Monday, June 09, 2003

Losing Jenny

Tonight I'm going to the American Research Center in Egypt for a memorial for a good friend of mine, Jenny. She was one of those wonderfully odd, flaky people that seem to end up here. Originally she was from somewhere in New England, from one of those semi-impoverished genteel, well educated, horsey families. She never lost the accent. Jenny was an artist who came here to do archaeological illustration and along the way was married and widowed a couple of times. She used to say that she was afraid to try it again for fear of losing another one. She converted to Islam and usually wandered around in long skirts, long-sleeved shirts, and a funny brown hat. I thought for years that her style of dressing had to do with her work illustrating at digs, but I think also that it may have had to do with her religion as well. However, it was so idiosyncratic that no one could accuse her of not having her own look, and in her tones of desert beige, it was extremely practical and comfortable.

She lived in a tiny apartment in the village near the farm, that she rented from one of the grooms at the Country Club. She just had room for her painting equipment, a bed and two cats. She kept her horse, Texas, at Morad's barn, where my gang used to live and she was within a 5 minute walk. Texas is about 23 or so and probably has one of the worst dispositions of any horse I've ever seen. For some bizarre reason, Jenny was devoted to this chestnut monster who was gelded finally at about age 18, not that it improved his temperament noticeably. I remember watching her jumping him at the Club. They were quite the sight. A rangy, evil-tempered chestnut stallion and a similarly rangy sweet-tempered rider....he often got the better of her and she always forgave him.

I guess I knew Jenny for about 10 years, having met her shortly after moving to Cairo from Alexandria. I watched her go through periods of trying to sell work in galleries, of doing lovely hand-painted murals and accents in houses, to being offered a job by the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Most of the time she was dead
broke, being a fantastically bad business woman and an unrepentant animal-lover. The two really don't mix.

She was killed about a week ago as she was being driven in a taxi around dusk on a road that goes from Sakkara to the main highway into Cairo. A minibus hit her head was going the wrong way down the road, the driver didn't have a license, and he ran from the scene. The cars are still beside the road and seeing them is a horror. There was another car just behind her taxi that contained a couple of British women living here who were on their way back from riding. One of them is a nurse and tried to help, but Jenny's injuries were much too severe, and she died of massive brain trauma and internal bleeding soon after she got to the hospital. The taxi driver will likely never walk again.

Like most of you, her family couldn't just pick up and fly to Egypt to take care of her affairs, so friends here have been taking care of Jenny for them. She was buried according to her wishes in a cemetery just between the farmland and the desert that I ride through all the time. Lark and Kelly will know which one. Her cats have homes, and her art has been protected for her family. Texas has a home for the rest of his life at Morad's and tonight people will be told that if they want to do something in her memory, they can contribute to a fund for his upkeep. He was Jenny's closest friend.

Her death was a horrible shock to all of us, and it came, for me, at a rough point in the year. Tonight at midnight is the 3rd anniversary of my husband's death in a plane crash. I haven't really allowed myself to feel anything about Jenny until I started writing this. I'm going to miss her a lot.