Along the Nile, through the Sahara

along-the-nile-through-the-sahara-new

Introduction by the consul general in Alexandria viewing the presentation at Bibliotheca Alessandrina, Auditorium thuesday, march 1st 2013

The volume we are going to launch today is the last – at least so far – of a long series of books written by Ambassador Claudio Pacifico, a career diplomat who, despite his delicate and all-absorbing professional commitments, nevertheless found time and concentration to write 6 political and historical essays and 9 travel books,

A stunning record!

But allow me to introduce our guest in a bit more detail, although this is not the first time for him to be here. Actually, he has been here on several occasions, but always on official ceremonies, among which the opening of the photographic exhibition about Italian architects and engineers in 2008, with the Italian President, Giorgio Napolitano. But he has never been here as a writer, though. This is his first time.

Claudio Pacifico was ambassador of Italy to Khartoum, Tripoli and, up to a couple of months ago, Cairo, where he also acted as Italian Representative at the Arab League. However, in his long career, he also served in Washington, in Tehran after the Ayatollah revolution, in troubled Mogadishu, amidst tribal wars, in Dhaka, Bangladesh. All of them are very tough places, as you can guess. He also worked for the Italian Cooperation, and this accounts for his extraordinary sensitivity in this field, which he widely disclosed all through his mandate as Ambassador to Egypt, when he strongly promoted and supported a number of sustainable development projects in the oases of Siwa, Kharga and Dakhla, as well as research and restoration missions in archaeological sites, particularly in the Gilf Kebir Region.

All through these various stages of his career in so many corners of the world, despite his professional engagements he always managed to foster and give fresh blood to his strongest passion, a passion that originated in his childhood, triggered by fascinating and exotic adventure books like The White Squadron by Harbaugh, Beau Geste by Wren, The Desert Raiders by Soulban, and the popular narratives by the Italian writer Salgari, which used to be a must read among Italian kids.

This passion is the passion for travelling, the love for exploration, an unquenchable inquisitive drive, a strong wish to know “different” places, “extra-ordinary” places, challenging regions requiring a remarkable effort to be approached; a rewarding effort, though, in terms of the ensuing emotions and knowledge.

Along with the geographical locations per se, Pacifico has in fact always had a strong interest also in their history, culture, folklore, legends and even anecdotes.

In other words, an all-round attitude to travelling. On the one hand, explorations into inaccessible, mostly unknown places. On the other hand, explorations into books, literature, reports, journals, essays, written records of all kinds.

This passion was the driving force that, over 4 decades, has led him to set up countless expeditions off the beaten track, to the Persian and Australian deserts, to the harsh Hindu Kush region between Afghanistan and Pakistan, to Karakorum, between Pakistan, India e Cina, to the Gobi desert, between China and Mongolia, up the mystical Tibetan plateau and the majestic Himalaya Mountains, up the Andes in South America, into the hostile interior of Papua New Guinea, into the dense jungles in Bengala  and in the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico.

Of all these inaccessible regions, however, the place that has fascinated him the most has always been the desert, particularly the Sahara Desert, so vast, so varied, so rich in history, so fascinating when considering the Age of the Great Exploration, the 19th and the early 20th century, with legendary explorers like Frédéric Caillaud, Ralph Bagnold, Gerhard Rohlfs, Frederick Hornemann, and then Hassanein Bey, Lazslo Almasy, Prince Kamal El Din and all the so-called Zarzura Group.

An Age that the Author sees with a sense of deep nostalgia, because he regretfully belongs:

to that desperate generation of (not for a fault of their own) non-explorers, who were born too late and for whom destiny reserved  the opportunity to be . . . just travellers!

So, small wonder that on the Sahara and Sub-Saharan Region he has written extensively. Books, articles, travel journals, all reporting about the innumerable places he has visited so far (and he repeatedly points out that he has always been a real traveller, and not “a couch potato traveller”, forgive my immodesty.)

