One thousand and one Arabian nights

In December 2011, my family, my aunt’s and various members of my extended family, decided to spend the week till Xmas eve in Sharm-el-Sheik. A hot December was new to me and someway odd, though it was worth experiencing. 

I had never been in Egypt and that was an opportunity to visit a small part of it, at least–sincerely said, not that I went nuts for Sharm (nor would I even go today), it’s such a touristy area.

Let’s cut this short. 

The resort was fantastic. From the bar at the main entrance, you could see it stretching over for hundreds of meters till it crumbled into a wide quiet beach. Pools, restaurants and bars all over – the latter were the ones we would attend the most. (Hey I’m not the only good drinker in the family, what did you think?)

We also took many trips to visit historical spots and characteristic towns, hidden beaches and the coral reef, the dreary and lifeless desert and posh casinos.

Mmm…For me, thumbs down!…

It just was not what I was expecting. Not that I believe in cliches but, what about the land of the 40 thieves? What about its magic and mysterious appeal? And the mythical characters of the bedtime stories? All ruins of a forgotten era buried under thick layers of golden western ashes. The leftovers of a population knelt to a new dominion: the green touch of a European Midas.

This acknowledged, instead of going to the sea, lying under the sun, enjoying the transparent water, I would sit in the hall and study for an exam – indeed, me! My parents definitely couldn’t believe it. At the time my focus was more into my studies and my band. We were launching an EP for Xmas and an album was due to go live asap on the new year. The Xmassy mini-EP consisted of 3 songs: acoustic versions of 2 songs included in the album and a guitar-and-voice track. Cool stuff!

That aside, can’t find any other reasons for my lonesome behaviour. Either Xmas puts that mode on or I’m a kind of weirdo. I second that!

All in all, even if Sharm had no charm, the time in there was pleasant. The company was fun and the trips on the coach turned into pure comedy. 

Few days after, still before Xmas, I turned 24. On the night of my birthday – the midnight of the 22nd – we stopped at a bar straight out of the resort to open a bottle of champagne. Suddenly, all the people that worked in there, gathered around me and started singing some Arabic song. That was droll! Must say: people there still got a thing. 

And from that moment onwards, I started learning that many individuals had thrilling stories to tell, unique tales of a culture so different from mine. Our guide, in fact, would tell us of mysteries, legends, ancient uses and habits that Europeans can only admire: stories of Bedouins, of the desert’s bandits, of magic arts and connections with the afterlife, of glory and fallen kingdoms. Fascinating!

How can you not think of Aladdin? How can you not think of a flying carpet, of a magic lamp and a feisty Genie that grants all your wishes? 

I can’t say whether such things really happened in a time back then. Yet, something magnificent can simply be true.

Assuming that not all feelings can be explained in words, let me try to describe one specific night. 

A different world, a different sky, a different moon.

That moonlight. That absurd shimmering effusion radiated some enchantment and magnetism that would make one night last a thousand. It was in the air: medieval folklore and legendary myths could have arisen from the sand to interrupt the silence. No surprise.

I was by myself sitting on a short wall under a palm out of my bungalow, and although I was wearing earphones, the placid music couldn’t distract me from that huge and blazing moon – closer than ever – that along with a lucid dark blue sky were wallpapering the weird veil of secrecy that had wrapped the resort. The atmosphere was surreal.
I swear to my life that the finest European night will never be as beautiful.

Fast forward to the present day.

We often go have dinner at one of the Turkish/Arabian restaurants that give onto Harringay Green Lanes, which is only 5 mins walking from my place.
Who is “we”? Alex and I! Do you remember my cousin?! That’s the one! 

Anyway, the food there has very high standards and I undoubtedly rate it 5 stars, as well as the impeccable service. One of the waiters always puts on an extra-large smile to greet us and we are always treated with the utmost kindness. 

Time after time, this guy started inviting us in for a mint tea and some sweets on the house–in fact, he seemed to enjoy our company. We would talk a lot. We learned about his glorious story, his difficult roaming to London, his tumultuous past, his 70-hour-a-week shifts. Nonetheless, he looked always extremely energetic and unstoppable with his can-do attitude and hard-working ethic. His appearance was more of a fit stylish European fellow: a boy of manners, smart-dressed, and in great shape. His robust look, captivating tone of voice and fierce personality, were solid traits of his esoteric background, features of centuries of enthralling roots. He was special: he was a vivid and intriguing untold mystery.

Once, he asked us to spend a night out together and got in touch a few times to make arrangements. Unfortunately, due to various commitments, advance-planned stuff, or just being awfully tired, weekdays (the only days he was available) are not always a good moment for us to hang out. Thus, although he had asked us out several times, the night never happened. 

We stopped going to the restaurant for a while.

Going a bit off-topic. You got to know that seldom London devours people from the inside. It’s not just the long commuting, or the intensive days of work, or the unstable housing conditions. It’s the sempiternal need for rushing, the feeling of being always in the wrong spot, the lack of long-lasting relationships and people you can trust; it’s the chaos, the insecurity of what will happen the next day. And all consume you till you grow bags under the eyes, expressive wrinkles, and some hair come grey. London makes you stronger on the outside but weaker on the inside, by acting as slow-spreading cancer.

