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Friday, June 06, 2008

A Festival Within a Festival

Place: The Milky Way
Mood: Exhausted

Song: Camino * Murcof

(After you read this post, you will understand why I chose the Milky Way. As to Camino, it was a path, a long way. And Murcof knows how to make you feel the torturous nightly paths perfectly.)

photo credit by Jens Hackmann

Five months of work. All faded away within a couple of days.

The whole preparation for our participation to the 61st Cannes Film Festival faded away within a couple of days.

Because of yet another silly war.
Because of yet another overtly political lose-lose tour-de-force.
Because of yet another reason to shatter the already shattered country.

I – The Departure

Wednesday May 7th, 2008: Beirut International Airport shut down by Hezbollah-led opposition, until further notice.

Thursday May 8th, 2008: West Beirut is violently shaken by riots of all sorts between the opposition and the pro-Hariri clan leaving many casualties.

Friday May 9th, 2008: The airport is still closed and the situation is aggravating. We cancel our reservations to Cannes. Although our accreditations are done, our apartments are reserved (and paid in advance), our stand and equipment are confirmed at the Market.

Saturday and Sunday May 10th and 11th, 2008: The conflict moves to various other regions in Lebanon.

Tuesday May 13th, 2008: Our French partners leave Paris to Cannes. Hauvick, my Lebanese roommate-to-be in Cannes asks if I want to go with him through the Syrian borders. I agree. Nothing is certain, nothing is scheduled.

Wednesday May 14th: Cannes festival’s inauguration with the Brazilian film Blindness.
1:00 PM: Hauvick calls and says he made a reservation from Damascus to Milano. There were no flights to France (all flights were full). Just had the time to pack and shower.

5:00 PM: We left with a Lebanese Taxi to the freshly opened Lebanese-Syrian borders.

7:15 PM: At the Syrian borders, the officer asks us if it’s our first time in Syria. Hauvick says yes, and the officer automatically claims “well, typical of you Lebanese. If your airport is not closed, you never come to Syria.”

7:30 PM: Never trust a Syrian cab. He always asks for more. He made enough excuses to get more $$$. But then again, you don’t want to get in trouble with this 70-year-old almost blind and sweaty Syrian driver as the night is approaching.

8:30 PM: Arrival to Damascus (International) Airport. We wait for ever until boarding time.

Do I look tired already at the Damascus airport?

Thursday May 15th: (no one knows how the hours have passed at the café of the airport)

1:00 AM: Boarding time. Hauvick has made my reservation in Beirut but did not buy the ticket. So I had to pay it in Damascus. But what a boarding. Certainly the most chaotic I’ve ever witnessed. Handwritten papers are suddenly placed instead of electronic signs to inform that these counters are for the plane leaving to Prague. I am handed the boarding pass without having paid my ticket. Refusing to get into trouble later, I ask the guy at the counter. He replies that I cannot pay because his boss is asleep. I told him I am traveling and I will pay now. He goes and talks to a superior which tells him to wake the ‘chief.’ He then asks his superior how will the chief know the ticket prize, and his superior answers “he has a laptop. Laptops know everything.”

3:00 AM: after some money stealing on stamps and various other issues, we head to the gate. Undoubtedly, 80% of the travelers on this plane are Lebanese, 15% are foreigners fleeing Lebanon and the remaining 5% are Syrians.

3:15 AM: Plane takes off from Damascus to Prague. The nightmare is over (or we thought it was).

6:30 AM: Plane lands in Prague International Airport with a 10-minute delay. After passport and baggage control, we arrive to the Milan gate only to know that the plane has left without us.

Welcome to Praha International Airport!

7:10 AM: We head to the customer services who barely understand English and said that we should pay fines because we were late for the flight. After several verbal fights and explanations, they shift us to a flight from Prague to Milan through Alitalia.

10:00 AM: After a painstaking 3-hour wait which seemed to last forever, we leave to Milan.

