Monday, December 14, 2009

Take Me to Alexandria

Woke in a dark hotel room to the sound of a horse. Sounded like it was in the room. No, it was the rhythmic clip-clop of metal shoes on the street below. Rushed to the window and threw open the drapes - too late, the street is empty.

Last night same street filled chockablock with people and cars is now deserted as dawn breaks over Cairo.

I look out into the morning haze and realize there is dust everywhere, on the ledges, on the buildings across the way, the street below, and on many of the cars parked down there. Dust, and in the air, dust. Hotel manager at breakfast tells me horse carts with farm goods come early into the city to avoid the cars, so it was not a dream.

Traffic after 8 is horrendous as I start early for the train station. In the first jam I watch a man with a cloth tied around his head turban fashion sweeping dust from a patch of city sidewalk in front of a cafĂ©. This must be a lonely occupation in this city. I take note of his broom, which is an exact replica of the broom used in the musical “Wicked” I saw the week before last in NYC. Great show, tells us things are not always what they seem. Whoever thought you could fall in love with a green-colored witch?

I wonder if the broom will fly. No chance to find out as taxi starts again with a lurch and dashes forward bound for the station, a lofty open girder structure on tall wrought iron blue-painted pillars. Reminds me of British RR stations with their distinctive painted and decorated pillars, and the nimble-brained Victorian travelers (S. Holmes, for example) who could tell where they were by glancing at the pillars.

We travel about a mile a minute, in 15 minutes after leaving the station the train has left the dusty city behind and is passing through verdant fields, all of which are irrigated, so the countryside is dead level. Gets to you, mile after mile of flat, even terrain, almost hypnotic.

We pass clusters of cement and brick buildings, most have upper stories unfinished, rebar and bare brick columns sticking up. Presume this is a tax thing, the unfinished building is not taxed at full rate? Beds and furniture strewn about on unfinished top floor, washing hung out to dry on rebar, residents sleeping in the open air under the stars. Can’t beat that.

Oh look over there, a dovecote, a house for pigeons. It is sitting on an unfinished roof. It looks just like those in tomb paintings 3-4 thousand years ago, mud plastered dome-shaped with holes and perches for the birds to go in and out. Museum guide tells me ancient Egyptians raised pigeons for food, also used them to send messages. Great idea, if you don’t like the message eat the messenger. Try that with your computer.

On the train a young woman serving drinks and coffee looks like Hatshepsut, wife and queen of Thutmose II, dark eye makeup, lip gloss enhances resemblance. Makes coffee for me on the spot in a small glass tumbler, from TWO packets of Nescafe powdered espresso! Adds a shot of hot water then whips it to a froth. I drink it forthwith, black, no sugar. For a caffeine addict like myself this is the ultimate high, eyes stay wide open and will be that way for some time to come. Oh thank you Queen.

Two hours pass and the Alexandria station looms. For no reason I feel it strange to note that it is an exact duplicate of the lofty iron pillared station in Cairo, except one faces south the other north. Both are painted blue and white as is also a tram that sits not far from the station. Realize these are the colors of ancient Greece. Appropriate for the city founded by Alexander the Great. Leaving the station I see a large brass bell at hand still used to signal train departures. Tempted to give it a ring but station master is watching me carefully. Decide at that moment that I should travel more, it really does clear the brain.

The Great Library must wait for next post.

© Copyright 2009 John J. Gaudet, All Rights Reserved

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