an American's Reflections - Stephen Lapeyrouse’s website

Journal to Alexandria
3 July – 23 July 2003

Part I

Publication in the magazine English
Publication in the magazine English

Having visited Egypt from Russia for three four-star tourist-resort week-visits during the past couple of years, I came to realize that I could hope for little more than trivial experiences and understandings of Egypt in this way (cf. English, #24, 2003), and that I wanted to know more. So I decided I would devote my summer vacation time in 2003 to “cultural exploration” of and in Egypt.

Mid to late summer in Cairo for 4-5 weeks I could only imagine as just too mercilessly hot for anything which should also resemble a summer rest. Somehow Alexandria came to mind…Egypt, the Mediterranean Sea, the new Library of Alexandria,…perhaps there?

Reflecting on this, I recalled how I had long come, as an intellectual adult, to consider myself not the “Episcopalian” Christian I was born and raised as in the USA, but as an “Alexandrian Christian”, a believer (not in the Alexandrian Church, but) in the “Alexandrian Church Fathers”, whose systems and ideas, were I came to find, closest to my own gradually wrought views.

But what relation does the Alexandria of today have with these ideas and origins from some seventeen centuries ago? I had no idea. So, knowing not much more than that Alexander the Great had established this city on his way to the Temple of Ammon in the desert in 331 BC, and that a new library, which would somehow replace the famed lost, burnt one has been built, and that none of my fairly well-traveled friends in America or Europe could give me any contacts in Egypt…I decided to take a journey to Alexandria, of which the below is the first part of my “journal to Alexandria”.

My original journal notes will be in normal script; most additional, explanatory and/or other useful notes and information will be [in brackets].

Stephen Lapeyrouse

Moscow December 5, 2003


3 July 2003
6:35 pm Sheremetyevo 2

“Waiting for a plane” – Egypt Air Flight 830, Thursdays to Cairo.

In order for me to be, to become, “harmonious and calm” as N. once perhaps somewhat as a provocation suggested – I would need, for recent instance, to be able to be indifferent to where on a plane I might end up in economy class being seated, in order to be calm during the needed formalities preparing for a flight, especially but not only for international flights. Certainly I get “nervous” – with uncontrolled energy – trying to get into place so as to get the seat I want. (Here “seat selection” is for the more expensive, or early seats – the level of civilization here, though “improving”, is still 15-25 years behind America in this technical aspect.)

Glimpsing the title of Goethe’s Italian Journey as I – Russian style – sat by my luggage [in my apartment in Moscow] for some moments to well-augur my coming trip to Alexandria…it is not an “Egyptian Journey” though, I hope that indeed Alexandria (b. “331 BC-”) is enough to keep me attentive and thinking for the three weeks I am there. And yes, that depends essentially on me: what do I now, at 50, this month, year, mood, condition, “see” there. For certainly one person might see all he or she could and would in a day. For I shall surely see the city and its life rather differently than many, if not most, others.

In this time of “globalized-uniform” dress style – I was glad to see an older Japanese man in a sort of brown robe and sandals heading to the Tokyo flight. He was soon followed by a cheap looking Japanese (?) woman trying to copy the Western? European? dress style – except for the light-dark tattoos she had on her visible lower legs.

I get “nervous” – like my “energy” is in a slightly uncontrolled boil. Will I ever reach a calm – it is surely in part desire, the wish to have what I want.

Viewing the other Egypt-bound passengers – I recognize that I shall be in a “white” minority (until I get a dark tan, and yet permanently as to my lighter, soft, curly-tending hair).

I need to get out of town – and hope that the many new coming impressions will displace any need (I do desire) to put my Moscow life out of my mind.

A fake passport ring was caught recently – so reports The Moscow Times – as seller of fake passports – which perhaps also included contract-killers with a pre-paid passport and air-ticket out.

Former Foreign Service officer JB emails me from the DC area [District of Columbia, USA] a piece yesterday on forbidden words, pictures, idea, expressions, etc, in the politically correct equality America of today. Knowledge is equal, too. Such people and movements in culture could easily be “blown” in a different direction in a decade or two.

I have for some while considered myself of the Alexandrian Christian “school” – or so I romanticized in those times. So let us – I and the reader – see what there is of that Alexandria in Alexandria today. If anything!


9:15 pm (Moscow time)

Though I asked for and was assured I had an “emergency exit” seat (the Russian woman kindly – and unexpectedly – confirming it with the Egypt Air ‘ground crew manager’) in order to not be knee-cramped like I was in two cattle-car charter flights to Egypt from Moscow before – I find not only that this Egypt Air weekly flight has plenty of leg space… I got a clear-view window seat in a row of three by myself… the plane is clean, the crew well-trained, -mannered and friendly…and in further contrast to most (but no longer all) Aeroflot flights…that instead of cheap pop music, the passengers were welcomed by classical music.


4 July 2003
Cairo ~7:00 pm

Photo by Stephen Lapeyrouse

I am sitting on the third floor of an ~150 year-old city building in what my kind, helpful, quiet-but-proud guide Hossam Abo El M. says is the very center of Cairo (Talaat Harb Square). And as we walked the middle of the night streets yesternight, seeing the semi-lit and shadowed buildings on the street here near the “Tulip Hotel”, seeing the shops, the vegetable market, smelling the smells, watching the people,…just some 5 hours out of Moscow (not some 4 days or weeks or so of perhaps a century ago)…I could not but accept that we were indeed in the center. The famous Egyptian library is 3 minutes walk away. Sitting in that cafe drinking that delicious glass of krakade, and – after the dire warnings from Moscow of hot as hell (not the Scandinavian cold “hell”!) Egypt, the cool evening was a real delight.

As I sit in this hotel breakfast room area near the great window of the “hotel” – I can hear the street sounds of the sunsetting city. The sun sets, the people set out. The ceilings in the pre-AC [air-conditioning] building are 10 yards (5 meters) high. I have a noisy AC if I need it – but it seemed so cool last night that I shall try the climate’s “AC” tonight. Mosquitoes?

The people – whose combinations of faces and manners and so on is rather novel in such quantities, and where I am a noticed “minority” – stroll across the roundabout near where I shall be for this week weaving with the cars in a mutual indifference to any traffic and “jay-walking” rules there may or may not be.

Hossam is kind, helpful. Organized – but thoughtful and attentive. Proud and knowledgeable of his country. Some $120 for 7 nights hotel here. I doubt it worries about “stars” – and it could sell its phone switchboard in the US as an antique for lots of money I suspect.


8 pm

Looking out the window, watching, observing, considering. Egyptian women I see most – though not all, in Cairo – cover all but the face and hands – in nomime Mohammed. Those who disregard this, and dress with hair exposed, and Western…bring me to the thought: people simply copy the ruling style. And love it and/or hate it: that is American!

The number of actual, registered black-doored white taxis is uncountable.

Photo by Stephen Lapeyrouse

I turn to find a man who I have noticed lounging due to the heat in this modest hotel, is doing his prayer-prostrations towards Mecca. As natural to him here as my being a sweet but uncomprehending acolyte [as a boy in America], or my brother bowing when the cross passes up the aisle [in the Episcopalian Church service]. It surely says something more than “God is great”, that the ritual requires bowing as to an omnipotent pharaoh. Here – clearly – Christianity is the “distant error” – though Hossam says that there are often Coptic churches and mosques near each other. The latter can see the former as a dated precursor – but how do the Copts see the Muslims?

One in several thousand Egyptian women are fully robed in black – though 3 just entered a shop with their husbands [on the street] below.

Today – on the Nile boat of perhaps all but one Egyptian – the local police (when we docked) wanted to know where I was from, where I was staying, etc. Hossam told them I was Russian, thinking that if they knew I was in fact American (where few enough foreigners apparently come to tread), that they would detail a guard to escort and protect us in their area. I was seen as a VIP – Very Important Potential victim to protect.

Protecting tourists is a serious state-economic issue here.

Part II

5 July 2003
Cairo Room 34 Tulip Hotel

Hossam tells me that in Aswan the air is very dry – not like in Cairo. So that 45-50°C there is better than 35°C in more humid Cairo – where one sweats. It is indeed hot and somewhat oppressive at 1-2 pm in Cairo’s streets, but it is little compared, even in the shade, to muggy Mobile [Alabama, where I lived from age 2– I9]. Aswan sounds like the opposite of Mobile – if temperatures may compete at times.

I never had a strong emotional interest in Egypt – like my fascination with all things Zarathustran – i.e. Persian-Iranian (pre-Muslim). And my ignorance – near complete – came out to me last night. Hossam took me via taxi to the El-Hussein district (due to the Hossein Mosque, famous for this – Mohammad’s…grandson?), and to famous streets, and to the 100-years-old coffee shop – El Fishawi – which to me was “anywhere” and/or “nowhere”. My extensive and intensive ignorance of Egyptian history – actually rather review of what I in part studied more than 25 years before (no such books in English to buy in Moscow) – meant that these places, though the most important to him, meant as little to me as say the history of the American “South” to him.

