And finally on Friday, silence was created.
I frequently think about my colonial room at the Clemens Hotel:
High ceilings, wooden floors, enormous, with a big window facing the Eleusis Sea.
This green and gray sea where the remains of ancient Alexandria remain, persistently covered by layers of algae and pollution, sharing their marble hirecism with plastic bags flouting around.
My colonial room at Clemens Hotel remains unhabited, empty.
I couldn’t help myself to fantasize about a new home to recreate, humbly,
the decadent atmospheres of Durrell
with carpets, candles and incense… the orientalizing impulse of the West they call it.
In stead, the shiny tiles of modernization cover my floor.
I’m closer to reality,
in the middle of it, maybe.
My room is an average one with a nice view.
Maybe someone here would consider it middle class luxury, something rare in these lands.
It’s a big flat, too big, with plenty of unused spaces shared only with Emad,
a Syrian poet and journalist willing to escape as soon as possible to Europe.
The westernizing impulse of the East they call it,
born out not as much as exoticism but of a more fundamental need.
The flat is almost empty, the only furniture to be found responds to the taste most common here, a strange combination of Rococo style and Bauhaus design with a minimalistic Arab touch reminiscent of an unaccomplished intent of modernization, a suddenly interrupted glorious past when Egypt became the economical and cultural power bringing not only envy but also a model to follow for most Arab counties.
Yellowish walls, light blue windows, white bright lights.
A poster of Messi on the wall, another of Harry Potter.
An iron bar to do push-ups on the frame of my bedroom’s door
and small sticker on my door with the word ‘Lion’ on it
Some times I wander who inhabited this space before I arrived.
39 Ahmed Kamha Street, 3rd Floor
Camp Cesar, Alexandria.
I guess I’m glad of my decision, and Amany’s insistence advising me to stay here.
Slowly I discover.
At first the neighborhood looked unappealing, hostile.
But I discovered the fruit market, the baklava shop and a Café where I feel comfortable. The waiter responds to my salamo alekom with a smile and to my shokran with a hand in his chest. I feel observed and show respect.
Lipton tea, book and cigarettes. Baklava and peach.
Sooner than expected, you will see me with a shisha …
Alexandria has lost any trace of what is frequently used as a tourist tramp:
‘City of Art, City of Beauty, City of Tourism’ as my map paraphrases…
The city of Alexander the Great is now an apparent chaos.
I’m learning to understand, slowly, how this chaos is organized.
Once, on my way to the new office in Downtown Alexandria, I saw the remains of a pedestrian crossing, nothing but three dusted and eroded stripes remain ignored by all. Maybe someone even think of them to be a kind of hieroglyphic, part of a civitas alphabet now forgotten.
I’m learning to see then, that this chaos is actually what the strategies of survival of these people left apart have created, with hidden rules and ruses that shape in fact the modus operandi of the whole city.
An urbs of seven million souls forgotten from any kind of societal state intervention, the one we are used to in the West. I’m talking about urban planning and the basic inputs, signs and symbols that are used to efficiently organize efficiency.
On the streets there are no traffic lights, and is rare to see lines dividing the asphalt. The only language to be heard is the one of the claxons used indiscriminately for no apparent reason.
The specificities and particularities of the chaotic traffic in Egypt have been transformed in a stereotype that remains true, ubiquitous, becoming the first and more evident sign that you are under the influence
of a cultural shock.
The second: Piles of rubbish accumulating on the streets.
They can be classified from their different origins and dimensions. Some are newly formed with still semi-clean plastic bags and debris; others have been there for ages, the organic waste rooting slowly under layers of similar elements spreading a smell of putrefaction that has not become normal to me yet.
The way to get rid of such piles is not other than the ancient and all too practical ritual of fire making. At dusk, small columns of smoke rise slowly around, creating at thick toxic fog reminiscent of the metropolis,
two hundred years ago.
And finally on Friday, silence was created.
I actually forgot about its existence.
Today I woke up listening to the silence for the first time since I’m here.
It is Friday, the Holy Day, and for now, accompanying the silence, only the persistent meowing of the cat can be heard in the first hours
of a day that is just starting…