Andreas Economakis

Yiayia and Boy George (photo by Andreas Economakis)

“Perfect Makeup”

by Andreas Economakis

My grandmother Anastasia, or yiayia as I called her, must have studied Zen. She could spend hours seated motionless in her jewelry store in the Nile Hilton, a geriatric Greek sphinx staring blankly ahead. Overwhelmed by the utter tranquility in her shop, I would escape as often as I could whenever I visited her in the summers, wandering around the dusty and chaotic streets of Cairo for as long as I could stand. I would beat a hasty retreat to the cool sanctuary of the air-conditioned Hilton, with its refreshing “Asir Lemoon” lemonades and overwhelmed pink tourists, only when my feet could carry me no longer through the blazing Saharan heat and pungent city smells.

Cairo has a peculiar odor. Anyone who’s ever visited this ancient bustling city of 17 million or so souls will attest to this. You become aware of the city’s pungency from the very moment the airplane doors crack open on the sizzling tarmac of Cairo International Airport. I’m not a smell specialist, but if you put me in a headlock I guess I’d equate the city’s smells to a batch of ripe tropical fruit fermenting in old petrol smog. The Hilton was a natural haven from all this, a controlled oasis of sorts. Like any desert wanderer, I would invariably end up at the oasis when on the verge of heat stroke. In fact, I think the Hilton’s café was named The Oasis, if my memory serves me right.

There was a bookstore next to my grandmother’s shop and I started buying and feverishly reading anything I could lay my hands on. I would sit in this red and white vinyl chair behind the spotless glass of the jewelry store’s front door for hours, my head buried in Hemingway and Kazantzakis and London and Marquez. Occasionally, I would peak out at the crowds of sweaty tourists that drifted by, chuckling to myself, knowing full well what state the poor sods were in. I’ve never been good at playing salesman and I generally ignored my grandmother’s pleas to help with the odd customers who walked in, preferring my role as family bookworm. My grandmother would yell at me for reading so much, telling me that it was bad for me.

One day, I looked up into the Hilton lobby and saw Boy George walk by. I couldn’t believe my eyes. There he was, in his black robe, jewels, long hair, bangles, make up and signature bowler hat. “Dirty, filthy hippie!” my grandmother blared out, shifting uncomfortably her seat. “I bet he sleeps with dogs!” she added. I stared at my grandmother with wide eyes, not so much surprised at her comment but at the fact that she had moved in her seat. I explained that he was a famous musician, a very rich, dirty filthy hippie. “Really?” she asked all bright-eyed and bushy tailed. My grandmother might have been conservative, but a fool she was not. Visibly excited, she asked me to bring him into the store so she could meet him.

I ran out into the lobby and caught up with Boy right before he went into The Oasis. “You’re Boy George!” I said, eyelashes batting up and down over the big stupid grin that was plastered all over my face. Boy stopped and turned toward me, smiling. A pleasant smell overtook my nostrils. 150 degrees outside but the man smelled like a bouquet of freshly cut flowers. I told him that my grandmother wanted to meet him and pointed to our shop. He courteously followed me in and I made the introductions. Boy’s presence seemed to overwhelm my grandmother. It was as if an alien from planet Zork had stepped into her inner sanctuary. She totally forgot that she wanted to sell him some jewels. The only thing she could think of to say to Boy was that his make-up was perfect. Her own was always too heavy, gooped on as if with a builder’s spatula.

Perhaps feeling awkward at all the silence, Boy smiled and excused himself. My grandmother sprang back to life and asked me to ask him if I could take a photo of the two of them together. Boy said of course and I trained my pocket Hanimex on them, snapping what was to be my first “celebrity” photograph. Boy kissed my breathless grandmother on the cheek and exited with his invisible bouquet of sweet flowers. I ran up to Boy in the lobby to thank him. Right then another member of Culture Club walked up and looked at me with a mischievous look. Then Boy asked me if I wanted to join him and the band for a drink up in his room. They all giggled flirtatiously. I kindly declined and wandered back to my grandmother’s store as Boy and the band headed to the elevators.

“A nice man,” my grandmother said, “even though he dresses and smells like a girl.”

“Yeah,” I replied, my eyes trained on a white poodle that was being led through the lobby toward the elevators by a tiny bellhop in a silly outfit. The bellhop and the poodle followed a giggling Boy and the band into the elevator.

“But you can’t judge a book by its cover,” I added, just as the elevator’s doors closed with a ding.

–Andreas Economakis

This piece is part of a collection of stories on blindness entitled: The Blindness of Life.

Copyright © 2011, Andreas Economakis. All rights reserved.

For more stories by Andreas Economakis click on the author’s name below.

Omar Khadr disrespecting a normal reality

long time , in a yellow history



much more at 5 am

The scene while autumn starts

here and now

it was ramadan

his new look

old yellow sculpture


“Suddenly, lately, very lately, I realized that I love yellow”.

Omar Khadr, a 19-year-old Egyptian photographer, writer, law student at Alexandria University and a jazz enthusiast.