Photo by Stephen Lapeyrouse

But still, I was unable to miss the city and street life of “al-Ghureya” and Khan al-Khalili through which we walked for a couple of hours through the crowds. Such smells. So many facial types new in such numbers to my experience. So many people – peaceful – and scenes on the Friday summer evening of Cairo. Mosques are off-limits to non-Muslims (though we entered the Citadel’s Muhammed Ali Mosque – 1830s mosque – a “tourist Mosque” – today). So many faces. We sat in the “famous” (except to my lack of knowledge of it) El Fishawi coffee shop and every few moments some person comes by selling something – selling everything. I joked that one does not need go shopping, when the sellers will bring it here to you while having tea (I had krakade). Many faces. Robes. Skin colors.

Today we went to the El Saladin Palace fortress – “Citadel”. I had – revived by Asama bin Ladin’s reported mythic mentality – some awareness of Saladin [actually Salah Ad-din Yusuf Ibn Ayyub], but much of the other “details” (even big facts) escaped due to my ignorance. Perhaps as if I showed Hossam John Adams’s residences while in New York, Philadelphia, or Washington in lead up to the anti-colonial War for Independence. Does not “modem Egypt” define itself in significant part in its opposition to “the West” – European, then also American, powers? No new ideas here – but new to me.

Hossam’s English is good enough for the main idea, but not for clearing up subtleties. Still, I thank him for his kind care. I believe it is the first time I ever had a real “guide” to somewhere.

After overlooking Cairo from the fortress – the air was rather hazy – but the city clearly huge – if filled mostly with the small apartment “boxes” of the poor ($30-40 rent per month he says) we went inside the main Citadel mosque [named Mohammad Ali]. Considering that shoes must be taken off, but also not put on the floor-covering carpet – I would have expected some other solution than putting them in the window while we sat on the carpet and looked and talked. The individual feels lost in the mosque’s “heavenly” dome spaces I thought while there – also reflecting that even if I come to deep thoughts and reflective insights as to what I see – with so much time behind, I can hardly say anything new about such. Though I do prefer to rethink thoughts and insights on my own which are deep, to those superficial.

We passed by “another mosque” as Hossam said it – though he did not know I was tempted by its being some 600 years older than the Mohammad Ali Mosque – as we went, to my silent surprise, to view the National Military Museum and the Police Museum – both state-significantly located atop Cairo’s most prominent landmark! In a way I was glad many rooms were under repair, and we did go rather quickly through all the history of modem military Egypt from Mohammad Ali (early 1800s – with all the weaponry made in England, Germany – a “Gattling” gun from 1865 USA – hoorah! [ironic] – and such). As we progressed in time through the rooms – [President of Egypt] Mubarek appearing in visitor photos from time to time in the exhibits before his proper period – Hossam was more and more enthused. This was what for him – clearly an Egyptian patriot – was the most important thing to see on the hill. The victories, the heroes, the battles, the stories which lead to an independent Egypt today. Sadat was the apotheosis of his guiding there. Though if I heard correctly, even his assassination-death was understandable since he had made “peace” with the Israelis – “who never keep their promises”!

Here I saw the history set up for the power and politics and polity of today’s Egypt. Clearly, when Mubarek passes – as do all things – some prominent portraits and photos too shall pass from the museum’s “history”. Clearly – it is and was the struggle with and against “the West” and colonialism that defines Egyptian self-identity today. The various battles and heroes of the past 200 years – with their weapons, uniforms and battle-plans – were on display. The “museum” is for the Egyptian – not for the tourists, except as lessons in pride. (The spelling and word divisions on the many English-language plaques and signs – not French or other – could be improved.)

This was clearly Hossam’s national history. I thought of a similar museum in the USSR, and now a different “museum” of “history” in Russia! And of American national museums; even a British one on the conquest of Egypt and such areas.

I thought – while sitting on the red carpet of the Mohammed Ali Mosque on the Citadel – how I needed to go to a Hindu, then a Taoist source.

I have a private guide – so much nicer than a bus crowded with crude tourists. And it all started by a chance chat in Hotel Club Azur after a day in Cairo from Hurghada [in January 2003].

Photo by Stephen Lapeyrouse

Before heading down into the city by taxi, we stood again overlooking mid-day Cairo. At 1:00 pm all the mosques began the prayer. Microphones I find obnoxious and inappropriate for such matters. But the callers quickly synchronized their calls, and all of Cairo was “covered” with the “call to prayer” – the prayer! – which to Hossam is true and right, and to my ear’s mind “exotic” and “impressive”. In the hot, bright sun of the July fifth day, all of Cairo hears the call to prayer. Are the Coptic churches only accepted, but not allowed to “crow”? (Blasphemous!?!!)

Looking over the city…I wanted, to absorb something; to ingest something: to recognize something permanent and unforgettable. Something, that would add to me in a strengthening, enriching, “fulfilling” (sic) way. I asked for some more minutes so that I could see and seekfully feel more – perchance I would not return to this barren hilltop citadel again. Here there seems to be some limit to experience. The soul wants something that normally isn’t there. Though perhaps the grand, “heavenly” spaces in the nearby Mohammad Ali Mosque were, and are, such an experience for a believing, more susceptible Muslim?

We have a morning “tour’ together – passing the American Embassy and American University this morning before the real tour began. Then lunch. I get something for supper – and tonight we should go to something else new. I got A Short History of Modern Egypt, which I shall now read. I am in a shell-cell, my room, № 34, from the heat of the day.

They have some great sweets here!

Part III

6 July 2003
Cairo, ~2:10pm Tulip 34

Approaching an understanding of Egypt from rather wide nescience, I note today how I search for books on various aspects to read, and find myself surprised and glad by the really decent English language bookshop in the American University of Cairo; but I note how seeing the large number of books – “popular” and academic – how the academic books to me bear the presence of a cemetery, worse than Dante’s hopeless hell in ways. (It is not so orderly and tres-passable as the 9-levels (+) of the Inferno, but it is rather like some noetic-necropolis, and one will rather die in exhaustion and tedium of details and minutiae (“bad infinity”).) Egypt is alive around me, but to keep it so I must try to avoid it being killed by objective “science” and academic agnosticism (agnausia). The Western intellectual world is an arid, dark, spider-webbed world of rarefied, erudite but deadly specters. Beware – it kills the enthusiastic soul. Enlightening; but deadening.


~3:30 pm

Even a cemetery – to continue the thought after a nap in the AC-ed room – is less dead than – or less deadening – than much academic “scholarship” and minutiae.

My lunch was $1 in price, since I ate at a main street, small Egyptian “pita” shop to which Hossam had taken me yesterday. (He needed to go home early for his family today, so we parted ~12, rather than 2:00 pm. Quite ok with me, as I can read, shop {books, and…} write, be alone till 8pm.)

Photo by Stephen Lapeyrouse

We went this morning to a set of Coptic churches. Thoughtfully planned as it is, we went there at a Sunday service time. First we visited the well-kept Egyptian Coptic museum – the building itself to which is attractive in Islamic style, esp. the roofs, and see-through windows. I don’t much like museums out of in situ, but I got some images of objects, structures, designs, etc. It was interesting to see the Arabic-written gospels, and Coptic church related books and texts. Hossam – in addition to stories he, in relation to what he perceives to be the misinformed, ignorant or malicious writings on how the Christians (and there are more Copts he notes) and Muslims of Egypt do not get along, somewhat defensively spoke of how this was also a good example of how these two religious communities lived together well side by side now (and often, if not always, in the past). Another example is his Christian friends. The first Coptic Church, the “Hanging Church”, we saw was smallish, but old. I saw some 10 minutes of the service, though I was not “hit” by any of the “holy-water” thrown by the old priest amidst all of the 100 or so men, and 100 or so women who had gathered near the central (of three) aisles for this. Upon entering I espied a nice place in the back to the right to stand (Hossam – who did not enter – felt it perfectly natural that I – though I myself hesitated qua tourist and observer – to go into the service, which I did) moving to the unoccupied place to the right, with a good view too. Inside the “sanctum(?)”, I noted how all the persons in the church were women. Until I looked to the left and saw that all the persons in the church were men, to which appropriate side I quickly moved.

