Some of my happiest childhood memories are of picnics in Egypt, where I grew up. For my family a picnic was never about the silent enjoyment of nature. We were too busy and too noisy for that. Life in Egypt was always full of people, and at picnics we were always a crowd. Everyone--relatives, friends and neighbors--was invited to join.
My favorite picnics were on the dunes of Agami near Alexandria, timed to coincide with the arrival of migrating quails on the beaches. The birds fell exhausted from their flight across the Mediterranean, only to be caught in large nets and collected in baskets. We cleaned and marinated them, then grilled them on the beach over small fires. We ate them rapturously with the flat breads and salads we had brought. At other times we hired sailboats for the evening and took our feast on board. As night fell we sang old French songs at the top of our voices.
Every now and then we carried our picnic to a small dam we called le barrage. The area was green and lush and smelled of jasmine, and the water was a peaceful presence. We also sometimes went to an oasis in the desert or to the pyramids, where we took donkey and camel rides.