This year, Eid al-Fitr coincides not only with scorching heat, but also with a global pandemic, so it’s safe to say this will be an unprecedented holiday experience for all of us.
Some have decided to break their social isolation and escape to the sea, emboldened by recent government reports hinting at the re-opening of beaches to the public. Those who decided to do so should really be careful and continue to sanitize. As for those who’ve decided to stay home and forego the risk, you can take solace in the fact that this is not the first holiday ruined by coronalypse; so far we’ve survived Palm Sunday, Easter and Sham el-Nessim — not to mention the entire month of Ramadan, and that’s no easy feat. Let’s hope this Eid is the last bead on this string.
Last but not least, if you’re staying in the city but planning to visit family or friends, you’d better pack your pajamas with you — curfew starts at 5 pm this week, so you will for sure be sleeping over.
Whatever you choose to do, we urge you to remain careful, and stay safe.
This week, Karoline Kamel takes us through the act of rearranging her home library while self-isolating, recommending two novels in the process:
A few days ago, after a steady routine of cleaning my apartment every day for weeks, shuffling around the furniture in all the different rooms several times over, and reorganizing the contents of my wardrobe, I finally lost the physical and psychological will to continue this empty cycle of chores — until I realized that one chore I actually wanted to perform was to dust and rearrange my home library.
My reading patterns have always fluctuated, but I never completely stopped reading except in periods when I had a really difficult time concentrating. That said, since the start of the lockdown, I’ve been pretty satisfied with the rate at which I’m reading. Despite the books occasionally taking a back-seat for a Netflix film, the reading habit never ground to a complete halt.
Yet I can’t deny that the fact that not many new books are being published has brought me a measure of happiness. I usually buy more books than I can read; I set a very strict annual timeline to finish everything I’ve bought, but I never seem to succeed. And so right now, I can’t help but think “One man’s misery is another man’s fortune,” as they say — finally there seems to be an opportunity to catch up with all those unread volumes on my shelves.
I now find myself occupied with Spanish author Ray Loriga’s 2017 novel Surrender, which takes place during an unspecified war in an unspecified time period. The author only reveals the details necessary to follow the story, such as that the narrator’s children are fighting in the war; all civilians are under house-arrest and can only venture outside in case of dire emergencies; and the government is arresting citizens daily without explanation. It’s a world where the government runs military drills for no reason except that “the enemy is there, and it is waiting,” and where the television only airs news, military songs and melancholic music.
Some might not see the point in reading a dystopian novel set in a world so eerily similar to our reality, since that doesn’t leave much room for surprises, but Surrender intrigues the reader, making one eager to see through the protagonist couple’s journey: Will they manage to trick the system and protect the child they found one night and decided to keep without alerting the authorities?
Among the books that went into the boxes was Argentinian writer Federico Jeanmaire’s novel Lighter than Air (2009), the events of which take place over three days, although the story itself spans several decades. An elderly woman traps a young thief who broke into her house and agrees that in exchange for his freedom he has to listen to her story. The line I found most captivating in the novel was this one: “What use is imagination if it weren’t to fill the gaps in the stories we hear?”
Nothing fills the holes in our world, in our own lived realities, like books. Especially in light of this crazy situation we’re experiencing right now, forcing us to come face-to-face with long-buried questions and re-examine the answers we thought we knew.
If it weren’t for COVID-19 we’d be seeing an influx of Egyptian films in cinemas for Eid season. While the films that were scheduled to come out this week have all finished production, it is not clear now when they will be released in theaters. Those films include Al-Ankabout (The Spider) directed by Ahmed Nader Galal and starring Ahmed al-Sakka; Al-Aref (The Knower) by Ahmed Alaa al-Dib starring Ahmed Ezz and Ahmed Fahmy; Al-Baad La Yathhab lel Maathoun Maratain (Some Don’t Visit the Maathoun Twice) directed by Ahmed al-Gendy and starring Karim Abdel Aziz and Maged Al-Kedwany. And, directed by Amr Salah and starring Karim Fahmy, there is also the comedy Dido Argouk La Tafaasny Sahwan (Dido, Please Don’t Squish me), which seems to be an Egyptian take on Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989). Dare we say we’ve been spared?
For those of you who looked forward to experiencing the Eid season at the movies, we’re sorry. It seems that producers and distributors are hoping they’ll be able to release the same line-up for Eid al-Adha, as so far no announcements have been made of making any of the films available online. Meanwhile, you can watch one of this year’s recent productions from the comfort of your home if you missed its theatrical run: The star-studded Ras al-Sana (New Year) — the first film celebrated producer Mohamed Hefzy has written in years — will be released on streaming platform Shahid on Eid al-Fitr.
In more exciting news, Netflix has released a collection of classic Egyptian theater productions, just in time for Eid. The new offerings include Al-Wad Sayed al-Saghal (Sayed the Servant, 1985) by Samir Abdel Azeem and Hussein Kamal (with songs by Sayed Higab), Raya and Sekina (1982) also directed by Kamal and written by Bahgat Amar, Suk Ala Banatak (Lock Your Girls In, 1980) by Lenin al-Ramli and Fouad al-Mohandis, Al-Eyal Kebret (No Longer Kids, 1979) written by Amar and directed by Samir al-Asfoury, Al-Motazawegoun (The Married Couple, 1978) by Faisal Nada and Hassan Abdel-Salam, Shahid Mashafsh Haga (The Witness Who Saw Nothing, 1976) by Alfred Farag and Hany Metawei and Madraset Al-Moshaghbeen (The School of Mischief, 1973) by Ali Salem and Galal al-Sharqawy. These plays have always been a late-night staple across Egyptian homes during the Eid holidays, only now you can watch them without the annoying commercial breaks, and with English subtitles (we can’t wait to see how they translated some of those unforgettable punchlines). The company has also mentioned that the copies streaming on the platform will be uncensored, so we’re also eager to see how they will differ from the versions we grew up watching on state TV.
For your listening pleasure, Ahmed al-Sabbagh has further updated this previously shared playlist — where he curates the best Arabic rap/trap has to offer — this time with an intriguing selection of tracks from the Khaleeji rap scene. Delve in!
And on Spotify.
Before we go, dear readers, we leave with a journey into the world of iconic Egyptian sculptor Adam Henein, who passed away on Friday morning: