In the hands of Allah

 

gouna

Wish I could buy this villa and fixer up it!

In the overall scheme of things, there’s much to commend in waking up each morning and playing solitaire.

But man is not naturally a creature of isolation.

So despite the rewards of my quasi urban hermit’s existence, I miss my wife, a lot in fact; but my reasons for leaving America and coming to this place stand, unwavering, and in fact reinforced by the latest stunts in the land from whence I arrived.

Here in Gouna, it has cooled off considerably. I can open the windows and let in a pleasant breeze (but also the sound of traffic) in the morning and evenings. I think the hotel-owned nightclub from hell across the street is up to new tricks tonight, so they may be about to ruin my week a day early (their normal pattern is to blast the marina on Thursday and Fridays and sometime Saturdays, between 11PM and around 3AM). I will go to overcrowded Cairo next week, when the temp there is consistently below 85 degrees F. I have not heard via email from anyone in my family in Egypt, so it is not as if they are unbelievably eager to see me again. Well I did leave the country some time ago. But I do need to buy some new relaxo Egyptian cotton golf shirts and tees in Zamalek (where I grew up) at this place I know, for some of the clothes I have brought with me have been ruined in the wash by house bathroom bashkeers, that is to say, towels, that I did not know would run, and alas there were no golf shirts available to buy at the Abydos gold club shop. I was told the Tourist Center in Downtown may have some tees (I would need size XX), but I called them this morning at 10:15am to see if that was so; however, no answer.

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After spending a pleasant enough three days last week with an old friend, I decided to do the hermit thing for a few days, and am enjoying my privacy while reading Lawrence Osborne’s Beautiful Animals. The precision of his landscape passages is obviously the product of careful research, and I hope to be able to emulate that when I start writing about the desert in the story I plan to set here.

I am primarily in Gouna to get healthy. Because the weather is cooling off, I shall soon start to be able to go for longer walks. My back continues to be a real problem, but is much improved since I started sleeping on the balat — the stone floor in the living room. I just throw a heavy blanket on the floor in front of the TV, add some pillows, cover myself with a thin bedsheet, and voila: this way I do not wake up with excruciating back pain, which was preventing me from being able to deep breath in or cough normally, almost like having a cracked rib, because of how badly the muscles in my back were damaged by the bed in this rental flat, and having to take tuc tucs to get around on bumpy dirt roads.

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I like being here, particularly because I do not think I could tolerate being in the US now; I watched a CNN talking heads program last night, and I’ll admit in passing to be rather taken in with Kate Bolduan, and realized that being in Gouna is my way of saying — imagine a raised, clenched fist and Che Guevara beret here — NO, NOT NOW, NOT EVER! to more or less everything.

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So I remain in Gouna, go for my walks when I can, read my books, and lose weight by eating only 1 meal a day: either some dirt cheap felafel sammies at Zomba’s (which, alas, give me the runs, so are now out), or a remarkably delicious bowl of lentil soup a the Turkish place next door (both are in Downtown Gouna), or the Spaghetti Bolognese (which I had last night at 7 Stars: simple, filling, and close by; although it rather annoyed me when they let this arrogant man-bunned mameluke bring large dogs to the restaurant, where he sat in classic Egyptian who cares splendor and had a cup of coffee). I’m essentially alone in a crowd in the Eastern desert of Egypt, which suits me fine, as the only person I have ever wanted to be around most of my life (other than of course Umi!) is my beloved Erin. Given that I have become something of a misanthrope in my old age, and take a dark view of any kind of zealotry, it suits me to be here, far away from the prying eyes of the geezer peepers who lurk on the street I used to live on in Florida.

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The original cargo pants I was wearing in France are now quite loose, and I think very soon I shall be able to fit into the next size down in the pants I brought with me. I am noticing that the weight loss is more apparent in my arms, where I see striations of disgusting fat that are becoming visible as my overall body fat starts to dissolve, leaving loose, crepe-like skin. What I mean is the fat is not reducing evenly; it’s slowly melting away from my face and arms and legs, but the basketball stomach and the moobs are still a big problem. I understand there is a gym next to the flat, and I shall find it and may start going there, once my back muscles reconstitute themselves. For now I am doing arm and shoulder stretches and leg situps and modified push ups on the kitchen counter; my knees are far stronger than before going to Nice, but I’m indeed glad I had those corticosteroid shots before leaving Florida.

