by Denise Hearst
Photos by Gabriele Boiselle

Egypt, 1988. In the secret garden of Albadeia Stud, under the Royal Poinciana tree, there were hours-long conversations with Sayed Marei and his sons, Nasr and Hassan. It was my first visit to Cairo, and after that I could not stay away, or ignore the longing in my heart. In 30 years of annual (often more) visits there, nearly all included time with Nasr. It was always the same, sitting in the garden with all of his dogs around us, fresh orange juice or ahwa turki, catching up on the local gossip, Nasr’s eyes twinkling when we got to the juicy bits, and then … a parade of horses — all of them!

Nasr appraised his horses with a judge’s eye, but loved them not for what they were, but for who they were — each of them reflecting 40 years of Albadeia breeding, and the esthetic and practical values of three generations of this paternal line of horse breeders.

Later, Nasr and I would go to the Indian restaurant at the Mena House — another tradition — and our talk turned more sentimental. I remember he told me once, “As a four-year-old child I refused to eat my meals except in the stables with the horses.” And just a few years ago, he added, “I owe my happiness now to the horses.”

I don’t know anymore where my love for Egypt stopped, and the love for Nasr began. I thought he would be there forever, in his garden, shepherds gamboling at his side and Farid Albadeia gazing from his stall window across the lawn. Everlasting as the Pyramids, as the Nile, as the crescent moon in the black desert sky. Egypt, with Nasr in it, was how I presumed it would always be.

But now he’s gone. It is a loss too great to absorb.