Antar Harami’s kingdom stretches from the iron bridge to the gristmills in the east, and from the El Gaz drainage canal southward all the way to the police checkpoint at the International Hospital.
His power and protection extend over all living things in his domain—most especially the dogs. His reputation spreads beyond the borders of his kingdom; his deeds echo throughout the Nile Delta. The epic story of his seizure of the throne is depicted in the graffiti murals that adorn the wall outside the Mother of Believers Secondary School for Girls. For this, he had called on the greatest calligraphers and mural artists of Alexandria—the likes of Gamal al-Dawli and the Queen of Azarita—and tasked them with crafting the narrative of his trials and tribulations; his bitter defeat; and, finally, his sweet, sweet victory. These events were rendered in the visual splendor of nineteen illustrated panels stretching along the wall of the school. It all began when the new state security officer in town, acting on a tip from a local butcher, called Antar in for questioning.
Antar declined the invitation. “I go to no one. He who wants me shall seek me out,” he said to the policeman.
The security officer responded with a police wagon carrying four troopers and three police officers. They arrived at his house, which was built from mud brick and palm trunks. His mother told them he had been out since morning. She was a feisty old woman; she and her son had nothing but hatred and animosity for each other. Perhaps she wanted to get rid of him or just teach him a lesson. Whatever her intention, she tipped them off: “You’ll find him over at Hosh Issa, hanging out with those thugs and hooligans, drinking spirits and sniffing glue.”
Alerted by the siren, the whole gang had fled before the police got there. Except for Antar. He stood there puffing his chest, surrounded by eleven dogs. The second the troopers stepped out of the wagon, the dogs started toward them, growling. One of the troopers grabbed a rock and hurled it at one of the dogs, hitting it in the face. And so the battle began. The dogs pounced on the troopers. Antar’s boozed-up pals looked on from afar as a truly supernatural scene, full of wondrous beasts and strange happenings, unfolded before them. They saw the dogs open the car door and pull out the driver from behind the wheel. It was as if they were following orders, as if every strike was calculated: “Wound, but don’t kill.” The beasts lunged at the troopers and sunk their teeth into their legs, effectively crippling them.
The scene concluded with the policemen covered in blood, encircled by the dogs. Then Antar came up to the head officer and spat in his face. He walked off, followed by all eleven dogs.
Afterward, Antar disappeared. There were all sorts of rumors. The state security officer asked Hajj Ibrahim al-Wali—one of the top roughnecks—to hand Antar over the minute he appeared. Two days later, Hajj Ibrahim al-Wali was himself arrested. It was said that police had discovered large quantities of weed and boxes full of Tramadol, Pancenol, and Paramol. As he was getting arrested, everyone saw Antar standing at the end of the street with two black dogs, laughing and snorting and spitting.
When Antar was accused of betrayal, he responded that it was Hajj Ibrahim who was the real traitor, since he had wanted to take him by the neck and throw him to state security. All Antar had done was have the Hajj for lunch before the Hajj could have him for dinner.
Then it happened that Hind bint Omeira divorced Hajj Ibrahim and married Antar. Those were not happy days, but rather times of conflict, strife, and ruin. The graffiti murals tell most of the story, including the Battle of the Vegetable Market, when Antar forced the tomato sellers to adopt a fixed price. When they pulled out their knives, he set his dogs on them. There was also the Skirmish of the Red Nightgown, when Adel Shakl came by the kingdom to settle a debt with Momo Sameh. Seeing this as an intrusion on his domain and a threat to his authority, Antar pounced on Adel and his men and delivered them a sound thrashing. He slashed Adel in the chest and the ass and cut him a new face. Then he ordered a red nightgown be made for Adel and dragged him through the streets all the way to the edge of his kingdom. The magnificent scene was painted by the artist Queen of Azarita, who portrayed Adel wearing a red nightgown and a black leather mask, which had a gold chain attached to it, pulled along by Antar. The latter was depicted in a white wifebeater splattered with the blood of the battle. He walked proud and tall, surrounded by dogs without collars. Underneath the scene, the calligrapher Gamal al-Dawli had written, in elegant Kufic script, When Khufu is away, the mice will play!
The pleasure of speaking with Kim Ghattas is always inspiring. The conversations with her are usually full of laughs, jokes, and new information. By connecting the dots, she leads you to further discovery. Don’t miss all that and her new podcast, “People like us.”