People dressed perhaps only a bit better than otherwise. Lots of women with exposed hair. Casual dress really. And chatting. One chewing gum. Certainly not silent reverence. Perhaps the whir of the several needed fans of the wooden roofed interior superstructure also added to the mixture of sounds with the priest’s “chanting” – reading – to make the church alive with noise. Probably the most Egyptian women I had seen without head-scarves hiding their hair. Some attractive faces too. But all were what one would understand to be those who are believers, by tradition, need, desire, disposition, or whatever. Security at these state-supported museums, of their national heritage was rather earnest. The museum we saw alone with a museum man who spoke simple English naming the displays contents. Only as we left were others entering. Our trip through the museum was quick and superficial – but thus I did not get tired – as I usually find I do in museums.

And then…

We walked to the nearby, larger circular church – which I later confirmed to be the Church of St. George. (Mir girgis). Hossam almost entered, but retreated when he saw people making the sign of the cross (a few young people; others did nothing; chatting, touching the glass of the icons). He was quite firm about what to do, or not. And retreated calmly and decisively to wait outside.

I entered expecting little, and after my eyes adjusted [to the dark from the bright daylight] found myself looking up to a cupola ceiling of a color I had never seen in a church before, and which I soon saw to be a color with which I sympathized, especially as I further noted the dark rose stone-marble columns, 8 (holding the main cupola of Christ the Savior). The Church was not well lit. Was the large central hanging candelabra lit? I don’t recall now. But the deep green-blue (azure?) etc color (with stars and a few winged angels) and columns and walls and shadows presented me with the first church I can ever recall really liking. I realized this was perhaps the first “church” the colors (especially) and harmonious, symmetrical, circular design of which I felt “mine”. Serious, solemn, silent, somber. There were few people there, and we were permitted to only enter a small area near the door of this church. I plan to return there.

Last night we went to one of the oldest areas of Cairo – Megharbeleen. There we walked through the crowded, rather poor shopping area of rather old buildings. 1400s. Hossam said time and again, how there was continual living there for centuries. A sign which I read – “We love tourists and refuse terrorism” which I noticed as we sat in a fully Egyptian coffee area (smokers, etc, there), led to a small talk with the small shop owner, who spoke good colonial-British English. He said that Bush may, due to his stupidity, bring down the American empire, as the Roman, French and British had been. He turned out, on my asking the source of his good English, to have been a professor of history at the university, who had been forced out. [These signs, he told me, had been put up, in English and Arabic, all along this bazaar’s lanes in Cairo by the (often poor) shop owners, after the killing of the tourists in Luxor in 1997 by Islamic militants apparently financed by Saudi millionaire Osama bin Laden.]

I am off now via the Metro to that church again.


7 July 2003
4:14 pm, Cairo, Tulip 34

I am not feeling fully well physically – but whether it is due to the heat, or lunching too late after a modest breakfast of bread/butter and jam, or – as is certainly related – something I did or didn’t eat, so that…

Anyway, I have a long rest till 9:00.

Photo by Stephen Lapeyrouse

Last night we went – at my choice of two – up the Cairo Tower (1961–) for view and a soda (alcohol is not served in the Muslim country, especially to Egyptians!) We went on the open observation deck for a few minutes – I correctly found the location of our hotel before Hossam – who in fact made an error which I just let pass – till I finally showed him the Tahrir [Sadat] Square, then where my place must be. Descending one level to the cafe area, we sat rotating around while talking about how an Egyptian/Muslim (~) man finds a wife. Two hours talking. Maybe 4 revolutions, all that I heard was informative and interesting. And I have had some thought-insights as to “social man” – who is carried, as are 99% of the people I see here, by tradition and culture. Islamic mores. Not very liberal with the women indeed. Of course, these people could not be other than they are, as they were born here – though the Christian people seem to have greater freedom, especially for females?, than in the Muslim tradition.

Hossam swears that there is no street robbery by knife or gun here! This does not compare well with the USA. Hossam comes indeed from a poor family. Normal, but poor. His brother is a “seamster”. I pay him 2x his monthly income. (Things are rather cheap. Lunch of fish – pike – calamari, salads, rice, water, cokes for 2: $6.) I am not sure whether he can “get ahead” – as he must at least be a manager for this, and his family has no connections in this way. I believe some of my friends or others shall also have him as a guide someday. His commentary is not pushy – but he is proud of all things Egyptian. He has never traveled, though he does have acquaintances from other countries. He is a good Muslim – if a quiet one, and I estimate not very strict. Muslim tradition seems rather conservative, and ethically unambiguous concerning most life questions and affairs. And the Koran is from God, not Mohammad’ of course.

I had occasion to mention my father’s death in the crash – he made no further query – but said it was “Allah’s will”. Here I hear in Cairo in 2003, what I heard in 1965 in Mobile, Alabama. The first, earlier, from a Methodist; the later from a Muslim. “God” – “Allah” is our personal human meaningfulness, Hossam would not write “God Willing” in Arabic on a piece of paper, if I would throw the paper away.

I spend several hours each afternoon in my modest two-bed “cell”, which I AC [air-conditioned] in this time.

Photo by Stephen Lapeyrouse

Today we went to the Abdeen Palace – where alone we walked through the museum with no other visitors. An Egyptian general (retired?) adopted us, and escorted us, surprisingly striking with his hand the well-kept, well-laid exhibits and displays which were related to the USA – of which there were a good number – amidst that of the other major countries – near and European. It was a sort of prestige Egyptian museum – with space, in my view, wasted on commemorative plagues, and things, to remember some meeting, visit, conference, project, etc. The weapons in the museum – esp. the “guns” were surprisingly interesting – but these rooms of commemorative plagues, I just pretended to find interesting. I was the only guest, and American at that, so I tried to be a good ambassador, or perhaps an ambassador of the good, since I also find much of American foreign policy and activities, reprehensible and self-interestedly imperial. The general seems to have thought at first sight that I was a famous Egyptian actor who had a beard and moustache for a movie. He was friendly to me, honoring to us “VIPs”, and I tried to be well-behaved, in spite of my short pants, to all the museum staff.

I see that not only in Russia, but here too in Egypt, my personality, face, deportment, etc, bring me good reception and perception.

Check email daily after lunch. 3 Egyptian pounds per ½ hour [about $0.50]. From N and LT in Moscow; PA in Hamburg; JB in Washington, DC.

Standing on the Nile Palace bridge last night – 11:00, with the delightful breeze blowing, amidst the summer eve-holiday crowds, watching the lit and unlit boats coming and going – esp. the feluccas – with their sails, was a pleasant moment.

Need to jog, but layed awake to late.

Part IV

8 July 2003
4:45 pm Cairo Tulip Hotel Rm 34

I just learned today of the terrorist bombings in Moscow two days ago at a youth concert. Hossam had seen it by chance on TV, and only remembered to mention it today. There is nothing good to stop such things happening, even worse, and worldwide (actually it has long already been so). As of some two hours ago, I am somewhat more “on my own” in Cairo. Hossam is letting me be “tested” – as I had said I wanted to be in Alexandria, so I don’t want to set up someone there to help me.

We went this morning to a wretched Wax Museum which I can conclude has not been repaired since 1934 when it was built. Of dubious talent to begin with perhaps, most of the display-scenes – from ancient Egypt to Nassar – had broken pieces, or faded or discolored or otherwise disrepaired pieces. The “bobcat” had stuffing for eyes and teeth. The fake jewels on “Tutahkaman’s” sacred breast-pieces were missing. At times these were bricks showing some sort of white powder incongruously on the set. It was “hokey” to begin with, and almost 70 years of neglect and disregard did not help. Most of the trees in the distant, abandoned sight had been cut off in their prime. How those 5-7 people could find something like work to do there I cannot imagine. But what I most noted was how much our guide, and Hossam, could speak in any serious, unembarrassed way about such clearly decrepit “Egyptalia”. The more recent rooms/scenes were better – but they really presumed on my politeness – though likely they did not note this – by assuming I would listen seriously to talk of such fallen pieces. All is good in Egypt in such a way.

Photo by Stephen Lapeyrouse

Later – following on our talk last night – we did 2 hours internet work for him searching for a wife by net. I help him as I can. Sixty years ago in Egypt he would have needed just accept whatever wife his father gave him…but these days he had rejected 4 girls his mother tried to organize. And since he was/is interested in Russian women, I suggested the internet, which we found two websites for Muslim marriages on last night, doing more things today.

If someone were to view photos of us, they would see how Hossam and I are quite different types of people. Still, we get along well. He is very responsible and reliable. I have the coming 36 hours on my own – and in fact I plan to do shopping (things cost less here).

I have had some email contact with N., L.T., my mother, and J.B. To 20 years ago, to 10 years ago, such easy, casual contact would have been impossible. 40 unimaginable. The world has become a unit. Most of it anyway (?). This is progress – yet a loss, to my view, as well.

I do not want to be in touch with everyone all the time! I guess there is a “club” – society of those who do not want cell phones, and 24/7/365 contact. I am among them.

