A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Let Them Eat Croissants

I do plan reasonably soon to blog about a couple of major things going on in Egypt, the National Democratic Party Conference (in which Husni Mubarak was coy and Gamal attacked the bad old opposition), and the various things going on inside the Muslim Brotherhood. But in the meantime, in a country where the gap between rich and poor has been widening for years, I must call your attention to the review of a hotel called the InterContinental CityStars. (What are CityStars?) Warning: this is something of a rant. At least I warned you.

A few key quotes:
InterContinental CityStars feels slightly disorienting. What would constitute garish décor — sphinxes in the lobby’s fountain, golden snakes on the ceiling — is softened by beige tones, attractive natural lighting and the sound of falling water; as if ancient Egypt were an ordinary theme for a five-star hotel.

Primarily accommodating business travelers with its Nasr City proximity to the airport, perhaps the hotel’s designers guessed that their clients might not have the chance to visit real Egyptian sites.

Providing a Pharaonic aesthetic, food and a huge pyramid out back, the hotel offers an effortless version of the Egyptian experience. The casino evokes the famed Luxor Hotel in Vegas. Baudrillard would have a field day: a hotel in Egypt modeled on a hotel in the US modeled on an ancient Egyptian religious site.

At your service

However, should you have even half a day to spare during your stay, the newly renovated Concierge Lounge can book a trip with partner American Express Travel to the Pyramids of Giza, the famous Khan El-Khalili bazaar, or the Egyptian Museum. Anything you want, really, including limousine service all the way to Abu Simbel, if you’re ready to pay the price, (though concierge Mohamed Fawzy suggests flying).

The Concierge Lounge, first of its kind in the Middle East and Europe, transforms the often harried exchange at the concierge desk to a personalized service. Sit down below live feed flight information from the three terminals at Cairo International Airport, and one of the five concierges will assist you with international travel arrangements, airport pick-up, sojourns into Egypt, forgotten laptop chargers, etc. (Forgotten running shoes, unfortunately, they could not provide, though they suggested I take myself to CityStars Mall through the hotel’s private entrance.)

I don't know why I keep thinking Versailles and Marie Antoinette thoughts through all this. I know it brings tons of money into the country. But unlike Las Vegas (which, once you actually see the people in the hotel casinos, you realize is populated by lower to middle class folks from middle America, living it up), this is alien to all but the most stratospheric Egyptian elites, and is really for foreigners. And the decor is pharaonic. Those of you who know Arabic may recall that the word fir‘awn in Arabic, and particularly in the Qur'an, is an emblem of tyranny, power, and alienation from Godly things. (And not in a good way, either.) Oh, and:

I’ve never seen so many choices at a breakfast buffet. The tasty croissants, omelets and sausages were on par with any five-star hotel, while the Egyptian offerings, from fuul (beans) to tameyah (falafel) to feteer (phylo dough pancakes) — all of which you would find offered on a Cairo street for pennies — provided another reminder that this was not Anywhere, Planet Earth.
You'll note that the reviewer explained what the Egyptian food is, not what croissants, omelets and sausages are. Years ago I tried the ful at the Sheraton Heliopolis. I doubt if many people do. It's better downtown.

And tameya's not falafel. They look and taste pretty much alike, but tameya's made from ground fava beans, falafel from ground chickpeas. This ain't rocket science. But at least she referred to fateer as "pancakes," a poor analogy but not as grossly overused as the equally inaccurate "Egyptian pizza."

Not yet ready to storm the Bastille? How about:

The pyramid housing the health facilities evokes a temple dedicated to well-being. Particularly the basement floor, where a glass cube encases squash players in what would seem an ancient ritual.

If you don’t mind a lingering smell of chlorine, the ground floor lounge offers one of the hotel’s most peaceful hiding places. Techno music echoed from the workout facilities, where treadmill runners could entertain themselves with private TV monitors, or by watching swimmers in the pool surrounding the pyramid.

The spa, although equipped with hi-tech treatments such as the LPG Cellular M6 Key Module and Endermologie anti-cellulite, lacks the sense of sanctuary that would distinguish it from a dimly-lit clinic visit.

The refuge waits upstairs. Male and female Greek busts indicate the changing area and additional massage rooms. Passing through, (grab a cup of lemon water), you emerge in a sunlit chamber where three fountainheads gush into a huge co-ed jacuzzi and guests can doze in lounge chairs scattered through this semi-secret grotto.

Okay, I'm venting. I know it's for tourists, not the fellahin. But really. There is of course no mention I could see of prices. I'm sure if you have to ask, you can't afford it, which rules me out.

And please don't tell me Dubai is worse. Of course it is, but wretched excess is the national pastime there. But this is Cairo. People are living in the cemeteries.

Okay. End of rant. Thank you for your time.

Belated addition a couple of days later: I only just realized how the "co-ed jacuzzi" line must be going over with the Muslim Brotherhood and lots of other folks. Just sayin'.

1 comment:

JR said...

The logical result from exchanging Al-Rayyes (and there was only one) for the Firawn or Ibn Firawn.