Thursday, April 7, 2011

Bernard de Zogheb and Edmund White

There's a short reference to de Zogheb in City Boy (p. 129, paperback edition) whom White met at James Merrill's house. He is described as "an Egyptian" who once acted as a "tourist guide." On both counts de Zogheb might have blanched, since he liked to call himself a "Levantine"—the family came from Syria (Lebanon) in the 19th century to make their fortunes and acquired a title from the pope in the course of that century, and then formed as part of the creme de la creme of Alexandrian society for the few short decades that the cosmopolitan world of Alexandria lasted—and he might have acted as a tour guide in moments of desperation but he is known as a librettist and artist. De Zogheb had a brilliant personality, was profoundly witty, and had a way with the four or five languages that flourished in the city during these decades. He wrote librettos for operas, some of which were published with introductions by James Merrill (and now very expensive): "Le Sorelle Bronte" was one; "Phaedra" was another (mentioned in White's book). His death in 1999 was a sad event because it marked the end of the cosmopolitan period in Alexandrian history. A nice obituary was published in Al-Ahram Weekly, which gives some of the flavor of the man. A study of "Literary Alexandria" by John Rodenbeck, an emeritus professor of English at the American University in Cairo and a friend of mine, was published by the Massachusetts Review, the last four pages of the article are somewhat devoted to de Zogheb.

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