From the Egyptian Gazette, of 6 December 1907.
From Our Own Correspondent
Whatever the weather is elsewhere, no one can have any excuse for grumbling about it in Luxor; and no wonder that day by day fresh visitors are arriving from the North. Each day here is more beautiful than the last, from the rising up of the sun until the last moment of the fading away of its afterglow, there is no moment when Luxor is anything but gorgeous. The atmosphere is dry and invigorating, the temperature warm without being torrid, there is sight seeing and exercise for the healthy and energetic and the most luxurious dolce far-niente for the quasi invalid, and one of the finest and most complete hotels at the command of all.
It is less than a year ago that the Winter Palace Hotel was opened to the public* and indeed it seems but yesterday that the workmen were swarming through it night and day to finish it in time for the inauguration. The approach which we remember cumbered with heaps of broken bricks and debris is now adorned with grass and flower beds; the wide waste behind the hotel s now taking shape as an ample garden; and before many weeks are over will be verdant with grass and rich in flowers.
Already there are many guests at the hotel which has been open now for several weeks. Close upon a hundred covers were laid for dinner only yesterday, and many other arrivals are expected shortly. The old Luxor Hotel is to be re-opened shortly, and the Karnak on the river bank will again be sued as an annexe by both the Winter Palace and the Luxor. The Savoy Hotel formerly under the direction of Mr Runkovitz is to be reopened under new management this season. It has well established clientele, and certainly its situation overhanging the river and away from the town are attractive points in its favour.
The Duke and Duchess of Devonshire with their party on board the dahabeah ‘Serapis’ spent some time in the vicinity of Luxor on their way South. Mr Robert Hichens** is still here, living on board his dahabeah moored on the further side of the river; but often coming on shore and frequently taking his meals at the Winter Palace. It is said that he does not intend going further south this trip; but in all probability will leisurely find his way down river to Cairo, storing the while many valuable impressions for future use.
Mr Douglas Sladen*** is also gathering materials for a book on Egypt, for though a great traveler in other lands this is his first visit upon the Nile. He is on his way to Khartoum accompanied by his wife, and by Miss Norma Lorrimer (also an authoress) and Miss Potter. They intend returning to Cairo about the middle of January and will in all probability remain there for the rest of the season.
* And still the Winter Palace website persists in claiming the hotel was built in 1886.
** Author of Egypt and its Monuments, which would be published the following year with illustrations by Jules Guerin, who I blogged about here.
*** Who the following year would publish Egypt and the English, the first of a number of books about Egypt – I blogged about him here.
When a few years ago I interviewed the owner of Cairo’s Windsor hotel, William Doss (who was then 94), his earliest memories of the place were not of the hotel but of the bar–restaurant that once occupied the ground ﬂoor. This was the Parisiana, one of several popular night spots on Alﬁ Bey, along with the neighbouring Kursaal and the St James. As a student in the 1930s, Doss told me, he would go each Thursday evening to sit at one of the Parisiana’s pavement tables and order a beer for two and a half piasters. The café also appears in the memoir The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit, as the venue where the parents of author Lucette Lagnado ﬁrst met: “Edith was sitting outdoors at La Parisiana, Cairo’s most popular café, enjoying a café turque with her mother, when she noticed the man in white.”
The café is, of course, long gone. It was ‘foreign-owned’, and in the wake of the 1952 Revolution it was either nationalized or the owner just sold up and quit. Doss remembers the space becoming a showroom for a state collective of furniture makers before being occupied by the Ministry of Communication. This week I received an email from the great-granddaughter of a/the former owner of the Parisiana, an Armenian called Kapriel Ayrandjian. This lady wonders if I have any further information on the Parisiana and/or her great-grandfather. Unfortunately I don’t but I wonder if anybody reading this blog has? If so, please do get in touch.
There’s been a distinct slowing down on the new-post front on this site of late. Well, there’s good reason for that as I am currently immersed in writing the follow-up to Grand Hotels. The new book is all about the Nile steamers. It’s mainly concerned with the period from the 1860s to the decline of Nile cruising during World War II – although there are a handful of steamers that survive until today and I will be tracking them right up to the present date. As with Grand Hotels, the story will be told using contemporary accounts and journals, accompanied by huge amounts of vintage photography, posters, advertising graphics and other memorabilia. I’m well into the writing and I aim to deliver the book to my publisher, the AUC Press, next summer; it should be in the shops late 2014/early 2015.
In the meantime, if anybody has any information relating to Nile steamers, I’d love to hear from you – you can contact me at andrewhumphreys [at] btinternet.com.
Just released, this gorgeous poster for the forthcoming film by Wes Anderson (Royal Tenenbaums, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Moonrise Kingdom), whose The Darjeeling Limited featured some very beautiful bespoke Louis Vuitton luggage. I know, I’m very specific in what I look for in a film.
