The American Center in Alexandria is a gorgeous building, a huge historic house that would have fit nicely in antebellum South Carolina. It's not a consulate, but some consular services can be performed there. There's a screening/media room, library, computer lab, and lots of space for folks to come for programs. There are local folks reading and studying all over the place, it's very cozy. Someone assumes I work there and asks if there are any books on archaeology.
But no, I've been asked to talk about social media and outreach in your work. Now, anyone who follows me on Twitter would know that perhaps I'm not the guy you want talking about this. Or who knows, maybe you do? I'm violently allergic to webcocks. My knee-jerk answer to the question of "How can you use Twitter to market your product?" is to say "DON'T."
And that talk was good. It was informative. But it was the cart before the horse. These folks were some more people who wanted the four-years-in-two-hours film production how-to (see "Lies!: Cairo/Alexandria Day 3B"). I wasn't expecting to do curriculum consultation, but these people were SO FREAKING NICE and here we are in Egypt and oh what the heck (I'd love to do a full-on curriculum consultation, look at the structure and flow and everything—drop me a line, we'll talk rates, I can actually come knowing that this is what I'm actually there for...)
I had them show their work so I could get a sense of where they were coming from and it was immediately clear. They had been making college PSAs, little stupid college journalism things pantomiming "news" features, and they couldn't put their finger on why it was emotionally bankrupt! So I came up with an evil little assignment for them to do... I sent them back to the Corniche to revisit the subject of pedestrian safety and law enforcement failures, but with some brutal constraints that I whipped up just to force the students to abandon video journalism tropes, to try to go for emotional and lyrical. And with the understanding that we were leaving the city the next day.
For those of you who've ever had my weird assignments with tons of ridiculous rules... this one was even crazier. I had these students shoot exactly two things, their impression of the space on the Corniche focusing on how it feels, and someone's personal recollection of crossing it. No music permitted, no visible mics, no interviewing, no narration, no transitions other than cuts, no effects. And a couple other things I made up on the spot, but it was getting really late and I can't remember what they were. Then I gave them my email address, and we headed to the hotel.
The good news is that the embassy gets good rates for guests at the Alexandria Four Seasons. The bad news is that I was conscious enough to experience it for about an hour. I signed up for one hour of internet access (85 pounds WTF WTF WTF) to check in with Jen and Caspar, and then went to get some dinner (a tad early at 11pm).
I submit to you, dear reader, that I was very tired and perhaps not making the best decisions of my life. I decided to go to the food court of the shopping mall.
Upon leaving the Four Seasons, I walked around the block, away from the Mediterranean, to an enormous mall. All lit up, teeming with humanity, families and children, harmless teenagers playing the field in the middle of the night. Feels like New Jersey.
The mall was... a mall. Mid-range quality stuff. No stores I recognized. Interesting: no anchor stores at all. There were maybe a dozen equivalents of the Hallmark store, another dozen Gap knockoffs. One hilarious lingerie store called something like "Sassy Woman." I wanted to go in and get something, but thought better of it. The promenades around the stores were mostly empty, so I checked the glowing map, all marked up in English and Arabic. You are here... prayer room... women's prayer room... ah! Food court, all the way down.
I descended escalator after escalator as the hum of crowds for louder until... FOOD COURT. There were two western-looking schwarma stands next to each other, the rest was US franchise standard. Pizza Hut, KFC, Sbarro, McDonalds, Burger King. I ordered a schwarma and the kid looked shocked that anyone had come to his corner of hell. It was pretty tasty.
But yeah yeah, you know the drill, "everything's the same yet so different," or "oh my gawd American pseudoculture has permeated everything." Whatever. I people watched for a bit and had a serious, SERIOUS what-the-hell moment. I stood up and walked around the jam-packed seating area to confirm my terrifying hunch.
Every single person in the food court was eating pizza.