Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Night's rebirth?

Going out to dinner, a club or a movie are things I take for granted, and I don't have to worry about a militarily-enforced curfew.

Baghdad is another story. Years of violence have meant people stay home at night, away from car bombings targeting restaurants and theaters. Clubs are few and far between, and the streets must be completely clear by the midnight curfew.

A recent lag in violence has coincided with a rise in evening social activities. Nightlife may be making a comeback in Iraq's weary capital.

I worked with Anthony Shadid on a story about a new, enormous, spectacularly-decorated restaurant called the Lebanese Club. If you'd enjoy reading Anthony's story about this Baghdad destination, click here. He really captured the flavor of nightlife in Baghdad.

The main dining room of the Lebanese Club. The manager, chef and much of the wait staff are actually from Lebanon.

Outdoor seating affords a view of the Tigris and a distant oil refinery.

The main dining room. (The air conditioning bills for this place must be outrageous!)

A V.I.P. room, "ala Scarface," as Anthony put it. The best quote was from the Lebanese manager of the club, Antoine al-Hage: "Where there's war, there's lots of money."

The guard room outside the Lebanese Club. Because, V.I.P.'s of course have lots of bodyguards.

In comparison, one of Baghdad's more typical eating establishments--bright, colorful and full of glass.

This family restaurant also had a bit of a unique style, complete with live parakeets, mannequins and a saxophone-playing Santa .

Chile restaurant had a shisha cafe attached. Wish I could have smoked one there, but glassy restaurants are still pretty much off-limits to foreigners.

Some young guys smoking shisha in the cafe.

Anthony and I also attended the premiere of an Iraqi-made feature-length movie, the first to come out in a long time.

The movie was called "Son of Babylon," was directed by young Iraqi Mohamed Al-Diradji and was filmed entirely in Iraq. It screened at the Sundance Film Festival. The film was all in Kurdish with Arabic subtitles, so I couldn't understand much of the plot. Basically it's about a boy and his grandmother who go in search of the boy's father, sometime around the American invasion in 2003.

Another great story by Mr. Shadid can be found here.

The street where the theater was located was closed off to traffic and guarded by Iraqi National Army soldiers and tanks.

Everyone got the friendly pat-down at the door. It was a pleasure to see so many people at the film's red-carpet premiere. A very special evening for Iraqis.

No popcorn at this theater, just hamburgers. And tea.

Then the audience found their seats and waited for the movie to start...

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