Zahma

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The world today is a crowded place, and all sort of people push their way in on to the subway car at rush hour.
The tracks are creaking from what in Arabic is called zahma, the crowd, and the price of your ride keeps going up.
But you are different, you tell yourself.
You are not part of this horde.
You think for yourself, and at heart, you are a Bohemian.
And so you ask yourself: Why does one read a novel or view a painting?
Is it to pass the time?
To see the world in a new way?
Why do you still tape those art posters on the walls of your shotgun apartment?

Let me tell you a story.
There was a group of Egyptian artists, once.
They rose during the time of Farouk the King.
Many if not most spoke French.
They traveled to France. They picked up the mannerisms of the Surrealists.
Then of course they wrote a Manifesto. (It’s charmingly dated, like a Tristan Tzara sendup, but worth the quick read, especially the French version.)
Après tout, all Surrealists had to also be pamphleteers.
Some were arrested for threatening the King’s rule.
But then Farouk was forced to abdicate, and the young Surrealists, dubbed Les Inquiets by the art critic Aimé Azar, became super patriotic.
They believed in the Socialist dream.
Nasser loved and supported them. They served a useful political purpose: they proved that his hukooma was not only about hanging those who disagreed with him.
The Inquiets created images of the New Egypt.
Then the Socialist dream turned to ashes in 1967.
Many years passed, and the art of the anxious young Idealists was appropriated by the State, and ended up in dusty government warehouses and in the storage rooms of dilapidated museums.
The revolving ministers of Culture in Egypt saw no value in them.
Neglect fell upon the land of Egypt.
But then, slowly, a market emerged, fueled by private collectors.
Suddenly, Egyptian billionaires like Naguib Sawiris — whose presence is global, even though he purportedly rides around El Gouna in a bicycle — were snapping up paintings by the likes of Abdel Hadi el Gazzar for millions.
Cairo dealers woke up to the commercial value of yesterday’s Idealists, and thus a market for fraudulent art was born.
It continues to thrive in the phoniness of today’s Egypt, as President Peepee and his henchmen arrest and even torture anyone in sight who might speak out the truth.
Just like Mubarak and Sadat and Nasser did, and the English during the time of Farouk and Fouad before that lot. Just like when the young Idealists were nabbed and beaten in jails when Egypt was a kingdom for the few.

Now I ask you again, why do you read novels?
Why do you look at paintings?
Do you say, oh I’m hip to Ganzeer, I know all about how the dreams of the Arab Spring turned to sewage. I know all about Using Life.
Do you?
Do you really know anything real at all about Arabs?
As the truth about what happened in 2016 becomes clearer by the day, yet the abydocomist-in-chief remains in the Oval Office — you might ask yourself: how is America different in that regard from Egypt? or Iraq? or Iran? or Israel?
You will surely continue to hear, from the xenophobes and charlatans, oh these Arabs do not belong here. This is our land. These are terrorists; they are not part of our culture.

But then you might also hear, by chance, a whisper about some obscure novel and your curiosity is piqued: Is it possible, you say? Did Arabs really emigrate to NYC in the late 19th Century?
Was there a little Syria in the borough of Manhattan on Washington Street, right by where 9-11 took place?
And did an Arab-American writer who lived there during that time produce a sophisticated novel in English as far back as 1911?
Yes, yes, yes, and yes again.
And so you read this novel, The Book of Khalid, and you read about the unusual life of Ameen Fares Rihani, and your astonishment grows, particularly if you were an English major in college and thus able to make the connection to Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus.
Sartor Resartus? Carlyle? Arabs? And Surrealism too?
Is this possible?

Arabs are animals, they say.
Many have spent their lives over the centuries trying to parlay this idea.
You stop and think:
They speak French, these animals?
They produce culture?
They write novels and create works of art?
In America, more than a hundred years ago, and in the world at large for a thousand years before that?
These are the same animals who are busy producing some of the best fiction being written today, despite the threat of imprisonment and death?
These are the terrorists you hear so much about?
You might also ask yourself:  why is it that the 9-11 Memorial Museum suppressed any mention of Little Syria and the tragic if not obscene irony of a generational catastrophe in the very place where Arabs once thrived in lower Manhattan?
What’s that all about?

You stop and again ask yourself.
Why read novels?
Why look at art works or street graffiti?
To be entertained? To make a killing in the art market one day?
Or is it something more urgent?
Are these the last remaining places to find out a deeper though always provisional Truth, as the zahma threatens to leave you brain-dead amidst the rats on the subway tracks to nowhere?
Is that it?
Is it, in fact, the last vestige of what’s left of your humanity?

