When I think of the most beautiful place I have ever lived in, hands down, it has to be the simple chalet in Montazah by Cleopatra beach.
When I lived there — it no longer exists — in the summers as a teen in the mid 60s, with my mother and brothers, the palace grounds still had the pronounced, residual aftereffect of having once belonged to Egyptian royalty — in particular, King Farouk — who grew up in the palace itself, tragically minded, as it turned out, by a bunch of scheming Italians.
Apart from the stunning views of the Mediterranean, what was most remarkable to me about Montazah Palace — again, this is before it was commercialized and rendered ugly and small by the brutalist architecture of the gigantic hotels now surrounding the palace walls — were the king’s gardens.
I would often walk there alone in the summer, crossing through the complicated acres of wind-swept pine forest, to admire the exquisite sense of horticulture that had remained in place, despite the looting of the palace itself by Nasser and his goons.
One day, I may still write a pseudo Cavafian novel about that time; I have hesitated to do so up till now, mainly because every time I attempt to accomplish what I have always felt to be one of the points of my life, every time, other than writing a short story or two, my heart has been split wide open in the writing. Poor excuse, I know, but I have not yet been strong enough to voice the imagined truth about those times.
Fifty years later, I am now an old man. When is the heart able to move on?
I live in a rented villa by the sea in El Gouna, Egypt. I have a view of the Red Sea that pleases me; this is around the area where I used to go camping with my uncle Omar in the early 60s, he being an army officer, and we would pitch a tent by the shoreline, and I remember that crabs used to come out at night and crawl all over the roof of the tent, their pincer claws clicking.
I mention this because coming to the Red Sea is not a new thing for me, and, when I still used to scuba, I went diving all the way from Hurghada (“Kharda’a” in Arabic) to Dahab, but never as far south as Marsa Alam, which I wish to visit before I’m too old to do so.
This is why I feel comfortable in Gouna. I have a history here, and by here I mean Egypt; I was a boy here growing up, and Egypt remains, above all other places, defining. I would be mortified, if you will pardon the pun, to end my days in lousy Florida; here, I would be pleased to accept and appreciate whatever Allah has in store.
In this Gouna villa, where I moved in last week, there are a few issues. Apart from small problems with the house itself (see previous post) there is the noise factor.
Last night, alas, the idiot management at the Duport Club — Allah yikhrib bethom — saw fit to blare dance music till 3AM. It was loud; it was unpleasant; and it should have been squelched by the security authorities. But they didn’t do that.
However, this morning, I woke up to a day that had forgotten what had transpired the night before. It’s as if every morning languishes in the preternatural calm of a day after a brazen one night stand, and the intimate rustle of the cotton bedroom sheets surprises no one. A light breeze wafted in through the living room windows as I made my morning Turkish coffee. The smell of the coffee and of the earth itself in the garden — raml zira’yee is what it is called in Arabic, or gardening sand — filled my lungs and I found myself immensely content.
On a discrete whim, I went outside with my camera and took snaps of the garden. Luckily, the ganaynee (ie, gardener) had just arrived to water the plants. It is he who provided me with the names you see below for some of the plants in my garden. Any errors in transliteration are, of course, mine.
I am in Egypt, and I am looking at my garden. I will not be here in August when the dates will be ripe enough to pick and turn into date jam, marabat balah in Arabic, which is what my grandmother, Tetta, or El Sit, as she was called, in Garden City used to offer me as a treat when I was a boy, whenever I went to visit her. She is immensely missed.
Enjoy the pics.