Monday, April 2, 2007

Alexandria in Blue Moon Colours

I still remember that humid summer night when people went back home long after midnight; as Alexandrians hate Alexandria during June, July and August when millions of Cairenes invade the city for a wave of vacations, I had behaved as the most Alexandrian! I had spent early morning hours in the Corniche, noon time in Montaza, and early afternoon hours in Abuqir.

There is nothing better than an empty Corniche in humid summer Alexandria, and this is within reach at 7:30 in the morning; walk from the Raml station to the Library (20 minutes of fast walking), and then turn your back to the Eastern Harbour and the Qaytbey castle to enjoy the infinite coast line until Sidi Beshr. Keep walking by the seaside, and let Alexandria reveal its sleepy face at Shatby, Kamp Shezar, Cleopatra. You will drink capuccino at Half Moon cafeteria, leaving your eyesight plunge to the endless horizon of the blueish – whitish summertime Mediterranean. You will then reach the 'modern' Mustafa Kamel buildings mainly inhabited by families if the military, as the nearby Mustafa Kamel hospital is only for army officers. And then, you will reach the bridge of Rushdy precisely after one hour of fast walking from the Library. Make it 1h 15m, if you allow 15 minutes for the coffee break. On your right, you will distinguish the famous San Giovanni Hotel, an early 20th century glory. In the Rushdy bridge, you can stop and see far in the West the Qaytbey castle, envisioning images of Ottoman and French galleys; if your imagination is stronger you will surely detect Roman navigators sailing to the East, to Tyre, to Byblus, to Laodicea, to Tarsus.

You will need one more hour to walk until you reach Sidi Beshr, the turning point from where you can see the Montaza gardens. You will go past Mercury hotel and the various clubs, namely of the Engineers, and of the Judges where you have no access, you will reach Glym. Strange name you will say; not quite! The entire area belonged to a Greek merchant, Glymenopoulos. You can have your coffee break here, if you did not like Half Moon. Prefer Afendina that offers a nice view over the Glym beach and the huge San Stefano mall/hotel/residence complex. You keep walking on and on, you reach Mahroussa Hotel, preferred by Egyptian administrators and the military. You will be close to the Abu Heif beach.

Advancing further to the East, you will reach the Renaissance (Marriott) hotel, and next to it the Danish Trianon cafe and snack restaurant (in Cairo you will find many properties of the brand, but certainly the one next to Sheraton Dokki overlooking the Nile is the most impressive one). From that location, you will have 10 – 15 m to walk until reaching the turning point of Sidi Beshr from where you will see far the Montaza Palace and Gardens. Still one hour to walk until there (a total of 3h20 minutes from Raml Station under non-stop conditions)! The successive Sidi Beshr, Asafra and Mandara beaches are the best public beaches of modern Alexandria. If your appetite runs high, stop by the Gad Asafra restaurant on the Corniche that offers good food and wonderful views; passing merchants will provide you with the fruits, anything from mango to bananas and from guavas to figues de Berberie (prickly pears). A mere wonderer will tell you that you call them Tin Shouki in Arabic, and Frangosyka in Greek.

Montaza

Like this, leaving as early as 7:30 a.m. from Raml, you reach Montaza around 11:00, which is good because in the humid summer days the millions of Egyptian tourists do not wake before 11:00 or 12:00! After this exercise, you will need 2 hours relaxation in the Montaza gardens, before the masses arrive (between 13:00 and 14:00). Prefer anything! From a strawberry juice (fraoula in Arabic), while sitting in the Cafeteria of the sumptuous Salamlek hotel, to a Bacardi Cola in the lobby of Helnan Palestine hotel. You can buy a cola and drink it while sitting for an hour under the wonderful, elegantly leaning pine trees of Montaza. Personally, I advance further on, cross the bridge beyond Venissia restaurant and sit at a small cafeteria at very edge of Montaza, next to the Nautical Club. From there I enjoy for an hour or two one of Egypt's most dramatic coastal views, over the Maamoura bay, and the palm trees forest beyond, until the buildings at Abuqir. In the afternoon, when the Egyptians invade Montaza en masse, I pick up a taxi and for 10 Egyptian pounds, I arrive at Abuqir, straight to the correct place: Zephyrion restaurant.

Abuqir

As you correctly deduced it already, Mattaam (restaurant in Arabic) Zephyrion belongs to a Greek. I always loved this fish tavern that reminds me of 1960s taverns in the Greek islands. In the afternoon hours, my eyesight is lost in the silver coloured sea and I wonder how I cannot see Paros, as if this tavern is located in Naxos island! Sometimes, I try to locate Armathia island, as if I am in a tavern at Fry in Cassos island, where my maternal grandmother spent most of her childhood 100 years ago! Yet, I am in Alexandria. Mr. Perikles comes and talks to you friendly, while you enjoy the most fresh and well cooked fish in Egypt.

