Maquina Lectora

Notes of a curious mind

Tag: Egypt

“..the alley is certainly an ancient relic and a precious one.” Midaq Alley by Naguib Mahfouz

Naguib Mahfouz, one of the most prominent literary figures in Egypt, became known with the publication of The Cairo Trilogy in 1957 and acquired international recognition when he awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988. Through his novels, Mahfouz chronicled the historical and social issues of his own time in Egypt, and in Cairo, his city, in particular.

Midaq Alley, written in 1947, is an extraordinary depiction of the microcosm in a poor alleyway in Cairo during World War II. It is an engaging book that revolves around the people living and working in this old alley.

“Many things combine to show that Midaq Alley is one of the gems of times gone by and that it once shone forth like a flashing star in the history of Cairo. Which Cairo do I mean? That of the Fatimids, the Mamlukes, of the Sultans? Only God and the archaeologists know the answer to that, but in any case, the alley is certainly an ancient relic and a precious one.”

The inhabitants of the Midaq Alley live in ‘almost complete isolation from the surrounding activity’. But the World War II was a period of social transformation in Egypt. Strong emotions and feelings, poverty and gossip keeps them closely connected and alive, but the political turmoil and the changes brought by the war and the British Army, entice them away, it feeds their aspirations and hopes of material gains and a new comfort life, away from the alley. Their dreams and ambitions make the reality  in the alley all the more difficult.

The emotions, the motivations, the desires and the strangles of the characters make the novel timeless. Among them are the middle-aged, homosexual and hashish-smoking cafe-owner Kirsha, who lives with his fiery wife and  his cynical and materialistic son. There is also the pious mystic Radwan Husseini, and Zaita, a dirty, old beggar whose specialty is creating other beggars.  Salim Alwan, an elderly and rich perfume merchant with a voracious sexual appetite, has an intense lust for the young Hamida, the beautiful daughter of Umm Hamida, a marriage broker in her mid-60s. Hamida, driven by ambition and a desire for beautiful clothes and wealth, falls for a pimp who turns her into a prostitute. Moral depravity is her rebellion against poverty and lower-class life.

Midaq alley is a wonderful and rich novel.  Morality, depravity, class conflict, politics, corruption, and oppression are exposed calmly and with subtle humour. Women are empowered, they have a voice and the capacity to make decisions and fulfill their aspirations. Naguib Mahfouz does not judge the choices his characters are forced to make. Dispassionately, he presents their idiosyncrasies, their desires for money and sensual pleasures and the  consequences of their actions. Despite the tragic events Midaq Alley survives, the next day, and the next. Life must go on.

To follow the answer about the Nile follow the red.

The Nile said to the crocodile, ‘I can live without you but you cannot live without me.’ Nubian proverb.

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Ancient optical communication networks

All latest developments in telecommunications are optical-data networks. You may think that these networks are recent technological and scientific breakthroughs. They are not.

The first recorded history of high-speed optical data transmissions began with the fall of Troy to the Greek army, around 1184 B.C.

You look surprised!! I assure you, it is true.

When Troy was taken, a prearranged signal was relayed overnight from Troy to Mycanae, the kingdom of Agamemnon (he has promised to his wife Clytaemnestra to send news when the war was over), via a line of fire beacons, a distance of 600km (375 miles), much of it over the sea.


Image Credit: The Remnantz

The event is chronicled by Aeschylus (525-456 B.C.) in his tragedy Agamemnon, with Clytemnestra receiving news of the signal from her watchman. The chorus, totally surprised, asks: “What Messenger is there that could arrive with such speed as this?”

Clytaemnestra answers:

“Hephaistos (the god of fire), sending forth from Ida a bright radiation. And beacon ever sent beacon hither by means of a courier fire.
Ida (sent it) to the rock of Hermes in Lemnos; and paying more than was due, so as to skim the back of the sea……..transmitting, like a sun, its golden radiance to the look out of Makistos.
And he, not dallying nor heedlessly overcome by sleep, did not neglect its share in the messenger’s duty, and afar, over the streams of Euripus, the beacon’s light gave the watchers of Messapion the sign of its arrival.
They kindled an answering flare and sent the tidings onward, by setting fire to a stack of aged heath. And the vigorous torch, not yet growing dim, leaped, like the shining moon, over the plain of Asopus to the rock of Kithairon and there waked a new relay of the sender fire.
And the far-sent light….shot down over the Gorgon-eyed lake and reaching the mountain of the roaming goats……
And they with stintless might kindled and sent on a great beard of flame, and it passed beyond the promontory that looks down on the Saronic straits, blazing onward, and shot down when it reached the Arachnaean peak, the watch-post that is neighbour to our city;
And then it shot down here to the house of the Atridae, this light, the genuine offspring of its ancestor, the fire from Mount Ida……transmitted to me by my husband from Troy.”

Also, in Egypt they have been remnants of towers that may have been part of a network of communications towers running along the north African coast by which signals of bonfires where used to communicate messages of state. They may have been used also as lighthouses, a navigation beacon for sailing ships out there in the Mediterranean sea.

Source: Aeschylus, Agamemnon, lines 280-316 trans. Eduard Frankel, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1950), pages 109-111

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