Mon jardin

When I think of the most beautiful place I have ever lived in, hands down, it has to be the simple chalet in Montazah by Cleopatra beach.

When I lived there — it no longer exists — in the summers as a teen in the mid 60s, with my mother and brothers, the palace grounds still had the pronounced, residual aftereffect of having once belonged to Egyptian royalty — in particular, King Farouk — who grew up in the palace itself, tragically minded, as it turned out, by a bunch of scheming Italians.

Apart from the stunning views of the Mediterranean, what was most remarkable to me about Montazah Palace — again, this is before it was commercialized and rendered ugly and small by the brutalist architecture of the gigantic hotels now surrounding the palace walls — were the king’s gardens.

I would often walk there alone in the summer, crossing through the complicated acres of wind-swept pine forest, to admire the exquisite sense of horticulture that had remained in place, despite the looting of the palace itself by Nasser and his goons.

One day, I may still write a pseudo Cavafian novel about that time; I have hesitated to do so up till now, mainly because every time I attempt to accomplish what I have always felt to be one of the points of my life, every time, other than writing a short story or two, my heart has been split wide open in the writing. Poor excuse, I know, but I have not yet been strong enough to voice the imagined truth about those times.

Fifty years later, I am now an old man. When is the heart able to move on?

I live in a rented villa by the sea in El Gouna, Egypt.  I have a view of the Red Sea that pleases me; this is around the area where I used to go camping with my uncle Omar in the early 60s, he being an army officer, and we would pitch a tent by the shoreline, and I remember that crabs used to come out at night and crawl all over the roof of the tent, their pincer claws clicking.

I mention this because coming to the Red Sea is not a new thing for me, and, when I still used to scuba, I went diving all the way from Hurghada (“Kharda’a” in Arabic) to Dahab, but never as far south as Marsa Alam, which I wish to visit before I’m too old to do so.

This is why I feel comfortable in Gouna. I have a history here, and by here I mean Egypt; I was a boy here growing up, and Egypt remains, above all other places, defining.  I would be mortified, if you will pardon the pun, to end my days in lousy Florida; here, I would be pleased to accept and appreciate whatever Allah has in store.

In this Gouna villa, where I moved in last week, there are a few issues.  Apart from small problems with the house itself (see previous post) there is the noise factor.

Last night, alas, the idiot management at the Duport Club — Allah yikhrib bethom — saw fit to blare dance music till 3AM.  It was loud; it was unpleasant; and it should have been squelched  by the security authorities. But they didn’t do that.

However, this morning, I woke up to a day that had forgotten what had transpired the night before. It’s as if every morning languishes in the preternatural calm of a day after a brazen one night stand, and the intimate rustle of the cotton bedroom sheets surprises no one. A light breeze wafted in through the living room windows as I made my morning Turkish coffee.  The smell of the coffee and of the earth itself in the garden — raml zira’yee is what it is called in Arabic, or gardening sand — filled my lungs and I found myself immensely content.

On a discrete whim, I went outside with my camera and took snaps of the garden. Luckily, the ganaynee (ie, gardener) had just arrived to water the plants.  It is he who provided me with the names you see below for some of the plants in my garden. Any errors in transliteration are, of course, mine.

I am in Egypt, and I am looking at my garden.  I will not be here in August when the dates will be ripe enough to pick and turn into date jam, marabat balah in Arabic, which is what my grandmother, Tetta, or El Sit, as she was called, in Garden City used to offer me as a treat when I was a boy, whenever I went to visit her. She is immensely missed.

Enjoy the pics.

Batouninja mistourada
gouhanamiya (Bougainvillea)
accasia delucca
washangtonia (bitsharda) palm
hayani nakhl (palm), and a glimpse of zanaria on the left




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Is it still New Year’s Eve in Gouna?

el gouna
Rising moon over our back yard


That Egyptians are a loud people is well-known.

There are many theories about this that you can find on the Internet.

Here is a typical summary explanation.

My uncle says it is a social domination thing, the concept being:

Take them (ie, win) by sound, which is a literal translation of the Arabic phrase:

خدوهم بالصوت


Yesterday, I talked to an Egyptian friend on my mobile.

He said, you talk so loud, like an American, so I immediately flipped the sotto voce switch.

The friend said, why are you talking in such a low, limp-dick voice?


This weekend, I was in Cairo.

I spoke to a relative about my experiences walking around Zamalek, which is an island in the center of Cairo, at night.

I asked her, why do people riding motorcycles drive with their lights off?

She said, don’t question it, just accept it.

I said, why are there loudspeakers on many street corners blaring calls to prayers five times a day?

She said, don’t question it, just accept it.

I said, why does everything, from getting a taxi to turn on his meter, to buying something in a store, turn into this elaborate stressful negotiation?

She said, you are obviously no longer Egyptian.

You do not belong here.

