Tag Archives: Rudyard Kipling

The Golden Books

When Shepheard’s went up in flames back in January 1952, one of the notable losses was the hotel’s set of Golden Books, the ledgers in which decades of distinguished guests had been invited to sign their names. It used to be common practice for hotels to keep VIP guestbooks and use the names they contained as marketing collateral, to be listed in ads and promotional booklets. But it’s not just Shepheard’s Golden Books that were lost, because I don’t know of any surviving examples from any of Egypt’s grand old hotels – except, that is, for one.

It comes from the Winter Palace and covers the years 1920-1935, an exciting time coinciding as it does with the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb and the ten years of excavations that followed. I learned of the guestbook through an essay written by André Wiese, curator of the Egyptian Department at the Museum of Ancient Art and Ludwig Collection in Basel. He discovered the existence of the guestbook back in 1991 when he was preparing an exhibition devoted to Seti I. It was in the possession of Carmen Heusser, the daughter of Swiss hotelier Anton Badrutt, who managed the Winter Palace between 1920 and 1935.

Wiese was allowed to study the book and subsequently wrote a 22-page study (in German) that was published in an academic journal in 1998. He kindly sent me a copy, which I’ve translated. I’m not going to run the whole text because it’s 5,000 words long, but I will summarise it.

WP_Guestbook_02

‘Bound in parchment and leather, here we truly have a piece of history in front of us!’ Wiese begins. Inside, the fly-leaf is decorated with a hand-painted image of a cheery Tutankhamun (above) done by Austrian artist Anton ‘Tony’ Binder. Binder (1868-1944) was an Orientalist painter, who lived in Alexandria but travelled around Egypt gathering material for his oils of Egyptian landscapes and interiors. Some of his work was also printed on postcards. In addition to the Tutankhamun drawing, the book also contains sketches by him of hotel guests Howard Carter and Bernard Shaw.

A card painted by Tony Binder for Anton Badrutt when he departed the Winter Palace in 1936

A card painted by Tony Binder for Anton Badrutt when he departed the Winter Palace in 1936

According to his daughter, Badrutt liked collecting autographs, so this guestbook was something of a personal affair. As well as signatures it also contains notes of thanks addressed to Badrutt in person, and a number of photographs, including several of Carnarvon and Carter dated ‘Winter 1922-23, Luxor’. One is the famous image of Carnarvon and Lady Evelyn on arrival at Luxor station on 23 November 1922, being met by Carter and the Governor of Qena, just three days before they breached the tomb.

Also slipped into the guestbook is a menu for Christmas dinner on 25 December 1923 decorated with a guardian figure from the tomb of Tutankhamun, depicted befoe and after the dinner, in the latter case with a huge fat belly and smoking a pipe.

WP_Guestbook_03

Most of the space though is taken up with signatures, and it’s some collection. Wiese lists them: there are the statesmen, including former French prime minister Georges Clemenceau, Czech president Tomas Masaryk and ex-Tsar Ferdinand of Bulgaria – who were all in residence at the hotel at the same time; and the crowned heads, such as crown prince Edward of England, visiting in April 1930, who, six years later would be become king of England only to step down within the year, as well as the Belgian king and queen, Albert and Elizabeth, and the crown prince of Sweden, the future King Gustav VI Adolf of Sweden.

There’s an entry in the guestbook on 8 March 1929 by Rudyard Kipling and signatures from November of that year of the American silent film star Douglas Fairbanks and his wife, the equally famous Mary Pickford (there’s also a photograph of the pair with Anton Badrutt). German novelist Thomas Mann, who spent 10 days at the hotel, signed the book on 6 March 1930 (and left a lengthy inscription, which I was unable to translate), while George Bernard Shaw wrote on 26 December 1932, “I cannot make up my mind whether Luxor is the hottest place on earth or the coldest”.

