Aseefa ramlia

Yesterday was the day after Thursday’s holiday celebrating the hegira, that is to say, the start of the Islamic calendar.

It was also the official launch of the Gouna Film Festival (GFF).

I had to get from Abu Tig marina, where I am staying in a modest one-bedroom apartment, with a nice view of the marina, and a glimpse of the Red Sea if you stick your neck out the balcony, to Berlin University’s satellite branch in Gouna.  I had a vague idea where this was, but did not know exactly when the press center would open.

I figured 2PM would be a safe bet. The screening time of the festival’s kickoff film, Sheikh Jackson, was scheduled for 8PM.

At around 1:30PM, I hailed a tuc-tuc.

It would have been nice to slide into one of the black mercs marked GFF that I’d seen around town. Movie VIPs only; me, when you get down to it, I’m just a punter. You need to have done a lot more than be a Film major in college to be chauffeured around Gouna in a limo, even though I had studied under the great Arthur Lennig, and knew quite a bit about cinema history, actually.

Nobody cares; everybody whose nobody walks unless seen as up-and-coming.

I asked the tuc-tuc driver, in Arablish, the pidgin mixture of bad Arabic and primitive English used by many foreigners, if he knew where the Berlin Technical University is located. Ta’raf fein Berlin Technical University? He shook his head, and drove off.

I walked a few more steps into the heart of the marina and another tuc-tuc immediately showed up.  

This time I ask to be taken to el gam’a el almaniya — that is to say, the German University in Arabic — and the driver has no problem with that.  Good thing I’ve retained a basic level of spoken Cairene dialect from ayyam zaman. (I later learned that a lot the GFF people referred to this location simply as El Almaneya, which is the female gender version of the phrase “The German.”)

I show up at El Almaneya around 2PM. The sun is quite hot now, and high up in the cloudless, desert sky. In the distance, the low mountains loom, as if observing what I am doing. They beckon, but I am not ready for them yet physically.  But I will be soon enough, inshalla.  

I walk up the steps across a polished stone plaza toward a sign that reads Gouna Film Festival. The sign flutters in the warm breeze, which is picking up.

At the glass door entrance, some guys are trying to set up a screening x-ray machine, but I walk around it with a look of purpose, as if I know exactly where I’m going. I don’t want them to see through me. Everyone knows that walking with a proprietary air when you are in a strange place often keeps you from getting hassled.

I go in the press reception / registration area where two attractive young women and couple of boho looking guys are milling about behind a stone counter. So much nice stone out here; is any of it alabaster? I wonder.

They ‘re all wearing hipster black clothing, like we’re in Silicon Alley in the late 90s, and their accents sound Made in the AUC.  

Nice and cool in here. The inside air temp must be around 70-72. Already I like the place. There is a big round seating platform and several cylindrical shiny metal stools that you can also spark your tush on. It all looks very modern, almost like the reception of a hip tech firm startup, and surprisingly without a trace of sand, despite being in the desert. I briefly wonder if part of the curriculum for students here is to keep the place spotless, as was part of the burden of humility for hermits in early Christian monasteries. Unlikely, that.

After inquiring about press badge pickups, I’m told by the prettier of the two girls that they only handle registration for filmmakers and film industry types  

She directs me to side tables where two young guys who look like students are handling things.

At the far end of the big counter I notice two grim-faced fellows taking everything in.  For some reason, one of them is wearing a Fire Rescue uniform.

Is something burning?

Here comes the moment of truth.  My friend and editor of Gouna News had applied and received official accreditation months ago.  I had also emailed to the press office a head shot pic.  What could go wrong?

I glance at the big pile of swag behind these two kids at the press table.  These are nice white cotton bags that most likely contain press kits and goodies. My wife would love one of those.

I state my name, the name of my editor, and the pub I am representing.  Blank look. Are you press or photography? one of the students asks.

Press.

I am told to move to next table.