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Salah the Conqueror

salah

Mohamed Salah mural in Cairo

Almost 3 weeks ago, already, I returned from El Gouna, Egypt. I’d spent 7 months on the Red Sea in this dodgy, rich man’s enclave, where dictatorial monstrosities such as General Peepee, Donald Feces, and Vlad the Impaler are tacitly admired.

There is not much to do in El Gouna, unless you’re into tyrants, as you pass the time watching a pointlessly sweaty game played by bearded baldos trapped in a glass cage (squash), give it up for entitled beach polo playing assholes, waste away on booze and hash through the discrete underground network of illicit Johnny Walker Black procurers and drug dealers that delivers whatever you need to your doorstep via tuc-tuc, chase foreign skanks who’ll spread ’em for nothing more than a Tramadol or two, especially if you spring for a dinner at The Smokery, go on boat rides to Tawila Island with fat disgusting old men who made their money trading in North Korean arms or raping the Egyptian public sector economy, wind surfing, if you’re still in your 20s, and, even if you’re not, tuning into the phony, frenetic groovebeat festival (you can read some gushy Kiteworld promo about Sandbox here) that descends upon El Gouna the way algal bloom infects the Gulf of Mexico every summer.

Such a lovely place, El Gouna.

Lovelier still was NOT having to listen to La Liga and Champions League football via the vile intermediation of Essam Al Shawaly, who literally makes watching a football match akin to scraping your fingernails against a black board. The hyperinflated, oddly personalized, vaguely faggy, repetitive cadences of Arabic football announcing drove me up a wall in El Gouna, as I attempted to follow Real Madrid on shitty, small screen non Hi Def TVs in the villas I rented during my stay. Here’s a typical over-the-top example of Shawaly announcing:

Why are doing this Salah, O man, O man (ya ragl, ya ragl!), you are  the hero of the Arabs, you are the Saladin of soccer, you are the flower of the desert, ah, what a 3’rdiyya, what a cross, what art, what beauty, even Maradona is weeping as he watches you, ya Egyptian Messi, ya hero, ya genius, oh, koura khateera now, dangerous ball, Salah, Salah. Salah, SALAH SALAH SALAH SALAH SALAH GOAL GOAL GOAL GOAL GOAL GOAL GOAL GOAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAL!

The moronic level of Arabic football intonational announcing made me cringe. which is yet another reason it was so pleasant to return to the US and watch the UEFA final rounds in the comforts of my home on FS1, with calm English speaking announcers, without having to deal with crappy small TVs, idiotic announcing, or watching the match in downtown Gouna, and inevitably being subjected to endless whiffs of cancer-producing second-hand smoke from the ubiquitous shishas in some loud sports bar filled with strangers.

san siro gouna

The San Siro sports bar in El Gouna, notorious for attracting shisha sucking hijabis

Home sweet home. Can’t wait for May 26th to roll around for the clash of the young Egyptian phenom versus the wily old Portuguese master!

In other news, for those who are following this blog, I have decided to develop a cross-platform mobile app this summer, after trying out a product called Appmaker.xyz (which is built on top of Google’s AppMaker and Firebase products) and decided it was too immature for my requirements.  I have very particular ideas as to how I want the mobile app that I envision for my wife’s business to look and feel, and if you want custom functionality that doesn’t come out of some box, then there is no alternative but to go the DIY route.

Yes it shall be a challenge mastering the technology stack underlying Xamarin, but I thought about it, and have decided that not only am I up for it, but that I relish the challenge. Who ever heard of a mobile app developer pushing 67?

real madrid flag egypt

A flag in San Siro sports bar in El Gouna, on the ceiling of the area in the back where they show soccer matches on two big screens

I don’t know why, but ever since I’ve returned from El Gouna, I feel I can do almost anything, a feeling that I last had in the early nineties, when I started to have a measure of success as a relatively still young technologist in Manhattan.

Perhaps it’s the pleasure of watching the orange turd twist in the wind nowadays, perhaps it’s losing all that weight (and still counting), perhaps it’s the bike rides and weight lifting and soon-to-come SUP paddling (once my knee completely heals from the dermatologist’s scalpel, after she removed a benign wart), perhaps it’s the sheer enjoyment of working as a hands-on developer once again with sophisticated computer technology, something that I was first attracted to at age 14, or perhaps it’s that I realize that’s there not much time to lose anymore, so why not do something productive instead of mooning about the past?

Such is a conquering freedom that anyone should have at any age.

