Each year I went to Egypt to visit my mother, the only member of my family who had stayed on in Alexandria, despite the revolution, the confiscation of our property following the land reform, and the rising hostility towards foreigners, particularly Jews. Like many of those of her generation, my mother was at home in Egypt despite not being an Egyptian national, rooted like a tree even when it seemed that the ground was about to be swept from under her feet.
On my last visit there I had felt unhappy at the thought of leaving Francesco in Rome. But I knew that my absence would not be for more than ten days and, I have to admit, the thought of a short holiday on my own was pleasing. So I put aside my emerging worries.
However, Francesco had placed a condition on my departure: there was to be no air travel. After our last trip to Africa he had been left with the traumatic memory of our return aboard a small Congo Airlines plane which, caught up by the monsoon wind, had buffeted us around for two hours in the sky above a vast expanse of rainforest while blinding flashes of lightening split the sky above our heads. 'No more flying', he had decreed peremptorily. And so for this trip I had chosen to travel by the slowest but also the most attractive of means: by ship.