There a printout on it, maybe 5-10 pages thick, which one of the students pours over. He does this twice, as many other press people show up and ask if him for their badges.  You are not listed, he finally tells me. And your badge is not in the pile of already printed badges.

After some discussion, he asks me to write my name, both in English and in Arabic, and the name of the media outlet I’m representing.

This I was to do at least 3 or 4 times in the next few hours.

He takes a picture of me with his phone and tells me to come back in an hour. I’m assured all will be sorted out by then.

I go back outside, and notice it has gotten much warmer and windier.

Looking around, I start to get my bearing, and decide to follow the road to Downtown.

It’s about a 15-minute walk in 95 degrees with probably 10% humidity.  The sky is yellowing.  I’m starting to get sand in my eyes from the 35-knot wind gusts.

I make it to Zomba’s, where I have lunch.  I’m running low on money so I just order two small pitas, fool medamas and eggplant.

Despite a persistent fly flitting about and landing on my food, the meal is remarkably delicious. It ends up only costing 30 LE, including a huge 1.5 L bottle of cold water. That is less that 2 dollars American.

I head back to the German University.

The student volunteer is still there, but now there is someone called Riham, who appears to be the head of Press Relations for GFF, bossing people around.

There is some sort crisis underfoot.

A number of very important press people are in their hotel and need their badges.

Go takes these bags there and have their press badges printed up first. He protests that he is helping me but she tells him to get going.

I sit down for a while.

There a lots of young people coming and going, hip types from Cairo. Some of the women are wearing fairly short skirts and have beautifully tanned legs. A Japanese contingent shows up, with a translator.

Riham is very busy taking care of them all, but for time to time she goes out int the press courtyard for a smoke

Eventually I get from the round seating area and introduce myself during a lull in the action. Riham explains to me that there was some kind of database problem, and that many of the press records were lost.

I wonder a bit about this, given that managing trading systems databases on Wall Street used to be my profession but I don’t ask for any further clarification.

The volunteer student who disappears for a while after being sent on an emergency mission by Riham is back. Still here? he says, walking by me.

I ask about the status of my badge, with more insistence this time. Again, I’m told that I should get a badge printed in half an hour.

Two hours later, I am still waiting. I chat as amiably as possible when I can with Riham, and learn that the Marina Theater is actually ready — contrary to earlier reports — to host the opening ceremonies and screen Sheikh Jackson.

I learn that only TV media will be allowed to attend this venue.  “Press” will only be allowed to watch via closed circuit in a place called Cineman C, which I later learn is actually the Sea Cinema, in the Rihanna Hotel, which is nearby.

Times passes. I try to connect to the Internet on the GFF Wifi, but can’t. I ask another of the student volunteers for the password, but he doesn’t know it. I find out later that it’s posted on the courtyard where everyone goes for a smoke.

I ask again about my badge, and am told that is part of a stack that is about to printed.

If I’m lucky, I figure I’ll get the ID sometime before 6PM.  I will just take a tuc-tuc back to Abou Tig, shower and change, and take a tuc-tuc downtown.

I am starting to run out of money, as I only changed a small amount of dollars at the airport on Sunday night at 3:30am. I never anticipated the banks would be closed for the hegira, and that I would be going broke in Gouna trying to constantly come up with the money for all these tuc-tucs.

There are of course shuttle buses for the press, but they only go from officially designated hotels to the screening venues.

More time passes.

It is now 6:00PM. I am still in the press lounge.  My ID badges is promised again, in just half an hour. After 10 minutes, I get up and tell Riham that Gouna News will pull coverage if I don’t get a badge in 20 minutes.

It arrives in ten.

Riham hands it to me with a smile, apologizes for the delay, and even gives me her personal badger holder, which I slip around my neck.

I leave the building, finally.  It is 6:40PM.  I have 20 minutes to find this Sea Cinema.  The wind is much stronger now, and sand swirls around and obscures the main road.