The new film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, takes place in early 20th-century Hungary and revolves around the goings-on at the titular hotel, where a legendary concierge (Ralph Fiennes) takes a young employee (Saoirse Ronan) under his wing to become his trusted protégé. It also stars F. Murray Abraham, Edward Norton, Mathieu Amalric, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Lea Seydoux, Jeff Goldblum, Jason Schwarztman, Jude Law, Tilda Swinton, Harvey Keitel, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Murray and Owen Wilson, which is some line up. It’s out some time next year.
In a column headed ‘Hotel Life: Semiramis Hotel’, the Egyptian Gazette of 27 November 1907 ran the following:
Many additions and alterations have been made to this enormous hotel, which before the end of December should be completely finished. Already the roof garden is planted out with flowers and shrubs; and when the little tea kiosks etc are finished there should be no pleasanter spot in Cairo wherein to while away a lazy hour. And no more beautiful bird’s eye view of Cairo can be imagined than from that lofty vantage ground, the wide panorama stretching away on every side, distant desert and pyramids melting away into the sky line on one hand, the Citadel backed by the Moqattam Hills on another, and the broad expanse of the river flowing peacefully below.
And here are those views, front and back:
The best view of all though is the one below, taken from the air, which shows the Semiramis hotel itself, on the east bank of the Nile right beside the Kasr el-Nil bridge. Immediately north of the hotel is the reverse-E shape of the Ismailia barracks, now the Hilton/Ritz-Carlton hotel and, beside that, the Egyptian Museum. Two blocks south of the Semiramis is the British residence, now the British Embassy, with its lawns rolling right down to meet the river because this is well before the creation of the Corniche. I don’t know the exact date of the photo but it’s pre-1936 because the Anglican Cathedral has yet to appear on the plot just north of the barracks. (Click on the pic to enlarge.)
The images below come from a small advertising booklet issued by the Mena House some time soon after 1900, which was when the electric tram, mentioned on one of its pages, first starting running on Pyramids Road. Note, in addition to horses, donkeys and camels, the hotel keeps its own herd of cows to supply guests with nutritious milk – how many hotels can boast that these days?
For those of you with an iPad, Grand Hotels of Egypt is now available as an iBook. It’s not an abridged version, it’s the whole text and all the images. All the images and more, in fact, because we’ve added some expanded picture galleries and a handful of new old photos. Everything can be blown up to full-screen and, what, with the backlighting, the pictures look fantastic. Another bonus is that the book is fully searchable. It’s available exclusively (they won’t have it any other way) on iTunes.
I was in Paris last week and I went to the cinema – not just any cinema, but the magnificent cinema above. It’s a place I’ve passed it many times on trips to Paris over the years, but previously the building was always derelict and boarded up. Apparently, it had been that way since the 1980s. But recently it has undergone a three-year long restoration and the regenerated Louxor – Palais de Cinema opened in April this year.
It’s a beautiful example of Egyptian-inspired Art Deco that followed in the wake of the 1922 discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb – except that this theatre was built the year before Carter’s epic find, in 1921. One theory is, it was designed this way to capitalise on the massive success of the 1917 silent film Cleopatra staring Theda Bara.
After the cinema closed, the building was a disco and a gay nightclub. Now it’s back to showing films. Good films, too, with an eclectic programme heavy on arthouse and world cinema, the latter reflecting the make-up of neighbouring multi-racial Barbès district.
The Ancient Egyptian theming isn’t limited to the mosaics and columns on the façade – the main auditorium also has a painted relief spanning the whole of the room and moldings of pharaonic heads. I particularly loved the 1920s bar up on the third floor, which has a small outdoor terrace from where you can see the roof-line mosaics close up – or, if you are facing the other way, the domes of nearby Sacré-Cœur. You can use the bar even if you aren’t intending to watch a film. The Louxor is in front of Barbès-Rochechouart Metro station, one stop from the Gare du Nord.
Another piece by the prolific Willy Burger, whose postcards and Egyptian Hotels Ltd brochure I’ve posted previously. In this case, it’s a single-sheet brochure for the Continental-Savoy dating from the late/early ’30s. The dealer I bought it from also threw in his’n’hers party invitations for a fancy dress ball at the hotel for the evening of 30 January 1932.
In Grand Hotels of Egypt, I tell the story of two roaming lions. One morning, just before the 1914–18 War, the Gezira Palace hotel was visited by Lord Kitchener, then the British Consul-General, who was escorted around the grounds by hotel impresario Charles Baehler. Baehler asked his guest if he would allow himself to be photographed at the hotel, but Kitchener said no. A short time later Baehler received a message from Kitchener’s office saying he would reconsider the photo if the hotel would make him a present of a pair of marble lions that he’d spotted in the grounds. Baehler agreed and the statues were transferred to the grounds of the British Embassy in Cairo, where they remain today, one either side of steps leading up to the garden entrance to the Residence.
We searched long and hard for a photograph of the lions for the book and, eventually, one was found, supplied by the British Embassy in Cairo itself. Now I find another (below), this one in the archives of the Imperial War Museum in London; it shows British ambassador Sir Miles Lampson with Lady Lampson in the garden of the Embassy at Cairo, taken possibly in 1942 but definitely by Cecil Beaton, of whom more in a future post.