Hossam talked about what is “terrorism”. Is not a society where one is afraid of being shot, robbed, or such, a “terrorized” society? – he asked. Why focus on terrorist bombers from Egypt, when such – as he reports – street crimes are extremely rare? He said that people do not want to see Egypt as it really is.

I feel a bit now like I am first on “vacation”, since I had such an active, busy, daily schedule before now with Hossam.


9 July 2003
Cairo Tulip Hotel 34

Photo by Stephen Lapeyrouse

Last night I decided to venture to the “biggest bazaar in the Near East” again. This time alone. An older man [approached me on the street and] said he would escort me, and indeed he did for some ~2 hours…we wove from near Attaba Square towards the “old Islamic quarter” where he had lived all his life (he was 62, or said so). We – I following his very fast pace – went through the 200 year old meat market, where I thought perhaps the air/aire might be a bit much if I was there long. We went by the lute makers; by mosques new and old, fallen, repaired/ing, to be repaired, etc.; through the table-makers and wood workers areas; all the time little mosques, sabils; shops, people – but we only cut through the near [famous] bazaar street from time to time. A look in a mosque, then another facade; a minaret. Always walking fast. Then we took off – heading for tea in his “museum” (i.e. selling in his shop) – into some areas of only Egyptians. Small alleys, through side streets. Past garbage dumps – hither and thither – I knew not where. All sorts of shops. A sewer of gold thread to a black Koran-quote cloth. Faces. Dark-brown-gray alleys; this way, that way. Fast. He seemed safe, so I went on following. An old mosque with some 400 year old tomb inside, and the man’s ~400 year old house collapsing nearby. Eventually we had tea, and bargained over a box (+6 wooden camels) for 15-20 minutes. Got the box for my mother. When I got quite angry – as he for the 4th-6th time suggested a deal for another box – he gave me a camel extra to calm me down when I suggested canceling everything! I don’t like bargaining. Nor spending my time buying trinkets. Perhaps he cannot afford to not sell all the time. Or it is Egyptian to have tea and business mixed together. But I shall not do such again soon, though the journey there [to his shop] was interesting. Later I was taken to the main bazaar area ~ near Muizz, and walked its extra length direction “Opera” – finally walking all the way back to the Tulip Hotel by 10:30 pm.

Later I spent time remembering the scenes. Also wondering if I could find his place again; and thought, maybe eventually I could. I recalled the angle from which we approached Hussain Mosque from his place. But we were deep in lanes little mapped in most maps!

I am shopping today.


Cairo Tower
8:30 pm rotating cafe

Watched the sunset on the Sahara (?) this evening. One can see the pyramids from here. It is not yet dark in the west. I came here – planning tomorrow eve to walk the entire bazaar length with Hossam. I did shopping today – for sandals, shirts, pants, suitcase, etc – but the things “look” better than they are. Indeed, often the cheap price is indicative of the quality. Size “44” that is maybe 38, others maybe 48. People tried to tell me that clearly inappropriate things were good for me: shirts, shoes, sandals. In several shops the Koran is played. I cannot but hear it as singing, chanting perhaps. And while some foreign sounds appeal to my ear, this sound rather tends to annoy after a time. It is worth noting that, Koran and religious or not, people tried to get me to buy what I did not want. Others at times tried to cheat me. The quality of abundant things were often poor. Cheap for cheap I suppose.

Photo by Stephen Lapeyrouse

Last night as I was walking back from my experience, it occurred to me that the prophet must have proposed, or Allah instructed/suggested, people shop, bargain, shop, since that seems to be the main activity of evenings for most. Strolling is fully understandable on such a pleasant eve, but I guess for “Westerners” there is little to do at night.

This is a racial (sub-racial) ethnic culture. These people are inside a culture and tradition which is theirs. “Mohammed” belongs to them, as they belong to Mohammed. One told me that Egyptians are honest except in the tourist areas. Perhaps less dishonest? People have been friendly to me – but many also want my $ mostly. Perhaps such are too poor and struggling to fit inside my frame of politeness and manners.

I am beginning to see public(able) patterns of associating of male and female. Have seen real gold on women – and not a little!

Egyptian culture defines and carries Egyptians here no less than Americans, Germans, Russian, or etc, are by theirs.

As I near one “revolution” (25 minutes), there are almost no other people here rotating around.

Bank teller machines are unreliable for consistently processing transactions. I tried some 4 or 5 today, before I got the needed money in a bank. I do not often like heights – and this is reportedly 50 meters higher than Cheops. I just hope the Egyptians who engineered and built this tower were true to their pride.

One-time around – ½ hour.

The streets and buildings where I was last night, and in general that one sees, are of a sort of gray-sand color. I suppose it is dry/dried Nile mud and silt.

I suppose the music – Arab pop/rock – Egyptian pop – is their equivalent for sleeping people to that of other cultures. It is fair to consider that had I been born and raised e.g. here, rather than Alabama, USA… For most: Egyptian culture is enough for them, perhaps with little to zero “modernist” disturbances, to be born, grow, live and die. It is not their location necessitating; it is an engulfing, defining culture that defines them. I for example might be unable due to upbringing – even if I wanted to – to really like their pop music/romance music, or etc, like that I breathed-in as a boy and teenager. ???

The Koran is present where the Bible might, but seldom would be present: on the dashboard of taxis (Russian Icons, or Jesus plastics!) – and ready and used to read in stores. The Koran reading plays…in Metro wagons…by policemen-generals on duty.

Rotating stopped! (too few riders?) Egypt is a place to visit – but this does not feel like my world. Let Mohammed have experienced what he had – it is not a story that compels and encompasses me. That it is widespread is merely the cowhood of mass humanity [and similar in this way to Jesus elsewhere].

Cairo has lots of cars bustling about. To the Nile!


10 July 2003
5:40 pm Cairo Tulip #34

N. emails of another attempted Moscow suicide-bomb attack. A suspicious woman was stopped, her bag with the bomb found. The 23-year-old eventually sent to diffuse it – after the mechanical-robot failed – died when it went off. Powerful. Broken windows abound. The restaurant was almost next door to N’s work!

Received an email from HG [Oslo] – who has been on an annual trip to Greece – naming villages, I suppose, of which I have never heard.

The Cairo zoo is, I suppose, something for Egyptians – and there were many families there picnicking. But the animals and their cages – though the already satisfied Hossam said the zoo was improved – were meagre. And at each popular site some “keeper” stood with some means of letting visitors – kids – feed the animals. For some poor man’s piastras of course. Some serious zoo man, seeing me saw some extra money, telling some worker to get some damn, small “cute” (actually not!) rambunctious monkey – who seems to have tried to bite me, while I was supposed to be glad to have this boisterous creature in a photo with me. This experience – so that the zoo man could make some extra [Egyptian] pound or so. I had no interest in having my photo with this damn monkey. And he scratched me at that! I escaped out just a couple of pounds I suppose – Hossam handles the money. But the public boat taxi rides to and from near the “October Fly Over Bridge” across the Nile was pleasant.

I shall be glad tomorrow to be on my own. Two hours, 1st class air-conditioned wagon – ~25 L. E. [pounds Egyptian; – $4] to Alexandria. In a way my vacation will begin tomorrow. Slower pace. No plan of touring. I hope my room has a decent view.

Part V

11 July 2003
Alexandria Egypt
Union Hotel Rm 30

I rode the comfortable, well-organized 12:00 train from Cairo to Alexandria. Full chicken dinner: 20 LE ($3-4). I enforced a 5 LE taxi ride to the Union Hotel, where even the receptionist was surprised to hear me say I would be here for 3 weeks.

I spent a couple of hours putting my things away, re-cleaning all things in the room I shall touch, or use: faucets, knobs, seats, table tops, then took a short rest.

I am on the 6th top floor, of the building where the Union Hotel – which itself consists of 2 or 3 floors – is located and indeed find a “basic, clean room with a great sea view”. I do seem indeed to be in the middle of the city, and at least near the old center of old Alexandria. I did a bit of reading in the American University of Cairo pocket book to “Alexandria and the North Coast” on the train – which had maps and interesting basic information.

I noticed yestereve – when listening to the VOA – that now when I hear an important (or not) report from “Cairo”, that I hear (and “see”, and know) it differently than 8 days ago. Yestereve’s report on the Middle-Eastern skepticism (before and after the recent Iraqi War) as to American motives (now that no “WMDs” have – yet – been found, to retro-justify the “regime change” [aka known as a “government overthrow”]) for the war were what Hossam said himself.

