July 12, 2013

Alexandria, Egypt circa 1950

Alexandria, Egypt circa 1950

I was up early in the morning and off to the Gezira tennis club, where I would hit with Badr El-Din, the Egyptian number one, or with my friend Baron Gottfried von Cramm, a three-time losing finalist at Wimbledon and by far the greatest gentleman who ever played the game. In the afternoon we played gin rummy at the Mohamed Ali Club, where the only locals were pashas or beys, the rest being Europeans. Many of the city’s best hotels and cafes were owned and run by Greeks, Armenians, and some Frenchmen. The servants wore white jellabiyas, red fezzes, and carried the gleaming glass of the hookah pipes. Alexandria’s population was around a million, many of whom were Greeks. I stayed at the Semiramis Hotel, and although it’s been close to sixty years now, I can still smell the roasted nuts, imagine the swaying palms, and feel the romantic atmosphere as I went out every night looking for adventure.

Cairo and Alexandria had little in common with the barren and sandy hinterland of the Sahara and the Nile. Groppi’s was the best restaurant/nightclub in Cairo, and one that Field Marshal Rommel had boasted he’s be dining in just before his supplies ran out. It was jasmine-scented and as attractive a place I’ve ever been. English and French were the lingua francas. The Levantine women were to die for: none of this covering-up crap, and their fashion was the latest from Paris. I was madly in love with a married lady who teased me nonstop but never gave herself to me. We would go to a piano bar called Santa Lucia, where Grace would lie on the piano and sing “Dimmi quando tu verrai, dimmi quando, quando quando..…” She was straight out of Durrell’s Justine, a real heartbreaker with whom I spoke over the telephone a few years ago.

“I want to see you,” I said.

“I wouldn’t if I were you,” came the not-so-cryptic answer.

Muslim Princess Toussoun was another lady for whom one would throw himself into the Aswan Dam. She was married to an older Turkish prince with a handsome French diplomat as escort. The youngest and most beautiful was Katie Sursock, who is now Princess Sadruddin Aga Khan, a widow, but one I see weekly here in Gstaad.

It was a hell of a life and a hell of a group, and now it’s—sorry for this—gone with the wind.

As the sainted editor wrote in the Telegraph last week—he’s the only one who got it right—the masses want and need property rights in the Arab world, not democracy. They want the right to sell their goods without having to give half the profit to a cop, the right to keep their salary without giving most of it to the foreman. It’s as simple as that.

 


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