12 December 2009

the cavafy house, alexandria

I took this video in the Cavafy House in Alexandria last month.  The sound in the background is the afternoon prayer.  The house is on Rue Lespius downtown.  Old Alexandria...  This, I believe, is one of his best poems.

The City
You said: “I’ll go to another country, go to another shore,
find another city better than this one.
Whatever I try to do is fated to turn out wrong
and my heart lies buried as though it were something dead.
How long can I let my mind moulder in this place?
Wherever I turn, wherever I happen to look,
I see the black ruins of my life, here,
where I’ve spent so many years, wasted them, destroyed them totally.”

You won’t find a new country, won’t find another shore.
This city will always pursue you. You will walk
the same streets, grow old in the same neighborhoods,
will turn gray in these same houses.
You will always end up in this city. Don’t hope for things elsewhere:
there is no ship for you, there is no road.
As you’ve wasted your life here, in this small corner,
you’ve destroyed it everywhere else in the world.

It has been established in related circles that Constantin P. Cavafy was one of the greatest Greek poets who ever lived, and we were lucky enough to have him narrate a bit of his 20th century for us...  When I read this poem I always think about Cairo and Alexandria, about Egypt, and how I came here to study - not to study - but to be a part of this country which still seems so important to me.  I couldn't tell you why, exactly, because I don't care about the things that most people talk about when they talk about Egypt.  I suppose it's best described by the feeling one can get by a corner in a room with a table, an ashtray, a candle.  A river that goes on forever...  Or an image from a book, a woman waiting by the shores of the Mediterranean, eating an apple and reading a newspaper, or a secret message that was once written on a page that's been torn out. 

...  How can you explain to someone over a coffee that this is Egypt?  Not even the tall minarets or the highways or the look in a poor man's eye, no.  Egypt is a fantasy corrupted by 4,000 years of human tragedy.  Which is why, even in the dirt, I will always call this place home.

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