A strange and personal tale of Qumran. Our final visit in Israel was to the…
2. The Maid
3. The Soldier
7. Who’s Who
8. Street Kids
10. The Bank
12. The White Gecko
13. Black Adam Part 1
15. Israel Part 1
16. Israel Part 2
17. Israel Part 3
Black Adam did not get his nick name from the colour of his skin, which was definitely ‘White Australian’. Adam had recently suffered a difficult time in his personal life and the monicker was a descriptor of the dark, depressive cloud that hung over him. Fortunately, when he arrived at the Villa, the head count was four: Big Rick, Little Rick, myself (Jacquelyn) and the recently arrived, Peter. Also Australian, Peter could not have been a greater counterpoint to Adam. He was a ‘breath of fresh air’, perennially cheerful with an even temperament that neither Egypt’s frustrations nor Gavin’s caustic wit could destroy. He and Black Adam were mirror opposites. Only the morning phone calls to his tearful wife in Australia, who was missing him dreadfully, caused Peter grief though he never imposed it on the rest of us. He left it at the other end of the phone until the ritual was repeated the next morning.
Now, Adam was an accountant, who came from a very high status job. He clearly did not like the idea that he was responsible to Big Rick. Even though Adam was there under a separate contract, which Rick was not involved in, Rick was charged with ‘keeping an eye on it’ as part of his larger responsibilities for the ‘Rescue Team’. Adam had overnighted in Cairo so he wasn’t too jet-lagged when he arrived at the villa that we all shared, about half an hour out of Alexandria. Told to look after Adam and generally make a fuss of him, Rick decided dinner out was a good move on that first night.
“Well Adam”, said Rick, “Since it’s your first day here, we’ll take you out for dinner tonight”.
“Oh good, that’d be really nice. Where are we going?”
“We’ll go to Leonardo’s”
“Yes, Leonardo da Vinci but everybody just calls it Leonardo’s.”
“Oh very good! Oh that’s sounds good.”
“It’s one of the better restaurants in Agamy,” Rick assured him, which it was, though unbeknown to Adam that was hardly a recommendation.
It was a bit of a walk from the villa but fortunately there had been no rain for a while so we didn’t have to wade. We could rock-hop through the street rubbish and by stepping carefully we could skirt the permanent cess pond in front of the corner coffee shop. From there, it was a fair walk down the main drag where the hazards were minor, like electric wiring sticking out of walls or protrusions from the pavements, which were at different levels according to which shop they fronted. It was early in the evening, so there were few people or cars about, which meant we could generally walk on the side of the road quite safely. It soon became apparent that Adam was somewhat shocked by these surroundings.
When we live somewhere, we often forget to photograph the everyday scenes of our surroundings. Hence I never took photos of some of the common things described in this episode but this shot may give you some idea of the hazards of walking to a restaurant in the evening!
The restaurant may have been named in honour of the great Renaissance Painter but there was nothing beautiful or artistic about the location or the premises. We entered at the bottom of a single flight of aged wooden stairs. At the top they opened out to a long narrow restaurant space. To the right was a desk. This was the abode of the owner, a hawk-faced man who smoked incessantly and spent the night with his black eyes on the staff and the patrons. He made sure that whatever we ordered went on the docket that another staff member wrote out and then he checked that docket. In typical Egyptian style he watched what we had to eat and drink, then he made sure that everything we had ordered was on the account. Why? Because he didn’t trust us not to slip the waiter five quid to leave one of the courses off the bill. As Rick observed, “In a bar, for example, you’d get a lot of ex-pats who’d get pissed and they’d be buying drinks for everybody and then when they got the bill, declare, “I didn’t order all that!” Well the owner had confirmed what they had ordered so there was no argument about it. So it was protection for the owner and it worked fine.
We all sat around a circular table about half way along the restaurant. Adam asked, “Rick, who’s paying for this? Is Svi paying for this or are you?
Rick said, “I’m paying for it.”
“Oh. Oh okay.”
“But I have latitude within Svi’s budget, Rick added. “It’s your first night here so this will go on expenses.”
“Oh, oh, Okay!” Adam hesitated a moment, then asked, “Do you think Svi would spring for a bottle of wine?”
“Oh I think he would. You know a bit about wine do you Adam?”
“Oh well, yes, I’m ah . . . yes I do actually.”
“Oh good, then you can select the wine.”
So Rick called the young waiter over. Imad, was his name. Now, unlike ‘Black Adam’ Imad really was black. He was fifteen and far from his home in Southern or ‘Upper’ Egypt. His skin was a beautiful black with a bluish sheen. He had a lovely nature with a smile to match. He studied at Polytech during the day and earned his keep at Leonardo’s by night.
