egyptian sparkling wine, which was pretty top-drawer. At one point, the young waiter shot a cork cannon-like across the small boutique and it almost split a yellow diamond like an atom, and we all laughed and drank 8 more glasses and thought it divinely tres fou. Hibba Bilal, my host and the Director of PR at the Four Seasons at the First Residence, and I chatted at length about Egyptian society, pop culture, art and politics.
Hibba, me and Ricky Martin outside the Bulgari boutique. We went in and ogled the bijoux for a few moments.
In the middle of the evening, there was a catwalk show of Egyptian designers. Here's a look from Nevine Altmann.
A look from Hany El Behairy
My new Egyptian friends! Jewelry designers Ahmed Sabry and Daki Marouf of the brand Sabry Marouf. I will be doing a longer post on their work next week, but here are a couple of their very cool pieces:
Sabry Marouf necklace accented with bullets. Radical chic, darlings! The Revolution will be gilded.
Sabry Marouf Ankh necklace. "The Love Machine", Egyptian-style!
Me modeling a Sabry Marouf silver-plated metal tie. I like how it looks with my pink Paul Smith shirt. Fashion! Turn to the left.
Shahira Fahmy, Susan and Laila Al Far. I had a long chat with Shahira. She is a real renaissance woman. She used to design for the brand Mix' n Match and now does creative direction for them. She also designs interiors and did the suites at the Four Seasons at the First Residence and other hotels in Egypt. She really filled me in on Egypt's political situation, it was very informative.
The night more or less climaxed with a rather giddy French wine and dance party at a club in the First Mall called 35. The party was hosted by the French Embassy and the theme was "The Best of French Fashion in Cairo" and there were new looks there from Nina Ricci, Lanvin, Celine and Kenzo. Pictured above is Camilia Galey (left), the wife of the French Ambassador to Egypt, Nicolas Galey. Mrs. Galey really tore up the dance floor and was the life of the party! I had pizza with her and her husband, cousins and friends afterwards and it was a hoot. She is from Algeria and we talked at length about the Middle East and New York.
Thanks for reading and please visit Egypt and support Egyptian fashion and tourism! Egypt is safe if you possess common sense and now is the time to visit some of the world's most spectacular sites without having to deal with huge crowds of tourists.
Previously on 'Glenn Belverio in Egypt':
Wednesday, 20 February 2013
Some scenes from the streets of Cairo. Photos by Glenn Belverio
I'm back in New York, jet-lagged, cold and hoping my lost suitcase turns up. I took these photos on my third day in Cairo during a madcap taxi ride to see the Coptic churches. I travel the world a lot but nothing had quite prepared me for my first full-on exposure to the chaotic streets of Cairo. It was a bit unsettling for the first few minutes, but that wonderful high of culture shock--my drug of choice--soon set in and I was instantly addicted to Cairo's raw, raucous energy.
Previously on 'Glenn Belverio in Egypt':