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Alexandria on the Pacific

The Port of Alexandria As It Is Today

Every once in a while, I re-read a book that has meant a lot to me in the past, in the hopes of somehow rediscovering myself as I was when I first encountered it. Around 1967-1968, I first delved into Lawrence Durrell’s Justine, the first volume of his Alexandria Quartet.

I had just reached the age of puberty in my early twenties thanks to regular injections of depo-testosterone. In September 1966, I had a pituitary tumor (chromophobe adenoma) removed by slicing through my forehead and hinging my brain upward. As a result, I was a strange sort of late-blooming virgin who was mightily puzzled by and preoccupied with sex.

The Edition I Read

Imagine me as I lie in the sand on Santa Monica Beach by lifeguard station 12 reading the following:

Five races, five languages, a dozen creeds: five fleets turning through their greasy reflections behind the harbour bar. But there are more than five sexes and only demotic Greek seems to distinguish among them. The sexual provender which lies to hand is staggering in its variety and profusion. You would never mistake it for a happy place. The symbolic lovers of the free Hellenic world are replaced here by something different, something subtly androgynous, inverted upon itself. The Orient cannot rejoice in the sweet anarchy of the body—for it has outstripped the body. I remember Nessim once saying—I think he was quoting—that Alexandria was the great winepress of love, those who emerged from it were the sick men, the solitaries, the prophets—I mean all who have been deeply wounded in their sex.

So there I was on the hot sands of Santa Monica, surrounded by women in bikinis, indulged in morose delectation.

Actually, Justine is pretty good, though it is quite arch at times. I am no longer the same unhappy young man on the beach. I read all four volumes of the Alexandria Quartet that one summer, and I loved it—however disturbing I found it.

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