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I think I will eventually make “friends” here. I use the term loosely: the problem is that many of the residents (or “owners,” which is the demarc term for the hoity-toities in Gouna) have nice pleasure boats, and they invite each other on day trips to the nearby Red Sea islands (which I would dearly love to see) — but I could never return the invite, so would soon be viewed as a parasitic hanger-on, and I do not ever want to be regarded in that light, for I am after all, the great-grandson of Turko-Egyptian beys who once owned vast izbas (ie, farms) in the Delta and Helwan. Bey lineage grandiosity aside, my view is that if I were to meet more of these owners (or “residents,” the other demarc term ), if and when I do, in the weeks and possibly months ahead, that it would only be in shall we say neutral circumstances; this way I would not feel obligated to reciprocate what I cannot.

I would be viewed as somehow “less than” in any way, a lightweight who never made it, by the standard of filoos —  serious money; a reality that if you argue against only serves to make you sound like a defensive loser, the guy who could not compete on the international playing field of commerce; or simply one who did not catch a lucky break. But what I do look for and hope to find, although I do not have particularly high expectations in that regard, is to come across a few well-educated people (and by this I mean in the Liberal Arts, and especially in philosophy and Literature, you know, creative thinkers like Ahdaf Souef, but without the baggage), with true intellectual depth, where conversation is not always about political or personal gossip, where kite surfing or groovebeats and half-baked film festivals are largely irrelevant, where what actually matters is thinking about things such as the stillness of the desert, as opposed to living a life of superficial ‘izz (the materialistic Good Life). If truth be told, however, the underlying gestalt of a place is rarely overt. It is not visible, on display, like cheap trinkets in some bazaar. Instead, it’s the job of the perceptive writer to observe and tease out what is meant by people when they’re engaged in apparently innocuous chit-chat, or make throwaway remarks, and spend their time doing particular things, instead of, say, nothing at all, and from that build a shifting edifice of meaning that can be translated into enduring literature. There is a thirst for the status of true culture in Gouna, by those who run the place, for they know that money alone does not define a legacy. Hence the Gouna Film Festival: a conflicted step (how many important Egyptian movies were censored out from competition?) toward the culture of mind, and creativity, not just bodily appetites — which is probably a bit much to ask for in what is essentially still a resort, yet also an escape for many from the confines of the capital.

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In retrospect, this trip has already accomplished, so far, what I envisioned as my reasons and goals for Leaving America, which I currently find intolerable at every possible level:

  1. I have succeeded in moving to a foreign country, in a pleasing setting;
  2. I have been able to do this while spending very little money (comparatively speaking — but I am way under my modest budget thus far), yet am also able to provide my wife and dog with decent standard of living back in the US;
  3. Call me vain, but I am starting, albeit very slowly to resemble what I actually once looked like — rather than this grotesque fatso version that developed after I contracted Graves’ Disease — though the hair loss and graying that happened when I had to take Methimazole for years means I shall never truly recover my once “movie star handsome” (according to Erin!) looks, but if I’m able to have the discipline to force my body to stop looking like that of an obese Floridian geezer, that will suit me just fine;
  4. I am enjoying myself, even if I am alone most of the time. There is much to be said for the contemplation the Sea of Tranquility, as a yellow moon slowly rises above Abu Tig marina. If it were not for the nightclub from hell across the street, I would already view this trip as a huge success.

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So where does this leave things? Well, my lease on this flat expires in just over a month (I have been in Gouna for 24 days, so far). I will probably be in contact my old friend sometime in the next day or two and see if we can together again and do some more interesting things (like the walk where I took the pics in this post) or just hang out for a few hours.

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I’m keen to find out if there has been any positive feedback regarding my desire to rent a small villa in the Abydos area (all the pics in this post are from there) between mid Nov and mid April. I really hope this happens, as I think it is going to take me a good 6 months to lose 50lbs, and finally get those dark stress circles under my eyes from living in the Land of Hate to go away. I also like that area because there is little traffic there, and no restaurants (which are nothing if not cancer magnets): I absolutely cannot tolerate cigarette smoke or car fumes, and already my lungs have reacted negatively to the lingering (despite the breezes) diesel exhaust and cigarette smoke in the air in Abu Tig, and are starting to produce phlegm, which only happens when I find myself for any extended period of time in cities or large towns. This is to say, I look forward to moving as soon as possible to a more suitable place, and by that I mean quiet, and pollution free.

