February 3, 2011
The Nile in Style
I took this picture almost thirty-two years ago—on March 9, 1979, to be exact. The scene is a ceremonial train ride from Cairo to Alexandria. For the entire journey, a hundred and twenty miles through the Nile delta, cheering crowds lined the route. Sometimes the people were three or four deep; more often they filled the sunny scene as far as the eye could see.
I don’t dredge this up from an old photo album just to boast that “I was there.” I was there, yes, but in a distinctly Rosencrantzian/Guildensternian capacity. My role was to write the speeches President Carter delivered to the Egyptian “parliament” and the Israeli Knesset. Well, not to write them, really—what I did was take the drafts prepared by the State Department and gussy them up with rhetorical flourishes and Carterish non-flourishes. The real action—Carter persuading Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin to finalize the peace treaty and not let the Camp David Accords peter out the way the Oslo Accords would do a generation later—took place behind closed doors, where I wasn’t. (I was usually off sightseeing, as in the picture below. That’s me with Jerry Rafshoon, Carter’s imagemeister, posing near the pyramids for a tourist photographer. Why is there a fireman between us? I had no idea then and have no idea now.)
Farouk used to ride around in it to display his royal corpulence to his adoring subjects. His trimmer successor, with guest, was doing the same. For some of the ride, the two Presidents sat in throne-like chairs—elaborately carved, comfortably padded, cheesily gilded. But mostly they preferred to stand. (That’s the late Hamilton Jordan over Carter’s right shoulder.) And wave: