at the Egyptian Gardens
1968, while I was once again working in San Francisco, I
got a call from a Calgary, Alberta, restaurant owner named
Al. He wanted me to fly to Calgary to help him open a Middle
Eastern cabaret in the basement of his restaurant, Al’s
Steak House. I think that Zenouba had recommended
me, though it wasn’t very clear.
Al had no
local resources for the decorations, etc., for his new club,
so I had to get stuff together and take it up with me. Jamila helped
me find quite a few travel posters for the walls, and I don’t
remember what all else. I also had to put together a number
of dance routines (on my reel-to-reel) from the few Middle
Eastern records I had. Some, I must admit, were more successful
than others –one of my favorites was made of selections
from “Hard Rock From the Middle East”by The
I just flew
to Calgary, cold, with very little information about anything –I
think now that I was either very brave or really foolhardy! I
had to change to a smaller plane somewhere and almost missed
the connection –I can remember running, burdened with
all that stuff, across a runway and stumbling up the steps
to another plane. Al, bearing my Canadian work permit, picked
me up at the airport in Calgary –and, he told me later,
almost sent me right back to California. I was tired and disheveled
and I had forgotten my false eyelashes, so there was a distinct
lack of glamour about my arrival!
Al had arranged
for me to stay at the house of an Arab woman he knew, where
I paid room and board. A waitress at his restaurant, a friendly
redhead named Susan, was also staying there. We didn’t
live there long, however, as the woman was not very nice and,
in addition, never fed us anything. It was true that we got
one meal a day at the restaurant (fantastic steaks and
baked potatoes!), but we worked hard and needed more than one
meal –not to speak of the fact that we were paying for
the non-existent meals!
can remember the two of us, standing in our landlady’s
vegetable patch when she was not home, eating peas right
off the vine and radishes barely rinsed off because we
were so hungry! After a short time, Susan and I found
an apartment together –and filled the refrigerator!
cabaret…. It was called the Egyptian Gardens,
and it became very popular. Al blew up photos of me into posters
and put them in the front windows upstairs and all around town. I
was in several tv ads –I danced about and there were
close-ups of my “mysterious and exotic”eyes –well
eye-lashed! Al and I had chosen a striped canvas which was
made into a tent-like structure in the wide end of the room. It
was flanked by potted palms and such, and inside it I got dressed
and operated the sound system. It worked fine, and I enjoyed
my job. I was the first bellydancer in the Province of Alberta,
and people came from all over to see the shows. Food, brought
down from the restaurant upstairs, was served in the Egyptian
Gardens, but people had to bring their own alcohol.
Al decided that he wanted a second dancer, so he asked if I
could recommend someone. There was a girl named Badiia who
had taken lessons from me and then worked with me at the
Bagdad and took my place at the Greek
Taverna when I left for Calgary –she danced
like me, but without expending any energy. This was not apparent
because as soon as she got under the lights she started to
sweat, so everyone thought she was working so hard! Badiia
came to Calgary and settled in –boy, did she settle in! Before
I knew it, she was sitting on Al’s lap and being his
little sweet kittenish honey, getting all the perks, etc.,
etc. I had always kept things on a businesslike, though friendly,
basis, but that was not Badiia’s style!
thing we knew, Al decided that he wanted live music, so he
left his brother in charge at the restaurant, took Badiia with
him, and they went back east to round up some musicians. No
sooner had they left than a lot of nasty rumors began, the
main one being that Badiia was pregnant by Al and was going
to get a (still uncommon and rather scandalous) abortion on
their trip. I didn’t contribute to the gossip, though
I must admit to being entertained! When the pair, musicians
in tow, returned to Calgary, they heard everything the first
day. My introduction to the musicians came when I was ordered
to the restaurant and accused, in front of them, of starting
all the gossip and trying to “ruin”Badiia! I denied
it honestly, of course, and cried so hard I lost those damn
eyelashes! Later, Al asked his brother about my involvement,
and, when he heard I was innocent of any gossip, he apologized
quietly and privately to me in the kitchen. I saw an illustration
of the Arabic proverb: “You insult me in the street and
apologize in a corner.” Well, as you can imagine, the
luster was off that job, and I soon gave my notice and went
home. And I never called Badiia to do another job!
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