‘Welcome in Egypt,’ a large man said.
Egypt, that first brass afternoon in spring, may have been the most stylish place I ever saw on the earth. Nobody had ever told me about the cars. The cars were old German and American models from the fifties and sixties, black and rounded. They honked and shined everywhere, and I found a driver to Alexandria with my guidebook propped between two pronged fingers like a piece of music. Alexandria was a long way – two guys turned me down before this one. He was handsome and young, with many teeth, and he had a dry grassy smell the closer I stood to him. We bargained a price in dollars. I still had to get pounds. He knew almost no English. He had a book. I sat in the back of the old Mercedes on deep leather seats made soft with time and watched out of the rolled-down windows as we left Cairo in a circle like a maze and drove north into the horizon of cypresses, eucalyptus and olive trees. It was good.
There was so much sky. The ground and trees, people and even buildings rose about an inch and the rest was sky. It was 24 February. I wanted to remember the day. I lay my head back on the seat and the smell of earth rolled over me. This wasn’t desert as I’d expected. It was dirt, not light sand; the vegetation was scarce and sombre. Ragged trees moved slightly in the soft wind, and they seemed to whine and creak. Date palm and sycamore. Closer in, there were acacia, juniper, jacaranda and grass.