The Romance of Egypt
The Romance of Egypt
by Mark Antoine
Perhaps we must first understand romance. The term may vary between individuals and couples, as well as between men and women.
It seems to be a term evolved around an easy, relaxing evening. Settings seem important. They may be as simple as a warm fireplace or as bold as the view of a grand mountain range, the beauty of a river valley or a lazy ocean voyage. It is a time when two people talk and the words hang with comfort and understanding; it is a time of warmth and a time of heartfelt emotions. Nothing said is wrong, no thoughts misunderstood. It is also so often a time of anticipation and quiet excitement.
Egypt has always invoked a feeling of the exotic, of mystery and even intrigue. Excitement stirs the night with anticipation of tomorrows discoveries. The Nile river seems to pass as does time, slowly witnessing the progress of mankind. Gazing upon the grand Nile for the first time washes most people in emotion. Suddenly, one actually feels history. It is a sensation like no other, a feeling of quiet knowledge.
And in the doing, mature couples find new fascinations to fill their lives, and young ones build memories of joy to edge against a future rainy day.
Even as the aroma of Egypts exotic atmosphere surrounds you, there is comfort. Sleek riverboats ply the Nile river providing five star amenities. More intimate with the water slowly drifting by then an ocean liner, imagine drifting south, as lights from the nearby shore glimmer. Grand resorts are everywhere, and the variety of restaurants is simply amazing. Nothing can surpass sitting at the Mena House having drinks with your love while gazing upon the great pyramid. Nowhere else on earth may one have dinner on a slow moving boat upon the river that spawned civilization while the lights of one of the worlds great cities drifts by.
Egypt has most always been a land of romance. Unfortunately, many visitors become so serious about seeing every monument and museum that they can fit into their short schedules, they forget to enjoy Egypts romantic allure. But Cleopatra didnt forget, though she is only one of many ladies whose charm was made brilliant by the starlit desert nights and the sparkling flow of the Nile. Countless pharaohs built grand temples and tombs for their beloved queens. Ramses build a temple for his queen at Abu Simbel, while Nefertaris tomb is as grand, or more than most rulers. And the loving portrait of Tutunkhamun and his queen is literally one of the symbols of Egypt in her antiquity.
But in the colonial period English women lost their hearts to tour guides, and of course, one contemporary Princess to an Egyptian businessman. And we must not forget the men. While Omar Shariff is said not to be the ladys man cinema made him out to be, that did not prevent women from around the world from admiring his handsome countenance.
I wish to end this with a story from the Mena House. If you know Egypt, then you know the Mena house. This is from, "The Mena House Oberoi" by Nina Nelson.
"Mena House has always been a well known place for honeymooners and to see a young couple annoyed with, or unsuited for, each other is enough to plunge a sofragi into gloom. In an unobstrusive way he can sometimes play cupid in lovers tiffs and, more often then not, manage to patch differences up; as in the case of Mr. and Mrs. C. from Alexandria. They were an attractive wealthy young couple and were shown into room 36. They had their meals sent upstairs for three days and did not once come down themselves. On the fourth morning, Mr. C. went to the reception desk.
"I am going to Alexandria for a day or so. My wife does not wish to see any visitors or take any telephone calls. Please see that she is not disturbed in any way." Will she not come downstairs to any meals while you are away?", asked the clerk. "No!" said Mr. C. shortly.
The junior reception clerk was amazed. Mrs. C. was pretty and looked as if she was used to outdoor life. It certainly seemed strange that she should not go out of her room for days on end. However, there was always the balcony. Perhaps she was recovering from an illness, or expecting a baby. He dismissed the tantalizing subject of Mrs. C. from his mind and got on with his work.
The intriguing question of why Mrs. C. ate heartily in her room, ordered drinks and sunbathed on the balcony and never came downstairs was uppermost in the junior reception clerks mind when he returned from lunch. On an impulse he telephoned her bedroom. Mrs. C. answered.
"Excuse me, Madame, but is there anything you wish sent up to your room?", asked the clerk. Mrs. C answered, "Yes, I would very much like some magazines".
