Ouvrage

“[We] made several trial diggings […],
but we found nothing worth carrying away.”
E. A. Wallis Budge, noted British Egyptologist and philologist

 

Sometimes, it takes 50 years to understand what happened when you were 15.

The wind has completely died down today in Gouna, Egypt. Because it is Sunday morning, many people have already left in their cars. They’ll be in Cairo by afternoon.

Here, it is now quiet.

All you hear is the randy howling of cats, and the occasional passing of a micro bus. As always, Sandy remains close by, silently, and does not engage or participate in whatever the other, larger cats are doing — which is mostly foraging for food, and coupling.

gouna cat

The hated tomcat yowler

The lack of wind and people lends an almost classical feel to the place. You sense history writ in the large having unfolded. You sense an inflection point in history about to unfold. You sense in the stillness of the moment the present as an unalterable is-ness.

The French word ouvrage has multiple meanings. It can mean opening something, or, rather, the act of revealing; but it can also signify a literary or academic text, a book, a conceit, a fragment or shard of memory.

If you were here in Gouna simply to regain your health and get away from American carnage, that would be fine.  That would be sufficient.

But it isn’t for me.

Behind every day that I am here in the desert by the sea, I think to myself where is the opening? Where is the cut in the mountains that I shall take to explore the remote territory in a deeper way? Or is this nothing more than the delusional madness of the anchorite? Is that cupboard empty, with at best a dusty stray cat story yellowing on some bottom unseen shelf?

If Saussure and philolology are your thing — as they are mine — there can be no greater adventure than finding and reading an affordable copy of  P. M. Frazer’s Ptolemaic Alexandria.

I shall look for it while in Egypt; first at the Alexandria library in Gouna, and then perhaps at the real one in Alexandria itself.

It is necessary to find this book, given that much of what I am thinking about — as I go about my normal activities, the duties as it were, of cooking, shaving, walking, watching TV, or even reading about Nubia —  involves Alexandria and the deserts of sin.

I must go to Alex before I leave.

I must find this book.

egyptian snake

Egyptian cobra

The bucket list keeps growing; Marsa Alam; the nearby islands in the Red Sea; the visit to the Bedouin in the Eastern Desert wadis and spending a night or two under the stars in the mountains. What about the danger of snakes that are no doubt there?  I am an immigrant. Am I one now, too, a snake, as some American fools claim? Is there a secret sharer in this house?

I sit in the stillness and wonder how many of these superficial things I’ll be able to do before leaving. Time is growing short, even though such accomplishments are largely meaningless — the blue flies will eat out your eyes no matter what. It’s becoming obvious that I must return in October. Should the new place I am going to in a few weeks please me with it’s attractive proximity to the Red Sea, I may rent it for 9 months and finish writing my tortured imaginary novel there.

I watch — briefly — CNN and apprise myself of the latest rantings of the lunatic currently in the White House.

But then I switch it off.

I listen, again, briefly, to Jagger on YouTube singing “I’ll never leave your pizza burning” on Beast of Burden, and think of all the cunctative mulepacks that I perhaps mistakenly must rely upon in my search to discover the ouvrage that will — at last! finally! — define and validate the real point of my coming to Gouna, now long after I have ceased to be a handsome young man with the world before him like a bed of willing oysters, and with hours, no, decades, to spare, dawdling with complicated young women in New York City dive bars, engaging in the usual clever banter and chit chat, pissing out the future on urinal cakes in a porcelain prison, as if the moment of ultimate reckoning would never be at hand.

I listen to the silence of the desert.

What is it trying to tell me?

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The night the desert turned muddy

gouna egypt

I’ve been in Gouna, Egypt, for almost 6 months. Gouna is desert country.

Hot, dry.  No water except from wells and the pipe that brings it in from the Nile.

Most especially, no rain.

Evah.

Except for yesterday.

It started raining around 6PM, and by late evening there were orographic thunderclaps in the distant mountains.

By morning, the dirt road outside my house had turned to mud.

It is the will of Allah.

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Civilization and its tents

gouna hermit

Who goes there?

“The hermit turns his back on the world and will have no truck with it.”
Freud, Civilization and its Discontents, Ch. II

“Aloof with hermit-eye I scan
The present works of present man.”
Coleridge, Ode to Tranquility

When faced with questions about whether human beings are innately cruel, or the bitter problem of Evil, it is often useful in old age to retire to a quiet, distant place in order to settle the matter.

Unfortunately, such places often harbor mosquitoes that come and go, buzzing hither and yon throughout the night, here one day, gone the next, then back again.

Moreover, where apparent quietude seemed to have been successfully sought, loud Spaniards or the drilling of the constructor’s saw and drill bit or the ululations of social inferiors to the accompaniment of frivolous folkloric music often come out of nowhere to frontally assault your daytime equanimity.

You can switch off the TV in order to read in serene leisurely contemplation R. I. Moore’s The Formation of a Persecuting Society (2nd edition of course), but nay, they are determined to exist, to be heard, to speak, to invade your pleasure garden, to — at all costs — be noticed, for reasons they do not even understand.

In such cases, there is only one course action: beat a retreat to the Tower of Isolation, armed with a mosquito tent.

gouna egypt

top floor, with a killer view balcony

gouna egypt

Stairway to Heaven

gouna egypt

To the Tower!

Such a thing is not so easily accomplished.  Preparation must be made if your Mozinet, which hitherto had nobly withstood the desert storms in order to protect you poolside from blood-sucking flies, is now soiled with the dust of disdainful enmity from the pointless rustling of the wind.

gouna egypt

The mozinet is turning beige!

You must wash it; this is what I had to do.

mozinet

the mozinet drying after being washed

 

gouna pool

where i washed the mozinet

desert cat

while Sandy slept

And you must further plug in the earpieces of aural joy to achieve what is known as The Block.

chromebook plus

ear bud heaven

In the end, the result is rather splendid.

mozinet

Before

mozinet

After

No one can touch you; you have separated completely from dirty, messy, illogical, vain, violent, pestering human and skeeterkind — so long as there are burly guards on your street, armed rent-a-cops at the entrance to your expat enclave, food and purified water in the fridge, an HD TV with a pleasing variety of channels and a reliable internet connection, and of course a large multi story villa with a pool, you need not experience anything at all that displeases you ever again — in a place like Gouna, everybody delivers, and Gouna could be anywhere, depending on the health of your bank account.

All this cone-of-isolation routine takes is a little (or a lot) of money, reasonably good health, no residual mawkish sentimentality, and a sturdy conviction to permanently turn your back on what you once regarded as indispensable — within reason, naturally.

It comes down to this:  are you Julius Winsome, in novel-reading matters, as well as in pondering the nature of Evil, or a Goodreads cullion? Solo on the beach, or group?

Home and country is always wherever you happen to be at any given moment; everything else is provisional: after all, you are your own best company.

There’s all kinds of tents in this world.

They share something: the virtue of noble mobility.

If civil war eventually breaks out in America, would you care enough to return and join the fray?


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