This is known as A’ssefa Ramlia or a severe sandstorm. They typically last 2 or 3 days.

I cut through an empty dirt soccer field by what looks like an Egyptian school.  A few shadowy figures appear out of nowhere. They seem to be headed the same way as I, so I sharply change the angle at which I’m crossing the soccer field and lose them.

Eventually I find the Rihanna hotel and am escorted to the freezing cold Sea Cinema which is absolutely blasting the volume of the ON TV broadcast for the red carpet interviews that are going on at the Marina Theater.

The discussion is relentlessly upbeat, despite the fact the wind has ruined all the coiffures of many of the beautiful people who have showed up for the event.  The talk is all about dresses, and how incredible this event already is, but the wind is really picking up, and now some of the dresses of these grand dames of Egyptian cinema are doing a mini Marilyn Monroe and we are really getting to see the potential for wardrobe or hairpiece malfunction.

This goes on for about an hour and half, with periodic interruptions for ads, as well as the call to evening prayer, and we are told by a variety of breathless ingenues how their dresses were made spec-ial-ment in Beirut by designers whom I have never heard of, and it’s all good, even when some of the old divas, their fleshy underarms quivering in the wind, prattle on about how they just love seeing all their old friends and that this festival is already as big as Cannes or any other major festival in the world, which I found a little astonishing, since I have actually covered some of these as a film critic, but no matter, let’s keep it positive, I think to myself I hope this jerry-built screen doesn’t come crashing down on all these nice people.

The Sea Cinema was almost empty when I walked in earlier but is now filling up. A handful of young women in hijab walk in, smartphones ablaze. Some of them would openly video-record the feature movie despite the admonition before the start of the film to explicitly not do so.

A number of families drift into the theater with their children and of course the children start running up and down the darkened aisles screaming with piercing voices and then the inevitable shillas, or gangs of good old boys. variously in their 30s and 40s and 50s, waltz into the theater as it if they’re in some ahwa baladi and some sit together in a row near the back where they continue to talk loudly and tell each other incredibly funny jokes and smack each others’ palms and munch on tubs of pop corn not to mention of course continuously talking on the phone all of which is almost but not quite drowned out by the volume of the ON broadcast which at this stage of the proceedings is ear-splitting but nobody seems to notice.

About 8:40 or so, the actual Opening Ceremony began.  This was dominated by the presentation of some kind of lifetime achievement to a venerable Egyptian actor, Adel Imam (whom Western audiences may remember from the Yacoubian Building), whom everyone calls the Zayeem (or Leader, from a role he played) and who seems quite frail but clearly beloved especially by Naguib Sawiris who introduces the Zayeem by mentioning some terrorist incident in the province of Assuit  back in ’96 that demonstrated the Zayeem’s lion-hearted bravery this the very Zayeem whom all the aging divas were giddily cooing out to as Adooly but this is not all there is because I am forgetting to mention the comedy intro which did not seem to go over very well and also an extended sequence of singing and dancing by men in tuxedos and women in sequined gowns which was introduced as the section of the program which has all the songs we grew up with. Clearly the “we” here was referring to this gilded assembly, and not the average Egyptian, since the song and dance revue  list ended with a mangling of Elvis’s Can’t Stop Loving You, as well a rousing grande finale rendition of Julie Andrews’ The Sound of Music, which I have a hard time imagining being part of the collective memory in places such as Banha, Mahalla el Kubra, or Beni Souef.

My favorite part of the entire Opening Ceremony was at end, just before the start of the screening of Sheikh Jackson, when one the actors in the film — perhaps it was even Ahmed el Feshawy — looked at the screen wobbling in the strong wind and expressed in rather plain language what he thought of it’s construction but that was quickly glossed over and now the movie, finally, began.

I’m sorry to report that I lasted exactly 30 minutes before walking out. I’m not going to say much about this film, for I’ve decided to only pen reviews in Gouna News about films that I enjoyed watching in their entirety at GFF.

