I am one of those fairies who likes to mark her birthday. Some people don’t care about their birthday for several reasons. They believe it’s just another day and nothing special. I think birthdays are special and you don’t necessarily have to celebrated them in big style, at least not every year, but they should be marked one way or another. A few months ago I had the desire to celebrate my ’16th’ birthday in a city in the Levant, but the payment schedule of the Student Loan Company made me alter my plans and they turned out pretty good, these altered plans. Me and Raisa, one of the Bremen lot who, after venturing in the Sudan and Ethiopia on her own for Christmas and New Year returned to Alex briefly before going to Syria this week, went to a bar which carries the subtitle ‘touristic cafe’ (sic); Every expat in the city knows this place, which is kitsch looking in a charming way and where they serve a pretty good rosé. I invited some people to join us for a drink. We came across a young man called Alex who I met a few months ago here in el-Iskandereeya when he was on a day trip from Cairo with his flatmates one of which is Chloe who happened to study with us at Marleybone uni but left us after a year to study in Devon and is currently on her year abroad in Cairo (I’m not jealous, I am certainly not). Alex, charming, sweet, very cute, oh-if I-were only-really-16 again, recognized me and invited us to his table where he was sitting with his international posse of pretty cool people all studying Arabic. After being sang to in four languages at midnight we (Raisa and I, the rest drank beer or random mixers) downed another bottle of rose and called it a night at around 2.
The next day I had a simple but tasty breakfast on my balcony in the sun and after having gathered the troops, Raisa, Jameela and Michau, we left for Montazah. I’d heard stories about Montazah but I hadn’t been yet. Now I’ve finally seen that the ‘Pearl of the Mediterranean’ can really look like a pearl. Montazah, at the Eastern edge of the city, houses a large walled park, Montazah gardens which contains lush palm grooves and can be considered a urban oasis. There are several beautiful buildings including a palace that used to belong to King Farouk and is now Mubarak’s summer residence. We gatecrashed a private beach, which belongs to the upmarket Palestine hotel. This time of year the beach is completely empty. The sand is clean and soft, the water clear and the view picturesque. Michau had brought some honey wine from his native Poland. While Jameela had a soft drink the rest if us, later joined by native Alexandrian Ahmed, enjoyed some wine and kif in a rather discreet fashion as these means of intoxication are not allowed or at least not approved of on many private beaches. Although the beach was empty with the exception of a man dressed in sports gear who was walking back and forth along a small stretch of beach which looked rather peculiar and a woman fishing clad in a colourful hijab, which I found a wonderful image ,there were security guards, but because we’re foreigners they allowed us on their sand. When the sun was setting, it was getting a bit chilly and Jameela wanted to pray so we left the beach and went to the mosque opposite the hotel which is a small, beautiful building with atmospheric outdoor lighting. After Jameela returned from her session with God we walked until we were outside the garden walls to catch a taxi. Michau went home to be a lazy, boring bastard, Jameela went home to have her private class which she always has on (most) Sundays and Raisa, Achmed and I went to the bar of the Cecil Hotel. If you want an alcoholic drink in Alex it’s easy to end up in hotel bars since qahwas (coffee houses), basic places where men (only) talk rubbish and smoke sheesha and cafeterias, which are Starbucks-like establishments where one also serves food, are dry. The Cecil Hotel is a bit of an institution established in the late 1920’s were literary and political legends like Noel Coward and Winston Churchill once resided. The lobby and the bar on the first floor ooze past glory but it still has its charm. As has turning 16 again and celebrating a birthday in January in sunny spring-like weather with friends, food and drinks set in chilled places. The Birthday Fairy felt very blessed.