And just now – on the BBC – it was said that the head of Sunni Islam, the Kofti of the Al-Azhar Mosque and school, by which I walked, and which I photographed last night, said that suicide bombers – even against Israelis – ‘do not serve’?, ‘correctly follow’? Islam. He seemed to be someone – speaking at a meeting in Kuala Lumpur – to consider the “clash of civilizations”. (I think “clash of cultures” is better.) And now when I hear of the Al-Azhan Mosque/school…I have a greater feel for the reality of the report. So that in this way too, I am glad to have added Egypt and Cairo to my experience.

Last night Hossam and I walked in the same old section where I had been 2 nights before with that man. Last night too – with Hossam’s help I learned that the old man had greatly overpriced his box and camels. About 5x overpriced. I asked Hossam if the Prophet had not said something about cheating tourists. He missed my real gist and joke when he said the Prophet did not speak of tourists.

Photo by Stephen Lapeyrouse

I have a great sea view on the “Corniche” and the Mediterranean! Private, seclusive balcony. (The 3x2 lanes of cars are a nuisance I shall just need adapt to and forget. Great breeze, no AC – guess it is not needed. It is a kind of harbor before me. Sailboat – tempting – and races afront too. Noise; but seclusion.

To the best of my knowledge, only the receptionist, and the man who brought my luggage “know my name” in Alexandria! I have a full view of where the ancient Pharos stood for some 1500 years. And the library should be located, I believe by looking, 15 minutes walk along the “July 26th Street”.

Good ВВС/VОА reception.

And a good jogging place!


12 July 2003
Alexandria Union Hotel 30 ~6:40pm

It is taking me a bit of time to get some of my practical bearings – easily accessible food for instance. But I seem to have found a lunch place – Egyptian, inexpensive. Much of the area here is for Egyptian shopping.

Went to the Alexandrian library – but it was not open to the public till 3:00. It took till that time to locate an eating place – being chased by the strong mid-day sun on my unprotected backneck (forgot the cream!) from building shadow to shadow. I am not able to wear a hat without serious sweating – hope my skin will soon achieve a needed brown even atop.

Found a good cheap – 2 S LE per hour (i.e. $0.40/hour!) – internet place – but not so near, and I realize that I want now to leave off contacts by email – so that I can be alone here in Alexandria. I have told people I am here – why? Got a good, strongly-positioned letter from HG [Oslo] in reply to my letter to him, J and MK on “average men”.

Sparked many thoughts. I wrote a good reply.

The noise from cars, buses, and the Egyptian fondness for honking for many reasons, really distracts from the quiet scene. Especially since here it is really constant – 24 hours (more or less loud).

I want to enter into a mood of some special kind. I want to leave behind my Cairo tour – certainly to leave Moscow and Mobile far aside. I want to go into a state – perhaps to live in some other state of being, or mood. For here I want to enter into my studies and reading of the Alexandrian Church Fathers: Origen, Clement. This I intend to do tomorrow, beginning. I also have some good rich books with me. I would like to meet some well-read, traveled Egyptian (~) scholar with whom I could discuss the current life, culture and mentality here, and the ‘ancient’ ideas.

I am reading in some good books on Alexandria, the library, and related. The Pharos would stand quite high directly before my “hotel’ balcony – on which I spend as much time as possible – the wind there being easier to feel. The room having no other outlet – unless I ‘crack the door'.)

Perhaps it is that I am not with Hossam’s Muslim angle on life and people here, but it does seem to me that the people are freer, perhaps more “liberated” here. Traditionalist and Muslim believers would say sinful or degraded I suppose.

The news of the CIA’s not well-proofing “W’s" [President George W. Bush’s] text would be funny – did not, as Hossam pointed out – the dead Iraqi civilians remain dead. I want/need to get some intellectual contacts here in Egypt. People with whom I might seriously dialogue also in the future. (I shall again write to Dr. JP in the Goetheanum Library Dornach, to see if he knows someone here, or in Cairo.)

Were I not in a relation with N – I am certain that I would unlikely forbear to convince SA to rendezvous with me here in Alexandria. But I can’t do this. Too, such would greatly have distracted me from my quiet, reflective time here.

The Bush Iraq facts would be scandalous, were they not rather so permanently human. His voice attacking problems in Africa is the same as that attacking Iraq, or poverty, or whatever. They seemed to be either inept, or just to have deceived the gullible American people. John Adams: “majority, who loved to be duped” (letter to Jefferson).

As the Pharos fell long ago, and the astonishing library been burnt also – the former by nature, the latter by man – what was Alexandria, is certainly not now. Nonetheless, I am glad to be here.

I still haven’t read even to the Mamlukes in the Short History of Modern Egypt I got in Cairo.

Ear plugs help a bit – but they are not the kind one can sleep with. I shall have been only a tourist, if I do not return to my former life at least somewhat noticeably different. Though – in addition to the tan – that only be internal.

Even perhaps most of the horn-tooting here reveals the mass. Many honkings are really more ‘bird calls’ than due to any necessity.


7:50 pm

In a way, by leaving Cairo, I have left Egypt, and come closer to Hellas? Obviously in its history, origins.


13 July 2003
New Alexandrian Library

Received my visa-invitation via expensive ($86) DHL this morning.

Went for part of the Sunday service to St. Mark’s Coptic Church. Noting subtle interesting “differences” – which is “correct” [of the divisions of Christianity]? Arabic and Coptic wall-writing – mostly Arabic. Fans – like mysterious sentinels – to cool the pewed congregation, though whether one sits or stands or bows (almost Arabic-Islamic style forward) seems personal selection. Hand movements of the people differ. But I suspect that was the Nicene? Or other “creed” I heard all repeat. Children climbing and walking around untutored. Two daring each other to ascend up further the wooden stairs to a kind of lectern (?) for the sermon? homily? Women right, men left. Some women with a small non-Islamic “kerchief” on their heads.

All of the people the kind one would expect to find in churches: good, passive, non-intellectuals.

Photo by Stephen Lapeyrouse

Was that indeed the Alexandrian Patriarch’s church? Was that he? It did not seem to be a structure from the 3rd century AD, but there was not literature in English. Then I came to this unusual library. The inner space is very large. The columns supporting it more reminding of a large mosque area than a church, the outside suggests a pyramid. Who and why were blue and green colored window (discrete, but throughout) included. I just note the greenish-yellow shadows. Admission is modest per day. If I can’t find 2 photos, I may just buy daily admittance from when I come. Photocopying cheap for my dollars: had a piece done on nationalism as a quasi-religion. I gifted two copies of my book. The library has no John Adams, nor R[udolf] Sfteiner). I searched for and found: Origen, Clement of Alexandria, Hypathia, Manetho. They only have a couple, or single, works on these. But that is just as well. At UCB [University of California, Berkeley] and GTU [Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California] I would find too much.

Library has guards and tenders in and out.

Will focus on Origen I think.

Spent another $30 (177 LE) on books.

An accidentally dropped book [by someone] brought 3 guards to see instantly. But no problem.

I am not sure what Mohammad suggested – Allah I mean – but I can understand the covering of some women. They have a full robe, and a ~waist-length head piece. If they also cover their face, they may as well be as tempting as a tree. This does unambiguously solve the problem of the “lust” and desire of the eyes. Seeing Egyptian girl-guards working in the library wearing leopard-patterned scarves…oh “womanity”!

Watching fully-covered women eat, laugh, chat; with glasses; with graduating hat atop (on TV); with noses of various prominences…and though those robes that are not black are much less “troubling” to Western eyes, those two black ominous “ghosts” that just ambled by, were probably two silly, shy girls.

White and lavender look fully differently!

I wish I had not spent some $300 extra for a $10/night room.

Part VI

Photo by Stephen Lapeyrouse

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 heeded! 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.

Photo by Stephen Lapeyrouse

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.

Photo by Stephen Lapeyrouse

6:30 pm Union 30

Finished with profit and appreciation 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 restating 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.


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]. Alexander 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?

Part VII

16 July 2003 Alexandria
~7:10pm Union Hotel, Rm 30

Some couple of hours ago I read the last two chapters in A Short History of Egypt by A. F. Al-Sayyid Marsot. I wanted to read N. Mahfouz’s The Day the Leader Was Killed, but realized that I needed more social-historical and political context, thus I still must read chapters – 2-5 in Short History. But the “concluding part” of an ongoing story is depressing enough in general. Some of these years, I recall from my American, younger days. Some I have glimpsed in reading, news and documentaries. I need not record here the details to which I reacted. But…the story seems to be…?…like all human cultures’, societies’ stories: a mess. The last page basically says things may change in one way or other – but little will improve. Considering the divergences of tendencies; interests; conditions of life; possibilities and hopes; beliefs; etc; perhaps it is commendable and surprising that it functions at all -yet of course humanity, if few can carpe diem, must live, survive the day. Indeed, it is a poor country. Perhaps even better leaders could not solve its varied problems. Considering how old and ancient Egypt is, it is a real lesson how “fresh” and unsolved even basic problems are.

