Friday, 11 December 2009

About the author

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In 1956 after the Suez War, most French and English Jews were kicked out of Egypt.
The rest, such as my family of Italian origin, left gradually because of vexations and reprisals against Jews in general as Israel had participated in that Anglo-French war.
In fact today there are practically no Jews left in Egypt except for a handful of people who do not leave because they are too old or cannot face re-adapting themselves to a new life.

Re-adapting to a new life was horrendous. We exiled ourselves to Milan as we had an Italian passport.
How can anyone re-adapt to anything after having lived in Egypt, which at that time was a ganna, paradise.
The struggle for life was unbelievable.
We received no help from the Italian government who claimed: “We were not at war with Egypt, you shouldn’t have left.”
So our slide into poverty took its toll on both my parents and their health deteriorated.
It is true of my mother first who could not get over that exile. She left us at age 55 and then my father followed her at age 57.
We were therefore doubly orphans.
Separated from the country of our birth and that we considered as ours and secondly my parents leaving us.
It was accordingly necessary to pay tribute to both our community and my family.
That is why I started writing my books so that no one forgets.
The title on the footsteps of Nefertari was chosen because she was beautiful and intelligent. Also the wife of the great Ramses 2, she was an independent woman before her age.
In this our Jewish women were like her.

Now take yourself back to Egypt and follow our guide Nefertari who will lead you into the world of Egyptian Jews.

1. The Jasmine Necklace I

In 1956 the nationalisation of the Suez Canal disrupted our lives and we were “gently”

pushed out of our own free will!
Ever since that forceful exile I have wanted to write our story, it has now become a matter of extreme emergency, as we are the last of the Mohicans, i.e. the older generation of Jews from Egypt.
The Jasmine Necklace, my very first book, gives an account of the life of Jews in an Arab land.
It brings back the tastes, scents and sounds of our life in Egypt.
Our traditions were rich and colourful.
We spoke several languages without problem.
We mingled with Christians and Moslems in peace.
Thinking we were part of that country, our attachment to Egypt was massive.
I wanted to mark our passage with my Jasmine Necklace.
Encouraged by everyone I went on to write.

2. Extaday. A childhood in Cairo 1939-1949 (The Jasmine Necklace II)

The second book of the trilogy is our story as seen through the eyes of a child.
Two wars contributed to the demise of the Jewish Community in Egypt.
1948: the birth of the State of Israel and the war that ensued breaking up our established and happy life. We paid very harshly for the foundation of that state.
A good part of those who saw no future in Egypt for Jews, rejoined Israel.
Thus our 80.000 strong community shrunk by half.
In between that war and the Suez Canal War there was also another war, WW2.

It was a very happy period for me as a child in spite of the war.
Living at the Extaday Hotel with the Americans as part of our life was exhilarating.
The raids when we all had to rush for shelter four floors downwards were also part of my contentment.
The hotel was a vast playground and my constant battles with boys a mammoth joy for me.
My day-to-day adventures as a very boisterous child convinced my parents I should be tamed.
They sent me to a nun’s school and that is how I was almost tamed.
But you know what the French say: Chassez le naturel et il revient au galop!”

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.

4. An unabridged trilogy

These three books are now united in an unabridged trilogy under the name

“The Jasmine Necklace” (A4 / 332 pages)

with new pictures, recipes, grandmother’s remedies, the evil eye and the inimitable sayings of my grandfather, and other funny uses we had in Egypt and later our strange dealings with ‘la mutua’ ( healthcare ‘√† l’italienne’ ) and other events of daily life by people who did not speak Italian and had to point a finger!