Point of No Return is distressed to learn of the passing of Suzy Vidal (Sultana Latifa) in Belgium. Suzy was a regular commenter on Point of No Return until poor eysight and general ill-health forced her to stop contributing her pithy observations. Suzy had something to say about almost everything. She had a hard life after her uprooting from Egypt but always retained a quirky sense of humour. She wrote a trilogy, The Jasmine necklace, recording her memoirs of her early life in Cairo, vignettes, popular proverbs, customs and expressions. In her memory PoNR is re-posting Lyn Julius's review of the Jasmine Necklace:
want to know why Egyptian women had beautiful and healthy hair, Suzy
Vidal will give away their secret: castor oil! For congested eyes and
sties, follow Suzy’s grandmother’s remedy: apply a child’s urine on
closed lids. The Jasmine necklace does not always come up
smelling of roses – there are lice, cockroaches and warts aplenty. But
the book also features traditions, recipes, a catalogue of picturesque
Arabic words and expressions and untold other clues to this colourful,
quirky but vanished world.
The author Suzy aka Sultana has two names because her headstrong
mother refused to name her after her mother-in-law Sultana, as was the
custom. Suzy was brought up on the fourth floor of a Cairo hotel because
the family could not afford to rent a downtown apartment. Nevertheless
the Extadey Hotel was a paradise for children, and Suzy sketches vivid
portraits of the family’s neighbours and friends. The hotel’s permanent
guests reflected the cosmopolitan and multilingual make-up of Egypt
before the war – with its Armenians, Jews and Greeks. During World War 2
the US army requisitioned part of the hotel, but indulged the residents
with sweets and treats.
With the stormclouds gathering over Egypt’s Jewish community, it is
interesting that Suzy’s family – Italian passport–holders with no
Italian - were subject to the same harassment and pressure as other
Jews. While they were not expelled overnight like French and British
nationals, the Vidals received no assistance from the Italian consulate.
When the time came to leave in 1957, the family managed to smuggle out
Suzy’s mother’s jewellery in a Player’s cigarette packet, but their
capital disappeared with a dishonest ‘passeur’.
“ Only mountains don’t meet.” This saying repeated in Suzy Vidal’s book
expresses the hope that her large family – scattered to the four
corners of the earth - would once again come together after their
uprooting from Egypt. But life was a slog and money tight for the
refugees, now in Israel, Australia, Brazil and Italy. The close-knit
community they had known in Cairo had gone forever. Some never recovered
from the shock – Suzy’s parents both died in penury in their 50s.
A graduate of the American University in Cairo, Suzy had to abandon her
dreams of becoming a university professor in order to become a shorthand
typist. Their exile in Italy was a series of bitter experiences and
disappointments as the family struggled to make ends meet. But this book
is a fitting tribute to Suzy’s family and community, and a lasting
reminder of their roots to the next generation.
Suzy's story for the weekend
Something light for Tisha B'Ab
Suzy's blog is at http://sultanalatifasblog.blogspot.co.uk/