However, I will venture here that I think it probably helps to be a religious Egyptian or drawn to movies with overtly religious themes to find anything compelling about Sheikh Jackson’s main protagonist, whom, in all honestly, I was not interested in at any level, even to find out what all the ambiguous hermaphrodite plot teasers were about, and how they fit in, if at all, with the story of a young man who became muttadayyin following the death of his mother and the subsequent descent of his father into the life of a libertine, or how the film integrated or skirted around his hero’s backstory as a drug addict and alleged child molester.

And so I walked back out into the A’seefa. It was dark now and the extremely strong wind made the air thick with sand.  I thought i would walk to Downtown but quickly became lost in the back roads of Gouna as the sandstorm made everything look uniform.

Where was I?

What was I doing here?

Would I fail to make it back, as if in a scene out of Lawrence of Arabia?

Is my life now a movie?

I stood on the corner of some street corner, shielding my eyes as tuc-tucs and cars went by slowly without stopping. The wind was almost howling, and I took off my GFF badge and put it in my pocket for safekeeping.

I waited.

Finally a tuc-tuc showed up that was not carrying any passengers.

When I got home, the place next door was not blasting any boom boom disco music.

I put my gear on the floor and my badge on the table and immediately fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.

 

leaving america

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Dawsha

gouna


Abu Tig Marina at night

 

Last night, I meandered in search of a good burger around the two marinas where I live .

Earlier in the day, I had gone to Bestway to buy some things I had needed — shampoo, detergent, sugar, Turkish coffee, a coffee maker, trash bags, bottled water, Listerine, a toothbrush, toothpaste and TP.

Initially I concluded that things were pretty expensive here at this supermarket, but then I realized I was still tired from the difficult flight in from Istanbul, and was converting LEs to dollars at the 2013 rate, when I was in Gouna last.

Adjusting my math, I realized that purchasing necessities is not that expensive after all.

The wind was really picking up and I was worried about the change of venue announced for the premiere of GFF.

I knew I would have to take a “tuxi” to the Berlin Technical College to pick up my press badge for the festival. I only had a vague idea where this place was, other than it was on the way from Abut Tig to Downtown, and also did not know what times the badges would actually be ready.  (Note: the next day, when I went to the German college at 2PM in 95F heat, they were not. To be continued.)

Despite having registered some time ago to cover GFF, had not received followup emails from the festival organizers other than the one I got after inquiring where to send the “head shot” they would use for my press badge.

This was unusual.

In my experience at the Tribeca Film Festival, you would normally gets tons of communication from the press office, as well as many solicitations from the flacks promoting various movies to set up interviews with so-called “creative” people attending the festival — implying I suppose that everyone else, to one degree or another, was just a plodder without imagination.

It was thanks to an email sent to me by a friend of mine who lives here that I only learned last night that the Marina Theater I had scoped out several days ago would not be ready in time for the opening screening of Sheikh Jackson.

Gouna residents were all sent news of this last-minute change in venue; but not, apparently, film critics covering the event. At least not me.

So now I had to somehow find out where this Berlin college is (I understood it was somewhere by the Gouna Library), and if they were not ready with my badge when I arrived, that I would have to return more than once.

Apart from constantly having to have 15 LEs in hand to pay for all these tuxi rides, there was the issue of the heat. If I had to keep doing this all day in 35 degree heat, I might really have problems at some point; not to mention that tuxis have no suspension to speak of and the roads are not smooth. If you have back problems, as I do, you will pay the price for overusing tuxis to get around.

So, last night, walking about the two marinas in search of a decent burger joint, I noticed there were a lot more young Egyptians around. This was because of the Thursday bank holiday, or maybe it was some other official 3-day Egyptian holiday that had turned these coming days into a long holiday weekend.

I noticed that Egyptians like to walk three or four abreast, sometimes more. I noticed, too, that quite a few of them did not give inch, when I approached them, say in one of the narrow winding alleyways between the buildings facing the marinas, and walked straight at me, almost as if there were playing chicken. I gave way time and time again to them, as I was not in the mood for problems.

