So farewell then, Continental-Savoy

CS001

I was in Cairo two weeks ago when the demolition crews were moving at uncommon speed, rapidly erasing the building that was the Continental-Savoy from its Downtown site of over 150 years. There has been a sizeable hotel here on Opera Square since 1865, when the foundation stone for the New Hotel was laid in anticipation of the hordes of international dignitaries and freeloaders who would be hitting Egypt for the opening of the Suez Canal (read all about it here). That was demolished and replaced by the Grand in 1890, which then became the Grand Continental and eventually the Continental-Savoy. I’ve written on the history of the hotel elsewhere on this site (here) and there’s a meaty chapter on it in my book Grand Hotels of Egypt, so no need to repeat it here. Suffice to say that those rooms and corridors have witnessed a lot of history. I’m gratified to see that this has been acknowledged in the local media, where there has been a lot of fuss made about the building and its demolition. Typically, a lot of it is nonsense. An article in Egypt Today called it “one of the most beautiful buildings in Egypt,” which is just rubbish and Zahi Hawass has weighed in demanding the building must be preserved. He’s a little late. The building has been in a parlous state as long as I’ve known it – which goes back to the 1980s, when there was a clinic down one decrepit corridor where inoculations against yellow fever were issued to African travellers. The building was beyond saving even then. It had already ceased functioning as a hotel because who would want to stay on Opera Square? Back when the hotel was built this was the social hub of modern Cairo, with the opera house and the park-like Ezbekiyya Gardens, with actual trees, lawns and a lake. By the 1980s, the only park was the car park where the opera used to stand; half the Ezbekiyya had been concreted over and the rest was a dusty wasteland. Tourists now preferred to stay beside the Nile, where the river breezes made the air more breathable. The only surprise is that it has taken so long for the Continental-Savoy to go. While I’m sad to see it disappear, I completely understand that it had to go. It was a rotting carcass of something that had long-since died. The big fear, of course, is what replaces it. Cairo does not have a good track record when it comes to new architecture. Just take a drive around New Cairo. Or closer to home, take a look at what they have built on the former site of Shepheard’s or the National (here).

For now, let’s just remember it as it was:

CS002

CS003

CS004

CS005

CS006

CS007

CS008

CS010

CS009

CS012

CS013

CS015

CS014

Leave a Comment

Filed under Grand hotels, Hotels then and now

An early aviation meet

MeetingHeliopolis

I bought the wonderful poster that in a slightly Photoshopped form features on the cover of Grand Hotels of Egypt from an auction house in New York. I’ve been on its mailing list ever since. The latest online catalogue pinged into my inbox yesterday and one of the items in a forthcoming 25 February sale caught my eye (see above). According to the catalogue description it is a poster promoting the first aviation meet held in Africa, which was organized by Baron Édouard Empain and took place at Heliopolis. This poster doesn’t include the date, but it was 6–13 February 1910. In other words, just seven years after the historic Wright Brothers flight that marked the birth of powered aviation.

poster345

For the purpose of the meet an Egyptian Aero Club was created, and the event was also supported by the Automobile Club of Egypt, the Egyptian Tourism Association and the French Ligue National Aérienne. The head of the organising committee was Prince Ahmed Fouad, who would in 1922 become King Fouad I. A five-kilometre course was laid out in the desert, overlooked by two grandstands, and 12 pilots and 18 planes were entered in the competition. The flyers arrived by ship from France. Several had their planes damaged en route. Among the pilots was the Baroness Raymonde de Laroche, real name Élise Deroche, and the first woman ever to enter an aviation meeting. A total prize fund of 212,000 francs was raised for what would be several days of competitions for distance, speed and altitude. One of the events was the Prix Boghos Pacha Nubar, offering 10,000 francs for a flight from Heliopolis around the Cheops pyramid and back.

committee345
The organising committee for the meet

latham345-1
One of the flyers and the Heliopolis meet

The official opening day was Sunday 6 February, a perfect day for flying with a clear sky and no wind. Several pilots went up and made test hops. One landing caused a horse to take fright and it ran over a Mr Tarihaki, who had to be taken to hospital by ambulance. Flying was a new and enormous novelty and the first day of the event drew 40,000 people. The following days were a bit hit and miss: at this time the planes were little more than string and canvas, and any bad weather meant they stayed grounded. One day’s flying was cancelled because of a sandstorm, while heavy winds on another day caused the race to the Pyramids to be called off. Mechanical mishaps and crashes – one pilot crashed four times – kept other aircraft grounded but at least there were no deaths (death being a common occupational hazard for early aviators). You can find out more about the meet here.

