Saturday, February 14, 2009

Is it love or capitalism?

Valentine's Day in Cairo is celebrated much like all festivities in this crazy city: with gusto. Whole hog (halal hog, of course). Over the top. All the way.

Last year, we were at Al Azhar park (I cannot remember why...) and we were literally the ONLY couple not carrying a large gift bag with fancy writing saying some variation of: "I love you" "Be my sweetheart" "Love is Everything".

All the girls were dressed in red with matching hijabs as far as the eye could see. All the boys were looking gooey-eyed and adoringly at the objects of their affection. Some couples were holding hands and others walked two together, with a mindful sister/ brother/ unofficial (and ineffective) chaperon two steps behind. Boys were carrying multiple gift bags (obviously presented to their beloved only moments before) overflowing with gifts, red flowers and cheezy balloons that rustled and swished as they walked by.

A year later and here we are again on the day of lurv. Has the economic downturn put a damper on the festivities? Have people decided maybe they should take it easy this year and save their piasters for something more practical than heart and "XO" decals for their cars? Not a chance.

This afternoon I noticed a tree on Qasr-al-Aini (a super busy, 5+ lane road into central Cairo) wrapped in red polyester with hearts dangling from every available branch. The shopkeeper looked at me hopefully from inside his store when I stopped to admire his handiwork. I'm still not sure what he was selling but the tree in the red toga - while certainly eye-catching - did not inspire me to go in and empty my wallet.

Back in Maadi, Road 9 (the closest thing we have to a main drag) was mayhem. Traffic was backed up, people were honking their horns and crossing the road haphazardly, creating even more gridlock. And they all had this in common: red outfits, toting shiny red and gold gift bags with badly composed love-messages scrolled on them, holding ridiculously large stuffed animals and fistfuls of heart shaped balloons decorated with red ribbons.

All the restaurants were filled to overflowing and there was a definite (if absurd) buzz in the air. The shop across the road had an impressive 5 ft tall stuffed gorilla in red underpants on display.

I have to wonder what accounts for the zealous embrace of this particular holiday. Is it that Egyptians are innately passionate and have a lot of love to give? No doubt.

Or is it just globalization? A holiday invented by Hallmark to nudge the economy along through the post-Christmas lull.

Oh dear, that's not very romantic of me now is it? I need to make more of an effort to fit into the culture of my new home: Happy Valentines Wishes to one and all!

Now please excuse me while I rush off to see if that Gorilla in the window is still up for sale...