A Fleeting passage to the Orient
Commentary by Ruth Beckermann
Her Greek reader writes: "She stood before me, bending forwards slightly; her head stood out against the background of a white parasol through which the rays of the sun penetrated, forming a bright nimbus around her head. In her left hand she held a black fan inclined towards her cheek. One thought only filled my head. This is 'she'. A feeling of amazement came over me: how little she resembled the pictures of her that I was familiar with!"
She had no more photographs taken of herself.
From the age of 31 there are no new photographs of her. No one knows what Elisabeth looked like as an old woman, although she lived to the age of 61.
At a time when everyone was full of enthusiasm for the new technique of photography, the Empress of Austria resolves to disappear out of the picture. And Sissi remains young forever.
"I shall travel the whole world over", she said. "The Wandering Jew shall seem a stay-at-home compared to me. I will cross the seven seas by ship, a female Flying Dutchman, until one day I drown and am forgotten.
Only those may accompany me who either have nothing more to lose, or who have done with life.
The best thing would be a ship's crew composed of men under sentence of death. Then I would not need to have any qualms about exposing them to danger."
I take the plane, and in only three hours I land at the furthest point she reached on her travels.
She travelled the length and breadth of the old world during the last ten years of her life.
From castle to castle, to the Grand Hotels, nowhere did she want to stay, in none of these places, where today they entice visitors with images of her.
I would like to travel through the ages, but I can only ever film the one that is mine.
I can't travel back in time, only to faraway places, in foreign lands... But perhaps the past is a foreign country.
At first, everything one sees is an experience, worth recording, worth savouring.
The luxury of watching, the luxury of wasting time.
Time is luxury.
Something I notice immediately... the luxury of leisure is reserved for men.
I imagine Elisabeth walking past here ... and then back again? Stopping... Looking...
"I prefer to stroll in the cities", she said. "My favourite place to stay, because there I am quite lost among the cosmopolitans: it confers an illusion of the true human condition."
Even in the last photographs of her one sees a young woman...
Retouching, montages, collages.
Photography was also not safe from the techniques of forgery. Photographs of the empress had to continue to circulate: so her face was retouched, her head mounted on different clothes, she was put into family groups, at her husband's side.
Montages, collages. Nobody noticed that in these assiduously circulated photographs a youthful Elisabeth stood at the side of an ageing Franz Joseph.
Meanwhile, a slender woman, white leather parasol in hand, mingles with the crowd.
"I do not need to bid Vienna farewell", she said, "The Viennese were always disappointed and vexed with me at every opportunity, especially when I did not do them the favour of walking in the procession on Easter Sunday or at Corpus Christi."
To divide the world into cities with coffee houses and cities without coffee houses.
Here they are magnificent. I go from one to the other: Trianon, Delice, Pastroudis, Atheneos.
The most important things about a café are size and shape. The body must be shielded from too much proximity to other human beings, and one's gaze have the choice of wandering or resting somewhere. Or looking at a book.
In my bag I have the record kept by Constantin Christomanos, her Greek reader and companion.
When he entered her employ, he was 24 and she was 54 years old. He listened to her, committed every word to memory. And then, alone in his room, he wrote everything down; dreaming on, he added his own ideas conveying her thoughts, mixed with his own, in his words.
Creating her picture out of words.
I order another coffee, medium sweet, and read: "She is the loneliest of the lonely, for she belongs solely to herself. People don't know what to make of me, she said yesterday because I don't fit into any of their traditions or long-established notions. They do not like me disturbing their pigeonhole categories. Thus I belong solely to myself.
On my walks I am at little risk of encountering civilized people, for they do not follow me into the wilderness ...they surely have better things to do. Those are my long periods of solitude from which I realize that one feels the weight of one's own existence most when one has contact with other people."
42°. Dry air. Heat. People move slowly, from patch of shade to patch of shade, always in the same rhythm.
At ten o'clock I go down to the Midan Tachrir. Crossing the street requires courage. None of the cars stops.
At the square an old man shows me how it's done. He leads me across, via a little detour, to the Pizza Hut where I've arranged to met someone, and on this little detour we end up in his brother's shop and suddenly I find myself surrounded by bottles full of scents and I get a little lotus oil dabbed on my hand. I've moved.
From an international hotel to a local one.
Whatever I do seems wrong. There I feel like an imperialist and here like a romantic in search of the Orient.
Only after a few days do I notice that the security men write down when anyone comes or goes; they're parts of a ramified system of informers ... like the telephonist and the concierge.
