The Winter’s Tale, IV, 3:
CLOWN: I cannot do’t without counters. Let me see; what am I to buy for our sheep-shearing feast? Three pound of sugar, five pound of currants, rice,–what will this sister of mine do with rice? But my father hath made her mistress of the feast, and she lays it on. She hath made me four and twenty nose-gays for the shearers, three-man-song-men all, and very good ones; but they are most of them means and bases; but one puritan amongst them, and he sings psalms to horn-pipes. I must have saffron to colour the warden pies; mace; dates?–none, that’s out of my note; nutmegs, seven; a race or two of ginger, but that I may beg; four pound of prunes, and as many of raisins o’ the sun.
Sounds like the shopping list for an iftar feast, doesn’t it? (Never mind about the puritan.) What got me curious about Shakespeare and dates in the first place was a prior curiosity about the Cairo dried fruit market. Every year at Ramadan, merchants name their wares after politicians and other celebrities, both to attract customers and to show off their sense of humor. So I wanted to see what they were calling them this year. Disconcertingly, no individual names seem to have emerged – the principle of “the revolution” has not yet produced any actually plausible leaders. Still, it’s nice to see the post-Mubarak spirit finding its way into the market, according to this article published on July 26:
One brand of dates is called ‘Revolution’, another ‘Martyrs’, a third “January 25” and a fourth ‘Freedom’.“All the brands are expensive, because they stand for something special,” [one customer] told the Egyptian Mail in an interview.This year, as Ramadan approaches, dates have assumed proud revolutionary names, which show that this revolution, for which people were longing for decades, has developed a commercial flavour. The most expensive dates on the markets, the above-mentioned ‘Revolution’, sell for LE15 ($2.50) per kilo.The cheapest dates are called ‘Tora Prisoners’, reflecting the popular anger at scores of former officials and ministers who are now in Tora Prison in southern Cairo.But none of the brands is named after the former president, who is hospitalised in Sharm el-Sheikh, or his wife and his two sons, although the latter are indeed Tora prisoners.
Well, Egyptians can have very short memories sometimes – at least that’s what the Date Market Index suggests. In 2009, Gulf News reports, the most succulent and expensive dates were named after President Obama.
Quite a change from 2001-2, when I last lived in Egypt. At that time, Ramadan was in November-December, date prices were very high, and Al-Ahram Weekly had this report:
There are six kinds of dates to be found at the market: Sakouti, Baladi, Gandillah, Gargoudah, Malikani and Bartamouda. Others, Nashed says, are given names by their sellers who often draw on current events or famous people. As the attack against America and the war in Afghanistan are today’s main topics of conversation, “Osama Bin Laden is the king of the market,” one merchant told Al-Ahram Weekly. According to this seller, the price of a kilo of Bin Laden has reached LE16 [at that time about $4.50] within the market and LE20 outside. And what about Bush? “He has no place in the market,” was the final and decisive answer.