The wind was picking up, and I stopped again by Bestway to pick a couple of bottles of water and the place was absolute chaos.

It was filled with hyper young Egyptians, shouting almost to each about where to find milk or other items, and darting about almost at random in the very narrow aisles of the supermarket.

Nobody paid the slightest attention to me as I tried to pay for the water, and in fact a few youths cut in front of me — talking to the cashier in rapid fire Arabic — but I said nothing. My goal while here is to avoid any sort of confrontation with anyone about anything, and let such things slide.

Walking back home, the wind was getting even stronger, and there were now searchlights from a sort of inverted rays of the sun ray arrangement behind the boats and small yachts bobbing in the marina.

Most of the tables outside the big hotels and restaurants were taken by Egyptian families or groups of friends, all talking in a very animated fashion about commonplace subjects — I do understand Arabic, and easily picked the snatches of conversation that drifted by me in the night air.

This of course a typical Egyptian trait; but I was beginning to notice certain distinctions as between what sort of clientele the various outside restaurants drew.

In the New Marina, especially, you see that certain restaurant catered to a much more Westernized crowd, who were rather quieter and had bottles of beer at their tables.

Most if not all of the women at these restaurants were wearing any sort of head covering, and some lf the young women, with their raven back hair, and Coptic features, were strikingly beautiful.

I found some sort charburger joint in the New Marina, but did not like the chaotic vibe there or the menu prices or the idea of sitting alone in a restaurant as groups of young men, many of them smokers, milled about in the shadows.

I resigned myself to having eaten little that day I would drink my bottles of water, and go to sleep, readying myself for what would surely be a trying day in the morrow.

As it turned out, I did find a small burger joint not too far from my flat.
So I went in and ordered a plain burger and fries to go, The wind was really picking up, and I had trouble closing the door behind me as the front entrance of this burger joint was quite rickety, and in fact was swaying with each strong gust.

There was just one young Egyptian couple there, and they were finishing what appeared to have been a large platter of chicken.

Time passed, maybe twenty minutes, and the couple said something to the very young waiter behind the counter in rapid Arabic that I did not understand.

Another ten minutes went by, as I saw the cook in the back busily working on my order, and then finally the young waiter at the counter went to the back and came back with an order wrapped in a box.

I got up to pay, but the waiter shook his head, without smiling, and pointed to the Egyptian couple.

So what had happened is that the couple had ordered some food to go, which the cook began working on immediately, despite the fact that I had ordered first, in effect, my order had been put aside because I looked like a dumb tourist.

Again, I let this go.

Eventually my order was ready — after half an hour of waiting — and it 85 LE (around 4 dollars) for the burger and small takeout container of fries, which was actually half empty. I declined the gross offer to have mayonnaise with my fries, but asked for extra catsup, and left.

It wasn’t that bad; I enjoyed the meagre helping of fries, ate maybe half the burger, and threw the rest of it in the garbage. At least I had eaten something that night.

The first sign of trouble came at 10pm.

I was watching channel 1 on TV, which is the Gouna station, learning more about the place and the people who live in it.

Suddenly a fairly loud bass beat started thumping from what sounded like right outside my balcony. It stopped right away, so I ignored it, and got ready for a good night’s sleep in preparation for GFF.

A few minutes later, it came back. This time is was louder. Then it went away again. Then it came back yet again, each time louder still. My worst nightmare had come true. There was disco club right across from my building, which I hadn’t noticed before, as it was closed earlier in the week. I had specifically told the rental agent that I wanted peace and quiet at night. I supposed I was not clear enough, or that something had gotten lost in translation.

I would have thought the term “peace and quiet” in my email was fairly unambiguous.

