[ilds] The Lost Capital of Memory

Bruce Redwine bredwine1968 at earthlink.net
Thu Aug 13 13:17:37 PDT 2009


I am no authority on Alexandria, just a casual observer.  I was there  
for only five days, but the trends were disturbing.  The old  
cosmopolitan culture of Greeks, Jews, Copts, Christians, Arabs,  
Armenians, et al. is disappearing.  The city is no longer Durrell's  
city of diversity and tolerance.  Read Dr. Mohamed Awad's article in  
Deus Loci, "The House Revisited, the City Remembered" (vol. 7,  
1999-2000), for a local assessment of the cultural situation.  Also  
read and study Michael Haag's book of old photographs, Vintage  
Alexandria:  Photographs of the City 1860-1960 (Cairo 2008).  That  
city is quickly vanishing.  More distressingly, some try to wipe out  
that memory and say it never really existed or was never  
representative of "real" Alexandria.  VA was recently reviewed in TLS  
(26 June 2009), and the reviewer, Maria Golia, an American and  
longtime resident of Cairo, assumes the Islamist viewpoint and claims  
that Durrell's "capital of Memory" was never more than a society  
enjoyed by the families of "the very, very few."  Golia presumably  
means rich, decadent families of foreign lineage.  She sounds a good  
deal like Mr. Sobhi Saleh, a Muslim Brotherhood MP, as quoted in  
Daniel Williams's article.  Haag responded to Golia's review and  
wrote, "They were not so few, and their families had been in Egypt for  
generations, in some cases for centuries.  They had been welcomed in  
Egypt for their expertise, energy and capital; they played a major  
role in developing the country — they played an authentic part in  
Egyptian history" (TLS, 2 July 2009).  Seems to me, that in Egypt  
today there is a concerted effort to deny the history that Haag refers  
to, the same one Durrell cherished.


On Aug 13, 2009, at 12:17 PM, Charles Sligh wrote:

> Thanks for the Alexandrian report, Bruce.
>>        *Alexandria* needs *“stable” community values*, he insisted.
>>        *Sensuality*, if it means *sexuality*, is not part of *the
>>        social equation*. Even *the library* — with its *museum* that
>>        includes *pharaonic, Greek, Roman, Coptic and Islamic relics
>>        *— is misguided, Mr. Saleh said.
>>        “There, *Islam* is just one topic among many. We don’t like
>>        those *naked Greek statues*. Anyway, *that’s over*. Islam
>>        should have a special status at the library,” he said. “This
>>        is *a Muslim city* in *a Muslim country*; that is our
>>        *identity*.”
> Where to begin discussion of those statements?
> I have *deformed* the report in order to indicate what strikes me.
> I fancy that I tend to imagine history in terms of 1.000 to 2,000 year
> epochs.
> The City comes; the City goes--willy, nilly--Alexandria, she is always
> "leaving" us.
> The Greeks and the Jews and the Romans and the Christians and the  
> Turks
> and the French and the English came and went.
> The great poets of secular history, such as Cavafy, Kipling, and
> Durrell, teach me that Islam once came and someday, inevitably, will  
> go.
> What new sect or cultus or tribe will follow?  Will anyone still be
> there to notice or to remember?
> But I would rather have some actual present-day Alexandrians from the
> listserv commenting.
> Charles
> -- 
> ********************************************
> Charles L. Sligh
> Assistant Professor
> Department of English
> University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
> charles-sligh at utc.edu
> ********************************************
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