he awakens from Tahia’s Circe-like spell, denounces her and leaves her for the safe, boring younger woman. In an otherwise undistinguished parable there is one great scene, in which Tahia pulls her young husband away from a street celebration that features a young belly-dancer who has captivated the inexperienced student. Tahia takes him into their house, sits him down and tells him that she will now show him what real dancing is like. Whereupon she treats him to a private performance that positively smoulders, proving that, middle-aged or not, she still is the finest dancer, the most formidable intellect, and the most desirable sexual object around.
Like many expatriates for whom Tahia was one of the great sexual symbols of our youth, I assumed that she would go on dancing more or less for ever. Consider the rude shock when, after an absence from Egypt of fifteen years, I returned there in the summer of 1975 and was told that Cairo’s longest-running dramatic hit featured Tahia Carioca and her newest husband Fayek Halawa, who had also written the play, Yahya al-Wafd (‘Hooray for the Delegation’). On my second night in Cairo I went to the old Cinema Miami, now an open-air theatre, all excitement and sentimental expectation at this rare chance to recover some part of my all-but-buried youth. The play was an overwhelmingly long and vulgar farce, about a group of Egyptian villagers who had a delegation of Soviet agricultural experts foisted on them. Relentlessly the play exposed the Russians’ rigid unpleasantness (Sadat had thrown out all Russian advisers in 1972) while celebrating the Egyptians’ witty deflation of their schemes. It began at