Saturday, May 05, 2012

sittin’ on the dock of the bay

In my quest for boyhood heroes, Alexandria should top the list.  Alexander the Great was what every boy should aspire to be.  At least, this boy.

But all that remains of Alexander’s founding of this city 2300 years ago is his name.  But everything else that made Alexandria great -- its lighthouse, its library, its palaces -- has vanished.  Just like the Ptolemys who once ruled here.  And died out with Cleopatra.

Alexandria is one of those muscular sea coat cities -- like Marseilles or Tacoma -- with a sole purpose of existence.  Commerce.  Import-export commerce, to be exact.

And it looks like your Uncle Hiram.  The relative who works far too hard and has little time to worry about how he dresses.

In Alexandria’s case, its appearance has not been helped by the fact that garbage collection halted with the revolution.  And that was a year ago.  The city now looks like New York City -- during a garbage strike.

Well, it looks a bit more run-down that that.  At least, the part I saw on my walk on Saturday.

That was our second day in Alexandria.  The first day we went to Cairo to see the pyramids and the sphinx.  But I will write about that later.

I have become a bit tired of tracking down the bits of historical residue that time, tomb raiders, and Islam Arab invaders have not destroyed.  So, I decided to head off into one of the neighborhoods near the harbor.

Port neighborhoods in third world countries are almost universally poor.  And this one was no exception.

Most were small decaying apartment buildings.  Better than most buildings I saw in Havana, but far worse than similar housing in Mexican cities.

My fellow cruisers were a bit concerned that I was heading off into uncharted territory on my own.  But my street sense is rather good.  It turned out that I needed it.  Or, at least, I used it.

My usual routine is to walk through neighborhoods as if I belonged there.  Moving with purpose.  Making occasional eye contact.  Nodding.  But that is a terrible routine for photographs.

I started to feel a bit uneasy when the men on  the street stopped nodding back and greeting me.  After receiving half a dozen icy stares, I decided to take a side street hoping to get back to a main thoroughfare.

I know better than to do that.  Side streets in these maze neighborhoods often lead nowhere.  And that was exactly the choice I had made.

I stopped for a moment to take this photograph.  While shooting, two boys came out of an open door behind me and tried to convince me to enter their building.

I was holding my own with them when a well-dressed Egyptian, probably in his twenties, gestured with his head for me to move on.  Quickly.

When I paused, he said, in rather good  English: “Come with me.  It is not good you stay here.”

I now believe he was one of the large group of unemployed men who tries to make a pound by squiring tourists through Alexandria.  But I did not know that at the time.

I simply decided that jumping out of the frying pan into the fire was not a good option.  So, off I went.  In the opposite direction he was heading.  Retracing my steps.  Passing up enough photographic opportunities to fill a week of blogs.

Even though I initially feared the main streets would be devoid of character, I was wrong.  Egypt is currently slogging through a presidential campaign.  I may not be able to read Arabic, but I am willing to bet, this guy represents the old political establishment.  I think he was once president of the Arab League.

And these guys (who disconcertingly look like faces Americans have seen in the recent past) do not.  They represent a different type of orthodoxy.

Those posters say plenty.  Just like some other signs.  Knowing the lingua franca is not required.  Anyone could figure out what is on offer in this building.

When I got back to the dock, a small bazaar had been set up outside of the cruise ship building.  The usual trinkets were on offer.  Refrigerator magnets.  Jewelry.  Hats.  Scarves.  Statues.  A cornucopia of cheap mementoes of a visit to Egypt.

This Chinese couple had been monopolizing the vendor for at least the ten minutes I was there.  Having met them earlier, I had marveled at their bargaining technique.  They used time to erode prices in the same way politicians use fear to raise taxes.

And they are about to win.  The vendor’s glance at his watch is telling.

But he will also have the last laugh on them.  The “Egyptian” head dress for which the wife is bargaining is as Egyptian as she is.  It was made in China.  As was this magnet.

And as are most of the trinkets sold in Mexico.  It is getting rather difficult to buy travel souvenirs that are any different from the import plaza in your local town.

We are once again on our wait to our next port -- Aqaba.  By the time you read this, I will be sailing through the Suez Canal.


Lauriematherne said...

This adventure could have easily ended differently, leaving you stranded on the side of the bay. I am glad you found your back safely. 

Babsofsanmiguel said...

Geez Louise Steve - as intrepid and adventurous as I am, I would not have done're lucky you're around to write the blog.  But, I've said that about myself after some of my silly adventures too.\

Have fun.

Steve Cotton said...

But, without at least the sense of danger, there would be no adventure. And it makes for great dining room conversation.

Steve Cotton said...

It may have filled in my plans where I was going to spend the summer.

Nita said...

I should know but somewhere along the way I missed it. Explain the burning of the library.

Steve Cotton said...

When Julius Caesar was defending the city, he burned the Egyptian navy in the harbor The fire spread to the city and burned the library. Destroying the sole copy of many works. Including those of Aristotle. It was a true tragedy.

tancho said...

You didn't happen to sign up for MedJetAssist insurance before you got on this trip ..did you?
And here I was concerned when you took the back roads of Michoacan last year.

Steve Cotton said...

You probably will not be surprised that I am no big fan of insurance.  For me.