How I treasure old photos. They feature a bygone age, with bygone people that I loved so much and still miss.
Here are my great-grandparents with six of their seven children, including my grandmother, great aunts, and great uncles. As usual, my great-grandfather wore a fez.
A fez was normal headgear in Egypt at the time. Until the revolution in 1952, it was essential in the civil service, the armed forces, and the police. Worn at an angle, it could cut quite a dash, until a gust of wind made off with it. My grandfather never took to it. He’d say, ‘As a hat it is completely useless. It neither keeps off the sun, nor the rain, nor does it keep the ears warm in winter. It is like a flowerpot, that is all. You can’t even use it to hide from someone you want to avoid.’
Still, it suited some, like my Uncle Aziz.
Looking at more recent photos, you may gather that I liked food, swans, and my aunt Muriel. None of that has changed one bit.
My mother took a lot of pictures with a bulky Kodak 35mm that accompanied her everywhere around Alexandria. We lived in Alexandria but occasionally went to Cairo to visit an aunt who had, in a moment of madness, decided to move there. Alexandrians and Cairenes generally held each other in the kind of esteem that Oxford reserves for Cambridge.
Sometimes we travelled further afield, especially in summer. This was when hordes of Cairenes arrived by train, bus, or car, bringing their children, their nannies, their cousins, their baskets, their suitcases, and their ruckus. The government, too, moved to Alex, and not an inch of beach was left. Ugh.
Mother always travelled with the camera. I remember the case as if it were yesterday. Made of brown leather with a fuzzy lining, it was an object of fascination, and now I realise that it appears in over half the pictures from my early childhood. I don’t recall what the camera itself looked like, and obviously there are no photos of it.
No toy stood a chance when pitted against the appeal of the camera case. The doll was soon chucked on the ground by the deck chair.
I didn’t have a comfort blanket. With that camera case to hand, there was no need. However, as with many comfort objects, it didn’t last forever. My mother took a trip to Thailand. She returned to Alexandria sans Kodak, having dropped it in the Mae Klong river. I don’t remember what she bought to replace it. It just wasn’t the same.
Do you have old family photos? And, if so, do you enjoy them as much as I do?
If you’re interested, there’s lots more about twentieth-century Alexandria in my forthcoming book The Girls from Alexandria.