Las Vegas was brimming with mosques. As soon as I’d typed “mosque near me” into the Google Maps search, myriad red dots displayed themselves all at once on my screen.
The Al-Hamada mosque, one of the first Las Vegas mosques founded in the Seventies, and winner of a five-star rating, boasted a review claiming that its writer had “felt at peace” as soon as he’d crossed over the threshold. Another described how its congregation had helped “during the family’s short stay in Las Vegas” and that “God is Great.” A perusal of the mosque’s online images seemed to indicate that the building itself occupied a tight space, with no dome or minaret. Most of its visitors appeared to be dark-skinned, which meant the congregation were most likely followers of the Nation of Islam.
I scratched it off my list.
I had no plans to attend an American Salafi mosque. I hadn’t left the shortened robes, the miswak, the scent of musk and the bushy beards in Egypt, only to come here for much of the same. At times, I’d come across them in West Las Vegas as they approached cars stopped at the traffic light, hawking their literature for $10 my brother. One of them honed in on me while I was in my car. Cornered, I lied that I had no cash. No problem, brother, he replied, undeterred as he presented me with a card reader attached to his mobile phone. After I’d paid, I browsed the magazine and found that it mostly contained news of the leaders of the brotherhood.
I quickly moved on to click the link to the second mosque on the list. There, on their website (in the third line to be exact), was a message explicitly indicating that they were open to all races, nationalities, and sects. The recurrent usage of words like “race” and “color” seemed to imply that they did not belong to the Nation of Islam. It appeared that they belonged to the Las Vegas Islamic Center, which was founded in the Eighties.
A further online search came up with the Al Omariya, a mosque as well as an Islamic school. The images portrayed girls as young as ten in their hijab. This website was loaded with proselytization on sound education, proper morals, and the preservation of the nascent Muslim youth. Off the list it came. All I had wanted was to visit a mosque, not send my children to an Islamic brainwashing laundromat. Yet another mosque’s website displayed a picture with a caption titled Bless you, Oh Hussain! declaring its Shiite affiliation. Al-Hikma, on the other hand, had received comments regarding the quality of the food.
Just then, as the waitress came round to clear my now empty beer bottle and to ask if I wanted a second one, Jose Al—– appeared. I stood up to shake his hand and he hugged me and took a seat across from me. He asked me the usual questions about work and family and I answered, albeit distracted, and then proceeded to mechanically ask him much of the same. Once I had a new frothy beer at the table in front of me, I duly announced my plans to visit a mosque.
— Don’t you have a mosque you go to already? he asked.
— No, I replied.
With seven years between us, Jose was still in his twenties. Sleepy-eyed and huge, his large, impressive, and tightly wound muscular bulk was covered in tattoos. He was a bartender at the same hotel where I worked as a purchasing director, in charge of quality control and food storage. But that was before we were both laid off. We met by chance at a work gathering that brought together employees from the various departments to listen to the “motivational” spiel of their managers. In that first encounter, he brought up poetry, and I let on that I not only read it but wrote some myself. Immediately, he extended his hand for me to shake and introduced himself as a poet. And so, we became friends. But we didn’t really talk much about poetry, as his interest and expertise centered mainly on American poetry and a little Mexican, while I read exclusively in Arabic. I confess that I hadn’t read a single poem in English before I’d met him. As one who claimed to write for immigrants like himself, his English poetry was duly peppered with Spanish. Southern poetry. It’s all about fiery, passionate words my friend. Do you get what I’m saying? he’d ask.
When COVID-19 struck, Jose was among the first batch to be laid off. For a while, he scraped by on unemployment benefits and food delivery gigs in his old Kia, until he managed to find work at a large warehouse that imported cheap goods and auto parts from China that were resold in the U.S.
I fail to recall now how Jose met Phil, whom he brought to our second meeting. Since then, he’s become the third in our triumvirate that communes weekly for beer drinking. I remember, back then, how he’d plunked his solemn, imposing self down, asked for his beer and once it had arrived, remained silent the entire time, listening as I explained to Jose the difference between Friday prayers and Sunday church service.
I confessed to Jose that I hadn’t once been to Friday prayers since I’d arrived in the United States. At that, he reached into his pocket and retrieved a black hair tie, gathered his hair between his fingers, and launched into an extensive monologue about the importance of going to the mosque and to Friday service. Even if I wasn’t particularly religious, it was the best way for me to get to know my community, especially since an immigrant could, at any given day, find himself in need of help or support. Generally speaking, he extrapolated, religious people, regardless of their faith, were always eager to help, believing this would bring them closer to God.
I conceded that I hadn’t considered any of this. All I’d been searching for was a clean mosque that I could attend for the afternoon prayers where the ceiling fan dials would be turned to the fastest speed. Preferably, an empty mosque with very few — one or maybe even two — worshipers, reading the Qur’an in a barely audible voice. I wanted to reclaim the time when, as a child, I’d visit the mosque to lay down on its carpeted floor, close my eyes, and let all my worries and troubles spirit themselves away.
Phil piped in that he understood me completely, and that although he himself was an atheist, he could still understand how places of worship could be repositories of energy, able to evoke and withhold soothing communal memories for their congregants. It was a cave in the Valley of Fire State Park that did it for Phil — a place where early inhabitants of the valley had worshiped and prayed. On every visit, without fail, he felt the energy coursing through the place, despite the centuries that had passed.
Phil was five years older than me. I’ve never understood exactly what he does. All I knew was that he was born in Las Vegas, had a big family, and owned a house and a car. Phil, who worked in the deserts of Vegas and Arizona, looked upon his work — shooting documentaries for PBS — as something closer to a hobby in which he went on long expeditions exploring nature, delving into the history of the deserts’ inhabitants, and unearthing extinct civilizations. His theory was that life in the Vegas Valley went through expansive cycles every four or five centuries, during which the valley would flourish, attracting people to settle down and build. Two to four centuries later, depending on the extent of that civilization’s depletion of nature, another drought would strike the valley, forcing its residents to abandon their parched lands, leaving the dust from the heels of their forced exodus to wipe away the urbanization they left behind.
— I don’t get where the problem is, said Phil, interrupting my thoughts. Aren’t there any mosques in Vegas?
I unlocked my phone and showed him my screen displaying the last mosque I’d been researching on my browser.
— On the contrary, I said. I’m spoilt for choice at the number of mosques here. But, I’m at a loss over which one to choose.
Funnily enough, Naji had taken up reading Rushdie in prison. He had always wanted to read Rushdie’s novels, he said, but they are big, long books, and he remembers telling his friends that he never had the time. So Naji’s friend sent him Midnight’s Children in prison, and then four more of Rushdie’s novels. “I always felt there is a kind of connection and relation between us,” Naji told me.
Now, Naji is a fellow at the Black Mountain Institute in Las Vegas, a literary center that is part of the City of Asylum network that Rushdie had envisioned. That refuge might seem unnecessary in 2022.
But30 years after the publication of The Satanic Verses, risks to writers endure. Some of those hazards come from violent extremists. Last month, the terrorist group al-Qaeda, in one of its publications, issued a death threat against the Egyptian journalist and novelist Ibrahim Eissa. States, too, engage in violent censorship, and a review of PEN’s Writers at Risk Database include those who have been murdered, jailed, or disappeared in repressive countries across the world. Authors are detained in Bangladesh, China, Myanmar, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe, and many other countries. Journalists, of course, confront violence as ever.
Some critics and scholars question whether Satanic Verses could be written today. Rushdie himself posited as much in 2012. But looking around the world at all of the writers at risk who continue to work against unfathomable challenges, I think it could.
“Writers have been in terrible situations and have yet managed to produce extraordinary work,” Rushdie said in 2012. “[T]he history of literature is full of moments in which writers in dreadful situations have produced great stuff.
“And I thought to myself, ‘OK, well, if this is your turn, if you find yourself in the latest of that line of people, don’t make excuses.’”
We find ourselves in Cairo in a post-2016 world, when a bald American girl arrives in what she feels is her homeland and the origin of her roots. Reading between the lines, we gather that she’s left America, fleeing from a sadness that she does not disclose. We know, because Noor Naga tells us from the first chapters that the American girl keeps shaving her head, but what she does not tell us is the reason behind her decision to remain bald. We also know that she is the daughter of Egyptian immigrant parents, that she graduated from Columbia University in New York, and that her father is a practicing physician in a clinic in the heart of Manhattan. Shocked at her decision to visit Egypt, her mother nevertheless makes the necessary calls, after which the daughter arrives, stays in a luxurious apartment in one of Cairo’s most affluent neighborhoods, and obtains a tidy job as an English teacher for adults, at the British Council.
