Disorganized Alexandria Thoughts, Etc.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Okay. I’m just doing a quick update because I don’t have long left on this internet session. The laptop still won’t boot, so, well, no photos or anything else. Sorry.

Today’s quite lovely, though. During the week it rained almost every night and then got sunny and hot (and humid) during the days. Last night seemed to break the trend and no today might offer the best weather I’ve seen thus far in Berlin.

So I’m spending my afternoon in a dim internet café. No, that’s not true at all. I found a brunch buffet near the hotel in Savignyplatz and ate some pancakes, salmon, and fruit salad while reading the copy of Alain de Botton’s The Art of Travelling that I picked up at Dussman’s a few days ago. The book’s a kind fo lit-crit approach to thinking about travelling. Or an exceptionally stuffy student of Milan Kundera’s school of writing style, maybe, meaning he uses the same sorts of collisions between personal anecdote and references to the literary and artistic canon that Kundera uses, but with none of the sex or heated interpersonal interactions. Alain stares out of plane windows and chews on chocolate bars in bleak gas stations in rural Britain. (He’s Swiss, by the way, and has an essay in another book of his I have that’s a defence of boring places, so I guess it all fits together.) Anyway. I do, actually, enjoy the book. But I’ve become sidetracked.

I meant to write a few words about Alexandria, Egypt. Those few words might be: Alexandria came off as a slightly less congested Cairo. The Mediterranean Sea did a nice job of cooling the place down and blowing off some of the smoggy smells (though Haley didn’t agree whenever I made that observation). It also kind of cut the intensity fo the city as we never really went far away from the Corniche (the boulevard that runs along the sea) so we always had a kind fo visual break from Egypt. John and Cristina recommended a hotel to us about a half-block off of the Corniche and our room had a narrow balcony from which we had a nice oblique view of the water and a direct view into the hotel rooms right across the narrow street. We had no air conditioning, so the night was extremely warm. We had to keep the balcony doors open while we slept to have any air circulation — and by morning we were both flailing aruond trying to keep flies off of us while getting a few minutes of extra sleep.

After checkout we ran into the owner (I think) as we walked out with our bags onto the street. “Tell your friends it’s a very clean hotel!” he called to us. So: The Union Hotel in Cairo. A very clean hotel. By Egyptian standards, at any rate. Your western impressions may vary.

So. We arrived that first night at about 8pm and, after dropping off our bags, decided to eat and walk around for a bit. So we did. We found a sidewalk cafe and got some food, fending off the unending stream of people — adults and children — selling everything from sunglasses to mangoes to Pokeman squeeze-toys to oriental rugs. “La.” Firmly. “No.” Over and over.

Walking in Alexandria’s quite easy. The Corniche runs along the coastline and the coastline wraps in on itself, allowing you to see from any point on the Corniche almost all of the rest of the Corniche. Hard to get lost when you can see visually where you’re going. At the far end, on the peninsula that juts out into the sea, stands the Citadel, which we walked out to that first night, past several large, beautifully intricate mosques and nighttime businesses of all sorts. This was actaully quite pleasant, except for the fact that:

As a very tall blondish white dude, I was a beacon for unwanted attention. At night the wall between the Corniche and the rocky beach was packed with people sitting and just hanging out: old, young, men, women, kids, everyone. And we just had to battle through people yelling at us, saying harmless things like “Welcome Egypt!” but we just couldn’t stop and have a conversation with every group of obnoxious boys that decided to try to befriend us. Especially since, well, we had a hard time believing that these random displays of love were anything other than attempts to, after a bit of sweet-talking, get money out of us. Again, if I’m being a horribly western-centric or racist observer, here, Id like to know why and what I should’ve thought was going on. Maybe what I was really experiencing had less to do with money and more to do with a culture that’s fascinated by foreigners (as many cultures are) and a culture that doesn’t have the same sense of reserve that most westernizsed cultures have. Does someone look interesting? Shout out to them! Get their attention! Stare at them! That’s more benign, but still very exhausting for the objects of the attention.

Okay. I’ve only got a couple minutes left, here, so I’ll stop. More soon.


Posted Wed, August 3, 2005, 11:53am EST by Brian

Paul Theroux is a good travel writer. He conveys a more realistic experience than the lit-crit approach. He can be fussy, arrogant and sometimes annoying, but traveling brings that out in the best of people. Egypt sounds like a blast. Flies and all (This is where I would get fussy).

Now that you're back in your home away from home, maybe you can take it easy before school.