Let me mention the main titles: “My Sahara Travel Journal”, ”With the Tuareg, in Timbuktu”, “In the Sahara”, “Lost Sands”, “Sahara, in the Realm of Fata Morgana”,”Ten Years in Egypt, Libya and Sudan”, “Somalia, Recollections of an Italian Mal d’Afrique”.

THE BOOK

His latest publication is the book we are going to launch today, Along the Nile, Through the Sahara. Travels in the Land of the Pharaohs in Search of the Unknown Egypt.

The title is self-eloquent: the book is a tribute to Egypt. However, it is mostly a tribute to certain parts of Egypt that are still quite unknown, even to Egyptians, who still consider the desert as an empty space bereft of any attractiveness, a bit like the Ancient Egyptians used to do, because they – as the book reminds us -:

feared the desert, which they called the “Red Land”, the “Place of non-life”, the epitome of death and exile. According to Pharaonic mythology, the desert was, in fact, some sort of hellish place, the ”Kingdom of Seth”, the “God of Chaos” that killed his brother Osiris.

An Egypt off the beaten track, yet equally full of charm and history like other parts of the Country that are more in the limelight.

The book is muItifaceted.

It is the expression on the page of his own personal experience on numberless trips and expeditions to all corners of Egypt – along the Nile, in and around the lush oases (the so-called Islands of the Blessed, as Herodotus used to call them), down the old caravan routes and their ruined Roman outposts, across scorching stretches of sand and parched stony grounds, amidst precious marble quarries teeming with activity in Roman times but now utterly desolate, up rugged plateaux and inaccessible mountain ranges or down, in wadis of undiluted beauty…

But it is not just this. It is also a vade-mecum full of accurate geographical, historical, scientific information, and tourist tips, too.  

But, as often is the case in travel literature, the book is also an instrument for the author to investigate into his inner self, a journey of self-discovery:

My first journey occurred almost forty years ago and it lasted almost a month: it was only the first of a very long series, which, like my journeys across the Sahara, is still unfinished.

And like my journeys across the Sahara, I would say, like all my journeys across the five continents, my peregrinations across Egypt have been, at the end of the day, first and foremost, a journey into myself, a journey of self-discovery deep down, into my inner self.

At the same time, the book is – Wordsworthwise – a distillation of the vibrant sensations and deep emotions that he personally experienced in the mystical immensity of the desert, emotions that are described in terms that are reminiscent of Edmund Burke and his Enquiry into the Sublime, the astonishing Sublime that one experiences in Nature when confronted with vacuity, solitude, silence, vastness or greatness of dimension:

And after almost forty years of journeys, wanderings, and returns to the Sahara, I have come to the conclusion that perhaps this is the realest and deepest secret of the Desert: its spiritual and mystical dimension that, with its boundless and extreme landscapes, with its ambivalence of seduction and repulsion, enchantment and horror, life and death, leaves an indelible imprint in whoever experiences it.

To reinforce the romantic and poetic touch of some parts of the book, Pacifico inserts excerpts from works of other writers. Richard Burton, Hassanein Bey, Pierre Loti, László Almasy, Norma Lorimer, just to mention a few. They describe the desert as an exciting, powerful, inscrutable, dangerous but also bewitching protagonist, the ideal place to please their thirst for infinite spaces, their love for exoticism, their escapism, their revolt to modernity and drive for challenge.

And still, the book is also spiced up by anecdotes (I’ll just mention Edmondstone’s controversial claim to be the first European in Dakhla), humorous episodes, let alone a number of mishaps – mainly due to unreliable Bedouin guides that, more often than not, led him astray – that now sound irresistibly funny, but that must have been utterly exhausting and unnerving for the travelling Author while going through them. With the benefit of time, all those misadventures are now reported with a good deal of enjoyable self-irony.