As for the poster, it was painted by French artist Marguerite Montaut, who was the wife of a famous French automobile illustrator Ernest Montaut. She specialised in aviation subjects, which she sometimes painted under the pseudonym Gamy, an anagram of her nickname Magy. Here’s some more of her work:

Gamy001

Vedrines flying his 'Borel' monoplane, c 1911.

Gamy004

Gamy0032

The Heliopolis poster is being sold by Poster Auctions International of New York; the estimate is $1,200 to $1,500, which strikes me as very reasonable given its rarity and historical significance, not to mention its beauty.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Art and artists, Lost Egypt

Egypt’s first lady of horror

EhlyEhrenM_Obelisk1st

I was doing an image search online recently for something or other when the cover above came up in the results. I had to have it. It turns out the book was published back in 1988 and is long out of print, but it was easy enough to find a copy on ebay. I did try reading it but I didn’t get very far because, well, sometimes you can judge a book by its cover. Much more interesting is the story behind its author.

EhrenMoreenEhly_authorphoto2

Ehren M Ehly was the pseudonym of Egyptian-American author Moreen Le Fleming Ehly. She was born in Heliopolis, Cairo in 1929, spent part of her youth in London, but then moved back to Heliopolis, where she attended St Clare’s College (it still exists). In her late teens she competed in track and field for various sporting clubs. According to her obituary, she was also ‘a noted beauty’ (that’s her, above) and won the Miss Egypt title in 1949 in the presence of King Farouk at the Auberge des Pyramides nightclub. Coincidentally, in the 10 April 1950 edition of Life magazine, in an article titled ‘The Problem King of Egypt’, there is mention of this very contest, in which it says, ‘No sooner had the judges announced their decision than a message was sent over from the king’s table indicating that His Majesty was displeased with the verdict. The judges hastily reversed themselves and awarded the cup to another girl.’ The obituary doesn’t mention whether Ms Ehly was the favoured or disfavoured girl.

zm_angelo
Bathing beauties at the Auberge des Pyramides, some time in the 1950s

She met her future husband Robert, a US marine stationed as an embassy guard, at a sporting club in Cairo (the US embassy in Cairo and its marine guards feature in the early pages of Obelisk), however, they were separated when Ehly and her mother fled Egypt during the Black Saturday riots in 1952. They were later reunited in London, where Ehly was working at the venerable Flemings Hotel on Half Moon Street. They married in London in December 1952 but, according to the obituary, encountered bureaucratic problems getting Ehly into the United States. The story goes that the way was smoothed with the help of Ralph Edwards, host of TV gameshow Truth or Consequences, who invited Robert onto the programme to judge a beauty contest and had Ehly surprise him by popping out of an oversized milk carton.

The couple settled in the US and lived for a brief time in Louisiana before settling in California. Ehly worked for many years at Sears & Roebuck, before she quit to take up writing classes. She intended writing romance but somehow wound up turning out horror, possibly influenced by some of the books she had read in her father’s library, notably H Rider Haggard’s She. Obelisk was her first novel, followed shortly by Totem.

EhlyEhrenM_Obelisk1st

EhlyEhrenM_ObeliskStepback

EhlyEhrenM_Totem1st

EhlyEhrenM_TotemStepback

She wrote four pulp horror novels in total in the space of around four years before coming to a sudden stop. I can’t help but wish she had written her memoirs instead. She died on 26 December 2012, survived by three children, seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Egyptomania

Silver-service souvenirs

I know we are well past Christmas, but if there is anyone out there who feels they would like to buy me a late gift then I have just thing. Currently being offered on eBay by a seller in Australia is a set of seven solid silver forks bearing the stamp of the Anglo-American Nile Company (the actual wording is ‘ANGLO-AMERICAN LINE OF NILE STEAMERS’). They were likely deployed for dinners aboard the company’s steamers some time in the late 19th or early 20th century. The only trouble is my Ikea knives and spoons are going to look a little pathetic by comparison.

