The American University here organizes excursions for newer faculty, so they can get out a bit and see the city and country. Over Thanksgiving weekend, instead of a turkey dinner — which I had on Wednesday with some other new faculty friends — they put together a trip to the town of Rosetta (Rashid in Arabic) and the city of Alexandria. It was a lot of time on a bus over two days, but the monotony was broken when a little boy named Benjamin decided I was his new friend, and he needed to tell me about a scarecrow with no brain, a lion that didn’t like to fight, a field of poisoned flowers, a wicked witch and scary monkeys that can fly.
At Rosetta, we walked along rustic streets, through an old souk (market) and looked at houses dating from the 17th and 18th centuries. There was also a centuries-old bath house and the fort where the famous Rosetta Stone, which helped Egyptologists crack the code of heiroglyphics, was discovered among the foundation stones of a ruined tower.
We also saw the place where the western fork of the Nile river empties into the sea. After that, we enjoyed a sunset dinner at a greek restaurant on the beach. Grilled fish and shrimp replaced turkey as our Thanksgiving meal.
Alexandria was a breath of fresh air, with its coastal breezes and revived corniche along the Mediterranean Sea. We visited Greco-Roman ruins, including catacombs and villas dating to the century BCE. At the end of a peninsula along the corniche is a fort, rebuilt in the 1800s, that was on the original site of the Lighthouse of Alexandria on the island of Pharos, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
Though the famous Alexandria Library was destroyed centuries ago, the new Alexandria library, which opened in 2003, is a stunning piece of architecture, designed to reflect daylight from ceiling structures down into a massive reading room below.
I enjoyed a view of the sea from the balcony of my hotel room, and that, plus the sampling of sites we visited, and a desire to explore its more recent literary history, made me want to spend more time in the place known among expats as “Alex.”