Marjan and I made use of a long weekend to bus North to Alexandria, one of the other capitals of Egypt. It’s a big city (4.1 million in 2006) but what a breather, literally, from Cairo. Nothing much is left of the Alexandria of old but lots of Alexandria’s pre-Nasser’s multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, Mediterranean cosmopolitan era. The 20k cornish is an incredibly busy highway but the broad side-walk and the sea make all the difference. It made me realize what the combination of no public space, an assault of noise and being covered by a stuffy blanket of thick stale air of Cairo does to one’s sense of being open to the environment.
Alexandria is very much a shadow of what it once was, but also a promise. The library is a joy to visit, beautiful building, and housing the only mirror of the original US-based internet archive; its period coffee houses don’t support the intellectual and artistic exchange anymore that they used to host, but Alex is still/again the place for contemporary arts, despite all the artsy-fartsy stuff going on in Cairo. Microphone, the movie I raved about in an earlier post is tribute to that. It was revealing to learn that pre-Nasser 40% of its population was foreign. Nothing much of that Mediterranean diversity is left in the current 13 times (!) bigger near totally Egyptian city but legacy always makes for chances. It offers the young generation a possibility to build on something that differs from the other models on offer (pan-Arab socialism or Islamism, etc.). Won’t happen I guess but just its promise was enough for me to blow away the cobwebs of Cairo’s stalemate revolution scene.
While walking the cornish I couldn’t but imagine what a bit (well, a lot) of renovation and imaginative paint could do to the stunning variety of buildings that one passes. Most will understand what I mean when looking at the 19th century French inspired architecture of the central part of the city but also the post-independence high rises would make for a stellar front if given just that bit of attention. It’s not gonna happen, but the promise shines through so clearly that I thoroughly enjoyed our multi-hour walk all the way to Motaza.
In tribute to the hope that this amazing city inspires I share the latest find of my daughter Keiko with you. I can really picture these guys doing their thing on Alexandrian soil: