Friday, 11 December 2009

3. The blue slipper of exile (the Jasmine Necklace III)

We were living in a silk and honey cocoon and from one day to another we had to confront exile, poverty and cold.
We could not stay on in the land of our birth, not with all the threats and hatred towards Jews at that moment. Exacerbated by the clever speeches of Gamal Abdel Nasser arousing an unconditional support for him from the masses, it became even dangerous to walk along in the streets. We were not spared insults such as Yehoudeya kalba, Jewess dog, or ‘Tomorrow your turn will come’, showing a throat splitting gesture.
One after another Jews of English or French nationality were expelled and those Jews who had lost their nationality because of that war could not leave unless they found a ‘system’ i.e. paying a lot of money to get that precious exit visa on which was stamped “NO RETURN.”
My family consequently decided to leave; no one could stop us as Italians but that meant losing everything we had and leaving with 2 bags and £ 10. We had more than 2 suitcases because of the baksheesh my father showered on Customs officers.
We did not all leave at the same time.
First my grandfather who had become ‘apatride’ (stateless) and who’s shop had been confiscated, was put in a plane going to Milan, where he incidentally got lost not speaking anything but Arabic.
Then my mother and thirteen-year-old sister took a TWA Cairo Milan ticket, they then managed to change their ticket to Tel Aviv and visited our family who had settled there.
During all that time I still did not know if I would be able to take my degree at AUC.
I held on hanging by my teeth till the day I received my degree on my 21st birthday.
It was time to leave as well say goodbye to Jasmine at its perfume and all the delights of our former Europeanised and cosmopolitan Egypt.
Once in Milan our situation got worse and worse. Our slide into poverty was inexorable.
The money that my father had entrusted to a passer, along with that of other people, disappeared into thin air. The passer stole all that money and left families destitute.

In Milan a large group of expatriates drifted along as well as they could, most of them waiting for a visa from the USA. Our Saturday meeting place was ‘La Galleria’ downtown Milan where we would each tell our story and give or receive advice on how to get out of the rut. We were extremely poor but so very well dressed! The Paris expatriates were called “les clochards millionaires” selling their clothes on the streets.
One good thing though was a delightful mini pizza that you could eat standing up next to a round high top and watch that mozzarella being stretched out like chewing gum.
But then there was also the cold and icy wind transpiercing us in winter.
Every day we checked the classified ads to find a job. But none of us knew Italian so how could we find any job.
I taught English at night school but that was not enough to pay rent, feed a family and so on.
We were forced to give up our apartment and to rent two rooms in a ‘pension’. Though the lodger La Signora Lina was the sweetest old lady in the world, we were most unhappy.
There was no hot water; the floor all crooked, the rooms were dark and my mother kept saying ABADAN, ABADAN, Darkness of doom!

The winter of 57 was a terrible one for us. We went on drifting like helpless leaves in the wind.
Also a lot of thieving people took advantage of us. Only the Americans sent us cans of cheese.
Illness took its toll on my mother and my father slipped into a depression.
Two years went by before we could raise our heads, but only after finding jobs with Egyptian Jews for my father and after two fruitless efforts (one of these was a scam to capture my first salary) I found a job with Italians.
Then life became brighter and we could lift our heads a little.
To be followed in the book.

1 comment:

  1. Chère Suzy, tu parles de Motta et des ses pizzas. Il les appelait Pizza con Segreto. Nous y allions et mangions cette pizza brulante et exquise. Elle devait contenir quelque chose de vraiment spécial. Nous nous rendions à la Galleria du Duomo vers, et nous attendions quelques minutes pour que ces pizzas sortent du four. C'était une vraie ruée, non pas vers l'or, mais vers la "pizza al Segreto". Nous accompagnions tout cela avec un bon verre de Campari soda. Le rebord du verre était mouillé avec du jus de citron puis trempé dans du sucre - que c'était bon -
    Ce sont des souvenirs inoubliables - J'ai été récemment à Milan, et je suis retourné à la Galleria. Tout a changé même Motta n'est plus là, et les pizzas non plus. Quel dommage! Par contre il y a des McDonald, très différents de ceux d'ici au Canada et aux États Unis. Ils sont vraiment aménagés à l'italienne; on trouve les apéritifs et le café "espresso" ainsi que de bons gâteaux.
    Mais pas de pizza al segreto. "Pazienza".

    Léon Mosseri (Canada)