The matter is now entirely in the hands of Allah!

leaving america

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Abydos

gouna

Pic I took from the Abydos tower on Sat

Here’s the latest news from Abu Tig Marina, home of gregarious, aging pleasure boat owners, as well as the magnificent spaghetti Bolognese at 7 Stars restaurant …

First off, I’d like to say that I saw a beautiful golden retriever sitting on the back of a boat coming back in.

The look of absolute contentment on this dog’s face made me smile.

It reminded me of the look my dog — a shep called Saba — had, when she used to be able to go out with me to my favorite, secluded Florida beach.

When it got too hot, she would drop her purebred German shepherd 95 lb. body in water that was just deep enough to get mid riff, and stretch her massive paws out in the sand, as she watched me go out for a cooling swim, with a look of transient worry, because she could no longer protect me, which she saw as her job.

Last night, Egypt beat the Congo 2-1, in a crucial FIFA qualifying match for the 2018 World Cup.

Aside from the play, which was energetic on the Egyptian side and listless on the Congolese, but — alas! — poor in overall quality (I don’t think either of these teams would stand much of a chance against the likes of mighty Germany or Spain), several things popped out:

  1. The announcer on the station that I watched was not so much a play-by-play guy, but a hysterical, partisan idiot who spoke in easy-to-understand Cairene slang. He talked about the Egyptian players in oddly familiar terms, as if if they were the children of Egypt and he, the voice of the average Egyptian. His style of calling a game verged on populist ludicrous: to wit, “What are you doing, ya Mohamed?  Where was your head? Have pity on us. Now is not the time for ay haga. Never mind. Let’s just continue to yank our heils.” — ie, shid hilna, a common Egyptian expression for trying harder. He didn’t fail to invoke faith in deity at every opportunity and with every turn of phrase, which I found bizarre: this was a sports match, not a religious event, until I realized that in Egyptian parlance, it was of course the Big Elvis who was in charge of the outcome of this match, which seemed to beg the question why it was being played at all, until I remembered that this particular linguistic trait was just a national verbal tic.
  2. The Egyptian side won on a questionable, mild pecker-slap penalty call deep into overtime. The OT had the aura of a fix arranged by Vlad (who may be plotting as part of his global domination strategy to bring Egypt back into the former Soviet orbit next year when the games are held in Moscow), though I am not sure what nationalities the accommodating refs were. So as with everything in life, what I was seeing was perhaps not what was really going on.
  3. The Egyptian side played in the nicest way possible, except for the occasional zu’a. I didn’t see many flagrants. I also did not see a single Christiano Renaldo-style dive,
  4. There was limited instant replay, but unless I am wrong, I think there were several instances where offsides were not called on Egypt — imagine that! — including possibly the first goal, though I was not actually wearing my glasses at the time, for I had left them on the kitchen counter.
  5. The low-class football protocol of the player who scored first was simply unbelievable! He ran into the stands, took his shirt off, as the entire bench mobbed the field in celebration. I have never seen anything like this in the middle of a soccer match, though in baseball you do see dugouts clear before the 9th, when the occasion warrants.
  6. The crowd was understandably jubilant throughout the match, but shining green laser lights in the face of the coach of the opposing team should have been cause for ejection by those who did this, and perhaps even arrest. But the use of potentially blinding laser beams by spectators was allowed throughout the match, which was played in Egypt.
  7. It appears Spain will be playing a FIFA match in Occupied Palestine tonight. So in the end, Egyptian footie fans were happy to participate in a tournament held by a money whore organization (how many arrests and resignations so far?) that tacitly supports Zionism and thinks it’s a jolly good idea to play football in the boiling sands of the Gulf in summer.
  8. The “Pharoahs” (a horrible name for a team: I would have gone something less lapidary and more elegant, such as the Bashawat) wore red, the color of the Ahly team. The color of Egypt’s flag used to be green, as still is the color of King Farouk’s team, Zamalek. A red shirt is a baladi slap on the tarboush to all royalists, who are the last to know the true Egypt.
  9. Soccer is a vulgar game for the unwashed masses. Luckily there is beach polo here in Gouna; and they even braid the horse tails. Now you’re talking my language!

And in other Abu Tig news…

I think it is important when visiting a foreign country not to expect what you would consider normal behavior.

Rudeness is rudeness. Anyone can spot it a mile away; not dumping on Gounies; after all, just look at the clown act in DC.

Which is why I am here, minding my business, and no longer subject to the nest of deranged, gun-carrying vipers that is the US.