Believing that social solutions are possible is a belief in the world – different from those who believed, and believe, that this is a fallen, corrupted world, an unavoidable “vale of tears”. But we are “down here” and not in “heaven” where those who believe in this put their hope. Sic transit gloria mundi is a fairly old idea to need to be relearned every “generation”, every decade or two.

Alexander the Great

Alexandria, like Washington, DC and St. Petersburg, is a deliberative, human city. Like Constantine’s Constantinople in that he and Alexander [the Great] experienced themselves closer to the gods and guidance in dreams and oracles, and such. Alexander the Great should be compared to Peter the Great to compare “ages” of man as much as men. George Washington refused to be called “his Excellency” – as America rejected the English King and his divine rights. And George was reluctant to come down from Mt. Vernon to be President. Neither the Czar [from caesar], nor Alexander, who considered himself a son of Ammon at Siwa in Egypt, had such characteristics. Yet it is America, and the President of the USA – not the Third Rome [Moscow], not Alexander’s ancient city – nor Ancient Egypt – which might be claimed to rule the world. Translatio imperii, again.

But even that is a “belief” in the order, many thought and many still think: divine, and discernibly so. The problem with “God” is that He is so far away. Or, obviously, that we are. Again – considering all of the passing of time, events, history, mankind, etc – is the tombstone a wall or a door?

Whatever the greater story is – if there be one! – most of the Alexandrians and Egyptians I see passing beneath me on the “26th July Street” – as if that itself were not a passed victory of the Suez for the Egyptians to celebrate, “nominate” (though if they have a big fireworks display in 10 days, over the Corniche, that will be great to view from my 5th storey balcony) – these people have little enough to do with the Egyptian political system which is out of their influence almost completely. They have their family and individual “histories” inside of whatever occurs in Egypt – which they rarely influence. It is little different in Russia, and perhaps only little more so in the USA: disappointing “beacon of democracy” to the world.


17 July 2003
Union 30 Balcony

When I read the history of Alexandria – indeed rather of Egypt, I want to find an idea, an image, to name this procession of change through time. And I thought, as an image, of a book’s chapters, written by different authors, but necessarily needing to include – even if in negation – the first chapter’s primary characters, and elements. E.g. Alexander the Great, coming from Greece to Egypt, could hardly be excluded from the writer of any chapter -though such leaders as the Bolsheviks in Russia, and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia certainly tried to dis-continue the books of their own histories. Not far from this modest 2-star, 2-storey hotel is the central statue of Saad Zaghlul (few outside of Egypt, or the Middle East, would likely even have heard of this person who helped to begin to establish Egyptian independence from the British). What statue was there before?…and whose statue will be there in another 80– I00 years? One of the key elements to Alexandria that one will meet is the buildings – so many 19th century European style buildings – but so few Europeans. (I have walked for hours, seeing one or three, here.) These “elements” of an old chapter, or two, are now, mostly in dilapidated condition – untended, unpainted, un-re-paired for decades to all appearances. A big chapter changed after the Suez land crisis (1956) when many long-resident Europeans were exiled. They couldn’t take the buildings with them – but the life in these old buildings is very different now. In Cairo – in the Old Islamic “quarter” – there are, as Hossam proudly told me – people now in these 600+ year old buildings! Alexandria does not have such, to my knowledge.

Why does the new Alexandrian library only open at 11am? Are Egyptians “owls”?

Photo by Stephen Lapeyrouse

“Corniche” is French for what – besides a now noisy road that soundly abuses the calm view of the Mediterranean? The horse-drawn buggies of visitors remind of a quieter time. Coming to Alexandria to the seacoast to sit and watch the sea? Bring good earplugs – those you can use while sleeping!

Is this city by the sea its buildings? Or its people? Its culture which the people pass on in tradition and custom? But the people all disappear eventually; and the buildings only fare somewhat temporarily better.

But – as to the book analogy – an author usually has an idea of what will happen in the story ahead, even how it will end. The story of Alexandria has no such coherence. And a place that began with as extra-ordinary and “legendary” a figure as Alexander the Great – and where London’s and Washington’s intents and largesse are crucial in only recent times – could perhaps not be expected to have a story complete in itself. Alexandria, in contrast to Cairo, began “internationally”. Indeed, was there not even then too a “clash of civilizations”? (We want the world to be “peaceful” – but it does not seem to want such itself, at least not in long-scale periods.) The statue of the hero nationalist Zaghlul and Mohammad Ali in the city “center” are an idea today of what is Egypt and Alexandria. But the ideas of these have changed over time. Alexander’s tomb and body (soma) they have searched for centuries, and only with uncertainty finding. (So incoherent has been the “story” – whereas in Moscow they can’t quite find a way to get rid of the body and tomb of Lenin! “What a silly piece of work is man.”)


Alexandria Library
~2:25 pm

Am reading and working on Clement, Hypathia, Origen and William Jones’ Sakuntala.

I – finally – after maybe an hour of fruitlessly looking through the table of contents in the last volume of Sir William Jones Collected Works (1993), happened to finally see it in the last: vol. 9, last item. Too long to copy, I shall try to read it while I am in Alexandria.

Reading about Hypathia in Dzielska’s work is interesting, though I don’t know that I shall have the time to read it all. Now that I have found the materials, I need to focus.

I am considering staying one extra week in Egypt, if I can change my air ticket. At mid-day the complimentary shadow colors from the ceiling are very strong and clear, more than in Dornach [in the Goetheanum building near Basel, Switzerland: historical center of anthroposophy]. I am sure a couple of people have “wondered about me” as I stood around holding paper and pen in the air [in order to make the colored shadows on the white paper with the pen]!

I would guess few notice the intended [colored shadows] “lesson”, “mystery”!


4:30 pm

There is something absurd and silly about young people [girls] walking around in a library dressed in black robes. They may look “holy” and “pure”, but they resemble ghostriders to our Western eyes. I could see their youth, even though only the eyes were visible.

And watching two of them dressed in brown robes – with only the eyes visible – having a photo taken in front of a public art work on display here outside – absurd. “Oh, don’t you look lovely (beneath) in your brown robe!”

Part VIII

18 July 2003
Alexandria Union Hotel, Room 30

I decided to “check out” eastern Alexandria – and as Friday is a [Muslim] holiday, and the Bibliotheca Alexandria opens at only 3:00 pm, I had my “breakfast included” and, after gathering things for at least a morning trip, stepped out onto the Corniche – 26th July Street – and looked to find an uncrowded microbus, or regular bus. None of the many microbuses seemed to be going to Montaza or Abu Qir (two final points), so I said “Saba Pasha” (near the Russian consulate), and climbed in heading east, as far east as the microbus was going. It turned back beside a store called Cookie Man, which did not upset me, and I left with 12 LE [Egyptian pounds, ~$2] in cookies; a variety. The next transport which selected me was heading to Abu Qir (where Admiral Nelson defeated the French in 1798). The bus driver spoke some English – said something about Americans and golf – and asked where I was going. I said ‘I don’t know’ – meaning just about anything east. He said “Abu Qir” – which sounded like where I would go if nothing else intervened. It is helpful to not speak the language, for you can control, and thus limit, what you hear, do, show, etc. Of course one must be open to the unexpected – or like a good Buddhist have no desires, and then one is set for an adventure.

My plan had been to ride the coast road, looking for a good beach to swim at.

The bus with the friendly driver soon turned off the beach road, and took a different road a block or two inside the town – though heading east. The driver and another passenger seemed to understand that I was just going…and the driver helpfully spoke of where we were. The beach in this area was “Miami” he said. Crowded. And with what I saw (and saw clearly on my return trip), it was not only that the beach sand was invisible at times due to bodies, umbrellas (often labeled “Pepsi”) and chairs, but at times the water near the beach was just bobbing bodies.