Noor Naga begins her novel If an Egyptian Cannot Speak English with the promise of intense drama. An escape story, a trip home, secrets to unravel, but what truly gets one involved in the reading is her immensely fluid prose, as each sentence forces one to stop long enough to savor it slowly — prose that is highly complex and supremely intelligent.
When I arrived at Ramses Station in Cairo, the air was people. Nowhere you looked wasn’t people. They clogged every street and then piled on top of each other in buildings twenty stories high. Many were not even Egyptian. You could turn into an alley and find fifty Sudanese men, bluer than black, with cheeks like shoulder blades and ankles like knives, or else women as tall as I am, women so pale you could see rivered blood at their wrists and neck. I heard twenty Arabics in my first week and wherever I went people asked me — sometimes in English because of the hair — Where you from?
Naga’s novel is divided into three main parts. In the first movement of the operetta, there are short pieces, each one limited to two pages in length. They all begin with “What if” and have a transcendent feel to them: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, should your mother be punished?” The narration alternates between two voices, the American girl and a boy from Shobrakheit, who appears as a partner in the novel. Naga describes his upbringing in a village on the margins of the Egyptian countryside, raised by a possessive grandmother who envelopes him in a private world, in which she feeds him with her hands. The two share a bed and bathe together. When his grandmother dies in 2011, he heads to Cairo with his camera, a gift from his grandmother, only to arrive in a city that is in the midst of a revolution. He soon finds himself part of a new group being shaped by the city’s tumultuous uprising, streets, city squares and gas bombs.
Enraptured by the new social order, he captures it all on his camera, and it’s not long before the TV stations and news agencies are racing to publish the photographs he takes from the heart of Tahrir, the Square, that document the clashes taking place. Two years later, the revolution is defeated, and the now world-class photographer from Shobrakheit loses his sense of purpose and questions the meaning of his existence, hanging up his camera and refusing to take any more photos that would document a “fake reality.” With dwindling resources, he moves into a hovel in one of Cairo’s boroughs. His subsequent addiction leads him on a path of self-destruction.
By this point, readers can easily predict how the rest of the story will unfold. The American girl will meet the boy from Shobrakheit, they’ll fall in love, until it all dramatically falls apart. It’s a tale that’s been repeated over and over again in fiction, particularly in the years following Egypt’s 2011 revolution. A popular tale because of its intimacy, especially for a reader like me who lived his life in downtown Cairo and witnessed the beginning and end of dozens of such similar stories. Moreover, for the past decade or so, this is a theme that has been recurrent in Egyptian literature written in Arabic. What Naga does however, is turn this straightforward, simplistic theme into horrific scenes and landscapes in which social class and political identity clash, culminating in a tragic crime.
The history of Egyptian literature, written in English, can be divided into two phases. The first is Egyptian writers born and raised in Egypt for whom English formed an essential part of their education due to their social class, such as Wajuih Ghali, Samia Serageldin, Ahdaf Soueif and others. A sense of alienation presents itself in various forms in the writings of that period, mainly a sense of not belonging within the class the writer occupies. The only exception, perhaps, is Wajuih Ghali, who rebelled against his own class, certainly in the novel Beer in the Snooker Club.
The second phase includes writing from the children of Egyptian immigrants, which began in the ‘70s and continues to this day. According to official Egyptian government figures, the number of Egyptians residing abroad is close to ten million. Estimates from the Egyptian embassy in the United States put the figure of those who live in the US at one million, though this is contradicted by the US Census Bureau, which estimates Egyptian emigrants at a quarter of a million. Regardless of these different figures, this nation of millions living in the diaspora has become part of the modern Egyptian identity, reshaping the meaning of Egypt, and presenting its image through its artistic and literary works, especially as many within this group possess material and scientific capabilities that allow them the power of autonomous representation, or as Naga asks in her novel, “If an Egyptian cannot speak English, who is telling his story?”
Noteworthy is the fact that Egyptians residing abroad who speak different languages — and like the protagonist of the novel study in prestigious universities — transfer, according to the Egyptian government’s latest figures, more than 30 billion dollars annually to the country, representing 8% of the government’s total budget. And so the question that one asks oneself here is if the American girl, with her English, is really able to tell the tale of the boy from Shobrakheit.