Whether or not apparent rudeness — the loss of ikhlaq, or manners, as it used to be called in Farouk’s time — in today’s Egypt is deliberate provocation, or not, no longer matters to me, for I have achieved monastic imperturbability in less than three weeks.

Such are the blessings of Gouna, where I have the option of smiling, turning around, and walking away — from anything, such as oddball conversations, or the showy but deeply unIslamic spectacle anytime two or more Egyptian AUC-schooled, well-tanned young women in bathing suits that uncover some real skin get together at 7 Stars; not to mention the ubiquitous second-hand smoke.

You can’t escape this, even at the beach at Moods, where they serve floating shisha pipes which balding lardasses smoke while bobbing in three feet of murky green fishless water.

All this can become incredibly stressful to those who prefer to linger in more subdued, less air polluted environments; although the uncomfortable, table proximity of the overt sexuality of scantily clad banat and the repressed seething of conservatively dressed Egyptian mutadayinnat is indeed delicious to observe.

My aim continues to be: finding a villa by Nov 15th to live in till March or April.

Thanks to a musically-inclined friend who knows everyone in Gouna, I have several feelers out there. What I want is a small white villa in the Abydos area, which I really liked when we strolled through it on Saturday, and which I think my wife would love.

Meanwhile, I’m getting skinnier, and trying to get a good night’s sleep when I can.  

Last night the Kraut nightclub from hell across the street was closed, so I slept okay and was even able to go to bed at a normal hour, after the FIFA match.

But when I woke up, my lower back was again killing me from the horrible bed, so I guess it’s a return to a blanket on the living room balat (stone tile floor).

But what goes away one way, comes back in another. Today I thought I could just relax in the apartment with the windows open and read a novel, with perhaps with some insufferable Ismail Yassin movie on mute in the background.

Around 8:30am, a booming television program was turned on by someone living upstairs, and for a while it looked like I was going to have to get the hell out.

Egyptians simply have no concept of what it means to talk about an appropriate level of noise in a social context. They only know 1 setting: MAX, and everyone else be damned — after all, Egyptians are the freest people on earth, because they regularly ignore norms of civilized behavior: when to hammer in a residential neighborhood, when to turn the radio or TV, what volume should it be set to, not to mention trifles such as traffic laws.

A popular one is to constantly pester every foreigner they see on the street with dreaded passive-aggressive one word statements such as “welcome.”

You did not ask to interact with such people. But they stand there in front of you like sentries, in their blue striped gelabeyas and plastic sandals uttering “welcome,” with just the right hint of potential menace in the overall bogus friendliness, all of which has the effect of making you want to run for the hills.

This is the experience of foreigners in much of Egypt but of course not Abu Tig, where it is mamnoo’, that is to say forbidden.

Here you will never find yourself walking down some dusty back alley and suddenly out of nowhere comes a swarthy character with a bullshit smile saying “welcome.”

There are security people. They ask for carnets or IDs. They note down names. Any one who bothers tourists gets his name put on a list and then they get booted out of town and forbidden to find work here. It is all so unfair, but what do you care?

Gouna is a haven from all the plots and time-worn stratagems used by dragomen to fleece naive tourists of their Euros.

Particularly in calm, refined Abydos, where the gilmans live, people like me that is, except that they have money, and lots of it.

It’s the area where I hope to rent in next; it is where Gouna started, when 30 years ago, the engineer who is credited with founding Gouna got together with some of his rich friends, including the backup singer of my band who turned into a true multi millionaire and lover of all things Americana, and asked if they would be interested in investing in vacation houses here.

And so they did, beautiful Medi villas, and thus were born the Phase I villas — and this mosquito infested corner of nowhere became Gouna, on a patch of desert on the Red Sea — not via some overarching vision, as Gouna Magazine PR would have it, but incrementally, from the idle notion of some privileged Egyptians that it might be nice to have a place to dock yachts and spend weekends away but not too far away, from Cairo.

And now I am the penniless writer scrounging around trying to finds digs here — here, where my family name means absolutely nothing, when by rights, but for an unfortunate accident of history, it should only be whispered with the hushed reverence associated with the Sawiris — where the ones who actually own the beautiful villas, well, they have places all over, including Italy and Greece and elsewhere, and talk in confident tones about the plans they have for themselves and their children to enjoy this lifestyle in perpetuity, with the nearby private airport always at the ready should the situation suddenly go south.

As the days lazily roll by, my Abydos manoeuver will become more urgent. My Abu Tig rental agreement expires in just over a month. My fate is now in the hands of strangers; I am the master of nothing, except any residual talent I may have at writing.