Editor’s Note: It seemed to me (going through his facebook albums) that he’s obsessed with yellow. When I asked him, he said: “it’s a bit confusing. Yellow is associated with depression and sickness, but it could also be vulgar should you, for example, paint your wall yellow. I find it very expressive of any state. Most of the photos I use yellow filters on have different subject matters; I see yellow in everything: in the face of a laughing little girl or a bustling cityscape. Some find this annoying, while others see it as an Omar Khadr trademark. But in recent photos I’ve distanced myself a little from yellow to avoid being limited by a certain approach and vision that will eventually grow tedious to people.”

Evidently, Omar has no respect for “normal”. None of his photographs pretend to depict “real” colors of “real” life in Alexandria or Cairo. Long time, in a yellow history (1st photo) and old yellow sculpture (10th) have the same subject of Orientalist paintings and photographs; yet, while Orientalist art claims to recreate an exotic reality in paintings and photographs, Omar just puts them through a yellow filter that strips them of every “realistic” quality. There’s nothing fascinating or exotic about an alley in Cairo, it’s as vulgar as any other alley on any given day.

Some photographs were shot in Alexandria, others in Cairo.

Omar Khadr on Flickr.

Omar Khadr, by Youssif Mohi.


Khan el-Khalili market in Cairo. Photograph by Andreas Economakis.


by Andreas Economakis

“Huh, huh,” he laughs, an almost perfect imitation of Beavis.  Or is it Butthead?

We are speeding down a narrow, ultra-busy Cairo street in a small white mini-van, packed in like sweaty, oily sardines.  The scene on the streets is straight out of National Geographic.  Poverty everywhere, barefoot children with cigarettes dangling from their lips, businessmen in gelabias getting their shoes shined, mangy dogs sleeping on car roofs, street vendors hacking fruit in two, cars practically dancing with the pedestrians, squinting policemen clutching AK-47’s, mountains of garbage on every street.

“Look son, they’re all wearing pajamas!” says Bill, the director.

“Huh, huh,” his son replies.

What a hallucinatory experience this must be for them.  Cairo is their first ever trip outside of the continental United States.  They just arrived the night before with the rest of the film crew from LA.  We are barreling out of Cairo into the desert, on our way to St. Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai desert.

“Towel Heads!” remarks the huh-huh kid.  Why did Bill bring him along?  We are going to be the laughing stock of St. Catherine’s.

On the dusty highway outside of Cairo, Ron, the assistant cameraman, pulls out a handheld GPS unit and starts punching its buttons.

“It can tell us where we are and how fast we’re going,” he tells me all excited, his eyes glued to the little LCD.  Should I tell him that we’re in a small white van in the Egyptian desert, and that the van’s speedometer says we’re doing 110 kilometers per hour?  I shutter and watch my reflection on the minivan window reflecting on the desert.

Three days later, in the Monastery, the huh-huh kid makes a brilliant observation:  “Why are all these Greek dudes wearing robes?  I bet they’re all a bunch of fags!  Huh, huh…”.

I look at him wide eyed, contemplating my response.  Father Daniel saves me from losing my job.  He grabs my arm and tells everyone he needs to show me something.  The two of us end up in the Monastery’s refectory, next to the bakery.  We speak in Greek.

“This place is over 1500 years old and most of your crew is clueless to our ways, our customs, our history,” he tells me.

“They just want to shoot icons and go back home,” I answer, munching the Monastery’s stone-crushed green olives.

He smiles and says: “So be it.  That’s what you’re paying for, I guess.  It’s a shame though, that they don’t even express an interest…”.

Father Daniel takes me to the woodcarving area of the Monastery, a small hut just outside Emperor Justinian’s big walls.  In the hut I meet a young Greek carpenter named Sotos, who is working on a piece of an iconostasis.  His craftsmanship is incredible, his hands effortlessly carving little wooden flowers and birds at play.  He misses Greece.  We all do.  We take shots of tsipouro and eat some of Sotos’ vegetable soup, watching the sun dip over the red-green hills.  The colors keep changing hues, making the hills dance against the light blue desert sky.

When Daniel and I get back to the room, we find the huh-huh kid hunched over his Game Boy.  He doesn’t notice Father Daniel walk by with the 6th century encaustic icon of Jesus.  Jesus’ bloodshot left eye is looking directly at the huh-huh kid.

“Dude, beat that,” the huh-huh kid says, handing his Game Boy over to Ron.

–Andreas Economakis

This piece is part of a collection of stories on blindness entitled: The Blindness of Life.

Andreas Economakis is a film director, writer and father of a curly-haired girl named after Anaïs Nin and Melina Mercouri. He calls Los Angeles, Athens and Nisyros his “home.”  Greek when in the USA and American when in Greece, Andreas constantly relies on his past as a bicycle messenger, cabinet resurfacer, maintenance mechanic,  airport shuttle driver,  alumni development fundraising researcher and  film production manager to avoid typical office jobs and the odd redneck spitball.

Copyright © 2010, Andreas Economakis. All rights reserved.

For more stories by Andreas Economakis click on the author’s name below.