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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- I have succeeded in moving to a foreign country, in a pleasing setting;
- 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;
- 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;
- 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.
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.
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!