In the meantime, I plan to spend time alone for the next few days, catch up on my reading (wherever possible: away from smoke and noise), and wait for the unbearable heat situation to improve. My better half tells me that Florida also continues to remain a cauldron of the boiling, and it’s now autumn there.

And there you have it, the state of MY particular fantasy world in Abu Tig marina on Monday morning, October 9th, 2017.

leaving america

The storm before the calm

Gouna

October 6, 2017 – breakfast at Zomba in Gouna

Today is Friday; day of rest in the Arab world.

I woke up around 7am, as usual.  As expected, ze Hunzenjammer lackeys started up around 11:00pm last night. This time round, around midnight, the deejay at Club Dogshit kicked off with something I had yet to hear: the sound of incessant car alarms, played at top volume. In the middle  of this extended aural assault, he would periodically launch the thunderous bass line loop that I have heard for several weeks now during the weekends from hell in Abu Tig, the bass track  obviously designed to evoke the rhythms of coital insistence, combined with the urgency of an approaching freight train.

I looked out the balcony window, and there were huge searchlights pointing beams of blue at the inky night sky. The usual dusty cars and motorcycles were parked all around the area in front of my balcony, and a woman, with a passing resemblance to Shahira Fahmy, walked alone towards the club entrance, which has a weapons detector frame thingie that patrons are expected to walk through. She had a sleek allure about her, and quickly disappeared out of my field of vision.

Earlier in the evening, I had met a friend from the Zamalek days. We had agreed to meet at the Fish Restaurant at 7PM. I was early, so I popped into Zomba’s, emailed my wife, and uploaded yesterday’s post.

I was done around 6:30, and was shutting down my comp, when my former band mate burst into the restaurant.

Where were you?

The last time I saw him was 4 years ago, also here in Gouna,

He had arrived in 1 or 2 days ago from a different time zone, and had been waiting for 20 minutes at the Fish place — mistakenly thinking it was already 7ish.

We sorted it out and had a very pleasant dinner.

On Saturday, we are likely to go to a hotel in Gouna where amateur musicians, twice a month, are allowed to bring their own instruments and get on stage for a song or two and jam.

But now I was back in my apartment in Abu Tig marina; this marina is divided into two large basins; I am in the South one.

At some point Cub Dogshit flooded the entire street with intense white light, like something out of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, so I had to draw the heavy curtains in the living room and bedroom to neutralize the light, not to mention the dowsha.

I was tired now.

How was I going to sleep?

When I was a kid growing up in the Gezira Sporting Cub, there was a judo instruction center right behind what was then called the new pool, between the steps in the back area of the pool complex and the ancient Banyan trees that have now been cut down. The place was run by a black belt teacher named Mamdouh, who learned Judo in Japan and later committed suicide.

Before doing so, however, and I am by no means making light of his unfortunate passing, but which I think were due to the Nasserite-induced bouts of depression from which he suffered intensely, Mamdouh tried to teach me about using a larger aggressor’s power against himself in order to defend oneself in a rumble.

Poor Mamdouh. I was a very bad judo pupil — I was far more interested in playing spin the bottle at the time –, but at least I remembered that particular lesson, which I applied last night when Club Dogshit started going La Gaga with the volume level of its groovebeats from hell.

Instead of envisioning picking up a baseball bat and going into the venue with the notion of smashing their speakers to smithereens, I tried to make the sound from the club float away from me. I was able to do this gradually, deflecting the waves of sound so I was no longer resisting them, but letting them pass by me into the oblivion of ataraxic neutrality.

Soon the sound of the Club Dogshit became an irrelevancy, much like the endless noise emanating from the orange clown, who has become an increasingly distant and peripheral figure in my consciousness, since I’ve come to Gouna.

As planned.

I woke up refreshed, and — miracle of miracles! — the searing pain in my upper spine from the crap bed had attenuated to the degree when I no longer winced when lifting something as light as the Chromebook Plus on which I write these posts.

As the weather cools more I shall be venturing on foot to North Mangroovy beach.

Tomorrow I may take the Gouna bus (or walking to) to Abydos Marina and the Phase 3 villas area, which might be a place where I could find a desirable rental by mid Nov.

These moronic problems I was having with Club Dogshit were nothing more than the storm before the calm.

If you want to, you can make anything or anyone drift into harmless irrelevance.

Too bad Mamdouh did not remember that lesson himself.