Forks_001

Forks_002

Forks_003

Forks_004

Forks_005

1 Comment

Filed under Nile steamers

Belzoni, Soane and Seti I

The Sir John Soane Museum is one of the most extraordinary places in London. It is not really a museum, it is the former home of a great Georgian architect and collector extraordinaire. It is actually three houses knocked into one – that does it an injustice, the houses are intricately interlinked – and all are filled with a cornucopia of antiques, painting, sculpture and architectural bric-a-brac. Rather than me try to describe it any further, take a look at these photographs:

494A0401

IMG_4586

Basement Ante Room in the Soane Museum. Photo_ Gareth Gardner

Sir_John_Soane's_Museum_PressImage_Gareth_Gardner_1-1

4c05da57-8183-4b28-ba36-8207bec06c2b-2060x1373

Right now there is more reason than ever for anyone with an interest in Egypt to visit. Soane’s greatest acquisition was the sarcophagus of the pharaoh Seti I, which is on permanent display in the basement space. Running until April is a temporary exhibition on the background to the sarcophagus. It was removed by Belzoni from Seti I’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings and transported to England where it was first offered to the British Museum. When the museum declined to meet Belzoni’s asking price, Soane stepped forward. Getting the 3,000-year-old relic into the house involved knocking down a sizeable chunk of the back wall. When all was done, and the wall rebuilt, Soane then threw a three-day party to introduce London to his new prize possession.

soanelarge

0adb8d548cbbc0b3c3ed166d6479f417

evening-opening-by-candlelight-sensational-lates-hendricks

This exhibition retells the story and also includes some of the wonderful watercolours made by Belzoni and his assistants in Seti’s tomb.

belzoni-exhibition-soane

Even if you can’t make it for the exhibition, Sir John Soane’s home is worth a visit any time you are in London. And the sarcophagus will still be there.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Egyptologists and Egyptology

Edward Ardizzone in Cairo

ARDIZLicence

So, more about that Parade cover I posted before Christmas. Or, more specifically, more about the person who drew it. Edward Ardizzone (1900–79) was once a hugely popular English artist and illustrator, revered in particular for his series of Little Tim children’s books. During World War II he worked as a war artist, documenting the experiences of soldiers and civilians in England and across Europe. While sketching the devastation caused by the ongoing Blitz in London he was arrested by the Home Guard as a spy. In 1942, the War Office sent Ardizzone to the Middle East. He arrived in Cairo in May during preparations for the Allied offensive at El Alamein. He was given lodgings in Garden City, in a room above the offices of the soldiers’ magazine Parade, for which he did illustrations and that special Christmas cover.

Even before I discovered his Cairo connection, I’d always been an Ardizzone fan. For me, it is his love of the intimate and ordinary, along with his humour. While in Egypt he went out into the desert, attached to the mechanized Second Battalion of the Rifle Brigade, and dutifully recorded scenes of warfare, but I suspect he was much more at home in Cairo. He followed the soldiers into the bazaars and drew them having their photographs taken or shopping for silks and other luxuries to send back home to England where such things were unavailable. In London he was an avid frequenter of pubs, which he celebrated in a wonderful little book called The Local, which is full of his drawings of humble public barrooms and their gossipy, boozy clientele. In Cairo he sought out similar places. He frequented places like Badia’s Casino, Groppi’s and the Gezira Club, which he drew, leaving us tantalizing sketches of the city’s wartime nightlife as experienced by off-duty British officers (all such places were off-limits to common soldiers, of course).

ARDIZBadia
Badia’s Casino

ARDIZBarBadia
The Bar at Badia’s Casino

ARDIZGeziraClub
The Gezira Club

ARDIZGroppisLightHorse
Light Horse at Groppi’s

Ardizzone also drew a nightclub called Dolls. One of the posts on this site last year featured pages from Schindler’s Guide to Cairo, from 1942/43, and on one of those pages is an ad for ‘Dolls music hall and cabaret’. It’s not somewhere I know anything about but from the guide’s description it sounds quite a joint: on Sharia Malika Farida (these days Abdel Khalek Sarwat), it is described as one of Cairo’s leading cabarets, with a hundred tables and entertainment nightly by the “well-known” Black and White Band. When the cabaret began the dance floor was automatically raised to give everyone the best view.

