Friday, January 27, 2006

Whistle while you work

Oh dear. After not posting anything for 2 weeks (vacation weeks!) - not because I was busy with life's thrills, but rather because I have been reading obsessively and there is nothing like reading to cripple any desire to write - I finally decide to break the dry-spell at the precise moment when I actually have work that needs to get done. No big deal, just preparing presentations for tomorrow's MUN session. The poor souls will have to listen to me talk about regional arrangements for almost an hour. As it is, the topic is usually met with aggressive skepticism, perhaps stemming from the disillusioning ineptness of the Arab League***.

The house is empty as the family is traveling for a couple of weeks. (I am smoking a cigarette! Right now! In my living room!) Before their departure, the two spheres of my life which I have so cautiously polarized (i.e. my family and my friends) came face to face, in my house, for dinner. And the earth did not crack open, my mother did not shit a brick and throw it at any of my friends, and trouble-making interactions which trigger such fantastical scenarios were generally absent.

I don't know why I've been so reluctant (the use of that word is such an understatement that it makes me a liar) to introduce these two facets of my life to each other. I guess maybe while growing up our behavior around family is so drastically different from our behavior around friends that the thought of dealing with both simultaneously promises little besides nervous loss of assuredness and massive social awkwardness. (Our is being used to refer to myself and those who were as lucky as I to have had their childhoods and teenage years agitated by cultural dualism. You're really blessed if the mixed messages and clashing value systems are never discussed within the family.)

Anyhow, all went well, and the dinner which my mom whipped up (like magic, or art, I swear to god) was delectable as always. After everyone left, I picked her brain for her insight into these characters with whom I spend so much time, and her feedback was as terrifyingly accurate as only a mother's can be.

Back to work.

***Brief pause during which I considered launching into a political discussion. Quickly decided against that. Simply not in the mood, and I think 4 years of political science have diminished my eagerness to discuss politics. They have also convinced me that while everyone has opinions, very few of them are interesting or remotely original, least of all my own. While we all have the right to voice our opinions, I am not particularly keen on hearing most. As for sharing my own, I've come to realise that one of the skills most vigrously developed while trampling around the social sciences is how to disguise your mostly uninspired thoughts as coherent, thoughtful, and even elegant formulations. In conclusion, I will spare myself and this blog from anything which has become so...worn.

Saturday, January 14, 2006


Alexandria is a city whose residents are almost all indigenous. At least that is what it feels like. It is not like Cairo, or Dubai, or New York - people do not move to Alexandria; rather, they return to it.

And so, every time I'm there, I think about what it might be like to have lived in the same place for most of one's life. To now and again pass by places where you used to play as a kid, or your old school, or the roads on which you first learned to drive. I think about what the town was like when my parents were growing up in it - my mother running around the beach, sneaking onto fishing boats and into elite yacht clubs, and my dad, mostly indoors, being educated in a language which he would never use as an adult. (Oh the remnants of colonialism.) How different, and how similar, childhood was then, in the fifties and sixties, when there were so few machines through which imagination was restricted, molded.

It's a pretty town. The corniche is long and the Mediterranean is moody. Leaving a coffee shop the other night, my cousin M and I spontaneously decided that, despite the freezing cold, we were going to take a horsedrawn carriage home. They mostly service tourists and unmarried couples desperate for privacy, but I had never ridden one and it seemed like the kind of thing you should do at least once. So we rode down the beach, taking occassional swigs of pineapple vodka from a flask which M has nonchalantly been carrying around. (I don't know if I should be concerned about this new habit of hers. I will think about that once I get past the satisfaction derived from the sheer cliche-ness of getting into the car after a stressful family dinner and asking her to pass the booze.)

I think a lot when I'm being transported. On the drive back to Cairo I thought about how demure Alexandria seems to be now, when thought about in the context of its mammoth history. I thought about how it used to be a place people moved to, how it was a center for Hellenism and I wondered how long it took for the town to feel so comfortably Egyptian. I thought about how it was once the greatest Jewish city in the world, and I wondered what relics remained, physical or not, of that culture, besides the creepy cemetary which can be seen from my late grandmother's balcony.

I particularly enjoyed listening to Madonna's Music album in the late afternoon during the drive back; the desert stretched out on both sides of the road, with an impressive frequency of farms and compounds, layed out in such a way that the greenery seems (is) contrived, defiant. The car was quiet for most of the ride, but it was a nice kind of quiet, the kind which you can only enjoy with certain people. I thought about that too, how sometimes it seems like everyone's life is transitioning all around me, how they're waiting for a change that they know is right around the corner.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Marriage and Politics

Just finished Suad Amiry's Sharon and My Mother-in-law. It's a memoir about life in Occupied Palestine; the way it is shaped, interrupted, and frozen for weeks or months on end by curfews, checkpoints, and other weapons of military occupation.

While I'm not particularly moved by the writing style or the author's voice, the information in and of itself is interesting, albeit completely tragically. It's hard enough to get educated, find a job, maintain a relationship or a marriage, care for your family, and be happy without having to worry about not being able to leave your house for days or having your door blown open or a tank parked in your garden.

The mother-in-law moved in with the couple due to the harshness of the circumstances. As one can imagine, this added numerous dimensions of stress to the long periods of house arrest.

I hate titles

I really do. I can never title papers or anything I ever write for that matter.

When I sat down to do this, I was resigned to the fact that I would end up using the title of a song or a book...I guess I should be glad that I didn't end up using a movie title. As uninspired as I feel using other people's titles as my own, somehow referring to a book seems less awful (intellectual snobbery at its best).