Language, English in this case, is an impediment that imposes a rift within the life of the American girl moving to Egypt, and those around her. Her poor command of Arabic exposes her and makes everyone ask her where she’s from. Add to that the writer’s decision not to name her protagonist, to refer to her only as the “American girl,” seems to enforce that idea, despite her Egyptian heritage and time spent in Egypt, language continues to be a barrier to communication, even after she falls in love with the boy from Shobrakheit and he moves in to live with her in her luxury apartment.
The boy from Shobrakheit, who was raised in the care of a smothering grandmother, sits next to the American girl while she eats and expects her, like his grandmother, to feed him. The American feminist soon finds herself in a relationship that has turned her into a dispossessed woman — one who goes to work in the morning, while her male partner sits at home waiting for her to come back to cook and clean, while he does nothing except watch videos on YouTube.
The American girl soon loses herself within a world dominated by Arabic and a system of social codes that she is unable to decipher or navigate. Subtly, changes within her behavior take shape in a before and after Egypt form. Prior to her arrival in Egypt, the American girl had been a political activist, who had once revolted against a man and led a whole subway car against him in New York when she witnessed him harassing a veiled woman. The scene had been filmed and even gone viral. However, in Egypt, we see her remain silent, when her friend, the owner of a famous restaurant, refuses to seat two veiled girls in his establishment, because their hijab would put off the “clean Egyptians,” the rich bourgeoisie, decked in Western brands.
In the second part of the novel as the two voices continue to alternate, Noor Naga introduces detailed footnotes that readers assume are likely guidelines for familiarizing the non-Egyptian reader with Egypt, such as its foods that include the different varieties of mangoes, as well as foul, our traditional dish made of fava beans. However, as an Egyptian, these footnotes left me ill at ease, as they appeared to contain errors and factual details that did not add up. I was particularly drawn to one referencing a Nubian writer by the name of Sayed Dhaif, whom I had never heard of and could not find in any of my searches. When I sent the author an enquiry, she admitted that she had, in fact, invented the character. He was not real and neither were a number of other “facts” in her footnotes.
And so it is that the author sets up several traps in the novel for the reader who looks upon literature as an accurate representation of its subject. She ingenuously casts these traps to mimic the American girl’s interpretation regarding the realities of life around her in Egypt, in which she fails to distinguish between the facts and lies that the boy from Shobrakheit makes up. The ensuing confusion and the difficulty of differentiating between the multiple narratives around what is real and what isn’t reaches its climax when it comes to the details of the pair’s relationship. The scene that the boy from Shobrakheit paints is one of unbridled love, while the American girl portrays one of violence.
Trapped within a relationship in which she is unable to distinguish between love and abuse, things escalate slowly until at one point, the boy from Shobrakheit hurls a coffee table at her, inflicting severe wounds and bruises. It is only when the boy from Shobrakheit finally disappears that she is able to return to the remnants of her former life. She ends up meeting an American man living in Cairo, and further entanglements ensue when the boy from Shobrakheit dies, a mystery readers will have to work out for themselves.
Naga plays around with light and shadows, and like a magician manipulates the reality we see in front of us, making us doubt the veracity of whatever her narrators tell us right up to the moment when all is revealed in the last chapter.
Throughout the novel, Noor Naga toys, like a magician, with light and shadow, obscuring certain details while revealing others, casting doubt on everything, right up to the final chapter in which readers encounter the American girl, back in America, discussing, with colleagues in a creative writing class, the final chapter of her novel.It’s a final chapter that readers of this novel aren’t privy to but rather garner its content from the commentary of the American girl’s classmates as they share their critical take on it. The American narrator’s colleagues discuss her novel filtered through the lens of a contemporary American values system as one colleague objects to her empathy with the boy from Shobrakheit, arguing that her writing serves to perpetuate sympathy for the oppressor, and legitimizes violence against women.
Another reader asks the writer for more details related to Egypt, mining her for exciting features that play to an imagined sensibility of a distant place. All the while, the American girl is silent, happy to merely take in the comments, as if the author, having explained her two protagonists in previous chapters, surprises English readers with a mirror that reflects their own questions. In the end, it is one colleague only who focuses his comments on the technical components of the novel and advises her to delete the last chapter, which is exactly what she does. Hence, its unavailability within this novel despite everyone talking about it in this novel’s final chapter.
