Spring Cleaning


Reading the comments made by Mr Mugabe regarding the protests in his country that “…there will be no Arab Spring in Zimbabwe”, reminded me of a little sojourn of mine in 2011. I found myself, once again, in Chamonix for a bit of the winter and had reached that point where I figured it was time to expand my interest from pointy-mountains and insular ski-bum-lifestyles to a bit of culture, history and what not.

A long weekend in Paris to catch up with an old friend now living in The UK showcased wide-open streets, amazing food, beautiful architecture and some pretty interesting art and museums. The usual - Arc de Triomf, Musée du Louvre and Notre Dame were, surprisingly, cool. We spent hours walking – I was glad I’d come from altitude J .

I remember, at one point, wondering what my stance was on the artifacts in l’Louvre which were not of French origin. Is it ok for a country to hold historic artifacts of another country? Was this for ‘safe keeping’? Did they ‘own’ them? Or were they there ‘on loan’? I happened to be travelling during an era in civilization where the ‘Western’ nations are, seemingly, in control, stable and progressive so it makes sense that they’d be the custodians of these sorts of things, right?


"I walk the streets of Johannesburg at night, I’ll be fine!"

Anyone who’s read The Rise and Fall of Civilizations will tell you – these things don’t last. Also it is widely accepted that History is Written by The Victor! It was a little back-of-the-mind pontiff, which I moved to the to-think-about-later bin. Fast-forward three weeks and I’d elected to return to Cape Town via Cairo. This was the start of proactively trying to go to-from my adventuring destinations, via a culturally-enhancing place. As I was travelling alone, romantic cities like Prague or Istanbul seemed pointless! Now to take a short step backward, I’d booked my ticket in, like, October or November of ’11 – complete with 2 day lay-over in Cairo on my return.

The Arab Spring kicked off in Tunisia in December ’11. Flying in to Geneve we were re-routed as landing in Cairo was a definite no-go, flying back…who knew.

As I left Europe the ticket-clerk asked if I still wanted to go to Cairo and I replied; “I walk the streets of Johannesburg at night, I’ll be fine!”.

As it turned out, I got to Cairo on the second commercial flight after the re-opening of the airport, and some 6 weeks after the start of The Arab Spring started. The first thing to strike me was the energy. The city, streets, café’s, parks – EVERYWHERE – there was the electrifying energy. Kinda like the feeling one has when you resign from a job or end a soured relationship to be (momentarily) free; just this was collectively that feeling of freedom, release, hope and triumph on steroids.

It was very cool to witness, despite my not liking Cairo at all – I remarked at the time, I’d left a city (Paris) which I could, totally, live in for a city which I totally couldn’t.

But, be that as it may, and returning to the pontiff in l’Louvre. The eighteenth dynasty of ancient Egypt (Dynasty XVIII) (c. 1543–1292 BC) is, arguably, the pinnacle of Egyptian Civilization, and cause for the sign proclaiming “Egypt is the land of Civilization”. But I, certainly, would argue that point of modern Egypt – certainly modern Cairo. 200km of travel around the city by car and only ONE intersection had a control system (traffic light). This is a city of 7 million people, zero public transport infrastructure and no road controls meant that 6 lanes of  traffic fought for themselves, becoming 8-9 lanes, and then pilled into a 4-way interchange en mass to create a heaving honking dead-lock! Further food for thought was the burnt out shell of the Police Headquarters, tribute to the uprising but, incidentally, next door to the national museum – custodian of countless treasures, and historically vital items! How close did ‘we’ come to losing that?

That said, the homeless person sleeping on the sidewalk almost certainly couldn’t care less about historic artifacts which cost more to maintain in a year than his net lifetime worth.

So, maybe Paris should be the current defenders of such relics?

What, then, of the telling of the history? Well this was highlighted on my visit to the Mosque of Muhammad Ali in The Citadel, and the war museum adjacent to it. Perched above the city one gets a perspective of the jumbled and filthy city from a vantage point which lends itself to the glorification of the Mosque. Likewise the proud history of Egyptian warriors in the War Museum tells tales of marauding armies on horseback and, of course, the famed dynasties. If you know your war history, the glaring omission is the crushing humiliation of The Six Day War.

But, then, we all tell our version of life from our point of view, right? Glossing over some, highlighting others. So when next you’re faced with a point of view, remember that it probably has a more to it than meets the eye – it depends on where the story is being told, and by who.


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