European Diary

A Remembered Kindness

Lebanese restaurants in London used to position their shawarma near the front window, so that a passerby could always tell the time of day by the volume of the orotund mass of diced lamb remaining on the spit.  Now that many of them have become gentrified, that traditional enticement has been replaced with potted palms and other properties suggesting that the establishment is an oasis of goodness in the midst of metropolitan wickedness.

I used to sit by the front window at the bar in London’s first Maroush on Beauchamps Place, eating my shawarma while chatting with Camil, the barman who had a wife and six daughters.  He was, in other words, the poorest man I knew.  We mostly talked Middle Eastern politics, and I think I can now say that Camil was increasingly under the impression that no wiser fellow than myself had ever crossed his employer’s lamb-scented threshold.  “But why don’t you write all this up?” he once asked me.  “Who’s going to print it?” I retorted.  “Well, why not start your own paper?”  I explained that one could be poor even without having a harem of daughters, certainly too poor to publish a newspaper of one’s own.  Camil replied that he had saved a thousand pounds for the wedding of his firstborn.  He would let me have it, if only I set myself to doing something useful.

I have known many Arabs...

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