If an Egyptian Cannot Speak English is a novel much like Egyptian mangoes, whose taste lingers on the tongue long after the last bite.
This panel of leading regional and diaspora authors will discuss the inspiration for their most recent novels and the social, cultural and political context informing their work. The panel will also explore the challenges that Arab writers in the region and its diaspora face as they reflect on societies dealing with globalization, trauma, gender, sexuality and identity.
Ahmed Naji is trying to understand the zeitgeist. In the 36 years of his life he has witnessed dictatorship, revolution, counter-revolution, military coup, jail and exile.
Ahmed Naji’s story is unique. He is the first author jailed for a work of literary fiction in Egypt’s modern history. What is more, he was not jailed for the political views one might glean from Using Life, but for “obscene” and “immoral” language, as well as depictions of drugs and sex.
Read journalist Edgar Mannheimer’s exclusive interview with Ahmed Naji in this week’s ” Writers in Exile”.
I see no impurity or weakness in fear, unlike courage which I have often found to be synonymous with male folly. In fact, if anything, fear keeps you alert, vigilant, in a state of internal meditation even, one that enables you to gradually build up your psychological defenses. I refer here to a specific limiting fear; one that has nothing to do with panic, horror, or distress in response to a perceived and clear threat but one that is instead subtle and tame. A fear that, as infants, we ingested with our mother’s milk, and after we were weaned, it moved on to become a component of our daily sustenance that we were fed mixed with deception, lies and concealment, all that we relied on to survive.
A fear laden with advice such as Listen to what you’re told, Walk the line, Stay out of trouble, If a bully stops you don’t fight him and give him all you’ve got, Eat up or the food you leave on your plate will run after you on Judgment Day, If you masturbate you’ll go blind and weaken your knees, Say please, Say Alhamdulillah, Don’t discuss politics, Wear an undershirt,” etc, etc, etc, and before you know it, Boom! You’ve reached adolescence and you learn the necessity of stepping out of a traffic officer’s way should you encounter him in the street, concealing your identity from those you talk to, and never discussing religion with anyone, so that by early adulthood you find that your practical experience with fear up to that point has earned you the ability to practice life fully with it constantly by your side: You make love to your girlfriend whilst surrounded by multiple fears that begin with the neighbors potentially breaking in to the house, being stopped by a police officer in the street, a ripped condom, your friend returns home before you two are finished, for her female cousin to learn of your affair, or her mother’s male cousin to encounter the two of you together, and yet in spite of all these fears, Arab love stories persist and grow; we marry, we procreate and we separate.
A total life spent in the company of fear, for who are we to refuse the fear or rebel against it? We are a people who consume fear instead of croissants with our coffee; we are the owners of sharp and hurtful tongues that puncture holes in our bravery, strength, fastidiousness and individuality, and all our beautiful Arab values on rebelliousness, bravery, and daring feats that are invoked in the songs of Egyptian festivals in which the artists string lyrics about their ability to take up arms and see any battle to its bitter end seem in vain when someone like Captain Hani Shaker, Head of the Syndicate of Musical Professions in Egypt, hounds artists and forces them to swallow their words. Intimidated, they cave in, because they, like all of us, were raised in fear too.
I admit that the previous paragraph is long and full of scattered ideas and images, and I am aware that one of the guidelines of eloquent editing dictates that I break up my paragraphs and sentences into shorter ones. I must rid the text of everything that could potentially distract the reader from the work’s central theme. As I re-read the previous paragraph, I feel a creeping fear and hear a chafing voice that orders me “to write as one ought to, to tow the line, to define my idea, to express my thoughts minimally and precisely, to keep the text clean and simple.”
In all probability, I’ll succumb to this type of fear, solely for its novelty, a non-Arab fear if you will, one unlike the one my mother, my society and my government instilled in me, one I’ll liken to a swarm of invading ants that have stealthily taken residence, festering inside of me in the last few years since my move to America, eating away at my self-confidence, severing all communication with the real me. Are you getting any of this? Do you know what I’m trying to say? Never mind, let’s start at the beginning one more time. And yet, there is no beginning point to return to, I am in the middle, stuck with fear in a hole whose walls are screens that display urban landscapes, and stunning images of nature from the North American continent…