Twenty above zero

gouna weather

There’s an unusual weather pattern holding above Egypt this week. Lots of bitter cloud cover yesterday.

Last night was probably the coldest day in Gouna since I’ve been here: 20 degrees above zero at 4am; and two days after my zero at the barber shop.

I love my beautiful zero; the sun has been baking off the worms, lentigo, red pimple pus and rampant boils in my headskin. It feels good to have them go away, just like that, after all this time, after all the twisted thinking. With the dryness of the air, my scalp’s no longer greaser oily, but almost a smooth, yet still prickly brown egg.

Lots of older guys in Gouna have this look; young guys too. You look like a cancer patient or escapee from a mental institution or even a skull-faced, swing state governor at first, but then your scalp tans, and the boils and head worms get cauterized off from the sun, and then you look okay, like a normal guy almost — even if your cranium happens to be shaped like a lima bean.

Nobody stared at my head when I went downtown last night to grab some dinner. I went to Zomba’s, and ordered a lentil soup and a Gounaman Special. Zomba’s doesn’t actually have lentil soup, so a kid ran over to Kan Zaman and brought some back in a container. Apparently the same guy owns both places.

gouna egypt

The lentil wasn’t hot enough when Habib the waiter served it to me, so I asked him to send it back to the kitchen for reheating.  I like my soups piping hot; besides which, it was getting cold out. He looked at my zero, and said, well that’s the freedom you get when there’s no one around to tell you what to do.  He knew my wife had returned to America. Then he said, all this freedom must feel a little chilly.

I was sitting alone inside Zomba’s, mainly to avoid the two aging German women with badly wrinkled upper lips who were sucking on cancer sticks in the covered but open sitting area in front of the restaurant.  An Egyptian guy with a foreign wife or girlfriend came in and sat at the table next to me. For once, the girlfriend wasn’t a much older woman, so maybe theirs was not yet another EU passport relationship.

I finished my dinner and thought about nothing at all.

Then I took the bus back home. I had a conversation with the night bus driver, who expressed admiration for how I had retained my Egyptian accent when speaking Arabic. 50 years ago, I left this country, but I still sound like I’m from here to an Egyptian bus driver.

All my life in the US strangers have always asked me what kind of accent is that? No one in America has ever told me that I sound like I come from there, as this bus driver did last night.

It used to be no big deal, this what kind of accent trope, because in NYC almost everyone is from somewhere else. In Florida too, mostly; but since 2001, that sort of question has increasingly assumed an unpleasantly nativist, if not obscenely dominionist, undertone.

But fuck that. I’ve had a more American life in Manhattan that most Americans.

It was getting really cold out. I had brought the flashlight with me, so it was easier than usual trying to fit the front door key into the lock.  I got in, turned on the TV, and laid down on the couch, which was covered with blankets.

I was soon half asleep, but it was a kind of drifty sleep, with CNN in the background beaming images of Theresa May droning on with her special trade deal nonsense at Davos, so I switched to the OSN Star Movie channel, which often shows obscure but decent films.

Then it got really cold.

gouna egypt

Sandy was meowing outside, so I got up and let her in. She made for the bowl of  cat food, and then came on the couch and curled up in a ball by my zero and went to sleep. I turned the heater on full blast but it was getting colder and colder.

Soon, I couldn’t take it any more.  So I decided to walk up and down the two flights of stairs in the villa to get warm.  Plus with all the weight loss from such minimal eating, not to mention the zero, I didn’t want sagging flesh in my legs, which I have seen on geezers at the beach in FLA who lost too much weight too soon without exercising.

But the problem with the staircase here is that the treads stick out too far out from the risers. This caused my Achilles tendons to rub against the stair nosing, as my heels sought out the extra room as I descended. Soon there was blood all over the staircase, and the skeeters came out of the woodwork and began to feast.

I bandaged my heels and crept back under the covers on the couch, trying not to get blood on the blankets. I drifted back to sleep, and had an odd mini dream involving my being accused by Metro North of being a penniless pretend writer, a charge they had posted in the waiting room of some tony, Westchester county train station, but I went up to the ticket agent, and loudly railed against this injustice, as passengers waiting for the track train to New York began cheering and applauding, and suddenly I woke up in the cold living room to a voiceover that I immediately recognized as originating from Ask the Dust, a novel I’m still in the middle of reading, a novel about a writer with zero self confidence.

What a coincidence.

gouna egypt

So I watched in the barely not freezing living room Selma and Colin going through Robert Towne’s version of this literary classic, but I sensed that it wasn’t working as a movie, that they were not embracing their roles with a sufficiently edgy, noirish, LA desert and dust aesthetic, as described in John Fante’s book, with its spare, evocative descriptions of place that must have been hard for even a screenwriter/director as talented as Towne to visually translate to the screen into imagery that did Fante’s novel justice. And I hated the schmaltzy ending. Hope the book winds up with a better bang mash than that.

The invisible blood on the couch by then had congealed around my heels, and the imaginary death worms had stopped coming out of my scalp, so I got up and let the cat out. Though it was still quite cold out, I didn’t want her peeing in the house.

Twenty above zero in the desert. It’s a bitch, even when you have an electric heater.

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