Omar and Faten

Helal, trying to keep it together

This is an experimental post that blends fiction and reality.

The true reason for Helal’s mental breakdown was that he took to heart the Cosserian dictum, to wit, “Il n’a que les imbeciles qui écrive chaque jour,” as he brooded each evening by the Nile corniche under vanished trees planted long ago by the Khedive Ismael, gorgeous specimens long since deracinated and chopped for firewood.

Then he’s spend the night, not in some well-appointed locanda, but brooding on a threadbare mattress in a small rented room on the sootoh, that is to say, roof of the building across the Metro Cinema on Soliman Pasha street in downtown Cairo.

Amidst the clucking hens and small goats that now ran about freely on the roof of this formerly haute-bourgeoisie redoubt, Helal morosely chain-smoked his Cleopatra cigarettes and shisha bowls filled with what he furtively referred to as el haga, the thing.

Alone, he watched old Egyptian B&W movies on his cheap television, which unfolded on a nightly basis improbable tales of rich but liberal daughters with a sympathy if not attraction to men below their station in life. These roles were usually played by Faten Hamama, and the earnest young suitor, by Omar Sharif, whose character invariably came from a modest background.

Such films always included a portly balding patriarch whose vague job title was always moodir, or company director, but who lived  in a sumptuous villa with a beautiful garden that he never personally cultivated, as this might ruin his smartly-cut European badla, which is to say, suit.

At some point in the movie the father or baba could be counted on in a fit of over-the-top high voltage pique to start screaming “ikhrassi!” (“shut up!”) and “bara!” (“leave the house!”) at Faten, during some pivotal plot revelation, as his wife in the background screamed ya kharashi! (“Oh my Karachis!”), while repeatedly slapping her own cheeks, and raising her eyes to the ceiling in hope of some form of divine intervention.

Helal wept uncontrollably at such scenes, and then wept some more, as everyone did when viewing these old Egyptian movies. He loved these films so much more than the mouthy news discussion programs of Egypt’s new generation, with their harsh Gulfie-inspired primitive-sounding Arabic.

No, these movies were made when, as they say, “il balad kanit helwa” — when Egypt was beautiful, and her people docile and kind-hearted, except for any subject involving then deeply-hated England, with her Anthony Edens, her Harold Macmillans, and the lingering stench of Miles Wedderburn Lampson.

Even Egypt’s dialect from that period as he heard it spoken in those riveting Omar Sharif and Faten Hamama films was so much easier on Helal’s ears, which resonated with thousands of Romance Language loan words, the music of 50s Egyptian Arabic, the lilt of Fanten Hamama’s voice as she looked at Omar and said baheibak.

Much as he tried, though, Helal could not entirely escape hearing echoes of the cries of abandonment that he heard rise from all the rooftops and all the broken minarets and all the unlived lives whose anguish relentlessly intruded upon his solitary Cairene movie nights.

Yet, oh, how he loved the deliciously cathartic weeping that escapist movie-watching engendered in the now dolorously blue-balled and permanently-stoned former stud, reduced now to being little more than a street hawker, as Helal flagellated himself nightly in bouts of self-hate, especially when sitting on his flea-infested mattress, mooning over the lost pleasures of unforgotten Faten, as these films unleashed vast waves of pure heartbreak and lamentations of unrequited love — oh the tragic misunderstandings; oh the cruelty of Fate; oh Egypt Egypt Egypt, I am crying, ya Masr, crying, and it never bloody stops.

Omar Sharif died nearly three ago. He didn’t make it to the First Gouna Film festival, which featured this exquisite movie.

His movie career (for he was also a serious bridge gambler) had endured a long decline, and he didn’t live to hear his name ring out nightly on Broadway in a hit musical.  He spent the last years of his life in El Gouna; Omar lived in a hotel room and would sometimes go to a gym in Abu Tig Marina, and suddenly not know where he was. People would talk to him about his films, but he no longer remembered them and was surprised when he saw a younger version of himself on television. Alzheimer’s is cruel, but they say that till the very end, Omar would always ask about Faten, whom he had once married.

Faten died a few months before Omar, but no one had the heart to tell him. She had remained the love of his life, and that he never forgot.

leaving america



Moods sheppie

The word رائع (ra’ie<3>) means gorgeous and that is how the weather has been in Gouna the last two days.

I have only 13 full days left in Egypt, then I return to America.

My thoughts are already there, though I am enjoying immensely these last two weeks here.

I went to Mood’s yesterday for lunch, and met only the second American I have encountered on this 7 month journey; first there was a fellow who also comes from NYC, and then yesterday it was a man from Ohio who is married to an Egyptian woman.

We talked for two hours, about many things, including the grotesque buffoon currently stinking up the White House, as everyone was following the match between Liverpool and Crystal Palace, and there were cheers when Salah scored the winning goal, with the beautiful Red Sea and marina as a backdrop. The big match for me will be Real Madrid vs Juventus, on Tuesday at 8:45 PM. I will go to San Siro in Downtown to watch that epic clash.

I also saw at Moods a young German male shep who of course reminded me of Perfection, our lovely sheppie that died late last year.

egyptian bird
The plumage doesn’t enter into it

When I came back home, I found this poor bird that had flown into the huge living room window and alas was not moving.

At first I thought it was just pining for the fjords, but then I realized it was deceased.

I hope all the other birds that live in the birdhouse that’s on the back porch are more careful.

Meanwhile, I’m toying with the idea of buying a ticket to see The Band’s Visit on Broadway. This would be for the Sunday 15th of April matinee show.

Usually I looked down on matinees (the blue haired crowd, etc) but I’m jonesing to see this musical, despite how it seems that the Egyptian roles seem to be have reduced to spectators, while the actors playing Israelis steal the show — not the first time they have stolen anything, of course: they just killed 17 Gazeans to prove it: lives, land, to them, what’s the diff? But with Tony Shaloub no longer in the cast, I’m not sure.

