I was sitting, nonchalantly or so it seemed, on the shore of Lake Wennesse. Home was thousands of miles away, but, even in this beautiful place, full of beautiful people,, greenery, sun, and lots of swans, it was occupying my thoughts.
Maybe that’s why I borrowed a pen and a paper from a blonde sitting by me, who was so involved in her work, marking papers filled with blue inscriptions with a red pen. She could not help but work, it seemed. It was not a way of opening a conversation, introducing an exotic foreigner with a funny accent. It was really for the sake of exorcising this haunting essence of home, and writers know this well, or at least some of them.
It was emotional, yes, but it had something to do with logic. My new German friend did not understand the logic of the whole thing. She looked at me, with her green-grey, saying that world was so distant from her. I would argue with Honecker, but—actually—arguing would not get me anywhere, and moreover, Honecker’s course has its own logic, one we can understand in the light of a certain ideology, even if we strongly disagree. But Sissi, the new Pinochet of Egypt, has no logic but the raw grip on a primitive concept of power, mingled with a great deal of collective insanity hitting home, of which he’s both a manufacturer and a product.
Since I left Egypt nearly month ago, the madness continues to prevail: After two days where voters were obviously absent, days filled with hysterical threats by the field marshal and his government, Sissi went as far as imposing a third day of voting, and finally announced himself a winner with 97% of 48% of voters, after which the media went on to attack “traitors” who modified his recorded victory speech to make him look “darker,” and the FJP — the party of the Muslim Brotherhood —is speaking about how Sissi bleached his to look whiter with a million dollar cost, but in order to recover, he will look “darker.”
Such encounters can be added to the duck-as-spy, the Muppet-conspiracy, turning HIV to kofta, and for sure, the boy-toys-to-spy-tools they caught in the Cairo International Airport.
Yesterday, I was with Jovita at an art exhibition. It was celebrating the 40th anniversary of a Berliner art gallery and artists’ studios, dedicating the exhibition to German artists who created futuristic sci-fi comics and dedicated to Jules Verne, using a style attributed to industrial Germany in the beginning of the 20th century. No wonder they called it “The Mechanical Corps.” I could not help but think that Egypt was going down the same course exactly, reinventing the past to the future. It would be so appealing in art, even inspiring, but in the reality, and more specific in the political sphere, it is devastating.
Ah! The blonde in the park had to go, so she had her pen back with a lovely sorry smile. I felt helpless, until a kind guy, who was alert even though cuddling with a woman, helped me out with a pen. Blue ink going after black one: inconsistency. Egypt.
Maybe it was a sign, just to stop thinking, worrying, analyzing Egypt. As a poet friend put it over a chat box on Facebook: “You are coming back to the shit again, so try not to entrench yourself in it now.” Yes, she’s right, but I cannot help it, and I cannot help noticing that “shit” is the code name for Egypt now.
As in literature — as in Flaubert’s sort, the first modern novelist, according to Illyosa — getting drowned in sentimentality means you are dead in it. I do not want it to be a sentimental one, and as proof I would say that Egypt had the code name shit before, back in the days before January 25. Not the very year before it, but years before it, that’s a truth. But again, I cannot help but think that in these old days, it was shitty but abstract, when we had the time and the mind for a movie-night, or a Nile cruise, or gathering in bars. Every word did not vibrate with intense politics, people did not try to measure up their words carefully so as not to be a Muslim Brother, or Mubarakian, or an Army lover. We did not seek approval from the surroundings like cocaine addicts; we were not so damn hysterical like this, back when everything was still unexpected, inexperienced. I try to enjoy my time in Berlin, but it is scary to think I am chasing a status I had five years ago with no success.
Now you may add nostalgia, which is a great aspect of sentimentality, but to blow this up, I can tell you about my scares from Mubarak and SCAF bibi-bullets. I’d tell you how I got these two scars on my writing leg in the Muhammad Mahmoud streets riots, and all of this lyrical shit, but I could also direct you to another scar, a long one, on the other leg. Well, it was done by my cat.
It was the cat claws, trying to catch on anything before falling from my attic. We should not fall into sentimentality and nostalgia; scars can be created by generals and by cats.
See? It is so logical for Jovita not to understand, and for that I kept silent, trying not to speak about it, but she would usually say, as we were surfing the streets of Berlin, that I looked “serious.” I love walking you know, as a real downtowner, the true son of Cairo, but more and more it became harder to everyone, especially those guys up in Cairo in the moment. Over Facebook, I could understand from friends in many areas that “The People’s Enormous Joy” over Sisi’s win was actually in three or four separate spaces, and even with that and everywhere else, it was a few gangs of people riding tok-toks, closing the streets, halting the traffic, so you could see “the loving crowds” flowing out into the streets, maybe naming the Field Marshal and his entire family all together.
Away of such thoughts, I try not to look serious and I try to enjoy the walk, the talk. It was funny and intriguing that we interact in a language which is not either of our mother tongues. It seemed like me speaking to some Mubarakians and Army lovers: You can remove the infatuation.
We were strolling by Check Point Charlie, and I was enchanted by the history flaring up out of the spot. I always was a history lover, an avid one, but the scene of US and Soviet personnel around garrisons, wires, and tanks, all in black and white, drew me back to a different place. A few months ago, I was invited by a book club to discuss my books, so I went there, exercising my love to walking, and I passed by the headquarters of the Northern Egyptian Command, the same set, garrisons, tanks, and masked army personnel. Now, in front of me, I can see the US and Soviet occupation forces bare-faced.
I was brought up in downtown Cairo, just in front of Ministry of Interior, and through my short life, I saw it growing more and more into a fortified beast, and the only lesson I could glean from this, especially the recent cutting of half of the street with a wall, is that whatever garrisons put in place will never be removed. I looked to Check Point Charlie now, again.
And when I went to the nice guy to give him back his pen, writing only half of this for the lack of papers, his lover, a nice lady with some northern English accent asked if I had finished writing my will, pointing out to the paper in my hand. I smiled and I told her that’s a bad omen. She said apolitically that she had written her own. I noted that F. Scott Fitzgerald had written in his obituary that he “had potential, and Great Gatsby proves it.” The bastard did not really know, I told her. She did not know him, but she knew Gatsby, and that lots of artists can feel the same. I bored the couple with another story about the end of Modiliagni, before I thanked them and went.
If this lady managed to read those letters now then I would thank her. Because for five minutes of this day, of this trip, I was speaking purely about art, thinking entirely about art, even if they were sad stories, and even if her joke about writing my will hit a naked nerve.