"Certainly, Madam, I will see what I can find.", answered the clerk. He went into the reading room of the Mena House and gathering some magazines and papers and gave them to a sofragi to bring up to number 36. A few moments later the clerk was wanted on the telephone by Mrs. C. "Thank you," she said, "for sending me the magazines, but I have already seen them.
"It is my half-day off today, Madame, and when I am in Cairo I will see if I can find some new ones." answered the clerk.
"That would be very nice. Perhaps you would send them up tomorrow," she said. "Indeed I will, Madame." The clerk arrived back at the Mena House with three new magazines and put them in his desk. After breakfast was over the next day he was still so curious about Mrs. C and why she never appeared in public that he decided to go upstairs with the magazines and deliver them himself.
Once there, Mrs. C. sang out, "Come in". She had the French windows open and had obviously been out on her balcony sitting in the sun. She wore pale green trousers and an orange blouse. Her hair was black and shiny, her face vivacious and pretty. Certainly, Mrs. C did not look ill.
"Sit down a minute," she invited, "it is most kind of you to bring me these. I am really very bored up here."
"I feel sure you must be, Madame. I known I should not ask you, Madame, but why do you never come downstairs?
Mrs. C laughed. "It is a long story. Would you really like to know?"
"Yes I would, Madame,"said the clerk frankly.
"Well then, if I tell you, you must sit down," she replied.
"I am not allowed to sit down with guests in their rooms, Madame, but I would be most interested to know your reasons. I can stand up." The clerk said.
"You must never let my husband know, she said, and the clerk responded that, "You can rely on my complete discretion." She knew, and stated that, "I know I can rely on any of the staff here."
"You sound as if you have stayed here before." Said the clerk.
"I have. I came here on my honeymoon, but that was when I was married to somebody else." she said. The clerk did not say anything, so Mrs. C continued.
"I loved my first husband better than life itself." She said, and the only answer that the clerk could provide was, "Oh, I am sorry, did he die?"
"Oh no. We were divorced. We were very happy for quite a time. Then he inherited a lot of money and our troubles began. First, he decided to by an interest in a film company. I am very jealous, and of course, all the pretty girls who wanted to become film stars made a fuss over him and he began taking this one, then that one out. I was furious and threatened if he kept seeing other girls I would divorce him. He kept on and I did divorce him. Then he began to drink too much. He begged me to remarry him. He said he would stop drinking and that he hated life without me. I also hated life without him so we remarried."
The clerk offered Mr. C. and cigarette, which she accepted and then crossed one leg over the other. "It was no good," she said. "He kept on drinking. He began to go out again without me. I never knew where he was. One night I was so miserable I went out with a friend to a restaurant in Alexandria to have dinner. There at the table across the room was my husband having a meal with two pretty girls. I was mad with rage. I seized the wine bottle off my own table and rushed across the room. I was going to crash it down on his head."
Mrs. C. picked up a tumbler from the table near her and circled it in her hand so that the remains of lemonade in it went in little spirals up and down the glass.
"Did you hurt him?" asked the clerk.
"No. he ducked, but I brought the bottle down on one girl's arm and cut her badly."
The clerk was horrified. "Were you arrested?" he asked.
Mrs. C. smiled. "No, the whole thing was hushed up." She looked thoughtful and puffed at her cigarette. "I could not rest until we had divorced again. After we divorced, we were miserable without each other for six months. He stopped drinking, lost interest in his film work and I was very unhappy too."
"You did not remarry?" asked the clerk.
"We did...for the third time. We were happy for a year. Then the whole thing began again; drinking, girls and I never knew when I was going to see him. There was nothing to do but..." "Divorce," ended the clerk.
"You are right. For the third time we divorced."
"But now you are happily married to someone else." The clerk assumed.
"No, my present husband has a completely different character. He does exactly what I want. He has no mind of his own except to please me.' She answered.
The clerk got back to the subject uppermost in his mind. "This does not explain why you always stay in your room alone."
"Well, in a way it does. You see, I only married this man to get back to my first husband."
The clerk became truly interested. Whether it was permitted by the hotel or not, he sat down on a cane chair near the open shutters and lit a cigarette. "I do not understand." he said.
