At the moment I find that I am more interested in the changes in myself than in films and old women. I have the strong feeling that my brain is divided into then and now with very vivid memories of my early childhood in the Middle East.
I was born on the 3rd of January 1935 in Iskenderun where my father worked away from his Aleppo roots. Some of my official papers quote 9th of January as my birthday…
My early youth before the war was spent between Iskenderun, Tripoli and Aleppo. Of these years I recall next to nothing. When war was declared in the area, the extended family as Italian subjects had to retreat to my Grandmother’s house in Aleppo. Of the crowd of people I saw every day I will mention the people who made a strong impression on me.
The Rachel-Murad couple: She was a teacher trained by the Alliance Francaise in Palestine and came to work. She had lived as a paying guest in the Picciotto family house and taught
in the Alliance School not far away. She had two very young boys. The grandmother favoured the older one, seeing in him a “Picciotto”. She is inscribed in my memory as the aunt who made landscapes of the food in order to make Robert, my younger brother, eat his meals. Later, on holiday , she took us at sunrise to the mountain and made us do exercises. She believed in healthy eating and her fruit salad was everybody’s favourite.
Of her husband I do not recall anything….
Rachel: my aunt, in the middle of the Picciotto family. She was a slave to her 5 brothers even if some were much younger than her. They ordered her about and this infuriated me. I saw another side of her at the Orodisback shop where she was in charge of the glove department. I was fascinated by the range of shapes and colours and sizes and asked her if she knew the price of every one of them. Her positive response impressed me. Up to now I can see the counters and drawers and display.
Robert my younger brother screamed and fought against going to school every morning. He had to be carried by two members of the school to push him into the school car…. Sitting on the steps of the house waiting for our mother to come back from a visit he told us stories that he invented..
My older brother Mony: One event. The day the war ended he pushed a bed to the window that overlooked a Synagogue’s entrance and jumped on it time and time again…..
There were always loud arguments, disputes, disagreements, orders. Of course they did not affect me.
I loved my grandmother Reina. I was given her name that was changed to Rina when I started school. She ruled the whole extended family with the help of her oldest son, my father. Always a cigarette in her mouth or hand, she constantly requested cups of coffee and in the evening her arak. She had favourites but as I was the only girl in the next generation I was specially loved. But she was hard on my mother. I can see her before Aleppo was bombed establish her safe corner in the cellar. I can see the shelter she prepared. It had the brazier to make coffee, a comfortable chair, a table with a bottle of Arak and cigarettes. I do not know why this image did not involve other people but I remember that after all nobody used it…..
The Picciottos lived in an old house. The living quarters were on the first floor. On the ground floor was an open space and a dark passage where there was an entrance to the kitchen and also the well and a toilet. I see my mother and Rachel squatting around a primus stove in the open space and grandmother showing them how to cook something. I never ventured into the dark kitchen. An uncle used to threaten to lock us in the toilet if we misbehaved. The well was used to cool fruit and vegetables in the summer.
The Abrahams lived in a different area in a flat on the third floor with a balcony next to a tall tree. I always escaped there to listen to the wind in the branches…
There were carpets in the sitting room, a piano, other musical instruments and an exercise wall in the hall. Once I caught a glimpse of the Turkish speaking maid and wondered where she slept.
When the war ended we went to Beirut.