Goodbye, Egypt


The ghosts of Abu Tig marina

Tomorrow is my last full day in the dusty resort town of El Gouna, Egypt, which is on the Red Sea.

By the time I leave on Saturday, I will have spent a total of 6 months and 28 days here. Long time, but soon I will be a ghost, and the few people whom I did meet and befriend will forget about me quick enough. In no time at all, it will be as if I was never here.

I leave knowing that I met some really nice people, and also hooked up for probably one last time with old acquaintances and family.

One old friend in particular was incredibly generous in paying for a service to guide my wife around at Cairo airport when she came to visit in January. I do not forget things like that.

I came here to escape an America that had elected an abomination as President of the United States. With all the insults he and members of his party were hurling at Americans of my ethnicity, I no longer felt safe to live there.

And so I went to Nice, France, for a few weeks, then came here. I ended up staying in an apartment in Abu Tig marina, then 2 different and quite lovely villas. When I arrived, it was really hot, then it got really cold, now the weather is perfect. Along the way, I was adopted by a cat whom my wife named Sandy.

My main objective coming here was to determine if Gouna would be a suitable place to retire on a modest income.  A secondary one was to lose weight:  I had contracted an illness a few years ago, and the medicine I was given to treat it caused my weight to balloon.

I have come to the conclusion that, for a variety of reasons, Gouna is indeed a lovely place to visit, but… unsuitable for any extended period of time.

There are things here that do get under your skin, so to speak:  the mosquitoes, the flies, the noise in certain parts of Gouna, the annoying tuc tucs, the ubiquitous cigarette smoking, the endless construction, unstable internet connectivity, the workmen who regularly intrude on your rental property while chattering on their phones, the various cliques, especially the entitled ones, and the blistering heat.

It can be quite isolating here to be by yourself for a long period of time.

There is very little to do, unless you’re rich, and have a boat that you can take out for spins to the nearby islands; the beaches on the mainland are quite drab.

Of course there are events, such as squash (which I used to play in my teens) tournaments, music (I was actually once in a rock band) festivals, and kite surfing championships.

There is also tennis and diving and snorkeling in what remains of the reef, the inevitable “desert safaris” that you can take in a rented ATV, horse riding, playing golf, and there are also the bar nightclubs where people go to party — but none of these things hold any interest to me whatsoever, as I am not in my 20s or 30s: I have reached an age where I no longer have as much time left to waste on what I consider largely superficial endeavors.

At a certain point I advertised in a local paper the idea of a book club that would take place at the Gouna library.  There was no interest whatsoever. Gouna is not a place where people are particularly interested in culture (except for the film festival); this is not why they are here:  they come here for the reasons that most people go to high-end resort getaways, which do not include joining book clubs.

I am happy to report that I was able to lose quite a bit weight.  When I return to Florida next week, after spending a few days in NYC, I shall continue with my weight loss program, but will begin to focus on strengthening my muscles and doing cardio workouts on my bicycle to increase my stamina.

I have tried to not lose the weight too quickly, as I did not want my skin to start sagging.


so long, fat clothes

But I have managed to go from size 44″ waistline to a size 36 in 7 months. Not bad. As a result, I am donating to charity some of the clothes I brought with me. I’m also leaving the electric heater I purchased in Gouna, as well as the famous self-supporting mosinet, a pair of sneakers, a belt, and a few other items– none of which I shall ever need again. I like travelling light, especially after I injured my back when I arrived here, from carrying an overstuffed suitcase, and couldn’t sleep right for a month.

When I return to Florida, I hope that the humidity will restore the elasticity of my skin which has completely dried out in this desert climate, causing lines to appear on my face which were not there before.

That aside, I have a very long trip ahead of me on Saturday.  The plane to Cairo leaves at 5:30am so I have to leave this villa at 3:30am to get to the airport by taxi.  My smartphone just died again, so I cannot use it as an alarm, but I was able to add an alarm clock extension to my Chromebook browser, and it works great.

I was supposed to take the 10am flight from Cairo to JFK, but that has now been delayed to 1PM. This means I will getting back to NY in the evening instead of mid afternoon as I had planned. I will also have a six-hour wait at Cairo airport, prior to taking a very long trip across the Atlantic in economy class.

By the way, on Monday, I plan to catch Jon Hamm in Beirut at the Loew’s theatre on 68th and Broadway. It will be a distinct pleasure to be passing through my old neighborhood, in the city I will always love — but it’s too bad the M104 bus doesn’t stop by Grand Central anymore.

One last thing, I have written quite frequently in this blog since my arrival, but this is the final post I shall be writing while in Egypt.

I have tried to scrupulously record my daily experiences. I ended up writing quite an astonishing amount of material (for me), which I hope to be able to transform into a work of fiction that deals more directly with some of the things I have observed or imagined but not written about in this blog.

All in all, coming to Gouna for an extended period was a worthwhile experience. Inevitably there were a few disappointments along the way, but I am glad to be returning to my home country — despite the absolute chaos in America right now — after such a long sojourn, and once again be with wife and family.

