Excerpt from Alexan­dri­an Sum­mer by Yitzhak Gormezano Goren.

The Sport­ing Club neigh­bor­hood, the horse rac­ing tracks beyond the tram­lines. At the inter­sec­tion of Rue Delta and the Cor­niche, by the sea, stands house num­ber twen­ty-four, all sev­en of its sto­ries (we used to climb up to the flat roof and shoot paper arrows down at the indus­tri­ous ants run­ning around on the side­walk, back and forth, as if there were pur­pose to all this frenzy).

An Arab door­man, Badri, stands guard, squint­ing at the sun. His face is tan and ema­ci­at­ed. His lit­tle boy, Abdu, loi­ters at his side, help­ing him watch the shad­ows stretch­ing over the side­walk and the pass­ing cars, head­ed toward the sea. Badri and his son wel­come any­one approach­ing the build­ing with an alert greet­ing, Aha­lan, ya sidi,” full of expec­ta­tion: Will the guest give bak­shish or not? If the guest does tip them, they escort him with bows all the way to the ele­va­tor door. If he doesn’t­­­­­ – – they point lazi­ly in the direc­tion of the moldy duskiness.

The ele­va­tor is ancient, barred with black met­al and fad­ed gold open­work and bit­ten by red­dish rust. The door slams with a metal­lic shake, and … a mir­a­cle! The ele­va­tor ris­es with a buzz, drag­ging with effort a loop­ing tail that grows longer as the ele­va­tor ascends. Chill­ing sto­ries have been told about pow­er out­ages between the fourth and fifth floors; fights between neigh­bors, begin­ning in the stair­well, inten­si­fied in the gloom of the ele­va­tor, lat­er to dis­si­pate out­side, in the sub­trop­i­cal sun that ridicules all human endeavors.

Sec­ond floor, that’s as far as I go. If you aren’t lazy, you could climb it by foot. A cop­per plate bear­ing the name of a Jew­ish fam­i­ly, descen­dant of Sephardic Jews from the era of the Span­ish Expul­sion (their last name is the name of their home­town with the suf­fix ano”). The door­bell rings. A dark-haired and skin­ny ser­vant opens the door and address­es you in lilt­ing Mediter­ranean French: Oui, missier, quisqui voulez?” and you stut­ter and ask: Is this where Robert … Rob­by lives?”

The ser­vant is sur­prised that a thir­ty-year-old man is inter­est­ed in a ten-year-old boy, but he does not voice his opin­ion as long as he isn’t asked to. Rob­by – – there!” He sig­nals toward the bal­cony, at the far end of the apart­ment. Should I call him?”

No, no! Please, there’s no need.”

The Arab ser­vant looks at you with a hint of sus­pi­cion. Who you, missier?” and you give him your name, Hebraized to fit Israel of the 1950s, which reject­ed all for­eign sounds. The ser­vant does not deci­pher any con­nec­tion between the two names. To him the strange name could be Greek or Turk­ish or Ital­ian or Mal­tese or Armen­ian or French or British or even Amer­i­can. Alexan­dria is the cen­ter of the world, a cos­mopoli­tan city. You want to add: yes, I used to be Robert, too. Twen­ty years ago. I’m com­ing from twen­ty years away. I won’t inter­rupt, I just want to watch. I won’t inter­fere, God for­bid. No one will notice me. I just want to tell the sto­ry of one sum­mer, a Mediter­ranean sum­mer, an Alexan­dri­an summer.

Trans­lat­ed by Yardenne Greenspan. Reprint­ed by per­mis­sion of New Ves­sel Press