Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Michael Haag

Alexandria Revisited...

After New Year's trip to Marrakesh I quickly finished "Alexandria - City of Memory" by Michael Haag. I have been collecting Alexandria bibliography for ages ( I'll say more about it one of these afternoons) but this is a precious item. Besides quite the usual stuff about Cavafy and Foster, Haag provides the ultimate key/clue to Durrell's "Alexandria Quartet". In particular, he eloquently describes how the real-life family of Uncle Lawrence's third wife (Jewish) was turned into the literary (Copt) family of Nessim.

Main buzz for me, after this revisiting of Alexandria: is an open-mind old sea port in the Mediterranean, with corresponding multicultural trade and cosmopolitanism plus rich historical context, the climax of human civilization?

But, in the case of Alexandria, what about the Arab/Egyptian viewpoint? Is the nostalgia for the "loss" of cosmopolitan Alexandria, after the exodus of non-Egyptian populations following Nasser policies around 1956, a form of covert white-colonialism? Or is Alexandria such an icon of the shared cultural patrimony of the Greek-Latin world that a sense of "loss" can and should indeed be felt?

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