But let’s not forget that the author is an Italian. Quite rightly, therefore, he expands on the huge Roman heritage in the Eastern Desert, in the oases and in many other sites, but also dwells on the massive contribution by Italian explorers, missionaries, merchants, patriots, Egyptologists, from the Middle Ages to the modern time.  Just to mention some names: Saint Francis from Assisi, Filippo Pigafetta, Giovanni Battista Belzoni, Bernardino Drovetti, Ippolito Rosellini, Evaristo Breccia, Giuseppe Botti, and the over twenty archaeological missions currently operating on various sites.

As you can see, the volume is bulky and it is impossible for me to tell you about all the topics disclosed in its more than 500 pages.

So, with pleasure, after Consul Mario Vinci, I’Il leave this task to his Excellency, the Ambassador Claudio Pacifico. I am pretty sure that the enthusiasm that oozes from his pages will be contagious and soon you’ll start venturing into the desert yourselves, to experience first-hand its beauty, its mysticism, its sublimity, its secrets and its challenge.

Il deserto egiziano tra storia e cultura

Introduzione della dottoressa Naglaa Waly e della dottorezza Roberta Bonalume, traduttrici in arabo e in inglese dell’opera.

Tavola rotonda organizzata dall’Istituto Italiano di Cultura del Cairo e dalla casa editrice Sharkiat. Nel corso della serata verrà presentata la versione in lingua araba e in lingua inglese del volume di Claudio Pacifico Le isole della benedizione. Viaggi nella storia e nel deserto dell’Egitto, nella traduzioni di Naglaa Waly e Roberta Bonalume. L’autore, diplomatico di carriera e viaggiatore per passione, ha scritto numerosi libri, diari e taccuini di viaggio. Il libro è un omaggio al deserto, luogo magico ed universale che: “con i suoi paesaggi sconfinati ed estremi, con la sua eterna ambivalenza di seduzione e repulsione, di vita e di morte, lascia un’impronta indelebile in chiunque lo abbia conosciuto”. Il volume in arabo verrà presentato dal noto scrittore egiziano Sonallah Ibrahim.

Lunedì 4 marzo 2013, ore 19.00 – Istituto Italiano di Cultura

Il deserto egiziano tra storia e cultura

Tavola rotonda organizzata dalla Bibliotheca Alexandrina in collaborazione con il Consolato Generale d’Italia ad Alessandria e l’Istituto Italiano di Cultura del Cairo. Nel corso della serata verrà presentata la versione in lingua araba e in lingua inglese del volume di Claudio Pacifico Le isole della benedizione. Viaggi nella storia e nel deserto dell’Egitto, nella traduzioni di Naglaa Waly e Roberta Bonalume. L’autore, diplomatico di carriera e viaggiatore per passione, ha scritto numerosi libri, diari e taccuini di viaggio. Il libro è un omaggio al deserto, luogo magico ed universale che: “con i suoi paesaggi sconfinati ed estremi, con la sua eterna ambivalenza di seduzione e repulsione, di vita e di morte, lascia un’impronta indelebile in chiunque lo abbia conosciuto”.

Martedì 5 marzo 2013, ore 18.00 – Auditorium, Bibliotheca Alexandrina

The egyptian desert between history and culture

Round table organized by the Italian Cultural Institute in cooperation with the publishing house Sharkiat. During the evening the Arab version of the book written by Claudio Pacifico The Island of the blessing. Travels in the history and in the desert of Egypt, translated by Naglaa Waly will be launched. The author, career diplomat, traveller by passion has written several books and diaries on travelling. The book is an homage to the desert, magic and universal space that: “with its unlimited and extreme landscapes, with its perennial ambivalence of seduction and repulsion, of life and death, leaves an indelible imprint in everyone who visited it”. The volume in Arabic will be presented by the well-know Egyptian writer Sonallah Ibrahim. Monday, March 4th, 7 pm – Theatre of the Italian Cultural Institute.

