Tuesday,21 May, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1166, (26 September - 2 October 2013)
Tuesday,21 May, 2019
Issue 1166, (26 September - 2 October 2013)

Ahram Weekly

‘O! Call back yesterday’

“Bonjour Tristesse”, we whisper each morning, during those days of perpetual fear, of death and darkness. Our moods swing from sombre sadness to ferocious anger. We look at each other without comprehension, with a desire to cry out in despair, as our very souls are consumed with grief.

Before we are overcome with total madness, we seek solace in the memory of a world long gone. We take safe refuge in ‘remembrance of things past’.

Once upon a time “we lived happily ever after”.

Days were sunny, flowers in bloom, the air vibrated with mirth and laughter. Was Egypt closer to heaven then, or was heaven closer to Egypt? We could almost hear the angels sing with the birds from dawn to dusk.

Night falls. And oh for those nights of splendour and delight. The moonlight kindled the cloudless sky, overcrowded with stars that gazed down upon the passions of hopeful youth.

The perfume of jasmine penetrates the night air, as Bogart and Bergman meet in “Casablanca”. Their haunting refrain still lingers in the memory as “Sam” plays again “As Time Goes By”.

Going to the cinema was a major event. Everyone dressed to the hilt to attend the stately, stylish movie-houses. Most exquisite of all was the Metro Theatre with its lush, red-carpeted winding stairs, its shining brass rails and glitteringly-mirrored walls.

Nothing was grander than the Opera House — how majestic — how glorious! A replica of Milan’s “La Scala”, it retains an endless supply of rich memories... of red velvet chairs with gilded walls and private boxes with dainty settees. Discreet waiters emerged during intermission, for your pleasure. The Opera season started with an impressive presentation of a classical repertoire. Primary sopranos and tenors were followed by the Symphony Orchestra with the likes of Wilhelm Furtwangler as conductor, the Russian Ballet, the Dublin Gate Theatre, La Comedie Française, etc.

No season was complete without the monthly concerts of the amazing Umm Kolthoum who kept the whole of the Arab world, motionless, breathless, lest they miss one nuance of her heavenly voice.

The exclusive suburb of Garden City housed the embassies of the UK, the US, Canada, Australia all a stroll away from the legendary Semiramis Hotel, where high tea on the terrace, a genteel family affair, was de rigueur. A small orchestra played, as young girls in their prettiest frocks took a whirl on the dance floor with their Dads. As you sipped your tea and munched on their tasty morsels, you overlooked the Nile flowing sleepily on its course to the island of Zamalek, another exclusive suburb, where stands the posh Gezira Country Club.

A perfect golf course on the left, spacious tennis courts on the right, the clubhouse’s main lounge was in the middle. Here poets and authors stared deep in thought, while heated arguments raged by politicians. Prominent celebrities played bridge, in one corner, but the real action was beyond, at the glamorous Lido where bikini-clad lovelies splashed in the azure pool, while on-lookers and admirers sipped on a cold beer, or a tall lemonade.

For more sensuous fare, the road to the Pyramids led a row of night-clubs, concert-halls and cabarets, and at its end, the historic Mena House Hotel stood serene and sublime. Every window of every room looks on the Great Pyramids of Giza, a spectacle that can only viewed in Egypt.

Summers were voluptuous and exotic at the city known as ‘the pearl of the Mediterranean’. Even more cosmopolitan than Cairo, its long Corniche (boardwalk) traverses beaches with such diverse names as Stanley Bay, Sidi Bishr and Glymonopulos. Pompous hotels overlook the Mediterranean’s golden sands and silvery waves, such as Cecil, Metropole, Beau Rivage, San Stefano. Patrons wined and dined and danced the night away.

Some may describe this as a European life-style, but they would be erroneous. Egyptians kept step with the modern world, but faithfully clung to their faiths and traditions. A crossroad of three continents, Egypt assimilated the mentality of Europe, the mysticism of Asia and the lure of Africa. The world was opened to Egypt and Egypt was opened to the world, but Egyptians always remained themselves, children of this awesome, ancient land.

True, not everyone could sip tea at the terrace or play golf at Gezira, but no one slept hungry. Farmers enjoyed the bounty of the land they farmed for wealthy farmers, and the poor were associated to affluent families who employed them, clothed them, fed them, treated them, and even married off their children.

Those were the times when we lived happily ever after.

Most of it is still here, but nothing is the same. But what is the use of this flood of remembrance? Is the perception of our senses just an illusion? Yet, in our despondent moods and despondent thoughts, memories may be the remedy to diseased souls.

“God gave us memories that we might have roses in December.”

As we watch some Nero burning the soul of our country, we are haunted by the phantoms of the victims of terror. Our revulsion has evaporated our vain efforts at happiness.

When did it all start to change? Was it after the establishment of Israel? Was it when our Jewish friends started leaving their native land? Was it with the death of the monarchy?

Can we move from dark to daylight? We can hope.

 We can also dream of what Egypt was once and should be again.


“When to the sessions of sweet silent thought,

I summon up remembrance of things past”

William Shakespeare




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