“Righto Imad,” said Rick, “we need the wine list.” The lad looked at Rick as if he’d gone mad. “Go and get the wine list.” Rick affirmed. The lad looked at Rick again as if to say, “You know what’s on the wine list and you get the same thing every time.”
“My friend has just arrived from Australia,” Rick explained, “he’s a bit of a wine connoisseur and he wants to see the wine list.”
So Imad dutifully fetched the wine list. “Give it to Adam,” said Rick with a gesture in Adam’s direction. So Imad gave it to Adam who looked at it, frowned and said, “There are only two wines on here! Oh no, there are three.”
“The other one’s not in stock,” Rick informed him. Ignoring this advice, Adam asked our young waiter about it.
“No Sir, I am sorry, we have no stock.”
“Well the white or the red,” Adam said to Rick “which one would you prefer?
“Since I have to choose between them,” said Rick, “I’d prefer the red.”
“Yes, the red’ll be good, it’ll go with the steak,” agreed Adam, nodding sagely.
So, along comes the red. Young Imad had a little napkin over his arm and the bottle in his hand. He presented it to Rick to taste but Rick said “No, no, give it to Adam.”
So Adam’s glass received a sampling of the red wine. Adam looked at it, swirled it round in his glass and sniffed it. His left eye started to water and the right to twitch and then he had a sip.
“Jesus!” he exclaimed, “It’s off!”
“You sure?” asked Rick.
“Yes, there’s something wrong with it.”
“Give me your glass.” Rick tasted it and said “Mmmm, yeah, it’s not the best.”
Adam looked at Rick as if he was totally mad. Meanwhile, if Adam had been observing Imad, he might have noticed the youngster’s face becoming a sickly shade of grey.
“Take it back and get us another bottle,” said Rick. “Oh, just give it to me before you take it.”
Under pretence of examining the bottle Rick surreptitiously marked the label with his thumbnail before giving it back to Imad.
Adam added, “I want you to open the new one here”.
So Imad brought back another bottle, he opened it and poured it for Adam.
Adam said, “This is really not much better.”
So again Rick had a taste. “Adam,” he said, “this is as good as it gets.”
“Are you serious?”
“I’m absolutely serious.” Rick assured him.
“Oh well, then we’ll have to have it.”
So they had the red. Young Rick and Peter and I were ensconced in our own conversation. Everybody was eating and talking and soon, with the men all drinking, the bottle was emptied.
“Another bottle of wine?” Someone suggested.
“Absolutely!” said Rick, “Let’s have another bottle of wine.” He called Imad over, “Get us another bottle of wine please.”
“Red, Mr Rick?” Imad was shaking but the others were already back to their conversations so no one else noticed
So Imad brought out a bottle and he was about to start pouring it into the glasses when Rick said, “Give it to me.”
Rick took the bottle and under pretence of reading the label saw where he had marked it. He put his finger on the mark, caught Imad’s eye and said, “Go ahead and pour it.”
So Imad poured the wine, perspiring as Adam took a sip. “God!” he said, “this really is bloody dreadful wine.” He drank it anyway and the kid went away quite happy.
Why was young Imad so upset? Rick explains. “If we’d rejected the wine that he’d opened for us, it would have been his fault and he would have had to pay his Boss for the wine, which cost probably more than he earned in a fortnight. Not only could he not afford a bottle of wine, he was probably a good little Muslim boy so he didn’t drink it anyhow. So this was just haraam (against God’s law) and there was no way, even if it tasted like bloody tar, there was no way I was going to stick Imad with the bill. Though I might have gone and poured it over the hawk-faced shit sitting at his table by the stairs …”
We finished the meal some time after 9 pm, by which time the town was alive with people out shopping. Walking down the street from Leonardo’s we passed the butcher’s shop. Out the front, the sheep, all gutted, skinned and headless, were hanging on hooks, waiting for people to come and buy them. We were walking along, talking to each other when Adam stopped, looked at this and said, “There’s no refrigeration.”
“Oh they’ve got refrigeration inside,” Rick assured him. “This is a pretty good butcher’s shop. In fact, this is where we get our meat.”
But Adam didn’t move on. He was looking intently at a hanging carcass. “Rick, look at this,” he said.
So Rick came over, stepped back and looked. There was movement on the side of the carcass. A wasp stuck its head out of a hole and licked its chops. Adam went ape-shit, gesticulating and explaining in good Australian to the butcher about the wasp in there and how it wasn’t hygienic and the meat would have to be condemned and and ….
So the butcher disappeared for a second and came out with his can of fly spray, gave it a shake and squirted the hole. He gave Adam a beaming smile and announced that the problem was fixed.
Adam was so shocked it took both Rick and Peter to guide him away.