My very touchy feely friend Mauve Bubble (who is in the UK) says that she likes reading my blog ‘because she feels very close to me.’ This inexplicably makes me feel like I have died, and that the blog is in fact fulfilling the same medium function as Whoopi in the supernatural-sexual pottery frenzy which was ‘Ghost.’ Mauve Bubble means well of course: she is perhaps the only person I know who never holds a grudge, never allows the conveyance of news about other people to descend into fishmonger’s wife gossip, and has an innocence whose city limits border dangerously close on Naivety Ville. She has also got a unique left-field way of looking at things with the result that when listening to a story about how so-and-so is a complete bastard and I should never have taken up with him in the first place because he’s insane, she will ask “yes, but does he like tangerines?” without any trace of humour or irony.
Her nom-de-guerre on this blog is inspired by the fact that when she is told of future events of any conceivable risk or danger, she will instruct people to wrap themselves up in an imaginary ‘mauve bubble’ so no harm can come to them. I cannot tell you how I spluttered and guffawed with ridicule when I first heard her say this. Now, as in everything with Mauve, it seems entirely reasonable and in any case has its origins in the lush oasis of kindness and goodness which is her heart.
I remember once in a class we were immersed in some very earnest discussion about the situation in Palestine, or the origins of World War II, and I looked over at Mauve who was clearly formulating a question about the role of polystyrene in war or similar. Waiting for a pause in between the talk of capitalist tyranny and ideological conflict, she asked “yes but why do wars happen?” - and genuinely wanted an answer. That year - which was ostensibly spent learning fos7a Arabic in Alexandria - was largely dominated with Mauve’s bonkers non-sequiturs. One afternoon there was a well-attended and at times violent demonstration on campus about some injustice or other, complete with roaring voices and placards. While discussions about the disgraceful twenty-year state of emergency were held around her, Mauve looked out from the building in which we the expensive foreigners were locked and said “look at all their black hair,” before photographing all the black hair and producing a very fine, dramatic picture.
It is the artist’s eye in her I suppose; she is dotty but highly intelligent in that way that left-handed people sometimes are. Frequently when she and I walk down what I understand to be an entirely nondescript street, she will suddenly stop and spend twenty minutes photographing a bin, while I try to resist throwing myself in it. When we first arrived in Alex she insisted that five baffled people (who didn’t yet know her or each other) stroke the bark of a tree to which she was particularly drawn. She also makes homemade cards, and while I tease her about being too tight to shell out two quid for a proper card, her cards, like her photographs and all her art, are always breathtaking in their creativity.
Not that her dreaminess and war rationing philosophy is always easy to live with. Mauve and I twice went away on holiday together in winter, and never again. I am somewhat ‘high- maintenance’ about cleanliness (read OCD) and also have an extreme reptile-like aversion to the cold. In Paris I tried to make her stay in at least a one-star hotel on the pretence that it had a TV and would therefore allow me to improve my French. In reality I was trying to steer Mauve away from the bomb shelter to which I suspected she would lead us given half the chance. Sure enough I shivered for two long days in a youth hostel/dungeon which I believe was once used by the Gestapo to interrogate members of the French Resistance. Never before had I sought shelter in a shopping centre to keep warm, it was like being homeless without the free soup. Mauve simply could not understand how I could resent blankets with the consistency of stubble, and no central heating, when we were afforded such a generous breakfast – what a bargain!
In Syria the film repeated itself, this time with Mauve’s friend Och Aye Yum Kippur, who was our host. Incredibly Syria was colder than Paris, or perhaps my stony heart made it seem so, and I endured three days of Siberian prison cell type youth hostels and crying in the snow, yes snow, while Mauve and Och Aye talked about dabka and looked at old ruins in the middle of nowhere. Just before I caught frostbite I hauled the icicle which was my body to the Egyptair office in Damascus and changed my ticket, flying out the next day and practically kissing the tarmac upon arrival in sunny Cairo.
Trips with Mauve in summer are another story entirely – a real pleasure. Our last was to Mount Sinai and St Catherine's monastery in 2002 and was wonderful apart from the fact that there was no running water at the summit (can’t they attach pipes to the clouds???) and I had inexplicably forgotten the Wet Ones without which I don’t move (yes OCD). I was therefore coaxed into cleaning my fingers with a lemon Mauve had brought (she travels with these sorts of things) upon the promise that it would make my nails nice and white. And it did. But it also made them stink. And sticky.
On the descent from the mountain we were discussing my career plans (ah late lamented youthful optimism) and I made reference to an NGO. Mauve commented that she, too, would like to work in an NGO. After a pause during which I tried to wipe off the sand which had stuck to my fingers and which made me look like I was wearing gloves, Mauve got the Question Look and inquired “what is an NGO?” before I ran screaming to the monks.