Thurs: The chapter I worked on today was called ‘The Sand Sweepers of Assekrem’ (I had chosen the title over two years ago when working on the first draft of my desert novel, but it seemed strangely appropriate here – the people referred to in the chapter seemed akin to the guys here who rake the sand every day like some kind of Zen meditation, or exercise in futility). The wind continued to howl and my bowels continued to flow (sorry – too much information – but it aint called the blogroll for nothing).
Yet there’s a positive side to most things. My condition-imposed fast, which had made me weak and light-headed after 3 days without successfully eating anything (I’d put food in my mouth but it only had a passing acquaintance with my stomach), resulted in me having an inspirational experience in the lagoon – the result: a new poem (under ‘Poems’). Talk about suffering for your art!
Friday’s chapter was The Ash Eaters – which was about all I could eat. We met at midday to arrange our reading and Tizzy gave me some horse pills, but they didn’t seem to do the trick.
As I walked to the reception to rendezvous with the others I couldn’t believe my eyes – there were a dozen or so hogs racked up in front, Harley Davidsons looking like they’d just been delivered from the showroom. I managed to talk to one of the bikers at breakfast the next morning – there’s 18 of them, on a rideout from Cairo. Their middle-aged Sunday riders – but, boy, would be good to ride that straight coast road with them. Sometimes they go down to Hurghada as well for a couple more days R&R. Hog heaven.
Friday evening we had our ‘meet the authors’ event at the Embassy of Knowledge, aka library, aka ‘el mamoutka’ (it took some time to establish this with the taxi driver as we hurtled towards ‘it’ – although as with all Egyptians I wasn’t entirely sure if he was being disingenuous or not. Sometimes they like to pretend not to understand just to wind you up, but when you’re talked to in a patronising tone by the tourists, can you blame them? Not many laughs in the desert – get ’em where you can). The library is a branch of the Alexandrian Library, Biblioteca Alexandria – the first week, when I went passed it at night the sign wasn’t working properly and it read Biblioteca Ale: the Library of Beer! We arrived and met up with Emad’s staff, including Catherine from Switzerland who made sure we had everything we needed. Our man himself arrived and sorted us out for drinks.
Chatted to some nice Gounies, but shame there weren’t more present. Considering the dearth of cultural activity in the resort, this was disappointing. Maybe we’ll see everyone at the reading.
I had reserved a table at the Moroccan restaurant but was too unwell to take it up, so I wandered back thru Downtown, stocking up on pills and water on the way. Crashed for a bit, dragged myself to Fairways to try eating, then caught the psychedelic love bus down to Abu Tig – nothing happening at Papas, (everyone up at Mangroovy Beach for the kite-surfing fest) so checked out the trendy Peanuts bar, (occasionally frequented by celebrities, apparently). Ate some peanuts, threw the shells on the floor. Drank a beer. Looked at the yachts. Walked to end of the quay and sat gazing out at the night sea, enjoying the soothing lap of waves, the borderless darkness illuminated by the lonely lights of ships in the distance. I felt a bit like St Exupery’s aviator, flying across the desert, seeing lights far below: ‘We felt ourselves lost then in interplanetary space, among a hundred inaccessible planets, searching for the one true planet that was our own, the only one with landscapes we knew, houses we loved, all that we treasured.’
Elmaz sent a message saying she had a new towel sculpture on her bed so popped around (it’s only next door) to see the amazing work of art made by Mahmoud, our talented cleaner. He provides an excellent service, but like many of the staff here is brighter than his job. So much unfulfilled potential, it’s heart-breaking – they just don’t get the opportunities Westerners take for granted (a good education, a chance to travel, a freedom to choose and follow your star). Seeing these, the Neglected of El Gouna (who diligently keep the place running) makes me feel like we’re in a movie where all the bit parts are played by ‘A’ list stars and the main roles by unknowns, or the hammiest of actors. The tourists take to the main stage every day – the pool-side, the restaurant – while the real talent remains beyond the limelight.
Saturday started to feel better as the new medicine took effect. I could eat again! And having more energy went for a workout – my German spa pal, Thomas, was on hand to show me how to optimise my gym experience. Crossing back on the ferry in the evening light, feeling ‘wellness’, I thought how lucky I am to be here.