At 5 o'clock in the afternoon in the humid summertime Alexandria, only a taxi can save you, if want to avoid merging with millions of Cairenes who invade the Corniche and all the adjacent streets, beaches, cafeterias and restaurants. The minibuses and the buses, as well as the trams look like clusters of grapes with hands, legs, foot and entire bodies leaning out of windows and doors! Back to your hotel, take a shower, sit in the balcony and enjoy the view of the endless Mediterranean. Spend hours enjoying the unusual view, admiring the sunset, reading or sleeping.

In the evening must start late, and then you will have several places to go, if you want to keep yourself far from the overwhelming millions of Cairene tourists! For instance, the Chinese restaurant atop Cecil Hotel; it offers some of the most dramatic views over the Corniche from Raml until the Qaytbey castle. Do not think of walking in the Corniche before 1:00 a.m.! Then, everything becomes possible, even a moonlit swim in a beach just evacuated by the millions of Cairenes who stay hours after the sunset in the sea water. For instance, you can be sure that at 2:30 a.m. you will be the only to enjoy swimming in Shatby bridge, 100 m from the Library. The people have gone, and you are alone with the deep, the true Alexandrian palpitations and spirits.

I had gone deep, and then coming back to surface I faced a wonderful Blue Moon, a few meters below the sea level! What was that aquatic miracle of the Blue Moon? What would it signify to me? What blue mysteries would I encounter when back on terra firma? I felt as cold and as faraway as a quenched star; was I?

Dried, dressed, and compressed in the Blue Moon thoughts, I decided to walk in the empty Corniche of nocturnal Alexandria. And then a second Moon appeared in front of me, this time in great propinquity; and in great blue luminosity! This manly Moon was a mere wonderer on the night; dressed in traditional white cloth and with a traditional white turban on his head, he appeared in front of me at a moment the Moon was behind his head, and gave him indeed a most blueish aspect of outre existence.

I felt obliged to engage into an unusual discussion with that man whose characteristics reminded me of a Manichaean high priest depicted on the famous wall paintings of Turfan, Eastern Turkestan, thousands of kilometers far from Mediterranean Alexandria. But who said that distances matter?

Hermas Encratites, the Manichaean Alexandrian

His name was Hermas, and he insisted that it is pertinent to call the people with the names they are offered, only when consciously baptized in mature age. He was therefore Hermas Encratites. He reminded me of the great Manichaean past of Alexandria, when the city was full of adepts of Mani and his doctrine.

31 March, 296

It was precisely 31 of March 296, when Diocletian issued his Edict demanding the Proconsul of Africa to exterminate all the Alexandrian Manichaeans, who were accused of Persian origin and recent arrival. The Roman Emperor wanted the Manichaean Primates and Auditores physically exterminated, their books burnt, and their goods confiscated. I asked Hermas why the Romans and the Persians, although very inimical one to another, desired so passionately to exterminate his co-religionists, their leaders – called the Perfects, and the adepts – called the Hearers, 'Catechoumenoi' in Greek.

In that eldritch, nocturnal, summertime Alexandria that I had never encountered before, Hermas revealed to me all the reasons why all the political leaders, all the emperors, all the other religious authorities were and had to be totally committed in their anti-Manichaean hysteria. Manichaeism is the only system able to empty to clear the world from all evil acts, all evil things, all evil thoughts, and all evil beings. Manichaeism can achieve this without major wars and conflicts involved. By letting adepts understand the real nature of the evil surrounding world, Manichaeism calls them to self restrain (Engrateia in Greek), which is only peaceful way of changing the world and eliminating evil. The elites of an evil world can only be evil; it is normal therefore that they react ferociously to what represents the worst danger to their continuation and proliferation.

I asked Hermas to give me an insightful understanding of the world that was created by the Good and ruled by the Bad. He then narrated to me the most incredible story that I had ever heard.

Before the existence of Heaven and Earth, there were two Principles, the one Good the other Bad. The Good Principle dwells in the realm of light and is called 'Father of Majesty' (Megethos in Greek), and 'Father with the Four Faces' ('Tetraprosopon' in Greek); these four Faces are the Time, the Light, the Force, and the Goodness. The Father of Majesty procreated Five Tabernacles in which He can be found: Intelligence, Reason, Thought, Reflection, and Will. They are eternal, that is why they are called in Greek'Aiones' and in Latin 'Beata Secula'.

The Father of Majesty together with the light-air, the light-earth and their attributes constitute the Pleroma, the entirety. As the light world is of infinite extent, so is its counterpart, the realm of Darkness that was originally distinct from the world of light.

The King of Darkness was never Father – or God. His realm, the dark Pleroma is also of triple dimension, involving firmament, air, and earth. They have their attributes, for instance the Air of Darkness has the Pestilent Breath, the Scorching Wind, the Gloom, the Mist, and the Consuming Fire.