Doll's Cabaret: the Girl in Black
Dolls Nightclub

Ardizzone was in Egypt for just a few months before moving on to Sicily, mainland Italy and Normandy before being discharged from the army in 1945. He lived until 1979 producing masses of work, mostly illustrations for books, but also pieces of commercial advertising and other odd commissions such as an altar piece. Sadly, he is very much out of fashion these days, although there was an excellent exhibition devoted to his work and life here in London last year and, to tie in with it, a superb book Edward Ardizzone: Artist and Illustrator by Alan Powers (Lund Humphries, £40).

Leave a Comment

Filed under Art and artists

Compliments of the season, Mrs ‘Arris

ARDIZParade

The cover of Parade magazine, 19 December 1942, entitled “The Soldiers Dream” or “Christmas Eve at the Local” and drawn by Edward Ardizzone. Parade was published in Cairo and distributed to the Allied forces in Egypt and around the Mediterranean. More on Ardizzone and Egypt to come in the New Year. Meanwhile, my own compliments of the season to you.

1 Comment

Filed under Art and artists, Lost Egypt

Christmas at Shepheard’s, 1898

Christmas_Shepheards

George Warrington Steevens (1869–1900) was a British journalist, the most famous war correspondent of his time. He accompanied Kitchener to Khartoum and covered the Second Boer War in South Africa. En route to the latter he spent time enough in Egypt to toss off a state of the nation study, Egypt in 1898, published by Dodd, Mead & Co of New York, 1899. A veteran of the battlefield it was unlikely he was going to have much good to say about the lah-di-dah society of his fellow Englishmen in Cairo and, sure enough, he didn’t.

He certainly did not like the company at his hotel: “Inside Shepheard’s you will find just the Bel Alp in winter quarters. All the people who live in their boxes and grand hotels, who know all lands but no languages, who have been everywhere and done nothing, looked at everything and seen nothing, read everything and know nothing – who spoil the globe by trotting on it.”

He was in residence at Shepheard’s on 25 December: “I woke this morning in the usual cage of mosquito-gauze, rang the bell, and the usual brown face under a tarbush poked itself in at the door: ‘Good Christmas, sar,’ it said. By Jove! Yes, it was Christmas Day; and looking out of window I saw, for the first time in Egypt, a true English sky, heavy and yellow. It was chilly cold too; Egypt is not near so warm as it looks. Looking down from the window, I started. Was I still asleep, or did I really see that great white bird, stork-billed, duck-footed, waddling placidly up to the back-door of Shepheard’s? And then I remembered that a tame pelican of great dignity was wont to disport himself there; but that took all the Christmas out of my mouth.”

“When I got up I found the hotel full of bouquets of roses; a few people went out later, ostensibly to church; but otherwise the wandering English made Christmas Day much like any other day. No such luck for the British residents of Cairo. It seems that when they first came here, the society of Cairo was much concerned to find that they had no day for all going round calling on each other, as Continentals do on New Year’s Day, Levantine Christians on their New Year’s Day, and Mussulmans at Bairam. On consideration, the society of Cairo decided that the British ought to have such an anniversary, and fixed on Christmas Day as the most suitable. So the ladies sit at home all the afternoon dealing out tea, and the gentlemen go round, calling on everybody else, and Egyptian friends call on everybody after the same manner; so that the whole British colony, with native auxiliaries, rotates in a body round itself all Christmas afternoon. A stranger, I was called on for no such effort; so I went out peacefully to lunch.”

john-maler-collier-1850-1934-united-kingdom-portrait-of-george-warrington-steevens
Portrait of George Warrington Steevens by John Maler Collier

Leave a Comment

Filed under Shepheard's

Investing in Grand Hotels

I assure you, I don’t spend all my time checking how my books are doing on Amazon. But earlier today a friend emailed to say I should take a look. A while ago Grand Hotels of Egypt sold out in hardback and is now only available in paperback. Of course, anything that’s scarce goes up in value, but take a look at this (click on the image to enlarge):

Screen Shot 2017-11-26 at 13.50.57

One hundred and thirteen pounds and nineteen pence! That’s crazy. But considerably less crazy than this:

Screen Shot 2017-11-26 at 13.51.14

I think the hardback originally sold at a full cover price of £30, so if these Amazon sellers are to be believed it has now increased in value to the tune of over 2000%. Not even central London property gives that sort of return. When we launched the book with a party in 2012, we sold 120 copies that night, which I am now severely regretting. If I’d kept all those books for myself and just sat on them, I’d be looking at a stash worth over £80,000. Instead, I only have two or three copies. Tell you what though, I’ll do you a deal, one could be yours for just a nice round £670.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Book news

