Letter to E.


from Jeddah on 12 October 2016 with a link to the Washington Post on "The violation of Elena Ferrante"

Hi there,

Wasn't this the writer you introduced me to at Café Montevideo in August?

Here, delving into local routine with much more gusto than anticipated. Gusto is right: food! and gracious hospitality are mighty things here. As is the sun (and A/C's) I might add. Not driving is almost a blessing: too many cars, fast ones too, and fast drivers… cheap petrol, of course. One adjusts. Off the road, locals immensely civil and polite. Some expats perhaps a bit nervous. Three men—an Indian, a Pakistani and a Bengali—got in a minor fist fight outside our front door yesterday (I opened the door and asked if I could be of assistance, which fortunately brought a stop to the mischief); they were handymen scheduled to help in the garden with set-up of our first big thing, a dinner for 60—a German business delegation and local tradesmen and -women.

The French consul general and his wife vraiment adorable… just had an intimate diner for us in the gorgeous old French wall-papered setting of the former embassy, felt rather sans-souci, with five charming couples, all local Saudis, some with Lebanese, others with Libyan-Palestinian backgrounds, and London-Geneva-Dubai, you know, ties, so very international… quite cosmo, my new universe. And dear, young British CG there too.

Now that the stress of our last days in Berlin are vorbei, Holger also quite content, dancing with the sheikhs, quite literally yesterday at the opening of the new DHL facility at the airport. What ambitious construction everywhere in this ancient (Eve, as in Adam's, burial site is here it is said) city by the sea! Not all glam, tho': some abandoned projects too. And the odd empty lots in the middle.

We live in northern Jeddah, suburban living par excellence. When you hang too long at one of the myriad malls, you could get a spell of suburban alienation—but I am well inoculated there. And love the decaying old town Al Balad on the southern end where now restoration efforts have begun. Time for a rescue project—would love to get engaged there as I did in Addis where I managed to get the Mohammad Ali House nominated as a 2008 World Monuments Fund Watch site.

Unpacking here, I came across more of your good ExBerliner writing on a loose page I had torn out long ago and saved because of a book review on a new one about Bowles. The flipside I hadn't noticed before has your excellent review of Berlin Tales… and prompted me to ask Holger last week to get me that collection of stories in Berlin. Will be catching up on my reading here for sure :-).

For lite starters, got into Karl May's Durch die Wüste (1892) which delves into Jeddah and Mecca from page 200 on, at least in my old Karl May Verlag edition. Kinda Tom Hanks-y in lite pop-style, like Tom Tykwer and Tom Hanks' recent take in the contemporary movie A Hologram for the King.

The Goethe Institute's deputy director visiting from Cairo the other day suggested the California author Zoe Ferraris; I actually read one of her novels on the way down. I now find it somewhat dated, after only a short time here. Society has made great strides in opening up again after the '79 reactionary measures.

And yet, the best way I can describe Jeddah, not regarding size, impressive development and sophistication, but in regard to morals and community spirit, is as "Mayberry in Miami or the Andy Griffith Show re-set in 21st century South Florida." And I like a good part of what that entails. If not everything, but then, show me a perfect place in the world!

Looking forward to seeing desert landscapes next week on the planned road trip to Riyadh on a visit to our embassy there for the Day of German Unity. Ours to follow early November with classical concerts (on the grand, still in container) on the day before and after.

Stay warm and I'll try to stay cool.

Big hug, must hop to it now.