This is Frau Susi. She speaks perfect German. She tells me that her mother's German. Immediately I begin to wonder when and why she came here. Did she flee because of the Third Reich, or after it collapsed? Or did she simply come here as a tourist?
When travelling one needs a place to retreat to. With the blinds down, the city withdraws to a distance. To be alone, not to have to speak to anyone ... one reason for travelling.
One sees her travelling through past and future. She wanted to be faster than the Flying Dutchman. To board every ship to Brazil or to the Cape. She wanted to go to America. Here, and no further.
Hallstatt is nicer, said her husband. He sits day in day out at the same desk, writing her letters signed "Your Mannikin". She travels faster and faster. He sends his letters poste restante, learns from the newspaper where she is currently staying. His envoys, his diplomats, his spies are slower than she is.
She travels incognito, face hidden behind fans, veils, a parasol.
"My darling angel! You have been away now for so long", writes the husband, "I think constantly of you with longing and so I will at least begin to speak to you in writing, reserving the right for myself to continue these lines before I entrust them to the post.
I become used to the loneliness only slowly, I miss the moments with you at breakfast and the evenings spent with you very much, despite the cold that prevails in your apartments, and twice on my way to the Bellaria I have visited your rooms, where all the furniture is covered up, but where everything reminds me of you in such melancholy wise."
I travel across the city; I am convinced... at least today I am convinced that this is the right place for my film about Elisabeth. Because sometimes all the layers of time become visible within a few kilometres and the apocalyptic black smoke from the ancient pottery workshops cloaks the unfinished dwellings of the future.
There are various motives for travelling: to tell people about it when you get back, out of a spirit of adventure, to change roles, as an escape, escape from deadly boredom, like Elisabeth.
To travel so as not to die. Flitting from place to place in order to feel some to feel oneself.
Every time I travel I feel it will bring freedom. Freedom from everything that is left behind.
But freedom for what?
To her reader she said: "To escape from the family was always my urge. Marriage is an absurd custom; one is sold as a 15-year-old girl and swears an oath one does not understand and then regrets thirty years or more and cannot undo. And does one know whether one's spouse is really the Chosen One, the one determined by Fate? Most young girls only marry out of a longing for freedom. And love also has wings with which to fly away."
Elisabeth's reality must have been so oppressive after eleven years of marriage and three births, and who knows how many sojourns at the villa in Bad Ischl, that she presented her husband with a written ultimatum: She demanded unlimited authority in the upbringing of her children and for herself the free choice of her surroundings and place of residence.
She wanted this in writing. And she got it...
He must have loved her after all, Franz Joseph ... he set her free, did not have her put away in a psychiatric institution, as was usual with women who refused to obey, who did not live ordered lives as befitted their rank.
Here it is impossible to disappear into the crowd, there is no such thing as incognito...
Every two minutes someone says "Welcome, how are you, where are you from?" and sticks to your side, walking beside you. Whether I answer or not makes no difference.
In front of the hotel I see the group of Muslims from Capetown I'd noticed at breakfast. The children look as if they'd stepped out of a fairy tales book. Now they're waiting for their bus. They're on their way to Mecca.
They want to be there for the birthday of the Prophet in 3 weeks. They're silent. They think I'm taking their photograph. And they look at the camera with a certain solemnity, as was once proper for portraits, before they began to say "Smile, please!" when they clicked the shutter.
I will probably never see these people again.
They will continue on their journey, their images will stay with me.
Elisabeth changed roles. Rather than posing for the camera again, she began to collect photographs. At first photographs of beautiful women which she had sent to her by envoys and consuls. She obtained her photographs. Whether they were documentary photographs of genuine ladies from the harem, or costumed models in photographers' studios is not known.
She was not interested in whether they were genuine nor in who had taken them. She studied the details of beauty as if in a catalogue from which she chose what suited her purpose. What she herself wanted to look like. Who she wanted to be.
She seems to have asked herself the question of what beauty is. And whether there is only one kind of beauty? And who determined what was beautiful. The Viennese court? Or on the contrary, everybody except the Viennese court?
Today two women explained to me that besides all the well-known reasons why women here wear headscarves there was also one of convenience: since the prevailing ideal of beauty insists on straight hair, but all women have a natural wave and hairdressers are expensive, it's nice to be able to conceal one's hair under a headscarf.
Will all these little princesses hide their hair tomorrow and persuade themselves that their oppression is very convenient?
