16 February 2011

Berlinale: Man at Sea

Yesterday I experienced my first Berlinale screening. “Man at Sea” (directed by Constantine Gianaris), playing in Friedrichstadt-Palast. It was a nice festival atmosphere, mostly because there were quite a few pretty and well-dressed valets checking tickets and helping people find their seats. Friedrichstadt-Palast is a famous and large venue for live variete and other shows (in fact, claiming to be the world's largest theatre stage) and it was nice to experience this place. I first was surprised that there were still empty seats during the screening (during a festival where most shows are sold out to the last seat), but then I learned that the house has 1.895 seats! Hard to fill even during a festival!

The movie was announced by a host and very tersely introduced by the director himself. After the screening, the director came on stage again and introduced some of the cast. I was quite disappointed that there was no more talking with the director, in particular, no questions were taken from the audience. I remember from TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) that directors would introduce their film with some words about it came to be or why they made it and would take questions afterwards. I was a little disappointed that this didn't happen, but the reason might just as well be, that there are too many people in the venue and that they only do it in smaller cinemas.

Now the movie. Ah! The movie. A freight ship takes some shipwrecked youths on board (who survived a sinking in which the elder passengers died because they left the only life boat to the young) and then can't get rid of them because no country they pass wants to take them on – they are fugitives from the Middle East. This could have been a great movie about life on a ship, about the meeting of two cultures, and about a group of grown-ups decisively shape the life of the young. Instead, the script was overdramatizing it, wasn't very believable in many parts and using black and white where there could have been a million shades of grey. At one point, I considered fleeing from the theatre, but I stayed, and as a went home, I started to develop my own ideas how to treat this subject well. I spent two hours at night to put down my ideas and now need to find some time to turn it into a full screenplay. The basic setup of this story just has so much potential that it just needs to be realized well! In Gianaris' version, at least the acting and pictures were nice and the final scene even had a little bit of that profoundness that the story affords. Just a glimpse of what's possible!

(Found a review of the movie with which I agree.)

6 February 2011

final report of my stay in Dahab

striped rock tree

Those are the three best things about Dahab:
  1. sun and blue sky: even when you're not on the water, under water, or elsewhere in nature, the effect of sunlight on mood is strong and purely positive. so that alone is worth going there!
  2. no advertising posters: this came as a surprise on my second day back in Berlin. There is some advertising in Dahab and there are of course people who want to drag you into their shops or restaurants, but it's the absence of big posters advertising for cars, beauty products or other capitalist bullshit which really make the place so much more tranquil, beautiful and soothing for the mind. Garbage in the dessert or on the beach has a melancholic, placid aesthetic compared to those ugly attention-grabbing posters that line all streets, malls, and transit stations in the big industrialized cities.
  3. no pressure to do anything in particular: now that's a personal one. I've lived in different countries and always had some purpose to go there and pressure to actually succeed in that mission. be it academic research in Toronto or language study in Taipei. This time it was supposed to be wind surfing, but Dahab is not the place where you stick to ambitious training plans. I surfed for fun and didn't surf when I felt like not to. I saw only the sights that I really wanted to see (Mt. Sinai, basically) and spent the rest of the time very spontaneously: some biking along random roads along the sea or into the mountains. Reading, inventing, ... In the last week I build a nice program to calculate epicyclic gears and when the implementation in Java Swing turned out to be harder than thought, I pushed to overcome the difficulties in programming just for the fun of it, not because I felt that it was my mission and I have to do it to have a successful stay. Think of me what you want, but just being there under the blue sky by the Red Sea and working on something that really fascinates me was a great experience that I want to repeat. (I estimate to need three more full-time days to finish my little program and wonder how I can get that much uninterrupted and relaxed time in my busy Berlin life.)

Sinbad's sign lit by rising sun

Here are some further observations from the second half of my stay:
  • Just for the change and also to be around more people I moved from the rather calm Crazy Camel Camp to Sindbad Camp, which had the additional advantage of being right on the beach so that the sunrise would wake me up every morning. There was also a kitchen with a chef where I could order meals or cook myself.
  • I started a new eating routine with muesli-breakfast every morning and regular consumption of yogurt. This and the fact that I didn't go to the touristy restaurants any more changed my ingestion-system-body-state back to normal. Although I have to say that the two first weaks weren't problematic either: just different. (I don't want to go into the shitty details.)
  • rain is something very special in Sinai and you have to experience it to really appreciate it. Not even the very modern Dahab Specialized Hospital has a completely waterproof roof. In my case, the rain meant that I was upgraded to a first-floor room in the camp with an incredibly beautiful view on the beach and the sea (and the Saudi mountains on the other side). But my old room dried quickly and I moved back within a day (using the occasion for a little cleanup).
  • I noticed that the traditional Galabija dress very easily distinguishes rich wearers from the poor as rich people wear white ones, from a finer material and collars, while ordinary people usually wear brown ones (can get dirty without being noticed). I found it very curious how much social class is expressed in the dress, because in Germany fashion can be very obnoxious of class. (I like to joke, that a guy with a tie is either a manager or a receptionist. Of course, some rich people show it in their dress, but it's more subtle and more rare.)
  • Our visit of St. Katherine monastery before climbing Mt. Sinai has proven once again, that I am no fan of sight-seeing, but the mountain and drive thru the dessert was interesting with its many views. Before going up, I had joked that I expected an epiphany when staying in the place where God had talked to Moses. But when I was up there, the only thing that came to mind was “wow, hiking is actually nice, I should do it more often.” Well, that's also something I can keep for my life!
  • The government has granted exclusive rights of being mountain guides to one specific tribe of Beduins who live in the area. When we asked our guide about his relationship to other Beduins living on the mountains, he said “we are all one family” (Thomas was afraid that we would hold up our guide while staying for tea with some beduins, but in fact he was chez soi, at home with family.)
  • While the revolution was going on in Cairo, on the night before the Internet was shut down, shopkeepers in Dahab whom I talked to still expressed their support for the president. Some quotes: “the president is good for import and export”, “don't blame the state if you're unemployed; find work for yourself” (from a man who had opened a shop six weeks ago after doing many different jobs before, because he couldn't find work as an accountant for which he had originally trained). And a beduin said: “all people in the world hate their government. that's no news.”
  • Haggling can really be quite theatrical. For example, one shopkeeper threw a bag after me after I didn't want to buy a shirt whose price I had inquired for and haggled a bit to see what the real price would be (because he had started at about the ten-fold of a realistic price). With his angry reaction he almost successfully made me feel that I had done something wrong and that I now was  obliged to buy the shirt. But of course I wasn't and I think some days later, the guy greeted me with smile and funny remark as I passed by his shop. 
  • I made several observations about work-life balance which is very different in Egypt than in other places. For example, one morning I came to a shop whose door was half-closed (it opened by lifting up) and inside the shopkeepers were still sleeping: their bed was just some blankets on the ground. As the neighboring shop keeper noticed me, he would go inside to fetch what I need and get my money to give them later. In the same vein, when workers leave their shop to visit the washroom (often across the street) or for other errands, their neighbors will take care of business until they are back. In any case, many people stay at their shops from getting up until going back to sleep. The shop is not just their work, but the center of their life. Often they will be visited by friends (if the friends have a job that finishes in the afternoon, such as dive centers do) and all hang out together at the shop. When there's no-one there to understand my English, someone will go look for a neighbor to help translate.

beduin-style hangout area

Here's the flickr set of all my Dahab pictures.