By midnight the approaching massive diesel train sound — tathunk tathunk tathunk — had been joined by vaguely Anglo-Euro techno singing, which was incomprehensible, backed by synthesized repetitive music that were loud and insistent — very 80s era ,gay influenced, driving dance club music, with bass beats probably set at around 120 bpm; waves and waves of purely synthetic sound that was meant no doubt to deliver some sort of orgiastic frenzy.

For the first time since arriving, I began to think of booking the next flight out of this About Ghreib Marina vibebeat hell, where I was now a prisoner of dawsha — which means noise in Arabic.

How was i going to sleep? The sound of this thumping metronomic techno music was now so loud that the windows of my flat were rattling.

It was a form of torture, to say nothing of complete disregard by the club owners for those who actually lived around About Tig marina. I thought of calling the police, but decided not to.

Eventually I came up with a solution of sorts.

I found that if I barricaded myself in the living room, that is to say, if I drew the heavy curtains across the balcony windows, put towels under the bedroom door (the bedroom is where the music was loudest), moved the mattress in the bedroom to the floor on the living room, turned up the whooshing AC to the max, and set the TV volume on 8 to an Egyptian channel that was airing a continuous stream of boring American movies from 10 and 20 years ago, that I could, up to a point, aurally neutralize the delightful groovebeats from outside that now literally sounded like there was some sort of riot going on in the street.

There is a lot of dowsha in this world. It can come from anywhere, from the ones who like to give threatening speeches, from the ones who say they have all the answers, from the ones who talk without having anything t say.

I had escaped from America to get away from all kinds of noise.

I would find a solution in the coming weeks to groovebeat hell.

I drifted off to sleep in my cocooned fortress, and when I awoke at 7, the dawsha was gone.

leaving america

Gouna: first impressions

el gouna map

Gouna map

 

I have been in Gouna five days.

 

I was last here four years ago, but my stay was too brief, then, to be of much relevance now.

 

One difference I’ve noticed, though, is that the psychedelic Magic Bus, which took you around for free around far-flung Gouna, has now gone the way of the hippies.

 

That aside, and without further ado, here are my first impressions of Gouna 2017.

 

  1. The weather

 

The first thing you have to grasp about Gouna is that it is boiling hot here this time of year.  I cannot imagine living here during the summer months.

 

The heat will probably last until mid-November, at which point it will no doubt does become pleasant to walk about or play tennis or go for a “quad” ride out to the desert.

 

But I would say that if you are of a certain age, or overweight, that you have to be careful about heat stroke and dehydration, if you plan to be outside before 6PM.

 

Wear loose clothing, and a hat.  Any notion of walking for more than 15 minutes in the midday sun should be reserved for mad dogs and Englishmen.

 

And of course the usual precautions must be taken on the beach or hotel pool; sunbathe in the shade under an umbrella, slather yourself with SPF 50 cream, and drink plenty of (non-alcoholic) fluids.

 

After being out in the sun, make sure to use to skin restoration creme when you go back inside.  The one I am using currently is Vichy after-sun milk lotion.  Failure to heed this advice will turn your skin into wrinkled parchment paper, so just do it.

 

35 degrees (celsius) has been the average daytime temp so far, it drops to around 25ish, late in the evening .

 

So mid September in Gouna is a scorcher; make no mistake about that. I am keeping the AC in my rental flat blasting at 17 degrees whenever I am inside. This is quite restorative, as few public places you go to in Gouna will have AC.  Yes, I’m watching a lot of vintage B&W Egyptian movies.

 

If you are heat intolerant, as I am, you have to immediately get inside, drink cool water, and sit or lie down at the first sign of a dizzy spell or excessive perspiration, and by this I mean water coming out of your pores in buckets.  

 

This is your body telling you it is unable to compensate for the dry desert heat.  Heed it. Plastic water bottles are your new friend. Do not go anywhere without one handy. Forget about the leaching plastic.  Without them, you will not survive here.  

 

I am drinking a minimum of four 1.5 liters bottles of Neste’s Pure Life a day.  They cost 4 LE each; or less than 25 cents a bottle, at the local Best Way supermarket.  That’s pretty cheap, which cannot be said for buying something like a small bottle of shampoo, which comes out to nearly 8 dollars American.

 

  1. The layout

 

Gouna is far-flung if you do not have a car.

 

In season, if you are in reasonable shape, you can rent a bicycle to get around; the terrain is fairly flat and monotone in color; and the mild winter sun will not fry your brains under your safety helmet or turn the skin on your face into pizza.

 

Otherwise, toc-tocs — which are affectionately called “Tuxis” here — are the cheapest, most convenient method of transportation.

 

A tuxi ride only costs 15 L.E. (which is less than a US dollar) for a single person to get around anywhere in Gouna (25 L.E. for two people).

 

For those unfamiliar with these Asian-inspired contraptions, toc-tocs are motorized bikes outfitted with a passenger riding carriage.

 

They are doorless.

 

You just hop in behind the driver — or try to squeeze in your fat, unsupple tourist frame on a narrow seat with a short space for your feet — and hang on with both hands, clutching the horizontal metal bar behind him until you get to your destination.

 

Toc-toc drivers are generally young guys, invariably polite, and not too talky,

 

They do not quiz you about where you are from, or subject you to some tedious lecture about the state of the world, as do many Cairene drivers, especially those who give rides to Thomas Friedman.

 

Nor do Gouna tuxis stop to pick up random passengers along the way, which is a particularly charming feature of Cairo’s old school taxis, but not the new white ones.

 

Speaking very generally, Gouna is divided into 4 main sections.  I’m not sure how long it is — my guess would be 10 miles; the town is fairly narrow, and hugs the Red Sea coastline above Hurghada.

 

The southern end of Gouna are the Golf and Villa areas.  This is the ritzy section of Gouna, and it’s generally quieter there.

 

The middle right area in Gouna is called Downtown.  This is where you will find many convenient shops and restaurants, including my fave, Zomba’s, where I can chow down on low-priced, authentic, delicious Egyptian food!  (Although not having eish baladi, that is to say classic whole wheat bread, for your foul medames sand-a-witch is a culinary crime; the waiter could have popped over the supermarket next door to get some.)

 

You will not be hassled when walking around Dowtown, as you might be in Sharm’s “Old Market,” or along the promenade in Dahab, or even in nearby Hurghada — although I’ve heard that the Arts and Crafts store area has been known to engage in standard Egyptian style hard-sell khartagi tactics. I will have to go by there to see if this is indeed true. Otherwise, Gouna leaves you alone — a rare treat for a tourist coming to Egypt, who would normally be subjected to much annoying harassment.

 

Continuing northward, the third main area of Gouna is where the marinas are:  Abu Tig, and the New Marina.

 

They are both quite touristy, with the New Marina being slightly more downscale.  It is there that you can enjoy karaoke singing quite late in the evening.

 

The other night for example, I think around midnight it was, I heard an obviously inebriated  English woman belting out an off-key version of Paul McCartney’s Those were the Days.

 

The sound of her awful voice drifted across the water all the way from the New Marina, where this karaoke bar is, to the flat where I’m staying at Abu Tig, and I thought, as the song goes, it would never end.

 

Except for all the Germans ensconced in the Three Corners hotel at the mouth of Abu Tig marina, where topless sunbathing is not unknown, About Tig’s plaza area has a more low-key, upscale local feel, and you see many wealthy, conservative Egyptians families sitting down to have interminable dinners (these affairs can and often do last hours), at the many restaurants there that cater to this more traditional sort of clientele.

 

Do not be surprised if you stroll there late at night, and I am talking 2am, and find lots of young Egyptian kids running around the water’s edge of the marina, as their fathers and hijab-ed mothers (not that there is anything wrong with that garment!) ignore them. Aadi, as they say in Egypt:  it’s normal.

