The hotel where I’m staying, the Longchamps, is run by a wonderful woman of indeterminate age named Madame Hebba. She is stylish and competent, overseeing the refurbishments to her hotel while managing the remaining open rooms with flair. Her vision is everywhere in little touches all over–candles lit every evening on tables in the hallways, available newspapers and a stocked library, plenty of live plants on the balconies, a few black rotary phones and some old records on side tables carved in thirties art-deco style, and fresh flowers gracing the desk, the dining room, and the various little sitting areas all over the hotel.
Madame Hebba is also incrediby kind. She works hard to make her guests comfortable in three languages–English, German and Arabic–and clearly keeps very high standards for her staff. I had a brief conversation with her the other day–before the houseboat debacle. She asked why I was renting a place in Egypt, what I was doing here. I told her that I am a PhD student and her eyes lit up. “I knew when I saw you that you were a PhD student!”
I told her how much I enjoy staying in her hotel, how all her hard work and vision shows through even with the renovations going on. She pooh-poohed me, pointing out the dust, saying, “I hate it. It was never like this before.” I insisted. “You can really say this, even now?” Yes. “Oh. Thank you, my dear. You have just made my day.” She smiled, looking genuinely pleased.
When I called to see if I could come stay here again she got on the phone herself right away and said, “yes, yes, come back right away, we have a room for you.” As I told her the story of the waterlogged, overly bohemian conditions on the boat, she looked increasingly incredulous. “Who else was living on this boat, foreigners like you?” Yes. She wrinkled her nose. “And they are okay living like this?” Yes. “Well, I tell you, darling, it is all like this. I just came from a meeting with the tourism head of transportation and he says exactly the same thing–if it’s not one thing it’s another; every time something goes right something else happens. He is ready to quit–to quit the country!”
Hebba told me I could probably get something much nicer for the same price–”and you would not even have to share!” She told me I could stay as long as I like at the hotel and most kindly gave me a discount.
I admire her forceful personality, her generosity, her forthrightness and her many attempts to make me comfortable. I couldn’t have asked for any greater kindness. The hotel is so obviously and beautifully an extension of herself. When I see the life she has crafted around this place I hope that someday my career can emulate hers. Probably not through owning a hotel, but through creating something graceful and well thought out that noticably makes a positive impact on many people. I am always happy to meet women like Hebba, and I feel fortunate to have so many such women in my life.