It’s Monday.. I am fasting, a ritual I’ve vowed to perform every Monday and Thursday reason of which I prefer to keep for myself.. It’s a bit difficult fasting sharing life with a heavy smoker for a wife.. Anyhow, today my appointment with our friend, Ramsi, the famous lawyer is due after eight p.m, this means that I will not have the necessary time to enjoy my usual post “Iftar” habits at sun-set: praying, relaxing and doing nothing.. Consequently my wife and I will have to keep our visit to his family shortened to the minimum needed the customary greetings, seeing the children and what interests me more is to acquire answers to the questions thundering inside my brain like summer temporals.. I’m going too fast? I told you I’m fasting, and as though I tend to cut things short.. Let me try again.
Keeping our visit at the minimum needed respecting the traditional oriental rituals of salutes and wishes: “How is the health?” and “What about the studies?”, “OH! The kid is horse-riding like his father!!??” In a casual reunion like that normally such a rally will take sometime depending on the house-lady’s will to drive the conversation to which direction.
As usual, we arrived punctually, even though I had some difficulty remembering the street where he lives, and if it weren’t for Alessandra, my wife, I would’ve remained circling around the area for hours before calling him to come and escort us.. She directed me as a professional navigator to the street.. Now it’s time to find a parking for the car.. I don’t know what prevents the authorities from obliging each new building to plant trees and make underground parking lots in order to liberate the main stream of the road to visitors or emergency vehicles.. My “Alexandria” of the fifties and sixties was much more organized and way much cleaner.. But that madness called “Real Estate Speculation” devoured my town’s known beautiful Italian architecture characteristics, turning her into a gigantic cement monster.. Ugly and unidentifiable.
Have you seen the “RAPE” of the eco-system and the city’s environment? That awful scar on the face of what used to be called “The Mediterranean Pearl”.. They call it “Corniche” in French language it means: frame, like the frame of a painting, because at her “belle-époque”, Alexandria was really a man made painting framed by a carefully designed sea-side with firm and sever urban regulatory norms..
Well, I have never seen anywhere a similar destruction.. That thing has become a highway of four lanes in each direction crushing the “Main Lung” of the city: the sea front.. Of course in doing so, they had to go into the sea destroying beaches and entire eco-systems, allowing buildings over twenty floors on the sea front, lacking any possibility for planting shade trees to compensate the over polluted air by the chaotic flow of vehicles day and night.. They simply killed my town.. Ignorance and corruption killed my beautiful town, and its funeral was celebrated in total conspirators silence of media, scientific institutes, political opposition parties, and most of all intellectuals.. Needless to say the absence of the religious institutions!! Ignorance and Corruption, that lethal cocktail!!
Excuse me, I drifted far away.. Back to the parking problem.. A young man of about 22 or 23 years old stopped sipping his mint tea and offered to park my car in an under construction apartment building’s parking lot, I accepted and left him the keys and escorted my wife through the typical muddy grounds of construction sites.. We reached safely the entrance of that new fourteen story building where our friend occupies the fifth floor in his new luxurious apartment.. By the way, I challenge any architect in the world to classify that building.
He opened the door and greeted us in his usual warm welcome way.. He didn’t change a bit, since we saw him last year, maybe more elegantly dressed.. The surprise was the wife.. That beautiful Syrian lady who trades in her father’s factory production of Gaubelain and household linen in general, but drapes in particular. The beautiful naturally blond woman is now veiled.. Seeing that drastic change, and knowing the “element”, I exchanged looks with my wife and understood that she’s on my same wave length.. The lady took the veil as a precaution after the revolution, just in case her husband needs to change banner.. Oh, forgive me, I didn’t tell you that he was the personal consultant to the elder son of the ex president!!!??¿¿cazzo.
We were generously hosted and offered tea and cookies, but my interests were to find some answers, and without asking I received them.. Now he presides a legal investigating committee responsible for probing and verifying charges of corruption, torture and office abuse; filed against former politicians, government officials, businessmen, financing institutes’ managers…etc. That Bastawissi will be a strong candidate for presidency and will give real trouble to El Baradei. That the Muslim Brotherhood is firmly containing the other religious groups, and most of all that the secret services are working heavily to weaken that front. When I asked him about the new constitution, he laughed explaining that the modifications made to the eight articles of the 1971 text (the Ex Dictator’s constitution..nfa) are more than enough for a long time.
Throughout our conversation and while I was translating to Alessandra I kept watching his children. The 16 year old boy is present with us but definitely his mind is elsewhere, when I hinted about it he told us bashfully that he’s worried about his horse because he didn’t have time to go to the club and see it! But their "Chef-d'oeuvre" is the teenaged daughter, 18 years for precision, whom after finishing her high school, with colourful votes, and now fit for an engineering degree from the university of the city, wants to come and visit us in Italy!?!
At first my wife and I welcomed the idea as the aspirant future engineer will have an opportunity to see first hand the magnificently rich heritage of Roman, Medieval and ‘Renaissance’ styles of architecture Italy offers to the world, along with the treasures carefully conserved in the endless count of museums and special collections conserving human geniality. We were abruptly brought back to earth, out of our fantasies, when she explicitly announced: “I must have an adequate wardrobe before going to college, and where else but Italy?.. Don’t you think?”.. Neither Alessandra nor I had the courage to say what did really crossed our minds.. After all we are their hosts, at their house, and we must observe certain social niceties (hypocrisies)! No?.. Now I know why we, despite the honourable ancestry to the glorious Pharaohs, can’t erect a building to last more than a decade, and I’m only talking about functionality not to mention beauty!!! Like naughty children in recreation time, my doubts came back to squeeze my heart and distort my thoughts, as we saluted them and bid them a gentle ‘thank you and see you soon’.
But then again, once hit by what’s left of the sea fresh air, we dropped that burden and regained some of our hopes, such were empowered by the sight of our car brilliantly cleaned inside and out by that honest and gentle young man.. He even cleaned the tires! I tried to offer him a generous tip, and when he refused and politely returned my hand, Alessandra used her convincing warm motherly look, took the money from my hand and put it into his while he, like an obedient son, blushing and looking timidly to the ground, murmured a few tumbling words of thanks wrapped up in a sincere “may Allah preserve you in peace”!!
What a precious gift to receive straight from the heart of a perfect stranger you may never see again.. The essence of a strongly rooted tradition, offering present comfort and promising future hope.