Sunday, October 09, 2005

Travel: Michael Allin's Alex

Michael Allin and I have been friends since long ago and far away when I was at the beginning of my teens and he was at the end of his. He went on to become a screenwriter ("Enter the Dragon") and novelist ("The Christmas Kid"), but found his real metier as a poet-traveler-historian with the book "Zarafa," about a giraffe given by the Pasha of Egypt to the King of France in the early 19th century. Michael retraced the journey of this wild animal with whom everyone seemed to fall in love as she made her way from Sudan up the Nile to Alexandria, across the Mediterranean to Marseilles, and was then walked through France to the Jardin des Plantes in Paris: history as fable, travel as literature. Michael has since wandered along the remotest recesses of the Silk Road, is now exploring South America, and occasionally shares his writing with us on his blog:

"Leaving Africa, from my book ZARAFA:

"At Alexandria the sea is ever changing -- turquoise shallows and purple depths and vast outer blue that turns dark green when the wind roughens it too choppy to reflect the sky, silver gray under clouds and patched with golden columns of sunlight -- constant only in its immensity and, after the snaking current of the Nile, violently alive. Incoming swells explode into rainbows against the limestone fortress of the Mamelukes at the entrance to the harbor. The light, too, is mercurial, moody without the solid heat of the desert. Arabic sounds different here, and faces change as Egypt turns Greek.
"After the overwhelming fact of the Nile -- where the heat and the landscape and fifty centuries of history confirm the irrelevance of any particular life -- Alexandria is a physical and emotional relief, a beautiful and confusing letdown. Body and eyes no longer suffer, and the mind no longer searches in awe for the shelter of a detail -- momentary shade, a drink, some small living touch like the green monkey climbing that other Zarafa's neck [painted in a tomb at Luxor] 3,500 years ago. ..."

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