Alexandria, the Pearl of the Mediterranean, outclasses Cairo, Mother of the World, with its genteel poise. Although it’s claimed Alexandria is more cosmopolitan than Cairo, this coastal city presents itself as a grand old lady, kept young by the fresh sea breeze, nostalgic for its past European connections.
Separated by the Mediterranean Sea from Europe, it’s fitting the Anna Lindh Foundation (ALF) chose Alexandria as the host city for the annual intercultural festival Farah al Bahr Ceremony of the Sea.
Located on the Corniche, the fifteenth century Fort Qaitbay stood brightly lit, playing host to festival goers this past Thursday and Friday night.
Executive Director of ALF Andreu Claret says, “Culture affects the lives of society, and through the arts and cultural aspects of this festival, we can improve the perception and understanding between Europeans and Egyptians.”
The Foundation’s purpose is to bring people together from across the Mediterranean to improve mutual respect between cultures. While this is being achieved through other projects, the value of the festival’s influence is debatable.
“I’m here because it’s something to do this weekend, and it’s fun”, 24-year-old Salma told Daily News Egypt. When asked if her outlook of European culture has changed, she uncertainly replied no. Her friend Ahmed added, “The festival is just for enjoyment. I haven’t learned anything from it.”
With free entrance, it certainly provided pleasant entertainment. Offering a street circus, film screenings, children’s workshops, theatre and music, the crowd Farah al Bahrattracted was of average size, but certainly cosmopolitan.
Egyptians were entranced by the Spanish, Greek and Belgian dance and music, while expatriates were swayed by the deeply soulful tunes of Siwa and Port Said. The raw earthiness of traditional music is perhaps enhanced by an all-male ensemble.
The wind whirled the evocative notes of the Spanish guitar into the air, seducing the crowd. Flamenco, the dance of the Spanish Gypsies, has in its roots a touch of Arab influence. Its allure was magnetically tangible, with a group of young Egyptians reacting rapturously to the languid sensuality. Girls squealed in excitement as the male dancer lightly held the female dancer. The romantic ambience of the Citadel at night clearly ignited yearnings of passion.
The tunnels of the old fort were transformed into a souq, with handmade arts and crafts available for sale. Egyptian talent was revealed, and the festival offered superb exposure for these artisans. Jewellery made from recycled bottle tops was unusual and quirkily beautiful. Luxurious and lusciously soft, hand woven cotton scarves from Mel Balad Handicrafts were decently priced, but other items weren’t.
Calligraphy appliquéd t-shirts were humorously sophisticated, and perfect for gifts for those wanting to escape the mass produced camel print t-shirts from Khan El-Khalili. A photo exhibition of Alexandria from past to present garnered quiet, but intrigued, attention.
Puppet theater amused children and adults alike, and everybody loves it when the circus comes to town. Clowns Without Borders delivered their mission of bringing a smile to every face.
The inexhaustible energy of Egyptians spilled into the early hours of the morning, languorously sedated by intoxicating music and satiation of the senses.
ALF’s second Farah al Bahrhas undeniably expanded on the success of the inaugural 2009 Festival, and while only critical thinking interactive forums will achieve Claret’s goal; an appreciation of intercultural art was definitely fostered.
Clowns without Borders.
Dance and music from Siwa,