Tuesday, August 13, 2013
It was late in the evening when we slipped off the big ship into a small boat and headed off across the Mediterranean to the city of Alexandria. The leader of our small group had been on many adventures like this and we were eager to go with him.
We had been into the city earlier in the day with a large tourist group. The day had been exciting and educational but nothing like this. The hot and weary day time Alexandria had suddenly become cool and alive. I am almost at a loss for words to describe my feelings while walking the streets of Alexandria at night. I had never seen anything like it. I have been to India since then and was amazed at what I saw. But at that time this was one of the most unique experiences I had ever had.
It was nearing midnight but people were everywhere. Black carriages pulled by a single horse were being driven at top speed up and down the main streets. The sidewalks were crowded and merchants were hawking their goods to anybody they could stop.
After looking at the "stuff" being offered for sale on the sidewalk and in the shops and there being more women than men in the group, we decided to go to a large bazaar. Our leader hailed a taxi and told him we wanted to go to a large bazaar. He immediately took off at a high speed racing up one street and down another until he came to a screeching halt in front of a small shop just like the ones we had been looking into on main street. The leader would talk to him and he would take off again. We did this about three times and finally realized he had no clue. I don't know what was said and how it happened but we eventually wound up way outside of town at an old Mosque. It was so dark you could hardly see your hand in front of your face. We all took off our shoes and slowly moved inside the dark Mosque. I felt strange and out of place and wondered what in the world we were doing there. After a few minutes we put our shoes back on and headed back into the city.
I can look around our home today and see a few of the things we brought home from Alexandria. One thing is called a camel's saddle. It is an Egyptian footstool. It was stuffed with straw that had remnants of cow dung in it. Before we packed it for the journey home I took it apart and threw away the straw. Today it looks good and smells good but it's only value is in memories. Why did I buy it? Why because everybody else was buying one of course. And the price was right. Actually we bought it for our son. We thought he would be intrigued by it. And he was, but he didn't really ever have any place to put it and it wound up in one of our bedroom closets. It has been there all these years.
I'm so glad we made this trip back in 1978 when it was safe to be there. I talked to an Egyptian lady who was a lawyer. She had received her education in the United States. She said when she was in Atlanta, Georgia that she was told it was not safe to walk the streets at night. Think about it. That was in 1978. She was afraid to walk the streets in Atlanta at night but we could walk the streets of Alexandria with no fear at all. Today? Now that's a different matter. I am so thankful that we were able to visit this great place then. I wouldn't want to go there today.
The Pearl Of The Mediterranean
The second largest city in Egypt, Alexandria has an atmosphere that is more Mediterranean than Middle Eastern; its ambiance and cultural heritage distance it from the rest of the country although it is only 225 km. from Cairo.
Founded by Alexander the Great in 331 BC, Alexandria became the capital of Graco-Roman Egypt; its status as a beacon of culture is symbolized by Pharos, the legendry lighthouse that was one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
The setting for the stormy relationship between Cleopatra and Mark Antony, Alexandria was also the center of learning in the ancient world, but ancient Alexandria declined, and when Napoleon landed he found a sparsely populated fishing village.
Since the 19th century Alexandria has played a new role, as a focus for Egypt's commercial and maritime expansion. This Alexandria has been immortalized by writers such as E.M. Forster and 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 described it as " The capital city of Asiatic Europe, if such a thing could exist".