11:30 AM: We arrive, exhausted to Milan Malpensa Airport. We decide to check on plane availabilities to Nice. But neither Alitalia nor Air France do have flights to Nice that day. We are told to check the train station. At the airport, we are informed that the last train to Nice is at 3:30 PM. But we have to take a bus which takes an hour to Milan Central Station.

At the Milano Centra Station (Bibite??)

2:00 PM: We arrive to Milan Central Station after a small tour in the city. We book our tickets to Nice and from Nice to Cannes. We eat in an Italian restaurant and I order a delicious Penne Al’Arabiata.

The Delicious Milanese Penne!

3:30 PM: Departure to Nice.

6:00 PM: Or somewhere around that hour, we hear in the speakers that there is a general railway strike in France, therefore this train will not be heading to Nice anymore but rather will reach only Vintimiglia (last Italian town before the French borders). We are exhausted, we haven’t slept for more than 24 hours, and now we have one more problem to think about.

7:00 PM: After many negotiations with authorities, we hear that there will be a train which will take all passengers from Vintimiglia to Nice.

8:00 PM: Arrival to Vintimiglia. Hauvick has a quick ice cream.

Quick pose in Vintimiglia before departure

8:15 PM: Departure from Vintimiglia to Nice.

9:00 PM: Arrival to Nice. As there is a general strike, all train flights were interrupted. Needless to say, our Nice-Cannes tickets are nonrefundable since they were bought in Italy. No buses, and barely any cabs.

9:30 PM: We finally find one which accepts to take us to Cannes for 85€.

10:00 PM: We arrive to our apartment in Cannes. The third person who’s living with us is watching a film in the festival. We had to wait until 11:00 PM to be able to get in.

Friday May 16th:

7:00 AM: I wake up, have a shower and head to work.

After 30 hours, we have made it.

II – The Festival in Photos

Some Celebs in Cannes - from top left and clockwise: Nuri Bilge Ceylan, giving an interview at the Turkish stand on his latest film: Three Monkeys / Turkish director Fatih Akin, president of the Jury of the Un Certain Regard section, at the Awards closing ceremony / Jackie Chan / Lebanese actor Rabih Mroue and French actress Catherine Deneuve after the screening of the film Je Veux Voir / Lebanese directors Khalil Joreige and Joana Hadjithomas presenting the film Je Veux Voir / Askat Kuchinchirekov, leading actor of the Kazakh winning film Tulpan / Madge presenting her documentary on Malawi on the Red Carpet.

Needless to tell you that Renault is the official sponsor for the transportation of all of these celebrities in Cannes!

No comments!

With my colleague Héloïse, after the screening of Three Monkeys

The every night ritual after the screenings: a pineapple and tiramisu ice cream!

Before the Red Carpet Walk ...

... and during the Red Carpet Walk!

And the photographers, also known as photowhores!

Our stand in Cannes

A very Cuban première for the Che!

Rainy edition for the cinema de la plage

Sushi with Menem (pause-déjeuner à la française)

With my friend Wafa', during her birthday

III – The Return

Friday May 23rd 2008: Final word from my colleague in Beirut that my ticket cannot be changed to Beirut because it was bought from Damascus. Therefore I have to make the same trajectory again: Cannes – Nice – MilanPragueDamascusBeirut. Final word from my cousin in Paris who confirms likewise: the ticket can only be changed in Damascus. I head to the SNCF to get my train tickets to Milan. Departure Sunday May 25th at 10:00 AM to Nice and 11:30 AM from Nice to Milan. Flight to Prague at 7:00 PM.

Sunday May 25th 2008: I head to the SNCF only to see an excruciating of travelers. And a sign that reads: general railway strike: all trains are cancelled…

Leaving terra ...

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Blogger mehmet said...

oh wow. that sounds like so much effort to get there, but i guess it eventually paid off :).

that was an enjoyable read, though - thanks for sharing!

5:00 AM, June 07, 2008  
Anonymous Olii said...

Mamma mia, Rabih:)!!!
You made it, you little Tiny one:)!

8:56 PM, June 07, 2008  

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