A city of heaven and earth

Alexandria is a city of greatness. Alexander the Great founded it, ordering his chief architect Deinokratis to plan and build a great city on the Mediterranean shore. His successors later built the Lighthouse of Alexandria, one of the wonders of the ancient world  and the famous library.

A Greek community flourished in Muslim Alexandria during the 19th and 20th centuries, but this came to an end by the Nasser regime. From the end of the 50s and the 60s most of the Greek people were forced to abandon their homeland.

Among those families who left there were two: one was of the singer Alkistis Protopsalti, who immigrated to Athens when she was seven in the mid 60s. “My childhood was extremely happy and I remember it fondly. The warm evenings in Alexandria, the walks I took with my grandfather. The smells of the sea, the sunset, the rustling of the palm trees along the beach, the fishermen with their rods, the tram, and the special sweets I loved, the car rides to the Sahara… the little shops with the colored windows across the road that made falafel and hot sweets…”

 About the same time, another Alexandrian family, of the eleven years-old Aris Davarakis, immigrated to Athens. This proved to be a hard separation for the boy: I became two people, he wrote. “I carefully locked in my closet the Alexandrian ‘Zacharouli’ (as my grandmothers, Elizabeth and Dimitra would call me), and began to build Aris Davarakis, the Athenian Egyptian. I had no choice. And it’s never pleasant to have no other choice.”

Aris became a radio producer, journalist and lyricist. In his  song  about his native city, there is  much enthusiasm, been reflected in the repeated  word ‘yia-salam’, the Arabic ‘wow!’ or ‘fantastic!’, of a place in which erotic love blossoms, and the third verse betrays his sense of a mixed identity: Eastern and Western…he is flying to his living place in Greece in the North but the lighthouse of his soul is towards the South…

The Alexandrian clear sky

in love it is like a diamond, long-lasting

and as it is reflected warmly on the sea

you say yia-salam for a worthy reward                                                                                                                                                  

Hey yia-salam, how to imagine

this autumn is so sweet

this autumnal sky

is authentic Alexandrian                                                                                                                                                                         

A port of mine is western

the other, the old one is eastern

I have an airport at the north

and an ancient lighthouse towards the south                                                                                                                                         

Yes, the clear and authentic sky

in Alexandria is so long-lasting

that when the wave breaks strongly against Kait Bay

padam padam hey yia-salam, love says                                                                                                                                                

Yia-salam it will say so much I could bear

that I forgave my demon

for all its wild passions

yia-salam means Alexandria

Alkistis Protopsalty sings the song “Alexandria” with the Prague Symphony Orchestra, to the wonderful music of  Evanthia Reboutsika:

In 2009, Aris Davarakis wrote a short story on a visit to Alexandria, his feelings as he places his childhood dreamy traces in the miserable earthy reality:

“For me that I was born there and, in fact, I never really managed to leave, Alexandriaia psychologically is my base. I don’t ask much from her…”

Only to step at the airport, to take a taxi …to leave my suitcase in the miserable hotel’s room, ” to come out and walk on Sofia Zaagloul Street. To go one block down and order an espresso, standing, at the miserable and dirty «Brazilian» (that always seems to me to be hovering in embarrassment over the fabric of time) and to breathe  a strange aroma arising from the mixture of the foaming waves of the Mediterranean that crash ten meters away, and the dust that the wind carries from the Sahara sands, one kilometer down. I move on to the seaside boulevard, called ‘Cornish’.

On the right of me I now have the great sea and on the left the old ramshackle ‘apartment buildings’ with towering windswept palm trees in front of them. I am moving towards Kait-Bay, the point where once stood the Lighthouse of Alexandria.

I recognize everything around me and inside me, visible and invisible, as they are what I am and I am what they are. They know me and I know them, they are the traces that I left behind as a child, so as to have a place to return to. There, in front of Kait-Bay at the Nautical Club, with its small tables that overlook the whole boundless, immense and magical Muslim Alexandria, of its 15 million residents at the time being, I drink my second espresso and I’m full. Ι could immediately return to Athens. This walk that I managed to carry out one more time was more than enough for me.”

****

The first interpreter of the song was Giannis (Yannis) Kotsiras in 1996;he found out during the sessions that he also has Alexandria roots. Kotsiras’ video clip was to be shot in Alexandria but a terrorist attack that happened there caused a change which lightens the lyrics in a more intimate way. The director Mathiopoulos decided to liken Alexandria with a huge naked body of a very beautiful woman. It gives you the feeling that this woman represents the way Alexandria is stretched out against the shoreline; very sensual, a greater than life erotic lover but also a big mother.

The last verse of the song is also revealing how the “wow”-the”ya salam” of Alexandria brought him to a kind of coming to terms with big mistake and weaknesses of the past (“my demon”). Could this naked woman be the “naked truth” resulting from this self-reconciliation?

And the last video is A duet of Alkistis Protopsalti and Giannis Kotsiras as both were younger…

I wish to give warm thanks to Nata and Katerina for their help. The original article in Greek can be found at:

http://www.protagon.gr/?i=protagon.el.article&id=132


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9 Responses to “A city of heaven and earth”

  1. Reuven Farbman Says:

    Avi – so interesting and beautiful- geat post!

  2. Naomi Says:

    A city of heaven and earth and Love.

  3. avinishri Says:

    One can say that in the song, Alexandria is like a young woman who arouses the erotic feelings of the poet, and in the story Alexandria is already aged and old, to whom the poet has no physical attraction but he has a deep, rooted affection to her.

  4. Tarek el-Kholy Says:

    Correction to this perfect post:

    “and the third verse betrays his sense of a mixed identity…..”

    The third verse is all about Alexandria and not a mixed identity as it says above. Alexandria’s ancient port is the “Eastern” and the more recent is the “Western”. He is mentioning also Alexandria’s airport and the famous lighthouse.

    • avinishri Says:

      Hello Tarek! Thank you for your comment. I am writing now a new post with another view on this great song. I think that you can look at these sites as metaphors to the writer’s identity:East-West cultures, North (living in Greece)-South (born in Alexandria). But of course this is a song, and every one can find in ιtdifferent things.

      • Tarek el-Kholy Says:

        Hello Avi,

        I’ll be impatiently expecting your coming view about Alexandria.

  5. Tarek el-Kholy Says:

    Thanks buddy for your reply & your interest in this lovely song. It brings tears to my eyes whenever I listen to it as I always go back to memories of this era and how was Alexandria and our lives at the time. I’m 69 and live in Cairo and always felt the same about Alexandria, its people and its cosmopolitan surroundings.

  6. Dimitra Hanessian Says:

    I live in Canada now.I was born in Alexandria 80 Years ago.I left during the war with Israel 1956 and not because I was Greek nor forced out by Nasser.I have the fondest memories of my Egyptian classmates at the University of Alexandria also the Egyptian professors who were extremely well qualified in my subject Chemistry and prepared me for my postgraduate studies in the States I was very touched by the song and the article,I only wish it skipped the unfriendly adjectives xoxoxo

  7. avinishri Says:

    Thanks to all who responded!
    All the responses up to this point are relating to the earlier version of the post, till the ****. The new update is from 30.5.2015

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