Why would an empress collect calling card photographs? Did she determine the sequence of the photographs in the albums? We don't know. Perhaps she rearranged them periodically. Making a montage of the world, discarding photographs, buying new ones. Ordering and rearranging the order, when the old order no longer makes sense.
Her reader writes: "Today she said: The thought of death purifies, like a gardener weeding his garden. But this gardener wishes always to be alone and is annoyed when curious people look into his garden. That is why I hold the parasol and the fan in front of my face, so that he may do his work undisturbed."
After the wedding comes the honeymoon and then what? What remains are the photos, memories arranged in albums. The alternative? To be alone... doing what one wants, and dreaming the same dreams that brides dream and for the span of a moment believe have been fulfilled?
I was astonished to encounter a female billiards player here. In Austria still a rarity. She tells me that she's employed to encourage men to play and so on.
Today I crossed the Nile to the island of Zamalek, in the centre of Cairo, to the Marriott Hotel, the former Palace of Gizeh. The international hotels function as western enclaves and are meeting places for rich Arabs, serving as substitutes for palaces, clubs and coffee houses.
Pictures of the opening of the Suez Canal decorate the walls of the lobby. Elisabeth had failed to attend the most important social event of the era. She would have been the second most important female person after Eugenie of France, and she let the emperor travel to Egypt alone. And so in the illustrations and photographs that went around the world, one sees Eugenie and Franz Joseph as a couple.
Europe was celebrating itself, everybody had arrived for 17th November 1869, the priests, the diplomats, the artists, the writers, the scientists ... everyone costumed after the fashion of their country ...
A lot was said about the emerging symbiosis of Orient and Occident. What was actually meant triumph of Enlightenment and technology. The orient was permitted to display its colourful splendour at the celebrations.
Elisabeth asked Franz Joseph for detailed reports on everything: He writes to her from his ship Greif, in the harbour at Ismailia on 18th November 1869, 6.30 am: "We passed safely through the first half of the canal and now lie off Ismailia, a newly-built city in the middle of the desert, where, because of the celebrations, 30,000 people from all parts of Egypt are camping in tents between the houses and celebrate continuously,
and yesterday they made a devil of a racket late into the night with drums and flutes for their dancing.
I thank you for your telegram of the 16th, received yesterday, which much reassured and delighted me."
A trip to the outskirts of the city. Its edges are sinking into the desert, the border between civilization and wilderness is blurred.
I ask myself why on all her wanderings she never went into the desert, to the nomads.
Scooping up a handful of sand, the nomad says: "This is my life", and repeating the gesture with the other hand he says: "And this is my death. Everything else is fata morgana."
"I feel extraordinarily at home in Cairo", she said. "Even in the greatest crush of porters and donkeys I feel less oppressed than at a ball at court, and almost as happy as in a forest."
Among the exotic spices I notice a bright blue powder. Somebody explains that it's for bleaching white laundry.
Because there are no tourists to be seen here, it's tempting to fade in pictures of a bazaar from 1001 Nights over the present. Why aren't there any around? Because of the terrorist attacks?
Little is known about Elisabeth's stay in Egypt. What is a matter of record, evidenced in documents, preserved in the Austrian state archives, and thus certain, is that in October 1885 and November 1891, she sailed from Trieste to Corfu and from there over the Mediterranean to Egypt.
On her second journey she was 54 years old. Her ship, the Miramar, remained in the harbour at Alexandria while she travelled to Cairo for about two weeks with an entourage of only 13 people, on the ordinary fast train, refusing the offer of a special saloon car.
The captain remained on board and wrote up his travel journal, which he called a "fleeting passage to the Orient."
"The Empress was delighted", recalled one of her ladies-in-waiting: "She was particularly interested in the Arabs. A truly fine-looking breed of men. The way they strode past us in their white burnouses, the proud expression in the brown faces, with their stately figure and dignified bearing, was equal to that of a prince ... even when the burnous was somewhat ragged and worn, which it often was. The rich Arabs made a less favourable impression. Their ostentatious, shimmering finery and their overproud manner are repellent and remind one of a peacock.
What can I say about the women? We saw very little of them. Shrouded from head to foot in white linen, a number of them trudged listlessly past, conveying the impression of walking sacks."
One lady-in-waiting remembers how the empress constantly encouraged her to bargain. She, who hardly knew the value of money, proved to be surprisingly cautious in such transactions, and when she left a shop with her purchases, she said with a smile: “We've been taken in again.”