Howard Carter by Tony Binder

Howard Carter by Tony Binder

Other random names and the dates they signed the book include John D Rockefeller Jr (15 Feb 1929), Evangeline Lindbergh, mother of Charles (24 Jan 1929), Somerset Maugham (14 Dec 1929), Nelli Melba (18 Feb 1930) and World Champion Heavy weight boxer Gene Tunney (23 Feb 1931), who added the message: ‘The charm of this lovely Winter Palace is only equalled by that of its guiding spirit Mr AR Badrutt’.

Wiese includes a lot of background on Badrutt, but I’ll save that for a future post.

George Bernard Shaw by Tony Binder

George Bernard Shaw by Tony Binder

Recently, I thought I might travel to Basel to see this wonderful piece of history for myself, so I emailed André Wiese to ask if he could put me in touch with Ms Carmen Heusser. His reply was tragic:

Dear Andrew

Thanks for contacting me again. I have no good news. Unfortunately the lady suffers in the meantime heavily from dementia and the guestbook has disappeared recently when she moved to the home for old people. There exists only our digital copy in the museum.

Best wishes,

André

And then there were none.

3 Comments

Filed under Grand hotels, Lost Egypt

Kipling’s Egypt

rudyard-kipling.preview

Eighty-four years ago today, The Egyptian Gazette of 14 February 1929 carried a notice of the arrival of well known author Rudyard Kipling (that’s him, above) and Mrs Kipling at Port Said. They’d landed the previous day and proceeded direct to Cairo. “Mr Kipling exhibited his well-known dislike of publicity,” reported the paper. “The British Vice Consul Mr Williamson-Napier went out in a special police launch to meet the distinguished visitors, but Mr Kipling seeing the interested crowd gathered for his arrival chose to go ashore in a smaller and less conspicuous launch, by which means he escaped popular attention.”

This wasn’t Kipling’s first visit to Egypt. He’d first passed through at the age of five, before the Suez Canal had been made. He also made a visit in 1913, when he’d stayed at the Semiramis (opened just six years previously) but since the weather was cold and wet, he didn’t stay long in Cairo, and instead made his way up the Nile to Luxor and Aswan on Thomas Cook’s SS Rameses III.

The 1913 trip inspired a series of letters, that were collected and published (Letters of Travel: 1892-1913), and include some typically pithy statements on matters relating to tourism in Egypt.

On sightseeing:
“For three weeks we sat on copiously chaired and carpeted decks, carefully isolated from everything that had anything to do with Egypt, under chaperonage of a properly orientalised dragoman. Twice or thrice daily, our steamer drew up at a mud-bank covered with donkeys. Saddles were hauled out of a hatch in our bows; the donkeys were dressed, dealt round like cards: we rode off through crops or desert, as the case might be, were introduced in ringing tones to a temple, and were then duly returned to our bridge and our Baedekers.”

On Americans in Egypt:
“Since the bulk of our passengers were citizens of the United States, Egypt in winter ought to be admitted into the Union as a temporary territory.”

On the Swiss in Egypt:
“The Swiss are the only people who have taken the trouble to master the art of hotel-keeping. Consequently, in the things that really matter – beds, baths, and victuals –they control Egypt.”

On Cairo:
“Modern Cairo is an unkempt place. The streets are dirty and ill-constructed, the pavements unswept and often broken, the tramways thrown, rather than laid down, the gutters neglected. One expects better than this in a city where the tourist spends so much every season. Granted that the tourist is a dog, he comes at least with a bone in his mouth, and a bone that many people pick. He should have a cleaner kennel”

By 1929, Kipling had obviously got over his dislike of Cairo because he and Mrs Kipling spent 13 days there, staying again at the Semiramis. Also at the hotel at that time, reported the Gazette, were the HH Aga Khan and large party, American mining magnate and millionaire Chester Beatty and future professor of Islamic art AC Cresswell. Quite a line up.

Cook's Nile Steamer

On 27 February, the couple boarded the SS Egypt (pictured above) for a 20-day voyage to Luxor and Aswan. Two years to the month later, in February 1931, they were back in Egypt once more: Kipling’s wife suffered from rheumatism and a doctor had recommended the Helwan as a health resort. They found it too cold and went once again up the Nile in search of warmth, spending 10 days in Aswan.