Goodbye, Egypt:  I wish you all the best.

leaving america


The heat is on

gouna poool

It’s the right toe and knee that still throb

Third day in a row that the daytime temps are reaching the low to mid 80s in El Gouna, Egypt, as opposed to the awful nor’easter weather poor Mum has had to endure back in Westchester.

Here’s what’s going on.

Turned on the AC in the TV room for the first time this morning. With the low wind, and the heat, flies and skeeters are back, necessitating that I retire at night to sleep in The Tower of Isolation.

Today’s two big events: the pool and the match.

I may be able to finally use the beautiful pool that I’ve only looked at since moving to this villa in mid December. Up until now, it was cold as ice, but now the harara is climbing enough during the day that it may be comfortably swimmable by early afternoon — we shall see; as I noticed when I went to take the pic you see above that some weekend mamelukes are shouting in that bullshit macho way that Egyptian guys love using when talking on the phone, and the irritating sound’s coming clear across the lagoon.

Also, I don’t know if there is chlorine in the pool; don’t smell it, at any rate.  Many birds stop by here to wet their beaks. With my toe injury still healing, could I contract avian flu by swimming in gorgeous but contaminated water?

The other big excitement around will be to watch Barcelona vs Atletico Madrid at 5:15PM.

For the past weekend, I cut down my consumption of food to 1 bowl of peanuts (for the protein) a night + plenty of water + vitamins + the Synthroid pill I must take every day to continue living. I keep forcing myself to eat this way as some of the stomach and face fat has been quite reluctant to come off, but come off it shall; I’m going to force the issue now.

But for the first time. I am starting to see the faint outline of my cheekbones as the jowls slowly melt away in the desert heat.

I have not been able to walk much during the past 3 days due to the fall I sustained a few days ago outside (just a knee scrap and bruised wrist) and injured big toe, but I am being careful:  I am using antibiotics and real Listerine (alas now gone, and which cannot be replaced here except with a zero alcohol version, which makes it useless to treat wounds, and you cannot even buy rubbing alcohol in the pharmacy here), and making sure the toe doesn’t get infected.

Also the pool push ups that were working so well to vaporize the moobs have stopped temporarily as my wrist heals from that nasty fall, which, I hate to say it, was caused by Sandy the cat who darted in front of me as I was going down the steps outside taking out the garbage.

So the way it looks now, I move out of here between next Tuesday (the 13th of March) and Friday (the 15th), and depart Egypt entirely on Saturday the 14th of April.

I will probably stop by New York on my way to Florida, and spend a few days with my Mum, who is going through a rough patch @ the moment. I most likely will not pass by Cairo and see my relatives there on the way back, for a variety of reasons, including the heat and hassle of it all.

The news from America keeps getting stranger and stranger by the day.  The latest titbit of White House corruption to interest me involves Jared and the UAE and a shadowy Arab-American figure called George Nader, much if not all of this delicious development has gone unmentioned in quasi official media here.

This Trump White House is turning into some old school American spy novel, which each new revelation being some horrible page-turner reality show disguised as plot twists in some masterful International cloak-and-dagger fiction: the mad President, the corrupt son-in-law, the dishonest sister, the Likudi prime minister staying one step ahead of the police, the grifter-glam daughter, the ex con Joisy father-in-law, the shadowy Lebanese operative, the deeply compromised porcine Americo-Jewish Trump fund raiser, the swarthy Gulfies in beards and flowing robes, and the money, always the money in some cynical political exchange in return for providing the means to keep afloat the white albatross of the Manhattan building aptly known as 666, which I actually went to for a legit job interview in the 80s, not realizing I could sell America down the toilet as part of some real estate deal, instead of actually, you know, holding down a real job.

The heat is on, and it’s going to get a whole lot hotter by the midterms.

You can count on that, especially if current majorities in the House and Senate are preserved by outright voter fraud, gerrymandering, the attempts by Republican legislative scum to kneecap the Mueller investigation, and further Russian manipulation of Trump’s eleemosynary base, who mostly get nothing but scraps off the Mar-a-Lago table, as ultra rich swine dine together in ever extravagant luxury, not believing their luck, as the sadly uneducated old geezers in trailer parks who barely get by on SS checks and Medicare, SNAP, Medicaid and SS disability payments, continue to swallow the Big Fat Republican Lie, no matter how manipulative the FOX news crowd gets, no matter how much damage these craven people are doing to the United States and its interests at home and abroad, no matter how tragically American society in the devastated heart of the country turns into an opioid-infested, gun-loving death cult that is self-imploding on an accelerated basis, wherever you look that once used to matter.

It’s going to be harsh, brutish fun to watch in the coming months all that unfold, but meanwhile I still have 6 weeks to enjoy life in the complete slice of unreality that is here in El Gouna.