"You know that in our religion a woman can only divorce a man three times. After that she cannot remarry him unless she marries someone else in the meantime and he divorces her. If I can get my present husband to divorce me I can go back to the man I really love."
"But Madam, if your new husband divorces you, what would happen if your first husband would not marry you again." asked the clerk.
"Don't say that!" Mrs. C. hurled her tumbler at a long looking glass. It smashed and drops of lemon juice sprayed the shiny surface. Luckily the mirror did not break.
"Of course he would remarry you." The clerk said hastily.
"Of course he would. I must get this man I am married to now to hate me and divorce me."
"How?" asked the clerk.
"Well. I have begun my campaign. I will not go downstairs. I won't go anywhere or do anything."
"Perhaps he does not mind as he loves you so much." said the clerk shyly.
"Oh, I don't let him touch me. We do not share the same bed. He has to sleep on the floor. He is in love with me at the moment but he will soon get fed up. I will make life so difficult for him he will be glad to divorce me." The clerk got up from his chair.
"Goodbye Madame. I am glad the magazines are of some use," said the clerk as he left.
"Goodbye and thank you." Mrs. C. was already turning over the pages in one of the magazines. The extraordinary conversation was over and the clerk had plenty to think about as he went back to the reception desk.
When there are strange happenings at Mena House the staff gets together to see if they can do anything about it. Abdul Hassan was the special upstairs waiter whose eyes were all seeing. The clerk decided Hassan was the only man who could find out if there was a chance that Mrs. C. might eventually fall in love with her present charming husband. The clerk did not think much of her former one. Hassan agreed the first husband was too unstable.
"The one good thing you have told me is that Madam C. smashed her glass against the mirror," he said thoughtfully. "That shows what she wanted to do to her first husband if he refused to marry her again. That kind of love is close to hate. I will see the C's together and will 'sense' what ought to be done."
And with this, the clerk had to be content.
When Mr. C. returned, he first walked into the reception desk room and inquired if his wife had gone out or received any telephone calls. "Well," the clerk answered truthfully, "Mrs. C. has not left her room and has had all her meals and drinks sent up to her."
Mr. C. shoot his head in a disappointed fashion and went up to No. 36. A few minutes later he telephoned down for some whisky, ice and water for two.
Hassan arranged to take the drinks upstairs. The clerk waited impatiently for him to return. Hassan came back looking worried. "That lady is doing her best to make her husband miserable."
"How id you know? Was it anything they said?" asked the clerk.
"No, they behave normally, as they would in front of a waiter, but I can see she is making him very unhappy and he loves her so much he will do anything he can to please her."
"Do you think they could be happy if she forgot her first husband?"
"Yes I do. I am a very experienced man in the ways of life and I shall fix everything" said Hassan.
"I wish you would but Mrs. C. said her husband must never know she told me. You must never let him know either."
Hassan was indignant. "The husband shall not know I know, but neither shall the wife. It is the first unhappiness we have had in number 36 for a long time. How long are they to stay?"
"At least another fortnight." answered the clerk.
"That gives me ample time. The first husband is not worth any more effort. The second one is. He is a good man. His wife is a nice and pretty woman. We shall see that they fall in love and then she will forget her first husband and not wish for a forth divorce."
Two days later Mr. C. had to go to Alexandria again. His wife asked him to leave the same message at the reception desk. She was to have all meals in her room and no telephone calls.
"I am beginning my cure," Hassan told the clerk later. "I asked Mrs. C. where her husband went and she said to Alexandria. I looked doubtful and she asked if that was not so. I told Madame Mr. C. might have told her that but actually he had gone to Cairo. She was surprised but said nothing."
"I do not know how that is going to help." said the clerk.
"Oh! I had a long conversation as to why Mr. C. had gone to Cairo and not Alexandria. I must make Mrs. C. jealous and get her husband worried. Then I have a situation I can do something about."
When Mr. C. returned to the hotel Hassan was waiting for him. "I think you ought to know, sir, that I told Madame you had gone to Cairo." Mr. C. was astonished.
"But I went to Alexandria." He protested.
"I know sir, but I told Madame you had gone to Cairo because it would make her jealous."
"Jealous, why?" an annoyed Mr. C. asked.
