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Posts Tagged ‘memory’

Last Alexandria post.

I’ve been thinking in this manner since two days ago:

Last time I will buy vegetables from Ali.

Last Mass at San Katrine.

Last time Marwan at the Basha will harass me about fitting into my suitcase to go to “Amrika.”

Last subiyya at Mekka Juices.

Last time one of the clerks will hand over a pound change for my fiver, and legerdemain it away somehow before I pick it up. Last time I’ll fall for it.

Last ride on the little tin tram.

Last time I’ll buy a newspaper from Hassan on the corner.

Last day of work.

Last Dahab.

Last walk home with Ahmed.

Last banana that Ayman will give me on my way to work.

Last coffee I’ll drink on my balcony.

Last sheesha on the Mediterranean.

Last walk on the Corniche.

Last time Abu Ahmed will act grumpy and respond “Mish dawa3” (Something like: “It’s not your business!” or “Who asked you?”) when I ask him how much eggs are today.

Last trip to the Spitfire.

Last mashru3a ride from Manshaya. Last time I’ll shout “Al-nafa5 li’gay, usta!” (Next underpass, driver!)

I had actually anticipated leaving yesterday, but I got so depressed thinking like this that I couldn’t really take it anymore: I had to have one more day in Alex. And then I was no longer depressed. Until these became the second-to-last times I would do these things.

How do you talk about memory?

This has been one of the things I’ve been running over in my mind since I’ve gotten here. In college, it’s easy, but you realize it altogether too late: the place is yours for a few years — you are the owners, the veterans — until you pass through it, move on, and the place is possessed by someone else. Is it any less yours? No: memory has rooted there, somehow.

And I’ve been wondering the same about my Alexandria. Was it ever really mine? My feet know the city, and the difference between most foreigners and me is that I came back. I returned. Of all the cities, I chose her to come back to when I needed a time to think, to write, to practice. You could have been Cairo, Amman, Adan, Marrakech; instead, you were Alexandria.

My colleagues (and occasionally I) have expressed a kind of scorn for the often overdone Egyptian sentiment of “Never forget me!” People you just meet or might have a light, passing acquaintance with will often charge you “to remember me always,” and the effect on someone who is used to change and separation is often one of severe annoyance. Our entire lives in America are accustomed to separation, to change; our schools are divided into elementary, middle, and high — graduations mark the passages and the changes and the need to move on beyond the old friends and into the new opportunities. The student that goes back to his old high school, that talks to his old teachers, that writes letters to old friends and tries to rekindle old friendships is looked on as too nostalgic, too backward thinking.

My father has often rebuked me for such things. I can understand why; attachment is a dangerous thing, and there is only so much of your soul to spread around. We can only have so many friends before we end up being a bad friend ourselves.

As for me, though, I’ve had a year to think about it, and I disagree. We do not preserve memory: memory preserves us. There is a simple wisdom in the knowledge that someone knows you, halfway around the world, and likes you for who you are, and how you laugh. There is a kind of purity in keeping the image of a love-long past, long-mourned, long done with preserved from its moments, not because you are the secret kept, but they are. Perhaps that is why the greatest commandment of Christ is to love, to forgive; because love knows and keeps the good memory of others.

I’m waxing a little bit mushy.

Is it real? Is the city real? Durrell said it was, but so many have disagreed with him, and said that what he wrote never existed. I’m not sure I ever will be able to write it “real” for the page, but memory is what makes it real to me. Leaving and returning. Remembering and forgetting. On the eve of the departure, I suppose I’m committing that unforgivable sin of sheer and utter colonialism: I’m calling it my Alexandria. I — an outsider — am saying I know her (and yes, postcolonialists, this is a her. Linguistically.) I know her secrets — the secrets even Egyptians have forgotten, that Egyptians don’t know — and declare that she is a city of secrets. I wish I had someone to pass them on to — and I wonder if I will ever meet someone who knows the same secrets I do, one day.

Maybe.

I’m just sad to leave her.

Good-bye, Alexandria. City of Memory.

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Lots of links on this post. I’ve also decided that, hitherto, most of my posts have been media-less. Henceforth, let the pictures commence.

A subject which I have neglected somewhat (though it is never quite far from my mind) is The Alexandria Quartet. As anyone who has spoken to me for five minutes in Egypt will tell you, I am an avid fan; I’d go even to the point of calling it the “lost” work of modernist English literature (move aside, Henry Miller).

To this end, I’ve built an entirely new addition to the site, and hopefully will be adding different links as work progresses on various Durrell-themed pursuits: I’m working on a map of the city with old place names, more pictures, and a quote-themed roadmap. I’ll also try putting up more of LD’s contemporaries (Cavafy, Forster) as things pile up and connect everyone to other wartime writings. Be sure to check regularly, as this hobby borderlines on obsession, and I’m sure to have more up within the week (courtesy here of eid).

I spent the afternoon wandering around a crowded Manshaya and Mahattat ar-Ramleh, snapping pictures and trying to echo some photographs I found on the very helpful Facebook group, The Memory of Modern Egypt, which also has links at the Library (sorry, Arabic). So far, I’ve uploaded a number of photos from the 1940’s (courtesy of the Bibliotheca) and a few companion pieces from my own adventures today to show you how the city’s changed since LD’s day.

Eid mubarak, everyone, and thank God for the return of post-Ramadan normality!

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