Saturday, 24 September 2011


I’m invited by Ahmed to see a film at the Akmal bookshop in Roshy district. We arrange to meet the Library and find him talking to a small gathering of young men holding the Palestinian flag. Their T-shirts urge the UN to recognise Palestine’s application for membership. “Please tell your country not to vetoe the vote with America,” a bearded man pleads when he realises I’m British. Ahmed jumps around photographing them. We all pose around the flag. “It’s International Peace Day,“ he says clicking away. “We can go to the Citadel before the film. 
There’s a Peace event there organised by the liberals. I want you to see it. “

Ahmed was living in the oasis town of Siwa, running a tour business when the revolution sparked. “I couldn’t leave, so was stuck in the desert watching it on the telly. When Mubarak left, I closed the business and packed up. I had to be a part of what was happening,” he says as we walk along the Corniche.

We pass a university building where striking teachers and students protesting against Alexandria's mayor, wave placards and banners under our noses. Ahmed starts clicking again. “I take photographs all the time. I have to make a record. But don’t know what I’ll do with them. It’s too early yet. This could go on for ever.”

In his fifties, Ahmed says he wanted to come to England to be part of the UK’s Swinging Sixties. “I was too young, but knew it was a revolution. Everything changed from then on. Our revolution is similar – lots of new things coming from change in the people, music, art, everything. The Beatles. I love the Beatles. I’m excited and optimistic.”

The Peace demonstration is a low-key affair with loud music. Young people gather in animated groups. Everyone is talking politics. There's a huggy, clappy feeling in the air. A wheelchair race is organised, but as there is only one person in a wheelchair, it’s cancelled. 

“More people will be coming,” a young man with an American accent assures me. “We’re having a peace conference at the Library with Norwegians and Germans. They’ll come later. It’ll be quite a party.”

Ahmed clicks away at his fellow liberals. He looks oddly out of place; everyone else is young. His camera brings him into the gathering, but it can’t be lost on him that this is another revolution he has missed out on.

A couple of men stand shout at the gathering. “Radicals, “ Ahmed says clicking furiously at them. Later he shows me photos he has taken of cars being overturned in Alex during a Friday march. “Radicals,” he scowls.

We walk back along the Corniche. Another gathering has taken root in protest at the military trials. Men and women stand on the edge of the kerb shouting slogans at passing cars. The Mediterranean thrashes behind them.

I decide not to go with Ahmed to see the film. “You’ll like it,” he says. “it’s about underwater archaeology in Alexandria.”
Squeezed into a micro bus on my way home I thought of Ahmed watching his film - the ruins of the past lying on the ocean floor and a camera pushing its way through the murky depths, unable to see very far ahead.

Sunday, 18 September 2011


Welcome to my blog. It’s for those who  would do anything for a word fix,  are in awe of  the transformative power of words and can't live without books (bound or kindled).  I'm on my way to Alexandria, Egypt  to find  words for  revolutionary times. Come with me. You might meet Cleopatra.


What am I doing in Alexandria? A book prompted the journey, a library - the destination, and a revolution - the compulsion. I read Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet as a young woman, and it drew me to the city. Finally here I am, in a flat overlooking a traffic gorged Corniche and a sultry Mediteranean. Lawrence Durrell's The Alexandria Quartet lies on a table. The book has been a lifetime companion, a nudging reminder of a dream. I first read the book as a young woman, seduced by the sexual and emotional charge of Durrell's city that mapped the terrain of the human heart in its 'thousand dust tormented streets.' His cosmopolitan characters seduced me as much as they seduced each other. Durrell said his Alexandria of the thirties and forties had gone forever. And now, a new city and a new Egypt beckons another generation of writers and readers. Is there anything of Durrell's Alexandria left to survive yet another revolution?


'Now she yawned and lit a cigarette; and sitting up in bed clasped her slim ankles with her hands; reciting slowly, wryly, those marvellous lines of the old Greek poet about a love affair long since past - they are lost in English. And hearing her speak his lines, touching every syllable of the thoughtful ironic Greek with tenderness, I felt once more the strange equivocal power of the city - its flat alluvial landscape and exhausted airs - and knew her for a true child of Alexandria; which is neither Greek, Syrian or Egyptian, but a hybrid; a joint.'

The Alexandria Quartet/Justine, Lawrence Durrell.