When Elisabeth was here, Egypt was British, Napoleon had been vanquished and Eugenie had retired to Cap Martin. She travelled incognito as Comtesse Hohenembs or Mrs Elisabeth Nicholson. She did not attract special attention in the international company that put up at Shepheard's, the best address in town.
Shepheard's, according to the 1885 Baedeker, is run by a German manager, "350 rooms, 150 with bathroom, garden, restaurant, bar, post office, | telegraph, large terrace ... music on Fridays, Finck & Baylaender's bookshop in the hotel; also photographs, German newspapers will supply Arabic literature and general information."
In the so-called 'European Quarter' I search for the hotel and learn that it stood on the site of what is today a gas station. On a black Saturday in 1952, it was burnt down by nationalists, as were hundreds of foreign-owned cinemas, bars, banks, casinos and department stores.
There is also evidence of Elisabeth's meeting with John Antoniades, a Greek merchant. He had welcomed her with flowers | on board of her ship in the harbour at Alexandria. Later she visited him, as the Austrian consul reports, in his extensive, richly-planted gardens.
Shortly before this an incident had occurred in a pastry-shop. A Reuters telegram from Port Said, where the Miramar had anchored, had revealed the empress's incognito, and so when the owner saw the tall figure of the empress entering his shop, he was in no doubt as to who was standing before him. Bowing deeply and addressing her as "Votre Majesté", he approached her; on hearing the gracious but determined explanation of the empress "Je suis incognito", he bowed even more deeply with a lisped "Madame la Comtesse". The consul said it was written all over his face how glad he was to share a secret with the empress.
Suddenly there's the sound of waltzing in the air... Schönbrunn in Alexandria.
A fantasy projection of Europe, devoid of people. The backdrop of a Europe that has disappeared ... ideal for a romantic film; Last year in Alexandria; a tale of luxury, love and death.
Her murderer plunged the file straight into her heart. Perhaps he did her a favour. She died as she had wished: without pain, in beauty, and far away from her family.
Imperceptibly, her death ushered in the death of an epoch. As if an insignificant anarchist and an insignificant queen had decided to end it together.
Fifty years later, after two world wars, Cocteau made a film of it, about the longing for death, the decline of a world... In a modern version Elisabeth would probably be a depressed tourist travelling in an organised group. The bus would stop in front of the palace, the murderer would be a terrorist who would unromantically - throw a bomb.
Today the palace belongs to the president.
There are no Greeks, no Jews, no Armenians any more in Alexandria.
Five in the afternoon. Cairo, Ramses Station.
Islam is a practical religion. One prays wherever one is when the muezzin calls ...one hour a day for God, one for pleasure, say the Egyptians.
At the West Station in Vienna stands a statue of Elisabeth. I always thought that was the best place for her, as the patron saint of travellers. Or as a warning ... after all, she was murdered while she was on a journey.
On a journey out of the static world of the Habsburgs into the modern world of images.
The destinations of the first cameramen coincided with Elisabeth's itinerary: Côte d'Azur, Switzerland, Italy. They went where modern, busy life was. Here for those who stayed at home they filmed the tourists in front of the pyramids, riding on donkeys. Perhaps the Empress of Austria can be seen on one of these 'prises de vue'; unrecognized. A woman in the crowd. She liked crowds, being able to lose herself in them, to turn to the outside for a few hours instead of inwards. To watch all the movement without being seen herself.
Not to see can sometimes be fatal. Even in Switzerland. And an incognito only lasts as long as the discretion of the hotel staff.
Her murderer wanted to commit a symbolic act, to kill someone powerful. And whatever she thought, she belonged to the ranks of the powerful.
Did she know about the existence of the cinema?
To me she seems like a star before there were stars in the cinema. She created her own style, chose her roles, staged her own life. Like Greta Garbo or Marlene Dietrich. And long before any of them she said, leave me alone, leave me in peace.
I ride to and fro between Cairo and Alexandria. A first-class train ... the truth of what is visible is here the truth of what they want you to see:
What you do not see does not exist.
No pictures may be taken of third-class trains. One may not film: Shoe cleaners, donkey carts, beggars, dirt, dust, the house of Maimonides, 3rd-class trains. And people sitting on the ground wearing jelabyahs.
It's not good for Egypt, says the censor.
Images that are not allowed to be filmed, images that are filmed to conceal others.