Photo by Stephen Lapeyrouse

I found myself at Abu Qir – not another tourist had I seen all morning, certainly not at Abu Qir (a poor town of 300,000 I read). I was told to go to Nelson Island, not far from Abu Qir by boat. A man who spoke English had me placed on a horse-led carriage (painted all sorts of colors) and heading somewhere in the direction of Nelson’s Island, or the dock to it? I wasn’t sure I was interested in Nelson’s Island, but it sounded ok, maybe interesting, and so I rode in this carriage full of Egyptians. When I arrived at a kind of beach, I was mobbed – the buggy driver tried to get some more money from me, which I complied with in half – all wanting, in very limited English, to do something for me. This was not a place for tourists at all. When the boat man said 100 LE [~$17] to the island, I scoffed and walked away. Soon another approached and wrote 60, then 50 on his hand ($10-8 respectively). The bus driver told me 5– I0 LE, though I began to wonder what he referred to: the buggy ride, or the island trip. In any case, no one could answer my question about what this island is; and when I said and indicated with my hands that I just wanted ‘to see’, to look around, translated to the others (5-6 people – some just curious children) they all left me – gratefully! – alone. It was a poor beach of dirty water, on a bay [Abu Qir Bay] rather than the Mediterranean, so I soon returned to the town by buggy – the driver took my hat to try on (I suppose it looked funny). In Abu Qir I walked down the first street I met towards the sea. 3-4 story buildings. Laundry hanging. Dirt “road”. At the “beach” I found a mass of people. Poor locals; at the “beach” for their holiday. No one seemed to matter much with me – as I stood for some 10– I5 minutes just looking, seeing…each family had an umbrella, tables and chairs, blankets, and lunch and drink for their day at the beach. No niceties or amenities here. The street had had some nice and newer buildings; some old, dilapidated and crumbling. Trash and garbage were here and there. But generally all was clean as it can be in such conditions. Middle-class America this was not.

I was lucky to locate a bus returning all the way to the Corniche in the center of Alexandria. I had a seat on the north, right side, an open window with wind blowing in my face, and rode all the way back to my hotel near Zaghlul Square – saw the Cookie Man shop, and all the impossibly crowded beaches. I saw how the majority of Alexandrians – poor – spend their day at the beach. It was as crowded in places as the street bazaars in Cairo – with little packed streets. Returning to my hotel I understood that I would never go there to swim, and that “not all beaches are ‘cleaner’ on the other side”. I learned much about how the people live, and that swimming in Alex would probably not be part of my vacation.

Now, having rested and showered, I shall go for a shrimp lunch (~$3 all included), before heading to the library to finish William Jones’ translation of Sakuntala – the inspiration in part of Mozart’s Magic Flute, and which text I have been trying to locate or buy to read for some 3-4 years.


5:30 pm
Bibliotheca Alexandria

Came to finish Sakuntala by Jones, and did so. I understand now some of what [Emanuel] Schikaneder adapted for the Magic Flute [libretto]. The story in fact is rather different – but I must reflect on it more.


19 July 2003
~9:00 am Union 30

I see some “structural similarities” in Kalidasa’s Sakuntala and Schikaneder’s: Indra-Sarastro; a picture; a demon; silence – not recognizing; Sakuntala’s parentage; sacred forest and trees. Indeed, now I want to read of Emanuel Schikaneder.

Photo by Stephen Lapeyrouse

I am trying to decide on whether to perhaps stay another week, not in Alexandria, but perhaps on the coast west of here. May do a day trip to see what is what there, in e.g. Marina Al-Alamein. Going to Mersa Matrouh [a town on the Egyptian Mediterranean coast far to the west of Alexandria] is too far to just “check out”.

Alexandria is a fairly noisy city. I have passed – if not quite fully – the stage of being satisfied watching people herd the street at night shopping and strolling.

Oh yea: saw “Moulin Rouge” the other night in the library’s conference center hall. Maybe 200 people; I saw one confirmed foreigner. A fair number of people left after 20-30 minutes of this odd, “non-Muslim” film. (English was also difficult to hear/ understand.) Before it began, they checked the age of a few visitors, but let them stay anyway – though e.g. the boy sitting in front of me was 13–14.

Everyone wants money. One often faces a request or situation organized to get some dollar from you. I am of “two minds” here. I give 2x but not 5x (which they want!) what they would normally get. It is not “fair” in some way that I merely pay what Egyptians pay.


2:00 pm
Union 30

“Knowing” that life and the world is “passing” is somewhat like a lesson one has learned, or heard, while asleep in a dream; that is, until and whenafter one has – disbelieving – perhaps gradually, probably reluctantly – had enough experience to know that it is true.


20 July 2003
11:30 am Bibliotheca Alexandria

I went to and through the Graeco-Roman Museum. It was more modest than I might have supposed. But I did find a book Alexandria 1860–1960 – which I want to digest asap.

I almost went to Marina Al-Alamein today to check it out, but I made contact with the woman at this library whose name I received via email from LM [in Australia]. She is American – unfortunately, as I shall “relax” with more difficulty – and we shall meet here at her work tomorrow. I shall go to Marina on the library’s holiday Tuesday.

I had a shallow experience of the museum. My superficial experience is only mitigated by the fact that I do not find I can experience anything deep or real looking at pieces in a museum. But I did my tourist duty – and that is something!


12:30 pm

In Charles Bigg’s The Christian Platonists of Alexandria, p. 229: “How much fiercer will be the smart, when the soul in the light of eternity surveys the history of all its wickedness written in indelible characters up on its own texture (1)…” (1) The soul never really forgets anything, but retains with itself ‘signa quaedum et formas’ of all its misdeeds, De Princi, ii, 10.4”

This is the daena [in Zoroastrianism, the original concept of “conscience”].


1:15 pm

I am not sure fully what I hoped for or intended in coming to Alexandria. Yet the reading in Bigg, sketchy though I have done it (vacation!; my scholarly days – at least the impassioned, hopeful ones – are past), is a reminder and reconciler to my remembrance of the depth and breadth of Clement and Origen of Alexandria. I would like to know the unknowable details as to whence their deeper ideas and learning, e.g. the “aeons”. Yes, it was present in those times. But still, I would like to know who, legendarily at any rate, brought the lore to Alexandria. But those are details unimportant now in my life. I have reconfirmed my understanding, my beliefs in Clement and Origen. Their ideas “stand” (more or less clearly), and in themselves can do little to me, unless I were to act on them. In this sense my journey to Alexandria has been a bit of a review. For at Berkeley [University of California Berkeley] and GTU [Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley] (the Alexandria of the 20th century – or parts of it), I had already dug my way down to the core ideas of these two. Alexandria then is not Alexandria now by very far. Alexandria now is very much not even the Alexandria of only the years since I was born: 51.

It is not clear that this will ever be more than a good provincial library. Celebrate it now, and as a phoenix – but that can be mere imagined sentiment. Let the library be a new pride for the Egyptians, Alexandrians, and others so inclined. Its location; its readers; its social context, do not make it an easy “Alexandria” of the ancient library. I came here – but most visitors are Egyptians, or tourists. And it is in any case not a research library.

Photo by Stephen Lapeyrouse

~9:00 pm
Union Hotel, Room 30
Balcony

I went for a walk this evening. Wanted to see what there is for a Nabi Daniel Mosque – where they say Alexander [the Great’s] “soma” is. Then went into “Turkish town” – just wandering. Not another tourist sighted in some 2 hours. Back streets; back alleys, some deserted, others crowded and narrow. Vegetable areas; poultry areas; fish areas. Even walked through a car workshop area. Though I had a few hellos…by most I was politely, or indifferently, ignored. I try to be polite – as I feel I am almost a solitary representative of…“Western Civ”?, the West? the USA? – the former rejected colonizers?…

We are like two races passing – actually, of course, I passing through theirs – and we are separated by language, possibility, culture, $, etc. To them – who seem to see little or few tourists, I am more an oddity than any prospect of life improvement through income.

There is some odd “Tourism and Shopping Festival” underway now – but the only results I see are flags in English on this 26th July Street.

I began to feel tired – and as I was in a rather odorous “fish” zone of sellers…! decided to exit right by the next side street, so as not to over-challenge my controlled reaction to the smells. I had wandered much further through “Turkish town” out onto its peninsula than I had thought – then walked back, having a Krakadi [Hibiscus drink] in a local’s “smoke/tea” place.

Last night was rather still; little breeze. So I am not so sure how well I slept. Tonight seems somewhat better. A couple of interesting chapters in the book: Alexandria: 1860–1960.

Part IX

21 July 2003
10:00 am Alexandria, Union Hotel, Room 30

Have read to Chapter 2, part 2 of Edward Said’s Orientalism. Interesting. Revealing-insightful. To me helpful and useful.


10:45 am

When I planned to come – rather when I first thought to come to Egypt, then to “Alexandria" (Cairo is too hot; no swimming; too many people: ~20 compared to 4 million), I had no guess or imagination that “what is, or even also was, Alexandria” would be present. But reading in Alexandria: 1860–1960 – just now Eglala Errera’s essay “The Dream of Alexandria and the Literary Myth” – I see that the idea, the history, the “myth” of Alexandria is a long established one.

