Cosmopolitan, glorious, down-at-the-heels shabby, Alexandria has had two golden ages: intellectual capital of the classical world; later the largest port in the eastern Mediterranean in the 19th and early 20th centuries, under the house of Mohammed Ali, Good times or bad, Alexandria is still an international city. Brotherhood true believers replace the Quartet's nationalistic Copts. Consider how the history of cosmopolitan cities might tell us more life in an age of globalization than any history of a nation state.
First there was literature and travelers' journals. Now we have blogs, phot-sharing sites and online travel guides. Lost Already. a travel blog hosted on commercial travel site,visits Alexandria, Egypt. takes pictures but does not appreciate Alex. Philistines, Huxley would call them, so very meh about a city of memory and imagination rivaling New Orleans and Paris - and a place of my heart. Unlettered tourists on stopover, they cannot really know the city.
Want to know Alex? Read history, read Cavafy (even if overlooked in modern Alex).
In the past two decades, the emergence of Islam as a prime source of identity among many Egyptians made Cavafy’s sensuous subject matter unfashionable. By all accounts, Alexandria is a stronghold of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s biggest opposition party. The brotherhood wants Egypt ruled under Islamic law. Alexandria was once a place where women strolled in sun dresses, not head scarves and caftans, and where religion was a matter of personal choice, not political campaigning.
After visiting the museum, I discuss Cavafy at the office of Sobhi Saleh, a Muslim Brotherhood member of parliament. Saleh says Islamic law precludes publishing Cavafy’s poetry.In Exiles, however, Cavafy reminds us, "It goes on being Alexandria still." So does Michael Haag's Alexandria: City of Memory. Searching Flickr for "Alexandria Egypt" yields thousands of images from wonders of the ancient world to yesterday's snaps. Here's a better Alex TravelPod blog. Fewer pictures better feel for the place.
The 'Pearl of the Mediterranean' has a homepage too.
Alexandria has been immortalized by writers such as E.M. Forster and C. P. Cavafy. Generations of immigrants from Greece, Italy and the Levant settled here and made the city synonymous with commerce, cosmopolitanism and bohemian culture; Lawrence Durrell (author of the Alexandria Quartet) described it as " The capital city of Asiatic Europe, if such a thing could exist".Dr. Diboll's book Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet in its Egyptian Contexts examines the many layers of history, politics, mythology and philosophical systems that from the Quartet's - and Alexandria's - context and Alexandrian reality at the end of empire. These include all the civilizations of the city (Pharaonic, Hellenistic, Arab, Turkish, colonial European) its theosophical systems (ritualistic polytheism, neo-Platonism, Gnosticism, Kabbalism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Sufism): and the myriad political forces that have sought dominance. Considering all these various aspects of the city indicates Durrell's interest in deeper issues beyond the merely literary, "that the capital, the heart...of Europe" is located in the "central point. the pivot" in the Mediterranean and to understand our essence and our future we have to know Greece and Egypt.
Alex in the 1880s
You said, "I will go to another land, I will go to another sea.
Another city will be found, better than this.
Every effort of mine is condemned by fate;
and my heart is -- like a corpse -- buried.
How long in this wasteland will my mind remain.
Wherever I turn my eyes, wherever I may look
I see the black ruins of my life here,
where I spent so many years, and ruined and wasted."
New lands you will not find, you will not find other seas.
The city will follow you. You will roam the same
streets. And you will age in the same neighborhoods;
in these same houses you will grow gray.
Always you will arrive in this city. To another land -- do not hope --
there is no ship for you, there is no road.
As you have ruined your life here
in this little corner, you have destroyed it in the whole world.Constantine P. Cavafy (1910) [ Greek original ]