“There are images”, says Serge Daney, “those from ‘Sissi’, for example, that only exist to make others unimaginable. Images that distract the gaze.”
‘Sissi’ for ever ... and who knows how many others I've seen.
Would Leonardo be the ideal casting for a remake?
And yet... I loved the Sissi I saw at the cinema. For the same reason the whole world loves her on television today. Every year at Christmas she comes to Japan and Australia and Italy, to confirm that all's right with the world, despite everything.
Today I saw the same scales as in Elisabeth's Hermes Villa. There they are exhibited in her exercise room, which had Greek wrestlers painted on the walls.
Christomanos writes: "This morning before her drive she had me called back into the salon. At the open door between the salon and her boudoir, ropes, bars and rings were installed. When I saw her, she was just raising herself on the handrings. She wore a black silk dress with a long train hemmed with magnificent black ostrich feathers. I had never before seen her so imposingly dressed. Hanging on the ropes she made a fantastic impression, like a creature somewhere between snake and bird."
The pictures of the World Cup also go round the world. And although Egypt is not participating, the broadcasts of the matches every afternoon brings the city to a standstill. Just like in Austria, which incidentally has just played.
I drive out of the city, along the Nile, to the oasis at Fayum. Stay at Lake Qarun. In one of these quiet places which some people think would be ideal to write in.
For a time she wrote. Called herself Titania. Wrote about court society, that torpid brood, of the emperor whom no one needed, and that love is like bad wine.
She filled three leather-bound volumes. Blue ink, black ink.
"You admire my bad handwriting", she said. "It is like me; it won't be subjugated."
A fleeting passage. Master Heine dictates. She writes until her son kills himself at Mayerling ... and even writing loses its meaning. And it did have meaning. It is her testament.
She has the poems copied and the copies secretly printed, hidden, taken to Switzerland, in order to remove them from the influence of the family. The texts had to be protected. Projected into the future.
Once more I read the letter she wrote to accompany her writings: "To the souls of the future..." she writes.
"Dear Soul of the Future! To you I entrust these writings. The Master dictated them to me, and it was he who also determined the use to which they should be put, namely that in 60 years from the year 1890 they should be published for the benefit of those imprisoned for political crimes as well as their needy families.
For 60 years from now there will be as little happiness and peace, that is, freedom, as there is today on our little star.
Perchance on another? Today I am not able to tell you, perhaps when you read these lines...affectionately yours, for I feel you mean well with me,
written in midsummer of the year 1890,
in a rapidly speeding special train."
No one was interested in her writings after 60 years, in 1950.
Quite the opposite. The post-war Austria of petit-bourgeois Philistines sought refuge in the illusion of Vienna's imperial past. Fairytale figures did not wage wars and commit atrocities. What films are still possible, growing up with all these images, and with the pain of all the images they obstructed, made unimaginable.
The past is a remote foreign country ... and there is no other reason for a journey to the Orient except that of having given way to a whim.
She walked, in all weathers; always some eight hours a day.
The Austrian consul in Egypt reported to the emperor, "the pedestrian capabilities of Her Majesty are so admirable that the secret police declared following Her Supreme Majesty to be intolerable other than in a carriage."
The advantage of changing places: certain differences disappear. Differences disappear and others emerge. Here you are simply a European woman. Whether empress or film-maker is more or less irrelevant, seen from here.
That's how big the difference is - in general terms - between here and there. The difference remains, whether you're left or right-wing, rich or poor, whether you make a socially committed, politically correct film or an exotic or an exploitative one. Documentary film and CNN, two variations of the really existing relations of power.
Neither a 360° pan shot or a travelling shot of any length can change that. Whether we act as if we understand foreignness or not; there is in fact no explanation for our presence here.
One reason I'm shooting my film here because the trucks are more colourful, the streets more crowded and people look different. Because my heart beats faster in a lust for images. In greed for images.
What was she searching for here? She stayed away from official occasions, declined invitations.
The consul reports that | the empress did permit him to offer her a performance of Arab snake-charmers, conjurers and fortune-tellers.
A fortune-teller ... did she have her hand read?
How easily these men hover between the sexes. Man, woman, man, woman, from one turn to the next. What happens when the turning slows down, comes to a standstill?
It was not as if she longed for death. She seems to have lived in the transition from one world to the other.
Christomanos writes: "The longer I spend in her company, the more the thought quickens in me that she is poised between two worlds. When we wander on the beach for hours, she like an embodied shadow gliding along the bright coast of life, I always have a feeling as if she symbolized something that lay between life and death or in both at the same time."