I had stated earlier in this journal that I could hardly in 2003 write anything “new” on Alexandria, especially with such a short and thus necessarily superficial time here. Yet I said that I might at best re-state what had already been said. And a bit ago I read a passage – about Alexandria as Alexandria – similar to what I had written on 17 July [see English, No. 34, p.28-29]. Seems so much longer ago! “Alexandria stands in the desert, in the desert where life has been intense since the time of its foundations, but where life leaves no trace of the permanence of time. Alexandria is a town without monuments, or better still, with hardly a monument which recalls its ancient past. It is constantly changing. Time forever carries it beyond time. It is a town where, before everything above all, the sense of time, time the destroyer, is present in the imagination.” (Giorgio Luri, 1974)

Alexandria is not Cairo. It feels different. Or perhaps it is just my provisional view of Alexandria and Cairo now.

The life of Alexandria: Gone with the Winds. (Cute, but accurate!)


~9:00 pm Union 30

Met today with LD – Public Relations at the Bibliotheca. American; Egyptian husband. Muslim by adoption. Here since 1985. ~50-55. She was friendly – but had too little time for anything more than a few questions. Then I met OF – Director of Research. Not being an academic – I am not sure she wanted to talk to me – though she did mention interest in “free-lance researchers”. I told her of Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, California.

Though tired – which may influence my feeling – I do feel I could leave Alexandria now without much regret. I do plan to go to Marina Al-Alamein tomorrow to see it.


22 July 2003
~4:40 pm Union 30

Photo by Stephen Lapeyrouse

Sometimes ignorance is not much help – when a tourist, or visitor. For example: today. I had planned to go and visit [the seaside place called] Marina. And, indeed, succeeded in a way. Got into the women’s wagon [on the streetcar], and rode one station before I understood my error. Transferring to another wagon, I was told that I needed – as I thought I was riding! –Number 2 tram. For some reason the 9:30 bus to Marina is 15 LE [Egyptian pounds, ~$2.50], and the 10:00 is 20 LE. So I took the earlier to “Marina”. I had assumed it was a town or village – maybe like Abu Qir. But when I was dropped off – I approached gates 3 and 4 – to understand only via the aid of a woman who just happened to be driving through, who spoke good English, that only people who had or were renting villas could enter; if perhaps I might enter gate 2 to the two hotels – where I might be able to pay to stay the day! Not sure how long it took get there? Two hours? On the West Delta bus from Sidi Garber [bus station]. The beach front along the Mediterranean (the road was perhaps ½ to 1 mile from the beach) was often simply packed with rows of…apartments? Rentals? Resort villas? Don’t know. Instead of building 10– 12 stories high, they build 10–12 rows of places, some 1/2 mile from the beach.

Anyway, I took a microbus back to Alex. Four LE one way [less than $1]. A bargain for – 100km. I saw many aspects of Egypt going and returning: factories, car dealerships, a real mall, oil refineries and tanks, hovels and private homes on hills, donkeys and Mercedes. Started off from a place like the Avtovokzal near Shchyolkovskaya [metro station in Moscow]. Here it was safer; less crowded with petty criminals and criminal wannabees; not much cleaner – about as busy.

Which reminds me: I have not seen a single drunk person in 3 weeks in Egypt; nor a fight. And I am not sure that the average Egyptian face isn’t better, and generally more pleasant – less peasant – than the average Russian in Moscow. The Corniche is like the Arbat [in Moscow] – the area behind my hotel like – on the Egyptian scale – some of the shopping streets of… No, I should compare “Peter” to “Alex”, Cairo to Moscow.

What I “found” in Marina Al-Alamein, is not a place where I can spend an extra week. Maybe some other place? Where? So…I guess I leave Egypt on schedule? 31 July!

I saw much of the real day-to-day working-behind-the-scenes-life of Egyptians and Alexandria today. The very un-“exotic” part. Something like the opposite of a famous, ancient library.


7:00 pm

The silliness of the celebratory Egyptian military demonstrations before President Mubarek and appropriate dignitaries on TV would be enough by itself, were they not also doing it to parts of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker. Like motorcycles riding around to this music. Synchronized cycling. And periodic portraits of the unlovely President – some with sunglasses – while he looks on. A cult of personality; the pharaonic President? His portrait is in many places to be seen. Why is he not embarrassed? Yesterday [on TV] was not enough of all this?! What level of society is “proud” of such a circus? Could the pharaoh have expected more?


23 July 2003
Union Hotel Room 30
Egyptian Independence Day

Interesting, in 1776 the Americans defeated the Brits to define national identity, and 180 years later the Egyptians succeeded finally in doing the same. Yet now it is not the British that the Egyptians are against, but rather the first revolutionaries, the Americans; the government that is, for all Egyptians who have spoken about this – and I have only seen in the face, eyes and demeanor of very few Egyptians a different attitude – say that they like the [American] people and dislike the government.

Photo by Stephen Lapeyrouse

While having my 2-week old, inexpensive, broken [Egyptian] sandals repaired in an extremely small shoe repair shop today, an Egyptian who spoke English – and who replied to me that he was a lawyer – asked if he could “ask me a question, but without angering me”. Of course, I said. “Why did America attack Iraq?” (What a lovely young daughter (~10) – who spoke a bit of English – he had.)

A buggy driver and I had arranged to have him drive me around today. I had not guessed that 10am would last till ~4:00pm. His name is Abusiv, and he may still now (after 37 years doing so) today be riding people around Alexandria (“Alex” as he calls it, like the Russian “Peter” [for Petersburg]) from his base at the Cecil or Union hotels, in Alex. Today I truly did my tourist duty – seeing about five places most of which I would likely not have taken the trouble to. The Abu-al Abbus al Mursi Mosque; Qaitbay Fort; Anfushe for a glimpse; the “antique bazaar” areas; the Roman Odeum; Pompey’s Column and the Serapeum; with the Catacombs of Kom-al-Shuqafa last.

We had not agreed on the amount – and this bothered me yestereve and most of the day. (I shall not – or shall try not – to do it this way again!) I paid him $30 – but had planned on $20 for some 2-3 hours. I don’t know whether he is satisfied. But as once I heard 1 hour is 20 LE [~$3]; he got one half of Hossam’s monthly salary.

All along the way today there were people: guards, escorts, would-be-escorts, et al, who tried, or got, money. I have come to feel like a walking wallet – even if some of them really like Americans. Their poverty and desire to get even a single Egyptian pound or two from me – 6 LE per $1 – has soured my trip here. And I finally exploded – in German – with a guide at the Catacombs. We agreed for 15 LE for 15 minutes. He changed my 50 LE into two 20s and a 10, conveniently asking for 20. I had had my last moment of politely tolerating such ways – especially since this fellow affected being educated, etc. I was irritated when he suggested 20, and I let it be known so. Abusiv – who speaks modest English, and only needed German – said he was surprised, and upset, that I was so angry, which I was. We stopped at a coffee shop to talk – he wanted to restore my better humor. But even though I wanted to seem not upset and annoyed…I could hardly do so. I told him of my experiences in Cairo; I wanted him to understand a bit why I let myself get so openly, verbally angry at the guide at the Catacombs. (I think the guide and those working there will remember me.)

I had been debating trying to stay a week more – at some seaside place in Egypt – but I think now I prefer to leave. I have had enough of real Egypt – including from the “second light house” (forgot to mention going there today) and the western, business, marine and military harbor.

I believe that Abusiv cannot write even Arabic!, as when I gave him paper for his address, he took pen and paper, and told me to wait, while I am certain he went to find someone to write for him. He had said his education was “on the buggy” with tourists, meaning English. He actually was able to reproduce spoken “black city American English” better than I. Sailors from ships haven’t come here in three years, and he believes will never come again in port calls.

I am hoping Alex will afford some fireworks on the Corniche for their Independence Day celebration.


7:40 pm

They couldn’t hate the USA too much -since it supplies a good number of their nightly films.

I don’t believe I shall ever return to “Alex” – the library is not broad and deep enough to draw me, and otherwise I have now seen much of the “main sites" of Alex’s past. And what there is here – the noise of the long 26th July Street ruins any quiet one might sense of Alex by the sea.

But it is something to be able to say that – aside from tourist rest – I do not need to come to Egypt again. There are historical places I have not seen, and likely will not ever see; but I have to my needs, seen the realities of Egyptian life – at least in regards to me here even as a Western wallet. I am being too harsh; some people have been precise in returning even small owed money – like in the microbus yesterday. But others…. The money element seems to poison, not all, but many relations here. I can not but be to most people here a “wealthy foreigner” – even if my income is so modest.

If I do not swim…I shall regret that. But only at one distant beach is it clean and uncrowded enough.

The boy selling bottled drinks walks along the promenade [the waterside] ringing his 3-4 bottles like “bells". The man carrying pink and white cotton-candy in sacks on a long pole over his head, announces himself with a small cheap horn.


11:20pm

No fireworks – indeed, no celebration here that I could notice; though Mubarek and his clique had a concert – a bit too proudly Egyptian.


First published in English, #1-47, 2004.