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Cultural life in Paris


The club in Egypt and vibrant life in Paris
Claudia Roden Writer
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At the club, we were... well, many Jews were at that club. But there were some wealthy Muslims. There were other people as well. But French was the language. And what I remember of, is that every night we would stay on while may parents played cards. Because card games were what our grownups did in Egypt for entertainment. And we were sitting all night, or all evening, and listening to each other. And what the older people were into: communism, Zionism, and what is happening. And so, there were quite a lot of left wing, now we call them. At the time we didn't know, but they were talking, and they were very... one would call them activists. And they were members of the communist party, quite a few Jews were. And one of my cousins was.

That cousin wasn't at the club, he lived far... he lived in another part of Cairo. And he had been a Zionist briefly then he became a communist. He had been in prison. And he was told, because at that time also, communists and Zionists were put in prison. But a lot of Jews were either one or the other – young people, and their parents had been merchants and were merchants. But that cousin was told, 'If you leave and never come back, you can go'. And so, he went. And he lived... he went to Paris. And so, when my brother left... left Paris and he started medical school in... at Guys Hospital in London. My... I had an uncle who was responsible for me. I had to have somebody responsible, to be able to go out. And then that cousin became, what was called, correspondant. So, he became responsible for me. He had just married a young woman who was my age. He married her when she was 16. And so, I would go and stay with them. It was just one room with a curtain. And I would stay the night behind the curtain. Or else we would go stay with my younger brother. We would go and look for anybody who could have us stay the night. And there were quite a lot of young Egyptian students. And we could stay with them, on the floor or on the couch.

And so, for me it was a brilliant time. Also, meeting the friends who are boarding at school, or at state school – at the Lycées. I would go to their homes. I ate at their homes and saw them cooking. And cooked with them sometimes. I even went to the families of Vietnamese girl. And they were cooking Vietnamese food and we were sitting around the table. So, I did get this feeling of food that was important in Paris as well. But I also got from that cousin a lot of information, or not information... because he couldn't stop talking about his... he was such passionate socialist or communist. From him, I did learn a lot. And so, I found, yes, even before he was my correspondant, he was in Paris before I was. And so, he was part of my... of the people I was with there.

Claudia Roden (b. 1936) is an Egyptian-born British cookbook writer and cultural anthropologist of Sephardi/Mizrahi descent. She is best known as the author of Middle Eastern cookbooks including A Book of Middle Eastern Food, The New Book of Middle Eastern Food and The Book of Jewish Food.

Listeners: Nelly Wolman

Claudia Roden talking to her granddaughter Nelly Wolman about her life in food.

Tags: Paris, France

Duration: 5 minutes, 9 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2022

Date story went live: 26 November 2023