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The Egret has Landed

egret

Florida Cattle Egret

Today’s the second day that I’m back in Florida, on what is known as the Treasure Coast.

I live in a small, limited-growth, low-density county by the Atlantic ocean. There are no gigantic condos towering over the beaches here. The tallest structure in the county is a water tower, and there are only 145 thousand full-time residents, who live in an area that is about 753 square miles.

Most people like to live by or near the ocean, so the population density is skewed toward towns and areas that abut the water. My town has a population density of 1800 residents per square mile. This compares favorably with that of my hometown, Manhattan, which has 66,940!

I spent the day yesterday lazing on the back porch. and recovering from the final effects of jet lag. This porch is actually a screened lanai (unlike what you get in El Gouna, where the biting flies will feast on your flesh as you attempt to kick back by the pool), and overlooks a small lagoon and the manicured golf course that’s intertwined in the high-end gated community where I live.

The weather was absolutely gorgeous, and I sat in the gentle sun reading Ahmed Naji’s Using Life. I have been waiting for a dog’s age to read this book: of course it’s banned in Egypt, and its author was thrown in jail for the past two years on obscenity charges, and now awaits another trial and isn’t allowed to leave the country.

This is the sort of thing that is tolerated in the land of El Peepee, the tin pot generalissimo who overthrew Egypt’s only democratically elected president in 2013.

Now that I’m out of Egypt, I can start to write the truth about that country — both in this blog, and in the novel I’m working on —  a country where freedom is unknown, and young activists, journalists, artists, and writers are thrown in prison and sometimes tortured for the heinous crime of speaking the truth.

After only one day, my skin is already starting to uncrinkle from the 85 per cent humidity that I am enjoying here, after the 5 per cent humidity desert air of El Gouna.

I went for a bike ride early in the day. The wind was a gentle 5 mph, and the sky a vivid blue. The pleasant outing was not ruined by any of those infernal tuc-tucs that blight El Gouna, where I spent the last seven months, and no biting flies pursued me. When I returned, I worked with weights, and then did stomach exercises.

I felt a sense of deep contentment, and slept like a baby last night, under my own roof, at last. I awoke an hour before dawn, which is normal for me:  I do my best writing between 5 and 8, when it is quietest, before going about the rest of my day.

Speaking of writing, it is such a pleasure to be using a real desktop computer, with a wide, high-resolution screen, and a version of the classic old school IBM Model M keyboard that I have used most of my life — it’s is highly conducive to typo free, high-speed typing.

Even better yet, it is a pleasure to finally have access to a high-speed internet connection.

In Gouna, all I had was a measly 2 Mbps connection that I plugged into via a miniature Samsung Chromebook whose keys stuck.

Here I’m once again enjoying download speeds of 97 Mbps, and upload speeds of over 12 Mbps, which is truly life as it should be.

And now that I am away from the land of the Pharaohs, I can access sites like Mada Masr (it has a superb English language version), which cover what is really going on in Egypt. Mada Masr, and many other like sites, are banned in Egypt, because El Pepee and his venal band of sycophants can’t handle the truth.

duck stamp

Today, I plan to drive my trusty Ford Escape and tool around town taking care of various errands, including getting a Federal Duck Stamp that will provide me with unfettered access for the rest of the year to any Federal park or preserve across the United States — for the princely sum of $25.

Then I will head straight to my beloved beach (which is a federally protected park, and consists of 5 miles of wild, untouched litoral, with actual sand, and not that red clay, pebbly stuff on the Red Sea), the Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge, absolutely my favorite “secret” beach in the world. I’ll try to find my old friend, Ozzie the osprey, and say hi and maybe take a few snaps..

I left America because I thought Donald Trump posed a threat to Arab-Americans like me. Now that this orange piece of corrupt and possibly traitorous lard — isn’t the First Amendment a beautiful thing?! — is in such deep shit, it shall be hugely entertaining to watch the pig sweat and rant and squirm, as the walls close in and America slowly approaches the November mid-terms, while the Mueller and Cohen sagas unfold like a Greek tragedy wrapped in a farce.

Life is always good, in a democracy with strong institutions, no matter what, unlike poor Egypt, which has been stuck with the likes of General Peepee since 1952 — as the smug burghers at 7th Star in El Gouna chow down their Spaghetti Bolognese and sip their Sakkarah Golds and smoke their Marlboros and gab on their smartphones and gaze out at the marina at their boats and pretend that all is well and will last forever, so long as President Peepee is around.

Here, the egrets have landed, and they are free to come and go as they please in a free land.

Ameen to that.

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