Hassan was confidential. "I have much experience of women, sir. I have four wives and I have to be careful to see that all are happy."
"How do you do that?"
Mr. C. was bewildered. He could not think his wife would tell a waiter all her fears even if she was jealous. If only he could believe she was jealous. He must get such a ridiculous idea out of his head. She only thought of her first husband and never of him. He wished he did not lover her so much. He had had a difficult time since he had been at the Mena House. He felt his wife wanted him to hate her. If she really thought he had been to Cairo to see a girl and was jealous, as Hassan suggested, there was hope that she cared for him a little. Hassan was trying to help. Why not let him. He appeared to be on his side. Maybe Hassan did know how to handle women.
"What do you suggest I do now?" he asked the waiter. "I cannot be firm as I wish her to do as she wishes. All I want is her happiness."
"I know. I know!" Hassan's voice was soothing. "But you do not want her to become a drunkard?"
"A drunkard? What are you talking about?" asked the husband.
"She orders far too many whiskies when you are away, sir."
"How do you know?"
"Because I bring them." Hassan was wondering if he was going a bit too far. He was strictly speaking the truth. Two whiskies never hurt anyone. He prayed Mr. C. would not ask him the number but would think he meant about six. Mr. C. did not say anything. He just looked worried.
"Take my advice, sir. Be firm and all will be well."
When Mr. C. went to the room, Hassan waited downstairs wondering what was going on in room 36. He went into the bar and told the barman that should Mr. C. order drinks, he would like to the one to take them up. Almost before he was out of the bar Mr. C. telephoned down to ask that whisky, ice and water should be sent upstairs to his room.
Hassan entered number 36 with his tray. He looked at Mrs. C. She looked pleased to have her husband home. Mr. C. still looked a trifle bewildered.
"Whisky, please, Hassan," said Mrs. C.
"Do you think you ought to, Madame?"
"What are you talking about, Hassan?" asked Mrs. C. indignantly. "You know I like whisky."
Hassan looked at Mrs. C. significantly and poured out drinks for both husband and wife.
"You will be dining downstairs tonight?" asked the waiter.
"No!" said Mrs. C. quickly.
"Ob, but you must, Madame. Mr. C. insisted that you shall sit at a corner table and that tonight there will be pink champagne."
Mrs. C. was bewildered now, as Mr. C. remained. "When did I do this? He asked.
"Tonight for the anniversary."
"What anniversary?" Both Mr. And Mrs. C. asked the question together.
"Madame," said Hassan soothingly, "Mr. C. meant it as a surprise."
He looked at Mr. C. and winked. Mr. C. was busy thinking. Perhaps he ought to be more firm. "Darling, we are going down tonight. I insist we dine downstairs."
"But why tonight? What anniversary is it?"
Hassan was ready with the answer. "Number 36 is a very special room for those in love, Madame. On this particular night each year we have to decorate it with flowers. It is the anniversary of a royal romance, which took place in this very room fifty years ago. It so happened this year we were worried we might have to break the tradition. It is by chance that Mr. C. suddenly insisted that you should both dine in the Moorish dining room. Mr. C. told us that you had not dined there before. But how significant this will be on this night of nights! When you return, number 36 will be a bower of flowers." Mr. C. and Hassan both looked at Mrs. C. Would she acquiesce?
"I think it is a charming idea." she said.
"That this room should be decorated with flower?" asked Mr. C.
"No darling, that you should have ordered pink champagne, a special table and insist that I go downstairs to dine tonight. I should love to."
Mr. C. looked around for Hassan, but he was running down the main staircase three steps at a time, oblivious to two tourists climbing the stairs slowly. They both watched Hassan in amazement.
First, Hassan found the housekeeper and asked that she would see that several bowls of roses be placed around room 36 for a 'special occasion! Secondly, he ran to the kitchen, breathlessly ordering pink champagne on ice, a table in a corner for two and, still out of breath, he ran to the reception desk and told the junior clerk that, between them, they had saved yet another 'situation' at the Mena House.
We are not told how Mr. and Mrs. C. ended up, and I fear this ploy might not work so well fifty or more years later, but people in Egypt love lovers.