King Farouk and Me

King Farouk, with Begum Aga Khan. No date or location given.

The year was 1942 and I was eighteen years old. I was in Cairo on holiday arranged by my mother. She ran a hostel for the expats in Cairo. If I go into detail about mother’s job, I’ll never get to tell how I encountered King Farouk.

The fact is that mother knew tout le monde of the well to do Jewish community. I need to explain that mother spoke perfect French, which was the language spoken by tout le monde. Only servants spoke Arabic.  So mother knew everybody and she must have arranged my holiday in the hope, perhaps,  of my finding a rich husband… and she had someone in mind. But that is another story.

I had a wonderful time in a Cairo. The vast Giza Zoo, the museum, the pyramids. Picnic in private tents by the pyramids, a whole animal on the spit (a sheep?) and close to the famous luxury hotel – the Mena House Hotel.  It is so easy to stray from the main purpose of my story and so hard not to. Care was taken to give me a good time.  So to that end, mother and her friends recruited the gay Baron de Menasche to take me out one evening. He took me to dinner at the Mena House.

As you are probably aware, it was the grandest hotel in Egypt if not the Middle East.  We had a table for two not at all far from where King Farouk stood surrounded by a group of American officers. I had heard it said that when King Farouk spotted a pretty woman, he would not hesitate to take her home with him.

He did have mistresses who had no choice and could not say No. As it happened, King Farouk was too busy having drinks with the American officers, so that I was spared. As for my dinner with the Baron de Menasche, I believe he must have spent a rather dull evening doing his duty as a gentleman.  I have no memory of any details and how the evening ended. I keep a clear picture of the rather heavy king having drinks with the Americans, remembering the great relief of not having been picked to become another mistress of the Egyptian monarch.

King Farouk, with FDR, on the USS Quincy. Great Bitter Lake, February 1945.

So much more can be said about these two months in Cairo.

Tea at Groppi‘s, fish at the Auberge des Pigeons on a Monday – the night when no pigeons were served.  The cats waiting for the fish bones and the boring time I had with the young man, a son of a wealthy Jewish family – close friends of my mother.  His main fault was a rather prominent nose. Mother’s hopes of a rich son in law were shattered.

I had hopes of producing an exciting account of those days in Cairo, soon after the Battle of El-Alamein.  The most exclusive Ghezira Sporting Club and all those generals relaxing after the battle.  I remember lunch with a Jewish family by the Nile.  The Sudani servant in his long white robe, carrying the telephone in one hand and asking me in Egyptian French Mazmazelle maughuda u mush maughuda.

I hope I haven’t disappointed you.  I can assure you that I did sit at a table very close to where King Farouk was standing and who can tell? He might have noticed the beautiful young teenager at the next table.

Photographs courtesy of tikitoy998 and Crethi Plethi. Published under a Creative Commons license.