As for the Egyptians, for her death does not seem to have been a breaking with life, but a journey with various forms of transport. Through seven heavens and seven gates, and only through the last does one gain the entrance to paradise.
I visited the tomb of Rabaa El-Adawia. She too lived two lives.
First she was the slave of a sultan, and basked in the radiance of power as a dancer, singer and courtesan. When her lover was put to death she withdrew from the world and began a second life in the solitude of religious devotion. She is venerated as a saint or martyr of divine love.
To refuse to let herself be photographed perhaps extended Elisabeth's life.
How does one become a myth?
Either by dying young or disappearing out of the picture and living on.
What will I remember of this journey? The images of the Egyptian women I have collected everywhere ... like Elisabeth? A brief catalogue of beauty... They contradict our neat division of time into periods and epochs and fashions, and prove that everything exists simultaneously, in layers. That everything changes - and nothing.
In an interview with Naghib Mahfouz I read that the people here - in contrast to Westerners - are patient. As peasants are used to waiting. Everything that happens to them, whether political or private misery, they accept as Destiny. As something that is written ...SHAGAN.
The canal is the opposite of belief in fate. A testimony to Western knowledge, planning and initiative.
A large exclamation mark. Naturally Elisabeth was also here, 20 years after Franz Joseph. The sheikhs with their musicians and dancing girls long departed. Ismailia was a dusty village. She sailed down the straight lines of the canal on her yacht and received an envoy of M. Lesseps. Lessep's monument used to welcome | the ships in Port Said as they entered the canal, until it was smashed, in the illusion that colonialism and imperialism would be destroyed along with the image.
I drink helva. Ismailia is still a dusty village.
The images fold and settle into layers. The scenes rearrange themselves over and over again, like a series of pictures by | orientalistic painters who thought they could bring the light of the desert into the gloomy salons of Europe.
To make oneself a picture of another human being - is that possible?
Did she really exist? Or is she merely a surface upon which we project our dreams and wishes and fantasies like the Orient.
The biographers line up one photograph after the other, from infancy to old age, in the flow of time.
What emerges is called someone's life story. But she cannot be pinned down by historians, story-tellers, palmists and fortune-tellers.
The birthday of the Prophet. Sufi fraternities march through the city.
Ultimately we have only two images of the Arab world one of a romantic fairytale world and the other of fanatical fundamentalists, ready to commit any act of terror in order to achieve their objectives.
Nonetheless, the modern Orient contributes not inconsiderably to its own orientalization.
For weeks the newspapers have carried reports on the row about the commemoration of Napoleon's conquest of Egypt exactly 200 years ago. Are we supposed to celebrate the conquest of our own country, asks a journalist and concludes that Egypt would do anything to boost tourism.
One thing seems clear: Even after 200 years, victims and perpetrators do not have the same memories.
To make oneself a picture of another human being ... and which picture?
Why not go to a fortune-teller?
I have been told that Mme Warda on Khan-El-Khalili reads the destiny of a person not only from their hand or in coffee grounds, but also from photographs. What would she see in a portrait of Elisabeth?
I go to her with a portrait photograph of Elisabeth, without telling her who it is. She wants to know who the woman is, a foreigner, she's sure about that. She should simply say what she sees in the photo, what she feels. She says immediately that this woman does not have one particular problem but that she's dissatisfied. She has a noble character, but sometimes she succumbs to moods, sometimes she is down, then up and then down again.
She is very pure, one of the good-hearted people, who become like a baby when they're stroked. So one can see her as a baby. But the family... Between her and her family there's a lot of arguing and problems. Why, she doesn't know. She has a sister and no brothers. She insists that the woman has only one sister, perhaps one brother, but only one. She is popular with the men, but her luck is only half-half.
There are women who are jealous. Also because she tells the truth. She reads a lot of books, stories, English stories, French stories, American stories, she is always reading.
She has lost a valuable ring. Not gold, a solitaire. The ring has simply disappeared.
She lives like a dead person. She is alive and dead at the same time. Like this glass of water. Alive, yet dead...
To walk through the city without understanding the language produces a dream-like state. The images recede and the sounds of Cairo form a pattern of car horns and the muezzin's call to prayer.
Perhaps everything is suddenly so simple and carefree because departure is imminent again and if it had been staged for me on my last evening, Elisabeth's ships appeared...
Translated from German by Sophie Kidd