En-route Cairo to Nairobi
via BOAC flying boat "Carpentaria"
29 May 1945 (Tuesday)
Want to give you my impression of Egypt, or rather the Cairo area before I get it confused with what is unfolding ahead. This trip is like a dream. From my diary I note my last to you was dated 23rd and posted from Naples. We took off from Naples that day after an old friend of mine, Majo Vic Bowers, had driven down to the airfield with me. He is with the AMG (Rys) at Naples. He is a member of "the Shoelands Club". We set down for lunch in Malta, after flying South between Sicily and Italy - Straits of Messina. Had a good view of both Vesuvius and Mr Etna. Malta is like a stone platform set in the Mediterranean Sea. A picturesque twin-turreted church near the airfield there. A sleepy stretch after leaving Malta across the glinting Mediterranean to Cyrenaica near Bengasi - then across my first view of N Africa - red sands & wadi's & lovely shadow-relief from a lowering Western Sun behind us. Touched down again at Tobruk - in the moonlight - the air was like wine, cool, dry and crisp - a lovely feeling it gives you. Have felt like the same in the Interior of BC. Off again after some supper and landed near Cairo 0130 am - went to bed for a few hours then into Cairo with the 8 o'clock bus. Had only Italian money which the air booking centre in Cairo would not accept, so borrowed 75 piastres from an English girl in the office (I must have an honest face!) for the Army Pay Office. However, I walked and later returned the lady's note. Her home is in the same neighbourhood where I had the 30 A Svy L Sec in Surrey. Got out to CHQ some miles out of town for lunch and stayed in the Mess there- would have been more interesting to have stayed in Cairo, however, I got in several times. Only saw the Pyramids from a distance - rather the right way to see them I thought - in keeping with their perspective in History.
Cairo is immense - in humanity and in changeless time. Would love to spend some winter months there. The "Arabian Nights" were really written about Cairo, not Baghdad. Had occasion to visit the Tura Caves, South of Cairo, from which the stone for the Pyramids was quarried and transported across to the other side of the Nile. The Caves are in an escarpment at the edge of the Nile Valley. From them the distant panorama to the West contains the various groups of Pyramids and the site of Memphis.
Insolation is a strong theme in the Egyptian harmony. The sun beats down unmercifully - and in the mid afternoon - the wind from the desert is like a furnace blast - hot & dessicating - gives one visions of dying escape from the sun - any bit of shade - and escape from poverty and filth - in religion Muslim - and in the mysteries of sex. The latter is very close to the surface. The most miserable creature in Egypt is the lowly donkey or ass - minute runts either carrying or pulling enormous loads of humans & his goods. "Diminutive donkeys with gigantic genitals" is one impression of Egypt. Native life is exactly as it was 2000 years and more ago. One looks down on the floodplain of the Nile - from the air - a green & yellow chequered carpet laid across the red-brown infinity of the desert. Each fragment of the pattern represents a different reason - Spring and Harvest, side by side. Weather is not a topic of conversation. There is no weather. The freshness of the early morning - the quick gush of sun & heat rising to a crescendo with hot desert winds and dust in late afternoon - a gradual relenting - a fleeting but gorgeous sunset - twilight - and then the cool quiet peace of night. Every day is the same. This no doubt contributes to the fatalistic response to life of these people. You must forgive these philosophic reflections. The impact is a bit staggering:
This flying boat is a lovely craft - like a luxurious Pullman - 4 motors, must be very powerful, they yank the hull out of the water in 35 to 40 seconds. We landed at Luxor just for Â½ hour - tea - and had a wonderful if brief circle over the ruins which are rated as perhaps the most amazing in the world. We are now humming along over the desert, Short-cutting a loop in the Nile. Think we spend the night at Khartoum. Wish you and Mary were with. Yours of 4 and 6 May were waiting at Cairo. So glad Mary has had e bout with tons & will be glad to hear of her steady recovery. And her Mother, how is she? Sent a small parcel from Italy.
Love to you two!...GER.
PS: You might get accommodation at the Emerald Lake Chalet, at Field if you go there. Ask to see my old friend Mr Lyle Curry, he is (or was) Brewster's manager at Field - a real Scotsman. His wife is also an old friend. I worked for him in 1919 and 1921. There is lovely country all around Field - especially Yoho Valley. Curry would be glad to give you the best advice.
Expect to be back in Ciaro about 21 June to start East. Might cable me c/o D of Survey, GHQ, Cairo, about Mary.