Monday, September 22, 2008

The Longest Month

Ramadan grinds on. This, I fear, is the part of the month where every day starts to feel like an endless Thanksgiving afternoon: just too much holiday.

I miss going out to lunch, I miss having breakfast with Mr. Muscato (in the morning, that is, when breakfast is supposed to happen, not at sunset), and most of all, I miss - a word that hardly begins to express the depth of the longing - my mid-morning cup of coffee at the desk. And let's not even start with the whole cocktail angle. I'm teetotaling, more or less, and it's not pretty.

It probably doesn't help that I first encountered Ramadan in Cairo, where, I can't help feeling, they Do It Right: late mornings, relaxed rules for foreigners and infidels, and parties that start at dusk and last all night. I know that's probably not the Spirit of the Season, but neither is most of what we do for Christmas, and I still enjoy all that nonsense, too.

The whole city is decorated, as well. Colorful lanterns, the Ramadan fanous, decorate the entrances of almost every building, hang in offices, and are strung through the narrow streets of the poorer quarters.

There are public celebrations everywhere; charities and wealthy people sponsor Ramadan tents and tables, where all kinds of people gather for the sunset fast-breaking, the Iftar. For years the most notorious of these was hosted by the inexpressibly glamourous Fifi Abdou, much to the consternation of some local spoilsports; she responded, of course, by redoubling the size and ostentation of her banquets.

Here, things are distinctly more sedate. Decorations seem to limited to a few limp garlands in the supermarkets, evenings are if anything even sleepier than normal (especially if sitting in a coffee shop smoking shisha isn't your thing), and during the daytime one's fasting acquaintances move at a glacial pace, conserving their energy and looking wan. And let's not even talk about the driving.

It doesn't help that our favorite hangout this weekend banned Koko the Wonder Dog, saying that other customers complained, even though it's an outdoor café, we sit streetside, and he really is beautifully trained to stay quietly under the table. Local attitudes toward dogs are fodder for a future post.

The end is in sight, of course, and we'll slog on. The holiday ends at the end of this month. Then we'll have a normal few weeks before the onset of the National Day season, but more of that, no doubt, anon.

Bonus for Local Readers!
While there's still some time left, here's our wholly subjective take on this year's Ramadan offerings:

Must-do Iftar: the Crowne Plaza, in the newly redecorated Tropicana Restaurant. Great fresh salads, real juice, and more than the usual bland entrées (duck! mutton curry!). A bargain at OR 11. Reservations are a must.

Must-to-avoid Iftar: Second Avenue. Tired, tasteless, and, despite the glam setting, distinctly downmarket - and OR 7.5 to boot! Our whole table was queasy for hours afterward...

Best Local Flavor Iftar: Al-Reef Al-Lubnani in Al-Khuwair. Crowded, festive, and bustling, as locals vie with Egyptian, Lebanese, and Syrian families at a buffet that doesn't disappoint - and only OR 3.5.

Biggest TV Disappointment: Esmahan. Endless, pointless, and really, really bad period costumes and settings. Bring back El-Malik Farouk!

Must-See TV: Dubai One's subtitled Freej - really well done, and a lifesaver or those of us who have minimal Khalijy.

A Noble Effort: Oman-TV's Darayish II. It's almost worth watching just to catch the location shots and for the inevitable nightly shouting match. Almost.

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