The egyptian desert between history and culture

Round table organized by the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in cooperation with the Italian General Consulate in Alexandria and the Italian Cultural Institute. During the evening the Arab version of the book written by Claudio Pacifico The Island of the blessing. Travels in the history and in the desert of Egypt, translated by Naglaa Waly will be launched. The author, career diplomat, traveller by passion has written several books and diaries on travelling. The book is an homage to the desert, magic and universal space that: “with its unlimited and extreme landscapes, with its perennial ambivalence of seduction and repulsion, of life and death, leaves an indelible imprint in everyone who visited it”.

Tuesday, March 5th, 6 pm – Auditorium, Bibliotheca Alexandrina

برنامج شهر مارس

مشروع الأطفال – مشروعات التنمية فى الدول النامية الخاصة بمكتب التعاون الإيطالى

محكافحة الفقر والإقصاء الإجتماعي

التنمية المجتمعية فى محافظة الجيزة – مشروعات التنمية فى الدول النامية -مكتب التعاون الإيطالى

خلال الحدث سيتم تقديم العديد من الإصدارات التى تم نشرها فى إطار البرنامج من خلال المشاركة المثمرة و الفاعلة للجان المواطنين، هذا بالإضافة إلى العروض الترفيهية “شارع الفن” بمشاركة الصغار “الأحداث” الذين هم فى خطر وذلك من إعداد المؤسسات المحلية المعنية.

الإثنين 4 مارس 2013 – الساعة العاشرة صباحاً – مسرح المعهد الثقافى الإيطالى

مائدة مستديرة

الصحراء المصرية بين التاريخ والثقافة

مائدة مستديرة ينظمها المعهد الثقافى الإيطالى بالقاهرة بالتعاون مع دار شرقيات للنشر.

يتخلل هذه الأمسية تقديم للترجمات العربية والإنجليزية لكتاب “جزرالنعيم – رحلات فى تاريخ وصحراء مصر” حيث قام بالترجمة العربية نجلاء والى والإنجليزية / روبرتا بونالومى.

ومن الجدير بالذكر أن مؤلف الكتاب يعمل فى الحقل الدبلوماسى كما أنه رحالة عاشق حيث له مؤلفات عديدة ومذكرات ويوميات حول أسفاره.

يقدم الكتاب تحية للصحراء ذلك المكان الساحر والكونى: “عبر مناظرها الطبيعية الشاسعة والمترامية الأطراف ومن خلال إذدواجية الإغراء والتنافر تترك الصحراء بصمة لا يمكن محوها فى كل من عرفها”.

هذا وسيقوم بتقديم الترجمة العربية لكتاب “جزر النعيم” الكاتب المصرى المعروف/صنع الله إبراهيم.

الإثنين 4 فبراير 2013 – الساعة السابعة مساءً- مسرح المعهد الثقافى الإيطالى

مائدة مستديرة

مائدة مستديرة تنظمها مكتبة الإسكندرية بالتعاون مع القنصلية الإيطالية بالإسكندرية والمعهد الثقافى الإيطالى بالقاهرة.

يتخلل هذه الأمسية تقديم للترجمات العربية والإنجليزية لكتاب “جزرالنعيم – رحلات فى تاريخ وصحراء مصر” حيث قام بالترجمة العربية نجلاء والى و الإنجليزية / روبرتا بونالومى.

مؤلف الكتاب يعمل فى الحقل الدبلوماسى كما أنه رحالة عاشق حيث له مؤلفات عديدة ومذكرات ويوميات حول أسفاره .

يقدم الكتاب تحية للصحراء ذلك المكان الساحر والكونى: “عبر مناظرها الطبيعية الشاسعة والمترامية الأطراف ومن خلال إذدواجية الإغراء والتنافر تترك الصحراء بصمة لا يمكن محوها فى كل من عرفها”.

الثلاثاء 5 مارس 2013 – الساعة السادسة مساءً – قاعة الإستماع “الأوديتوريوم – مكتبة الإسكندرية- الإسكندرية

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La Sfinge e Edipo nel celebre quadro di Gustave Moreau, 1864

La Sfinge e Edipo nel celebre quadro di Gustave Moreau, 1864

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