Posts Tagged ‘The Alexandria Quartet’

In the past two months, I’ve taken up a new — or I should say, renewed — occupation in my time not spent teaching or writing. What’s remarkable is that I’ve really made no mention of the fact since beginning — usually because it gets overshadowed by the crazy things my kids say, shootings in the Sa’id, or incredibly wonderful Melissas (by that I mean the one, the only) visiting for two weeks.

Ladies and gentleman, I am a paid tour guide.

Some time back, after making the offer to Paul — the assistant director of my ertswhile abroad program — I gave a tour (in Arabic!) to a group of Middlebury students and walked them around Manshaya. While this was a bizarre experience (talking to a bunch of students not much younger than me in Arabic, when we actually could communicate much better in English. The result is all kinds of awkward, mainly because, as we walked, every Egyptian in the world wanted to know why I was speaking Arabic to them, and not English).

Apparently it went over though. Paul passed my name along to a tour group that’s been calling me up ever since, looking to spice up their two-day outings into my much-beloved city.

As Rumi told me in Horriyya some time back, “Talk about creating your dream job.”

The result of my obsessive reading and Durrell-worship has been a two to three hour tour through Manshaya, a peak into the older churches, a little lecturing on theological differences between the Armenian, Greek, and Coptic Orthodox, a few mosques, the Sayyed Darwish Opera House, Cavafy’s old flat, the old synagogue (Abdl Nabi and I are really tight these days), and tons and tons of nostalgia. Imagine me walking backwards through the streets of Alex, going, “Here, in the Pharaonic period, was the site of the Canopic Way….” I carry a bag of black-and-white photographs, some old maps, and a few quotes from Cavafy.

I’m reminded of something I jotted down at the AUC Library last time I was there:

In Alexandria itself, the legend is cherished: There is not a writer searching for the poetic world of Durrell and Cavafy, a historian searching for the last traces of ancient Alexandria, nor a freshly landed diplomat who has not encountered a cicerone ready to guide him through the city he had imagined. No one knows better than an Alexandrian just what the traveller has come looking for and none but he knows how to respond. – Eglal Errera

I would like to think of myself as that Alexandrian.


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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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