And that’s how it is, today, on Sunday March 4, 2018, on the shores of this deeply superficial, snotty Egyptian resort, where my knottiest problem today is, should I dip my toes into the pewl, or not?


leaving america


Double Fantasy in Gouna

Gouuna Egypt

El Gouna – the Blue Lagoon

In Egypt, a long time ago, I once saw a B&W movie called the Americanization of Emily. It featured James Garner, Julie Andrews, and the incomparable Melvyn Douglas. It was this movie, coupled with The Great Escape, which came out at roughly the same time, that turned me into a lifelong fan of Garner’s sketchy but charming screen persona.

Twenty years later, on the UPW of Manhattan, I found myself sharing with Erin (we were not yet married) a miniscule apartment on the last floor of a 5-storey walk-up on 103rd Street and West End Avenue.

Somebody had been shot on the roof across the street around the time I moved in with her, but I was again broke, and jobless, and such things didn’t phase me. This was, after all, the 80s.

The city was a different place in the mid 80s; much of what made it a fantastic place to live in during the 70s was still around, the residual bohemian space dust of the explosion of creativity in all the arts that typified the late 60s and much of the notorious “Ford to NY: Drop Dead” era.


Those were the days

If ever there was a time when I felt most alive, when you did not know who you would meet in some LES dive bar in the afternoon, and how an evening might later unfold, it was then.

But let’s get back to James Garner.

My girlfriend (who would later become my wife) and I shared this hole-in-the-wall apartment (there was literally a hole in the ceiling, and water occasionally dripped in from the roof after it rained or snowed); she worked at Columbia University doing PR, I worked hard at being the writer boyfriend.

It was not easy playing the role of a failed NYC writer, especially with all the heroic drinking that it involved.

A typical day would start around 8am when I would come to.  

Erin would shower and get ready for work, while I groused on the bed or the armchair, waiting for her to leave. The bed and the armchair were in fact the only two pieces of furniture that one could sit on, as the rest of the apartment was barely big enough to make room for a small TV and bookcase with a record player.

I would gather some money, whatever I could find on the carpet, under the armchair pillow, or in my jeans pocket, and give it to Erin, but it was rarely enough to cover the cost of her upcoming errand.

Erin would then leave for work, but not before stopping at a bodega on Broadway and 107th, buy some remedials with whatever money I had given her, plus money of her own, and return to the apartment with the beer.

She was in her 20s, mind you; to this day I wonder what the Spanish guys who ran the bodega thought of this prim, very pretty young woman, who came in every morning to buy four or six cans of Bud or Miller for breakfast every day of the working week.

And of course she would get all sweaty from having to climb back up the 5 stories, as the building had no elevator.

But I did not think about that.

Instead, I was more concerned with getting into right frame of mind to pen my long-awaited opus.

But one cannot simply get down to the business of writing an opus, just like that. You have to work up to such a thing, with due deliberation and pace.

For me, this entailed taking a long first sip of beer just before 9am, turning on the TV, and settling down to watch Bonanza, which I also watched on Egyptian TV in the mid 60s.

Hoss, little Joe, the good episodes with Adam, Hop Sing, all were old friends, a warm-up act to Rockford reruns, which came on at 10am.

By then I had usually consumed 2 or 3 16z cans of Bud (Tall Boys had not yet been invented), so was already in the right frame of mind to truly appreciate the clever banter between my antihero, James Rockford, and his shifty sidekick Angel Martin, played by the extremely funny Stuart Margolin.

I write about this now because Erin, yes, the very same one who used to get me those morning remedial beers in the mid 80s, is leaving Gouna on Saturday.

Yesterday, I booked a return flight to CAIR, as I will be seeing her off, then coming back the same day to Gouna via Hurghada.

And with Erin’s looming departure, I have started to think about my return to the States in mid April, which is still a comfortable two months away.

Unfortunately, my rental agreement in this villa ends in mid March. So last night, I put out email feelers to several real estate agents about renting a small villa in North Golf, a slightly more upscale neighborhood than where I am now.

What is obvious to me is that I am in no hurry to return to America, and I have even started to wonder if it is possible to de-Americanize oneself after living most of one’s life in a foreign country.  Remember the neo-con so-called “de-bathification” program in Iraq? And speaking of Norwegian immigrants, how about this?

All that is sort of what I am talking about, but without Abu Greib in the picture; in other words, a concerted effort to rid oneself of every last bit of American bullshit that has crept into my soul.

This is of course an impossibility.  It’s not only that there so much bullshit, but in fact that there is much bullshit that I look on with a sense of nostalgic affection, such as the years Erin and I spent in that sordid apartment, where, nevertheless, we used to on some days have constant sex, when not painting the nights a particularly deep hue of red, 10025-style.

How can you de-Americanize that? How can you mend a broken heart?

And why would you even want to?

What all this boils down is a sort of waiting game.

Inevitably, the political tides will shift back home, and it was home, that long stretch time we spent in Manhattan, home in a way that El Gouna and Egypt can only approximate.

But until then… what?

Whatever happens, it comforts me to know that Erin and I are still together, despite everything, like those two Red Sea birds huddled together on that precarious slip of beach, managing to survive, come what may.

leaving america