Blind Boys of Alexandria

12 07 2009

The sea smells fishy. Well it’s the sea, you say, it’s supposed to smell that way. Could be that it’s been especially hot and humid lately. It’s three-showers-a-day humid. There’s a constant, sticky mask of sweat on my face. I can feel it if I smile. Hard to do, though, when the building elevator is out AGAIN. Our place is on the ninth floor. And going up a dark stairwell littered with open trash bags containing dirty diapers and crushed Pepsi cans gets old. The optimist in me can appreciate the workout.

But last night–oh last night. We went to another outdoor library music performance, this one featuring a Spanish guitarist, Fernando Perez, with Mohamed Antar, who is blind and plays the lute. (Here’s Perez in another performance) There were two percussionists, one of whom also was blind and played the accordion as well. They played flamenco, music from Andalusia, from Turkey, Morocco, India, Egypt. When you hear it all come together you feel like you’re floating away. It’s another kind of soul. You’re moved on a whole different level. Powerful stuff.

Dad has always been a music lover, and he enjoyed the performance. Mom seemed bored at times, talking loudly well into the performance. A couple beside her–the woman looked foreign, and the man looked Egyptian–switched seats to move several rows back when she shouted “Bravo!” after the first piece. She also clapped early during one piece–way early– and repeatedly turned around to ask if I wanted any pumpkin seeds. Roofie was able to more quietly entertain himself than she.

After the performance, we saw Fernando Perez walk toward the road. We caught up with him on the side of the road while he waited for a taxi, holding his two huge guitar cases. I rolled down my window and told him what a wonderful performance it was, and thanked him. He seemed flattered. My dad has been on an unending quest for a good Internet connection, thinking this will improve his Vonage phone quality. He’s trying to get work done while on vacation here, so I took him to Starbucks. We had trouble connecting to their wireless network, so an employee named Sherif offered us technical support.

He saw my cell phone and asked where I got it.

“From America,” I said.

“Oh!” he said. “I used to live in Philly.”

Turns out this guy is married to an Irish gal whom he met in Lancaster, PA. They lived there for awhile (good country, he said, good place to raise the kids), but eventually ended up back in Alexandria. He said his wife now goes out to the market and haggles better than anyone he knows. She is fluent in Arabic. They’re happy here. But from where I sit, it’s tough to find happiness here. Maybe because it’s such a leap from what I’m used to. There’s trash in the streets, constant honking, cars that won’t think twice before hitting a pedestrian, air conditioners leaking on your head if you DO find a sidewalk. And elevators that make the case for living on the ground floor.