Egyptian diplomat Hussein Roshdy was recently in touch with me asking about the Gezira Palace Hotel. Not the original Gezira Palace Hotel that opened in the former royal residence built for the visit of Empress Eugenie, but the “fake” Gezira Palace Hotel, which stole the name when the original closed. This was a new hotel that occupied part, or maybe all, of a 1940s (I’m guessing at the date) apartment block on the Corniche at Bulaq, exactly across from the real Gezira Palace. In the photo above, which is taken from the roof of the old Semiramis hotel some time in the 1960s, the building with the new Gezira Palace Hotel is one of the pair just to the right of the Aboulela Bridge in the distance. I wrote in Grand Hotels that “After the Suez War of 1956, this hotel was used almost exclusively by UN troops until their withdrawal after 1973. The hotel was demolished around 1980.” That is the sum total of my knowledge as far as the hotel goes. I also have these two photos, below, the second of which is taken on the hotel roof and shows Aboulela Bridge and Zamalek in the background. If anybody has any memories of this building, please get in touch.
Meanwhile, Hussein directed me to one of his favorite movies, a little known drama from 1964 directed by Youssef Chahine called Fagr Yom Gedid (Dawn of a New Day). It features plenty of beautifully shot footage of Cairo, including a brilliant and dizzying sequence on the stairs of the recently completed Cairo Tower. Towards the end of the movie, there is some aerial footage of the Aboulela bridge and you can briefly spot the original Gezira Palace in a decrepit state, half covered with scaffolding., before the camera sweeps down the Corniche at Maspero and past the fake Gezira Palace Hotel and the empty lot where the Ministry of Foreign Affairs would later be built.
AUC Press has a fantastic new book coming out late October called Classic Egyptian Movies, subtitled 101 Must-see Films. It’s a translation (by Sarah Enany) of a book first published in Arabic by film critic Sameh Fathy, in which he picks out his personal landmarks of Egyptian cinema. It’s interesting to see what makes the cut and what doesn’t. The bulk of the films are from the 1950s and ’60s, with only one film from the 21st century. There’s lots of Youssef Chahine, but even more Salah Abu Seif. Farid Shawqi is the actor who appears most, while Souad Hosni is the most represented actress. Each of the films gets a write-up arguing the case for its greatness, complemented by a full cast list and other credits. Best of all, each film is illustrated by its original poster and a film still. It makes for a gloriously colourful and visually rich book, which comes in a neat, compact format. The stylish design is by Gadi Farfour, who was also responsible for Grand Hotels of Egypt and On the Nile looking so great. (Full disclosure: I had the enjoyable job of editing Sarah’s translation.)