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.


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.





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?

leaving america


The Gebel

gouna egypt mountains

Quads in the Gebel at sunset — Photo courtesy Jo Chessum

“Sometimes I feel
I’ve go to…
run away.”
Soft Cell, Tainted Love

I’ve decided that I will not walk to the mountains, or gebel (in Arabic), as originally contemplated. Instead, I am arranging for transport by car, or Jeep, which has the advantage of not turning your clothes into a pile of sand dust, as happens with quad bikes. The plan is to get a few people to come with me, and maybe meet a few bedouin to have tea with in the afternoon when there. I want to come back before sunset, as I imagine the gebel is bloody cold at night, even more frigid than in the villa I’m renting, with its mausoleum marble flooring (or rokahm, in Arabic) that makes the house feel like a meat refrigerator at night. I used Google Earth to try to figure out the distance from the villa and the nearest mountains, and couldn’t find the Ruler or even the Tools menu option in the app I downloaded. So I measured it by hand, and my best guess conclusions are that this would be at least 3 hours walking to get there, and another 3 hours to get back. Now 6+ hours is a long hike alone in the desert, and much could go wrong along the way. Since I would not be able to call anyone for help, should, say, a scorpion bite me, or I’m attacked by roving marauders, I reckon it’s safest to go in a small group. This will probably happen sometime in February; and I very much look forward to the experience, particularly as I envision going to the gebel as the climactic scene in the Gouna novella I plan to write fil mish mish when I return to Florida in March or April (not now, of course; never now, as Eckhart Tolle might joke). I should know within 48 hours if I am going to be able to rent in North Golf (which is probably the quietest section of El Gouna) during what is the most beautiful month in Gouna — low 80s by day, high 60s by night:  in other words, perfection.  In the meantime, the real estate agent has promised to loan me some berber carpets to lessen the winter night cold at this villa, so things should be improving relatively soon on that score. Re this novella, or novel, if I can tackle such a project in my advanced state of mental and physical decline, I’m now worried that the overall theme would be excessively knicked from Paul Bowles’ The Sheltering Sky, providing yet another superb reason not to write the damn thing, not to mention achieving calorie free greatness by name-drop association. This — all of it — is of course an issue of long standing, which I probably need help from a professional such as Tolle to resolve during some expensive 3-day seminar somewhere. Yes, I do have such crippling, penthouse problems, it seems, that I almost admire myself every day for even getting out of bed in the morning, but then I would have to tweet about it incessantly, as some do, as if anything I have to say really matters to the gebel, unless I really tried to, at the least, attempt to go tell it to the mountain.

leaving america

Nobody writes the Basha

gouna cat

Sandy, on window sill, watching me write

Yesterday was tremendously exciting; I did absolutely nothing except read alternating pages of John Fante’s Ask the Dust and Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West.

But I stopped reading at page 14 with Exit, yet continued reading the next 80 pages of Dust. I plan on finishing that book today.

So why one, and not the other?


Fante is an American writer archetype; while Hamid is a Pakistani brand consultant, who nevertheless was treading on literary turf that I should have claimed as mine, long ago, and would have, except for the troubles.

And now here he comes, with his knowing Wall Street ways, his contrived interstitial plot devices, his arrogant contempt of all things American, and I seethed.

That was supposed to be me, you Penguin!

I was to be the Otherness literary mega giant from America; the first to get there (if you ignore the cannon, that is) with his classic New York City immigrant opus, Gum Arabic, the one and still the only truly Great Arab American novel, published in the 70s, the one that won all the literary awards there are to win, the one that cemented an unmatched reputation, which inevitably lead many literary critics to characterize its author as the reclusive Rushdie of Arabia, and Page 6 rags as the incredibly handsome young literary Arabian genius, with the gorgeous, wild American young girlfriend of patrician stock; a lionized writer who of course would go on to pull a Salinger, and disappear in the ruins of an abandoned Roman topaz mine in the Red Sea desert mountains behind El Gouna, Egypt, this after publishing Gum Arabic, his first and only novel, and who became The One to whom later modern Arab (but of course far inferior) writers who choose to write fiction in English — Lalami, Haddad, Almeddine, and all the others — would pay literary obeisance to, for having presciently blazed the path they would all follow with such post-deconstructivist, sexually-adventurous, hyphenated panache.

And so I set out to find fault in everything about Exit West, in particular, its plastic, manufactured main protags. Saeed and Nadia, who seem to have been generated by a calculatingly dystopic novel writing Android app released on Google Play by some junior Tata developer obsessed with senior sex and in particular prolapsing uteri.

No, Fante was my man, the one who anticipated all the themes in Gum Arabic — the classic young doomed writer with the foreign sounding name, his low class but beautiful girlfriend whom he would meet in a seedy Manhattan dive joint, the novel’s incredible culmination in the pitch black tunnels beneath Grand Central, where the writer would survive in brutal desperation amidst all the mole people, navigating the rat-infested, neon-lit subway tunnels every night in search of booze, provisional sex, a mirage muse, his unresolved bluish Identity, and of course the Long Lost Lenore, a trope he hung on to for at least a decade, until he could no longer be considered “young” in the pickup bars and still evincing “promise” as his looks went down the toilet. Such dark days and nights, them were, until he watched Sunset Boulevard at the Village Cinema on retro midnight Friday and resolved to find his own Nora Desmond… .

Then I discovered on YouTube Robert Towne’s (of Chinatown fame) last feature, Eat the Dust, starring bad boy Colin Farrell and Salma Hayek — the full version I might add, can you believe that! And I also found out that one can even read, via the unholy miracle that is the Internet, the full text of Marquez’ No One Writes the Colonel right here, another book whose premise I can easily ID with, and have been meaning to read for years, but for those tired, crutch-excuse-for-being-a-failed-writer troubles.

Life in Gouna is not so much as it should be, but as you make it to be. Today, it appears there will be much rizk by way of good reading and free streaming of cult films, Allah willing, and the enduring self delusion that nobody, but nobody, outwrites the Basha.

leaving america