Tuesday, 9 July 2019
Wednesday, 19 June 2019
|Maria and Rafaella|
Seven years ago I did a blog post on Alexandrian women. Now out of the blue I have received an email from the daughter, Sylvia Mikkelsen, of one of the women pictured in that post.
With Sylvia's permission I post her email here.
What a surprise to see my beautiful, young mother staring right back at me from your blog under the caption ‘Alexandrian Women.’ She is the one in white. I had been trying to read up on the Aleksandrinke and there you were, both of you! I knew you, of course, through your wonderful Alexandria: City of Memory, a book I had bought years back when Louisa, my grandchild, was born. I knew that the day would come when she would be asking questions about whether I was Egyptian, being born in Alexandria, or why in the world would her great grandmother come from Slovenia (of all places), and her great grandfather from the Levant – and where was that, anyway?? Oh, we still say the Levant because if we say Lebanese, there are other connotations today – and why do you speak English and French? – well, my father decided I should have an English education and my sister a French one, and Christian Lebanese people speak mostly French, etc. etc. There would be a lot of oral tales about my background, naturally. Yet, your book would give her all the necessary cultural and historical background as well as your great insight into the strange and mysterious world that was our Alexandria, a place that only exists in the memory of people who lived there. Not to mention the enriching literary parts concerning Durrell and Forster! She is today sixteen, and is the spitting image of my mother, Rafaella. She looks very often in your book, where I point out on the map the different tram stations on this narrow strip of land where we lived so well, between the marshes and the Mediterranean.
A propos the photo, Rafaella is together with her sister, Maria (in the dark dress). It is a strange photo, or part of a photo where there were two other Slovene girls together with them, if I remember correctly. It reflects the two extremes in the lot that awaited most of these girls in their fatidic journey to Alexandria. Maria arrived a few years before her younger sister to earn some money to send back to Gradisce – a village at the foot of the Carso hills, a few kilometers from Gorizia – where she had left a husband, two children, only to come back home years later, after the war, to be abused and insulted by her husband who called her the Alexandrian whore. My mother, on the other hand, found her husband almost immediately. She was barely eighteen and worked as a governess for the Ada’s only child, a girl who adored my mother for years and years to come (we, her daughters, were quite jealous of this relationship!). The Ada were a wealthy Jewish family who treated Rafaella as a daughter. Their neighbour, a Lebanese young man of a bit less than twice her age, observed her from his balcony and fell madly in love with her. He was to be our father. They had a happy marriage and my father and mother are buried in the beautiful cemetery in my mother’s village. With Nasser, they left Alexandria, first to Lebanon, later to Switzerland, and finally to Slovenia where they spent their summers, and shared their winters between Denmark, at my place, and Geneva, my sister’s.
Et voilà, the story behind the girls, one in dark and the other in white.I am sorry for this long-winded mail but that is how Alexandrians are, n’est-ce pas?
Oh, I have almost forgotten. I have a story to tell but do you think it would be worthwhile? Rafaella’s first cousin, Elda, was a governess – not to a child – but to none other than Lee Miller who was for a short period of time Aziz Eloui Bey’s second wife. After Lee deserted Eloui (there are several versions of who left whom), Elda - who was also my godmother - married Aziz Eloui, like a true Jane Eyre. We were very close as a family and we had great times, especially at Gharbaniat where Uncle Aziz had one of these fortress-like mansions in the desert. Anyway, practically on her deathbed, years later while she was living in a lovely pink villa close to Trieste, she finally opened up and talked about the long-lasting effects of having interacted with a beauty and personality as wild as Lee Miller’s. If I ever venture to write in the genre of a personal essay, perhaps, or anything you would advise me to do, would you kindly read it? It would be the story of the paradoxical effects Lee Miller had upon the governess, a prudish, Catholic, Slovene country-girl, emotions that fluctuated between sheer horror and unconditional adoration. The Alexandrian Governess would be a cross between Jane Eyre, and Daphne du Maurier’s Mrs Danvers. Actually, it seems that du Maurier’s inspiration for Rebecca arose from her years spent in Alexandria (which she intensely disliked) while her husband was stationed there as a marine officer.
I do not know why we, Alexandrians, always have the dream to write, but we do. Probably because we lived in a time warp, and we still cannot come to terms with it.
Monday, 13 May 2019
Saturday, 11 May 2019
Saturday, 4 May 2019
|Corfu fascist parade 1933.|
What I do not know is to what extent this was an indigenous Greek movement or a purely Italian-Corfiot one. Corfu was long ruled by Venice and Italian influence remained strong. Italian was the lingua franca of Corfu well into the nineteenth century and the island had an Italian community right up to the Second World War. Mussolini used this historical connection to twice justify his occupation of Corfu, once briefly in 1923, again in 1941.
Certainly Corfiots courageously protested against the second occupation, a rare thing in Europe at the time, and the island provided the beginnings of the Greek resistance against the 1941-1945 Italian and German occupations of Greece.