In the company of TH Usborne esq

USBORNECover

I own a small grey-blue volume titled Usborne’s Guide to Egypt and the Levant. It is aged and worn, and really doesn’t look like much, but it’s a book that fascinates me. Published in 1840, it is, as far as I know, the earliest proper guidebook to Egypt. By ‘proper guidebook’ I mean not an account of a journey, but specifically a book of practical information compiled to help those who would travel in the author’s footsteps. The best-known such guides in the 19th century were those published by the firms of John Murray and Karl Baedeker, but the first Murray’s Handbook to Egypt would not be published until 1847 and the first Baedeker on Egypt didn’t appear until 1877. Which makes Usborne’s guide a real trailblazer – but also something of a mystery.

USBORNEtitlepage

TH Usborne of St James’s Square, London, is the author not the publisher and that is the sum total of everything I know about him. (Ziad Morsi, a student at Southampton University, has succeeding in uncovering some solid biographical information – see the comments section.) As far as I’ve been able to discover, there are no other Usborne guides. The publisher is Cradock & Co (formerly Baldwin & Cradock) of Paternoster Row, London, a company about which little information exists, although a search on the internet throws up a handful of its other titles, including Guy’s British Spelling Book, A Manual of Music, The Flower Gardener’s Manual, The Fruit Gardener’s Manual, Domestic Brewing and The Steam Engine: Familiarly Described with a Brief Account of its History and Uses. All these were published in the 1840s and early 1850s, suggesting the company was short lived. The only other guidebook Cradock & Co seems to have published was Madeira: Its Climate and Scenery by Robert White.

Judging by his introduction to the Guide to Egypt and the Levant, Usborne appears to have been a bit of a chancer: ‘Without having decided on any particular course of travel, I left England in the winter of 1837, and betook myself to the shores of the Mediterranean,’ he writes. The lack of planning, he goes on to explain, caused him to spend both time and money unprofitably, and so he penned his guide to prevent others from repeating the worst of his mistakes. Usborne’s audience was not the leisure traveller but ‘East Indians’, who were the soldiers and civil servants of the British Empire enroute from England to postings in India. A sizeable number of pages are spent detailing the arrangements of mail-pioneer Mr Thomas Waghorn for processing transients on from Alexandria by boat up to Cairo and then, by either small spring cart (known as omnibuses), donkey litter or camel, across the Eastern Desert to Suez and a boat bound for Bombay.

DesertStation
One of Waghorn’s desert stations, from the Illustrated London News, 1857

Coverage of the sights of Cairo and Upper Egypt is offered as an add-on for anyone wishing to break their journey. Except, Usborne doesn’t think anyone should dally for too long. Of Cairo’s 300 mosques he declares only three are worth visiting. He highlights the slave market and dancing girls, and devotes several pages to a description of a extremely dull performance by a magician of dubious credentials. Out at the Pyramids, the great monument of Cheops gets four lines but there is close to a whole page on the nearby ovens used to aid the hatching of chicks.

Usborne’s knowledge of ancient Egypt is next to non-existent, so the monuments of Upper Egypt are covered in the skimpiest of fashion. It’s not that long since Henry Salt had engaged Belzoni to treasure hunt at Thebes and both these gentlemen feature in the guide, as their names probably meant more to readers at this time than the names of any pharaoh. One of the most detailed descriptions concerns ‘Belzoni’s Tomb’ (below, in an 1855 watercolour by George de General Sausmarez), better known these days as the tomb of Seti I. Usborne reached Aswan but went no further – he possibly never even saw Philae as it gets just a single sentence in his book. Abu Simbel does not feature at all.

2012FJ9843_jpg_l

With a profusion its timetables and lists of prices (although no maps), Usborne’s guide would have done a good job of getting the traveller to Egypt and beyond (it goes on to cover Palestine, Syria, Turkey and Andalusia) but it would not have helped them learn much along the way. In fact, the author’s love of a good yarn makes the guide positively disinformational – he describes a venomous tarantula found in Upper Egypt that derives its poison from feeding on the bodies of the dead.

I have never seen another copy of this rarest of Egypt guidebooks, although I’m told one came up for auction in London about ten years ago. If anybody knows anything at all about TH Usborne esq, please do get in touch.

1 Comment

Filed under Baedeker and other guides