The diary of a Saudi man, currently living in the United Kingdom, where the Religious Police no longer trouble him for the moment.

In Memory of the lives of 15 Makkah Schoolgirls, lost when their school burnt down on Monday, 11th March, 2002. The Religious Police would not allow them to leave the building, nor allow the Firemen to enter.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Let's go to the Movies 

I'm a great watcher of movies. So you can imagine how much, for that reason, I enjoy being in the West, and how Saudi Arabia is some form of deprivational torture. This article about movies in Arabia estimates that

"in Saudi Arabia it was only possible to see 5% of all the films produced worldwide" (and only on television).

....and that's the trashiest, oldest, 5%. The sort of stuff that in the West gets shown at 3.30 in the morning.

So how do we get to see movies? Well, for some, with connections with Westerners, we get invitations into their compounds, where they have set up mini-cinemas with DVD players, projectors, surround-sound, and big screens. One that I used to go to even had tiered seating and a stall outside selling candy. What bliss! Let's face it, we all need to grab our pleasures where we can. Carpe diem.

Another way of grabbing these pleasures is to drive 500 kilometers, which funnily enough is the title of a documentary by a young Saudi film director, Abdullah Eyaf. And 500 kilometers is the distance from Riyadh to Bahrain on the east coast, or more correctly it's at the end of a very long causeway off the east coast. 500 kilometers, two police road blocks in mid-desert (to check for "overstayers" and other undesirables), about 5 hours including pit stops (although best to have a well-trained bladder, the so-called service areas are completely disgusting, Mrs A refuses to go in them, I won't go into detail), across the causeway to the border area with its six separate booths to hand in documents or get insurance or have the vehicle checked, and you are finally in the country of Bahrain, with, for many Saudis, its intoxicating mixture of Arabia and relative freedom. Then, a few miles along the road, there arises, like a mirage, the Seef Mall complex, with its unsegregated food court, its air-conditioned multiplex cinema, popcorn, men and women and children all sitting together, the lot. Paradise on earth.

As the article says, the documentary....

....follows a bunch of Saudi movie buffs who decide to drive from Riyadh to Bahrain for the pleasure of finally seeing a film in a real cinema. "It is not a militant film, just the story of a journey into a new world, a quest to enjoy an art form the way it was meant to be seen," says Raja al-Mutayri, 25, the film critic on the daily Al-Riyadh....The number of fans in the group has more than doubled from about a dozen. They have grown up to become critics, directors, scriptwriters and actors, determined to share with others the new world they have discovered. Not always an easy task, but Mutayri is sure there is genuine demand for films. Saudis account for more than three-quarters of cinema audiences in neighbouring Bahrain and he believes that cinemas will finally open in his home country in a couple of years.

Maybe. It would be nice to think so. But first we must get it past our religious conservatives. The journalist who wrote the article found such a specimen, and he went looking in the obvious place....

....Mansur Askar, a sociologist at Muhammad Ibn Saud Islamic university, says....

and he has indeed turned up a particularly fine example of Saudi Wahabbi (even Wahhabi) stupidity, the true depths of stupidity, a veritable Mariana Trench of stupidity.

I find the best thing to do with classic stupidity is to savor it slowly, like a fine vintage wine. (Not that I drink fine vintage wine, you understand. It's very un-Islamic. It's also very expensive. I go for plonk from Sainsbury's supermarket at £4.50 a bottle.) The best things in life are never hurried. So let's enjoy our new-found friend Mansur Askar.

First the color....

As for secularism, "it is incompatible with Islam, but fine for Christians"

Yes, a truly nonsense and contradictory statement, like the translucent yet somehow dark ruby color of a good Medoc. And the bouquet....

He thinks cinemas are "for delinquents".

Mmm, extreme ignorance (like when did he last go to the cinema to check out the delinquents?) combined with extreme bigotry, a potent combination giving a sharp tang, rather like an ageing Muscadet. But wait, how does it taste when it hits the back of the throat?....

Allowing women to drive is impossible, because "there are already too many jams"

Oh, bliss! Wasn't that worth it? That really hits the spot as it eddies around the soft palate. Pure vintage champagne, Moet et Chandon I'm sure, probably from that south-east-facing slope, the one where Madame Defarge's tom-cat goes to pee.

But as we're in Bahrain, let's ask them what they think of Saudi women driving, because of course Saudi women can drive once they are there. Thanks to my friend Mahmood from Bahrain, we learn that...

“Despite the presence of a large number of Saudi women drivers in Bahrain, not a single case of traffic violation has been registered against them,” Al-Riyadh Arabic daily quoted Sameem as saying.
Bahrain’s traffic department has issued driving licenses to 1,107 Saudi women, Sameem confirmed. He said Saudi women have displayed exceptional control and concentration while driving."

Whereas for the Saudi men....

However, he pointed out that Saudi men had caused 38 accidents, two of them fatal, in the last five months.

So if you were to allow only one sex to drive, which would it be? Mansur' Askar's brain cells are struggling a bit with that one, I think the synapses are waving at each other but have not met up yet.

Let's finish with a movie (Thanks, "Howard"). Two veiled ladies, at an outdoor western restaurant, eating spaghetti of all things. Mrs A makes the following observations:

1. When forced to wear a veil in public, don't eat spaghetti. Same for soup, ice cream, spare ribs, cream cakes. Burgers and donuts are the best bet, forget your waistline for a moment.

2. The "up and under" technique (lift veil and shovel in food from below) looks more decorous but in practice can be messier. Also you never can tell whether you have strands of spaghetti sticking to your chin and dangling down below the bottom of the veil.

3. The "out and in" technique (pull out eye slit and lower food in from above) looks less ladylike but is actually more practical. Not only do you savor the smell of bolognese sauce as it makes its way past your nostrils, but if you jut your lower jaw out far enough you can guarantee a 100% capture rate).

4. Use lots of napkins. Otherwise you end up looking like you're in a Tarantino movie.

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