Saturday, 27 April 2019
Sunday, 17 March 2019
|The family photograph at the top was Gerry's favourite.|
The Durrells of Corfu has been translated into Greek and published by Patakis in Athens. The cover shows the Durrells' villa at Sotiriotissa and the family on the terrace: Margo, Nancy, Larry, Gerry and Louisa. Leslie took the photograph.
At the end of the summer of 1935 the Durrells moved from the Strawberry-Pink Villa at Perama to the Villa Anemoyanni. This was Gerry’s Daffodil-Yellow Villa near Kontokali, at Sotiriotissa, about five miles along the coast road north of Corfu town.
Standing on the side of a hill rising out of the sea, the Daffodil-Yellow Villa was an enormous and neglected Venetian mansion four storeys high, set amidst extensive grounds, overgrown and almost wild, with unkept orange and lemon orchards and olive groves, and with melancholy cypresses and stout arbutus heavy with ripening berries.
Facing the sea was a stone-paved terrace shaded with a trellis of vines and evergreens from where terraced gardens and a Venetian stairway descended to a wooden jetty projecting from the shore. A couple of small islands shimmered in the channel and in the distance loomed the hills of mainland Greece and Albania. To the left was Gouvia Bay, a smooth sheet of water used as a landing place for seaplanes, and beyond that the high hills shouldering Pantocrator, the highest mountain on the island.
Friday, 15 March 2019
|Durrell named the fourth volume of his Alexandria Quartet after Clea Badaro.|
Searching online he found this post of mine which told him something more.
I have also told Simon about Clea Badaro, 1913-1968: sa vie, son oeuvre, by her sister Jeanne Engalytcheff-Badaro.
And I cover her in my book Alexandria: City of Memory, her studio at the Ambron villa, her connection with the Atelier, her acquaintance with Durrell, and comments from my interviews with some people who knew her.
Tuesday, 19 February 2019
Saturday, 2 February 2019
Thursday, 10 January 2019
Monday, 31 December 2018
Several times in The Alexandria Quartet Lawrence Durrell describes Alexandria as the ‘white city’ as in this excerpt from the third volume Mountolive.
A sea-wind chaffered and tugged at the sea-limits of the estuary. Higher still roamed packages of smoking, blood-stained cloud throwing down a strange radiance into the streets and squares of the white city. Rain was a rare and brief winter phenomenon in Alexandria.
Ibrahim Abdel Meguid does the same in his novel No One Sleeps in Alexandria.
In the evening he told Magd al-Din about the city where he had spent all that time, white Alexandria, where foreigners from all over the world and poor Egyptians from all over the land went.
Alexandria’s whiteness is in contrast to the dustiness of Cairo, a city blown by desert winds, shrouded in sand, whereas Alexandria glistens with salt crystals from the evening breezes off the sea.
Which made me think of other cities called white. Tel Aviv for example and Nicosia which in Greek is called Lefkosia, literally the White Place.
But what about that part of my own city that I never think about at all nor do I ever go there? That rundown area shoved up against Shepherd’s Bush and amputated from Holland Park and the heart of London by a motorway. How did White City get its name?
Only recently, seeing a set of striking postcard scenes of the 1908 Franco-British Exhibition celebrating the new alliance between the countries did I understand.
|The 1908 Franco-British Exhibition.|
The exhibition is indeed a fabulous white city. And the name was further popularised when the Olympic Games were held next door in the same year. The 1908 Olympics were meant to be held in Rome but the explosion of Vesuvius caused the Italians to direct their attention to the devastation round the Bay of Naples. Runner-up London quickly stepped in, a running track was built, and the Olympics and the Franco-British Exhibition ran side by side at what was now indelibly called White City.
|1908 White City Marathon.|
The exhibition was torn down and the Olympic track given over to dog racing. Then the motorway finished it off. But not quite because the BBC built a hideous television studio there which I gather is now protected as a national treasure, and a vast shopping centre has been erected there. I gather it is even quite trendy to live in White City these days.
|BBC Television Studios.|
Maybe I should jump on the 31 bus and take a look.
Saturday, 15 December 2018
Friday, 16 November 2018
Tuesday, 13 November 2018
About London's Cecil from today's Telegraph:
'One of the best contemporary descriptions can be found in Nathaniel Newnham-Davis’s 1914 book, The Gourmet’s Guide to London.
'He explains how the bustling courtyard at the Hotel Cecil’s entrance, known as “The Beach”, was a popular hangout for American guests who preferred it to the gilded parlours within. “The most American spot in London” was filled with cane chairs, piles of luggage, a newspaper stall, and “in the summer-time pretty girls sunning themselves and waiters hurrying to and fro with cold drinks and long straws”.'
See here for more of this article in The Telegraph.
And see here for the Cecil in Alexandria.