 

Which brings us to Ali’s Gouna Rule #1.  

 

This is Egypt.

 

Do not expect social customs to be the same as where you’re from.

 

Just go with the flow, and it’ll all be cool.

 

The fourth and last main section of Gouna is the younger, wild north end.  

 

While there is plenty of planned new development going on there, it is still the place to go to experience a groovy Red Sea beach, without having to pay 100 L.E. for the privilege, as is the case in the New Marina beach.

 

It is in fact called Mangroovy beach, which make me wonder, somewhat wistfully, if there were a lot of mangroves here once. Probably not, as mangroves in Florida, for example, typically grow on the intercostal waterway, which is a mix of fresh and ocean water.

 

You can walk or take a bus or tok-tok to Mangroovy and watch kite-surfers from all around the world take the sort of risks that I, for one, am too chicken, not mention old, to attempt.

 

The feeling of floating in the sky above Gouna must indeed be exhilarating, until of course you hit an air pocket and break your neck as you plummet to the hard shoreline below, or realize for the first time, perhaps while half-way to Saudi Arabia, that you forgot to ask the instructor how to turn your kite around to get back, against the prevailing North-South winds, to your launching point.

 

  1. The people

 

There are about 20 thousand residents in Gouna.  

 

The overall vibe here is decidedly, if not determinedly upbeat and relaxed, except when the motorcycle posses pull in and park in front of Rush, which is about two minutes away from my flat.  I knew a place called Rush in Dahab; I wonder if it’s the same owner. The motor cycle dudes I saw today have pretty much the same macho Village People profile, though maybe as tad younger, that you often find in FLA.

I wonder if they even realized how ridiculous they looked. 

 

At any rate, there is usually something going on,

 

In fact, Gouna is almost relentless in promoting music and film festivals, sports events, etc., year round.

And since Gouna is quite beautiful geographically, with a shoreline that features aquarelle water and low desert mountains looming in the distance, it’s not hard to understand why people like to come here, whether as tourists, or to become full-fledged “Gounies.”

 

Speaking very generally, this is who you will see:  tourists, residents, short and long-term renters, and local workers (both Egyptian and foreign), plus a few important looking people who probably run the place. (I will leave the discussion as to who actually owns Gouna to another time.)

 

Tourists seem to be mostly German, Russian, some Italians, Egyptians, and a few Brits.  I’ve yet to come across a single American during my stay.

 

The conversation by the Brits will typically revolve on how they are getting ripped off constantly by all these shady Egyptians.

 

They will bitterly complain, say, about having to pay 1,000 LE to see Hatchepsut’s temple while in Luxor; how their hotel ran out of beer, even though they had bought an all-expenses-paid trip; or how they could only get a room with two single beds, even though their hotel had been advised they were on honeymoon.

 

Whether Inglizis or not, tourists are the financial lifeblood of Gouna, while simultaneously being the most socially inconsequential of the types of people you will find here.

 

Let’s call this Ali’s Gouna Rule #2.

 

Here today; gone tomorrow.

 

There are, of course, wrinkles to this rule.

 

For example, a non-Egyptian resident who owns a villa and an apartment and rents out his villa for extended stays mentioned to me the other night, as I was taking in the night scene at the New Marina, that noise can be a real problem in Gouna, particularly if the people you’ve rented to happen to be from Cairo, and so were able to transport their own mega sound system with them, and play Amr Diab songs till all hours of the night.

 

In fact, this man continued, the most common type of police calls are from neighbors complaining about such rude buddha behavior.

 

Except in West Golf, of course — land of the elegant standalone villas surrounded by gardens and with views of the artificial, shallow canals leading to the sea — which is why Gouna is sometimes called Egypt’s Venice.

 

So are problems in Gouna always so milquetoastish?

 

Is this really Paradise?

 

Or do the children of, say, the rich and influential, sometimes get away with incredibly shocking things?

 

Allahu a’lam; God only knows.

 

leaving america