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Journal to Alexandria

Part VI

14 July 2003

~2:00pm Glym Beach
(“beach” rock-side cafe for lunch)

I dedicated the morning to my Russian visa, though perhaps I am not sure why I return there. $75 for Egyptians; $200 for “Westerners”. AIDS test needed! Done. Nonsense.
All is going well, but I want to change. How shall I?

15 July 2003

~10:30 am Union Hotel 30 balcony

After doing all the visa-related acts yesterday, I went to the beach (actually rock) road, ambling east for a better view, and locating a bright cafe built out over the water, where I sat for rest and lunch. The strong breeze was a bit blocked by the concrete wall, and the view by the metal railings, but all in all the place was pleasant, and I ordered salad, a chicken sandwich and “cola” (i.e. Coca-Cola). Noting that the man sitting next to me was reading English, and seemed a serious fellow – or in such a situation, or mood – I, wanting, indeed needing, to speak with some Egyptian about life here – asked if he spoke English. And soon I had joined him for a 3-hour talk on Egypt, America, Islam, Christianity, politics, democracy, the US government, NY vs Cairo, crime here and there, marriage, etc. He was indeed Egyptian – but with many years in the USA. Washington State University, Columbia University, teaching bio-mechanics. A professor. At the very end of our talk I learned his name to be Mohammad Al S. – now living in Greenville, North Carolina, retired. (Wished I could have gotten a card or email contact from him, and while he said he wished that he had one, he offered none, so I did not ask…would have liked further contact, as I want to establish an intellectual contact here, and he was intelligent, open friendly, traveled, etc.) We, as noted, spoke of many things. And he confirmed – as we compared e.g. NY to Cairo, USA to Egypt regarding street crime – what Hossam abo el M. said of the near absence of such crime common in the USA. (Mohammad had some stories, and observations in this regard. Indeed, he had arrived in the USA when I became an adult, so we had experienced much of the same things, events there. He must have been in his late-to-mid 60’s.) I soon could feel the different angles on life here, culture, Egypt, etc, in this much more experienced and traveled…indeed in this more, perhaps I could say, “liberal” Muslim. Hossam certainly gave me a more conservative view of things. Hossam’s saying that – could he afford it financially (to not need earn money for his family and future) – he would prefer to live in the Old Islamic area or Cairo. “This is life” he said a few times while we were there. (I have since thought how different the meaning of “this is the life” can be!) Mohammad – though at that point neither of us had even thought to exchange names – had a much more open, even learned view of society. He spoke of how much he believed in America when he went there. Of how then and now, amongst many people, America was a real force for good and democracy in the world. A belief that he said he gradually lost in the USA, as did many in Egypt by the USA’s “unfair” support/influence of the Jewish and Israel. He spoke of Arabs as the less-loved son of a father (America); who felt hurt and angry, but still wanting “love” from his father.
He spoke of Bush and the Christian Right as mis-leading America. Of how much America should (could?) have been a force of democracy in the world; how much of the world would even still now rally behind the USA, if they saw that it had changed to represent democracy, freedom, etc. for all people. He spoke of the “Bell Curve” as to Islamic fanatics and passionate liberals, with most people in the middle.

There were many more aspects to this talk on the Mediterranean.
I have lost my belief that the beach is quieter and sandier on the other side of Al Silsila (at the new library), as I saw that there are no (few if any) proper beaches here; just crowded sandy “beach” areas which have been created by jetties. And there seems to be not one hotel on the water directly – so that all must face four or six lines of traffic and noise. Convenient I suppose – but not for the soul. The beautiful view is ruined by the noise (though it was almost silent at ~ 3 am).

4:45 pm

Union 30

Were I yet, or ever, more of a sensualist, I might more appreciate and savor this sea breeze and scene. But as I am, I probably long since seek (what Russians call) new impressions that are not of this world. Deep, novel or intriguing sights, insights, or ideas are the closest I can likely sensibly come.
One man in this “2-star” hotel looks the part of sensualist. Something satyr-like and exhausted in his long-haired, mid-30s, experienced face, as he bobbed to trivial beat-music on the TV, and his small CD player, had me wonder whether he might not partake of the hashish the street dealer (and “tourists’ guide”) proffered me some 3 days ago. I told him that doing such was 20, but I could have said 25 years ago for me.
There are details to Origen’s story too much or to the side for me, but I shall see what still appeals to me.

6:30 pm

Union 30

Saad Zaghlul Square

Finished with profit and appreciator “Alexandria – Past, Present and Future” by Jean-Yves Empereur. I have not read the “Documents” in full – but read from chapter 4 to the end the past couple of hours. Very helpful to me. Interesting history. Now too I understand theses “villas” I came across here and there, as well as general architecture. The many flavors (i.e. styles) the buildings – so much European...but where are they [the Europeans], I wondered. I walked up to the main Fort Qaitbay last night – and maybe saw 4-5 foreigners the whole evening. The Suez Canal related expulsions of foreigners…now I understand much more what I see here. Including 26th July Street and Saad Zaghlul Square. Why things seemed as “European” – without the Europeans. Not sure what Americans came here, and left notable notes. What anyway could I write that has not already been written? I might repeat well, but whatever I would write would at best be a re-stating of what authors might have said before. Received – thanks to Compte Jean Francois de Gallup de La Perouse and the internet and David Wansbrough and Egyptian “exiles” in Sydney Australia – a contact name at the library here via Lorenzo M.

Fort Qaitbay

7:30 pm

Reading Empereur’s work on Alexandria, I am brought to mind of the long (“flow” is too smooth a word!) course of events that have happened here. I shall take impressions from here, but leave little those passing and trivial in the few people I interest as one of the not many Americans here. The events of history here – what is left of them but stones, bones and buildings. Senseless in itself – a great show of faces, powers, scenes, rises, falls, improvements, collapses. In this long tale indeed Alexandria does give greater perspective (perhaps depression?) than ~860 Moscow, or certainly 300 year-old Mobile [Alabama]. Alexandria the Great started a city some 2300 years ago, and people living here can still not agree on whether and what to conserve and/or develop.
It seems to me that the curvature of the earth is visible in the sea I see. Is that possible from the 5th floor?

By Stephen Lapeyrouse