Thanks to books such as Kim and The Jungle Book, the name may always be associated with India, but Rudyard Kipling spent a significant amount of time in Egypt too.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Nile steamers, Travellers' tales

The prolific Douglas Sladen and his overachieving friends

The scene in front of the terrace at the Continental Hotel complete with the boy with the crocodile on his head

What does a person have to do to make their mark on posterity? Douglas Sladen was an author and a journalist who was nothing if not prolific. Born in 1856, he turned out more than 60 books before his death in 1947. He was for a while the editor of Who’s Who, and also the literary editor of To-Day. He was at the centre of Edwardian London literary life and yet who now has ever heard of him?

I encountered him, figuratively speaking, in Egypt. He wrote a book called Oriental Cairo (1911) that contains some entertaining descriptions of what a tourist would have seen in that city back in the first decade of the 20th century. His second chapter is called ‘Street Life in Cairo as seen from the Continental Hotel’:

There is one great advantage in staying at the Continental Hotel for the two or three months of the Cairo season: you can see, without dressing to go out, the most roaring farce ever presented off the stage. The great hotel has a nice sunny terrace with a balustrade which looks out on the Street of the Camel—the Regent Street of Cairo—and the Eskebiya Gardens and a regular museum of touts. It is doubtful which could be satirised more successfully as a human Zoological Gardens, the people who sit on the terrace behind the railings, Americans chiefly, with a strong dash of Jews, Turks, and Infidels, which last name the Mohammedan applies to the Levantine—or the extraordinary collection of parasites in the street below.

Those of the parasites, who are not dragomans have something to sell, generally something that no sane person would want to buy. The street Arab who walks about with a stuffed crocodile on his head must by this time be convinced of its unsaleability. He exhorts you to buy it, but so soon afterwards, without a real bargainer’s delay, invites you to take his photograph with it for a shilling.

I have seen stuffed crocodiles offered often, and once at least a live boa-constrictor and a live leopard—not a very old one—in a cage. Pigs in cages are comparatively common, and, as weight presents no difficulty to the Egyptian educated as a porter, men carry round all sorts of furniture for sale. I have seen men with quite large tables and cabinets on their backs patiently waiting for purchasers. I once saw a man with a palm-tree fourteen feet high on his head. Strawberry sellers are insistent in February, in spite of the fact that every foreigner knows or believes that their Egyptian vendors moisten the strawberries in their mouths whenever they look dusty.

You can read the whole of Oriental Cairo online here.

I assumed Sladen must have spent a considerable time in Egypt because he wrote no less than three weighty travel books about the place (the other two being Egypt and the English, 1908, and Queer Things About Egypt, 1910), as well as two novels set in the country. In fact, he was there just six months.

Portrait of Douglas Sladen by René de l'Hôpital, which hangs in the Octagon Room at York House in Twickenham

I was curious to find out more about him. I discovered the existence of an archive of his personal papers and then was bowled over to learn that this was held in the local-history library in my own neighbourhood of Richmond, on the Thames in southwest London. It turns out that Sladen was my near neighbour – at a century’s remove – living on Richmond Green from 1911 to 1923. (He lived in the rather grand Avenue House, long since demolished.) I spent a few Saturday afternoons looking through the contents of several boxes from the archive relating to his time in Egypt. They didn’t yield much – most of what they contained were yellowing clippings of reviews of his books and typed exhortations to his publisher to do more to promote them. But there were also handwritten and signed letters from fellow authors to whom Sladen had sent copies of his books, and these include Arthur Conan Doyle, H Rider Haggard and Rudyard Kipling; the creators of Sherlock Holmes, Allan Quartermain and Mowgli – that is some impressive peer group. If only Sladen could have taken the Arab boy with the crocodile on his head and thought up some adventures for him, he could have been the most famous of the lot.

3 Comments

Filed under Travellers' tales