Just walking down 47th street again (where the Barrymore theater is located) would be a thrill, even if I don’t go see it, as I truly love NY, minus the Tel Aviv West aspect of it, and am, and will always be, a New Yorker, a marginalized immigrant who literally came off a boat on Pier 57 with not a dime in his pockets — which is about as New York as it gets.

The ageing piece of fat stinking garbage on his way to go golfing with Hannity in FLA this weekend

I am looking forward to returning to my adopted country.

There is a sweeping cultural change afoot, and I want to be there for it, as we attempt to eliminate the unfair advantage America’s electoral system gives to rurality.

leaving america

The band’s visit


the band's visit poster
So why are the Egyptian guys all the way in the back on some dusty wind-swept dune?

I’m writing this on a beautiful Sunday morning, while listening to Gouna radio. This is a really chill station, with eclectic, pleasantly relaxing music  that suits the ambiance of El Gouna to a tee. You can turn it on low, and just groove to it in the background as you go about your business, which of course is living life as it should be lived.

Okay, so the main point of today’s post is to show my finicky wife more pics of the new villa I am renting. To cut to the chase, I would sum up by saying this villa is quite airy inside, with significantly better views from the bedrooms and the ample living room and MUCH larger dining room windows than the previous one.  There is a sense of space here, and the smell of the plants that waft in from the impressive garden are marvelous.

But first, some preliminaries for those of you who may be new to this blog.

I am an American expat who has spent the last six and a half months in Egypt (after a few days in Nice, France).  I have been in El Gouna since the middle of September, so I’ve been here 6 months, give or take.  I plan to remain in Egypt another 30 days, and will return to NYC — insha’Allah! – on April 17th, which is when my visa expires.

I left the United States in 2017 because, as an Arab-American, I could not tolerate living under the thumb of the grotesquely obscene Trump presidency. Nothing since then has changed my mind.

With each passing day, the level of corruption and venality and sordidness of the retrograde regime currently in the White House (and the submissives in Congress who have bent over and parted their lily-white cheeks for The Donald) further reveals itself.

You know what, at age 66, I don’t need this crap.

Alas, I return in about 4 weeks to America.

But where the heart matters, I shall spend time in Westchester with my mother, who will be recovering from surgery.

Perhaps during that time, I may be able to catch The Band’s Visit, which I loved as a movie, and yearn to see on Broadway. Most importantly, I hope that Mum recovers smartly from her ordeal, and that all will be fine again.

Following that, I shall return to the tedium that is Florida and be with my wife — who is the only other reason of the heart why I can tolerate it there — for the summer.

She has decisions to make, if we’re to discontinue this ersatz bi-country phase of our long marriage.

Does she want to keep her store going?  Could she live in Gouna for 9 months, starting in October, in this new villa I have rented, without getting really bored?

Is this the right place for us?  Does it have the correct mix of quiet, yet proximity to things (I just discovered the Sea Cineman is a five minute walk away!), provide an agreeable living space, and, most importantly to me, an affordable, direct view of the sea, something I have longed for since 2001?

So far, almost everything about this new place has turned out as hoped.

The north winds keep the bugs away, and the type of people who live on this cove are far more upscale than the loud weekenders who often ruined my three-month stay in the area known as West Golf. It is quite private here.

There is no constant sound of rumbling buses, due to a magnificent front garden that reminds me of Tozeur, in Tunisia, and the smell of the sea air is exhilarating. The gardeners have been told not to come on the grounds after 10am, and that is being respected.  There’s no pool, so no pool man to worry about constantly showing up unexpectedly; and swimming in the lagoon is quite grand.

I have slept like a baby since coming here (once I got rid of two or three skeeters:  I have become a rather expert mosquito hunter in Gouna), with a fresh pleasant breeze coming in through the screened bedroom windows at night.

So here, finally, is the newest gallery of  pics to show my wife what this place is like.  Ordinarily I would not post this many — it’s a time-consuming pain in the butt to resize and compress 35 photographs!

(If we do return to Gouna in October, I am most definitely getting a better camera that will allow me to take hi-def snaps of the wildlife and the moon hovering over the lagoon, and all the other points of interest that I have yet to photograph:  I want to upload the sort of extraordinary pics one can take here, as well as the more unspoiled of vistas further South.)

But we have to decide within 10 days or so, in other to ensure the place will be available commencing October, so this rather extensive tour of the place should give Zouz (my wife) a good idea as to what to expect. By the way, there is a barky dog nearby, so I don’t think Sandy would have grooved here; she is fine where she is, with plenty of food and water. in her rightful placey.

Okay, so without further ado…

washing machine
The washing machine is in the kitchen! No separate laundry room; or dryer for that matter, or even pegs and a drying rack
staircase to the sunroof and master bedroom on 3rd floor
bags unpacked!
bags still packed
6am this morning, the view from my villa of the Red Sea
dining room: 12’W x 14’L
downstairs (foyer) bathroom
guest bathroom
guest bedroom: 12’W x 14’L
living room: 12’W x 20’L (plus cathedral ceiling, as is the case in almost every room)
gouna egypt
master bedroom: 12’W x 17’L — the faux leopard skin couch is nothing if not campy Phyllis Dillerish
spare room with xtra TV and mozinet
master bathroom
sunroof terrace
modern micro and oven
I am going to buy oranges and sqeeze my own fresh OJ!
sideways view of fridge
the kitchen: 8’W x 12’L

Nice, huh? Who knows, maybe some of my old band mates who live part-time in Gouna will drop by before I leave. Then again, I’m not holding my breath.

leaving america