The Primordial Evil

All the problems of the world started when the King of Darkness decided to invade the realm of light. Diavolos Protos, the Primordial Evil, in the appearance of a monster half fish, half bird, yet with four feet and lion-headed, threw himself upward toward the confines of light. The echo of the thunder went through the blessed Aions and reached the Father of Majesty, who decided to engage in war.

He then procreated the Spirit, namely the Mother of Life, who gave birth to the first man, the Protanthropos. Consequently, he procreated the Clear Air, the Refreshing Wind, the Bright Light, the Life-Giving Waters, and the Warming Fire, to attack the five Aions of Darkness. Nahashbat, the Angel of Victory, went before him. Then, the First Man projected his light before the King of Darkness, which was an incalculable error.

The struggle went ultimately in favor of the King of Darkness. The First-Man, overcome, gave himself and his five sons as food to the five sons of Darkness. When these five resplendent beings of light had been absorbed by the sons of Darkness, reason was taken away from them, because of the poisonous admixture with the sons of Darkness. Thus, evil prevailed for a moment. As soon as the First Man recovered his reason, he prayed seven times to the Father of Majesty, for Salvation.

The Father of Majesty procreated then the Friend of the Light, who gave birth to the Great Ban, and through the latter emanated the Spirit of Life, to Zoon Pneuma as the Greeks call it. He became the Demiourgos, the form giver, and procreated five personalities.


From his intelligence, he generated the Ornament of Splendour.


From his reason, he created the Great King of Honour.


From his thought, he made Adamas, the Sublime Diamond Light.


From his self reflection, he procreated the King of Glory.


And from his will, he shaped the Supporter.

The five sublime beings were powerful enough to descend into the realm of Darkness, find the First Man (Protanthropos) in his degradation and ultimately rescue him.

At this moment started the Creation of the material Universe. Some of the sons of the Spirit of Life kill the sons of Darkness; the Spirit of Life forces the sons of Darkness to surrender some of the light which they had absorbed from the five elements and out of this he forms the sun and the moon (vessels of light) and the stars. The Spirit of Life further makes the wheels of the wind under the earth near the Supporter.

Following this early success, the Mother of Life, the Protanthropos, and the Spirit of Life beg the Father of Majesty for a third creation, whereby He gives birth to the Messenger, whom the Romans call Legatus Tertius.

The Messenger creates twelve virgins, namely, Royalty, Wisdom, Victory, Persuasion, Purity, Truth, Faith, Patience, Righteousness, Goodness, Justice, and Light. He dwells in the sun and, coming toward these twelve virgins, he commands his three attendants to make them revolve; they soon reach the height of the heavens. As soon as the heavens rotate, the Messenger commands the Great Ban to renovate the earth and make the Great Wheels (Air, Fire, and Water) to mount.

Adam and Luminous Jesus

The process of creation of the vegetation, the animal, and the rational life on earth involves successive fights between the Messenger and the sons and daughters of Darkness. At the end, Naimrael and Ashaklun, two female and male devils, bring forth two children, Adam and Eve. Consequently, in Adam's body a vast number of germs of light was imprisoned. As a matter of fact, he was the great captive of the Power of Evil.

To oppose this development, the Powers of Light sent a Savior, the luminous Jesus, who was apparently able to approach the otherwise innocent Adam, awake him from his sleep of death, and make him move. Adam reflected on himself and knew that he existed. Luminous Jesus instructed Adam and showed him the Father's dwelling in the celestial heights. He then made Adam stand up and taste of the tree of life. Adam then looked around and wept. He mightily lifted up his voice as a roaring lion.

Adam tore his hair and struck his breast and said, "Cursed be the creator of my body and he who bound my soul and they who have made me their slave". He thus realized that Man's duty is to keep his body pure from all bodily stain by practicing self-denial and to help also in the great work of purification throughout the universe.

Astounded, I asked Hermas how could therefore any person obtain Salvation; he answered me that, mainly through the activity of the elect, and the self denial of the Catechoumenoi, all light particles will be gathered together, the Messenger, or Legatus Tertius will appears again. The Spirit of Life will come from the west, the First Man with his hosts will come from north, south, and east, along with all light aeons, and all perfect Manich├Žans. Then, the Supporter will throw his burden away, and the Ornament of Splendour will let the heaven and earth go, whereby everything will sink into the abyss.

A universal conflagration will then take place, lasting 1486 years, during which the torments of the wicked are the delights of the just. When the separation of light from darkness is finally completed, all angels of light will return on high; the dark souls will sink away in the depth, which will then be closed forever and eternal calm will reign in the realm of light that will no more be invaded by Darkness.

At that moment, the Blue Moon face of Hermas disappeared and in the empty Corniche of Manichaean Alexandria I realized that it would soon be Dawn.

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