By Sylvia Modelski

We have discovered this wonderful book:

which captures the atmosphere of Port Said near the time of Mary's experience there.

Kathy wrote to this author to tell her how very much her book was appreciated and Sylvia wrote:
Date: Wed, 14 Jan 2004 11:20:27 EST
Subject: Port Said
To: maryt239@yahoo.com

Dear Mary:

Your daughter Kathy tells me that you have read my book and share with me many good memories of our birthplace. Port Said was very small yet worldly at the same time. To my mind an ideal place for a childhood. We were lucky in that.

There must have been a population explosion in the city in the 1920s and 30s for I hear from readers whom I never knew though we were circulating in the same small area for years. We tended to know only those born the same year and going to school together, it seems. The name Abela rings a soft bell in me but nothing else.

You were a couple of years older and might have known my good friend and neighbor Claire Cauro who was your age. She had a circle of friends comprising several Maltese girls, including her best friend Loulou Paris. There were also the Zarbs who are in England now I believe. I was acquainted with the Diacono family through the scouts . And of course, there was the Caruanas. Jim is in Australia, Jacqueline in England (8 children). Alas Mina died in a car accident in Australia long ago. I don't know what happened to the twins. But you must know more about all this than I.

Although memories fade fast with the years, I am happy to counter this trend by keeping them alive through reminiscing with those who were glad to have known the city in its better days.

My belated congratulations and best wishes for your birthday.

Sylvia Modelski


This book has made other people happy, and allowed others to relive those happy days:
Here is an interesting review of the book, Port Said Revisited, by Sylvia Modelski
written by a reader, Mursi Saad El-Din
Port Said can be regarded as the black sheep of Egypt, at least in literary terms. The significance of Port Said cannot be denied, despite it being founded in 1870. It is a new comer which until now had failed to inspire literary endeavour.
I have pleasant memories of the city, having spent many youthful summers enjoying its European atmosphere and azure sea. And now I have found someone else who has equally fond memories of the place.
Sylvia Modelski writes about Port Said as her "hometown". Her book, Port Said Revisited is, as far as I know, the only book-length treatment of the city in English.
The volume combines history, physical description and memoir. In the first part, "Genesis of a Global City", the author follows the events leading up to the creation of the Suez Canal and the early days of Port Said. The city, the author writes, is intimately bound to the canal by which it stands. In fact the city rose from the sea on a bed of earth excavated from the isthmus of Suez.
The first part of the book foregrounds the history of the canal, the French British confrontation over it, and how their contest was resolved. We are given a detailed description of the pomp and circumstance which accompanied the opening during Khedive Ismail's reign, the important guests, including the French Empress Eugenie, the Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Josef, the Dutch Crown Prince Hendrik, the Prussian Crown Prince Fredrick and Grand Duke Michael of Russia.
Apart from royalty there were many press reporters and, to my surprise, such famous writers as Theophile Gautier, Henrik Ibsen, Louise Colet and Emile Zola. The journalists and writers brought back reports about the opening "that were suffused with enthusiasm and runaway optimism". Yet, the author writes, "no serious literary work ever emerged", prompting one more recent historian, D D Farnie, to remark that "the intellectual elite failed to produce a single worthy memorial of the occasion."
I was even more enthusiastic about the section "A Port Said Childhood" which is, really, the backbone of the book. It describes life in a city that has changed beyond recognition. Having spent all my summer holidays in Port Said during the late 1930s and early 1940s (the same years the author spent there) the section brings back very real memories of the houses, the tree-lined streets, the light house, the beaches, the port and the large liners, the bougainvillea, the flower that could easily have been the city's emblem. Her book evokes everything that, to my mind, made Port Said a memorable city.
The French Company gave a big party on 14 July, the French National Day. And I, like the author, used to attend the celebrations with the music, the dancing, the games.
Then comes the sadder part of the book, "Port Said Revisited", in which Sylvia describes her two visits in 1966 and 1981. Those two visits made her realise "that the town I knew some decades ago is gone forever and soon will be forgotten".
But will Port Said ever regain the bustling atmosphere of the 1930s and 1940s? Has it, as the author says, turned its back on its past experiment in international living, and re-invented itself instead as an Egyptian provincial town?
"It is hard to believe," she writes, "that a free port running a global public utility can long remain unaffected by the changes that are quickly overtaking the rest of the world." Which perhaps provides an answer to the question.
Leaving Port Said after her 1981 visit, she was intent on producing a testimonial of the city. "For it would be a shame if future generations had nothing to remind them of Port Said except the aphorisms put about decades ago by unsympathetic yet influential critics. I hope with this book to have left a record."
She certainly has.

Copyright Al-Ahram Weekly.

to see the source of this review, go to the review

To order this book, or read more about the details Click here to see
the listing at Amazon .

Port Said Revisited
by Sylvia Modelski
About the Author
This book is, in part, autobiographical: an account of the author's early years in Port Said and Cairo. The historical parts reflect her studies at the London School of Economics. Her formative experiences at the French Lyce in Port Said were reinforced by graduate work in French language and literature at the University of Washington, Seattle. She now resides in Washington DC.

From the Author
The peoples of the world insist upon differentiating themselves from one another, be it by color, religion, race, nationality, region, language, class, costume etc. Yet they still all have one thing in common: the discovery years each child has to traverse before identifying with this or that group. It is this "generic" aspect of my early days which has interested me most and which I try to communicate in "Port Said Revisited". As for the background historical elements, they illustrate how a cumulative global learning experience is seen by those on the ground who live through it.

This comment was written by a reader of the book:
Recovery of a distant childhood, December 18, 2000
Reviewer: Donald W. Gregg from Atlanta, GA USA
Long before I finished Port Said Revisited I was near to weeping for what the town was--a unique, orderly, warm, and cosmopolitan microcosm--and what it is now.
I gave my copy to my dear friend, sixty year old Eid Dib Eid, who grew up in Port Said. He became a joyous, six year old school boy as he recognized places in the photos, many now gone. He said that, when the statue of de Lesseps was blown up, five thousand Egyptians watched and applauded, but he stood, with arms folded, and asked, "Why? De Lesseps was a great man. He made the Canal."
Thank you, Professor Modelski.

Here is another reader's comments:
A very fine book about Port Said, May 7, 2000
Reviewer: m.h.hamza from Calgary, Canada May 7, 2000
Sylvia Modelski describes how her family came to settle in Port Said, her school life, her vacations, her family life, the town of Port Said itself, the main ethnic groups and nationalities that lived in Port Said, her contact with Egyptians, and life in the Jewish community. Enhancing the book is a review of events leading to the construction of the Suez Canal and various historical details about developments of the Suez Canal and Port Said. Sylvia also presents briefly some of the contributions that the region close to Port Said has made over the years. These include the path of the major early migrations from Africa, the world's earliest multi-cultural mega cities, the first world-class land/sea battle, major Biblical events and the world's only known major highway in uninterrupted use since the dawn of time. The book is very informative, clearly written and is a pleasure to read.

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