You should leave immediately.


I thought about this, but then remembered this was the same person who earlier in the day had put forward the theory that Ertogan is about to send the Turkish army to invade Egypt. This is normal. There are many such absurd conspiracy theories in Egypt that pass for fact.


I live in El Gouna, Egypt.

For many months after my arrival this past September, I stayed in a tiny flat and was subjected, nightly, to the moronic loudness of Abu Tig marina — a very touristy part of El Gouna. Then I moved to a nice villa, far away from Abu Tig.


This New Year’s weekend, my favorite restaurant in Abu Tig — 7th Star — was constantly packed — so much so, that I have yet been able to take my wife there for breakfast, or to enjoy a Spaghetti Bolognese lunch or supper.


It is now Tuesday.

How long do Egyptians celebrate New Year’s, already?

Last night, a group of baladi young Egyptians (complete with dented old wrecks parked willy-nilly in the street outside) from Giza sat in the back porch of the house next door. I reckoned they were Gizeans because they talked about Giza a lot. They had obviously rented the place for NYE, and were preparing for one more night of Egyptian jive, before decamping.

It was late afternoon.

Soon. the sun would set.

I listened, briefly to their jive conversation, which was conducted loudly in New Egypt dialect, complete with zibala, that is to say, mustawa-wati Cairene accents.

The topics were as moronic as the Abu Tig music. For example, they couldn’t stop laughing at the idea of renting a limo to take them back to Gizah, and then not paying the driver once they got there. This seemed to be a clever, funny idea. Maybe they were stoned.


Then the sun set, and it got cold quick, and they went inside the house, but not before  turning on some music system that piped loud “groove beats” to the outside speakers of this house.

At no point did they appear to be concerned that their loudness might bother their neighbors.


Later, around 2am, more music and loud talking emanated from the multi-family dwellings across the lagoon.

The same baladi guttural accents floated across the artificial canal.

The same idiotic laughing, by faceless strangers.

This went on till 3am, then it stopped.

Is it still New Year’s? Doesn’t that kind of end at some point?


I asked Said my bus driver yesterday what the weekend people did in West Golf, which is the section of El Gouna where I’m renting.

He said they come here mainly to get drunk — sakraneen was the word he used — and bring their girlfriends or mistresses to get laid, far from the prying eyes of Cairo.

Then they will leave.


But when will that happen? Today?  Tomorrow? Never?


I am not a misanthrope by nature. But I resent the (illusory) fact that Egyptians do not seem to sleep. El sahr, or staying up late, seems endemic.  It is as if none of them ever have to work, or lead normal lives, with normal hours, meaning, you got to bed at a reasonable hour during the week, and get up at a normal hour to go to work. This work ethic seems unknown. Instead, whether here in Gouna, or Cairo, it’s the anything-goes, strange hours culture, because this is Egypt, and don’t ask why, but this is how things are, and nobody has to work or sleep normalement, and fuck the neighbors if they don’t like the noise.


I’m hoping that the NYE assholes leave soon.  I’m hoping that this section of El Gouna becomes quiet again very soon, so that my wife and I can enjoy the place without being woken up at 3am by the sound of a thumping bass line from some mindless Egyptian pop song being played in the desert. I want them to go away. When do Egyptians stop celebrating NYE?




Since I’ve been woken up by this across-the-lagoon noise, I might as well reflect on a few other things while I’m at it.


I told you I went to Cairo this weekend.

I could not stay in my old bedroom in Zamalek because one of my aunts was sick and using it.

I sat with her awhile in the living room that is outside my old bedroom, and she complained about the noise from the wedding that took place the previous weekend at the state-owned “library” (it has no books) next door, which is now available for rent to event planners.

I sympathized with my aunt about the noise, and remembered when I used to watch from my bedroom balcony Her Highness, the Princessa Samiha stand on her roof, old and poor and alone, looking at the Nile. For this villa had once belonged to a daughter of a sultan (Hussein Kamel, to be precise, who ruled between 1914-17). Samiha had bought it from the Cattauis family, one of the old wealthy Jewish families who once lived in Egypt. My aunt probably did not know any of this.  Neither did the morons who used the place now as a setting for their loud weddings.  But it pleased me to know that the villa is still standing, and that a picture of King Farouk, who once visited the place, is prominently displayed in a glass case when you enter.


It’s getting late.

I should try to get some sleep.

In a few hours, I shall again escort my wife to the Gouna Tennis Club to play with Mourid, the tennis pro.

By noon, I hope all the NYE morons will have decamped, and gone back to Cairo, the capital of chaos, where they can shout at each other with their loud voices, and honk at each other with their loud cars, and yell at each other on their smartphones as they sit in restaurants and smoke interminable shishas and cigarettes, and in general behave like hemeer trapped in some virtual corral of their own making.


Me?  I just want get some sleep.

leaving america