In this very moment, while I’m writing, I’m standing at the bus stop with hundreds of people in the hope that the 341 won’t be too late. History repeats itself. And I seriously need a beer!

Back to the story. 

A few months later, we went back to the restaurant for my dad’s birthday (my parents had come to town for a week). Ali was there: all done up and smiling as usual. Only one thing had changed: his look. His eyelids were heavy, his cheeks limp, his mouth shivering. His movements were slow and his speaking almost nonsense. He told us he had started a second job – that ended him having half a day off – because he was in need of some extra money. 

His words had no more confidence whatsoever but got liquefied into an unconscious flow of tired thoughts that he would randomly throw up. 

The mysterious Arabian guy – the guy with the enchanting background and the majestic past – gave the way to a common cold European-Londoner fellow, a somebody that has been corrupted by a forced materialistic lifestyle to survive in a different world. He was now equal, he was no exception. The unforgettable Arabian nights, the legends, the eastern wind, by now only belonged to a faraway land. 

Ali wanted only one night, just one single night. But we were way too blind… As blind as London made us.

Ali was alone. 

Ali is alone. 

But Ali is strong and won’t quit. 

. . .

Sometimes I walk by the restaurant and look inside through the big windows, and can’t stop thinking of that night.

It was too late.

In the real world, the Midas’ touch is no legend, and his body began to rust. His infinite roaming had finally stopped and he was granted a special night that would last a thousand. 

Where is he now?

Ali is now in the stories of one thousand and one Arabian nights.

Goodbye Ali.

Jim
The Britalian Post

Another stop goes by

One who lives in London must be prepared to spend most of the daily life travelling throughout the city. An average journey can take up to an hour and a half, so you happen to listen to artists’ complete discographies, read entire books and magazines, watch movies in HD – even countdown the days of your life! – or simply have long chats with your fellow commuters. 

Many of my journeys are spent in company of my cousin on the 341 bus route from Islington up to North London. That one is actually a pretty fast journey, a journey during which we are half of the time starving to death while the other half is dedicated to guilty feelings. Why? Obviously for the amount of food we have swallowed, not to mention the alcohol waterfalls. No objections, we are a very funny couple.

Now, as many may know, an automated bus speaker calls all the stops on the route, so that you’re always aware of when you need to get off. Also, in the very middle of the bus, and on the front windscreen on the upper deck, a screen indicates the stops as you’re approaching them along with the current hour. And that’s the salvation! 

Why is that?

When you’re not an English native, although your comprehension quickly gets to be good, rather than the speaking that requires more and more practice, you will not be totally familiar with the language and words can easily sneak out of your listening.

So here we are, sitting at the first seats at the entering doors, no screen. The voice calls the next stop and here’s what we hear:

Br/$#%y!@”3d Road

Puzzled expressions on our faces! Both witlessly disoriented: Br/$#…WHAT?!

(Yes, so lost in translation… See the connection with the blog’s title?! No, no, just in case some of you haven’t noticed.)

Therefore, more than often, the name of the stops that end with Road or Street seem to us to have quite the same sound. It’s like stops didn’t have a name but only a stuttering pronunciation – at least that’s what my cousin and I agreed to make life easier and feel less ignorant. So every time we hear the name of a stop or anything else we can’t clearly figure out, we just think: Br/$#%y!@”3d Road.

Honestly, took us a few weeks to catch the real name – we didn’t get it by ourselves and just saw it on the screen if you’re wondering. 

Eager to know what that actually is?! The stop is called Brownswood Road. 

I know what you folks are thinking but please bear with us poor immigrants.

And there we are, spending the time of our life in that bus talking about our daily fun and tragic facts, our love affairs gone bad, rumours from and about friends, the impossible dreams, the houses we’ll never be likely to afford in London, the travel we should be planning and, mainly, the body shape we’ll never get into.

Then stops went by as well as our journey.

And like a fictional flashback, I recall that girl. My companion of journeys on the Piccadilly line, my desk mate, an unknown foreign colleague that turned to be a friend. My friend, my chappette. And months later, in her effort to remain part of the tight team we created and hardly maintained against all odds–to still be a partner of the mutual complicity we built–she was just sent away without hesitation. For a mistake. For she was a human being. For not giving up. 

She disappeared in a finger snap and we didn’t even get to say goodbye. 

Time went by, she went by, and people quickly forgot. 

Our good morning coffees, our Paris, our tube pictures, our last teardrops, all vanished in feeble and concealed memories so that today I’m almost sure this all might have happened in my mind. And I keep asking myself…How’s she doing? Is she still loved? What’s her name? 

…Is she real?

Oh… Perhaps I just made her up. Perhaps she never existed and she’s just another stop that went by.

Jim
The Britalian Post

Up ↑