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I remember being at Amman's QAIA, transiting on my way to Dubai back in the '80s, listening to a group of Christian tourists headed to Cairo. They were a snippy, ancient little lot and two or three of the men were jostling for dominance in the way only the English can: "With the greatest respect, Jolyon, I think we should be better rewarded worrying about quite where our luggage is..." and all that. They settled down to pray and I listened in, marvelling at their strange, Pythonesque faith. "Oh Lord, take care of us as we set out for Cairo, particularly Phyllis who is having trouble with her feet. Let us not have our bags stolen or drink anything with ice in it or otherwise get upset tummies."
Not that the risk of the latter is anything to sneer at. I have been miserably ill thanks to Cairene food, which is (unless something has changed in all those years) almost always 'interesting' at best. My constant travelling companions were always Immodium and Buscopan. I remember one Comdex Cairo a chap out from the UK who had brought an attaché case (I kid you not) of Jacob's Cream Crackers which, together with bottled water, is all he would allow past his lips for fear of The Cairene Revenge. All went swimmingly until the last day of the show when he injudiciously allowed a business partner to buy him a Pepsi. It had ice in it.
BLAM. He went down faster than a goat hit by a Pajero.*
I'm going back at the end of the month, thanks to a kind invitation to attend a conference taking place at the famed Townhouse Gallery, 'MENA. Online. Literature. Today.' The nice chaps at Townhouse seem to be under the misapprehension I have something to do with literature, can string together a coherent sentence in public and won't burn the place down.
They're clearly in for a terrible shock.
The conference aims to review the state of Middle East publishing, from the structure of the current publishing market to disruptive effects such as self publishing, small presses, ebooks and online publishing platforms. It'll also look at areas such as online governance, activism and censorship. It's a fascinating initiative and I, for one, am looking forward to encountering the various players and their viewpoints at the event.
I'm looking forward to it tremendously, wondering quite what I'll find compared to the city I knew and loved/loathed way back then.
* You might think that's a strange, Dan Brown-like choice of metaphors, but I have hit a goat with a Pajero and can assure you they drop fast, baby.