May 2, 2012

Alexandrian Street, 1833

Alexandrian Street, 1833
Robert Curzon

We took possession of all the rooms upstairs, of which the principal one was long and narrow, with two windows at the end, opening onto a covered balcony or verandah: this overlooked the principal street and the bazaar. Here my companion and I soon stationed ourselves, and watched the novel and curious scene below; and strange indeed to the eye of a European, when for the first time he enters an Oriental city, is all he sees around him. The picturesque dresses, the buildings, the palm trees, the camels, the people of various nations, with their long beards, their arms, and turbans, all unite to form a picture which is indelibly fixed in the memory. Things which have since become perfectly familiar to us were then utterly incomprehensible, and we had no one to explain them to us, for the one waiter of the poor inn, who was darting about in his shirt sleeves in the manner of all waiters, never extended his answers to our questions beyond ‘Si, Signore’, so we got but little information from him; however, we did not make use of our eyes the less for that.

Alexandrian Street
Among the first thing we noticed was the number of half-naked men who were running about, each with something like a dead pig under his arm, shouting out ‘Mother! Mother!’ (Moyah! water) with a doleful voice. These were the sakis or water-carriers, with their goat-skins of the precious element, a bright brass cupful of which they sell for a small coin to the thirsty passengers. An old man with a fan in his hand made of a palm branch, who was crumpled up in the corner of a sort of booth among a heap of dried figs, raisins and dates, just opposite our window, was an object of much speculation to us how he got in, and how he would ever manage to get out of the niche into which he was so closely wedged. He was the merchant, as the Arabian Nights would call him, or the shop-keeper as we should say, who sat there cross-legged among his wares waiting patiently for a customer, and keeping off the flies in the meanwhile, as in due time we discovered that all merchants did in all countries of the East.

Soon there came slowly by a long procession of men on horseback with golden bridles and velvet trappings, and women muffled up in black silk wrappers; how they could bear them, hot as it was, astonished us. These ladies sat upon a pile of cushions placed so high above the backs of the donkeys on which they rode that their feet rested on the animals’ shoulders. Each donkey was led by one man, while another walked by its side with his hand upon the crupper. With the ladies were two little boys covered with diamonds, mounted on huge fat horses, and ensconced in high-backed Mameluke saddles made of silver gilt. These boys we afterwards found out were being conducted in state to a house of their relations, where the rite of circumcision was to be performed.

Our attention was next called to something like a four-post bed, with pink gauze curtains, which advanced with dignified slowness preceded by a band of musicians, who raised a dire and fearful discord by the aid of various windy engines. This was a canopy, the four poles of which were supported by men, who held it over the heads of a bride and her two bridesmaids or friends, who walked on each side of her. The bride was not veiled in the usual way, as her friends were, but was muffled up in Cachmere shawls from head to foot. Something there was on the top of her head which gleamed like gold or jewels, but the rest of her person was so effectually wrapped up and concealed that no one could tell whether she was pretty or ugly, fat or thin, old or young; and although we gave her credit for all the charms which should adorn a bride, we rejoiced when the villainous band of music which accompanied her turned round a comer and went out of hearing. . . . The prodigious multitude of donkeys formed another strange feature in the scene.

There were a hundred of them, carrying all sorts of things in panniers; and some of the smallest were ridden by men so tall that they were obliged to hold up their legs that their feet might not touch the ground. Donkeys, in short, are the carts of Egypt and the hackney-coaches of Alexandria.

Once arrived, Western travelers had to decide whether to continue to wear their European clotheswhich made them stand outor adopt the local dress, which was naturally more suited to the climate and way of life, and had other advantages too . . .

Related Web Search :
  • Alexandria
  • Alexandria Egypt
  • Weather in Alexandria Egypt
  • Hotels in Alexandria Egypt
  • Alexandria Egypt History
  • Egypt Tourism

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